Subtle Exploitation at Workplace: How You Could Cope (Without a Lawsuit)

Subtle Exploitation at Workplace: How You Could Cope (Without a Lawsuit)

The pressure on employees is increasing

The employees are working lot more than ever before. The anxiety related to work is constantly going up.

As we anticipate the wave of automation and consolidation, more jobs will be at stake worldwide. The jobs where workforce has skills, are vanishing. The speed of skill development is not sufficient.

When the available jobs and workforce go out of balance, the exploitation starts.

The signs are clear

Everywhere in the world population is increasing. This results in emigration and also people movement within the countries. In the end, there is lot more competition for each job.

In the USA the average working hours per week have gone up significantly. In a family, both parents need to work hard to have a comfortable living.

This was not the case in recent past.

stretched at work, employee, work from home
Flickr / na_vse_sto

When the power is too high at the hands of the manager, the pressure comes to employees and job seekers in multiple ways. These indicate quite clearly that life is only going to get more difficult. The pressure from employer on the employees is manifesting in different ways.

How the pressure manifests


The businesses find reasons to exclude slightly more experienced. Especially in tech industry across the world, professionals with 40 years and above are discouraged. Even when they have wider and deeper experience, the employers go for younger employees who can work round the clock.

Wherever possible, organizations let go older employees much before retirement age citing different reasons which fit within legal limits. When these apply for job elsewhere, the rejection comes. It comes with acceptable justification of cultural misfit, overqualified etc.

Aggressive bids to win projects

Once businesses know that they can make employees stretch to unreasonable levels, then they would squeeze more. They take higher risks in winning customers and making commitments.

In the short term, the aggressiveness helps the companies. But in the long term the organizations will be left with tired employees and lower quality.  For the industry also, being more aggressive does not help in the long term. Take the example of telecom and networking industry. Between 2000 and 2015, too much revolution happened too quickly. The industry worked overtime and churned out too many products in short cycle. Customers across the world did not upgrade telecom gear as quick as the products were churned out. Overall there was erosion of financial value. In the end, both employers and employees lost out due to overworking.

It would have been nice if there is a way to explain this to the industry leaders. As an employee, it is simply not possible to educate the business leaders to control this downward spiral.

Work from home

Lot of times work from home works well. But these are increasingly not preferred by the employers in spite of all the tech advancements.

I have seen many cases where organization allows work from home. But the managers stamp it.

While some employees could misuse, big reason is managers find it very hard to measure result for many reasons. Managers need to plan the work better and measure results. There is not enough time to structure work and plan. This results in denying flexibility at work.

Denying work from home option while it is part of official policy has increased.

Work culture

Becoming workoholic is pushed towards employees as being self-motivated. Employees are encouraged to fit into the ambitious work culture. These do not come as formal instructions. Instead, they come as friendly suggestions.

The companies say they do not have mandatory Bell curve now. But it exists in the background.

In summary – it is very clear that employees end up getting exploited. When all employees and all companies get into the ruthless and high anxiety as norm, it does not help anyone – neither employees nor the employers.

Is there any way to protect yourself without disregarding the professional duties as an employee? It is hard because employee alone can not do much. Unionization is not American way.

Could you sue the employer?

Hurdles to legal actions

Law suits come in only if there are clear cut legal violations.

There is no case because there is no direct instruction to work more. It is done ‘voluntarily as a self-motivated employee’ and it is ‘totally up to the employee’.

That is why these cases won’t lead to formal law suits.

Also you have strong relations at work. The triggers mentioned above are not enough for all out legal pursuit. It is not like you have crisis today to respond to.

As an employee, you are nice person and you do not want to antagonize anyone. After all, everyone else also is compromising.

In summary, there is really no good reason to go for all out lawsuits.

Is there any option?

The employees still need a way to cope with the anxiety. Putting up with it, will lead to more pressure. It will lead to further demands for more work with lesser money and lower flexibility.

Do not hesitate to see a therapist. The cost of not solving this is clear. Continued exposure to such stress will lead to lot of health issues and it is a serious threat to quality of life.

There is hardly any evidence to prove the damages, even if found to be severe later.

Both keeping quiet and also going for law suits are not options.

Could you directly negotiate for higher flexibility and lesser work?

Yes, but only if you are in position to negotiate.

You need to observe the power equations before asking for more flexibility or declining extra work. If you already know negotiations is easier. But if you are starting negotiation from weak position, it does not help. It could also harm. It would lead to more harassment. If an employee is known to be too cooperative, asks for flexibility, it will not be taken kindly. Sometimes the pressure is put in such a way with subtle signals or direct advice at personal level to leave voluntarily.

Here is one way out of this situation

You just need to show that you are observing the increasing pressure. You just need to gain some position of power. One way to do is to get legal advice. You may not intend to take any direct action. Instead, you may just consult and talk about legal consulting as a casual comment, not as direct threat.

Once employer senses that there is a lawyer backing, then the managers suddenly become cautious. Just like the pressure is subtle, the push back also should be subtle. The managers are likely to assume that the employee has done lot of home work. They would hesitate to harass, let alone taking any extreme step. Then you can happily work, do justice to your job, without anxiety.

Therefore, it is good to consult a lawyer if there is subtle exploitation gradually building up. It is small step to take care of your own health and that of the family.

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