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Archive for December, 2007

Hunting an ElephantElephant by Deddi shy

Mathematicians hunt elephants by going to Africa, throwing out everything that is not an elephant, and catching one of whatever is left.
Experienced mathematicians will prove the existence of at least one unique elephant and then leave the detection and capture of an actual elephant as an exercise for their graduate students.

Computer programmers hunt elephants by exercising Algorithm A:
1. Go to Africa.
2. Start at the Cape of Good Hope.
3. Work northward in an orderly manner, traversing the continent alternately east and west.
4. During each traverse pass,
a. Catch each animal seen.
b. Compare each animal caught to a known elephant.
c. Stop when a match is detected.
Experienced computer programmers modify Algorithm A by placing a known elephant in Cairo to ensure that the algorithm will terminate.

Economists don’t hunt elephants, but they believe that if elephants are paid enough, they will hunt themselves.
Experienced economists never saw an elephant, but they try to hunt one by controlling the interest rates.

Statisticians hunt the first gray animal they see N times and call it an elephant.
Experienced statisticians add that there is a small probability that the animal they hunted is a mouse.

Lawyers can let hunting a single elephant drag out for several years.
Experienced lawyers can make it last even longer.

Consultants don’t hunt elephants, and many have never hunted anything at all, but they can be hired by the hour to advise those people who do.
Experienced consultants can also measure the correlation of hat size and bullet color to the efficiency of elephant-hunting strategies, if someone else will only identify the elephants.

Politicians don’t hunt elephants, but they will share the elephants you catch with the people who voted for them.
Experienced politicians take the elephant for themselves and blame the press.

Managers set broad elephant-hunting policy based on the assumption that elephants are just like field mice, but with deeper voices.
Experienced managers keep in the project file the advise that claims that elephants are just like field mice.

Sales people don’t hunt elephants but spend their time selling elephants they haven’t caught, for delivery two days before the season opens.
Experienced sales people ship the first thing they catch and write up an invoice for an elephant.

Computer sales people catch gray animals at random, and sell any one of them weighs within plus or minus 15 percent of any previously observed elephant.
Experienced computer sales people catch gray rabbits, and sell them as desktop elephants.

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Entry level position:
You’ll be making minimum wage.
Entry level position in an up-and-coming company:
You’ll be making minimum wage; we’ll be bankrupt in a year.
Profit sharing plan:
Once it’s shared between the higher-ups, there won’t be a profit.
Competitive salary:
We remain competitive by paying less than our competitors.
Join our fast-paced company:
We have no time to train you; you’ll have to introduce yourself to your coworkers.
Nationally recognized leader:
Inc. Magazine wrote us up a few years ago, but we haven’t done anything innovative since.
Immediate opening:
The person who used to have this job gave notice a month ago. We’re just now running the ad.
Casual work atmosphere:
We don’t pay enough to expect that you’ll dress up, although a couple of the real daring guys wear earrings.
Competitive environment:
We have a lot of turnover.
Must be deadline oriented:
You’ll be six months behind schedule on your first day.
Some overtime required:
Some time each night and some time each weekend.
Flexible hours:
Work 40 hours; get paid for 25.
Must have an eye for detail:
We have no quality control.
College degree preferred:
Unless you wasted those four years studying something useless like Philosophy, English or Social Work.
Career minded:
Female Applicants must be childless (and remain that way).
Apply in person:
If you’re old, fat or ugly you’ll be told the position has been filled.
No phone calls please:
We’ve filled the job; our call for resumes is just a legal formality.
Problem solving skills a must:
You’re walking into a company in perpetual chaos.
Requires team leadership skills:
You’ll have the responsibilities of a manager, without the pay or respect.

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I know how to deal with stressful situations:
I’m usually on Prozac. When I’m not, I take lots of cigarette and coffee breaks.
I seek a job that will draw upon my strong communication & organizational skills:
I talk too much and like to tell other people what to do.
I’m extremely adept at all manner of office organization:
I’ve used Microsoft Office.
My pertinent work experience includes:
I hope you don’t ask me about all the McJobs I’ve had.
I take pride in my work:
I blame others for my mistakes.
I’m balanced and centered:
I’ll keep crystals at my desk and do Tai Chi in the lunchroom.
I have a sense of humor:
I know a lot of corny, old jokes and I tell them badly.
I’m willing to relocate:
As I leave San Quentin, anywhere’s better.
I’m extremely professional:
I carry a Day-Timer.
My background and skills match your requirements:
You’re probably looking for someone more experienced.
I am adaptable:
I’ve changed jobs a lot.
I am on the go:
I’m never at my desk.
I’m highly motivated to succeed:
The minute I find a better job, I’m outta there.
I have formal training:
I’m a college dropout.
I interact well with co-workers:
I’ve been accused of sexual harassment.
Thank you for your time and consideration:
Wait! Don’t throw me away!

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Laugh at Work

A business was looking for office help. They put a sign in the window, stating the following:

HELP WANTED

Must be able to type, have computer skills, and be

bilingual. We are an Equal Opportunity Employer.

A dog trotted up to the window, saw the sign and went inside. He looked at the receptionist and wagged his tail, then walked over to the sign, looked at it and whined a bit. Getting the idea, the receptionist got the office manager. The office manager looked at the dog and was surprised, to say the least. However, the dog looked determined, so he led him into the office. Inside, the dog jumped up on a chair and stared at the manager. The manager said “I can’t hire you. The sign says you have to be able to type.”The dog jumped down, went to the typewriter and proceeded to type out a perfect letter. He took out the page and trotted over to the manager and gave it to him, then jumped back up on the chair. The manager was stunned, but then told the dog, “The sign also says you have to be good with a computer.”

