Our commentary on current issues or events related to work abuse.
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Trainings for people who have been abused in the workplace--and for
therapists who treat these people--can be held at our office on Fair Oaks
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Trainings cover the key issues of Norms, Character Styles (Cims), and
Self-Interests as described in the book Work Abuse and as they relate to
surviving abusive workplaces. How to handle feelings of injustice/betrayal
and feeling trapped, the two key after-effects of abuse, will be included.
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NEWS AND ANALYSIS
MAVERICKS VERSUS CORPORATE ABUSE----How Founders' Stories Establish Organization Norms----
author's name withheld
I was asked to what degree my maverick nature might have contributed to
my poor fit within a pathological organization. Answer:
everything! That was precisely the trigger that irritated those around
me who fought in the various power struggles. You see, I didn't care who
won as long as problems got solved and work got done. That made me an
unaligned individual. The various factions behaved very much like
teenage gangs attacking a non-gang-member in their territory. (And the
various factions had staked out the entire company as "their" territory,
so there was no other place for me to be!) Either align with one faction
or be attacked by all as a weak individual without protection. You see
the same phenomenon in prisons.
Alignment, though, means giving up your personal power into the hands
of the local gangster. If you want to get things done through influence,
or bridge the gap between gangs (often a necessity to get anything
done), you can't afford to become a minion of the nearest gangster. When
that gangster is ousted (as my immediate superior finally was, despite
his #2 role in the company ... adroitly outmaneuvered by a part-time
contractor in a minor post who eventually took de facto control of the
company -- while REMAINING a part-time contractor, albeit in a much less
minor post), that gangster's entire alliance gets squeezed out too.
How do cultures like this get started? I think, in the case of
smaller organizations still run by the founder, the seed is planted by
the founder. In the early stages of a startup, the CEO of necessity is
everything and does everything and stays involved in everything. Early
hires succeed at the company by divining the CEO's motives and
preferences (and vision, if he/she has one) and incorporating those
things into their own behavior. Often they do so with more rigidity than
the CEO ever personally displayed.
The first place that pattern shows up is in subsequent hires. A clear
pattern of hiring to the CEO's prefered personality type gets
established. If the CEO is a bully, or a psychopath, or a deceiver, or
otherwise damaged individual, what you will see among employees is
predominantly people who can be bullied, or people who are accustomed to
psychopathic abuse, or people who are gullible in the face of lies.
There will also be a subgroup that mirrors the CEO's bullying, or
psychopathology, or deceit, and use it for their own ends. BOTH groups
will fit within the corporate culture, and BOTH will maintain it ...
either as victors or victims. The victims get abused, but by not
confronting the abuser or leaving the company, they perpetuate the
abusive cycle. The abusers, in turn, recruit ever more abusees to expand
their circle of
The folks who DON'T fit in either group will never survive in that
organization once the number of employees who DO fit reaches critical
P>(1) The CEO happened to be a skilled sculptor. He had several female
employees pose nude for a twelve-foot bronze statue that he later placed
outside the front door. The statue, mounted on a four-foot granite base,
depicted a naked male with raised hands (obviously the CEO) lifting the
feet of a naked female (obviously NOT the CEO's wife) who reached for
the sky. The bronzed CEO d--- hit all the women right at eye-level every
morning when they came in to work. The men, of course, marveled at the
woman, saying of the CEO, "He certainly got the curves right." Yet even
the men were not totally comfortable. Persons unknown would scrawl crude
sketches of the statue in chalk on the asphalt of the parking spaces
before the office, noting the oversized male member and annotating it
with phrases like, "Too big."
(2) Ex-employees somehow found ways to break in and disrupt computer
systems, erase data critical to corporate functioning, or steal vital
Rolodexes from the computerphobic, toilet-paper the building on
Halloween (only building in the neighborhood so treated), etc.
(3) Ex-employees continually brought lawsuits against the company for
harassment, wrongful termination, and violation of various labor laws.
(4) Current employees not fitting into the corporate mold ... at
least, I THINK they were current employees ... did things like exorcise
the building of demons (leaving oil crosses on doorposts and telephones
and computer systems), or sprinkle salt across the tops of all door
frames (supposedly an occult practice to ward off danger).
(5) In an informal survey I did of the people I worked with daily,
100% were on some kind of stress control or antidepressant or heart
medication. (Sample size = about 15 across three departments, including
both supervisors and supervisees.) Several men had serious heart
problems, while several women were dangerously suicidal.
(6) In a very formal calculation I did for the 18 months I worked
there, the annualized employee turnover rate was 98%.
All symptoms of "corporate abuse." Once institutionalized, I'm not
sure even the CEO could change it. (Even if he were aware it existed ...
which he wasn't.)
HOW DO YOU TELL WHAT'S REAL----
WHERE YOU WORK?
Today, "made in the USA" may represent to the world the same poor
quality that "made in Japan" used to mean, but perhaps no one where you work will acknowledge
it. You may suspect that what's being touted as real at work is someone's gimmick for self-
promotion rather than something that benefits your organization's client or customer. You can't get
a solid fix on the situation, however, because the authentic has given way to appearances
everywhere. Few will tell the truth. Many have forgotten or never knew how to. Ambiguity is
rampant, and no one will concede even that. You have the scary feeling that comes from avoiding
the truth while hoping it will go away: you're standing on shifting sand, you're looking through
smoky glass. Where you work, how do you tell what's real, who's real?
Like Roger, a skilled imager and successful sales rep in an electronics supply company, U.S.
business has gained preeminence while avoiding the truth; it has been absorbed with appearances
while overlooking substance and spirit. Denial by Western businesses has made you anxious and
unsettled. Through your lowered standard of living, you're having to pay for years of avoiding the
real. You personally may want to be real and make a substantial contribution at work, but like many
people, perhaps you can't, because appearances still count more than essence in your workplace.
