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Kemi Smith: When Your Boss Assaults You

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Domestic violence is a hard topic to discuss; but even harder and less talked about, is assault in the workplace. A good number of people are assaulted in their place of work, but can’t and won’t talk because of fear of what the consequences will be. It’s not an easy thing to decide to leave a job that pays…where will the next job come from? It’ll take a lot of courage (which most people don’t have in Nigeria’s current economic climate) to leave a job that pays anything at all.

Before working in the place that I do currently, I’d worked in an organisation where I worked with the coolest bosses ever. I’m talking about the kind of bosses who welcomed new ideas; bosses who were deeply concerned about staff welfare; bosses who made it so much easier to jump out of bed every morning because with work life was good. The problem was that the job wasn’t very rewarding… financially. By the end of last year, I decided I had to get a new job.

Honestly, I’d never considered assault in the workplace to be a thing, given the kind of bosses I’d had in previous jobs (a real job and as an intern). I just assumed that things would be normal at best. Imagine my horror when just about a few weeks into my new job I saw my boss flare up for the first time.

Flaring up has to be the most predictable response to high stress situations where incompetence is displayed, I thought. Erm, no! My boss shoved the employee involved and finished it with a nice string of curse words. Still, I didn’t think much of it; moreso, because of personality differences. Then, I started to recognise that the largest determinant of how the day will go for every person who works in that organization is what mood our boss walks in with.

Very recently, I witnessed a fellow colleague being punished and slapped across the face by our boss. and it left me mortified. Thinking of how terrifying it is to work in this organization, all of the psychological trauma one goes through trying to figure out if the boss will be happy or angry today, I got angry.

I think the most dangerous part of jobs like this is how much they wear us out psychologically – a kind of fear that rules how you approach work assignment, your emotional wellbeing for the day, your relationship with fellow employees. Unfortunately, you find yourself transferring the boss’ aggression to your colleagues, who already have to deal with all the stress of that kind of environment.

Upon further research I found that there is a part of the Nigerian law that says “A person who strikes, touches, or moves, or otherwise applies force of any kind to, the person of another, directly or indirectly, without his consent, or with his consent, if the consent is obtained by fraud, or who by any bodily act or gesture attempts or threatens to apply force of any kind to the person of another without his consent, in such circumstances that the person making the attempt or threat has actually or apparently a present ability to effect his purpose, is said to assault that other person, and the act is called an assault.”

If the law is this clear on what an assault is, which is a very punishable offence, why are Nigerian employers still comfortable enough to verbally and physically abuse their employees?

The excuse that employees are lazy may be valid, but just as all employers don’t abuse their workers, not all employees are lazy. Even so, laziness is no excuse to assault another person. Whatever happened to just firing them?

I have watched my employer say some of the most disrespectful things to my colleagues, watched my boss repeatedly hit a fellow colleague, and use curse words so strong that I’ve questioned if my organization was an actual workplace or a POW (Prisoners Of War) camp. How do employers give themselves so much guts to talk disrespectfully to a fellow adult? How?

I’m not a lawyer by qualification, so this isn’t a what-to-do-when-your-employer-hits-you post, it’s more a cry for help to people who know about the law and can do something about it to please do something because honestly I am powerless to do anything – except quit the job of course, but what about the many other people that can’t afford to because of urgent responsibilities? This is also an open invitation to you readers to share your experiences, for comfort so I know I’m not alone in this. Maybe I can learn from the way you handled a similar situation.

The unspoken rule in Nigerian workplaces mostly is “the boss is king, then the customer. Every other person is a slave”. Outside of my own work situation I’m beginning to recognise that there are a lot more people being assaulted by their bosses, people who won’t confront their bosses like me because the day they do, they lose their jobs.

I believe that as a society we should be supportive of those employees who speak up. We should stand with them to speak up against assault in the workplace, instead of making them feel doomed and foolish.

The mentality of enduring any form of abuse because ‘it won’t last forever’ has to stop. It is never humility to keep hoping that things will get better someday, when you’re not doing anything to make it better.

