Are You in an Abusive Relationship with Your Employer?


Have you ever felt (or currently feel) trapped in a situation that you don’t know how to get out of?  Does the thought of going to work kill your spirit? Does the “Sunday evening blues” start well before 6:00PM for you? Do you have to give yourself a pep talk before going into the office every day because you loathe being there that much?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be in an abusive relationship with your employer. Now I know that may seem like a stretch, but it’s really not. What are some signs of an abusive relationship? They rob us of joy, make us feel mistreated, make us afraid to use our voice, and have a hold on us that causes us to feel that we can’t get out. When we think of abusive relationships, we envision a controlling and violent significant other. But what if it is your employer and not your boo that is making you feel this way?

Here are some other signs that your employer is abusing you.

They value your labor more than they value you.

Have you ever been made to feel that your personal wellbeing matters far less than how much the organization can profit from your knowledge and labor? Are you a standout employee for whom the company has an unspoken expectation to work twice as hard as everyone else? Do they dump on you because “you do your job so well”? Have you ever spoken up about an issue of personal concern or tried to advocate on your own behalf only to have your employer dismiss your concerns? Does the company foster an environment where passive aggressive, micro-aggressive, or racially insensitive behavior goes unchecked?

They make you feel as though there will be repercussions for using the company-provided benefits that you have earned.

Are you an employee with a strong work ethic but afraid to use your hard earned vacation and/or sick time because all of your requests are heavily scrutinized? Are you an employee who has no children or local family so you are the default “workhorse” of the office, while others enjoy that elusive thing that we call “work-life balance”? Have you ever been made to feel that it is an inconvenience for you to be out of the office so you come to work sick, miss your child’s school play, or experience an overwhelming feeling of anxiety on the rare occasions that you need to ask to be out of the office?

Their words and actions are incongruent.

Does your employer treat you poorly but then shower you with disingenuous praise? That is manipulation. Plain and simple.

They silence you.

Have you ever been afraid to speak up for fear of backlash or not wanting to come across as the stereotypical “Angry Black Woman”? Do you find yourself tempering your words and policing your tone in your communication so that you do not offend others but your “less melanated” colleagues can say what they want to say, how they want to say it, with no repercussions? Have you ever written and rewritten and email over and over again because you don’t want to be accused to being too “matter of fact”? Have you been told that you are “too direct”?

They deny you the opportunity to grow and develop.

Have you asked for professional development only to be denied the opportunity because “It’s not in the budget”? Have you been passed over for opportunities because you don’t play the political game? Have you ever watched someone less qualified receive an opportunity that was not ever even presented to you? Have you ever had foresight to see and identify a potential workflow or system issue, only to have it dismissed and later “discovered” by another employee who receives the credit for bringing this to everyone’s attention, as if it is a new revelation? Do you feel like they just want you to sit back, shut up, and be happy that you have a seat at the table, with no regard for whether or not you are EATING at the table?

They don’t treat you well but bully or manipulate you into staying.

Has your employer ever discouraged you from applying for other positions in the organization or seeking other opportunities in general? Have they ever made you feel that although you are a great employee, they may give you a less than stellar reference in an effort to get you to stay where you are? Have they ever inquired about your happiness in your position, not because they genuinely care, but because they are trying to “feel you out” to see if you are planning to leave?

Can you relate to any of these?

If yes, the million dollar question is, “Why not leave?”. For the same reason that people stay in abusive relationships of all types. It is not always easy to leave. Some of us lack the self-confidence or financial means to make a quick exit, while others have become complacent. The worst is when the abuse is so deep-rooted that it causes us to devalue ourselves in such a way that even we don’t believe that we are worth more. However, remaining in a toxic environment is a detriment to your physical, mental, and emotional health and you are worth so much more than that.

If you are in an abusive relationship with your employer, I encourage you to make a commitment to YOURSELF today to create an exit strategy. Your wellbeing depends on it. In the meantime, check out the resources below to help you “get through” until you can “get out”.

  • Speak with your Human Resources representative (if you feel comfortable doing so) to address your concerns. There may be training available for your department leaders to help them learn how to be better leaders.
  • Tap into your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Most programs offer at least 6 free counseling sessions and a wealth of resources on a variety of topics.
  • Consult a labor relations attorney if you feel that you are mistreated in a way that crosses the lines of legality.
  • Find you a group of like-minded sister friends to help uplift and nurture your spirit.


What are some other ways to survive an abusive work environment until you are able to leave?



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