Monday, October 27, 2008

Don't Be a Victim in the Recession

You know what really worries me about the hard economic times? Sure, the financials are scary enough. But as an expert in employee engagement who remembers the work world of the late 1970s/early 1980s, I’m afraid that the bully bosses are going to come out of the woodwork like cockroaches in the night. It’s been a couple of decades since I have heard that disgusting phrase: “Just be glad you have a job.” And I’m really hoping that all we’ve learned about the business value of employee engagement won’t just disappear in the face of some new version of the Dark Ages.

I’m afraid it’s already beginning to happen, though. The number of emails I’ve been getting from readers who are being belittled and abused at work is increasing exponentially. While I don’t give individual career advice, I would like to offer some ideas as to how to prevail – even thrive – careerwise and emotionally during these hard times. (Believe me, I know how it feels. That’s why I got into employee engagement in the first place.)

Cultivate your options. If you have a bully boss, he or she is going to go after the weak ones first. And that could be you. If you feel like your only option is this rotten job you have, you’re going to be at higher risk for broadcasting the vibe that says, “Oh my God, please don’t fire me!” That’s like catnip to the bully boss. You may think you don’t have any options going for you right now, but start shoving aces up your sleeve anyway. Just knowing that they’re there will silent that vibe.

Network your brains out. Attend professional chapter meetings. (If you’re in HR, you must be a member of SHRM and your local chapter. No excuses allowed.) Reach out to your counterparts in other companies in your community, ask them to join you for lunch, even if it’s just yogurt by the town fountain (no need to bust the budget, everyone is counting their pennies these days). Volunteer for as many professional association and community projects and causes as you can. Do everything you can to be at the right place at the right time.

Don’t be too eager to please. When you’re too eager to please, you’re not demonstrating your professional abilities and indispensability. You’re demonstrating the willingness to be a slave in return for a paycheck. A subservient posture isn’t going to guarantee job security, it’s going to guarantee further emotional abuse. Do your job well, go above and beyond the call of duty, but carry yourself with dignity and self-respect. That might infuriate your bully boss. Tough. Your self-esteem is precious. That’s your springboard to making positive changes for your future, so protect it at all costs. Even if the price is your job.

Make sure there’s something in your life that you’re excited about. What are you proud of? Your children? Your great grades at night school? Your professional course of study that’s going to take you out of the tar pits that you’re laboring in now? The people you love in your place of worship? Your book club? The fact that you rebuild used bikes for needy children? Drawing a blank? Do something about that. You can’t control your boss’s behavior, but you can control how you show up in the world and what kinds of stories you tell about your life.

Keep your resume in circulation. I don’t need to elaborate on that do I? I didn’t think so. Except that I have to say that when you take your next job, make sure your prospective boss meets your expectations – that person is courteous, respectful and actually likes people.

If you’ve got a certifiable maniac as a supervisor, document document document. You can take some satisfaction in the knowledge that other people probably know that this person is a monster. And they’re waiting for someone to take a stand. That could be you. But you’re not being paid to be a martyr. Keep good records of what happened, when, where, in front of whom, and what your part was in the incident. You never know where they could come in handy: Your HR office or your lawyer’s office.

Don’t put up with any crap. You may have a bully boss, but your bully boss doesn’t have you. Carry that thought in your heart no matter what happens. Looking at your boss in the eye isn’t a firing offense, so keep your spine straight, your chin up and your dignity intact. Easier said than done, I know. That’s why it’s so important to have other resources in your life and work that give you support and satisfaction.

I don’t mean to overstate the importance of taking care of yourself during these hard times, but I just can’t help myself: Victors of domestic violence will tell you that domestic violence almost always begins with emotional abuse. Little rudenesses almost imperceptibly escalate into true emotional brutality. The same people who will behave that way at home could very easily behave that way at work. Or they behave that way at work so they don’t behave that way at home. Either way, there’s every reason to expect controlling, belittling, emotionally abusive behaviors to show up in the workplace. If you find yourself the victim of demeaning, confusing, disrespectful treatment, keep two essential facts front and center in your mind: You don’t deserve it. And you always have options.

So, back to Point One: Cultivate those options.