Bullying and abuse can be found anywhere, in any town in the United States, and the workplace is no exception. I, like many others, have had my own experiences working in a hostile work environment, but this doesn’t make it OK. In fact, be aware if someone is downplaying your emotions, or making you feel like you are “blowing things out of proportion” when discussing hostilities you are experiencing. Gaslighting is a thing – it’s when someone manipulates you into questioning your own sanity when it comes to certain topics!
What Does Abuse Look Like in the Workplace?
There are many forms of abuse: physical, verbal, and emotional to name a few.
- Threats and insults – threatening loss of job, insulting a person behind their back or to their face, with or without an audience is considered abusive.
- Damaging property – throwing things around the office, or purposefully knocking papers and things off other’s desks are two examples of this.
- Humiliating employees – trying to make another person feel less than the perpetrator, purposefully embarrassing them in private or with an audience are two examples of humiliation.
- Verbal aggression – name calling is one example, emotional/verbal outbursts (followed by threatening victim to never mention a word of what was spoken), or if the perpetrator knowingly uses words to annoy, upset and offend their victims are all examples of verbal aggression. This can also come in the form of aggressive texts or emails.
- Dominant behaviors – demonstrating power over the victim, ensuring the victim knows who calls the shots, and isolating the victim so they have no one to talk to or connect with.
- Jealousy – the ugly green monster rears its ugly head!! At the root of most emotional abuse is jealousy not only breeds suspicion but, if left unchecked, can lead to greater abuse.
- Sexual harassment – this is another ugly monster which all-too-often is present in the workplace. This goes deeper than simply holding a door open or providing a friendly compliment about someone’s hair or apparel. Sexual comments, whether welcomed or not, is a form of abuse.
Above are just a few examples, other examples include someone purposely and negatively affecting someone’s work tasks, social ostracism and even giving someone “the silent treatment.” Stress is natural in work, but when it is intentionally caused by someone to another based on gender, race, age, political or religious views or for some other reason, the work environment has now become hostile.
In short, an abuser goes out of his or her way to
- make someone feel out of place with other colleagues (as if they don’t belong),
- make someone feel uncomfortable,
- jeopardize another’s work tasks and ability to complete their work,
- make unwanted sexual comments or advances towards a colleague or employee,
- show little to no respect for their victim either openly or in private,
- engage in acts of intimidation,
- purposely making an employee or coworker feel anxious, on edge, via demoralization,
- make unreasonable demands of his/her coworkers or employees,
- emotionally blackmail a colleague or employee (threatens a bad review, or one’s work altogether),
- deliver criticism in a harsh or punishing manner instead of guiding or leading someone,
- treat their subordinates or co-workers like slaves or servants,
- practice favoritism,
- make the victim feel as though it was their fault, and their emotions about them or a situation was self-inflicted,
- minimize any negative impact of their actions or behavior by making light of it to the abused or other people in the workplace,
- question your adequacy or commitment constantly,
- intrudes on your privacy,
- withholds necessary information crucial to your success.
What You Can Do About Abuse in the Workplace
If you are the one being abused or if you are witnessing it happening to someone else, there are things you can do to take action. The best one is to know your rights as an employee. Familiarizing yourself with labor laws is always good. You should also approach HR before taking further action.
Next, the victim should first face the music head-on and address the issue. If it is you who is facing the abuser, make sure to stay calm and collected, and keep eye contact at all times. Be calm and assertive in order to convey the message that you do not allow this type of treatment.
If the situation doesn’t improve, having a mediator can make a world of difference. This can come in the form of a supervisor where applicable, or a therapist. You can even choose to bring in a supervisor should you feel it is in the best interest of all involved.
If all else fails, it may be wise to seek legal action. Do what you can to thwart abusive attacks before taking legal action. At the very least, show you did everything you could before you took the route of lawyers and lawsuits!