….The physical and emotional effects of verbal and emotional abuse at work — whether it comes from a boss or a colleague — can linger for a long time. The Cut talked to experts on workplace abuse about how to recognize it, the toll it takes on workers, and why it so often flies under the radar.
It’s not always so easily identified.
Explosive outbursts are pretty obviously problematic, but abuse in the office often takes a sneakier form, explains Loraleigh Keashly, a professor of communication at Wayne State University who studies conflict resolution.
In a 1996 study titled “Emotional Abuse in the Workplace,” Keashly and her colleagues defined it as “hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors that are not explicitly tied to sexual or racial content yet are directed at gaining compliance from others” — a definition that included yelling and screaming, but also things name-calling, gossip, interrupting, ignoring someone, and withholding information.
These smaller slights may be a more common form of workplace abuse than the more dramatic blowups. “Usually, the individual behaviors don’t look like much,” she says. “It’s the patterning of it, the repetitiveness and persistence of it, that wears away at people.”
The problem, she adds, is that while these repeated digs add up, they’re not often recognized for the abusive behavior that they are. So many little instances, rather than one big one, “makes it hard for them to recognize what’s happening to them. And also to talk to other people about what’s happening to them, because it’s like, They ignored me in the hallway,” an anecdote that plenty of people would hear and shrug their shoulders at — which is precisely why the abuse can continue unabated, leaving the target without a way of coping.
Social support at work has been shown to counteract the effects of job-related stress, but it’s a lot harder to access that support when you can’t put a name to the problem.
It can literally make you sick.
Like any situation that causes chronic stress, coming in to work each day with a sense of foreboding can have lasting health consequences. …
[Workplace abuse can lead to physical or mental health problems such as] trouble sleeping, anxiety, depression, increased blood pressure, heart disease.
And while it doesn’t sound nearly as dire by comparison, workplace abuse can also derail professional ambitions:
Employees are too distracted by the constant threat of mistreatment to focus on their work, or they become emotionally exhausted to the point of burnout, or they lapse into absenteeism to avoid the abuser a few cubicles over.
“It’s an exhaustion or fatigue where one feels like they can’t really deal at work anymore and they want to quit,” Grandey says.
It only happens in an office that allows it to happen.
Workplace emotional abuse is a three-way interaction:
There’s the abuser, the person on the receiving end, and the company that creates the context in which it takes place. …
Five Signs of An Abusive Relationship Most People Will Dismiss by Harriet Marsden