Posted by: healingtheworkplace | July 14, 2008

Corporate Abuse: Destroying Soul in the Workplace

In 1996 Canadians Lesley Wright and Marti Smye wrote a book called Civilizing the Worklace. The book is about corporate abuse and the authors paint an interesting picture of abusive workplace cultures which they describe as..soul destroying!

According to Wright and Smye corporate abuse has “many faces” with the following abuses being the most obvious:

  • discrimination
  • overwork
  • harassment
  • systematic humiliation
  • arbitrary manipulation
  • demotion without cause
  • withholding of resources

Of course there are many less obvious forms of abuse which are just as damaging to the organization and to the individual.

Wright and Smye hightlight some of the more SUBTLE forms of corporate abuse as well:

  • lack of support
  • penny-pinching
  • micromanagement
  • constant miscommunication
  • hidden agendas
  • surveillance

What is interesting is that they define corporate abuse as “anything that kills good ideas and innovation”.

This may seem like an unusual definition for corporate abuse but I agree that organizations which allow abuse to continue unchecked DESTROY creativity and innovation.

What I find interesting is that one of the biggest concerns of organizations in recent years is about productivity or lack of productivity by workers. I think the equation goes something like this…increased productivity = increased growth = increased profits. 

In a nutshell, that which gives organizations (not for profit and for profit) the competitive advantage is their ability to generate new ideas and innovations.

I also find it interesting the Wright and Smye wrote Civilizing the Workplace in 1996 during a time when


 It was for this very reason that organizations were able to abuse people and “get away with it”.

One of the reasons for this is that abusive cultures thrive in uncertainty (you’ll find details in the book) by generating fear and dependency in people.

Sadly, corporate abuse makes itself felt in individual lives before it appears on the bottom line.  People suffer health problems such as…

  • stress
  • headaches
  • ulcers
  • exhaustion
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • burnout
  • heart attacks
  • panic attacks
  • nervous breakdowns 

AND, if this is not enough there are longer term negative effects on relationships, families and individual self-esteem.

 Are things any better today? Yes and no.

In a recent edition of the Vancouver Sun newspaper Donna Jacobs wrote an article called “Mental Illness: No end in sight”.  Part of her article relates to workplace stress and its damaging effects on people’s lives…one of the experts she interviews states…

Despite all that we’ve learned in the past 10 years…chronic job stress is on the rise!

I’ll have more to say about this later on in the week!








  1. Great article! I like your blog and attitude. I get so tired of reading all the HR crap out there. This is refreshing.

    I have three words for employees who suffer from workplace stress and abusive bosses, Work Laws Exposed U.S. employees don’t realize that there is a bevy of state and federal laws protecting them from jerks on the job. Just as one shouldn’t drive without car insurance, one shouldn’t step foot into the workplace without reading this e-book. It’s written by an employment law attorney who exposes what so many employers fear that their employees will find out. It’s jaw-dropping reading and very easy to understand. It explains not only how abuse is interpreted by the law (it surpises most people), but includes step-by-step instructions for protecting yourself and fighting back. If I had this e-book about two years ago, I could have sued and won. PERIOD! It’s that powerful.

  2. This is happening again – in the USA. Lack of jobs so bosses think they can overwork and emotionally and mentally abuse employees, yet nothing appears to have been done to stop this!

  3. Very good definition of corporate abuse. Large organizations are by their very nature abusive — by their very structure. When they get to be a certain size, they become bureaucratic and the abuse is sytematized.

    E.F. Schumacher, Marx and Engels, Adam Smith and other great thinkers have said very clearly that our work and workplaces have a significant effect on us, on our bodies and minds and souls.

    One of the biggest factors that distorts our souls (and bodies — we don’t work in factories, but now we have carpal tunnel syndrome) is the infrastructure, the technology, the “modes of production” that we labour under in our organizations.

    We can change the laws, tax systems, policies and procedures, etc. but the technologies that underlie our organizations and our workplaces — these are the foundation of what is abusive, damaging, soul-destroying.

    Scaling down our techologies and processes, to make them more human-sized rather than making them as large as possible — that is what is needed. Bad management and bad leadership also suffer from the inhumane technologies and means of production that all of us suffer from in organizations that have more than 100 people or so.

    Imagination, creativity, passion all come from the soul. Organizations that abuse individuals will necessarily diminish these gifts. Unfortunately, the modern organization is mainly concerned about it’s needs and cares little about the well-being of the most important part — it’s employees.

    In Canada, there is a growing attention on mental health in the workplace (especially depression, but also psychological harassment adn the like). That will hopefully contribute to a growing awareness of how our organizations contribute to making us unhealthy.

  4. Hi,
    I’m being subjected to :
    # harassment
    # systematic humiliation
    # arbitrary manipulation
    # demotion without cause
    # withholding of resources
    # surveillance
    by my company and I agree with the definitions of abuse in your article.

  5. […] Corporate Abuse: Destroying Soul in the Workplace …Jul 14, 2008 … In 1996 Canadians Lesley Wright and Marti Smye wrote a book called Civilizing the Worklace. The book is about corporate abuse and the … […]

  6. Wow. I was discharged “without just cause” in March of 2008. This book was written in July of 2008. Very validating.

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