Here we offer our views on cases as a way to support you when you are dealing with a work abuse issue. We offer our information to validate your work issue. Please share this support information with your therapist or attorney; they are your authorities on how, or if, to apply this information to your situation.


HUMAN RESOURCES IS A EUPHEMISM for personnel management. HR people are hired to handle personnel matters in such a way as to minimize legal ramifications to the company. It is a mistake to be fooled into seeking HR for help in resolving any workplace issue. Here's an example.

Very recently an employee filed a safety complaint with Osha. The employee's manager immediately (and illegally) fired the employee. When top management received notification of the complaint from Osha, they assigned the manager who fired the employee the job of "investigating the situation." A HR manager suggested to the offending manager that the employee's performance records be doctored to show that the employee was performing unsatisfactorily and was fired for cause. Then the HR manager negotiated with the employee to take a one month's severance package--thus saving the company many thousands of dollars in legal fees. The HR manager betrayed the employee, and was promoted to Vice-President of Human Resources at twice the salary. A sad but true story. Beware!

Chauncey and Judy attended a continuing education course in psychotherapy a short time ago. One of the cases under consideration was a HR manager who had been off work for six years because of deep depression. The circumstances surrounding this case indicated that the requirements of the HR job (to betray ones own integrity and worth) may have been at least partially responsible for the manager's extended disability.


SCAPEGOATING---A WORLD-WIDE PROBLEM. Rob, a union member, worked for the same company seventeen years without incident. But when he was transferred to a new work group he was picked on unmercifully by a perfectionist boss, Raymond. The more Rob tried to satisfy Raymond's unrealistic demands for perfection, the more Raymond expected.

A year after the transfer, Rob had a breakdown and took a month medical leave of absence recommended by his psychiatrist. When Rob returned, Raymond refused to honor the psychiatrist's request for conflict resolution or to transfer Rob back to his old work group. Raymond insisted that his hounding of Rob was intended to help correct his "poor performance." After another six months, Rob was fired; his poor performance fulfilled Raymond's irrational prophecy.

In the UK what happened to Rob is called "bullying," in Sweden it's called "mobbing," and in Tokyo where it is unlawful to fire a worker, shaming a worker to force him or her to quit sometimes ends in suicide. By whatever name, scapegoating of an individual worker is common in authoritarian work organizations around the world.

No studies have been made of the frequency of scapegoating in the US. But a London-based Institute for Personnel and Development 1996 survey showed 1 out of 8 workers have been bullied in the past five years.

In Rob's case, the union steward, the president of the local, and the union's business agent called the conflict between Raymond and Rob "a personality problem." Fortunately, they did not encourage Rob to file a grievance, which would not have helped Rob escape Raymond's misuse of role abuse---and may have amplified it.

Although scapegoating is commonly seen as conflict between two people, it is actually a work systems issue. Scapegoating happens in work systems with authoritarian power structures. It does not happen in work systems where power is shared, people are involved in decisions, and easily and openly confront poor behaviors.

Scapegoating is much easier to prevent than stop. If you suspect you or someone you know is on the way to being scapegoated, make an evaluation before acting. Answer yes or no to these questions:

1) Is the organization authoritarian (do bosses tell people what to do without asking for input)? If your answer is no, then you can readily and easily take preventative action to resolve the conflict before it escalates. If your answer is yes, then there is little likelihood you will be able to get help to deal with the situation fairly and rationally, because everyone will want to avoid it.

2) Are you using behaviors that other people in your work group do not use? If your answer is yes, you (or your friend) must stop these behaviors in order to stop being scapegoated. Even if the behaviors are "reasonable," as long as other people do not use them, you will be picked on if you persist.

If your answer is yes to question one, and no to question 2, you must leave the situation (similar to the one Rob faced) as soon as possible, because you (or your friend) are being treated irrationally, and no matter what you do, you won't be able stop it once it escalates. Unfair termination is often the outcome.

Understanding scapegoating is the key to preventing it. More information as to why it happens, what to do to prevent it, and many case examples are included in the book, Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It.


Martha was a special ed teacher in her mid-thirties. She had been forced to work overtime for more than a year by a domineering boss, Alma, who had need of her department being seen as superior to all other departments in the school. Alma badgered Martha to work on projects that would publicize the department and make Alma standout above other department heads. Martha felt trapped and finally had a breakdown. She ran a high fever and began envisioning miraculous interventions into her work situation by famous figures from the past--Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others.

Martha had a hard time connecting the breakdown to her work situation, a common example of how society encourages people to blame themselves for not being able to stand abusive work. When she came to counseling with us, she said she had no other therapist. After several sessions she was willing to see that she was not the cause of her breakdown---and then she said that, yes, she did have a therapist, but was afraid to tell us because her therapist could not seem to deal with work issues; she focused on childhood instead.

Martha decided not to go back to work with Alma, but needed Alma to write a letter of recommendation so that Martha could get a job somewhere else. Martha met with Alma and showed her a physician's statement that said Martha needed time off in order to recover from overwork. Instead of being sympathetic, Alma exploded and blamed Martha for "letting me down."

At this point Martha realized the extent of Alama's narcissism that prevented Alama from seeing Martha's needs. Martha left the school without the recommendation letter from Alma, and with the expectation that if anyone called Alma, that Alma would badmouth Martha.