The dog jumped down again and went to the computer. The dog proceeded to enter and execute a perfect spreadsheet that worked flawlessly the first time.

By this time, the manager was totally dumb-founded! He looked at the dog and said, “I realize that you are a very intelligent dog and have some interesting abilities. However, I still can’t give you the job.”

The dog jumped down and went over to a copy of the sign and put his paw on the sentence about being an Equal Opportunity Employer.

The manager said “Yes, but the sign also says that you have to be bilingual.” The dog looked at that manager calmly and said, “Meow.”

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Physical or verbal abuse against
workers is bang out of order

 

In 2004, the Scottish Executive launched a public awareness campaign to address the problem of attacks on public-facing workers. The objective was to gain awareness of the issue and build public consensus that violence, whether physical or verbal, against those who work for the public is unaccep-table.

Many workers consider most types of abuse, and certainly verbal abuse, to be just ‘part of the job’. A ‘punchbag’ campaign on television and outdoor was developed using the line ‘Violence against workers is bang out of order’.

In Year two, the campaign continued and was developed to include the need to report such abuse, and provided the Crimestoppers Scotland hotline 0800 555 111 telephone number to report incidents, and the web address www.infoscotland.com/violenceatwork for more information.

Research concluded that the campaign was very successful with over 75% of the public strongly agreeing that physical and verbal abuse against workers was unacceptable and it must be reported.

However, although there is a high level of agreement ‘in principle’, in practice too many incidents are still not reported due a belief by many workers that nothing can be done about such behaviour.

So in Year three, a campaign has been developed to demonstrate that physical and verbal abuse are criminal offences and that there are consequences to behaviour such as threatening, spitting and physical abuse.

Depending on the severity of the case consequences can range from a fine to community service to time in jail.

The law takes physical and verbal abuse against workers seriously and this campaign reflects this.

The ads feature a cross-section of workers with ‘crime scene tape’ encasing their faces highlighting the abuse they have been a victim of, and states the consequences of the action for the perpetrator.

The campaign appears in press and outdoor sites and a mail pack is being sent to GP surgeries throughout Scotland in ‘flu season’ when patients are more likely to be abusive to practice staff.

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UNDERSTANDING WORK ABUSE:

 

Psychiatrists, other mental health professionals, managers, and anyone who works–that includes almost all of us–need to understand, in even greater depth than before, how and why people are becoming mentally and physically ill and drug addicted, as a result of the work they do daily.

The term work abuse describes emotional abuse of workers in dysfunctional work institutions, and as outlined in this paper, abuse it is parallel to, and often causes, child abuse in dysfunctional families.

 

Up to now, “work stress” has been a euphemism for most work abuse. Stress becomes abuse when we understand that stress may be the direct result of managerial practices perpetrated for the purpose of unnecessary control at the expense of workers’ health and productivity.

 

Perceptive and responsible mental health professionals are beginning to see quite clearly that abusive work–brought about by authoritarian work structures–is a major reason for the current failure of our institutions to meet public needs.

Wherever participative work has been introduced in this country and abroad, stress has been reduced, abuse nearly eliminated and productivity increased.

Inevitably, participation will have to replace authoritarianism in North America’s workplaces in order to eliminate abuse and for our institutions to become effective and worthy of our trust.

But until healthy participative work cultures happen, psychiatrists and support staff have an increasing responsibility to assist their patients and members to survive the abusive work they now face daily. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals must start now to intervene in authoritarian workplaces on behalf of their clients; union leaders must take responsibility for the mental health of their members rather than ignoring abuse issues; and managers must begin to find other ways to fulfill their own needs than to overcontrol working people in an authoritarian manner.

 

 

 

WHAT IS WORK ABUSE?

Work abuse is the brutalizing and dehumanizing of a person through patterned ways of interacting at work. This includes systematic denial that emotional abuse is happening.

The interactions are determined by a “work culture”–a set of unconscious rules, or “norms,” about how things are done, what is allowed or not allowed, and what is, or is not, faced openly and talked about.

Work abuse can affect a whole organization, a work group within the organization–or it can be focused on one individual, the scapegoat for the department. The scapegoat takes the focused blame and negative feelings, the abuse, of everyone. When the scapegoated person inevitably leaves or is fired, someone else may be selected by the group to fillthe slot. Sometimes an entire office or department performs the scapegoat function, the negativity sink, for the organization.

Hypnotic Denial Keeps Work Abuse Hidden

Work culture rules are mirrors of unconscious rules of interaction in a family. Abused employees feel to blame for feeling abused, the same as a dysfunctional family makes the kids feel bad and crazy for dad’s abusive behavior at home. Worst of all, a work culture is hypnotic–it defines how employees see reality.

Abused employees cope in the same way as abused children, by going numb–they enter a hypnotic trance that denies the pain by seeing the situation as impossible. Employees enter the hypnotic trance of protective denial as they get off the elevator at work each morning.

Employees in denial about their abuse often end up with illness: addictions, depression, violent behavior. Then they feel guilty about–and they are blamed for–having to take time off from work to treat the symptoms.

How Work Abuse Causes Mental Health Problems

How does work abuse affect mental health? Like overkill, work abuse effectively creates stress through 5 levels of assault: l) the abuse itself, 2) the inability to protest it, 3) being blamed and feeling guilty for reacting against it, 4) having to live in denial of all of this, 5) feeling guilty for the symptoms that then develop and further disrupt the employee’s functioning.

