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Workplace Bullying Cause and Affects

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By Seana Sperling

There is an awful book, Gaslighting: How to Drive Your Enemies Crazy, that outlines how to completely destroy someone you dislike. One of the tenets of the book is: "The essence of defaming your target with rumors is that it never get back to him."

In late 2004, I was laid off from my Teaching/Directing job for a small private school. The reason given is that they needed to cut some positions as they were in a budget crisis. I went on Unemployment while I searched and searched for jobs in my field.

In early 2005, I was referred by a friend to a short-term Teaching/Coordinating contract for a small English Second Language program. Everything was fine for the first week. Then suddenly my immediate supervisor turned on me. She had been very nice at first and then suddenly, I started noticing a difference in her tone and she began withholding materials I needed to prepare for the ESL students who were coming in from Japan the next week.

Later she began to actively sabotage my work. I had reserved a shuttle and driver to take the students on a couple of field trips. She actually called the shuttle company and changed some of the reservations to later in the day. If I hadn’t called the company to confirm the original reservations, the students and I would have been waiting an hour or more to return from the field trips. This would have made them late for the host family pick-ups and would have ignited problems with the host families. There were daily obstacles that I had to deal with.

This supervisor also bullied me into being the contact for the host families as their Host Family Coordinator quit a week before the program started. This was a job that I had been offered along with the Teaching/Coordinating position, but I had declined. After the group arrived, the host families jumped into the foray and I would get calls at home at all hours with complaints about ridiculous things. (Interestingly, many of the host families had been recruited through local churches by my supervisor.) At this time vocabulary like Workplace Mobbing or Community-Based Harassment were not in my lexicon. I just thought I was dealing with a lot of jerks.

After that contract, I did another at an Internet company. I took the job out of desperation, since I had applied for hundreds of jobs in Education and Writing with no success. Bullying can sometimes take place from the very first day you start a new job. Your Trainer ignores you and refuses to give you any kind of training. This happened to me at the Internet company.

The job was in a small Call Center connected to Reception staffed with only five people. It was a place where people had ample time to get up to all sorts of mischief and they did as there previous manager was no longer there. I experienced some terrible Workplace Mobbing in this place. When I first arrived there was some confusion about who was going to train me. A skinny, 20-something white guy was designated to show me the ropes. He showed me how to transfer calls and that was about it. Every time I asked a question, his reply was, "Don’t worry. You won’t be here long enough to need to know that." This same person wouldn’t help me get my Security badge and I had to wear a Visitor’s badge for almost an entire week, which meant I wasn’t supposed to move freely about the company—go to the bathroom, go to the cafeteria, etc. Then he found out that I was acquainted with their head supervisor and that the supervisor and I had mutual friends at the company. I was sent to Security immediately to get my badge.

Then skinny guy recruited. There was a forty-something, African American woman that was constantly on the phone with her friends and family or chatting online. She was Interim Manager since there was no acting Manager for the call center. It was a little confusing since I had been told to report to her the first day, but because she was an hour late skinny guy had been asked to train me. She didn’t pay much attention to me until my second week. That Tuesday she was not on the phone with her friends and family. Instead she seemed quite chatty and interested in me.

She began making inferences that I was racist and anti-Semitic. Later in the week, she made references to Big Brother and inferred that I was a spy for management. I had said nothing to management about anything that was going on in the call center. A new employee rarely runs to management to complain in their first week, no matter how bad things are.

She continued to badger me on a daily basis and made all sorts of veiled threats via stories about how she had ruined her ex-Supervisor at a downtown club by telling the Executives that her Supervisor was racist, homophobic, etc. She later bragged, "Now that bitch is running a hamburger joint." She would regale us with stories of how her brother would avenge her enemies.

She also rallied other employees inside and outside the call center with her innuendo against me. I would get dirty looks in the hallway, rude directed conversation when I passed certain people (especially some of the Security Guards) and snarky greetings when I arrived for work. After just a few weeks, I was not sleeping well and my stomach hurt as a result of all the harassment. The amazing thing is that any time I defended myself she would turn on the waterworks as if she were the injured party, running to her supporters. Skinny guy remained on the sidelines at this point.

A very frustrating aspect was that every time I became friendly with anyone in the company and the mob got wind of it, they would contact them and spread slander. As a result, the new potential friend would shun me the next time I saw them or on a couple of occasions actually glare hatred at me. I have no idea what the slander was, but the fact that no one would even tell me shows how damaging it was.

