So many of you replied to the my last article, about how living through a hostile work environment feels like living through a prison camp, that I decided to post some of the most insightful and heartfelt responses. (I asked their permission too). Some people think I went too far, but most of you were supportive of the point I’m trying to make: that feeling trapped by a bullying abusive boss leads to the same feelings of panic, desperation, and even PTSD that prisoners of war feel. The actual physical experiences are NOT the same. The feelings are very similar.
Without further ado, here are the comments — and please chime in with your own thoughts at the bottom of this post:
From “Johnec” who works with former prisoners of war as part of his own job:
“I work with former POW’s and while their experience is far more dramatic, the underlying damage is mental more than physical. It is similar (in my case concomitant with) complex PTSD exacerbated by a dysfunctional workplace.”
“…After a few years, I started to call the [work]place Shawshank. There are workers around here that wear t-shirts that pretty much say it all: “POW…Post Office Worker”. I’ve become a foremost authority on hostile work environments and what it feels like to be a prisoner. I don’t wish that on ANYONE!”
Reader “Tom” thinks I went too far with the POW analogy:
“You know, I think it’s a real stretch to compare bullying to a prison camp.
1. You are in prison, you have no ability to leave
2.This is not war, it’s the work place and we’ve had assholes in the work place for as long as I’ve been alive
3. You can leave, nothing is forcing you to stay in that environment and why should you? If you have any BALLS at all you’ll tell the SOB to Stuff it and move on. No one is forcing you to be abused.
4. All bullies are cowards, confront them and they back off.
5. You company will not help you. The HR people are gutless and have no intestinal fortitude to stand up for employees, let alone take on a Manager who is out of line. They are too interested in covering their own ass.
6. Bullying is not protected in Title 7 and in discrimination laws, so who do you file a claim with?
7. Management has gone a complete 180. In the 70′s, participative management theory was the norm, in the 80′s the value of the employee and their pensions and their worth was destroyed by Regan, in the 90′s we all became a commodity and management could care less about our well being, in the 2000′s, all management cares about is more with less and to hell with your personal satisfaction, so why not Bullying? Who’s to stop it?”
I actually do agree with Tom’s points 1, 2, 5, and 6. I disagree with 3 and 4. Point 7 sounds about right and I don’t question that he experienced those changes over the years.
Here’s why I disagree with some of Tom’s points: I’ve worked with lots of folks who confront a bully and then experience even worse retaliation or get fired, because, just like Tom said, HR won’t help.
On point 3, in today’s economy people just can’t walk off the job when they are offended by a boss who won’t change. People have families to feed and rent to pay and there are no alternative jobs out there. Bullies know this, and are emboldened by this. The bully’s attitude seems to be, “what can you do, leave for another job?! [laughter]“. So he continues bullying.
One thing Tom and I definitely agree on is that bullying is going unchecked and it’s damaging good people.
Mary Was Treated Worse Than a Dog
“I agree with you. My last job was horrible once new owners bought us out. When I look back on it I would not have treated a dog like they treated me. Each day was like a prison camp…you need the job and they know it…given them the power to treat you inhumanly. I was there 8 years longer than any one there..I am a smart educated women..but they tried to make me feel like I was beyond stupid. Complete alienation.” -Mary
Blog reader Jim thinks the P.O.W. analogy is not only appropriate, but forms the basis of a call to arms:
“Great way of putting it, POW!. Those who have never experienced what it’s like
to be bullied, belittled, and verbally abused have no idea. I experienced for years. Inside of me, I felt like a prisoner.
On a daily basis I was being tortured both emotionally and mentally, so much so that I truly believe that this is why I’m now diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I know because of the great amount of stress and abuse that I was getting at work on a daily basis. I was singled out and followed around and the list goes on. Now I am disabled because of the autoimmune disease. I even asked the doctor what can trigger a disease such as mine, and the doctor said was it could be stress. The mental,verbal and emotional abuse that I was getting from my supervisors were so enormous that at one point, I just wanted to die.
