Power harassment in the workplace, including bullying and unfair treatment, has been regarded with increasing censure by society. Creating an environment where everyone can work free of worry constitutes the foundation of what the government promotes as “work style reforms.”
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said that consultations on cases of “bullying and harassment” at offices such as labor bureaus across the country totaled 70,917 in fiscal 2016, up 6.5 percent from the previous fiscal year. The number of consultations related to power harassment was the highest for the fifth consecutive year, exceeding the number involving dismissal and the like.
The rising trend may be related to an increase in the number of people who feel they have been harassed as people become more aware of power harassment. Nonetheless, the current situation cannot be disregarded.
Power harassment is the act of inflicting psychological or physical pain on people with less authority by going beyond the reasonable sphere of business operations, backed by a sense of superiority in terms of position or authority at the workplace, according to the ministry’s definition.
Besides physical violence and verbal abuse, acts of power harassment include coercion to do work deemed impossible to accomplish or only giving tasks that are deemed too easy.
The survey taken last year found 1 in 3 people experienced some sort of power harassment in the preceding three years. This was a large increase from a survey taken four years ago, which found that 1 in every 4 employees had suffered power harassment.
More than 70 percent of those who suffered power harassment complained of feelings like anger, discontent and reduced inclination to work. Among people who have been repeatedly subjected to such harassment, 40 percent suffered from insomnia, and as many as 20 percent were driven into a situation that required them to go to the hospital regularly or take medicine.
Government must clarify criteria
It is problematic that only half of all companies have taken measures to prevent power harassment, for instance, by establishing contacts for consultation about harassment. Small and medium-size companies are particularly slow in adopting such measures.
Power harassment can deprive victims of their confidence, which can trigger the onset of depression and other problems. It can also drive victims to take temporary leave from their work, quit or even commit suicide.
Power harassment has been found to be behind many cases of suicide stemming from overwork. A newly hired female employee at Dentsu Inc., who worked excessively until she committed suicide, she was said to have been told by her superior, for example, “The overtime you do is a waste of time.”
Such acts would also ruin the workplace atmosphere, decrease productivity and be a drain on human resources. Companies must feel a sense of crisis in promoting the elimination of power harassment.
It can be difficult to draw a line between such harassing acts and an appropriate reprimand or guidance for carrying out business operations. The government needs to show more clearly its criteria, in guidelines and such, for judging whether certain acts constitute power harassment.
With regard to power harassment, there is no legal provision, leaving the matter up to companies’ voluntary efforts. Similarly to such issues as sexual harassment, whether preventive measures should be put into legislation also should be discussed.
The government has come up with a plan to reinforce related measures in its action plan for work style reforms. An expert panel within the labor ministry is expected to compile a report within this fiscal year, with the aim of realizing strengthened measures.
It is hoped that effective, preventive measures will be worked out.