Many supervisors, managers and executives engage in coercive behavior from time to time. Designed to influence their subordinates' actions in some way, some of these are prohibited by law. Understanding what workplace coercion is helps employees and employers take steps to prevent it from taking place and take appropriate steps to make amends for prior occurrences. Workplace coercion can take different forms.
Physical coercion involves the threat of physical force or intimidation to influence employee behaviors. Managers, supervisors and foremen with evident physical strength or stature can employ workplace coercion simply by standing over workers as they work, creating an intimidating presence. According to the leadership and ethics blog Execupundit, even employees who do not fear physical violence from a superior still engage in desired behaviors to avoid the embarrassment or humiliation of being physically intimidated by their boss, . Physical coercion can take place in workplaces lacking appropriate supervision and resources for employees to report coercive manager behavior.
Workplace coercion may also involve deception. Managers, executives and other superiors sometimes offer misinformation or false information to encourage desired employee behaviors. For example, a manager might offer incentives for certain accomplishments without ever intending to follow through on them, perhaps setting the bar so high there's no chance the incentive will be awarded. In another fairly common example, workers are told that their job security is threatened unless productivity increases; however, the employer does not have anyone lined up for the job or intentions of replacing the worker.
Employees can be coerced into desired behaviors or actions through manipulation, which often draws on charisma, personality or favoritism for a subtler form of workplace coercion. Managers treat high-performing workers with favoritism, nudging other employees to meet that worker’s productivity levels in the hopes of receiving similar favors. Employers can also withhold approval for employees with the goal of keeping workers scrambling harder to meet expectations. Another form of manipulative workplace coercion involves asking employees to commit to certain deadlines and responsibilities in a public setting, making it difficult for individuals to refuse.
Some managers employ combinations of coercive behavior very effectively. For example, a manager may be physically coercive with some employees and manipulative with others. Not only are some employees physically coerced, they're treated to a display of how the manager might treat them if they comply with his wishes. In other cases, managers and supervisors skilled in coercion techniques can team up to maximize effectiveness in controlling the workplace environment.
Employees have options when faced with workplace coercion. Some forms, like sexual harassment, are illegal. Others may be emotionally draining, but they are legal. Illegal coercion can be challenged through the court system. More informal coercion can be dealt with outside the courts. According to Chaco Canyon Consulting, there are rights that employees can exercise in such situations, For example, you have the right to refuse an impossible request without punitive action being taken, and you can also agree to requests but on your own terms; for example, taking on additional responsibility but stating that you need more time or money to complete tasks. In addition, you can also directly request information you feel is being deliberately withheld as a manipulation tool.
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.