Leading Ladies - Power Harassment 101

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'Power Harassment' originated in Japan as a phrase to describe the hierarchical bullying of lower level employees by management. I would argue that 'PAWA-HARA' is equally as applicable to the international business environment.

If you've ever felt like you can't speak up about an issue for fear of a poor performance review or were too terrified of the retribution you might face should you air your grievances it's highly likely you've faced Power Harassment in your workplace.

In the modern business environment where hierarchy is becoming flatter and so-called 'millennials' are more likely to speak up this kind of harassment should be diminishing, right? Not so, there will always be people on top and most of the time they will be well trained and highly motivated individuals who only want the best for their fellow employees. However, there's always a few bad eggs who sneak through. 

So what can you do to battle Power Harassment in your office?

  • Stand Strong on your Limits: Identify how far you are willing to go for your role. How much constructive criticism can you take before it becomes too much? How much overtime are you comfortable with if necessary? Once you have your limits set you know what you can put up with. If you pass those limits then it's your cue to put your foot down - in a professional way, of course.

  • Positive Reinforcement: It may be an option to 'train' your offending colleague to treat you better. Praise them when they treat you kindly and talk about how inspired you are at their management style when they show you respect. Everyone loves a pat on the back and you may encourage them to move towards more pats on the back with frequent reinforcement.

  • Ask them Why: If you are comfortable, asking the harasser to explain their behaviour may be a good way of breaking the barrier and opening the floor to discussion. Perhaps they have a wicked sense of humour and didn't realise their jokes were offensive? Or perhaps being confronted is what it takes for them to reflect on their actions?

  • Seek Support: If the person causing you to stress is a serial abuser you may find there are more people on your side than you think. Speak to those who you trust and see if anyone else is suffering. There is power in numbers and you'll feel a lot less alone.

  • Take it to the Top: The most effective method of getting rid of any form of harassment is through the influence of a company-wide cultural change. Go to the source. Power Harassment is a top-down issue so any solution should also be a top-down effort. If you aren't in the position to get the issue raised try to find colleagues who might be a fellow champion for the cause and reach out for help.

  • Write it Down: Keep a record of the harassment in as much detail as possible. In the absolute worst case scenario you will have evidence to back up your experience and give a detailed explanation of the extent of the situation to someone if you need to reach out for help. Witnesses help too. While in Japan it may not be a case for constructive dismissal if you force an employee to quit due to incessant harassment and discrimination, in most other countries (including the UK) the law is there to help.

Have you ever faced Power Harassment in the workplace? If so, how did you deal with it?