Your manager screams and calls you on the carpet, but pats on your back and calls you their “second in command” in a couple of days. The company requires you to immediately answer calls and messages even though your working day is already over. On the other hand, what should you do if your subordinates do not fulfill their duties and are ready to accuse their superiors of abuse and write angry posts in social networks when you make some remark or ask them to redo their work?
According to the latest study of HeadHunter, an online job search platform, 68% of Russians claim that they have experienced emotional abuse at work. If earlier such cases were often considered the norm, hushed up, or justified by its efficiency, the attitude is now changing. What is considered an abuse and how to behave correctly in different situations: real stories and experts’ analysis.
“You better shut up: we are doing your job!”
Marina (the name was changed) was the head of one of the district libraries in Moscow for two years. According to the woman, her manager regularly raised her voice at meetings, allowed herself to insult Marina and other subordinates, used obscene language, spied on workers and conducted sudden checks, forced them to inform on colleagues, and used threats of demotion and dismissal to motivate employees to work.
For example, the woman heard her manager say at one meeting, “You better shut up! You, Muscovites, are slackers, you only sit idle here! We are the ones who do your job!” Marina regularly exceeded the plan, the audience numbers in her library grew, their social network accounts developed, and the number and quality of events and clubs increased. However, when she stood against her manager, she turned the staff against her.
— At some point, employees from her inner circle stopped greeting me, they were aggressive towards me, – the employee says.
According to hh.ru study, job termination of one of the conflict parties is the most frequent solution in such situations, as 38% of respondents said.
The same happened with Marina. She was forced to resign. After a while, the woman found a job with a completely different, more comfortable, healthy atmosphere, and she is glad that she bid farewell to her former colleagues.
Is it easy to turn around and leave?
Svetlana Lenkova, a psychologist and career consultant, believes that the best thing to do in such a situation is to look for another job.
— A person does not often understand how they become emotionally abused, and they realize it too late: when they already have depression, nervous breakdowns, when they start having health problems. Their self-esteem and confidence in themselves and their abilities are already at such a level that it is very difficult to return them to their previous state. Therefore, if a person has entered this state, they can only fix it with the help of a specialist.
If a person is self-sufficient and was able to realize early enough that they are under psychological pressure, they need to try to build the maximum distance, learn to say “no”, try not to react, and clearly understand that this is just a job and they do not need to do it for the rest of their life. In fact, it is extremely difficult, so the most correct option is to turn around and leave to preserve the psychological and physical health.
However, it is not always possible to give up the position and the company. Here is what Alyona Vladimirskaya, an HR specialist, the founder of Pruffi and Anti-Slavery projects, advises what to do in such a situation.
— What to do? Try to transfer the situation into a rational plane, where your manager has less resources due to their habit of solving problems by shouting
- Turn off your emotions, do not shout in response.
- Do not apologize and do not lower your eyes and head.
- Ask questions that need to be answered with facts. What exactly is wrong? What is the reason for an emotional conversation? What is the task and what tools are available? What are the tasks of the team and what is the role of each person in the team?
- It is normal to refuse to participate in further dialogue until it is no longer an emotional, but a rational conversation.
- If you can be an example of maintaining personal boundaries, it can help the entire team to build internal communication rules.
Yet, the expert believes that you should start looking for alternatives within the company or in the labor market as soon as you see red flags.
— The lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities often becomes a complication. To avoid this, you need to know your strengths, competencies, and be able to talk about them, and also keep track of what is happening outside the company: what other companies may need your skills, who are the people who will support you?
What else can be considered an emotional abuse in the office?
Specialists of the National Research University Higher School of Economics and the Nestle company conducted a study, in which they tried to identify manifestations, conditions, and consequences of “hostile” behavior of superiors. The analysis was conducted as an online survey of 198 employees in private and public organizations.
