How to recognize the signs of emotional abuse at work

On Behalf of | Jan 6, 2023 | Workplace discrimination |

Businesses create power structures within their business model to keep employees on track, keep productivity high and give them the foundation to grow. At times, these power structures become unbalanced and when that imbalance combines with toxic behavior toward an employee, they may be dealing with emotional abuse.

Most workers think of falls, broken bones or even chemical burns when they think of workplace injuries, but the truth is that emotional injuries also occur when someone is constantly bullied at work. This is particularly harmful when the bully is the boss.

What is workplace bullying?

According to the Workplace Bullying Coalition, workplace bullying is unwelcome or unwanted abuse used to control or intimidate someone who appears to have less power at work. Abusive conduct occurs when the behavior is something that a reasonable person would find hostile and can include the following:

  • Undermining work performance
  • Exploiting of someone’s physical or psychological vulnerability
  • Repeating derogatory remarks or insults

When a boss has the power over an employee and uses it to manipulate, demean or harm them physically or emotionally, the employee may also develop a trauma-bond with the boss. This means that although they display abusive behavior toward them, the employee feels a psychological bond with the abuser that makes it hard to see the abusive behavior.

Is it abuse or is it stress?

Employees who deal with abusive bosses often report serious dread about going to work, burnout, work anxiety, low self-esteem, social isolation and decreased productivity. Many feel guilty or ashamed as if they deserve the abuse and question their self-worth. Normal stress at work may cause these feelings for a short period of time, but long stretches may signal an abusive situation.