Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What are the signs that you should get out?

Why is it appalling for a woman to spend three years in an abusive relationship, but acceptable for her to spend twice that long with an abusive boss? How come it's not okay for someone to yell at you and berate you at home, but it's overlooked at the office?

I was a victim of workplace abuse in two separate locations, one physical and the other emotional. At my first real graphic design job, I had a very hot headed boss. He would fling boxes of fliers at employees when they were folded wrong and even threw an inkjet printer across the room, narrowly missing my supervisor, when a customer refused to pay for a botched job. This type of behavior was common from him...and yet my ex-husband encouraged me to suck-it-up, day after day, and be thankful for the work.

In another location, I had a boss who openly admitted when he brought you into his office that he wouldn't let you leave until he had made you cry. He would attack us personally, even after commending us on a job well done. He picked-on clothing, demeanor and family life. Nothing was off-limits. Although he attributed the torture to management training, it was clear that he just enjoyed keeping his employees (particularly the women) in a subordinate position. Again, I was encouraged not to take it too seriously. I mean, it's only a job, right?

The truth is, with as many hours as we spend at work, doesn't it make sense that we would want our professional environment to be as safe and supportive as our home? Why aren't more people in an uproar over treatment in the workplace?

My mother works for a place where she gets 8 minutes of personal time. 8 minutes! If she's not on break or lunch, she only has a total of 8 minutes to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, sneeze, cough, or anything other than talk to customers on the phone. She's got no fewer than 5 things that she's required to do with every customer, yet she's penalized if she's on the phone for more than 200 seconds on average. She's monitored via recording, managers on the floor, and buttons that she has to press which indicate that she's on a call, on hold, or in after-call mode. Her use of after-call is also limited via monitoring.

If a woman were controlled like this in her personal life, she would undoubtedly feel major pressure to abandon the relationship. What's the difference? Can anyone shed some light on this for me? Is it because the working hours only account for 1/4 of our work week? Does that make it okay to have a boyfriend who's verbally abusive or controlling as long as you only see him on Saturdays? Maybe it's because there's an assumption that jobs are more easily exchanged than relationships. I would argue the opposite. One can lead a very functional and safe life when they live without a partner for months or years, but life without a job gets very sticky after even a few weeks.

I don't know what to suggest for this, I certainly don't think unions are the answer.

I think recognizing and pointing-out the behavior is important. As a culture, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. We need to decide how we will allow ourselves to be treated and hold ourselves accountable for surrounding ourselves with people who maintain that standard. If we can be strong enough, I suggest we also force ourselves to be so bold as to inform others of our requirements when they don't meet those criteria. It may not cure the disease, but it can help inoculate us individually.

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