Consider the employee who is walking in the door with a lot of stress in their life. That would be all of them, bar none! If they are unable to solve the problems generating the stress (and most cannot), this generates a heightened sense of powerlessness and alienation in their lives. The only option they have is to just keep going.
They also arrive with fantasies and unrealistic expectations that they carry with them the entire time they’re working for us. These expectations, when unmet (which is pretty much all the time), produce a level of disappointment and a feeling of despair.
What do you think happens when employees who are grappling with some measure of feeling powerless due to circumstances in their lives come into an environment where their feelings of powerlessness are constantly reinforced? The very nature of an employment environment means that employers will have power over their employees, and over some of the most important aspects of their lives. Yes, we know, we give them the power to make some decisions. But that’s not the kind of power we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is the “power over” dynamic that exists in every organization. The organizational structure requires that there is always someone who has the power over the employee.
Managers are the most common representatives of employer power that the employees encounter, and therefore the power-relationship between employee and manager is the most likely to trigger feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. It is not hard to see how this can happen. Employee vulnerability stems from the manager’s power over their sense of safety such as: their financial and personal well-being (will they continue getting a paycheck each month); job security (will they continue to have a job); financial future (will they get a promotion and/or pay raise); self-confidence (will they get feedback that reinforces that they are doing a good job); and self-worth (will they be acknowledged and valued for their contribution).
Given the right circumstances, the “power over” dynamic in the workplace forces employees into a state of vulnerability that can actually become unbearable. It goes without saying that when people feel too powerless, it produces a feeling of having nothing to lose and they are much more likely to act in ways that can be very harmful, not only to themselves, but to others. They are powder kegs waiting to go off.
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