What your therapist doesn't know about workplace abuse might hurt you

Targets report that quite often, their therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist has a minimal at best understanding of workplace abuse — and they often feel blamed for the abuse, further adding to it.

Without understanding what workplace abuse is, therapists have a harder time grasping how workplace abuse affects targets and why it happens in the first place. That lack of understanding translates into the inability to see it in other clients' stories, losing their ability to build awareness of the issue by naming it for their clients.

Without understanding the basics, therapists might not make potential connections between targets' workplace abuse and possible childhood abuse to help targets develop insights and fresh perspectives to help with recovery.

What targets can do
If your therapist isn't knowledgeable of workplace abuse, you can help him or her help you by teaching him or her the term "workplace abuse." Ask her to learn more about it.

Mental health...

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How the legal system favors privileged groups

Those with legal representation (aka money) are most likely to have successful case outcomes. “Plaintiffs who do not have a lawyer [“one in four plaintiffs”] have their cases dismissed at a 40% rate compared to 11% for plaintiffs with lawyers,” say the authors of Rights on Trial. More privileged social groups obtain better results, ironic in an area of law intended to protect disadvantaged groups. Case dismissals often result from plaintiff misunderstandings (read: no education from a lawyer) and can cost plaintiffs court fees. Plaintiffs can also lose on settlement or all counts of summary judgment, when the defendant argues that there is no material issue of fact to be decided on and aggressively sets a deadline.

Settlement is the most common outcome of cases “with an estimated median of $30,000. Plaintiffs win something 60% of the time,” the authors say. Trials are rare and “return a victory for the plaintiff one time in three,”...

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Study shows prolonged exposure to workplace abuse can lead to suicide – and it can happen to anyone

Researchers have finally found that workplace bullies can drive their targets to suicide. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that targets of abuse at work are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who were never bullied. 

Researchers defined bullying as harassment, badgering, and freezing out that:

  • Occurred repeatedly over a period of time.
  • Involved two parties in which one had a higher ranking than the other.

It happens so often that there’s now a term for it. “Bullycide” happens when the cause of suicide is attributable to the victim having been bullied.

 

How workplace abuse can lead any of us to suicide (“bullycide”)

Researchers also tested to see if qualities of workplace bullying targets warranted uninvited psychological assaults. They found nothing: zero data to support reason to blame the victim. In other words, targets are not...

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The history of discrimination law in the U.S.

In 1966, when the EEOC started collecting data on the race and gender composition of workplaces, white men were overwhelmingly overrepresented in power positions. African American men and women and white women were dramatically underrepresented in them relative to their numbers in the labor force.

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 fostered some progress for white women, white men still retain power in the U.S. private sector workforce. Discrimination continues — and at an unchanged rate. There are major earning disparities between racial and gender groups. According to the authors of Rights on Trial, in 2014, median incomes were:

“Asian American men: $59,766
White men: $58,712
Asian American women: $48,419
White women: $44,236
African American men: $41,167
African American women: $35,212
Latino men: $35,114
Latina women: $30,289” (almost half of the median income for Asian American men)

Yet the early years of Title VII seemed promising. Back then, the...

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The financial blow to targets of workplace abuse

We know that when employers abuse workers, it's only a matter of time before the employer uses constructive discharge (managing an employee out) or termination to maintain their power and disregard employees' power. Afterall, with Montana being the only state to ban at-will employment, employers don't need just cause to push out or fire an employee so long as their motivation isn't (blatantly) discriminatory (and even then... well, that's another story).

When employees lack adequate time to find new jobs, they either take a pay cut in their haste to escape the abusive environments or simply leave without the safety net of another job and the health insurance that goes along with it.

Granted when choosing between their health and a paycheck, choosing their health and any paycheck can often be the best outcome. As often highly ethical and competent employees, targets' energy and time are better spent with employers who deserve them. 

Still, it's the targets — not the...

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Discrimination law doesn’t actually dismantle social hierarchies

Instead, it preserves managerial authority, dominated by white men, and reproduces hierarchies by focusing on individual harm — rather than disrupts hierarchies.

