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imagesWhat is Feeling Owed Syndrome, and what does it mean in the working world? The term stems from a caregiving article I ran across several years ago. It refers to people who feel “put upon.” In other words, they have done for others and in return have gotten the shaft. They have succumbed to Feeling Owed Syndrome (FOS).

Here’s an example. Let’s say you leave a grocery store and someone with their arms full of groceries is following you. As a courtesy you hold the door open for this person. We’ve all done this probably hundreds of times. Now, suppose that this individual that needed a little help walks through the door, and does not even bother to acknowledge your presence.

How would this make you feel? You probably wouldn’t be hostile or depressed, but you’d likely be annoyed. Why? Because you performed a service for that person, and they did not bother to give you anything back, not even a “thanks” or a smile or nod.

You’ve experienced an unbalanced relationship and you feel “owed”. This results in stress. Multiply this situation many times over and you have an idea of the stress experienced by caregivers.

I would add that I think FOS also applies to other professions as well. Let’s say your employer didn’t take you and your co-workers out for a holiday dinner as he’s done in some years past. Okay. Maybe he was busy, or maybe he just didn’t have the finances for a party. That happens. But now let’s say this has happened for several years running. Now the FOS is getting worse because the relationship between employee and employer is even more unbalanced.

Sound a bit petty? Let’s continue. Now let’s assume you haven’t had a raise in four years. Chances are it would bother you in year #4 more than it did in year #1 or #2. Again, the FOS has gotten worse. Let’s use a final example. Perhaps you received a bonus during a particularly good fiscal quarter three years ago. Yet again let’s assume there hasn’t been a bonus since then.

Now, in the bigger picture, we have a workplace in which employees haven’t been treated to a holiday party, a raise, OR a bonus for at least three years running. Chances are you felt annoyed the first year this happened…. Now? Like the person who walked through that door with their groceries who didn’t say “thank you”, you feel incredibly unappreciated because you haven’t received ANY of these fringe benefits you have received in the past. Possibly not even with a reason as to why. Wouldn’t your anger and FOS worsen with each passing year?

I am NOT a psychotherapist, but I’d be willing to wager that these are the types of work scenarios that lead many employees to “go postal.” Does your EAP offer periodic audit-type questionnaires or threat assessments to try to uncover troubled employees before they cause a physical or other disturbance in the workplace?

* The first step in preventing workplace violence lies in understanding who is at risk and why. Police psychologist John Nicoletti and FBI special agent Steve Olson offer some great tips at http://denver.cbslocal.com/2013/12/11/with-mass-shootings-on-the-rise-experts-urge-people-to-be-more-active/

* Treat symptoms of stress seriously. Of course, workplace violence is at one end of the spectrum. Many other employees are unlikely of going “postal,” but they ARE highly stressed and it’s likely to cause rampant poor morale and lack of productivity unless something is done to counter the anxiety, anger, and other distressing feelings. Such individuals may wish to contact the EAP to see what can be done to reduce their stress before it gets any worse.

* Employees must distinguish between wants and needs. You need a job to pay bills and put a unhappy-workerroof over your head, but do you need an office get-together, or do you want one? You’d love to get a quarterly bonus for a change (a want), but do you need it to pay your bills? Needs must be met, but not the wants. Yes your employer was probably a jerk in not explaining why these “fringies” were taken off the table, but ask yourself if the stress, worry, and elevated blood pressure is really worth it over things you can’t do anything about anyway? Separating wants from needs can reduce FOS.

* Negotiate with your boss to unload stress and FOS. FOS revealed that you are unhappy on the job – probably underappreciated. But what does appreciation mean to YOU? More money? Profit-sharing? Another staff member to reduce your workload? Additional vacation? More professional advancement opportunities? A pat on the back more often? Offsetting FOS and putting some balance back into the employer/employee relationship can involve lots of things, but YOU have to decide what it is that you want from the job – not just acknowledging what you don’t want or are missing. You won’t be able to negotiate everything to be sure, but you won’t know what IS possible if you don’t talk to your EAP and employer about it. You know the saying: “You can’t keep doing things the same way and expect different results.”

* If all else fails, look for another job. At this point, it might becoming clear that your FOS wasn’t quite as bad as you thought. Deep down you like your boss, and after he revealed the fiscal hardships that led to him taking away some “fringies,” you just might be at least a little happier and less stressed. Or, if good explanations for these actions aren’t coming to light – maybe he really doesn’t appreciate you! –it could be time for another job. But either way, you had to find out where you stood.

In summary, any employee/employer relationship is tilted toward the boss to be sure, but employees need to recognize the existence of FOS, and be aware that they will be increasingly unhappy and unproductive workers if something isn’t done about it. Such feelings can even get out of hand to the point of violence.