By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Having survived several abusive bosses I was intrigued when my wife mentioned that there was a study on abusive bosses reported in The Washington Post. What struck me was the hypothesis of the researchers to that effect that “…acts of compassion and empathy – assisting bad bosses by going above and beyond, helping with heavy workloads even when not asked,” would help lessen future rude or abusive behavior.
My jaw dropped. What on Earth could have led them to believe such a thing? Needless to say their hypothesis was disproven. In fact, their study found that such behavior had no impact on improving a situation with an abusive boss. One of the architects of the study suggested that the actual finding clashed with common sense. Really? It seemed to me that their hypothesis clashed with common sense.
Abusive bosses are among the worst experiences of a worker in a workplace. They introduce unpredictable terror. One day everything seems fine and then the next moment one worker or the other is the subject of berating, frequently for no apparent reason. Everyone is forced to creep around the workplace in order to either avoid the boss or so as not to upset the boss.
I have had experiences with two sorts of abusive bosses. The first is the substance abuser. This is the person who is addicted to alcohol and/or drugs and their abuse is directly related to this addiction. Their abuse may be unpredictable or, in other cases, very predictable, e.g., knowing that in the afternoon the boss will be drinking and that is when to stay away. No matter what good you do as the worker, the substance abuser boss cares not, or quickly forgets the good work. They may regularly target a particular worker for abuse, leading other workers to believe that they are ‘safe’ as long as the worker who is bullied remains the target. Instead of any solidarity, the worker-victim is left on their own.
The other abusive boss I have experienced is where the boss is very insecure and wants to ensure that no one outshines them. In one work situation in which I found myself, my boss wanted to always be the smartest person in the room. To the extent to which s/he believed that someone else might be as smart (or smarter!!), they went on the warpath against that worker, doing all that they could to demean the worker with the objective of ultimately forcing them out.
The question is what can one do. If you are a member of a labor union you can frequently file charges against such a boss for contract violations. But if you are not in a union, the behavior of a boss is much more difficult to address. In my experience the behavior CAN change when those to whom the boss is accountable become fed up, be they his/her superiors or those who have elected him/her. Regardless, in such situations, you as the worker and the victim of the boss’s abuse must find allies. The pain of facing this alone is crushing, and leads many people to question themselves and their own integrity. This is a moment when you really need the support and solidarity of your co-workers.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.