Companies can flourish off of two things: fear or respect; it is never both. Management that runs a company using fear has a false-sense of control. Earning the respect of employees is the road less traveled but yields the most successful results.
Organizations not vested in protecting, valuing and respecting its employees are generally focused on personal gain and not the greater purpose. Self-interest is an attitude that carries from the organizations top leaders down to regular staff and has the potential to drive a person into unethical behaviors.
Personal agendas are revealed when an unexpected crisis arise. They can be as small as preserving a title position or acquiring community recognition. Not every executive or employee is driven solely by monetary gain. Some, simply thrive off power and control.
Nevertheless, no crisis is ever without warning. There are internal and external causes that cultivate before an unexpected crisis. A workplace predisposed to improper behavior is likely to experience social conflict.
In this guide, I have openly shared my role in the crises that I experienced at work. My biggest mistake was feeding into the relaxed office environment and not being consistent in my professional conduct.
These workplace experiences uncovered a different side of myself being around such carefree people. Not saying that my coworkers didn’t have issues but coming from their particular backgrounds, they learned to live day-to-day. I didn’t understand that lifestyle choice and lived fast in the future. I planned for disaster. I didn’t have many friends and had grown depressed, anxious, worrisome, and exhausted. I didn’t realize it then but work was fulfilling an unmet need in my life. It was the first time that I didn’t take myself so seriously. I hung out, ate, shopped and even went to church with my coworkers. Psychological and physical imbalances formed as I shifted from my nature to theirs. It’s from this standpoint that I began to understand my coworkers.
At some point, we struggle with having unmet needs. It’s possibly the reason my coworkers indulged in past criminal behavior, physical, and substance abuse. Some people lack a support, so they hang out with the wrong crowd. Some lack financial means, so they take what they need. Others, crave love, so they look for it in the wrong places. Nevertheless, we carry all of these inadequacies with us everywhere we go.
Work consumes most of our waking hours. If you have issues or voids in your life, eventually, they will come out at work. Without discipline, it’s hard to control thoughts, feelings and emotions.
- Stop looking at work as a source to getting any or all of your needs met. You’re the answer to your organizations unmet need. A job is a means to fulfill a financial need not emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. With that compensation and time-off, it’s your responsibility to get those other needs met elsewhere. Outside that, you’re creating a crisis.
Creating a work-life balance is important to not losing yourself in a dysfunctional workplace. There are a host of interests that can socially enrich your life.
- Church or spiritual group
- Hobbies (sports, photography)
- Traveling (going new places)
- Meet-up groups/social gatherings
- Family (spouse, pets, relatives, kids)
Unhealthy ways in getting needs met at work:
- Bullying and harassment
- Emotional eating
- Distractions (Internet/cell phone abuse)
- Misuse of company time
Looking to have needs met isn’t always an innocent venture. Bullying and harassment also begins with having unmet needs. Our organization made of culture of workplace bullying. Stemming from executive management and circulating down to each department. Workplace bullies have no consequential fears and are driven by their own agendas. I don’t know every underlying reason people choose to bully or use it as a workplace practice. Usually, they are suffering from feelings of inadequacy in different areas of life.
Midway into 2009, I offered to help tutor a struggling male coworker with his undergraduate studies. He had retaken some courses and needed to pass. I would take lunch breaks and time after work, mostly by email, helping him with some difficult classes. The gesture was sincere. I saw a need and did what I could to help. During that time, he would occasionally joke around, and leave his wallet on my desk saying that I could have any of the credit cards in his wallet. I naively made out his actions as being grateful that I was helping him and my kindness was invaluable. I never took anything from him. I just laughed it off. October came around and he successfully passed his classes to earn a degree. Early one morning, as I was heading to work, I received a text from him wanting to know if I would date a guy that was tall, 43 years old, balding, and fat. I sat and pondered for several minutes, wondering if the question was rhetorical. Finally, I had a talk with my Blackberry. Okay so, what do we know so far? He’s not that smart. He has no money because we work at the same place. And, he probably has man-boobs, and I don’t date guys with those. So, the answer was no. I kept my response neutral because I didn’t want to feed into the self-loathing with sympathy or lead him to believe there were any possibilities.
One Saturday, I was at the mall doing some Christmas shopping when I received a phone call from him. I couldn’t think of anything he could possibly want or need, so I ignored it. He called again, and I ignored that too. So, he sends me a text message saying something to the effect of “why aren’t you answering your phone, that’s rude and when I call you need to answer.” I politely responded and said that I was busy spending time with family. He followed it up with more disrespectful texts to which I ignored. Over the next few weeks, I was barraged with texts and emails chastising me about my behavior. He went as far to forbid me from talking to other male coworkers. By this time, I’m getting used to the crazy in the office. I admit that it caught me off guard, in the beginning, but eventually wrote off his behavior.
I did share what I was going through with a female coworker. She pointed out that it was sexual harassment. I could barely wrap my mind around the idea because it wasn’t the way that I pictured sexual harassment. I had the worst case scenario in mind like photos, groping, and gestures. She suggested that I look into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to get a better understanding of the circumstances. I found that it was harassment and bullying.
