World Mental Health Day : Emotional Abuse of Women at the Workplace


Article by Dr B Kalpana, Associate Professor- School of Public Health, SRM University

At work, emotional abuse can be just as obvious or subtle as it is at home. Abuse can occur at the supervisor-subordinate level, or among co-workers. It comes in the forms of acts or verbal comments that create emotional pain or isolation.  If the acts or comments are repetitive, intimidating, and are designed to humiliate or degrade, then it is clearly defined as bullying.


Many times managers make noble attempts to maintain a non-abusive and non-hostile working environment from the top down, but fail to recognize or address emotional abuse taking place at lateral levels among staff support. Worse, they may see it and pass it off as mere office gossip, isolated events, or issues that employees should resolve among themselves. Take for instance, an employee who consistently makes rude and threatening remarks to another employee. This is bullying; it is not office gossip. Office gossip is distinctly different and unfortunately, normal behaviour. Gossip is jealous and petty. Bullying is intimidating and emotionally damaging.

Workplace abuse is more common than many managers want to realize or admit and so it persists without diagnosis or treatment. But victims of workplace abuse suffer from frustration, anxiety and/or panic attacks, hopelessness, anger, fear, depression, inability to sleep, loss of appetite, and headaches. In the long run, the outcome is higher medical costs, high rates of turnover, and lower morale and productivity. Therefore, it behoves managers to adequately monitor and properly diagnose emotional abuse among supervisors and/or staff in the workplace. Abusers should be reprimanded for using abusive language or tactics, rather than dismissed as petty or insignificant.

Thousands of employees quit their jobs each year, or even worse, start each day with the dread of going to work. If you are a victim of emotional abuse in the workplace, recognizing the abuse is the first step towards removing yourself from it. You may ultimately decide the abuse is sufficient to justify your resignation, but in the interim, find ways to reduce your stress level. Maintaining good physical health always helps balance emotional health. Keep a safe distance from an abuser when possible. Moreover, NEVER trust an abuser with information that can be used against you – rest assured, it will be! And perhaps most importantly, call it what it is. Don’t be bullied. Stand up for yourself even if that means reporting the abusive behaviour to your supervisor or some another manager you feel you can trust. Be calm, non-retaliatory and if abuse repetitively continues, keep a log of abusive actions or comments. In the end, even if managers refuse to recognize and act on the abusive situation, this log may be what helps you decide when enough is enough.

Dr B Kalpana has a rich counselling and teaching experience of 20 years in India and abroad.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and may not reflect those of this organisation.

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