Though We Might Not Recognize Them, Office Menaces Still Create Undue Stress and Anxiety
> 7/13/2006 9:28:54 AM

The Wall Street Journal's Cubicle Culture column looks at office life and politics. In this past Tuesday's piece, writer Jared Sandberg looks at how shifts in policy have changed what is acceptable in the workplace. While bosses or co-workers who use overt intimidation and humiliation to belittle workers have become few and far between, they have given way to a new breed of office menace who brings the same stresses, anxieties and often long term mental anguish. Sandberg writes:

Workplace humiliation has been around since history's first angry tyrants flew off the handle. But public humiliation has become taboo at work, indicting the humiliator more than the humiliated. Powerful forces work against it, such as fear of liability and economics. As the handy productivity-measurement industry will testify: Happy workers are good for the bottom line.

The problem is, humiliation has been driven underground, making it more subtle but no less horrifying. It takes the shapeless form of tones of voice and "nasty looks" doled out not by hotheads, but by seemingly normal people. The devil, it turns out, also wears shoddy wing tips and down-market pumps.

Human nature is human nature, and ever since we began organizing into groups to survive there have been politics and efforts to create a power structure. In modern offices, the rules remain the same, it is the tactics that have been forced to change. What often makes things even more difficult are the inherent power relationships built into office politics. Often an employee will tolerate a great deal of abuse and mental distress at the hands of a superior for fear of losing their job. And as the article mentions, even as some things become taboo, other smaller slights and jabs take on a greater significance.

Sometimes you almost want to say, "Oh, well, toughen up." But the fact of the matter is that our overall happiness is intricately tied to our satisfaction with our jobs. Because of this, subtle abuses and stressors take on magnified significance. The other mitigating factor in this equation is that reality dictates that sometimes humiliation, intimidation or the threat of either are great motivators. An effective leader is often the one who can balance criticism and praise, driving his or her employees to even higher levels.

The damage that a nasty office tormentor can do is not small. Quitting a job, losing one due to low productivity or remaining in one only to endure misery are all often unacceptable options. Keeping grievances out in the open is an effective way to curtail uncouth behavior. Eliminating tormenting or menacing behaviors should be a goal as serious health concerns can arise for anyone forced to endure prolonged maltreatment. That is why a good boss is also one who can read the overall mental health of his office, and mediate when and if problems come up.

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