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©Coercive Control in the Workplace- should be a Criminal Offence

Updated: Mar 8

Coercive Control in the home is a Criminal Act it should also be a Criminal Act in the Workplace

coercive control is a strategic pattern of behaviour designed to exploit, control, create dependency and dominate. The victim’s every day existence is micro managed and her space for action as well as potential as a human being is limited and controlled by the abuser.” Laura Richards, a UK-based criminal behaviour analyst.

"Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim". Coercive control - Womens Aid

(C) Workplace Coercive Control occurs when someone intentionally targets an employee(s) to injure, damage or destroy their presence in the workplace. This usually consists of a campaign of terror until the perpetrator(s) underhandedly forces and ends the targets working life.

This includes the target's career, health, finance, psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing. This is an unethical, unjust, immoral act and must be addressed as a criminal offence. The target will incur many losses including their health, identity, career and their right to work in a safe workplace.

Coercive Control is a devious act usually orchestrated and committed behind the targets back (covert tactics to begin with but then escalating to overt tactics) including mobbing, gossip, rumours, invalidation, gaslighting, intimidation, to name but a few intentions to cause harm and injury to the target. The intention is usually to steal, exploit or take the “power”, “position” of the target. Coercive Control is a persistent, repeatied pattern of controlling, dehumanising , demeaning behaviour including all or some forms of (emotional, psychological, physical, financial, sexual including threats).

It’s time to call out coercive control in the workplace.

This is a wonderful article by Shari

This form of abusive approach to management is alive and thriving in Australian workplaces, including many where you would expect there to be enough institutional checks and balances to ensure it can’t happen. The problem is, the abusers know exactly how to work the system in their favour. They artfully refrain from putting anything incriminating in writing, they use loopholes in HR processes to punish people, they impose restrictive yet legal working conditions, they separate people who work well together, ensuring they don’t get a chance to swap stories or form bonds, and they establish conditions where people who would otherwise support each other are forced into competition.

Managers who use coercive control may be all charm when you first start a role, singing your praises and showing off all the fabulous things about your new workplace. You might be made to feel special and even paraded around in front of your new colleagues, touted as the newest star on the team. This is all designed to woo you and ensure that existing staff aren’t too keen to get to know you. But then you start noticing the cracks and the fear, the fear of speaking up, the fear of stepping out of line, the fear of being different. You start to hear the whispers of stories about people who have been ‘managed out’ or left because management made it too hard for them to stay. Your suggestions for improvement of any sort are either ignored or attract reprimand. You’re taken off the big jobs, assigned work that leads you nowhere, but keeps you busy and out of the way. And if you learn your lesson you might slowly be allowed back into the ‘playground’.

But for those of us who do not tolerate being treated with such disrespect and barley hidden contempt, there is a whole minefield of mind games waiting. Divide and conquer is a favourite strategy used by coercive managers, even if you don’t report directly to them, having made it onto their radar of ‘difficult people’, you will find yourself without support from either your direct manager or your peers (who are understandably busy covering their own butts). They will punish you by withdrawing anything they think will bring you joy, including opportunities for professional development or exciting new projects; and they don’t even care that it’s bad for business, they have their sights set on containing and controlling you. These managers are also masters at contradiction, confusion and inducing fear. They have no answers, no direction and are often covering for a lack of ability, they prevail because very few have the courage to stand up to them.

At this point your self-esteem and confidence may well be in tatters, you are probably feeling used and possibly discarded, and left with a sense of worthlessness. But it is at this point that somehow, you must find a way to share your story. Find others who are suffering and take collective action. Find strength in wanting to stop this from happening to others and if possible, become a champion for change. Tell anyone who will listen what is happening to you, it is very unlikely you are the only one and your silence, if not compliance, is exactly what your abuser is hoping for. Abusive managers are often so good at their ‘craft’ that many people don’t even realise that their autonomy has been eroded and their connections outside of their work-group have been all but severed. This is not something you need to keep secret, it is something the abuser is trying to keep hidden from those who have the power to stop them.

Domestic violence in Australia is a very real problem. Workplace abuse is just as real and just as much of a problem. Reach out, speak up. Coercive control in the workplace should never be tolerated, work can be a place where we can come together with people who share our sense of purpose and meaning in the world, to create value and help make the world a better place for all.

Call out coercive control in the workplace. Join your union, share your story, you deserve a compassionate and respectful working environment.

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