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Reviews for Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It , by Judith Wyatt and Chauncey Hare

Every so often along comes a book that isn't on the best seller list, doesn't have a Madison Avenue publisher, but pulls no punches on its topic-it tells the truth. Here is another one: Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It, by Judith Wyatt and Chauncey Hare (Schenkman Books, Inc., Rochester, Vt., 1997, 392 pages).

The authors, licensed counselors and therapists, say that work abuse is the flagrant mistreatment or silent neglect of people in the staggering number of Western work organizations that remain authoritarian and overcontrol employees. Stress in the workplace is often work abuse, they say, and victims of abusive work may experience the feelings of loss of control and of injustice. People experience injustice because democracy does not extend to the job, the authors note, who seek work that shares power and is based on trust and justice.

If the book seems a bit over the edge by this statement, it's not. It merely attempts to see the workplace as most people see it, but can't put it into words that anyone will listen to without calling you a wimp, complainer, malcontent, or worse. Take the comment shared in a vignette of organization expert Will Schultz when he tried to do his consulting work with companies by, of all things, telling the truth. His colleagues said business wants judicious truths, not the real truth.

He tried it, unsuccessfully, and concluded that 80 to 90 percent of all problems in organizations are problems of not telling the truth. They are problems of people knowing what's going on, but not being able to say it to each other. Each of us has experiences like that. And it is not hard to come to the conclusion that America's workforce is in one large denial.

By Ronald E. Keener,
American Marketing Association, Chicago
From Business Book Beat, Business Ledger, December 1997

Everyday, the world over, unhappy workers drag themselves to jobs that are mind numbing, unhealthy, psychologically harmful, or all three. Most of us would agree that we would like a work environment that is supportive, where fellow workers treat each other with respect, where those above and below us are in the hierarchy resolve conflicts fairly, and where we are consulted and feel safe to speak about work issues that affect us.

"Unfortunately, the chances that you work in such an environmentare slim," according to Judith Wyatt and Chauncey Hare, the authors of this book. Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It is about a much neglected subject, how all-powerful managers take advantage of relatively helpless employees and what can be done to create [psychologically] healthier work environments.

This pioneering work is intended for individual workers, their families, and therapists who treat working people affected by work abuse. This personal orientation is both the strength and the weakness of the book, which focuses on the individual causes and of responses to abusive work situations. Work Abuse places its emphasis on individual responsibilities - such as the boss' narcissism, uncontrolled ambition or greed, responses to problematic child rearing, sexual harassment, or the employee's learned helplessness - than on organizational responses, such as labor union intervention, Total Quality Management, equal employment measures, or policies and procedures that protect employees.

The book discusses how workplace norms, personal denial, lack of awareness, presence or absence of validation of feeling, empowerment or lack of self-esteem, and the use of other therapeutic concepts can affect abusive human relationships within the work environment, and relief from them. But, the book does not balance these individual/personal responses with advocacy or organizational responses to what are clearly organizational, as well as individual, problems.

The authors advise that the person experiencing an abusive work situation use empowered awareness to break denial, improve communications, and challenge authoritarian managers. They go on to suggest that the victim work on values to sustain their purpose and meaning, and that they develop a personal mission to strengthen their commitment to long-term goals. According to the authors, Escaping abusive work without causing more abuse to be heaped on you demands dedicated and determined objective setting, planning, and careful acting in a way that you've not been able to before (pg. 300, italics mine).

This assertion assumes that the victim shares guilt for the abusive environment. It is difficult to see how a more complete awareness of a manger's inadequacies (and/or unwillingness to see his or her part in creating abusive working conditions) changes when the victim becomes better informed or even when he or she takes the other corrective actions recommended in the book, such as asserting their self-interests during a periodic performance review.

The authors tell workers to beware of human resource or personnel departments, as they frequently cannot be trusted. Moreover, they caution against asking the Employee Assistance Program, the union management, or co-workers for help, suggesting that each of these groups is likely to betray them. They also advise against taking legal action against the company or co-workers. While the authors' concerns are often valid, they offer few, if any, structural remedies to problems that typically have structural origins. Thus, this useful pioneering effort is flawed.

The book, nonetheless, is well work reading, and Wyatt and Hare are right in challenging EAP and Human Resource professionals to do a better job of recognizing and dealing with abusive work environments. I hope that the subject of dysfunctional organizations and work situations gets far more attention in the future. Work Abuse has drawn much needed attention to a neglected area of employee assistance.

Employee Assistance Quarterly
Keith McClellan,
Oak Park MI 48237

Over the recent past, the concept of what constitutes abuse has broadened. No longer is it limited to the domestic setting, and no longer is it restricted to physical harm. Some of this change in thinking has not gone without controversy. Now Wyatt and Hare up the ante, and they are certain to stir opinion. The authors are organizationalconsultants and licensed psychotherapists who coined the term work abuse in 1988 in a report to the California state legislature's own oft-debated taskforce on self-esteem. They define work abuse as the flagrant mistreatment or silent neglect of people. This abuse may take the form of neglect, chronic scapegoating, or denial of due process. The only solution to the problem of his abuse, Wyatt and Hare argue, is for democracy to be brought to the workplace and to eliminate authoritarian work organizations. The author's equating of work abuse with child abuse, on-the-job sexual harassment, and discrimination will offend many.

David Rouse

Reader Reviews
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Your book was worth the wait! I consider it in the top five books that have deeply affected my life. Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It is the best possible combination: highly professional and information-packed prose and easy-to-read style. What a treasure!

I began going back over the jobs I felt I had prematurely left and began to recognize the norms and, most important, the error of my ways: listening to what people said instead of watching what they did. I kept thinking each situation was an isolated incident, but I could not fully accept that I was the troublemaker. Your book helped me (1) discover the patterns that led to my scapegoating, and (2) start the healing process caused by the shame (self-blame) of having failed.

I was blindsided when I began working in the field of psychology where I assumed there would be better mental health. At my last internship, the clinical supervisor warned me that the project director was scapegoating me. It registered but did not make any sense until I opened your book and discovered that it was my special expertise, for which I was hired, that now threatened the director. I see now the clinical director is uncomfortable with me and will be blocking my progress and success in every passive-aggressive way possible. Luckily this internship will be only ten hours a week - so it will be good practice for learning to work within the norms as described in your book! Name withheld, Family Therapist Intern, California

The book, Work Abuse accepts the reality of psychological warfare in the workplace. The book is unique for its bold conviction that dirty tricks at work can be overcome, if they are acknowledged and understood as a fact of life at work.

Jack Truher, Engineering Physicist

Wyatt and Hare have identified the problem at the workplace and they call it work abuse. The most salient point in this book is that they address the issue of authoritarian management styles as one of the reasons why work abuse is still prevalent in society. The fact that Americans are denying the existence of work abuse must be viewed in a serious light. It is time for a mind shift and by identifying the problem, Wyatt and Hare made a contribution to the growing international chain of voices opposing this phenomenon.

Susan Marais and Magriet Herman Co-authors of Corporate Hyenas at Work! How to Spot and Outwit them by Being Hyenawise

Kagiso Publishers,
Pretoria, South Africa, 1997

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