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 timecan 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Managing Risk Revision
- Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen.
But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch
resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
- What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: II
- When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize
your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying
out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Deep Trouble and Getting Deeper
- Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're
pretty sure there's no way out.
- The Perils of Limited Agreement
- When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement
is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people 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.
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.