Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 42;   October 19, 2011: How to Stop Being Overworked: II

How to Stop Being Overworked: II

by

Although many of us are overloaded as a result of our own choices, some are overloaded by abusive supervisors. If you find yourself in that situation, what can you do?
Steve McInnis, the Building Commissioner of the City of North Chicago, Illinois

Steve McInnis, the Building Commissioner of the City of North Chicago, Illinois. In a story by Judy Masterson in the September 22 edition of the Lake County News-Sun, Ms. Masterson reports that Ms. Delores Mosesel, a former employee of the North Chicago Building Department, has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the city, alleging that in 2007, when she was still an employee of the city, Building Commissioner Steve McInnis (pictured above) discouraged her from applying for a job opening as a building code enforcer. The lawsuit claims that Mr. McInnis said, "he would never hire a woman" for code enforcer "because a woman would get hurt." If true, this claim could be strong evidence of discrimination against Ms. Mosesel, who is a member of a protected class.

Although not specifically related to overwork, this incident illustrates several points relevant to strategies for dealing with abuse-related overwork. First, because Ms. Mosesel is a member of a protected class, she does have a legal option, though it remains to be seen how successful she may be. Second, as Ms. Masterson's story indicates, Ms. Mosesel did attempt to file a grievance, which, though settled in favor of the city by arbitration, did not address the discrimination aspects of the incident. Third, Ms. Mosesel asserts that she then became the target of retaliation. Finally, according to the news story, and perhaps most telling, Ms. Mosesel is no longer an employee of the City of North Chicago. Photo courtesy the City of North Chicago, Illinois.

Last time (see "How to Stop Being Overworked: I," Point Lookout for October 12, 2011), we examined strategies for controlling overwork when the cause is our own behavior. In many cases, though, the cause is a supervisor's abusive behavior. Let's now examine what can be done in such instances.

Know how to identify abusive overloading
Abusive overloading can be general or specific. When it's general, everyone within the abuser's span of control is subject to overwork. When it's specific — aimed at an individual or individuals — it might be bullying, or possibly a tactic of discrimination or harassment.
In either case, the abuser is usually aware that people are overworked, and might even acknowledge it. Some experience a feeling of elation or joy when the people overworked complain, falter, or show signs of stress. Or they might express perverse pride in the group's productivity, especially when there has been obvious personal sacrifice.
Know the policies and procedures of your employer
Your employer or union undoubtedly has policies and procedures pertaining to expected work hours. Learn what they are. Learn how to file grievances. Unfortunately, in most jurisdictions and for most employees, there is little legal protection against abusive supervisors, unless the employee is a member of a protected class, which is a legal term that describes factors that cannot be targeted for discrimination or harassment. The factors include race, sex, national origin, religion, and the like, but in many jurisdictions, you might not belong to a legally protected class.
Even if you do, before filing a grievance, be certain that there is protection from retaliation. The best measure of protection is past behavior. If there has been retaliation against others who have filed grievances, then think twice.
Know your own role
It's possible that you yourself are playing a role in the abuse, especially if the pattern has persisted over time. For example, never having investigated how to use the formal grievance process, even on an anonymous basis, could be an indicator that you have done nothing about the situation. Ask yourself, "Have I let opportunities to invoke higher authority go by?"
If you It's possible that you yourself
are playing a role in the abuse,
especially if the pattern
has persisted over time
can reasonably conclude that you've been at least passively complicit in the abuse pattern, the next questions are even more difficult. They pertain to your motives, and what you've gained from the pattern of severe overwork. For instance, excessive hours at work can provide a haven from unhappiness, emptiness, or other troubles in your personal life. Investigating this side of things on your own is possible, but it can be challenging unless you have the aid of a counseling professional.

Always keep in mind that internal transfer or changing jobs may be the best — or least bad — options. No matter how depressed the economic environment, if you make the right changes, a change in job can be the path from overwork to a fuller, richer life. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Decisions: How Looping Back Helps  Next Issue

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