 

WORK ABUSE: SOCIAL ISSUE LONG IGNORED

Work abuse is an epidemic; the vast majority of workplaces are still abusive when they don’t have to be. Attitudes like “paying your dues,” “just a way to pay the bills,” and “TGIF” are too familiar. The truth is that we, as a society, have long expected work to be a miserable experience most of the time.

Just as in the 19th century it was the norm to think of healthy child-rearing as crushing a child’s spirit, it’s been the norm for work to be a form of punishment we escape from gladly.

It’s a positive sign that workplace opinion polls have been showing a steady trend toward more working people choosing job satisfaction over money and security. It follows that what we expect for our children we are just beginning to want for ourselves: more humane treatment.

Cranks, Troublemakers and Disgruntled Employees

Isn’t it just the cranks and troublemakers who end up with work disabilities? If it’s really so bad, why do so few complain–and these we call “disgruntled employees”?

We can not overstress the degree of denial that exists around this issue. Like alcoholics and victims of child abuse, people can not afford to be aware of the amount of pain they carry and the lack of options they see for resolving it, and still get themselves up and to work each morning.

In the same way, entire organizations must deny their fear-ridden work cultures. Work cultures can be healthy, but many are sick and headed by managers who need unempowered workers in order to feel superior.

Those marginal employees who “can’t take the heat” of the sick culture become physically or mentally ill. Marginal employees–often the most sensitive persons–become the scapegoats within systems that can’t face their sick cultures openly.

The Healthiest Employees Become the Troubled Employees in Work Abused Environments

Douglas LaBier, at Harvard’s Project on Technology, Work And Character, reports that the people with the highest sense of responsibility and imagination end up being “troublemakers” in many workplaces.

At first they may be the most disciplined and productive of employees, with high performance records. However, the same qualities that make them productive employees make them protest inefficient and degrading work norms. They end up with conflicts and symptoms because they can’t remain sane in an insane system without being seen as deviants.

LaBier’s book, Modern Madness: The Emotional Fallout of Success, 1986, documents the victimization of the best people in our work organizations, and the massive denial about it.

Workplace Violence and Work Abuse

It is becoming more and more common to read headlines about incidents of work related murders. Because of the denial around work abuse, these acts are explained away as personal life crises of seriously disturbed people. The work issues involved are minimized, if not totally ignored.

It’s true that there are many “seriously disturbed” people in the workforce who must earn a living. These people can function normally if put in an environment that brings out the best in them, rather than one that reinforces the abuse they experienced growing up.

We have had more than one client come to us at the end of their rope, tempted to act out violently because the system offered them no way to address conflict.

Methods do exist for resolving work conflicts openly, creatively and positively for all involved. But the tragedy is that many do not expect to have their conflicts resolved, because they are used to living with abuse. They usually remain in conflict ridden job situations until they self-destruct through disabling physical illness, mental breakdown, addictive behavior or violence.

Work Abuse is a Major Hidden Cause of the Dysfunctional Family.

Parents, especially fathers, trapped and helpless in their jobs, may come home and abuse their children or batter their wives. Employees who act out abusively at home are seen as insensitive and power-hungry, as dominators and abusers, by the public, their families, the helping professions, and even themselves.

The connection between being abused at work and abusing family members is largely denied. One exception was family therapist Virginia Satir who was interviewed about the abuse issue shortly before her death.

She asked the interviewer rhetorically, “How many people really like what happens to them at work? I’d like to know!” She made the connection between dad being abused at work and coming home and abusing the family because he can’t be heard at work.

Satir pointed out dad can’t be heard because of authoritarian managers needing to control him in order to relieve shame feelings inside themselves. “It’s clinically correct that people who abuse power are feeling weak inside,” she said.

As a society, we ask men and women to subject themselves to demeaning environments where they can’t afford to be sensitive. We ignore the daily violence done against them. Then we expect them to come home and be loving fathers and mothers.

How can we blame them when the society is presently taking no responsibility for maintaining the workplaces that treat them with violence and train them in numbness?

When psychiatrists, counselors, and enlightened managers take on the responsibility of assisting abused employees, we can expect family relationships to improve.

Work Abuse in the Federal Work System.

One counselor in another clinic said about one of our clients, who had quit a job at a large corporation because of abuse: “60,000 people work there, and 60,000 people can’t be wrong.”

The shocking reality is that 60,000 people can be wrong, and often are. As one outstanding example of this, we have seen first hand and documented how the inefficiency that pervades the federal government, and incenses the public and Congress, is the direct product of an abusive work culture of two million federal employees.

The authoritarian run Postal Service, one of the most abusive agencies, is expected to deliver mail while being the prime scapegoat for both business and the public.

It is a miracle that less than 5% of first class mail is misdelivered. In the Service’s drive to “increase productivity,” mail handlers are pushed beyond human limits with nowhere to go to be heard.

As early as 1980, Michael Maccoby, a Harvard University organization psychologist, announced that most federal agencies are openly abusive.

In one report summarizing his studies at the Commerce Department, he said, “The system brings out the worst, rather than the best in federal employees.”

In 1985, Robert F. Allen, organization psychologist who has worked with more than 400 organizations, reported to the House Human Resources Subcommittee about the massive abuse in government causing low productivity. “Federal employees want to do a good job but they can’t,” he reported. He said that abusive negative norms prevented feds from doing their job.

