PART I OF A TWO-PART SERIES
Robert Sutton, author of The No A$$hole Rule (which has been mentioned previously at Historiann.com), offers some interesting commentary on proposed anti-bullying legislation being considered now in New Jersey and New York (h/t to Bullied Academics.) He writes, “[e]ssentially, the idea of these bills is to punish employers that allow ‘equal opportunity a$$holes’ to get away with doing their dirty work, thus going beyond current laws against race and gender-based workplace abuse.” What’s not to like?
Well, the problem is the way that lawsuits work in real life, where institutions and corporations have infinitely more time and money than individuals. As Sutton points out, the more damage you can show, the better your case will be. And the more damage you suffer, the more damaged you are! This is hardly a recipe for health and happiness. Sutton explains:
So, the more you lose – – the deeper your depression, your anxiety, and your financial losses, and the more physical ailments you suffer –- the better your case. The implication for me is WHY NOT GET OUT BEFORE YOU SUFFER TANGIBLE DAMAGES IN THE FIRST PLACE? Or at least why not get out with as little damage as possible, and get on with your life?
He also notes that a lawsuit means reliving the abuse and damage. I hate to admit it, because it offends my sense of justice, but bullying work environments aren’t the playground, and there are no recess supervisors or hall monitors to appeal to who will ensure that the bullies get their comeuppance. Grown-ups have to make the best lives for themselves and their loved ones they possibly can, and staying in an abusive job (like staying in other abusive relationships) to make a stronger legal case seems like a risky plan. Prof. Zero made this point more eloquently than I in a post last spring, asking why we’re so judgmental when victims of domestic violence don’t leave immediately, whereas victims of a toxic work environment are counseled to work on the bullying relationships: if only they’re nicer to their colleagues, if only they’d invite their colleagues out to lunch more often, if only they worked a little harder, they’d be able to fix the abusive environment.
Sutton also points out one overlooked risk of staying in an abusive work environment: you will be assimilated. “[R]esearch on emotional contagion, and on abusive supervision in particular, finds that if you work with or around a bunch of nasty and demeaning people, odds are you will become one of them.” This rings true–how else do some academic departments get reputations for being abusive environments? They’re very good at spitting out or driving away those who won’t conform, so that those who stay by definition become abusers (or enablers) who will do unto others as they were done unto. Historiann has seen this happen–so that, in her former job, the people who behaved the worst to her had themselves been abused as junior faculty (or, in fact, were still being abused by others themselves!)
Historiann will enlarge on this point about adopting the corrupt values of an abusive work environment more tomorrow, in Part II.