Respondents most often cited coercion to perform routine and unskilled work, their opinions and initiatives being ignored, “public lashing”, deception on the part of managers, rudeness, invasion of personal space, and accusations of incompetence as examples of abuse. The researchers found that managers’ “hostility” is inextricably linked to the statement of work tasks and distribution of bonuses.
— Abuse is often like an emotional swing. An office where the “carrot and stick” method works is most likely to have an abuser. For example, a manager says something good about you first, and then suddenly ignores you or goes off at you with complaints in a fit of anger and assigns fines for no particular reason. They say one thing first, and then they refute it making it look like you were not paying attention. It is safe to say that your manager is an abuser, – believes Svetlana Lenkova, a psychologist and career consultant.
It happens that a manager sees an employee as a potential threat, fearing that they may take their place, for example. Then the manager will try to devalue the employee’s achievements, make them believe that they are not good enough.
— You will be responsible for all the conflicts, and the manager will always be right.
Cruel, humiliating jokes about one’s weight, age, personality, intelligence is also a kind of abuse.
If the manager feels that your competencies, skills, personality are better than theirs, they will try to deprive you of self-confidence. Such a manager often tries to convince the employee that no one needs them, and they will never find a better job.
If the manager constantly monitors you, makes you report on your every step, reads your emails, and listens to your calls, this is also a psychological pressure.
— It is often the case that there is a justified need to install cameras in some companies due to the company specifics. Employees should be aware of this and agree to it. Sometimes, this is done at the manager’s whim, so that they could manipulate employees and even blackmail them later, – thinks Svetlana Lenkova.
There is another conclusion from the study: the hostile behavior of managers has devastating consequences both for employees themselves and for the whole organization. It worsens the well-being of employees, contributes to a drop in labor motivation. Employees cannot work at full capacity. The abusing manager does not realize that they harm the company reputation and hinder its development.
“My subordinates were drinking tea and chatting, and then they filed a complaint against me”
Elena got a job as a department manager in a construction company. There was a lot of work, the company manager demanded precise execution in time, and as it seemed to Elena, her employees were used to working at sedate pace, they often spent time on chatting, smoke and tea breaks. Elena wanted them to devote more time to work, she scolded them for being late and did not approve tea drinking during working hours. At the same time, she preferred to keep her distance and did not maintain particularly friendly relations with anyone.
Sometimes she had to ask employees to stay after hours to finish reports or work on a day off: Elena considered this normal given that employees spent a lot of working time on personal matters. There was more and more tension among staff, she noticed that employees discussed her behind her back, sabotaged her orders and were cheeky with her.
— One day, the company manager called me to his office and showed me a letter written by my subordinates. They refused to work with me, accused me of being unprofessional, creating an unfavorable environment, psychologically pressuring them and forcing them to work after their working hours. Yet, I simply demanded that they perform their duties. I was very upset, after all, I did not even raise my voice at anyone, – said Elena.
I am a manager and simply asked them to do their job. Am I an abuser now?
— Based only on Elena’s description, I would not consider her an abuser, – psychologist Svetlana Lenkova comments on the situation. – However, middle ranking managers should be flexible and not act categorically but build connections between the top management and their subordinates. The best thing that could be done in this situation was to gather all employees and inform them of the work requirements, as well as discuss response strategies with the higher management if employees did not fulfill the tasks.
Writing in a chat during non-working hours and demanding an immediate response can also be considered an abuse if we are talking about standard working day, which is described in the employment agreement, and no separate agreements have been made for such arrangements.
— These issues need to be clarified at the interview: whether the employee has the experience of working after hours, whether the employee should be available in chats at such time, what the response speed to tasks at odd hours should be. How can all this be regulated? You should calmly discuss the limits of tolerable working time with the management. It is important to understand that if you found out during the employment process that the company practices after-hours work, gives orders in the chat at night, it is better to immediately decide for yourself whether you are ready to do this or not.
You should not naively believe that something will change when you get employed, that you will not be disturbed and you will be able to rewrite all the company principles, – explains the psychologist.
