What Constitutes Abuse of Power?

What Constitutes Abuse of Power?

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Abuse of power in the workplace can negatively influence an employee’s work performance, personal life and well being. This issue may take different forms and the severity and frequency can have a varying effect on an individual. For example, any form of discrimination due to race, religion or gender can be considered an issue that is significant enough to be reported. Other forms of action that can be considered an abuse of a superior’s power acted upon any employee can include:

  • Favouritism
  • Physical or Verbal Bullying
  • Biased and unreasonable demands on subordinates
  • Indecent or intimidating sexual behaviour
  • Discrimination based on sexual orientation, racial and ethnic identity or age
  • Illegal financial exploitation
  • Requiring employees to perform peculiar tasks


Power is Power

Power can influence people to become more careless with how they act, less empathetic towards others and with more power, even to the point of becoming unaware of the effect of certain risky behaviours. Individuals that misuse their power also tend to believe that people will always do what they ask. As power corrupts the mind of people who wield it, they will refuse to acknowledge or may even openly relish the fact that they are negatively affecting other people’s lives and have little to no concern for the consequences.


Observing abuse of authority

If you are feeling oppressed due to an act of abuse of power by a superior, speak to them firmly but respectfully regarding the matter and their behaviour. Be sure to include the fact that such actions have also severely affected your overall work performance or if any of your colleagues are on the receiving end, try to put yourself in the middle and try to help resolve the situation. More importantly, initiate with a firm remark in regards to what you have witnessed and state that it is inappropriate and needs to stop immediately. If the situation escalates further, be prepared to make a report to the management or relevant authorities.


Related: 10 Mistakes Managers Make That Cause Good People to Leave


What to do and who to report to?

What you should do when you realise that the abuse is getting more severe is to keep a written record of the situation. Before taking any hasty actions, you should look into your companies code of conduct. The written codes should provide you with the steps on how to move forward with a complaint and who you should report to as well as if there are any other the procedures involved. Alternatively, you can contact the Human Resources department in regards to the situation.

In any circumstances that the company does not want to partake in solving the issue, report the problem to the appropriate state or governmental agency. In Malaysia, you can submit an official report to the Industrial Relations Department especially regarding cases of sexual harassment in which swift actions will be taken as the matter takes take precedence over other categories.


Related: Building Trust in the Workplace


What can HR Management do?

Power abuse has the tendency to grow out of proportion if it is not regulated. It is the responsibility of the HR Department to ensure that the workplace is free from abuse of power. These are the essential steps that the management can do to resolve this issue:

1. Put up a suggestions box to provide employees with a way to share their problems discreetly. Furthermore, it is also essential for the management to be supportive and open so that employees can easily and willingly come forward to private discussions.

2. Every company should establish proper ethics and rules for various employment aspects. Make it a point to constantly remind all employees about these guidelines. Let them know that any form of mistreatment towards another employee can result in swift and just disciplinary actions.

3. Having or hiring an independent external counsellor may help in identifying and addressing the problems that are not given focus properly and professionally. This is especially helpful in a highly stressful work environment which could potentially lead to severe abuse of authority thus leading to serious internal disturbance.


Ng You Jing 

Content Marketer at Jobstore Reach me at youjing@jobstore.com 

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