Dealing with Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

Dealing with Verbal Abuse in the Workplace
The work environment should be considered a safe haven for all employees. However, what happens when you work in a hostile work environment? Difficult bosses or co-workers can make the workplace a nightmare. It’s not just physical abuse. Abuse can occur in a variety of forms including verbal. The wounds caused by verbal abuse can be just as debilitating and demoralizing as any other type of abuse.

Why does verbal abuse go unreported?

One of the main reasons that workers may not report verbal abuse is fear of retribution by their abuser. This is particularly applicable if the abuser is their supervisor or another member of management. The fear of being fired or singled out for continued abuse is a major deterrent to reporting verbal abuse. Lack of confidentiality is another reason that so many instances of abuse go unreported.

Factors to consider when reporting verbal abuse:

When you are considering reporting a case of verbal abuse, you need to know what you are seeking as the end result. In other words, walking into Human Resources, reporting abuse and turning around to walk out is not acceptable. What is it that you are trying to achieve? Are you looking for a transfer away from your abuser or are you looking for the abuser to be punished? Remember Human Resources can assist, but you must be clear on your intent.

Are you concerned about confidentiality? In fairness, for Human Resources to investigate, they must notify and talk to the abuser. Even in they assure you that your name will not be used, chances are the abuser will know that the information came from you. This is not to say that you should fear retaliation, which is against company policy, but abusers are often aware of who it is that they are abusing. If action is required against the abuser, anonymity will quickly disappear.

What can you do if faced with verbal abuse?

Depending on the level of abuse, there are a few actions you can take prior to taking it to the next level. The first action you don’t want to take is to respond “in-kind.” It may be hard, but it’s important for you to maintain a level of composure. Raising your own voice may lead to an escalation of the situation on their part. Sometimes verbal abusers continue to victimize because of the reaction they receive.

If your boss or co-worker is yelling or their use of profanity offends you, let them know. They probably think it’s acceptable to address other workers in such a negative manner. It would be easy if they would recognize the error of their ways and make the necessary changes. Chances are, however, this will not happen. You need to take the first step.

If you decide to report a incident of verbal abuse, follow the chain of command. If your direct supervisor is the abuser, you may want to go to the next person in the chain. You also have a responsibility to not add fuel to the fire by asking people to be a witness for you. Be ready to supply the date and time of the incident. Provide the names of anyone that you know witnessed the incident. If needed, Human Resources will determine the best time and method to approach potential witnesses – do not approach them yourself. Lastly, do not gossip about the abuse you suffered and retribution against your abuser. You may jeopardize your case.

Keep in mind that while abuse should be reported, it does not occur in a vacuum. As unfair as it may seem, the accuser will have the right to tell their side of the story. Suffering abuse – physical or verbal is unacceptable. To the best of their ability, your employer has the responsibility to provide a safe haven for you to work.

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