Raised voices in communication with colleagues can also be regarded as abuse, but employees should take into account that noisy discussions in some companies are a normal workflow that everyone is used to.
— In case of abuse, the same person systematically raises their voice in order to humiliate another person and put themselves in the position of a victim. If we talk about a dispute during a meeting with colleagues for resolving work issues, this is not abuse, you should not get offended and file complaints to your superiors. But if someone raises their voice at you and it is uncomfortable and unacceptable for you, you need to say directly, “Do not shout at me”. Say it calmly, firmly, and confidently, – explains Svetlana Lenkova.
— The environment, in which the manager evolved, has a greater impact. At the same time, it should be noted that there are industrial patterns, and, for example, you can work successfully in the development department only if you are ready for meetings where raised voices are a norm. Yet, until you start setting boundaries, people around you will not know the limit that they cannot cross, – says Alyona Vladimirskaya, an HR specialist.
“They promised to make my job a nightmare if I do not quit”
In the spring of this year, several dozens of employees of the Russian company “PIK-Broker” LLC complained in the media and social networks that they were forcibly dismissed and were psychologically pressured at the same time. Tatyana (not real name) was also among them. Managers regularly talked to their employees in raised voices, often made personal remarks, insulted and ridiculed them, and forced them to work after hours. However, salaries in the company were good and people held on to their positions.
Most of the staff was sent home to work remotely in March during lockdown, and then the management started to invite some people to the office one by one and make them sign the employment termination agreement. Those who did not agree were pressured, threatened with dismissal under Labor Code articles and prevention of further employment in other companies. When Tatyana was invited, she decided to record the conversation on the phone and not sign anything despite the fact that they promised to turn her job in the company into hell.
— It was in the middle of the lockdown, we needed to have some money to live on and pay for a rented apartment. It was quite difficult to find a new job at such a time, – explains the woman.
Tatyana worked in the “PIK-Broker” company for another few weeks. The management ignored her all that time, and she was finishing up her old tasks, sending them reports, and stood her ground appealing to the Labor Code. As a result, she basically was the only one who left the company with compensation.
What to do if the management wants to get rid of you: lawyer’s advice
Anastasiya Stepanova, a lawyer, believes if a manager forces you to leave at your own request and pressures you psychologically, such resignation can be challenged in court and declared invalid.
— The law practice suggests that employers often go unpunished. Mostly because the employee cannot prove the fact of coercion.
If you are ready to give in, I advise you to protect your interests as much as possible: address the issues of time and conditions of voluntary resignation with your employer and write the resignation letter with the consent of both parties after discussing severance pay and compensation.
If you decide to fight, I advise you to do the following:
- voice your position to the employer: you know that they want to get rid of you, but you do not intend to quit;
- do not sign any dismissal documents under any circumstances, make it a rule to carefully read all documents;
- unconditionally observe labor discipline and internal regulations;
- record all controversial moments in writing;
- do not rise to provocations.
If you still intend to file a lawsuit against your employer, you will have to take care of the evidence base:
- maximum documentation (for example, if you need a day off, you should not rely on oral permission, but submit a written request and get the “accepted” sign on it);
- video and audio recordings (must be proven to be authentic);
- testimony of witnesses.
Employment of another employee on the day you wrote your resignation letter is almost always the indisputable proof of forced resignation: in case of a “real” resignation, it is almost impossible to find the right specialist in such a short period of time.
How to prevent abuse during employment
Svetlana Lenkova, a psychologist and career consultant, advises to first understand what you expect from work, determine your values and priorities, and, based on this, prepare questions to your future employer. Also be sure to look up the company reputation, for example, look for what people write about it and its management on the Internet.
