Beth Livingston, University of Iowa – When A Worker Is Harassed During Their Commute

Harassment of workers doesn’t just happen at work, but also on the way in.

Beth Livingston, Ralph L. Sheets Associate Professor of Industrial Relations at the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, explains more.

Beth A. Livingston is the Ralph L. Sheets Associate Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and the faculty director of the Dore-Tippie Women’s Leadership program and an affiliate of the Healthier Workforce Center of the Midwest. She earned her MBA from the University of Kentucky and Ph.D. from the University of Florida. She studies human resources, gender and diversity, and the management of work and family in the interest of family well-being. Her research has been highlighted in the New York Times, NPR, and the Harvard Business Review, and she has been published in multiple top academic journals. Livingston has also done executive education, speaking engagements, and consulting for companies and non-profits such as Accenture, Deere & Co., Yves Saint Laurent Beauty, Allsteel, and Hollaback!

When A Worker Is Harassed During Their Commute

An Asian-American man rides the train into work when someone tells him to go back to where he came from. A woman walks from the parking lot to her office building when a man whistles and makes an offensive comment about her body.

Many studies reveal the harm this kind of harassment can cause when it happens in the workplace. But what happens when it happens to a person while they’re on their commute to work? Surprisingly, its impact is mostly unquantified. But it’s real and can affect a workers’ performance just as much as in-office harassment. Our recent study builds on my long-term interest in the experiences of street harassment to discuss the ways in which harassment in the transition space between home and work can affect how employees engage in their work.

The work commute is more important than many realize. It’s the time when a person transitions from their home identity to their work identity, so they’re ready to engage with their work. But harassment can cause emotional and psychological effects that disrupt the transition and make it harder to focus on their work.

Harassment by strangers during the commute can also remind people of their marginalization and lower their self-confidence, which can affect the quality of their work.

Victims may spend work time ruminating about the incident, or wondering why bystanders didn’t help. Harassment can lead to incivility and low morale, which also affects colleagues. They may act aggressively or unprofessionally to co-workers who remind them of their harasser. 

What steps can organizations take to help? They can provide a quiet space for harassment victims to calm themselves and work through the incident before they start working. They can form a support group where victims share their experiences and realize they’re not the only person this happens to. Or they can provide extra flex time to help victims cope.

Read More:
[Harvard Business Review] – Shared Sisterhood: How to Take Collective Action for Racial and Gender Equity at Work


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