So far Congress has done nothing about feds’ low productivity stemming from the wide-spread work abuse. Congress people themselves are trapped in the abusive federal work culture. They have to be educated in depth to face their denial about their own norms of fear and blame.

Ineffective Institutions Linked to Work Abuse.

Failure of our institutions comes from the fact that employees in these institutions experience abusive work every day.

Most institutional norms prohibit employees from taking initiative, from solving problems so they don’t recur, and from drawing attention to inadequacies so that the inadequacies can be corrected.

Instead, employees are rewarded for protecting their turf, jockeying for a new position, and “covering your ass.” This happens because of the survival fear inherent in the ruthless jungle fighting of authoritarian environments.

Abusive jungle fighting in large corporations, and in state and federal governments, threatens the planet. As recent occurrences prove, engineers and scientists in these institutions are prevented from pointing out errors that may cause lives to be lost.

The Challenger and Three Mile Island disasters are but two of many incidents linked to norms of silence in authoritarian work structures. Collaborative work environments could have prevented these incidents by encouraging oversights to be spoken about openly before the accidents happened.

A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE

Why haven’t we been hearing about work abuse the way we’ve heard about child abuse? The conspiracy of silence has two major causes:

1) Overcontrol by Authoritarian Managers

The first is that in this country 95% of employers sustain–and deny–abusive work cultures to support a management doctrine of authoritarian over-control and motivation by fear.

The hard line methods are so prevalent that training texts in top American business schools state outright that a good manager keeps a tight authoritarian grip on employees.

Business schools and business publications are power oriented. They foster a sense of power entitlement in managers. Many managers want to believe as they are taught, that people lower down the hierarchy are less able and worthy of development and participation in decison-making.

They believe it because as individuals they want the power themselves in order to meet their misplaced esteem needs.

Why are managers power hungry? As explained in psychology text books, persons ignored and shamed in childhood often learn to grasp for power in order to ward off inner feelings of worthlessness and humiliation.

As hard as it may be to believe, many, if not most, top and mid-level managers need their power image so they can feel OK about themselves inside.

To ward off these inner shame feelings, many managers fight vigorously to defeat employee involvement programs introduced by their organizations–with the result of lost productivity and profit.

Understandably, managers, who use emotional abuse of employees to maintain privilege and control, do not want the issue raised to the public.

This is especially true for high visibility public agency heads. News media employees are in denial because abuse is inherent in their own work structures.

An example of how denial works in the media: a reporter for a daily newspaper contacted us about interviewing our clients for an article on work abuse.

“How do we know they are not just disgruntled employees?” the reporter asked. The question revealed her denial bias. We didn’t let the story be published because it would have exposed our clients to further abuse.

2) Survival Needs of Victims of Work Abuse

The second reason for silence about work abuse comes out of the survival needs of the victims. The depth of the abuse problem creates massive hopelessness in employees.

And the hopelessness must be covered by denial. No one can continue to function at work at all if they openly face their pain and hopelessness about it. The pain would be too great.

And few can believe in their own experience of abuse, because they are surrounded by denial on all sides.

Denial can be so strong that abused employees will actively defeat efforts to relieve their abuse. A group of low level employees in one federal agency torpedoed a project aimed at improving the work situation.

Explaining his anti-improvement attitude, one member of the group said, “This is a hoax; things will never change around here. Why raise our hopes?”

This reinforced helplessness and denial totally undermines the personal responsibility of the victim to exercise control over his or her own life. It represents a failure of responsibility by employers and helping professionals who contribute to the denial without realizing it.

Work Abuse is Overlooked as an Issue in Most Counseling

Many clients come to therapy to work on relationship issues. What happens is that they ignore their work abuse issue which may be just as large.

Both they and their therapists believe the work problem has no solution, so they don’t look at it. Clients may come to therapy with the symptoms of drug abuse or violence, and, with the tacit agreement of the counselor, ignore the causes in the workplace.

Counselors and clients blame the clients’ family histories for their inability to tolerate their work problems. It is an assumption in our society that you should be able to endure debilitating work situations because “the world doesn’t owe you a living,” and there is something wrong with you if you can’t.

Denial by Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Counselors

Hopelessness and denial is as strong among helping professionals as it is among working people. Many professionals, who themselves have escaped abusive workplaces to enter private practice, overlook the issue because it’s often too painful for them to see.

They fail to see the impact of workplace dysfunction on their patients–and they don’t see it as valid or feasible problem for therapy to address.

Mental health professionals’ own hopelessness, and lack of education on how workplace dynamics affects their patients, help seal the trap from which their work abused patients can’t escape.

Professional therapists rationalize their inability to help their patients with abusive work. They prefer to see the inner world and the outer world of their patients as two separate and unrelated realities.

One exception is a highly regarded psychologist, Will Schutz, who reported on a recent radio interview, “America is supposed to be a free country, but actually the corporate workplace makes it among the most repressive countries in the world.”

Schutz has introduced “concordance,” his name for employee involvement, into a number of companies. Schutz points out he has hardly made a dent because the problem is prodigious.

Stress Reduction: Bailing Out a Leaking Boat

What options are left a person who has to spend the major portion of her or his life in one or another of these abusive organizations? Answer: at present, not much.

Because less than 5% of work environments are non-abusive, those who decide to quit their jobs often get on a merry-go-round of going from one bad situation to another.

Often such employees get more depressed, desperate and self-blaming as they go. Or they go for stress reduction: bailing out the leaking boat.

What good is it to relax while being abused? How is it different from the children who learn to dissociate from their bodies while being battered?

