Welcome to Britain’s first #metoo Christmas party season, with both men and women having to adapt to a changing work culture in the wake of the sexual harassment revelations triggered by the Weinstein and Pestminster scandal.
For many that culture change is well overdue: in the latest ComRes poll for ITV News, one in four women and nine percent of men say they have experienced sexual harassment in their workplace or place of study. That equates to around 7m women who have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in a place where they ought to feel totally safe. And we know from another ComRes survey, for BBC News, that one in ten women have been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual behaviour at work in the past 12 months.
The good news is that workplace sexual predators should be deterred this year from pestering colleagues: around one-third of women (31%) and 20% of men say that the news stories of harassment make them more likely to report workplace harassment.
Less good news is that the revelations of sexual harassment and #metoo campaign are making the workplace for some an area of uncertainty and fear of a different kind. One in four men (24%) and 16% of women say that the recent news stories of sexual harassment make them worried that a colleague could misunderstand their behaviour at this year’s Christmas party. Unsurprisingly perhaps, a quarter of all employees think that behaviour at the Christmas party will be more subdued. Some of our sample (7%) even report that their employer’s Christmas celebrations have been scrapped altogether over harassment concerns.
While some are concerned that their workplace might become less sociable because of #metoo (31% of men and 22% of women), there is a wider long term expectation that workplace behaviour will improve. Encouragingly, a third of women (32%) expect less sexual harassment, and 66% expect harassment generally to be more readily reported, as a result of the campaign.
Self-restraint will clearly be the theme for this Christmas party season and for the year ahead. Four in ten men and 28% of women say they will take ‘more care’ over general conversation at work, a third of men will tone down jokes with colleagues and a similar proportion will take more care when socialising with colleagues outside of the workplace.
One in four overall say they are minded to avoid any kind of workplace physical contact at all, in order no doubt to play it safe.
Workplace practices naturally evolve over time but the #metoo campaign has brought about a sudden change in what is considered acceptable. Even if some feel uncertain about what this means day to day, or are worried about their own behaviour being misinterpreted at this year’s Christmas party, the campaign has clearly succeeded in forcing Britain’s workers to consider more carefully the impact of their behaviour on other people and to be ready to call out abuse when it happens.
(This article has been edited from an earlier version for ITV News available here )