Did the title get your attention? Well, good – it was supposed to; and I’ll wager with almost 100% certainty, that you, or someone you know, has been abused in the workplace, and that got your full attention too! In fact, it probably got so much of your attention that you experienced sleepless nights, a loss of appetite, or if you’re a stress eater, you had a few binges. You or someone you know was probably gripped with fear about how you were going to pay your bills and feed your family if the abuse resulted in, as it often does, a guilty superior blaming and framing you for it in some way.
Studies show, and anecdotal experience relays, the same message – abuses occur in the workplace – whether you are a man or a woman. Studies also show that abuses, especially those of a sexual nature, occur at a disproportionately higher rate for women. As a woman, that makes me livid and there is so much subject matter on this issue, that I’m going to save it for another article; stay tuned folks.
“So what happened?”
Well, maybe it was a superior who chronically spoke to you as though your dignity and humanity were both inconsequential. Maybe a superior ignored your pleas to grant you some flexibility in your schedule so that you could pick up your kids from school or arrange child care with your spouse. Was his or her reaction to that request a response that you were somehow a lazy and uncommitted employee? Did he or she act like this real life challenge was none of his or her concern and didn’t care about the problem this caused for you? You could just deal with the schedule, “or else”?
Have you been cursed at by a superior? Remember the show “Ripley’s – Believe it or Not”? Has a superior ever chased you, yes chased, as in run after you or someone you know? Ludicrous! Yes, I know – but hand to God – I’ve actually seen that!
Abuses happen on all levels within a workplace, but the ones that really incite fear for us are the ones that occur in our vertical relationships; the ones we have with our bosses. The people who have the most power over us.
Let’s escalate the scenarios (as if the last example wasn’t enough). Do you know someone or have you experienced firsthand, termination that was unjust because a superior simply didn’t like you and was stockpiling information that could eventually be used against you in an effort to push you out the door?
All of this is ABUSE and if any of it sounds shocking or unbelievable to you, it is because you are in the small percentage of people who have not yet experienced it in the workplace; but believe me – your peers have! Every scenario I’ve listed off, in my various incarnations as an employee, I’ve seen done to someone I’ve worked with! Even the chase!
I’ll tell you a story. I know a woman, we’ll call her Molly, not her real name, but you understand. Well, this dear soul had the misfortune of being physically harassed by her manager; he got uncomfortably close and stuck his hand in her face! Now at this point, I want to interject, that using one’s body to intimidate another individual, especially in this context, is certainly abuse.
Molly was committed to holding her manager accountable and preserving her dignity, knowing that she had been wronged. Already, in this attitude, Molly had gone further than most others. The truth is: most people are so afraid of losing their jobs that they do nothing! There is a price for doing nothing. Studies show that victims of workplace abuse develop symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
Molly went to the superior of the offending manager. The result was unfortunate and disappointingly common; the abuser was protected and the victim was vilified. I’m asking you, when is it ever okay for a manager to put his or her hand in the face, inches from the nose, of an employee while towering over and leaning in close to that employee?
So I have another question for you; in light of the fact that we have fought so hard for freedoms, rights, and equalities of all kinds, why does this still happen? When it does, why is it often dealt with the way Molly’s situation was dealt with?
I confess. I don’t have the answers. Molly worked in an unionized environment. Molly’s management team abused her. When attempting to deal with the matter, Molly was abused by management and through her union’s incompetence and disinterest in the matter, Molly was further abused. I want to point out that unionized employees have unions and pay union dues for workplace protection.
I was heartbroken for my friend. I and others told her “Get a lawyer”. Having many lifelong friends and family members in the legal profession myself, I asked her, “Would you like to borrow one of mine?” She wasn’t so sure, though. At that point, she still had some faith in the process and in her union. Often in union workplaces, one cannot seek legal advice right away. If you do, your union will not represent you.
Progress report on Molly: she has learned her lesson.
Sometimes a simple and effective letter from a lawyer is enough to scare these low rent bullies in the “C” office, into correcting their approach. One word: SCANDAL – your boss hates that word more than you do!
Again, I don’t have all the answers, but dear reader, I know this: you’re important, your humanity has value, and no one has the right to require these things as payment from you for your livelihood!
*This article has Molly’s endorsement!
Anastasia Anthony Zervos is a real estate agent at One Percent Realty, who lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband. She has studied Journalism and Mass Communication as well as Theology. Anastasia is a dual citizen of Canada and her native country, The Commonwealth of the Bahamas, in the Caribbean.