Workplace Violence Can Be Deadly

No matter how strong you think you are, you’ve probably felt vulnerable at some point in your life — even if only for an instant. When the situation that makes you feel vulnerable is your job, and you depend on it to make your mortgage payment or provide for your children, the discomfort can last much more than a moment. It can become chronic. It’s there, knotted in the pit of your stomach, every time you step into your workplace.

If I’ve just described you, you’re not alone. According to the United States Department of Labor, approximately 2 million workers report episodes of workplace violence every year. Violence is not just physical. No one has to strike you or another individual for your workplace qualify as dangerous and intolerable. Verbal cruelties, threats, sexual harassment and intimidation techniques can make you dread going to work as well.

What can you do? If you can’t quit your job, what’s your recourse?

You may not be as powerless as you think. In many cases, you might be able to wave a red flag anonymously. If the person causing the problem is your co-worker, consider sliding a note under your boss’s office door before quit time. Explain in the note why you don’t want to identify yourself. You may be reluctant because you think your co-worker will target you next if he catches wind of what you’ve done. Or he may already be targeting you, and you don’t want to make the situation worse by speaking up. But you do not have to let the problem keep occurring. You do not have to live in fear. You can bring the situation to the attention of someone in authority. In a best case scenario, that person will investigate your allegations.

If your note-on-the-sly brings no action or no change, or if your boss himself is the problem, you still have options. Depending on the nature of your employment, there may be someone who monitors your boss’s behavior, such as an ethics committee, a professional organization, the company president or your human resources department. Go over your boss’s head to the one person or entity he might be accountable to. Make an anonymous phone call or mail an anonymous letter. The important thing is to let someone– anyone — know what’s going on in your workplace.

And if the situation still doesn’t change? Now you have some decisions to make.

First, know that yours is not the only job out there. Even in a bad economy, if you’re good at what you do and if you’re persistent, someone will eventually hire you. You may have to take a pay cut, or look into a new field of work. But ask yourself which is worse: your current workplace situation or making a change?

If it seems inevitable that you’re going to have to quit rather than endure the job much longer, start applying and sending out resumes before you hit that crunch point. If your boss is the problem, try to avoid using him as a reference. If you have limited experience in your field and really need to list him a part of your work history, add an asterisk after his name if you’re asked to state the reason you’re leaving the job. Explain that you do not want to speak ill of a former employer. This lets the person you’re interviewing with know there was a problem, and it shows that you can be trusted with confidential circumstances. Your prospective employer cannot do anything about your old boss’s behavior, so you have nothing to gain by telling him what went on. Unfortunately, he probably isn’t interested in a rendition of how badly you were treated. He needs an employee, one who is practical-minded, mature, capable — and free of personal baggage. Don’t share your problems. Instead, prove yourself to be a potentially valuable employee.

If you just can’t get out of the job and all your efforts to ease the situation in your workplace prove fruitless, there’s one last thing you can do. Remind yourself daily that you are not the problem here. The person causing the workplace strife is the problem. If you can’t change that person and you absolutely can’t change your job, change yourself. Seek professional help in stress management or speak to an attorney who can advise you if you have any legal rights in your situation. You’re only vulnerable when you stop trying to fix the problem.

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