Perhaps someone like imaging Roger may be using you to move to the top.
By understanding Roger, his organization development friends, and their often false simulations
of Total Quality Control (and other management fads), you will better understand how Western
businesses you mistrust have come to depend on and reward Roger types while neglecting the little
people like you and me. Knowing how Roger succeeds will assist you to deal with the "imaging
Roger" who may be your boss, co-worker, or even union official "on the way up." See chapter 3 in
Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It for a discussion of the personality type "master of
the pseudo-event" and chapter 4 to discover why bosses need to have power over others to relieve
their shame feelings.
HOW SYSTEMS STAY THE SAME----
POOR IMPULSE CONTROL AND SELF-SABOTAGE.
Fred was understandably angry about being mistreated while working in an authoritarian
organization. However, he was unwilling to see and stop his need to sabotage himself by retaliating in a
no-win way against management. Not surprisingly he was fired. Through a difficult court battle he was
finally reinstated. Fred's anger at being fired, and at not being accepted by coworkers and his boss when
he was reinstated, was so great that he began a new series of self-sabotage maneuvers. So strong was
Fred's anger, and his unwillingness to see or stop his impulse to use it, that he was fired once again.
During Fred's first session with a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist validated Fred's experience of
disappointment with the organization as a way to join him on the way to eventually confronting and
explaining to Fred his need to sabotage himself. Fred, still unconscious of his buried rage and his furious
need to destroy himself and others around him said, "but the management did this to me; they are to
blame, and I will get back at them for this! And you can't make me stop telling them so!"
The psychiatrist was dismayed, but not surprised, when, after the session, Fred mailed off a series of
angry letters e-mails to his former bosses. The letters contained the psychiatrist's comments which were
taken out of context. The comments had been intended to validate Fred as the first step toward Fred's
healing, not to attack the organization. Not caring to understand (possibly because the psychiatrist's
statements were seen as too close to the truth), the human resource/personnel director wrote to the
licensing board complaining about the psychiatrist. The board sent an admonition letter advising the
psychiatrist that his license would have to be reviewed if further complaints were received.
As the psychiatrist was the only one in town who risked validating working people, everyone lost out
because of Fred's unwillingness/inability to recognize, stop and redirect to more useful purpose his
impulse to sabotage himself and others who wanted to help him. Fred lost for a lifetime the chance to
wake up and learn about how his unconsciousness impulses were needlessly destroying himself and those
around him. If Fred had awakened and become conscious, he might have been able to join with others
truly to change the system. In fact, the organizational system benefitted enormously from Frank's self-
sabotage. The organization and its bosses remained totally unchanged, abusively authoritarian.
People who are angry seldom allow themselves to become aware that retaliating from anger is short-
sighted and ultimately self defeating. It's the self-sabotage that everyone pays the price for later. The
impulse to retaliate can be so strong, and one's self regard can be so low, that destroying oneself may
actually feel satisfying. The problem is, the system wins (that is, the authoritarian system remains the
same) at the expense of the one person who has poor impulse control---and at the expense of everyone else
who may have been practicing impulse control and who is now betrayed by the one person who can't
check the impulse to strike out.
The "can't stop it" quality (poor impulse control) of attack-defend between individuals is precisely
how authoritarian systems stay the same. People remain so locked into attack-defend styles of behavior---
which become overridingly addictive---that people can't resist the impulse to "kill." The impelling force to
"get back" destroys one's willingness to gain the perspective necessary truly to change the system.
To truly change the system, the impulse to continue to attack has to be understood, accepted and
stopped---as in "yes, that is what I used to do, but won't do anymore!" The more thoroughly the impulse is
"accepted," the less power it has. As the need to attack/defend becomes weaker, authoritarianism dies out.
However, the more the impulse to attack is denied (not accepted), the stronger the impulse becomes---and
the more certain it is that authoritarian styles of behavior will continue to be normative for the system.
The above paragraphs need to be re-read---and thought through---until everyone sees how the self-
fulfilling, self-sabotaging nature of "can't stop it" attack-defend behaviors are essential to authoritarian
systems. The connection must become so clear that every individual person's impulse to "get back" can
finally fade out. When people become clear, everyone will benefit; no one person will sabotage her or
himself or betray others in the system---which then, over time, may become collaborative.
BAD BOSSES: WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?
There has been too much media attention on "bad
bosses" as the source of people's pain at work. It's important to
understand what's really the truth about the bad boss syndrome.
Understanding work systems is essential to understanding why there
are bad bosses.
Most bad bosses got that way and stay that way because the work
system benefits. An example is the San Francisco Postal Service.
Letter carrier unions working together have named eight supervisors
that bully postal employees. Management has refused to retrain or
otherwise correct the behavior of the abusive supervisors. From a
systems standpoint, if the authorities who are responsible for the
system do not correct a problem in systems operation, then there has
to be a pay-back reason related to keeping things the same.
Chapter 4 of Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It explains
how managers' need to misuse their role power against employees
serves the purposes of authoritarian systems. Managers can be
selected purposely for their ability to frighten employees in order
to "keep them in line." Michael Maccoby's book, The Gamesman,
documents how jungle-fighter managers are chosen because of their
ability to be hard-hearted toward employees. Popular management books
such as the Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun by Wess Roberts,
Ph.D., and Swim with the Sharks by Harvey Mackay openly prescribe
treating people like sheep. These books, which advocate strong-arm
tactics toward employees, sell by the tens of thousands to managers
throughout the world. Robert Golembiewski's book Humanizing Public
Organizations describes the fear prevalent at all levels of
management in the federal sector.