I am always searching for books that will expand my knowledge and offer insights on ways employees can better protect and empower themselves in the workplace. So, when I came across a recommendation to read Corporate Confidential by Cynthia Shapiro, a tell-all book by a former HR executive promising to expose the secret agendas and unwritten rules of Corporate America, I jumped at the chance to be in the know. 

After all, a target of workplace mistreatment is often shocked and extremely disillusioned when the veil is lifted and we see for ourselves the brutal realities of today’s working environments. But the thought that Shapiro could further explain why our fairytale turned into such a nightmare for us personally left me enthralled all the more. 

I Must Warn You

Shapiro’s insights were indeed eye opening, but I must warn you at times they were also disturbing and quite nauseating…perhaps even more for targets of workplace abuse. One reason for this may be that her offerings would seem to have made little difference for those of us that faced someone truly abusive and/or intentionally trying to sabotage our career. 

In addition, some of her generalities were presented as absolutes, which can be dangerous to rely on in actual workplace abuse cases. But perhaps the most frustrating was the seeming contradiction of her encouragement to display soul-selling dedication to a company that she just exposed can and will turn its back on you at any moment. 

But in all fairness, this is not a book about workplace abuse, per se. And if we go into the book with our greatest effort to separate our personal experience and embrace the intention of the book, we can find plenty of noteworthy points that are extremely helpful and informative. 

My Biggest Takeaways

For me, the biggest takeaways were found in the first 30 pages. That’s where Shapiro reveals the secrets that pose the greatest threat to an unsuspecting employee’s physical and mental health. I share some of them with you below:

Secrets such as the dirty antics that seemed to come straight out of the playbook, we all suspected existed: 

  • Managing employees out
  • Making illegal firings appear legal
  • Giving Performance Improvement Plans that aren’t actually about performance 

She also shares the common “land mines” that we step on making things worse for us as we try to navigate the unfamiliar terrain:

  • Going to HR too quickly or without seeking outside councel
  • Using company email and computers carelessly
  • Confiding in work friends

And she certainly offers some professional advice that really can help targets in their next place of employment:

  • How to ask for a promotion
  • What to consider before you accept an internal promotion
  • The importance of learning the art of public speaking

But perhaps my biggest takeaway was my discovery that employees have their own secrets to expose these days. Ones that when matched up against Corporate America’s miscalculations and business-sabotaging behaviors left me with, believe it or not, great hope for the future. 

Below I share 3 of Shapiro’s corporate secrets followed by responses shared by dedicated, loyal, hardworking employees all over the United States. 

Corporate America, are you listening?

From Corporate Confidential to Employee Confidential 

1. Shapiro states that a company’s number 1 motivating factor is protecting their company. If you create a problem, become an inconvenience or potential liability, you’re at the highest risk for losing your job.

But what a company fails to understand is that dedicated employees don’t want to sue. And it’s almost never about the money. Employees want 3 things…to be heard, to have the mistreatment stop, and to be able to get back to what they love doing…their job. During my workplace abuse experience, I reached out to eight separate leaders in the company and then a therapist before making the very difficult decision to meet with a lawyer. Dedicated employees are not a liability. Failure to protect them is.

2. HR is not the confidential employee advocacy center they would like you to believe.

But while HR is talking, so are employees. The mistreatment and the failure of leadership to address such issues are being seen and heard both inside and outside of the organization. When companies ignore complaints, conduct phony investigations, and continue to support toxic leaders, employees start to feel unsafe and a sense of injustice. This is a recipe for disaster for a company’s reputation and their ability to attract top talent.

3. “The Gatekeeper” aka your boss – The person with the most amount of influence and control over your career.

While most of us will agree that our boss can make or break our experience at work, what employers don’t seem to know is these bosses are also “the gatekeeper” to an entire department’s success or failure. One of the company’s  highest priorities should be ensuring they are hiring the right people for their leadership positions. Bad bosses create toxic environments which result in lower productivity, less engagement, increased absenteeism, lower morale and a loss of their top talent when they begin to leave in droves…potentially costing the company millions of dollars.  A good gatekeeper is not only good for employees, but is simply good business. 

So where does this leave us all?  

The Tide Is Turning

As Shapiro ends the book, she gives some hope that perhaps those that follow her advice can end up at the top, having the power to make the real change we hope to see. But 14 years after this book was released, we have yet to see that advice initiate any real change. 

But the tide is finally turning. 

Word is spreading about workplace abuse and the high cost of toxic work environments to American workers, their families, healthcare and our organizations. Advocates are diligently working on legislation to ensure accountability for those companies that refuse to step in and protect their employees from harm. And the 60 million Americans that have experienced mistreatment and have been silenced for far too long are finding each other and using a collective voice to demand safer and more dignified workplaces. 

Organizations that truly want to, as Shapiro states, “stay on top, stay ahead of the curve, keep its industry edge, and put the needs of the company first,” will no longer be operating in secret, waging war against the very employees that drive their success. But will, instead, defend their company’s interests by returning what has been given to them all these years…the loyalty, commitment, and dedication of their workforce.

And the wisest companies will do this fiercely, and without exception, for they will realize that the empowered employees of the future will accept nothing less than a workplace where they are treated with dignity and respect.

Wherever you are in your career or recovery, I wish you success, peace, and most of all, good health.

Janice XO

If you are new to my writing, you can visit me at www.theempoweredemployee.com to read more of my blogs and find the resources I found helpful. You can also joint me on FB at The Empowered Employee.