This past year of the Me Too Movement has sparked conversations around abuse in the workplace, I feel strongly that we be careful to remember that men are affected in these environments too. We are all understanding the dynamics of workplace power in new ways. Retracing our work history and seeing how abuse of power is a puzzle that affects entire companies.
One of the organizations I worked for was as much a daily frat party as it was a place of business. Much of my time was spent navigating verbal assaults. Ignoring, joking along, directly calling “the boys” on their discrimination, and getting out of the office regularly were a few of the tricks I learned. The “alpha males” were loud and often obnoxious. As I look back, I remember the rest of us rolling our eyes, dodging insults, and staying respectful to co-workers despite being made fun of for it. Staff from other departments dreaded having to enter the sales floor to resolve issues because of the culture. No one was safe … in addition to the typical frat culture disgustingness like porn and bathroom jokes … racism, cultural differences, and politics were all attacked. Survival skills were in full use. Women making women jokes to avoid attacks. Men of color occasionally leading the pack on bad behavior to save themselves.
An incident happened last week at a business function that Cary and I attended. A man uncomfortably commented on my looks. I went into automatic mode and did something cutesy and moved away quickly. As I caught myself, I thought about those automatics that we develop subconsciously. Cary and I later discussed the subconscious agreements we both made at previous jobs allowing us to function safely.
If you’ve worked in an environment where abuse of power is rampant, you have experienced the effects of bullying. If you are bullied indirectly, the person in power damages your reputation and then you find that everyone dis-trusts you. Co-workers distance themselves from you and it’s more and more difficult to do your highest level of work. Before you know it, you find yourself outside of your integrity making subconscious agreements to appear to be an employee who won’t challenge the person in power. Participating in hurtful gossip or bullying others to impress the boss … anything to prove your loyalty and protect yourself.
When your daily work becomes about protecting yourself in the power play and not challenging the boss … how on earth could you be doing your best work? How can that kind of environment be good for self-esteem? How does that not eat at your soul? What about the places this is happening that are service oriented? Government? Hospitals? Schools? These abuse of power cultures are affecting the communities that we all live in. Women are finally getting their voices heard. We are all starting to see where we could have behaved better. I know I’m not innocent … there are plenty of subconscious agreements I made and mistakes that affected my co-workers negatively. When the Me Too Movement asks why men don’t speak up against sexual harassment, it’s the same reason that many women still don’t. They might become a target to be harassed and bullied out of their jobs. They think about their families, college funds for their kids, and the mortgage.
I want to support amazing employees in making effective changes in their workplaces or help them leave for a better job where their full talent can be fostered and appreciated. There is always a better place to work. Bully environments brainwash subtly, often over many years, having highly capable people believing they can’t find better work. Bulls!*t, there is always a better place to work. An abuse of power work environment need not be your fate, a coach can help.