By Erica Pinsky, workplace bullying expert and author of Road to Respect: Path to Profit — How to Become an Employer of Choice by Building a Respectful Workplace Culture
I started writing Road to Respect in January 2007. The economy was hot and jobs were plentiful. I share a story in the introduction to the book about an employee who advised me that as not much had changed since my Respectful Workplace training sessions, he and a lot of his colleagues were looking around.
Chances are if I spoke to that same employee today I would be hearing something quite different. The recession has unfortunately caused the balance of power, which is already stacked on the employer’s side, to shift. More employees than jobs means that employees will choose to stay at their job, regardless of how bad it gets, because the option of no paycheque seems even worse that daily abuse.
We don’t have to guess how this recession has affected employees. We are seeing increases in complaints of discrimination filed with the EEOC. Statistics show that far too many employees are working harder than ever, and stress levels in many workplaces are skyrocketing.
The answer to the question posed in the title of this post is clear. This recession has, for the most part, benefited the bullies, not the bright, capable, competent people they tend to target.
I say for the most part because there has been some good news for those who work to promote respect at work over the last 2 years. Ontario, the most populous Canadian province, passed anti-bullying legislation in June 2010. Manitoba followed their lead in October. The result is that the balance of power is shifting back towards employees.
There is some encouraging news in the US as well. On February 10th, Maryland became the 20th state to introduce a version of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.*
The other positive sign is the increasing amount of media coverage and attention focused on workplace bullying. The eBossWatch Worst Bosses survey was a great example of how newsworthy bad bosses are becoming. As a result there are many more resources available to support those that are being targeted, and the employer community is starting to pay attention.
While I know that this is small comfort to individuals that are currently being targeted, awareness about a problem is the first step in addressing it. Yes, the recession has made is easier for bullies to flourish. Many an unsuspecting organization has trusted these bullies who advised that employee X or Y should be the first to go when the layoffs started. What those organizations fail to appreciate is that when this recession is over, and we all know that at some point that will happen, they will have lost their best and brightest and be left with scores of stressed out employees, ready to bolt and escape the negative and fear based atmosphere that bullies create as soon as an opportunity presents itself.
Something I repeatedly stress to my audiences is the importance of accessing our power of choice when faced by challenges in life. Dealing with bullying at work can be incredibly difficult and draining. However, we can make a choice to support ourselves and devise a strategy to keep ourselves healthy and strong to survive what we are dealing with at work.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Remember knowledge is power. Be your own best advocate. Refuse to be victimized. Reach out to those that can help and support you. Speak up about strategically and respectfully about what is going on. Get your employer’s attention by showing how the bully is affecting the team and the business’s bottom line. And when jobs start appearing, access your power of knowledge and choose to work in a values based, respectful workplace.
* The Workplace Bullying Institute