— Determine what is important to you in your future job, and what you are willing to turn a blind eye to. At the interview, you should pay attention to how the interview progresses, what questions they ask you. If these are questions of personal nature, the company will cross your personal boundaries right from the start: you can already guess what will happen next. If it is a stress interview, I sincerely recommend running away from this company. In general, if a lot of questions are about stress resistance and stressful situations, this should put you on alert.
It is worth keeping in mind that not only you are being chosen, but you choose as well. Listen carefully to what and how they say to you, what the atmosphere is like in the company, look around, look for information about the company on the Internet and in social networks. Do not hesitate to ask all your questions and assess whether you are satisfied with these answers or not. Do you feel uncomfortable with the answers or environment? Now imagine that you work in this place for a year, two or three years..
However, do not relax immediately after you are offered the position. The lawyer Anastasiya Stepanova believes that one of the main and most significant mistakes in employments is the dismissive attitude to the conclusion of the employment agreement. It is important to discuss all controversial issues at once so that both the employee and the employer have the same expectations.
— It is best that the contract specifies a particular salary, and not “15 thousand rubles plus bonuses”. You need to be very careful about assurances that most of the salary consists of various bonuses.
Your responsibilities should be written in detail and concrete terms. Your position, specialty, type of work, and department must be specified. If the employee must perform their duties “in accordance with job instructions”, such instructions should be attached to the contract, and the employee should have its copy.
The probation period cannot exceed 3 months (6 months for manager positions). The employee is subject to all norms of labor legislation during the probation (there should be an entry in the employment record, allowance payments etc.).
— People often got to work in a basement on the outskirts of the city after an interview in the center of Moscow. Therefore, it is better to record the place of work and indicate the specific business unit.
Working hours, lunch hours, non-standard working hours: all this should be specified in the contract in detail. This will protect the employee from undue workload.
— It does not mean that they will not stay behind due to emergency work or some other emergency situation: as a rule, they are warned in advance about it during the employment process. But it must be prescribed if the work and rest regime for a particular employee differs from general conditions, – the lawyer recommends.
People complain about their manager in social networks: it is already unclear who the victim is
What used to be considered the norm or was hushed up is now more often recognized as inappropriate, unethical, and offensive. Now there is an opportunity to make it known, to launch a public discussion.
— If the accusation of emotional abuse is justified, it is necessary to collect feedback, make a public apology, make sure that the injured party accepted the apology, and not repeat this behavior again, – HR specialist Alyona Vladimirskaya comments on the situation. – Today, the topic of “new ethics” in business is reflected in the description of rules of internal and external communication, values and standards of work in the company. This has become the norm for many, but not all organizations.
According to Vladimirskaya, large companies can afford to have an ethics committee, but there are only a few cases that need to be addressed by such a committee. Companies try to solve 99% of such situations on the tete-a-tete basis.
— People continue to be bullied and exploited, but more and more steps are being taken towards not just resolving situations but preventing them due to the appearance of new channels and the discussion of ethics. In the digital age, the code of corporate conduct adds rules of conduct on the Internet and communication rules in staff teams during remote work.
Social networks provide the opportunity to share your story and get support: this is a big step, in particular, to draw attention to the problem. Companies can also draw conclusions, analyze their management model, and build a more conscious corporate culture. Ultimately, this is an opportunity even for abusers to see and recognize the problem and start working on it.
However, there is another side of the picture. Social networks and public spaces on the Internet are not always friendly, and often quite toxic environments. And it happens that the degree of bullying is not comparable to the offense, and sometimes the victims themselves are subjected to a new bullying after they have trusted others and frankly told their story.
— The topic of abuse is quite new for Russia, the conceptual field has not yet been formed. There are still distortions, when the company employee is accused of disrespecting others, although the management has given everyone the command to “act uncomfortable” in order to critically look at the company workflows and help it become better. Correctional programs usually end with stress management training or a vacation. For some reason, it is considered that a person enters such a state not because they do not share the values of others, but because they are tired. We still have a very long way to go, – concludes Alyona Vladimirskaya.
Translated by Julia Frolova