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Bosses act like I don’t have a life outside of work

Text and color on parachute by Franke James, MFA.; Parachute girl ©istockphoto.com/Andrzej Burak

Dear Office-Politics

I work for a privately owned U.S. jail and recently we have been running into some obstacles and everyone is overly stressed. We have recently had a major change in bosses (wardens and upper management) and building schedules. We have been asked to work overtime almost everyday and added extra duty on top of what we are expected to do on a regular basis. I had enough of the pressures that have been thrown at me and I quit my job by walking out. When I got home I received two phone calls by two different bosses asking me, “What happened? Why did you just leave the job and quit? Do you have a different job?”

I said, “No, I don’t have a different job but I am tired of being asked to do extra tasks and do overtime and be expected to do it.” I also told them that they act like I don’t have a life outside of work and I wasn’t going to be treated disrespectfully. However, after telling them all of that I was asked to return to work the next day and I did.

I understand that with all of the changes, everybody’s attitudes are going to change with the added stress that we are all going through. I guess my plate started to overflow and I couldn’t handle the stress anymore. Ever since I returned back to work after that episode I have been treated differently by my bosses. I knew that it was going to happen before I even received a phone call to reconsider returning. My question is did I do the right thing? Also, what can I do to regain their trust in me again?

Miss Trusted

dr. john burton

Dear Miss Trusted,

One way to think of your action is as a personal strike. Strikes are labor’s way of telling management that working conditions are unsatisfactory and need to change. In this case, management seems to have got the message.

When you say that you are now treated differently by your bosses I take it that you are being better treated. Clearly this is a positive result and I would say that your action is morally sound if we focus on the consequences arising from it.

I have two concerns that you might bear in mind. The larger concern is that the stress inducing conditions that caused you to leave appear to be part of institutional life. If management is seeking to get more work out of employees then your co-workers will be experiencing the stress you were before you walked out. Some collective action may be called for.

Even if your working conditions are improved the fact that your co-workers are stressed will have some negative impacts on you. Thus even from a self-interested perspective it may benefit you to consider how to improve conditions for everyone. If one person walking off the job changed things for you, imagine what would happen if everyone walked out?

The second concern is related to the first. Although conditions have improved for you at the moment, I expect that over time things will revert to what they were before. Abusive employers are like abusive spouses. After a critical incident they will try to make up to you. But given time they will revert to their old ways, unless something has been done to ensure that the new behaviours are sustained.

Your final question was about regaining the trust of your employer. Since they called you and asked you to return I don’t see that as an issue. I think they must trust you since they wanted you back. My concern is how the employer can regain your trust.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Yours truly,

Dr. John Burton

Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He has taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John was recently located in Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, working with Canada’s aboriginal communities. He is now teaching at UBC, Okanagan Campus.

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