Many people simply can’t quit their jobs because of the pressure of family obligations. This leaves most workers virtually imprisoned in abusive situations.

Until work cultures change drastically, workers’ greatest relief will come from recognizing the abuse and getting help to deal with it on an individual basis, from mental health professionals who are trained to deal with work abuse.

EXAMPLE CASES OF WORK ABUSE

These are three typical cases from three typically abusive work environments.

Oil Refinery

Sam was a black shift worker in a large oil refinery. He had a flawless 10-year performance record. When he got a new black supervisor who was threatened by his initiative, everything went downhill for Sam.

In the refinery’s authoritarian competitive work culture, people were rewarded for power plays, to get ahead by replacing or edging someone else out of their territory.

The supervisor, acting within these norms, subtly scapegoated Sam to keep Sam down. The supervisor harassed Sam by rigid enforcement of rules that others in the work group were allowed to relax.

Sam had nowhere to appeal his predicament. No one was willing to face the fact that competition norms affect black people as well as white.

The norms were not to address conflict openly and not to challenge legitimized authority. Sam’s extra work burden, combined with the discrimination and isolation in the work group, caused severe panic attacks. One panic attack caused Sam to have an auto accident.

Sam was off work because of stress disability; then he lost his job. Sam was isolated and alone. He suffered post traumatic stress disorder symptoms because no one could understand or help him with his no-win bind. Sam lost both his wife and his home because he couldn’t get another job.

Social Service Agency

Sara was a social worker in an agency for a chronically dysfunctional population. Her agency, like many of its kind, had a work culture that elevated the needs of the patients, while denigrating the needs of the staff. Staff worked to the edge of burnout.

Staff were told to express needs openly; however, they were treated as weak and inadequate if they dared to complain or set limits on the workload. In addition, the director established a competitive backbiting norm by badmouthing one employee to another in private.

Sara was pushed to produce at an impossible standard. As Sara became more and more burned out, she believed she was inadequate because she couldn’t keep up the pace.

She turned against fellow employees who ideally might have supported her in protesting the overwork. Later she learned that everyone doing her job felt the same bind.

She left the job to look for another; she found one, but the new job was as abusive as the old.

Federal Enforcement Agency

Finally, take the case of Clarence, who was an engineer in a federal enforcement agency.

Clarence had recently completed graduate work in organizational psychology paid for by the government. He began a new assignment with high ideals and initiative.

He soon discovered that his agency’s adversarial norms for dealing with partner agencies was keeping essential tasks from being accomplished.

With two co-workers he was able to design and implement a collaborative approach to problem-solving with the partner agencies.

Collaboration was productive to all involved. Suddenly, federal management shut down the project, separated Clarence and his two co-workers and reassigned Clarence to rote work.

The federal managers were into power and visibility for themselves; they were more comfortable with dictating to, than collaborating with, lower level agencies.

Like 99% of government agencies, this one had strong norms against employees taking initiative. The more Clarence tried to protest or address this issue, the more he was ostracized as a troublemaker.

Clarence became increasingly resentful and depressed from his inability to use his talents, get his job done, or address the truth at work.

Then one morning Clarence was suddenly fired for “undermining the authority of the agency.” He was offered a large lump sum by the agency not to proceed with an appeal of the firing that was an obvious set-up.

Clarence accepted the money because he was experiencing post traumatic stress disorder from three years of abusive treatment at the agency.

The public lost a dedicated public employee and the cash the agency paid to keep Clarence quiet.

PREVENTING AND TREATING WORK ABUSE

How can we prevent and treat work abuse? There are three facets to resolving the problem of work abuse. All depend on breaking through the public denial around this issue and legitimizing it as a crucial, deep-rooted cause of social and personal problems.

Solutions do exist, but they will never be put into widespread practice in the current climate of denial.

Mental Health Professionals Alerted

First, mental health professionals must become aware of work abuse as a hidden issue behind much personal and family dysfunction, and how to detect it.

Systems oriented family therapists and counselors need to be trained in our work culture model in order to help their clients deal with abuse at work.

Therapists with organization experience must be trained as employee advocates who can intervene in the workplace on behalf of clients, in order to mediate conflicts in a non-adversarial manner.

Mental health interventions begin with counseling for survivors. The approach is similar to treating war survivors of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

We are using our own model for validating and empowering the victim to understand how the work culture affects him or her and how to act effectively on her or his own behalf within the organization.

Psychiatrists who handle stress disability cases must be educated on the behavioral dynamics of the workplace that are the cause of stress.

They must learn to make recommendations for behavioral mediations in the workplace as a normal part of their treatment.

Work and Family Resources can assist psychiatrists to understand workplace dynamics and make recommendations that will enable their clients to cope at work.

Psychiatrists Can Have Immediate Impact To Alleviate Abusive Work

Psychiatrists must awaken now to how they are being used by management to expel work abused employees.

Flushing scapegoated employees down the disability chute with the stamp of approval by psychiatrists is a major way “misfits” are purged from dysfunctional organizations.

This allows organizations to continue abusive practices, while management is confirmed in its belief that the problem is with specific individuals rather than the abusive work environment.

Instead, psychiatrists must begin to advise organizations of the need to stop emotional abuse of their employees at work. In the case of Sam the refinery worker mentioned earlier, the company’s evaluating psychiatrist misunderstood Sam’s predicament.

He blamed Sam for not being able to cope and he would not confront the oil company. He pronounced Sam unfit for work when Sam’s disability ran out. When Sam protested, the psychiatrist advised Sam, “Get a good lawyer!”

