Friday, April 29, 2011

Verbal and mental abuse in the workplace

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 29 April 2011)

A person usually spends around 40 hours per week in the workplace. Some spend less, some spend more. Some spend much more than the typical 40 hours. At times, it can seem like one spends more time at work than at home. For this reason, it is vital for the work environment to be safe – both physically and mentally.

It has been brought to my attention that there are too many employers who are abusive to their employees. Abuse comes in many forms and the relationship between employer and employee can most certainly foster an unhealthy situation that undermines a productive work environment because of abuse.

Here is a fictional story from

“In a down economy where jobs were scarce, Toby was recently hired by a large IT firm. He was grateful for the opportunity to work.

Even though he had plenty of experience and confidence in himself, there were a lot of others vying for the same position. It wasn’t long before the boss, started talking down to him and treating him as if he didn’t know anything.

Toby wasn’t accustomed to being talked to in that manner, especially in front of his co-workers. He decided to watch and learn to see if this was a common practice for his boss to treat everyone like that or was he singled out. He put up with this workplace verbal abuse, and shook it off every day after work. After all, the job paid well and it was supporting himself and his family.”

Does this sound familiar? Or perhaps you have a boss that yells at the top of his/her lungs at you and the rest of your co-workers?

I had a bad boss in the past who had everyone draw pieces of paper from a box claiming that one piece said, “You are fired,” only to later discover it was a ploy to scare everyone. Those types of employers would do best to fire themselves.

I have also had my own business with employees and never once felt the need to verbally or mentally abuse them in order to get them to perform better. In fact, abusive behaviour in the workplace is counter productive to enhanced performance.

I could never perform to the best of my abilities in an abusive environment. Who could?
Railing an employee, whether in private or in public, about unsatisfactory performance will not produce the intended results.

Moreover, it is disrespectful and humiliating. There are some employers who use this tactic for the very fact that it is so denigrating, which is the very definition of an abusive employer. I grew up in a home where verbal and mental abuse was commonplace on any given day. As such, anyone who behaves in such a manner toward me now is dismissed immediately.

That includes employers. I have no time for anyone who cannot reason with me instead of using yelling or humiliation to express a point. I do not care how much money is being paid or how much I love my job, I decided a long time ago that I would never allow anyone to treat me in an abusive manner again.

And that includes those in positions of authority. I remember a time when I was pulled over by a police officer because I did not see him trying to pass me. He came to my window yelling and by the time he left, he was the one apologizing.

It is my belief that if you want to be treated with respect, you must treat others with respect. I demand respect from those with whom I interact and I give them the same type of respect I expect for myself. If you treat others with disdain, you can only expect to receive disdain in return.

Creating a workplace environment that reeks of fear inhibits employees from performing to the best of their abilities. It stifles creativity and you can bet your bottom dollar that you will have a high turnover rate. After all, who wants to work for an abusive employer? In other words, being an abusive employer costs the business a lot of money.

Here are a couple pointers for anyone who feels they work for an abusive employer (from

“First, verbal abuse sometimes starts off in a small way, such as a “correction” or a small ridicule spoken every once in a while.  From there it escalates into correcting you in a loud voice in front of others, downgrading your work, making remarks about your personal life in meetings and much more.

Some try to just ignore it, do their job and at the end of the day, go home and try to leave it at work.
But left unaddressed, workplace verbal abuse will ruin your health, both physically and mentally, and cause you to be unsure of yourself and your abilities. Eventually this type of treatment will run over into your personal life and before you know it…you’re being verbally abusive to your family and friends.

Second, when this workplace verbal harassment continues to escalate on a continuous basis, there is only one thing to do. You need to make a decision that now is the time to take a stand for yourself and put a stop to the abuse once and for all.

Before things go too far and you feel like the harassment is starting to get out of hand, confront your boss or co-worker about it directly. Maybe you said or did something that they have misunderstood or misconstrued. Talking out these issues with your boss or co-worker can, in most cases, be the end of the harassment.”

I plan to address other workplace issues in future columns, such as sexual harassment and maternity leave. It seems a shame that these issues must be addressed at all in the 21st century, but since they are still ongoing problems, it would be a travesty to turn a blind eye to the ill-treatment of employees.

We spend far too much time in the workplace to allow abusive bosses to wreak havoc on our psychological wellbeing.

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