We have a fundamental right to dignity at work

The Dignity At Work Act is about granting our fundamental human right to dignity at work. Workplace abuse (or workplace bullying) often involves a person in power, such as a manager or supervisor, taking advantage of a less powerful employee. 

What workplace abuse is

Abuse of power is too often a symptom of implicit bias — a problem discrimination law stopped helping since the 1980s when courts moved from focusing on impact to intent. Intent is a high threshold that makes the law mostly ineffective at addressing bias and disrupting hierarchies at work that create haves and have-nots when those in power “other” people. More than 50 years after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, white men still occupy the vast majority of power positions in the U.S. workforce.

Abuse may take the form of:

  • Interpersonal abuse like public ridicule, disrespect, overwork, and overcontrol, including put-downs, screaming, excessive criticism, destructive gossip, false...

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How one manager pushed out a competent medical insurance analyst — and the company did nothing

The late Congressman John Lewis talked about the importance of saying and doing something when you see something that's not right — getting into good trouble. “I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said. “He (President Obama) is sending a powerful message that discrimination in any form has no place in a democratic society. It also gives hope to the 9 million LBGT Americans and their loved ones who have had to bear the pain and sorrow of rejection, loss, and shame with limited means to make their voices heard.”

 

 


In 2007, a healthcare organization hired me as a military medical insurance analyst, a position I would stay in for 12 years. (I had the same position for 20 years in a different healthcare organization.) For those 12 years, I received excellent job evaluations year after year from my previous...

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My supervisor confessed to abuse of power and sexual predation; he advanced — and I changed careers

By Sarah Charley

When faced with extraordinary evidence pointing towards an uncomfortable truth, my former employer responded very strangely.

“I had no idea how persistent his abuse was to have dampened your spirits so much,” the general manager replied to an email about my supervisor’s behavior. “I've spoken with [the senior staff] and they all agree with your assessment of [the supervisor’s] behavior towards you. I feel embarrassingly oblivious about this, but more importantly like we (as a whole, as your friends) didn't do enough to stop it from happening.”

At the time of this exchange, I was 23 and pursuing my dream of being a guide and outdoor educator at a rafting company on the American River in California. My supervisor, however, had turned this dream into a traumatic and disorienting nightmare. In his own words:

“[…] For a period of 4 months in 2012, I used Sarah Charley for sex, and treated her terribly […] [This is]...

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How workplace abuse harms workers

Workplace abuse results in mental, physical, social, and financial harm.

Mental

Abuse is violence. It's psychological torture that takes a toll on mental health, including self-esteem, self-worth, and resilience. The longer the abuse, the bigger the impact, leading to physical symptoms.

Physical

Stress is a natural response to abuse and manifests itself through the mind-body connection. It may cloud judgment and lead to such issues as anxiety, depression, heart disease, digestive issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation.

Social

We're built for connection with each other, but abuse removes that connection by isolating us. Isolation is especially common with mobbing, group abuse aimed to break down the target when abusers manipulate other employees or other employees fear becoming the next target. Bystanders may also suffer when they witness abuse but feel unable to help the target. Friends and family, including spouses, generally tire of...

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Another suicide from workplace abuse

Graham Gentles was driven to suicide after a walk of shame.

He was a 22-year-old in Pasadena who died from suicide on July 18, 2014, after Target store management allegedly accused him of stealing, handcuffed him, and paraded him through the store in front of both customers and coworkers.

Gentles jumped to his death from the top of a hotel just three days later.

During the abusive humiliation and shame tactic, it is alleged that "police forcefully grabbed him, emptied his pockets, and pulled his hat off," explains ABC7. Meanwhile, a shocked and confused Gentles had no idea why police were arresting him. Police took Gentles into custody, released him the same day, and never charged him. Gentles told his mother he never stole anything.

Allegedly, an argument between Gentles and a coworker at a bar outside of work hours may have prompted the incident. The coworker made the allegations of theft after the argument.

Other Target employees suspected of stealing report a similar "walk...

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The financial costs of workplace abuse to businesses and targets

Workplace abuse leads to decreased productivity, lower morale, increased absenteeism, and turnover (the bad kind — not the kind that results from not needing roles anymore). Imagine burning a big old pile of money. That's the equivalent of keeping an abuser on staff. Let's look at some of the hidden and not-so-hidden costs of keeping an abuser on staff:

Turnover. Examples: announcing the job opening, recruiting fees, interviewing time, and training time.
Lost opportunity. Examples: losing clients and the revenue associated with them and losing potential accounts from the work of competent employees.
Absenteeism. Cost: paid time off (sick leave and vacation)
Presenteeism (being at work but disengaged while there). Cost: lost productivity from that employee and any employee disengagement rubs off on. 
Legal defense. Regardless of there not being laws with teeth on the books protecting targets from workplace abuse, targets can still sue. And...

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Study links workplace abuse 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 abuse 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 abuse. 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 actual problem is linked to financial loss.

So why aren't...

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Why you're a target of workplace abuse

Don't worry — I'm not about to blame you for being a target of workplace abuse. Just the opposite. It's insecurity that's the root of why abusers abuse. And when those in power operate on jealousy and insecurity, their biggest threats are the ones with targets on their backs.

Here are a few reasons why you're a target:

  • Strengths (think ethics and competence, technical or people skills, for example) threaten abusers.
  • It's all about the abuser's personality, mob mentality the abuser created, and organizational incentives to keep the abuse going.
  • Abusers might perceive a vulnerability in you. Maybe you're not political. But vulnerability is a strength, not weakness. Narcissists are terrified of vulnerability. And while a certain level of political game-playing may be necessary at work, focusing entirely on politics detracts from your greater purpose at work: to work together toward a common vision as a team.

The bottom line

Ego-centered people view work differently than you do...

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Why it's so important to spread the word about the term "workplace abuse"

There's usually a window of time between a targets' initial shock from workplace abuse and their discovery of the term "workplace abuse." Once they discover the term, they can usually start to detach from the problem or externalize a problem they'd been internalizing and begin to heal. Realizing they're not the problem is a pivotal discovery in beginning the road to recovery.

Often finding the term online and reading more about it can be sufficient for healing, but connecting and validating with others face-to-face also helps significantly. Shame can prevent that connection, but targets are not the problem and are not alone.

With more awareness of the issue, the gap between getting abused and learning the concept will be reduced or eliminated, cutting down on stress and improving target well-being.

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Coping with workplace abuse by challenging thought patterns

Thoughts lead to emotions, and emotions can spiral out of control, leaving you feeling helpless, depressed, and anxious. That's one of the lessons from a 5-week class I took called "Secrets to a Satisfied Life," a course about taking control of your life path and inner peace.

The teacher introduced a "challenging beliefs worksheet" used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder common with veterans and targets of workplace abuse, which can cause shock to a positive, trusting worldview. Though some say human connection and validation are most effective for coping with workplace abuse, these ideas can still be helpful.

The idea with the worksheet is to change a pattern of problematic thinking and reframe it. Do you have evidence? Are you confusing the possible with the likely? Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you oversimplifying a problem? (This coping technique by no means excuses workplace abuse. It is simply a...

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