Instead, the psychiatrist could have had a positive impact on all of the oil company’s employees by advising the company of the abusive work environment and explaining to the company Sam’s no-win situation.

This would have saved Sam’s job, and prevented breakup of his family and loss of his home.

Often we have been unable to convince psychiatrists of their responsbility to our mutual clients because of the psychiatrists’ strong belief that the employer can’t be wrong.

Psychiatrists are trained to be gatekeepers upholding conventional norms that sustain authoritarian work practices. Many psychiatrists uphold managerial prerogative values because they share these values.

We need heartful participative psychiatrists, just as we need participative managers. Interventions by psychiatrists can help employees–it’s not a pipe dream.

We know of two psychiatrists who on separate occasions intervened into the authoritarian run Postal Service in San Francisco with positive results for their clients.

When work abuse hits the headlines as a matter of public concern, more psychiatrists will begin to confront dysfunctional workplaces.

Changing the Work Abuse Culture is More Difficult

The second, more difficult facet of treatment and prevention is changing the work cultures themselves. This task is more difficult because of the resistance of top managers to letting any control go, not because there are no solutions.

Many, if not most, organization consultants unconsciously collude to prevent change toward work structures that will alleviate work abuse.

Like most corporate employee assistance program (EAP) specialists, because they are paid by managers who wish to maintain control, organization consultants can not allow themselves to see the employees’ need for them to confront the abuse issue.

In our experience, EAP specialists are confined to counseling employees who are alcoholic–instead of confronting inappropriate power tactics and resolving conflicts that cause much of the stress at work.

Even though there is foot dragging by many managers and consultants, literature in organization psychology has examples of successful change processes resulting in participative work cultures.

In collaborative cultures, employee work satisfaction and productivity skyrocket. Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence, 1982), in his most recent television special on organization change, “New Alliance for Leadership,” investigated 4 organizations which had turned participative in order to survive economically.

As Peters put it, “I expected to find 4 leaders, and instead I found 4,000.” The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor-Management Relations and Cooperative Programs, also has produced several half-hour videos on successful participation efforts in 5 workplaces.

The Bureau can be contacted for information on a full range of participation programs. Plenty of technology for organizational change exists and has been shown to succeed for both employee and organizational goals.

The prime obstacle in selling it is denial and resistance on the part of stakeholders in the abuse.

Unions Must Begin to Represent the Work Abuse Issue.

Unions have a responsibility to assist in changing the work culture. Many if not most unions take a “hands off” attitude toward abusive work environments.

The familiar label of dismissal given by union stewards to employer-employee emotional abuse is “personality problem.”

Unionists avoidance of the work abuse issue reflects the current lack of responsiveness by unions generally to employees’ needs. Only 15% of working people belong to unions because unions no longer represent the key needs of employees.

In fact many unions have become overly authoritarian, succumbing to the same abuse illness as the work organizations.

Unionists can assist their members by becoming educated about symptoms of organization dysfunction, as well as ways to confront management about their responsibility to re-educate abusive managers.

Many unions have opposed participative work for the same reason managers have opposed it: union leaders want to hold the power for themselves.

Union members must elect union officials who are participative in order to bring about participation and end abuse in the workplaces of America.

Education and Advocacy Needed Now to combat Work Abuse.

This leads to the third aspect of preventing and curing work abuse, education and advocacy. Extensive education is needed to overcome denial about work abuse, just as education was needed to overcome denial about child abuse.

Managers’ power needs causing abusive work is the toughest issue for people to understand and to begin to deal with. Extensive education is necessary to explain how managers’ heartless power drive comes from childhood programming reinforced by business school education.

Even more educational effort must be made to address how managers’ excessive power drive can be transformed to caring and participative leadership.

Mental health professionals have the responsiblity to provide leadership in promoting education about work abuse–just as they must make the transition to assisting individual employees by intervening in the workplace.

Advocacy by professionals is a necessity for creating healthy work environments. Work and Family Resources has behavioral technology available to assist professionals to take on these new responsibilities.

As in the crusade against child sexual abuse, just acknowledging the problem of work abuse and breaking through the denial about it will be 50% of the battle.

Help for Work Abused Employees Now.

If you are an abused employee reading this paper, there are three things you can do to begin to relieve your situation right away.

The first is to understand that you are not to blame for the predicament you find yourself in. You need to understand all the ways that the norm hypnosis has gotten to you, making you feel bad about yourself and bad about everyone else. You have to accept this predicament, including how isolated you feel.

The second thing you must do is to stop the behaviors that you are doing that cause the boss or the work group to act against you.

Deviating from the group norms will cause you more trouble in the form of work abuse. This does not mean that your behaviors are wrong or that the workplace is right.

It just means that in your workplace, some of your behaviors are outside the norms and you will be punished for them if you persist. No one person can change a system; if you don’t want what’s happening to you to happen, you have to stop the behaviors that are causing the reactions.

How to do this without giving oneself away is a difficult but not impossible task. It requires deep and extensive knowledge of the system so that you can outwit the powers that be while preserving you own sense of integrity.

The third thing is to realize that there are ways to work with difficult situations like the one you are in, feeling isolated, hurt and possibly scapegoated.

You need to get outside help because it’s very unlikely that you will find anyone inside your workplace who will help you. This is true because everyone will want to enforce the existing behavioral norms against you, despite the environment of work abuse.

Even your organization’s employee assistance program may not be able to help you. Outside counseling can assist you to develop a no-blame strategy to help you deal with the work situation.

