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Thursday, 31 July 2014

You’re in an Abusive Relationship–with your Boss

I have to admit that one of the great things about having been on parental leave (other than your children) is that you are clear of office politics for a while. Really helpful for taking a breath and fostering a greater awareness of things you take for granted.

While I was on leave I caught up with a friend and she shared her nagging fears about returning to work after being on a lengthy holiday. prickly

Her shortness of breath, clammy pallor and tense body language as she spoke gave away the high levels of stress she was under.  As you have probably experienced yourself, being away from the office can often reveal a moment of truth, and she seemed to be experiencing hers.  She was literally fearful of what might await her when she returned.  As I listened to her I couldn’t help but compare her situation to an abusive relationship.  Too extreme you think? Well I ‘m not so sure and checked out a few resources on abusive relationships and definitions used for workplace bullying.  The similarities are too close to ignore.  White Ribbon Australia provides some guidance on the types of abuse that exist in a relationship:

Emotional abuse - blaming the victim for all problems in the relationship, constantly comparing the victim with
others to undermine self-esteem and self-worth, sporadic sulking, withdrawing all interest and engagement (eg weeks
of silence).

Ever witnessed something similar in the workplace? The silent treatment and undermining a person professionally can be commonplace, yet the word “abuser” is rarely used in that context.  A “bully” is recognised the workplace, but for many is as equally dismissed as it is in the playground (entirely unacceptable).

Hidden Hurt (UK) spelled out some warning signs of an abusive relationship, of course not all of which are relevant in the work environment but take a look, there are a few too many to dismiss:

  • Jealousy – of contacts, relationships, friendships, praise from others, respect of others
  • Isolation – removal of responsibilities, exclusion from meetings, projects, opportunities for development
  • Controlling Behaviour – all hail the micro manager, diarising, reversing decisions
  • Unrealistic Expectations  - far too common in the workplace, unachievable tasks/goals
  • Blame-shifting for Problems/Feelings – the ‘scape goat’, setting up for failure,
  • Verbal Abuse – “running down accomplishments” – out and out dismissing them?
  • Dr Jekyll & Mr Hide – frightening for the victim, praise followed by ridicule, inconsistent instructions, fabrication of information

(My examples in italics)

It really gives me no joy to say that I have witnessed all of the above take place in the working environment. The complexities of office politics and power imbalance mean that advice often given to children on how to handle bullies has an unrealistic chance of success in such an environment. HR departments are riddled with managers of varying titles tasked with averting risk, for the organisation. This rarely protects the interest of the victim.

And that friend? Well in her case she started out in a positive supportive relationship with her manager, she was his ally and unwavering loyal servant. They were a great team. As he built his empire he soon grew tired of her, when her personal circumstances caused disruption to her work life she was soon dropped like a hot potato. Oh if only it were the premise of a badly written romance novel. Her environment was nothing short of toxic and her boss quite frankly an asshole.

For my readers in Australia, do you think there is enough protection for workers in situation like these here?  Do those in Corporate Australia even get to meet union representatives? Do you need to be below a certain salary level to be able to access help of a union? Is Fair Work Australia meeting the needs of people like my friend?

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Hey thanks!