Let us not give the Undercover Lawyer any grief about the POW’s and take this personal because he was only quoting what employees have said to him and how employees described their pains to him. I am a living proof of that.
We all need to work together and STOP! the abuse and bullying in the work environment. We need the huge corporations to better screen their employees, especially the big guns and the supervisors. These are the people that think now they can toss you around like a rag doll and you are like dirt to them.” -Jim
From John, Who Thinks My Analogy is a Bit Extreme but Makes a Fair Point:
“You’re right on. There are varying degrees of hostile work environment as there were POW camp experiences. And in most cases your analogy is on the extreme side BUT you make your point and we don’t need to argue the finer points of it.. In my experience there is the sense that you are “stuck” where you are, particularly in this economy. Getting out feels like escaping, with the resulting relief once you are past the ‘wire’.” -John
Reader Sharon Sees “War” Analogies to Her Own Work Experiences:
“I would agree with this. I felt like it was a war. Adversarial, mind games, and negativity. Many people like me have ptsd. Now if I am called to a meeting or a supervisor wants to talk my anxiety goes through the roof thinking its something bad. In any case whether it goes to court or settled out of court, whether money is recovered or not, it doesn’t make up for what it does mentally and emotionally.” -Sharon
Tabitha Wrote to Say She Supports the POW Analogy Because She Has Lived Through it:
“I agree 100% with your analogy as I’ve lived it, currently living through it and know it all first hand! I once tried a different analogy, to show how I felt, as I was trying to paint the picture of “feelings”. But, using this analogy to a senior male mgr did not work, as I pointed out that every time I see the tormentor, “it’s like seeing my rapist again”. The mgr got so angry with me saying, “Did he rape you?!” I said, “No, but that’s what it feels like when you make eye contact”. He still was angry and said it was a horrible analogy, than I snapped back and said, “How do you know, have you ever been raped? Well, I have!”. There was eerie dead silence, than he changed topics. I agree with your analogy wholeheartedly, and actually this Fortune 100 company will be served papers this week. Wish me luck!”
Debbie Pulls No Punches In Her Anger Toward Defense Industry Bullies Who Harassed Her
“Ugh. I’m sick of the goddamned whining from military people all the time. You have every right to express yourself. And for the record—not EVERY damn military person is a hero! I work in the DOD as a contractor and many are misogynistic, PTSD’d nutjobs that probably raped women and murdered plenty of babies when overseas. I couldn’t even state the ‘c’ word (shhh…college) or else they’d have a conniption because hardly any I worked with had even a basic degree.
Well, let’s just say I’m suing [Defense Industry Companies] for harassment which spanned 3 jobs in 2 years from the same group of maybe 5 individuals. These men destroyed my career. I watched them do it to other women before I was targeted. It’s a game to them, so my violin strings have been cut long ago from their chronic bawling.
Maybe they should get a thicker skin—something female managers told me when I was pawed at from job to job. The DOD don’t like women that know this thing called ‘reading’. After 10 years of being groped and being told it’s your lot in life to be harassed, just deal with it or else we’ll lose the contract….I had enough.
I mentioned that I had PTSD once to a manager (former NAVY wackjob) when enduring harassment and bullying and he laughed at me. Apparently it only counts if someone’s gunning for you (literally). Not all of us are dumb enough to enroll in a program where you could be killed for money. There’s no draft, so there’s no pity party coming from me. I’d rather work a stripper pole than volunteer to be shot at, any day.
Military people don’t own the term PTSD, so they can suck it. Bless you for fighting the good fight. Not enough people do it anymore.” -Debbie
John Left His Prison And Fought For Unemployment
“All in all-it was like prison-I retired and I am a part time teacher…Much better life…I will always remember how you helped me the day they pushed out the older guy-with the highest pay.