You will need to develop a lot of skill. And you will need to get a tremendous amount of support.

Source: VIOLATING HUMAN NEEDS AT WORK by Judith Wyatt. Book: Work Abuse: How To Recognize and Survive It.Website about work abuse., http://www.netcom.com/~workfam1.

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An Interview with Chauncey Hare, family therapist
© 2000 Marge Mueller
Reproduced with permission

With graduation behind them, students will embark on new careers for the first time. Most will ponder the best job offers, work scenarios or office perks.

For many it will be their first experience as victims of work abuse.

Whether verbal or psychological or even physical, abuse of any form is traumatic for the victim. Chances are you or someone you know has been or will become victimized on the job by maligning supervisors — or worse. Others you’ve known have been or will become perpetrators of work abuse.

“Work abuse is so prevalent,” says Chauncey Hare, co-author of Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It, it’s always a shock for someone coming out of school to go into the workplace.”

Like child and spousal abuse 30 years ago, work abuse is still ignored by society.

“It’s everywhere and it’s highly denied,” Hare says. “Right now, there’s no way for a person to make the distinction between something that’s not work abuse and something that is—-until he or she goes through an enormous, highly traumatic situation.”

“In any organization that is authoritarian work abuse is prevalent. But because of denial people aren’t acknowledging it.”

Hare and co-author and wife Judith Wyatt, both licensed psychotherapists in San Francisco, coined the term work abuse in a 1988 report to the California legislature’s task force team on self-esteem. According to The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research’s statistics, 95 percent of all work organizations are authoritarian.

“That’s where work abuse happens” says Hare “In those 95% of organizations that are authoritarian.”

Four Types of Work Abuse

According to Hare, four types of work abuse exist. Neglectful or ongoing abuse occurs when employees’ basic needs are not met or they are blamed for expressing these needs. Ongoing abuse often happens in the midst of the other three types of work abuse.

In chronic scapegoating one person is chosen for abuse by the group. Everyone joins in as a way to vent negative feelings that can’t otherwise be addressed in the work system. If the scapegoat leaves the company, another employee usually assumes the scapegoat role.

With acute scapegoating one person receives the negative treatment–usually because the person’s behaviors don’t match group norms. The scapegoating stops when this employee leaves the organization.

Denial of due process, the fourth type of work abuse, occurs secondary to the other forms of abuse. With denial of due process the employer prevents or undermines appropriate means to resolve conflicts. Most work “horror stories” are cases of scapegoating resulting from unresolved conflicts.

Why Managers Abuse

Two reasons compel managers to abuse subordinates, according to Hare.

“One is the normative source, which comes from pressure by other managers to abuse,” Hare says. “The other is from the internal source that is an accumulation of past injuries that they now have an opportunity to offload.”

Hare attributes these injuries to childhood shaming experiences suffered by the manager that continue to manifest through school and into adulthood.

“Even at their last level of education, they’ve been abused and they’ve been hurt,” Hare says. “So when they move into their profession, they have an opportunity to unload their shame on other people.”

Origins of Shame

Hare describes two origins of shame that supervisors offload onto subordinates. One is “depriving shame” where the supervisor was not supported or validated as a child. Shame accumulates, and the child develops a sense of self-worthlessness.

“Punishing shame” is the other type. Managers who use this were often severely corrected as children. As managers they become highly abusive toward employees.

Shame and Self-worth

According to Hare, shame and self-worth issues play major roles in these individuals’ drives to become managers. They climb the social status scale, placing themselves in a position of superiority and self-entitlement.

“Their shaming is an unconscious pattern,” he says, “and there are very few people that would admit this. Even most therapists won’t admit it.”

Denial and Mental illness

The denial of work abuse as a cause of mental illness remains widespread in the mental health community. Hare says this view is due to most psychiatrists and therapists aligning with corporations and management.

“There is this feeling that goes on that working people are “less than,” Hare says. “So when the psychiatrist communicates with management there’s this underlying current of, ‘my client is “less than.” My client can’t accommodate your workplace.’ ”

Furthermore, Hare says psychiatrists view the workplace as normal and healthy, and they blame the victim, also. Few psychiatrists are aware that most work organizations are authoritarian and the cause of mental health disability.

“Mental health professionals then communicate to the workplace that there’s some problem with this employee,” Hare says. “Never that there is some problem with that organization.”

Post Traumatic Stress

Hare and Wyatt have documented work abuse as causing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims.

Some become disabled because of their abuse by supervisors. Most work abuse victims suffer from some symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, nightmares, irritability, insomnia and poor concentration.

Work Abuse and Disability: Who’s to Blame?

Receiving a PTSD disability claim resulting from work abuse is rare, according to Hare. He says one reason is because of the financial support the mental health field receives from employers through insurance payments.

The main reason for denial of PTSD-related disability is that, like society, mental health professionals blame the victim for his or her symptoms. Often, the psychiatrist will diagnose the illness as depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder or borderline personality disorder. The victim’s illness appears to be an inherent problem with the abused individual.

“I’ve run into many people who have these kinds of diagnoses,” Hare says. “Sometimes they’ve been in therapy a couple of years with these erroneous diagnoses.”

Blame by One’s Support System: Self-preservation and Denial

If work abuse is so widespread one may wonder why society, coworkers and even family members blame the victim. Hare says most people do not want to believe work abuse exists, especially if they have worked many years.

“After 40 or 50 years they don’t want to now discover the truth,” Hare says. “You don’t like being reminded of your pain. You can’t afford to break the denial on it after so many years.”

