Strategies for Employees Impacted by Shutdown

The health of working conditions directly impacts the health of the employee.

Posted Jan 17, 2019

When 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was brutally stabbed to death in front of her apartment building and no one in sight did anything to stop it or report it, the incident gave birth to the naming of the phenomenon as the “bystander effect." Now, 55 years later, I feel a striking similarity as I observe the devastation to human life caused by the government shutdown. This is not a political opinion. As founder of Encompass Work & Family, I have spent years working with individuals, families and organizations to foster healthy relationships, careers, and economic well-being. I have also worked to spotlight and eradicate bullying/mobbing in the workplace. The government shutdown is an extreme form of mobbing on a mass level.

Pixabay image
Source: Pixabay image

While the American Psychological Association made a comment about the stress effects of the shutdown on workers and their families and urged the end of the shutdown, I would like to delve a little deeper in this post to both illuminate the risk factors and offer some strategies that have helped other workers who were victims of harassment, bullying and mobbing in their job.

First, let’s address some of the rights that every U.S. citizen (and every human around the world) should reasonably expect in their work.

  1.         You have the right to expect a clear understanding of the duties of the job, workplace rules, and your employer’s general goals, aspirations, values, and attitudes toward accomplishing the tasks.
  2.        You have the right to expect safe and respectful working conditions—physically and mentally— with clear boundaries and a reasonable level of consistency.
  3.         You have the right to expect procedures and steps for safely voicing your concerns and giving feedback without retribution—and seeking legal protection if your rights and safety have been violated.
  4.        You have the right to expect that management has been trained and will offer training and implement methods to ameliorate conflict while also being equipped with the skills necessary for effectively responding to stress and crises.
  5.       You have the right to expect regular communication, feedback and meetings to ensure the rights, duties, responsibilities, and mutual understanding of expectations are in place.
  6.        You have the right to expect that you and your contributions are valued, developed, and rewarded with advancement when merited, and consistent remuneration in the form of agreed upon paychecks, salaries, bonuses, stocks, bonds, retirement, medical, and any other benefits listed in your employment contract.
  7.        You have the right to expect to be treated with dignity and not victimized, harassed, intimidated, or bullied into performing your work outside of the scope of your contract.
  8.        As you have the right to terminate your employment, you also have the right to expect termination of your employment when you victimize, bully and harass others and/or when you break the duties and expectations assigned to you in your employment contract.

When these rights are trampled on by an intimidating and bullying boss, a mob of co-workers collectively trying to sabotage you, a sexually harassing colleague, and/or any other kind of harassment—the impact on your health is enormous. Sadly, it is often the most dedicated and loyal employees who suffer the worst as they respond to the deleterious conditions by working harder and longer hours. It takes a toll. A dangerous toll.

Like a burn, there are stages of severity when dealing with abuse in the workplace. These stages do not negate lesser forms of harassment as the progression of stages occurs the longer the person remains in the situation.

Stage One: Confusion 

Cognitive-dissonance sets in and a common reaction is to work harder with the hope that things will blow over.

Stage Two: Paranoia begins to grow and stress amps up

 Sleep is impacted and people tend to get stuck in ruminating about the problem. General feelings of helplessness take hold. New and old health problems can occur, along with depressive symptoms.

Stage Three: The most dangerous stage

as the stress, confusion, feelings of isolation, paranoia, and hopelessness can morph into full-blown major depression, panic attacks, heart attacks, health-related deaths, suicide, and violence against perpetrators in some cases.

Strategies for Coping

Before I jump into solutions, I would like to illustrate the gravity of the government shutdown (and any abusive situation) with the story of the boiling frog. A frog placed in boiling water will immediately jump out, however, a frog will remain in a pot of tepid water that is slowly warmed with a low flame until it eventually boils to death.

The frog might have been confused at first and then became paranoid yet was ultimately unable to do anything because its organs were already shutting down and crippling it once the frog realized that the water was getting too hot.

To prevent yourself from boiling to death, here are some steps that have helped others survive various forms of workplace abuse.

1.       Name it. Take a step back and try to view your situation from a bigger perspective. For instance, imagine you are an outside consultant from a different country. What would you observe your situation to be and how would you label it? Take a moment to write a summary report of the situation. (This writing process of analyzing and labeling is remarkably empowering and insightful!)

2.       Access your inner wisdom. Now that you’ve labeled it, take a moment to recall one of the hardest times in your life. It could be as a six-year-old who was repeatedly bullied on the playground or the time you survived a broken neck from a car accident or the time you healed from a broken heart that you never thought you’d get over. Recall how you survived. If you could go back in time when you were suffering the most, what would you tell yourself to assure that you’d be okay?

Now imagine your future self (maybe ten years from now) is visiting you to reassure you. What would he/she be telling you?

3.       Employ survival tactics. Make sure you are doing things to take care of you. Even if you don’t feel like, try to get some form of exercise. Walk outside or visit a garden (even if it’s a local nursery of plants). Try to eat healthy. Take several moments where you take at least four deep breaths (feeling the cool air as you take a long inhale and then feeling the warm air that’s been cradled in your lungs as you exhale). Find support by talking to friends, family, church groups, meet-ups, and/or form your own support group.

4.       Craft a career plan. Whether you stay or leave your job, take active steps to explore your options. Join a local job club. Craft a few resumes for different types of jobs. Many of your skills are transferable, so find some creative ways to apply them to new opportunities. Create your own S.W.O.T. analysis (fold a paper in half twice, creating four sections and place your Strengths in one corner, Weaknesses in the other, Opportunities in lower quadrant, and Threats to attaining opportunities in the final corner). Search the various online job boards, create a LinkedIn profile, and visit Onetonline.org to get career descriptions, requirements, job outlook statistics, and salary information.

5.       Protect yourself. Don’t be afraid to seek legal help and fight back. You can also speak out and become a whistleblower and report unlawful activities.  If you are not alone in your predicament, explore ways of working to protect yourself as a group with collaborative measures. Whatever you do, be impeccable with your word and actions. Beware of turning into the bully you are fighting or becoming poisoned by hatred and resentment.

6.       Share your pearls. This situation can bring out great resilience and strength. Share what you’re learning with others and help them recover from their situation. Be an advocate for positive change.

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