for Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It , by Judith Wyatt
and Chauncey Hare
Every so often along comes a book that isn't on the best seller list, doesn't
have a Madison Avenue publisher, but pulls no punches on its topic-it tells
the truth. Here is another one: Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive
It, by Judith Wyatt and Chauncey Hare (Schenkman Books, Inc., Rochester,
Vt., 1997, 392 pages).
The authors, licensed counselors and therapists,
say that work abuse is the flagrant mistreatment or silent neglect of people
in the staggering number of Western work organizations that remain authoritarian
and overcontrol employees. Stress in the workplace is often work abuse, they
say, and victims of abusive work may experience the feelings of loss of
control and of injustice. People experience injustice because democracy does
not extend to the job, the authors note, who seek work that shares power
and is based on trust and justice.
If the book seems a bit over the edge by this
statement, it's not. It merely attempts to see the workplace as most people
see it, but can't put it into words that anyone will listen to without calling
you a wimp, complainer, malcontent, or worse. Take the comment shared in a
vignette of organization expert Will Schultz when he tried to do his consulting
work with companies by, of all things, telling the truth. His colleagues
said business wants judicious truths, not the real truth.
He tried it, unsuccessfully, and concluded that
80 to 90 percent of all problems in organizations are problems of not telling
the truth. They are problems of people knowing what's going on, but not being
able to say it to each other. Each of us has experiences like that. And
it is not hard to come to the conclusion that America's workforce is in
one large denial.
By Ronald E. Keener,
American Marketing Association, Chicago
From Business Book Beat, Business Ledger, December 1997
Everyday, the world over, unhappy workers drag
themselves to jobs that are mind numbing, unhealthy, psychologically harmful,
or all three. Most of us would agree that we would like a work environment
that is supportive, where fellow workers treat each other with respect, where
those above and below us are in the hierarchy resolve conflicts fairly, and
where we are consulted and feel safe to speak about work issues that affect
"Unfortunately, the chances that you work in such
an environmentare slim," according to Judith Wyatt and Chauncey Hare,
the authors of this book. Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It
is about a much neglected subject, how all-powerful managers take advantage
of relatively helpless employees and what can be done to create [psychologically]
healthier work environments.
This pioneering work is intended for individual
workers, their families, and therapists who treat working people affected
by work abuse. This personal orientation is both the strength and the weakness
of the book, which focuses on the individual causes and of responses to abusive
work situations. Work Abuse places its emphasis on individual responsibilities
- such as the boss' narcissism, uncontrolled ambition or greed, responses
to problematic child rearing, sexual harassment, or the employee's learned
helplessness - than on organizational responses, such as labor union intervention,
Total Quality Management, equal employment measures, or policies and procedures
that protect employees.
The book discusses how workplace norms, personal
denial, lack of awareness, presence or absence of validation of feeling,
empowerment or lack of self-esteem, and the use of other therapeutic concepts
can affect abusive human relationships within the work environment, and relief
from them. But, the book does not balance these individual/personal responses
with advocacy or organizational responses to what are clearly organizational,
as well as individual, problems.
The authors advise that the person experiencing
an abusive work situation use empowered awareness to break denial, improve
communications, and challenge authoritarian managers. They go on to suggest
that the victim work on values to sustain their purpose and meaning, and
that they develop a personal mission to strengthen their commitment to long-term
goals. According to the authors, Escaping abusive work without causing more
abuse to be heaped on you demands dedicated and determined objective setting,
planning, and careful acting in a way that you've not been able to before
(pg. 300, italics mine).
This assertion assumes that the victim shares
guilt for the abusive environment. It is difficult to see how a more complete
awareness of a manger's inadequacies (and/or unwillingness to see his or her
part in creating abusive working conditions) changes when the victim becomes
better informed or even when he or she takes the other corrective actions
recommended in the book, such as asserting their self-interests during a
periodic performance review.
The authors tell workers to beware of human resource
or personnel departments, as they frequently cannot be trusted. Moreover,
they caution against asking the Employee Assistance Program, the union management,
or co-workers for help, suggesting that each of these groups is likely to
betray them. They also advise against taking legal action against the company
or co-workers. While the authors' concerns are often valid, they offer few,
if any, structural remedies to problems that typically have structural origins.
Thus, this useful pioneering effort is flawed.
The book, nonetheless, is well work reading,
and Wyatt and Hare are right in challenging EAP and Human Resource professionals
to do a better job of recognizing and dealing with abusive work environments.
I hope that the subject of dysfunctional organizations and work situations
gets far more attention in the future. Work Abuse has drawn much
needed attention to a neglected area of employee assistance.
Employee Assistance Quarterly
Oak Park MI 48237
Over the recent past, the concept of what constitutes
abuse has broadened. No longer is it limited to the domestic setting, and
no longer is it restricted to physical harm. Some of this change in thinking
has not gone without controversy. Now Wyatt and Hare up the ante, and they
are certain to stir opinion. The authors are organizationalconsultants
and licensed psychotherapists who coined the term work abuse in
1988 in a report to the California state legislature's own oft-debated
taskforce on self-esteem. They define work abuse as the flagrant
mistreatment or silent neglect of people. This abuse may take the form of
neglect, chronic scapegoating, or denial of due process. The only solution
to the problem of his abuse, Wyatt and Hare argue, is for democracy to be
brought to the workplace and to eliminate authoritarian work organizations.
The author's equating of work abuse with child abuse, on-the-job sexual
harassment, and discrimination will offend many.
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Your book was worth the wait! I consider it in
the top five books that have deeply affected my life. Work Abuse:
How to Recognize and Survive It is the best possible combination:
highly professional and information-packed prose and easy-to-read style.
What a treasure!
I began going back over the jobs I felt I had
prematurely left and began to recognize the norms and, most important,
the error of my ways: listening to what people said instead of watching
what they did. I kept thinking each situation was an isolated incident,
but I could not fully accept that I was the troublemaker. Your book
helped me (1) discover the patterns that led to my scapegoating,
and (2) start the healing process caused by the shame (self-blame)
of having failed.
I was blindsided when I began working in the field
of psychology where I assumed there would be better mental health. At
my last internship, the clinical supervisor warned me that the project
director was scapegoating me. It registered but did not make any
sense until I opened your book and discovered that it was my special
expertise, for which I was hired, that now threatened the director. I
see now the clinical director is uncomfortable with me and will be blocking
my progress and success in every passive-aggressive way possible. Luckily
this internship will be only ten hours a week - so it will be good practice
for learning to work within the norms as described in your book! Name
withheld, Family Therapist Intern, California
The book, Work Abuse accepts the reality
of psychological warfare in the workplace. The book is unique for its
bold conviction that dirty tricks at work can be overcome, if they are
acknowledged and understood as a fact of life at work.
Jack Truher, Engineering Physicist
Wyatt and Hare have identified the problem at
the workplace and they call it work abuse. The most salient point in this
book is that they address the issue of authoritarian management styles as
one of the reasons why work abuse is still prevalent in society. The fact
that Americans are denying the existence of work abuse must be viewed in a
serious light. It is time for a mind shift and by identifying the problem,
Wyatt and Hare made a contribution to the growing international chain of
voices opposing this phenomenon.
Susan Marais and Magriet Herman Co-authors of Corporate Hyenas at Work!
How to Spot and Outwit them by Being Hyenawise
Pretoria, South Africa, 1997