Denial and Stigmatization

The denial of work abuse stigmatizes the victim. Other employees may ostracize an abused coworker to protect their own sense of denial.

“There’s ongoing, neglectful abusive behavior happening all the time,” Hare says. “So, when a scapegoat is chosen, he or she is really a stand-in or diversion so that people don’t have to confront the problem inherent in the work system. Everyone participates in scapegoating the one individual in order to avoid focusing on the deeper systems problem.”

The Media’s Role

Society also perpetuates the denial of work abuse through the media, according to Hare.

“They want to keep this entire thing a secret,” Hare says. “They’re aligned with the top management of these corporations because they are funded by them. So they don’t dare call attention to work abuse.”

Excellent Workers and Non-conformists

Hare says victims of work abuse are usually not selected at random. Those at greatest risk are employees who do not conform to a company’s norms, which are the unique and unconscious rules of each work system. Norms are enforced by members of each workplace. Employees may not even be aware when they are not conforming and then wonder why they’ve been chosen to be the group’s scapegoat.

Abusive work systems often mimic dysfunctional families, and employees adopt similar behaviors at work that they maintained in their own families.

“If their personal behavior patterns are far different from the norms,” Hare says, “then these are the people that get picked on the most.

“The people who have their own ideas and speak out, they can be pretty severely abused. So it’s very possible for an excellent worker to be abused.”

How to Determine if You Are Being Work Abused

With ongoing abuse, basic work needs are denied. This includes not obtaining validation, information, encouragement and communication from management or fellow coworkers. Most employees experience work abuse like this and fail to recognize it, because it’s “normal.”

“People just get used to this treatment,” Hare says. “It’s like fish in water. They can’t see it because they are in the middle of it and used to it.”

With scapegoating, victims also exhibit personal behaviors vastly different from the organizations’ norms. Hare uses the example of women who enter predominantly male professions, such as the police department.

“In order to stay there you have to take on a lot of male kinds of behavior,” Hare says. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be allowed to stay. You would get pushed out.”

You May Not Recognize That You Are Being Work Abused

Work abuse is so prevalent, victims often do not realize they are being maligned. Hare says most cannot break the denial that prevents them from seeing their own work abuse until they experience a severely traumatic situation.

“You get a gut-level interest when you’ve been beaten to hell and then you break denial; it may take that much.” Hare says.

“Beaten to hell” can be literal or figurative. Hare, formerly an engineer, experienced work abuse so severe, though not physical, it led him to become a therapist in order to help others recover from their abuse.

How People Adapt to Abusive Work

Most workers remain in abusive work settings because they have not experienced that traumatic experience yet. Workers stay in abusive organizations by adapting to their companies’ norms. Hare says there are three stages of adaptation.

Observing and assessing the behaviors of others in the organization is the first step. Next is changing one’s behaviors to align with others behaviors. This is difficult because it involves the new employee changing his or her own beliefs. Lastly, the employee starts enforcing these behaviors — enforcing the norms — on other employees.

“In the adaptation process,” Hare says, “you finally say to yourself, “Hey this is reality. Up to now, I didn’t know what reality was.”

“The funny thing is if you visit lots and lots of companies as I have, you’ll see so many different combinations of norms, and you’ll see all these different realities.” Hare says he has visited more than 1000 workplaces during more than twenty-five years of study of this problem.

In authoritarian organizations systems problems are blamed on individuals. And task accomplishment is secondary, even if it means the company loses money.

“They’d rather have that exercise of power than productivity and money,” Hare says. “If that weren’t the case, those organizations would change because the technology (to change) is known.”

Collaborative Organizations Not Authoritarian Ones

Hare refers to collaborative organizations, where everyone works together making decisions. Communications are honest. Task accomplishment is foremost.

“Usually in a collaborative organizations, you’ll find the people at the top have a lot of empathy and really align with the workers,” Hare says.

“Once people have felt and experienced a collaborative work group, they never forget it. You never want to go back (to an authoritarian system). If the public had enough awareness — less ignorance — about the work abuse issue, there would be a demand for collaborative organizations.”

Surviving an Abusive Work Situation

Since there are so few collaborative organizations currently, abused workers must survive within an authoritarian system. Recognizing what work abuse is makes it possible to survive.

“You have to go through almost a spiritual transformation,” Hare says. “You are looking at people around you, recognizing that they are in ignorance. They don’t know what you know. They haven’t been through the trauma, and they are hiding out. So, you have to get very compassionate toward them rather than getting angry at them.”

Hare says the most effective tool in surviving an abusive work setting, besides becoming more aware about work abuse, is to maintain self-control at work. He warns against adopting feelings of injustice or of the need to act out against the employer.

“People don’t understand that the whole situation is unjust from day one,” Hare says. “When you understand why this is happening, then you can let go of needing to react.”

Healing from Work Abuse

Hare says there are four steps to healing from work abuse. Release of hurt feelings and validation of one’s experiences is the first step. Next is “ordering of events” or developing an explanation of what happened. Then shame healing or getting beyond self-blame can be addressed. Integration of the trauma into one’s life journey is the final step.

This final integration step often involves the survivor dedicating a part of his or her life to addressing the work abuse issue in a more global way. This is the route Hare has chosen.

“The way forward is to have more and more people acknowledge work abuse,” Hare says. “The technology of successful change already exists, it’s not a secret. Management will be forced to change work systems when workers and the public demand the change.”

Interview by Marge Mueller, Bloomington, IN 47403, USA, phone 812-330-1303, email chang_yukon@email.com

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