I have heard an echo in my conversations lately. More than three times in one week, I have talked with people from vastly different fields- from non-profit religious work, education, journalism, non-profit arts to corporate communications-about the concept of organizational abuse.
One may think it looks like chairs and staplers flying through the air, used as weapons. It does not. It can look more like this:
In the comedy Office Space, the fictional Bill Lumbergh consistently uses his managerial power to passive-aggressively persuade his salaried employees to come in on weekends, and add more to their schedules and plates.
I recently read an article via Forbes.com called Five Ways Salaried Employees Get Ripped Off by Liz Ryan. Instantly, I recalled times during my first job out of college that I (along with my co-workers) was called upon for way more than I committed to, and exhausted by always responding. I wondered, “Is organizational abuse a thing?”
I did what any college-educated, adroit professional would do. I googled it.
While I did see several articles for “Workplace Bullying” and “Employee Abuse,” both of which are also very important, I didn’t see much on “Organizational Abuse.” The former terms tend to refer to direct aggression and insulting; the latter refers to what some of my friends have experienced: a quieter, more passive form of overworking, underpaying and discouraging personal time off.
I took to the dictionary to accurately define what I’m talking about here.
an organized body of people with a particular purpose, especially a business, society, association, etc.
the improper use of something.
So, when I use the term “organizational abuse,” my intent is to refer to an organization misusing the people that comprise it.
Based on Liz Ryan’s writing, there are five questions we can ask to survey ourselves to see if we have or are currently experiencing organizational abuse:
1. Do I often work full weeks and then work on weekends without being compensated or making adjustments to my weekly schedule?
2. Am I expected to work beyond a normal “quitting time,” and then show up at the same early morning time as usual?
3. Do I avoid scheduling vacations out of fear that my already dense workload will pile up while I’m gone, fear of disappointing my boss or both?
4. Am I commonly asked to travel odd days and weekends to save company money or make things more convenient for a client?
5. Am I tasked with taking international conference calls or responding to requests that take place at odd hours and expected to arrive in the office a few hours later?
I'll add one more:
6. Am I regularly using personal money or belongings for supplies, equipment or other project/work needs? Is my organization aware of this?
If you have answered yes to any of these, you are among the many members of the workforce who have experienced or is experiencing organizational abuse.
In my conversations, we all shared different stories and different ways of responding. Some folks just dug their feet in. A few unapologetically quoted the company’s policies. Others just left the job, not being able to take it anymore.
What we all share is the regret that we didn’t have the knowledge, practices, and language for self-care and self-advocacy. We all wish we would have been able to communicate our needs better and respond to demands on our time with clear boundaries.
To that end, I’m gathering a community to explore ways to both work hard and rest well. I’m teaming up with a Human Resources Director and a Psychologist to discuss ways that we can:
• Develop a reputation for productivity and quality of work;
• Identify sources and signs of organizational abuse (even for the self-employed);
• Plan self-care, dream vacations and regular breaks;
• Develop tools and language to positively communicate commitment to the organization as well as our plans to work hard and rest well.
Are you interested in joining the conversation?
I would love for you to join us, share your story and gain the insight of these professionals and the group! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.