Mediation and arbitration: more tactics employers use to protect abusers

Mediation and other forms of conflict resolution require symmetry of power in which empathy and rational discussion take place.

With abuse, however, there's generally a drastic asymmetry of power, with manipulation and lack of empathy at the core of the desire for power and control.

Mediation doesn't work with abuse at work, just like it doesn't work with domestic abuse. Arbitration is even worse, a common requirement in employment contracts that rids you of your ability to sue no matter what happens at work. 

Targets generally report no positive outcomes with mediation. Rarely are there consequences for abusers. In fact, employers give consequences to targets instead, perceiving them as not inline with company goals and team-focused. 

In most cases, company power is stacked against targets who speak up.

 

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Targets vs. business leaders: a major gap in perceptions of workplace abuse as a serious problem

When HR departments give training on core values or discrimination, a logical response from employees is to believe their employers care about their well-being.

But not so fast.

When employees take complaints to HR departments, employers often individualize the problem to avoid liability, touting beliefs in employee well-being but take opposite action.

Let's take this disconnect one step further. Author Andrew Faas interviewed 138 leaders about bullying and found that most leaders are unaware of what workplace bullying even is. For those who are aware, most don’t view it as violence or a business risk (even though most said they’d been targets after seeing a definition of it).

Sadly, these findings mean that most cultures are toxic. Faas found that:

  • The majority of leaders said they used bullying to get things done, using fear as a motivator because targets have performance or attitude issues.
  • Most leaders didn’t see the connection between bullying and...
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Why workplace mobbing is more common than workplace bullying

It’s no surprise that bosses are more likely to bully at work than coworkers or subordinates. But what may be surprising is that bosses alone aren’t most likely to abuse. It's a phenomenon we call mobbing, an abuse tactic involving a lone abuser enlisting others' help.

Others comply for a few possible reasons:

  • The abuser told them the target is a problem — and they believed it.
  • They feel pressured to go along to get along, fearing they'll become the next target if they speak up.
  • They understand the social game of the workplace and that upward mobility depends on their support of the boss, who's often the abuser.

It’s abuse of power that leads targets to isolation, and fear prevents the reverse from happening. Though collective action is one of the most effective ways to combat abuse at work, subordinates rarely join together to go against a boss out of fear of losing their jobs or becoming targets themselves.

 

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The double-edged sword of second-time abuse

Targets of second-time abuse (or more) more quickly recognize the signs of it, a benefit that can help them more quickly escape the toxic situation. Once they see what's happening, they can detach and put the wheels in motion to build a safety net and remove themselves from the toxic environment.

But the quick recognition can also often mean re-trauma, the triggering of going back to an emotionally painful place — sometimes more severe than the first. Initial abuse generally takes place with family (parents and siblings), at a previous job (likely bosses), or at school (likely classmates).

Issues around authoritarian parenting are common initial sources of abuse. Targets don't feel seen or heard or that their feelings matter, and these feelings crop up again with abuse at work.

 

Take Your Dignity Back
If you feel like you’re stuck in a big rut that’s destroying your life, learn how to reverse the damage. 

Right now, you wish you could just tell...

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When employers don't believe targets of workplace abuse

Often jealous of their high-performing targets, abusers gaslight them, aka treat them like they're crazy to gain more power over them. Targets feel traumatized when their expectations of fairness are met with complete unfairness and smearing of their character. Then others come to believe the target is the problem, compounding the harm, through these methods:

  • Abuse of power. Abusers use their position to misrepresent targets, taking advantage of the asymmetry of power.
  • Manipulation. To reinforce management support of each other, higherups often side with abusers in management. 
  • Mobbing. What was once a lone abuser then can become an army. Mobs deprive the target of the chance to feel heard, supported, and believed. When they side with abusers, investigators can't do their jobs well.

When targets aren’t believed
Studies show it’s honesty and integrity that often put a bullseye on a targets’ backs. Yet in this victim-shaming culture,...