I kept all of my emails and texts to show my supervisor. He took them to our program director who gave them to the human resources director. The two female directors called me in for a meeting and delivered the worst response ever. “If he sexually harassed you, then it’s your fault,” they said. The conversation felt like a plot in a sitcom. Then, they brought in the male coworker and sat us facing each other. Our knees nearly touching. Was this some form of witchcraft? The two directors were engaging military tactics, trying to convince us that nothing happened. They sent us out of the office and back down to our department together. The experience was confusing and uncomfortable.
Later that evening, I emailed the CEO to let him know what happened. The following day, his secretary scheduled us to meet. I explained what happened and gave him witnesses. He asked me who I wanted him to fire. The question felt like a trap. I replied there should be protocol in place to handle issues like these and not me telling you what I think should happen. He asked if there was anything that he could do for me. I let him know that I was in an uncomfortable position and could I have a few days off. He said “okay, well, I have your complaint and will investigate.” Basically, ‘no you can’t have time off.’ Time off meant an acknowledgment of a wrongdoing. Instead, he left me subjected to a hostile work environment.
It’s antagonizing and enraging trying to get over something traumatic when it’s staring you in the face. You turn one direction and it’s there. You find a rock to crawl under and “that someone” already beat you to it. Management’s actions let me know that my well-being wasn’t a priority. Discounting the issue and moving forward was the main concern.
I took my complaint through the entire chain of command with no resolution. I filed a complaint with the EEOC and went off work for 30 days with mental stress. Complaining labeled me a whistle-blower. I faced the worse retaliation after returning to work. The HR director spread my private issue throughout the organization. Employees on the upper floor asked questions about the incident. I endured stares and silence. Management had spoken to me about a promotion but took it off the table. Speaking out branded me a troublemaker and haunted me for three years.
Rarely does a person think that someone is going to take a kind gesture and make it into something ugly. I didn’t expect his behavior to do a 180 degree turn. I was so concerned with not hurting his feelings that I overlooked his behavior.
2. It’s best to be firm and direct when receiving unwanted advances. Keeping a neutral position instead of being direct sends mixed messages. Your discomfort level can gauge the necessary reaction. Reaching a point of discomfort in any situation suggests that you’re ignoring personal needs.
Bullying is a complex subject. Don’t expect bullies to resolve any issues that doesn’t involve more bullying. Organizations practice bullying to hide cracks in a weak foundation. While working on my graduate studies, I learned that you cannot resolve your own conflict. I needed assistance from an outside, third-party to manage my conflict. My question to organizations that practice workplace bullying is, what happens when you have a divergent? Someone with a different set of beliefs. Senior management couldn’t have me starting a wave of rebellion that might lead to change. This unexpected crisis revealed that they didn’t have the necessary tools to run a successful company based on professional ethics, integrity and effective communication. Instead, they used bullying to mask where they lacked in leadership.
Honestly, I don’t know what I could have done differently following the harassing behavior. In a dysfunctional workplace, you can adhere to all the proper procedures and your efforts won’t spark a response.
There are Fair Employment Practice Agencies (FEPA’s) available if you are facing a crisis at work and management is unresponsive.
- Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission
- Department of Labor
- Better Business Bureau
Confronting a Health Crisis
In 2013, I was over 200 pounds, depressed, struggling financially and overall miserable. I reached my lowest point. I had let life and those in it exhaust me of finances, stability, mental health, and compassion. I was facing a crisis.
I spent years hiding behind anger and sadness. The day that my supervisor called me an ABW (Angry Black Woman) I wanted to find a huge rock, not to crawl under, but knock him upside the head. Actually, I wanted to do both. It felt like someone ripped off all of my clothes. His words were deafening, like a sonic boom. He was right, but I wasn’t ready to confront the truth. A medical practitioner sent me to anger management class. Anger management made me angrier. I was angry that I had to get-up early, drive and pay for parking. The moderator made me angry by suggesting to not be angry. Mostly, I was angry the people who upset me didn’t have to go to anger management. I mean, wasn’t it everybody else’s fault? Later, I went to group therapy, work-stress clinic where I learned coping skills to survive my work environment.
The practitioner diagnosed me as having PTSD, anxiety, and depression. My internal systems were failing me as well. I was developing lymphedema in my feet, calves and ankles. I also found out that I was pre-diabetic. My wake-up call came when my doctor wanted to check me for cancer. The suspicion, itself, nearly killed me. Thankfully, I was cancer-free.
I experienced much guilt and shame after receiving those diagnoses. I didn’t recognize the person I had become. I was lost. No coping skills could save me from this disaster. When you reach a breaking point, deciding what to do is unavoidable. I have a rule that I live by. If I hear the same message or advice from three different people, I take action. Three different practitioners made the same comment: You need to figure out what you’re going to do about this job. I didn’t have a plan for the first time in my life. For the next two months, their words became my daily meditation. In November 2013, I quit my job.
Entering a dysfunctional workplace is never anyone’s intent. The key to surviving a crisis is taking proactive measures. I feared being the minority, so I focused my attention on fitting in the workplace, which led to conflict. I made the mistake of reacting to the dysfunction in our office instead of upholding professionalism and setting boundaries. You have power over your behavior. Focus on making changes within your control.
For five years, I fought for departmental changes; standing up against the tyranny of upper and senior management. Many times, I was standing alone. Positive change in the workplace takes a collective effort. As a staff person, you can fight for change but it’s the responsibility of senior management to initiate it. I left that job physically battered and psychologically bruised. It took nearly three years to rebuild my life around positive, healthy interests, goals and influences.