You told me -”AHHH-Another trick their doing” That really helped me.By the way-They tired so very hard not to pay unemployment-Lie on top of lie-I took them to court-the judge smiled-and said-Gentlemen-you will pay this man unemployment for 18 Months…Too funny!” John
Jennie Also Had To Fight For Her Unemployment After Leaving An Abusive Workplace
“Doubt that you remember me, but we talked in Nov 2009 after I was fired for “misconduct”. Following your advice, I appealed the decision of the Unemployed Commission that I was not entitled to unemployment having been terminated for “misconduct”. Happily, I won that appeal. The examiner said that it was obvious that I was in no way guilty of misconduct.
I did not appeal the decision regarding the discrimination; I was fed up at that point. I wish corporate America were not such a dreadful place; sadly, it’s the pits.” -Jennie RN
Glenda Knows Segregted Plantation Camps in Hawaii’s ‘Melting Pot’
“I do not know about POW Camps, but, I know about Segregated Plantation Camps.
Being that I live in Hawaii, no attorney wants to represent me
in a Civil Suit against the State of Hawaii Department of Education,
the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association and [the bullies].
But there is no discrimination issues within the State of Hawaii.
We have such a “melting pot” racial environment. Outsiders don’t know
until they live here to feel or witness the unfairness and prejudice
amongst the locals.
The people that get mad or upset about what you have said are the very
ones that are creating that “POW Camp” atmosphere and are in denial.”
Hawaii Isn’t the Only Place With Non-Traditional Race Discrimination
“I am one of many unemployed desperately searching for work. I have been searching for a very long time here in Miami, FL. I have found that especially in my area there is severe discrimination. Here if your not Cuban, they will not hire you, even if you’re of other Hispanic descent and are bilingual with an education. This is going on especially in super markets, warehouses and companies owned by people from Cuba and South America.
I am not racist but come on it has been proven to me right in front of my face. Unfortunately because I didn’t expect that, I did not record it.
How am I suppose find employment here if no one gives me that chance just because I didn’t come from one of these countries? I am totally fed-up with this type of discrimination. I wish I could move out of this city.”
Johnny Used FMLA to Fight Back Against His Bullying (and Unsafe!) Bosses
“I have been in the transportation sector almost 30 years, with careers in airlines and now with the railroad. We have severe crew fatigue issues. Then of course if we lose our ‘situational awareness” it is still our fault because of a rule violation.
I am documenting both train and airline accidents and how the abuse of hours of service laws have a dire effect on performance. Case in point: Last week my job bids forced me to change home terminals. I had just had worked a 11 hour run from City A to City B. I then had to be in City A, before midnight, with the uncertainty of being called to work after my 10 hours of “undisturbed” rest.
I told crew management to add 3.5 hours to my rest period due to my 230 mile drive back to City A. I told them that I don’t include the drive time as part of my rest period in order to be in position for the next train trip. They REFUSED my request. I told them we can do it one of two ways. We can do it my way, or we can do it my way. But in the end we will do it my way. I told them this is the exact reason I have FMLA for myself. So instead of allowing them an additional 3.5 hours rest, I got an additional 12 hours, and never missed a day’s work in the process. I this point in my life, I will never take bullying and will do what it takes to stop it.” -Johnny
Sharon Believes the Servants in the Book “The Help” Are a Much Better Analogy Than POW’s
Have you read the book or seen the movie, “The Help”? …about a white female journalist who decides to interview black maids in the 50′s, asking them if they want “change”…?
I think living through a hostile work environment compares better to the negro household employees in this book/movie than to POWs… I’ll tell you why…
POWs are in a known enemy situation that they fell into through no fault of their own. “Oh crap, I got captured.” Maybe a downed plane or a misstep caused them to meet this misfortune.