Are civil rights truly rights if we have to pay to get them through the legal system? Does law disrupt social hierarchies or perpetuate them? Authors Ellen Berrey, Robert L. Nelson, and Laura Beth Nielsen dig for the answers to these crucial questions in Rights on Trial.

Their finding: employers, agencies, and courts often re-inscribe the very hierarchies discrimination law was designed to attack, making discrimination both an intentional and structural problem. Civil rights law doesn’t actually affect social change by correcting discriminatory behavior at work because it upholds the bias through stereotypes that created the discrimination in the first place.

Here’s the reality about use of and access to justice:

Most targets don’t involve the legal system. Only a tiny fraction of targets approach...

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What generally happens when targets of workplace abuse report their cases to HR

I know some of you work in Human Resources (HR) and help targets of workplace abuse. And for that, I thank you. However, the sad truth is that you are in a tiny minority of HR representatives who advocate for the target because you work in a safe and healthy work environment in which higher-ups want to do the right thing.

In most cases, HR does nothing — unless you count retaliates or terminates the target. They work for management, not employees, so even if HR reps do want to help, their hands are usually tied, meaning it's a management problem.

It's not just management's responsibility to create a workplace abuse policy but also to make sure HR reps enforce it. Otherwise it's not worth the paper it's printed on.

So what will it take to get management to create policies and enforce them? Sadly, it will take passing a law giving employees a right to sue for mistreatment to switch their liability. For years, higherups have considered liability as admitting there's a problem,...

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Why so many employers side with abusers — and the consequences for them

Let's face it: abusers at work rarely face consequences for their abusive behaviors. More often than not, targets get dismissed, discounted, or flat-out ignored, which of course sides with abusers. Top-level executives most often support higher level managers in the name of preserving their team to work in the direction of their company goals and preventing liability by admitting fault.

But in choosing to support abusers and leave targets unprotected, employers actually work against their own self-interests. When they fail to hold abusers accountable, employers create an increasingly toxic culture, emboldening abusers and sending their top performers to their competitors.

Sadly, many employers protect abusers by either ignoring complaints or conducting sham investigations, having no interest in correcting a problem that doesn't serve them in the long-term.

 

Take Your Dignity Back
If you feel like you’re stuck in a big rut that’s destroying your life,...

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What stops abuse at work

Even in toxic workplaces, senior managers' goal is to function as a unit — even if it's a horribly dysfunctional or even corrupt unit. Functioning as a unit requires support of the top, even if support doesn't come from the top, in a system with a drastic asymmetry of power. 

So once targets speak up, no matter how justified they are in their claims, they put bullseyes on their backs.

Extremely infrequently, filing a lawsuit or complaint with an outside agency, union, or HR, direct confrontation of an abuser, and intervention from the abuser's boss help targets stop the abuse — making all of these strategies nearly equally effective as doing absolutely nothing.

In fact, doing absolutely nothing can at least prevent the abuse from escalating and preserve a target's reputation in the industry.

But the most effective way to stop the abuse is for targets to remove themselves from the rigged game. We're talking quitting (standing more in one's power than waiting to be...

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The most offensive aspects of abuse at work

Abuse is demeaning, disempowering, and humiliating. Here are some ways the abuse cuts deep, in order of how they often occur:

  1. Painting competence as incompetence. Going after a target's technical skill — usually stronger than the abuser's — is a common tactic for abusers, whose goal is to re-define the image of the target and position the target in a negative light. It's an abuse of power that often takes the form of a negative performance review — a bold lie.
  2. Public humiliation. Abusers add insult to injury when they take their re-defining public. Not only do abusers control the target's image through public humiliation, but they also pile on shame and social isolation, positioning the target as someone not to associate with to avoid the same fate.
  3. Ignoring. Ignoring of complaints often invalidates them in the eyes of targets. It's a form of gaslighting that makes targets question their own sanity and perceptions of feeling wronged or that there's a significant...
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