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Teens More Likely to Face Sexual Harassment on the Job

teenagers, job opportunities Credit: Working Teen image via Shutterstock

Teens working in some low-paying positions are more likely to be sexually harassed while on the job, new research shows.

Adolescent employees in low-opportunity jobs, such as working in retail or a restaurant, are more likely to be sexually harassed by older co-workers than adult employees, an Illinois State University study shows.

The study of 116 high school teens discovered that 54 percent of females and 37 percent of males had been harassed at least once while on the job in the last two years.

Researchers found examples of harassment involving lewd comments or behavior, comments disparaging the worker's gender, sexist comments and jokes, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.

"We suspect that adolescents may be targeted more frequently than adults given their relatively low status and power in the workplace," Kimberly Schneider, the study's lead author and assistant professor of psychology, told BusinessNewsDaily.  "They may also be less comfortable reporting the harassing behavior or they may be unsure about the reporting procedures in their organizations."

The research found that the harassment led to lower job satisfaction and, particularly with females, lower skill development. In the long run, researchers believe it will also impact their performance in school, absenteeism, tardiness and grades as well as their outlook on future work experiences.

The study shows that teens in jobs that provided skill development opportunities, including meaningful work, feedback and some autonomy, didn't face the same workplace harassment and, in return, had greater job satisfaction and engagement levels.

Contributing to the problem is the power factor that comes into play when older colleagues supervise teen workers.

"Given the power differential that often exists in the relationship between the adolescent employee and his/her harasser, adolescents may be especially reticent to complain," Schneider said.

For employers, the study suggests that organizations hiring adolescents look further into coping strategies, job context and harassment experiences, while teen workers should become familiar with their organization’s harassment policies, including how to report unwanted or offensive behaviors. They should also participate in training offered by their organization that specifies what workplace behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate. 

Researchers advise that teens who are victims of harassment report the situation rather than trying to cope with it internally.

"We do have evidence that both adult and adolescent employees who rely primarily on cognitive coping strategies that include frequent self-blame appear to have reduced satisfaction with various aspects of their jobs and they may also more frequently engage in potentially destructive behavior such as drug use," Schneider said.

The researchers found that those who seek out social support often report better well-being.

The study was co-authored by Illinois State psychology professor Patricia Jarvis.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.