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How targets of workplace abuse can reverse emotional abuse

Researcher Loraleigh Keashly coined the term “emotional abuse at work, which leads to stress and at times trauma, which in turn lead to a host of health issues. 

Targets can reverse emotional abuse through social support, especially validation, and remove themselves from the damaging effects of isolation. If a target hasn't experienced abuse before, it may take longer to recognize the signs of confusion, fear, and stress, prolonging the time it takes to begin to heal.

Targets can find support through spouses, other family, friends, websites, social media, professionals, and sometimes coworkers — even though this issue can often show targets who their true supporters are, dominate their thoughts, and misunderstood by therapists.

The best medicine: face-to-face human connection.

Join us for a free weekly peer support group on Zoom.

Join the private Facebook group.

 

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Study links workplace bullying to one effect that costs companies billions

In a 2001 study, Researcher Judith Richman linked workplace harassment to drinking behaviors. In a multi-wave panel study at an urban university, targets who had more than two years of bullying had a stronger connection to drinking problems.

“These drinking behaviors reflect an attempt by targets to deal with the psychological stress,” say Loraleigh Keashly and Joel H. Neuman in their Employee Rights and Employee Policy Journal article. “Should such drinking continue, job performance and productivity is likely to suffer. For example, some research suggests that sixty billion dollars is lost in annual productivity as a result of alcohol abuse.”

The link isn’t shocking. What’s shocking is the failure of management to address root cause: workplace bullying. It’s far easier to blame a target for a drinking problem than a higher level employee for causing the unnecessary stress in the first place. That negligence to address the...

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The truth on why workplace abuse happens

Abuse at work happens because organizations and governments allow for it — and even reward it. 

Employers set the tone for the work culture from the top down. Without employers giving consequences to abusers, and without governments giving consequences to employers, abusers thrive. They're further enabled by bystanders too fearful to speak up.

Though we live in a culture that likes to blame the victim rather than hold perpetrators accountable, targets of workplace abuse aren't the problem: it's the abusers who lack empathy who are allowed to abuse.

 

Take Your Dignity Back
If you feel like you’re stuck in a big rut that’s destroying your life, learn how to reverse the damage. 

Right now, you wish you could just tell your bully at work to knock it off, report the problem to management, and show the bully how childish he or she’s behaving. At best, the bully’s sidetracking the goals of the...

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An advocate describes a toxic environment where a supervisor only targeted women

call center story target Apr 22, 2020

When I first started working at a call center, I was really proud. I got good passing rates in my training and was told the business liked promoting from within, so it was exciting.

But I got put into the team with the fastest call times, and the team leader had no time for a newbie who was slowing down the team. The team leader seemed angry if I asked her for advice on a customer.

The team met up for drinks on Fridays. I was always left out of the invite.

If I ever went to the restroom during non-scheduled breaks, the team leader would post the team’s restroom times in a group email. The restroom was on the other side of the building floor, so it took a few minutes to get there and back. When I didn’t use the restroom that week unless on break, the emails would stop, even though I noticed others went without times posted. Then if I had to go to the restroom on work time, I’d run since I knew the email was coming with my name on the top of the list, within five...

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Why “just leave” (immediately) is absurd advice for a workplace bullying target

On Facebook, we’ve seen some people who’ve never been abused at work (or more likely who are abusers themselves or aren’t vulnerable and emotionally tough enough to admit they’ve been abused) tell targets of workplace abuse to “just leave” their jobs if they don’t like them.

I ask those people: if you were to “just leave” your job today, what would be the consequences? For many, it's loss of income and the health insurance that goes with it. 

For others, it's about damaging personal pride, the injustice of it all, and loving their jobs. That awareness, level of integrity, and self-defense are motivated by strength, not weakness, and a building block for a social movement to end workplace abuse.

“Just quitting” versus find another job
You might think this idea of sticking around is in direct opposition to my usual advice to targets of workplace abuse: leave since your health comes first and...

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