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Equal Access Issues: Workplace Apathy

Have you ever been at a job where discrimination is happening right in front of you? Does it ever surprise you how it can be so blatant without any apparent regard for the consequences? Do you look around wildly only to see everyone else uncomfortably turn a blind eye to the discrimination that is taking place? This is what we call "Workplace Apathy". It is a disease that runs rampant throughout the country, and it is a major barrier for people who crave equal access.

What exactly is workplace apathy? It can be simply summarized as "I don't care." Now, that may come off as harsh, but think about it. People are conditioned in the workplace by bullies to become tolerant of harassment and other forms of treatment. It becomes so commonplace, that people refuse to acknowledge it whenever it happens, mostly because it's uncomfortable to do so. Likely, the only individual that really cares about being bullied in that particular instance is the bullied individual themselves. It can be very demoralizing, and can contribute to workplace burnout, and all the other negative consequences of workplace bullying that we described in our previous post. What can be done in these situations? Well, as it so happens, the perfect remedy to apathy is actually caring.

Be better than the company. Start showing you really give a damn to someone who needs it.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable. Yes, it can cause the bully to shift their attention from their intended target to you. But if you really want to create an environment that is equally accessible to everyone, you and everyone else needs to start caring. Get indignant whenever you see workplace bullying happen in front of you. Complain about it to someone. Log it. Write it up. Document it somehow. Take notes of all the people that were around you when you witnessed the bullying. What time did it happen? Who else was involved? Why did it happen? Where did it happen? Learn to be an advocate not only for yourself, but for other people as well. You don't have to necessarily stick your neck out in these kinds of situations. Just do something, anything to show to the affected person that you really care. If you have the courage to stand up for a confrontation, think about whether it's worth it.

After the incident is completed however, you should find time to approach the affected person and let them know that you care. You've witnessed what happened, and you took notes regarding the incident. Encourage the other person to do the same, so that they can start making a paper trail for their own sake. Just being there for someone can make a huge difference in their lives. It can make them realize that they're not alone in the workplace, and maybe, for whatever reason, they're being targeted by a workplace bully for personal reasons that have no place at work.

The cowardly thing to do however, is to just ignore it and pretend that nothing is going on. If you're not showing any sort of support for the affected individual, whether that's giving them a place to vent their frustrations out on, helping them, or mentoring them, you're just as much a part of the problem as the bully is themselves. You are creating the image that this individual is truly alienated, unwelcome, and completely on their own in these situations. Publicly humiliating and berating someone is never acceptable in a workplace. Even if someone did a bad job, the appropriate thing to do is to correct the individual in private, and not where everyone can see them.

However, let's be clear about one thing. Even if you choose not to do anything, you're only a small part of a bigger problem. Really, the company itself has the largest share of the blame when it comes to apathy. The company culture can contribute to apathy in the following ways (courtesy of Damon Baker):

  1. Risk avoidance

  2. Punishing failure

  3. Undervaluing efforts

  4. Moving the finish line

  5. Dishonoring commitments

  6. Tying hands

  7. Filtering the truth

If the company creates a culture of apathy, why should the employee care? All too often we see the double standard where the individual has to be 10 times better than the company, which is a major burden on the individual, which quickly results in burnout and high turnover. The only way to fix this is to force companies to care. Unfortunately, whether the company likes to acknowledge it or not, we have to be bigger and better than the company, otherwise nothing will change. The best way you can do that is to build up a strong case against bullies and to hold them accountable for their bullshit, because you sure as hell can't depend on the company itself to do it for you. Start caring, so that the company is also forced to start caring. Only then, can you eliminate apathy from the workplace.

Bully the bully. Make their lives miserable. Collect evidence, and turn that evidence in. Appeal it if you have to. Take it all the way to the federal government. Make the company look really bad, if that's what it takes. Fight for a better future. Only then will the workplace be equally accessible for everyone.

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