Friday, April 22, 2011

Scapegoating at Work

The tanking economy has put more pressure on those workers who are left after layoffs, cut-backs and general attrition. Unfilled positions mean heavier workloads for those of us who have survived the slaughter. Our punishment is more of a slow and painful death instead of a simple beheading. Scapegoating in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. It was a problem before the recession as well. It just seems that now everyone being hammered senseless an desperately seeking a dog to kick.

The position of scapegoat is usually a rotating one. The person who holds it is perceived as powerless by others. You are not going to find a middle or upper management person being targeted. I've been actively in the workforce for 40 plus years now and have seen many scapegoats. I have also been one from time to time. In the huge majority of cases I've witnessed the person who falls out of favor is female. As women we have a lot of unwritten expectations piled on our plates. Transgression is easy. The bitch stereotype resonates with almost everybody, male and female alike. And it's a hard hole to climb out of. You can use direct confrontation tactics but that is a slippery slope. Both yelling and crying will only make it worse. Keeping your mouth closed and working hard is the only strategy I've seen work. But it's a protracted one. Don't expect results overnight.

RIght now it is happening to two people I know of at the library where I am employed. One a lesbian artist, the other a straight mom. The arguments against both of them are remarkably similar: "She is not a team player,"  She doesn't allow her work to interfere with her life," etc. are typical statements that circulate about them.

I'm not condemning my co-workers from a tower of self-righteousness. My hands are not clean on this issue either. And after having been the designated scapegoat more times than I care to remember, you'd think they would be. It's an oddly compelling feeling to dish someone in a group setting. It provides a sense of inclusion, of shared threat, of a common enemy. It can be a catharsis as well as a great relief to find that you are not the one being taken down. This thank god it's not me sensation has been a hit with viewers of reality shows for a couple of decadesJust watch Survivor for the reactions of other tribe members when someone is about to be voted off the island.

There is only one instance I recall here at the library when the scapegoat was male. He was a gay man who worked in the Children's Department and he was accused of child molestation. He was convicted by the testimony of co-workers and children and although the courts eventually threw out the charge saying it was unfounded, it was a blow that could not be survived. He is no longer among the living and although his death was due to disease, I'm sure the humiliation and ridicule he endured played a major role in shortening his life.

So, what can we all do to try to make our lives more tolerable in the new depression workplace where jobs are fraught with insecurity, low pay and meager benefits? I could quote Joe Hill on this one with "Don't Mourn--Organize." But if you just need to indulge in some serious trashing remember, that's what Management is there for.