Photo Credit: Frizzantine | Dreamstime

17 Comments

  1. Miss Me

    July 18, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    Hmm, I have actually been waiting for this topic. I joined my new organisation sometime last year, i was so happy unbeknownst to me, I had jumped from frying pan to fire. In less than 2 months I was assaulted by my boss . He flung a hard material in my face, while hurling all sorts of insults my way at the very top of his voice. The whole office could hear him insulting and cursing (thankfully it did not hit me), I was in shock to say the least especially because the reason for his action were the flimsiest ever, it was unbelievable that someone could actually look me in the face and want to hurt me so bad with every fiber of his being over something so flimsy and egotistical (which by the way i got praised for by every single person that saw the job, a job he approved too if i might add). I work hard and smart at my job if i may say so myself. My previous employer still calls to ask me for my expertise ( A Plc) and i think that says a lot about the quality of my work. My current employer’s wife also works in the same organisation and she also seems to derive joy in making other peoples’ lives miserable. She is forever forgetting things and ends up blaming you for her own mistakes. She keeps making statements like “are you pregnant?, is that why your brain is not correct”, she makes this statement with so much hate, a mother of three. The sad part is that my husband and I are currently trying to have a baby, so every time she insults me with pregnancy, it hurts deeper than she can ever imagine. I’ve had a miscarriage at this same job and that same week, she made the same statement. My husband got so angry and asked me to resign but i just couldn’t, the thought of staying home and searching for a new job at the moment is just frightening. I have my personal business but i don’t feel ready enough to face it full time, i want to have more years of experience. I get so depressed and demoralized just thinking about the office. I actually enjoy what I do, but I don’t think I can go on for much longer cos of the work environment. Sad tales everywhere in the organisation, insults, physical assault, verbal abuse and all sorts, I could go on and on but to what end. I pray someday soon to have the courage to look them both in the face and tell them how their behavior affects lives and leave their organisation. Annoyingly to the public, they are benevolent saints, but to their workers, they are terrible.

    • Kemi Smith

      July 18, 2017 at 11:33 pm

      It’s a really painful thing to hear. Honestly I can only wish you courage and a much better experience in your career moving forward.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Ephi

      July 20, 2017 at 11:41 am

      Might be tough but why not consider returning to your former employer, if you truly don’t want the option of staying home. This current place is definitely too toxic particularly as you are in the phase of TTC.

  2. Ugo

    July 18, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    This is so true. The violence doesn’t just end at home. A lot of people experience it at the work place. Some bosses think you need to be a boss by being violent. Its actually by serving you get lifted up. I really do hope there was a helpline for such an issue. It would help curb these acts. People’s children go out to work and earn money in peace, and people think they have the right to trample on them simply because they think the employee is at their mercy. It is disheartening and the earlier we come up with a union to intervene, the better for our work environments.

    Many a times, the CEOs are not aware of these happenings. CEOs, please leave a box or a help line where employees can always drop their concerns directly to you or via your PA. That way, you would be aware of all the happenings in your company even if you are gonna be away for more than a year.

    I hope this helps

  3. Bosses from hell

    July 18, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    A friend worked with one who slapped her and was very proud of her temper. I was supposed to go for an interview but had a long debate whether or not to when she wasn’t sober one bit about her violent side.

    Did I want to work with someone this temperamental? Was it wOrth the take home pay working with a loose cannon who had warned me beforehand?

    Im not a violent person so I wouldn’t have done a thing except to resign if she had slapped me. So I didn’t bother scheduling the interview.

  4. mz_danielz

    July 18, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Madam, where do you work? would have been nice to let us know.

  5. nikky

    July 18, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    I love the fact that you came out openly to talk about this…..as a way of helping others speak up too and hopefully find a way forward. Very well done! The truth is what isn’t confronted can’t ever be conquered so confronting or at least attempting too is a great first step. Kudos.

