Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 42;   October 19, 2011:

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

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Hiding from the truthThe High Cost of Low Trust: II
Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. EisenhowerWhen You're the Least of the Best: II
Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies" have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
Muhammad Ali in 1967Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
The Niagara River and cantilever bridgeBottlenecks: I
Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?
Franz Halder, German general and the chief of staff of the Army High Command (OKH) in Nazi Germany from 1938 until September 1942Capability Inversions and the Dunning-Kruger Effect
A capability inversion occurs when the person in charge of an effort is far less knowledgeable about the work involved or its purpose than are the people doing that work. In capability inversions, the Dunning-Kruger effect can intensify group dysfunction, sometimes severely disrupting the effort.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.