We are back from a short hiatus to bring you a story from an individual who survived an organization who protected their hostile CEO, even when alerted about patterns of workplace abuse. This story illustrates how abuse can flourish even when employees feel empowered to speak up and out.
I worked for many years in a hostile work environment; our CEO had the same cruel temperament as The Mad Hatter and we were simply subjects to manipulate. We never knew what to expect from the CEO day to day; her mood, not our successes as an organization, would determine how we were treated.
As a result, employees would support each other like siblings in an abusive family; at times our CEO would pit employees against each other in order to see who would last in her good graces. No matter how well each employee completed and exceeded expectations, the CEO would eventually use our success as instigation to force the individual to leave. Therefore, employees would not receive recognition for a job well done — instead, our CEO would take credit for our work without attribution. Our work was good enough to be presented, yet not good enough to acknowledge our individual contributions.
The abuse continued in smaller, more incremental ways detailed below:
For instance, if employees needed particular supplies to complete their jobs, we were routinely denied without explanation, yet we were evaluated as if we were given said support.
The CEO would purposefully delay approval of time-sensitive documents, then chastise and embarrass the employee for not completing tasks in a timely manner.
The most egregious way the CEO would abuse employees was with a flimsy reimbursement policy. For company expenses approved by a supervisor, the CEO would purposefully delay reimbursement, leaving employees with large work expenses, paid personally out of their pockets.
Eventually, this individual realized that other employees attempted to alert third-party organizations and clients about workplace abuse — their equivocation only served to insulate the CEO and spread abuse organization-wide.
When employees reached out to outside parties for recourse, we were met with ambivalence or outright denial. The Board of Directors, selectively chosen to support the CEO, refused to acknowledge documented employee grievances. I learned that this pattern of documented abuse and communication with outside groups preceded my employment; at various times, groups of employees would report grievances, but each time employees were rebuffed with “Nobody wants to get involved with personnel issues.”
As a result, our clients suffered due to her mismanagement — funds were misappropriated, and we couldn’t draw enough attention to her actions, especially since there was always an excuse by the higher-ups. My co-workers mused about the necessity of an objective third-party to actively monitor these problems.
Detailing this abuse of power makes it difficult to reconcile how much I cherished my job, our wonderful staff, and clients. The toxic work atmosphere only seemed to get worse; I got to the point where it was taking too long to “refresh” myself at the end of the workweek. It took some time to heal from what I had experienced. Fortunately, I have a supportive group of friends and we got together and healed. Writing this Scarlet Letter was also healing.
Due to the economy’s relative volatility, individuals will remain in a work environment that they know is abusive; fear of losing gainful employment, economic constraints and/or “blackballing” from a particular industry forces individuals to remain silent about abuse. Our writer experienced:
Withholding Praise / Deprivation: Withholding praise at work, may not seem inherently abusive, but it can contribute to a lack of positive moral. The simplest bit of acknowledgment from a supervisor, for a job well done, is the difference between a mediocre work environment and a supportive one. A supervisor who manipulates individuals through deprivation creates a scarcity mindset in employees who will now operate from a place of day to day “survival” as opposed to encouragement.
Financial Abuse: Supervisors with abusive tendencies utilize the idea of a “family environment” to quash calls for accountability; this is no different when dealing with rightfully earned compensation or reimbursement. An employee should not bear the financial brunt of making an organization successful.
Unstandardized Standards: Without standard processes, organizations leave a behavior vacuum which can be filled with abusive tactics by supervisors. This story has multiple examples of this tactic. Leaving employees without a standard process for reimbursement places employees in an impossible situation; speak up about the lack of standardization, you are not seen as a “team player”, refusing to speak up puts said the employee in personal financial jeopardy. Simple and standard processes that are followed by employees and supervisors alike can mitigate abuse in the workplace.
Gaslighting: When a supervisor purposefully slow-walks time-sensitive approvals, then blames the employee for a lack of timeliness, that is classic gaslighting. Both parties are well aware of the schedule, yet the employee is left helpless to maintain the timetable and is left responsible for its failure.
This writer talks about how they were able to heal through the love and support of their friends; while they were reflective enough to recognize abuse and leave a toxic work environment, others don’t have the economic safety or work experience to realize or speak up about patterns of abuse. By sharing these accounts, we are able to see how pervasive workplace abuse is, and combat it.
Enlightened Solutions has not verified the accuracy of these stories. All stories are submitted anonymously and are published with the intent of allowing people to speak about their workplace situations without identifying information.