But the maids needed a job, so they WILLINGLY went to work for “uppity rich white folk”, and were expected to do all the shopping, cook all the meals, wash/dry/IRON the laundry, clean the house, dress the children & be their nanny, & take orders, yet they had no voice in the household. They’re essentially the lowest life form present, yet they clearly run the place. Their white (captors… err…) employers expect loyalty and feign the same, yet look down on them as if they’re second-class, dirty, substandard, undeserving, lowly, etc. etc. (You’re not qualified, you have no degree, you cannot speak above your rank or address those in authority, and you HAVE no authority…)
These particular black women rode a bus from their neighborhood very early in the mornings, out to the suburbs to work for these rich white folks, and returned home after bathing the children and putting them to bed….. Which meant they left their own children in the care of someone else, their own household needs behind, and had to find the time to do their own housework late in the evenings when they came home exhausted…not to mention that they devoted time to their employers’ children for pay, while semi-neglecting their own. (Putting in extra hours as required, stressing the home/life situation.)
When they were together, such as on the bus, or on the porch in the evening after work, or perhaps to help with hosting a larger event for one another’s employers, these black women would laugh and curse and talk about their employers under their breaths, making fun of their shortcomings, quirks, etc., and also to talk about how pitiful and unfair conditions are. However, in the presence of their employers, they’re courteous, humble, don’t speak up, don’t talk back, never take credit for anything, and take whatever scraps fall their way. In the book/movie, one of the household employees finds an old ring on the property that she knows won’t be missed. She hocks it at a pawn shop to help pay for her sons to go to college (because she can only afford to send one without it), the pawn shop gets word back to her employers, and she gets off the bus one day and is thrown to the ground by two policemen who proceed to beat her shamelessly and slam her head against their windshield before throwing her into their cruiser and taking her to jail.
This is where the similarity becomes even more gripping…
No one speaks up, no one steps out to help defend her, no one stands up against “The Man” because each individual fears for their own personal loss. They accept their place like minions without a voice. They know speaking up will get you punished or blacklisted or fired and worse. If one threatens to speak up, or has had enough, the others rally around to quiet her, saying, “Just let it go… there’s nothing you can do! You’d better be careful or you’ll be GONE!”
I was a bullied employee. I had a 9.5 year track record of having received the highest rating on every annual evaluation, of receiving EVERY SINGLE available award my employer offered. But my position fell under a rotating supervisor, transitioning out every three years, who came in with no supervisory training or employee management skills. I put up with the abuse for two years, although I complained often to superiors and to Human Resources.
Finally my boss jumped on an opportunity to throw me under the bus due to a mistake I made. Long story short, I was fired over an ANONYMOUS report of a policy violation which was never proven, never even investigated. Although I received a huge outpouring of support from peers and coworkers, nothing mattered. My superior called me insubordinate and falsely accused me, and 10 years of files, records, contacts, networking, departmental information, and customer relationships were deleted instantly… a real loss for the division, not to mention the personnel.
But that’s not the point…. The point is to say bullied and harassed employees are more like slaves than POWs… because as POWs there’s at least the hope that a bigger body (your country) will come along and rescue you. As slaves, you have no hope but to pray to God and hope something someday changes.
Give this comparison some thought, and rent the movie if you haven’t seen it…. it’ll be well worth your time.” -Sharon
If you would like to read the excellent book, “The Help” and evaluate Sharon’s comparison yourself, you can check out the book here:
Debbie Thinks My Provocative Analogies Give Abused Employees a Voice. Do You Agree?
“I think you are one of the few people who address the issue when other people prefer to ignore it or be dismissive about it. Your analogies are not crossing the line, nor are they exaggerating the issue of hostile work environment. It is through your writings and analogies, that people who have experienced this in the work place FINALLY have a voice.” -Debbie
So what do YOU think? It’s comparing a hostile work environment to the POW experience a valid analogy, or should comparing anything to the POW experience be off-limits? Do you recognize some of what you have lived through in the events and feelings described John, Glenda, Rose, Sharon and the others in this article? Give use your thoughts using the comments feature below.
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