Psychology That Puts People at Risk for Becoming Wage and Hour Victims

Did your restaurant manager steal your tips? Has your supervisor sent raunchy emails to you and your staff? Did a company unfairly deny you overtime pay for contract work? If so, odds are that you’re kicking yourself and saying things to yourself like:

• I’m an intelligent person who’s also street-smart. Yet I still wound up stuck in a dysfunctional work relationship/arrangement. Why did that happen, and what can I change about myself and/or the way I work to avoid having to go through this again?
Consider these explanations and see whether they resonate with you:

1. Human beings have a deep drive to “fit in” socially.

Human beings evolved to live in small bands or tribes. Cooperation was key. That’s why we’re hard-wired to do the “socially acceptable thing,” even if we don’t particularly like or understand a project. This facet of our nature partly explains why employees often allow themselves to get picked on or suffer indignities at work. If it’s “normal” at your office to work late without overtime — or to allow your manager to skim off the tip pool — you may naturally defer to “the wisdom of the crowd,” even if you believe the crowd’s behavior is vile or even illegal.

2. People habituate to their circumstances – good and bad.

Science has show the following:

• If you win the lottery, you will feel happy for the first few months. But over time, your level of happiness will return to where it was before you won the lottery.

• Likewise, if an accident leaves you paralyzed, you will be sad for a few months. But eventually your level of happiness will return to where it was before you got paralyzed.
Human beings have a tremendous ability to adapt to their circumstances. Had your supervisor docked your pay unfairly or sent you nasty, lewd emails on Day One of your employment, you likely would have left/sued the company. But if that same behavior happened on Day One Hundred, you’d be much less likely to protest. Over time, you may stop seeing bad behavior as abnormal or unhealthy, even when friends or family members point out the craziness to you.

3. Human beings feel compelled to offer reciprocity.

If someone does something good for you, you will feel a deep, subconscious urge to help that person out in some way. This is a fact of our psychological nature. Unscrupulous marketers often use reciprocity to try to get us to buy products, donate to charities, etc — it’s why the “free sample” works so well as a marketing tool. But if can backfire. It can lead to feelings of loyalty towards an undeserving company or boss.

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