  6. Yellow sun

    July 18, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Most especially in banks
    Omg…verbal abuse is so rampant there…bosses calling their subordinate daft and idiots..all sorts of unprintable names not associated with the job …even adult married men and women are not spared…

    • I

      July 18, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      I’m sorry o but are single folks more deserving of insults than their married counterparts?

  7. Anthony

    July 18, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Well-done Kemi. Fear of losing one’s job is a major reason why employees don’t respond appropriately. The notion that employers are doing employees a favour by keeping them in their employment is also at the root of this irresponsible behaviour by employers. The truth is both parties are in a mutually beneficial contract and so neither party has a right to treat the other party wrongly.

  8. Grace

    July 18, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    The key to dealing with this is actually having options and this begins with telling yourself you have options, don’t ever believe there are no jobs cos that defeats you already.

    Be clear in your head the image of the person you want to be career wise and keep that image with you. Try to work on projects that are good for your CV not just mundane tasks.

    Don’t gossip, criticize or throw pity parties; these are ways to make yourself a victim.

    Surround yourself with a plexiglas shield; guard your internal energy. Speak positive songs to yourself. Have an ear piece plugged to your ear if possible.

    I once had my MD scream at me in the office that the entire staff came out to watch. At a point, they got confused at who he was shouting at cos I was smiling and kept my cool, people heard him calling my name but you couldn’t tell it was me. I finished what I had to do, went home and said a prayer that I’d no longer be in that office a year from that date. My director eventually apologized on my MD’s behalf, apparently he thought I was copied in a mail I knew nothing about. There were whispers, gossips etc, some colleagues were bold enough to ask me why the MD was shouting and I told them to ask him cos I didn’t know why.

    When I resigned, there where whispers as most people who resign tell all who care to listen that they are angry with the system. I stuck to my story of career advancement even though the real reason I left was because the work environment was becoming too toxic.

    You are never without options. If you supply foodstuff to market women in Lagos from the north, you’re guaranteed huge profit not all these hundreds of thousands with insults after all, lace sellers have houses in Ikoyi.

    To those people that are abusive in the workplace, just know that you’re small minded

    • Finding Purpose

      July 18, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      It’s so true because the moment we believe we don’t have options we stop trying to figure a way out.

  9. Dr.N

    July 18, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    There ought to be repercussions for such actions
    You can’t just hit people cos they are lazy…fire them!
    How about community service? E.g. to clean gutters in Lekki or farm in Ikorodu

  10. Mohammad

    July 19, 2017 at 2:00 am

    Me I will just shit in their cup or their desk. That will gives me the satisfaction to bear their insult a tiny bit longer until I move on

  11. abby

    July 19, 2017 at 10:01 am

    @ Yellow sun..i was liking your comment until you said the “even adult married people are not spared” riddle this..is it okay to insult young single people then? or is a married adult in any way better than a young single person? SMH!

  12. Lol

    July 20, 2017 at 11:27 am

    I am a manager so I can speak from the other side. Though I am not abusive but I am naturally very kind and nurturing. How ever I have noticed that subordinates can take advantage of this and use it to test your boundaries. As a subordinate I always prided myself in knowing my place and having some respect for my superiors. But I have this subordinate that is quite daft when it comes to respecting boundaries and knowing his place as a subordinate. Eventually when he is told off he will come and say he was insulted. It is well. But I have signed, told him… he is not changing. When I finally give him in the kind of language he understands. He will shape up.

  13. Deborah

    August 10, 2018 at 4:06 am

    I came into this organisation as a typist and instructor, there i noticed My boss dont like paying people their salary or wages; most times people come demand for their cash and he kept on telling stories, i worked one month, and he delayed paying me my salary which i had to start asking for my salary, finally he paid me, after some weeks i gave him 1month notice to quit, there again people kept demanding for they money until one of them took laptop from his table on his absences, i tried stoping the person but to no avail, when my boss came back, i told him what happened. He then asked me not to come to work the following day, i demand for my salary so far but he refused and threaten to hit me which he did and so i left.

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