Martha complained to us about the betrayal and injustice of the situation. We extended empathy and understanding, and we spent several sessions reviewing the meaning of "injustice." We explained that workplaces are not just, and that to have the expectation of justice is a thinking error. It is necessary to assess work situations immediately upon taking a job and setting down limits. Once an employee allows her or himself to be used, there will be the expectation of unlimited use. It is true that you may not be able take a job, or may have to leave the job sooner than you wished, once you make an assessment of your boss and work group and discover that she or he is an abuser, or that coworkers are abusive.

But like spousal abuse, you must leave the situation. Because it will not improve. Seeing a situation as bad and hoping it will get better when it won't is denial. Denial seldom works because it catches up with you in the end.


Barbara worked in an office for more than fifteen years. She worked excessive amounts of overtime, and was verbally abused by her boss. She finally had a breakdown (panic attacks, anxiety, and flashbacks on office interactions). Barbara is now on disability leave from her work organization. She is on medication and is seeing a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist.

Our Response: Our approach to workplace counseling is a non-blaming one and we do not, ourselves, favor legal recourses to most situations (because of blacklisting among employers who may designate you a litigious person and keep you from getting rehired)....but we do suggest that it is best to see an attorney immediately in order to learn of legal options. Find an attorney (through your local bar association) who has labor/employment law credentials. In your instance we would suggest finding out (if you haven't already) the very specific stipulations or conditions for returning to work at the office. That is, what the office requires in order for you to return to work. Then with the assistance of your counselor, deciding if you will be able to meet the requirements if/when you return. Deciding if you can meet the requirements means can you, mentally/behaviorally, adjust and adapt to the requirements with your counselors help. This is a decision to be made, even though difficult.

Ideally, your counselor (or behaviorally sensitive attorney) can be an advocate/mediator communicating with the office as to your needs and the office's needs, so that the people at the office can gain a new perspective that replaces their old perspective of you (as someone to use without concern for your well-being). And the office can work with you in an improved way to assure your successful return.

The major problem, and you don't really have to be reminded I'm sure (so this is validating you) the office has gotten used to taking you (and probably others) for granted. And having them shift their perceptions of you, very likely, will be difficult. It is also true that society in general is in denial about the extent that clerical and other working people deserve to be treated fairly---there is a wide assumption that it's OK to overlook people's basic need for humane treatment.

This brings up the very important topic of justice, and injustice. It is likely that you feel your situation is unjust and unfair, and that you are trapped in an unfair situation. This is almost universally true for people we have worked with and work with now in counseling. So it is about learning the truth about "justice" in regard to work. Basically, there is no justice in the workworld---most attorneys will tell you this as well as counselors, like ourselves, who help working people every day.

To keep expecting justice or hoping for it, is a major roadblock in handling abusive work. Expecting justice and wishing for it is like wanting a parent to be nice (when most parents don't know how to be nice, because they were mistreated as kids too). People who are at the top of most organizations are people who we wish could be just and fair, but unfortunately are not---simply because they are people who often need to see themselves as superior to others (that is, they have not progressed personally, behaviorally to the extent that they can see how they need to empower working people rather than mistreat them).

95 % of organizations are authoritarian, meaning: they do not share power with employees. This is a scientific fact measured at thousands of workplaces by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Injustice is part of authoritarian work structures. Expecting justice is a thinking error. Healing from past injustices and preventing (as much as possible) new injustices is the way to go.

Most working people have not learned this basic truth about work, because it is withheld in school and by society generally: that each working person when employed by someone else will be working in an authoritarian environment (being given orders without consultation)---and that means each person must learn how to minimize being mistreated----without blaming oneself (maintaining self-respect) for having to "cow-tow" in order to survive a basically unjust situation. This is a tough, tough learning.

In order to return to your office employment, or to take any job where you are employed in the future means you have to make a shift inside yourself away from dependence on the employer for "fairness." This will require acquiring behavioral skills (after healing from you present emotional injury) so you can take a job, and do the job in a more empowered way---that would include setting limits in a way that you can truly be heard. This would likely be a very big behavioral shift for you.

Skillfully setting limits so that you are not overworked at the office where you have been employed and already used, probably sounds totally impossible....and feels totally you have to embark on behavior change on faith...this is very hard...and a big shift. And it is basically unfair. That fact of unfairness can not be changed in the forseeable future---this country is built on working people being treated unequally: this is a fact that is much too easily denied as a national myth (the myth of "making it" includes using/mistreating other people in order to "make it.")

To sum up this message, it is important to work with your counselor to develop behavioral skills you will need to survive in an unfair workworld (this includes understanding how others--possibly even your friends and family--still are stuck in expecting fairness, or insisting the office is right and you are wrong---which is the mistake of seeing authorities as "correct" and you as the working person as "wrong"). Finding other people who have made the realizations you are making in order to validate you and help you keep your self-respect would be very important right now. We have no answers on this. There is not even a forum for such sharing on the internet (as there is for other types of abuse).

There are not many people, yet, in this position of developing true awareness about work and the abuses that are too common. It is only lately that people are coming out of the dark ages and becoming conscious of the truth about work. This is not to blame managers. Blame is useless. The problem is ignorance by managers (who have the responsibility for work systems) and by working people (who project too much power toward the managers).

Abusive work will end when workers wake up to their abusive situations, build the behavioral skills required to survive in these unfair situation---- and collectively begin to demand democratic work. This is not going to happen tomorrow; but building your skills can begin now, and that is the only really hopeful way out of your situation.

We hope this helps...We would be happy to communicate further, including with your counselor.