Sunday, July 5th, 2009
I used to be really happy at work and looked forward to going into my office every day. Most of the projects I worked on were challenging-in a good way-and engaged my interest and curiosity, I had a great bunch of colleagues, and we were even able to laugh when Murphy’s Law would strike with a vengeance! Things started to change about six years ago when a new director was parachuted into the position, despite the fact that it was supposed to have been posted as an open competition: Therein marked the beginning of the end of the positive, upbeat morale and warm atmosphere that characterized our department.
It became pretty clear, fairly quickly, that this boss’s management style and interpersonal skills were going to be a challenge for all of us at times. Specifically, we started seeing some “interesting” approaches to anger/stress/frustration management and increasing tendencies to back-bite others in the organization, as well as a reluctance to deal with an occupational health issue on more than one occasion, and periodic bullying of various staff members by our boss. (For the record, I encouraged these individuals to document and report their experiences but they were reluctant to do so, for whatever reasons.)
The Tipping Point
I have a pretty good sense of the tipping point that triggered the Kafka-esque nightmare that has unfolded over the last year, but I may never know for absolute certain (and frankly don’t really care at this point) what twisted perceptions and logic prompted my boss to perceive me as a threat and decide to make me the Target (1) of bullying. Yes, I did say “perceived as a threat.” I know pop culture and the mush media of sitcoms and most movies poke fun at Targets of bullying by portraying them as nerdy losers, but the reality is quite different in the work place. The Targets of bullies are usually greatly esteemed by their colleagues (or were before the bully thoroughly poisoned the well), highly skilled,competent, successful, courteous, considerate and pleasant people. A good site to learn more about this issue is http://www.bullybusters.org.
Over the last year I have experienced various kinds of exclusionary behaviors (being kept out of important information loops, ignored, socially isolated) from my colleagues and my boss, and endured numerous instances of verbal abuse (there are a whole range of actions that go beyond merely yelling, insulting and swearing), crazy making behaviors, unfair practices and a lack of clarity in communications from my boss. (I counted 24 separate incidents in an eight month period.)
I was fortunate in that I recognized the bullying behaviors for what they were, so I didn’t waste a lot of energy wondering what I’d done “wrong” or blaming myself for what was going on, but I wish I’d started researching more about workplace bullying and, more importantly, how to bully-proof myself MUCH earlier in the process. Not having those strategies cost me dearly in some ways because, among other things, I made some classic mistakes in how I was responding to the bully.
The second mistake I made was to take my concerns to someone in our H.R. department. I soon found out, as was later confirmed for me in Gary and Ruth Namie’s book The The Bully at Work that HR people are actually not a resource when it comes to bullied employees; they are there for the employers.
The third mistake that I made, because I was trying to be reasonable and look for a win-win solution, was to agree to a mediated discussion instead of going straight to making a formal complaint and directing it to the president of the organization. (I’m keeping that option as a backup in case the mediation doesn’t work.)
I’m happy to say that I had also managed to intuitively do a lot of things correctly in this whole process. As indicated, I recognized the situation for what it was (bullying) so I was able to depersonalize the experience a bit-and meticulously document the incidents, with dates and approximate times. I had a fabulous support network of loved ones, family and friends who stood by me unequivocally and provided tea, sympathy and hugs as requested. I also found myself a really good counsellor who uses EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) for reducing the trauma of the experience, as well as a counsellor who specializes in helping Targets to bullyproof themselves and teaching them some effective bullybusting strategies. The rest of the healing involved taking good care of myself, spending more time meditating and planning how to move on and set up my own small business and being grateful for all that is good in my life.
I would say that in the case of workplace bullying, the sooner one recognizes what is going on in the workplace, and calls it for what it is, the sooner one can accept that about the only way to heal and regain the ability to be happy at work is to get out of the place as soon as is feasible-and in the meantime bullyproof yourself and ruthlessly bullybust as and when required. I know our western culture is big on promoting the ideals of “toughing it out” and “not giving up”, etc, but those cultural commands will kill your soul–assuming the stress doesn’t literally kill you or make you very ill–if you stay too long in a toxic or abusive workplace. No job is worth your health and happiness.
(1) Researchers and counsellors who work in the area of bully-busting seem to prefer to use the term “Target” rather than “victim” to describe those on the receiving end of work place bullying behaviors.
Note from Karl: Bullying in the work place is a very serious issue; I went through it. I love how this reader never took the situation personally and was proactive in seeking help. If you are being bullied at your job, please find help.