I applied for a couple jobs in different departments trying to get out of that department, but when I finally got an interview, the Manager was no longer interested and on one occasion was rude to the point of inferring that I was unqualified. I received numerous bullying calls and email from other employees making unreasonable demands on my time or criticizing my work.

I finally went to management with documentation about the harassment. The head supervisor had a meeting with all concerned and the mob received a feeble verbal reprimand, which only cemented their resolve.

A couple of weeks later the Interim Manager bragged that a very important Security person had met with her and that this person had shook her hand and thanked her profusely for some information on someone in the company. A couple of people in the call center kept talking about someone being "caught on tape," and that this person should go to jail.

I knew there was a surveillance camera out at the front lobby area where I worked part time, but I hadn’t done anything to warrant that kind of discussion. The only thing I can think of was when I had re-sequenced and recorded all the numbers on the bus passes that were grossly out of sequence (and many seemed to be missing). Since the bullies always strongly discouraged me from organizing anything at the front desk, every time one of my bullies came around the corner, I would place the box of passes out of sight in a drawer while I was recording the numbers. I’m sure Security saw that and I wonder if it was misinterpreted. I think Security saw many things yet the place was not very secure. I later turned over the list of numbers to the head supervisor so we could begin tracking the passes.

Within such a short time many members of this large company started treating me as if I were some sort of criminal. There were rumors that I was a thief, so Security personnel would make it very clear that they were watching me. On one occasion a Security guard even stated as much. He also claimed he was a Seventh Day Adventist, which was a church and school that I was forced to attend as a child.

Later there were a couple of set-ups where people would try to coerce me to give them a company bus pass or something else I had access to. (This would always occur near the surveillance camera.) Of course I did not give them anything and wouldn’t have under any circumstance. I’m not sure if they thought that I was stupid or they thought they were incredible actors, but their actions were very transparent. The idea that I would give them a bus pass was absurd since it had been my idea to organize and put tight restrictions on the distribution of the passes. However, because this was happening, I felt I had to watch every single word I said and everything I did or it would be exploited for new and dark meaning.

I tried to quit on five separate occasions because I was going home in tears some days, but my "friends," who worked there and had encouraged me to take the job, were guilt-tripping me into staying. Beware of friends that want you to be under-employed and miserable. (I should have known as these same people had given me lots of truly bad advice in the past, but I dismissed it as I knew they were very materialistic.)

I finally successfully quit after the Katrina Disaster because I wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross. For some reason, even though I was a former Peace Corps Volunteer and had loads of other volunteer experience and excellent references from previous jobs, the Red Cross told me they had enough volunteers in September of 2005. (Unfortunately, I had used our head supervisor at the Internet company as a phone reference. He didn’t want to give me a written reference, but said that they should call him. One motive for giving me a bad reference, if that was what happened, may have been that he was angry because I went to Human Resources about the harassment that he was ignoring. He claimed that I had "jumped over him." He was a very controlling person and had done nothing to stop the bullying.)

In October of 2005 I left that company and continued looking for work in my field. That’s when I became aware that covert stalking was taking place and that rumors were being spread to every job that I applied to. (I found Spyware on my computer at home. I had no idea that people could be so evil.) I’d apply and apply and apply, and if I were fortunate enough to get a call back, I would enthusiastically set up an interview. Later, when I arrived for the interview, the person would act completely disinterested and would just go through the motions even though they had seemed initially interested in speaking with me. I would wonder if it was my clothing, my age, my demeanor or what was destroying my chances.

One interview that really stands out is when I applied for a coordinator position for a festival. The guy was so enthusiastic and friendly on the phone when he found out that I had volunteered for the festival before, but the next day when I appeared for the interview he was abrupt and indicated that he was seeing several people that day. The interview was done in less than 10 minutes.

In another interview the male interviewer actually said, "Tell me about your character flaws, because I’ll find out later anyway." I didn’t know what to say to that, but immediately decided I did not want to work for him. The only chances for employment I was getting were through people I knew in the community and very short contracts.

These are just a few instances in years and years of ongoing harassment. The seed for the harassment is in the slander. The things I have found online on and The Stranger Newspaper’s SLOG accused me of being everything from a child molester to a crack addict. While none of this is true, if the rumor is vicious enough people will believe it and be too embarrassed to ask you if it is really true.



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