Abuse in the Workplace

994 words | 4 page(s)

Abuse in the workplace takes many forms. Workplace abuse is subtler than the blatant abuse that one was exposed to in the schoolyard by childhood bullies (Comaford, 2016). Abuse in the workplace is strategic, psychological, and results from relationship power struggles. An example of workplace abuse that is prompted by a power struggle is the case of Catherine, a young woman who works at an influential teaching hospital: She helped set up and develop a new IT system and is in charge of training her colleagues and boss on how to use it. Catherine’s boss, who previously supported her efforts, now develops aggressive behaviors and makes fun of Catherine by calling her a suck-up and by demeaning her achievements (Moss, 2016).

The boss tries to put Catherine in her place in order to restore the hierarchy of power (Moss, 2016). Catherine is unsure why her boss is suddenly so mean to her, and she starts to doubt herself. Catherine feels uncomfortable at work, and the boss has succeeded in making her feel that way. Catherine is reminded of the way that she felt going through junior high school when the popular girls were mean to her. She thought that once she was an adult with a career that the feeling of being bullied and abused would never happen again. However, Catherine goes home at night and cries in private because she dreads going back to work the next day. School yard bullies are an expected, yet not unaccepted, obstacle as one matures. Workplace bullying is an unexpected, yet often accepted, obstacle once one matures.

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Social dominance theory. In the case of Catherine, the theory of social dominance explains her boss’ bullying behaviors (Moss, 2016). Catherine’s boss feels threatened by Catherine’s success, and therefore, her boss resorts to bullying Catherine in order to make herself feel better. Catherine’s boss does not want to feel threatened by her subordinates, and it is Catherine’s success that makes her feel inferior. Catherine has to come up with a way to protect herself and preserver her job. Unfortunately, one way that Catherine can achieve this is to recognize that her success is a threat to her boss and somehow make the boss feel better about her success: Catherine could acknowledge how her success would have been impossible without her boss. In this way, Catherine could share the spotlight which might ease the bullying (Moss, 2016).

Group bullying. Not all bullying comes from bosses to subordinates. A good working definition of workplace bullying is: “Workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e. sabotage” (Comaford, 2016). Often, targets of a group bullying are targeted for the same reasons that bosses target successful subordinates—they are threatened by the work performance of the other person. Workplace abuse essentially sabotages productivity which impacts the way that the worker performs. Workplace bullying has the purpose to remove the target from the group atmosphere in order to restore the balance and order of the group’s hierarchy (Moss, 2016).

Types of abuse in the workplace. There are many different ways that abuse in the workplace occurs. Violence is one way that workplace abuse occurs, and workplace abuse that resorts to violence can lead to homicides—the fourth leading of occupational injuries in the United States according to OSHA (Bolden-Barett, 2018). The idea that homicides are a cause of workplace injury is a staggering statistic, but it reveals the extent of the damaging effects of workplace abuse. Bullying is another form of workplace abuse, as described above. Bullying can be verbal or physical, and it targets the victim in order to displace the victim (Bolden-Barett, 2018). Discrimination is another form of workplace abuse.

Although there are antidiscrimination laws that prohibit workplace discrimination based on race, gender, sexual preference, disabilities, culture and religion, these laws do not prevent workers from harassing and retaliating against others. Discrimination leads to poor work performance and satisfies the purpose of workplace abuse—to place a psychological and emotional obstacle in front of the target which effectively prevents work productivity (Bolden-Barett, 2018). Harassment is another form of workplace abuse. The purpose of harassment is to offend the co-worker. Harassment often offends third party listeners and creates an overall hostile environment in which to work. By creating a hostile work environment, work productivity is compromised (Bolden-Barett, 2018).

The impact of workplace abuse. Workplace abuse is not uncommon or isolated. Over 75% of workers in the United States report that they have been exposed to workplace abuse (Bolden-Barett, 2018). (Bolden-Barett, 2018). The overall impact of workplace abuse is a loss of productivity, i.e., a loss of actual work. Abused persons are concentrating on protecting themselves from further abuse, and from healing from past abuse. This situation makes it impossible to accomplish the necessary tasks that the workplace requires. The result is employee turnover (Bolden-Barett, 2018). Workplace abuse is costly for the employer because of the damage that it does to work performance and output.

In conclusion, the case of Catherine exemplifies the disparity between workplace abuse and school yard abuse. Catherine must find a way to appease her bully in order to get the bullying to stop. Catherine’s other options are to report her boss, but if the report does not go her way, she will end up worse off. Therefore, unlike school yard bullies, workplace abuse is accepted and dealt with before there are any reports to authority figures. Workplace abuse is an obstacle to work productivity, and it stems from psychosocial fears of being outdone by co-workers.

  • Bolden-Barret, V. (2018). Types of abuse in the workplace. Chron. Retrieved from http://work.chron.com/types-abuse-workplace-11426.html
  • Comaford, C. (2016). 75% of workers are affected by bullying — Here’s what to do about it. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2016/08/27/the-enormous-toll-workplace-bullying-takes-on-your-bottom-line/#57541e915595
  • Moss, S. (2016). Why some bosses bully their best employees. HBR. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/06/why-some-bosses-bully-their-best-employees

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