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What Every Target of Workplace Bullying Needs to Know

Beware: Bullying Can Become Ingrained In An Organization

I worked for 15 years in a highly successful and profitable financial services office.

I joined the office with its new head, who had recruited me before coming aboard. When we arrived, we found 3 employees: the bully, an accountant and a secretary.

On my first day(!) my boss and I were told by the bully that the accountant was "crazy" and "incompetent", and should be fired. I was asked by my boss to investigate, and found that the accountant was, in contrast to the bully's story, doing a good job. I reported back to my boss, contradicting the bully's story.

My honesty and inability to be controlled turned me into the bully's next target. No, my boss did not fire the bully -- an enormous mistake.

Over the years, as the unit grew, the bully managed to recruit a number of incoming employees to his cause. The accountant and I remained targets of harassment. As well, my original boss was eventually targeted by the bully's clique and was eventually forced to resign -- a process that took about 7 years.

The next manager of the unit had been a member of the bully's clique, and bullying became ingrained in the management culture of the unit. This persisted even *after* the original bully left the business unit.

I was extremely good at my job and had received 7 years of outstanding reviews, accompanying raises, and a promotion from the original manager who had hired me. My skill level and my work product were strong enough to allow me to survive the bullying culture of this office for a remarkable 15 years (!) -- although I was never accepted by the clique, nor did I receive any promotions after the ouster of my original boss (instead, my prominence in the unit declined over the years). My compensation was held to minimum increases under the manager who had been a member of the bully's clique, and my pay did not reflect the excellence of my work or keep pace with the compensation received by other managers at my level.

I eventually left this organization after the ownership of the business unit changed -- sadly, the clique survived. (As you can imagine, the clique did not recommend me for retention to the incoming ownership.)

I'm sure you are wondering why it took me 15 years (!) to get out of this wretched business unit:

(1) I loved my work and was great at it. My job responsibilities were such that a good deal of my time was spent managing transactions with outside companies. The job also required periodic travel. This limited some of my exposure to the bully's clique.

(2) The economy had ups and downs and, for whatever reason, I was not offered alternative employment during the years that I worked for this business unit. Believe me, I tried to find another job. (Fortunately, I found another job after I left this particular business.)

I am exceptionally lucky to have survived this experience reasonably intact.

Lessons Learned:

For targets of workplace bullying:

(1) Leave, if at all possible, even if you do not have another job lined up. No job, no matter how wonderful, is worth ongoing harassment. As well, you will never be as successful as you can be at an organization where you are not respected. I regret that I did not walk out, even without a new job. (Ironically, I had tried to resign during my original boss's tenure -- about 4-5 years after I started -- and was talked out of it by senior management because I was perceived as so valuable. I should have just resigned. Instead, I tried to cope with the situation.)

(2) If you have been targeted, don't waste time trying to figure out why. This is not a situation that you created. The problem is *not* you -- it the workplace that is at fault.

(3) It is hard to sue in many jurisdictions, especially if you cannot prove racial or gender harassment. (I tried to find an attorney, and was not successful.)

(4) Keep a diary of events. If you are able to litigate (or threaten to litigate) the diary will be crucial.

(5) Ask that your orders (especially ridiculous ones), be furnished to you in writing. You can tell the bully that you are doing this to prevent miscommunication. Provide key elements of work product in writing, too, and keep these records. (Thank goodness for e-mail.)

For management:

(1) If you are a member of management, root out any bullies early on. No, bullies cannot be controlled. Of course, the situation becomes worse after a clique is recruited and bullying becomes ingrained in the culture of the affected business unit.

(2) Don't encourage rivalries or cliques as a management tool to control your subordinates, because a clique may turn on you and eliminate you. (This happened to my original boss, who attempted to get along with the original bully and, eventually, the members of the bully's clique.)

(3) Once a bully or a clique has been empowered, bullying can become part of the ongoing culture of the work group. The original personnel may change and the circumstances may change, but the bullying takes on a life of its own. (I can attest to this, having seen the bullying at this business unit persist, even after the original bully left the group.)

(4) Suspect bullying (or at least investigate the possibility seriously) if you are continually being told that one or another employee is "crazy" or "incompetent". Good managers try to improve the performance of their employees. Managers who habitually characterize one or more of their reports as "crazy" or "incompetent" have a stronger-than-average likelihood of being bullies.

Comments for Beware: Bullying Can Become Ingrained In An Organization

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by: Trinity

Hey, you have got it in a nutshell! I have been bullied in many different jobs across the spectrum and the world and most of them have the features that you describe. My last boss was the gossipy type who loved to divulge confidential information about my colleagues, and trash them. I now have chronic major depression with PTSD features and it doesn't look likely that I will be able to sue, even though I will never work again in any capacity. My boss took only three months to achieve that,but she worked hard on me with casting aspertions on my honesty and integrity, doing things like putting the trip-metre on in the work car; removing the petty-cash box from my office because she said she thought I'd rape it; phoning me right on lock-up time on a Friday and say "I thought you would have left by now", and that is all she said. Then fired when I was on sick leave for my anxiety (because of her). That was a year ago and I have lost my profession as occupational therapist, lost my reputation, my potential earning power. I had to drop my MBA course. And I have no come-back, but I know that I wasn't at fault in any way. When bullies target a victim then the victims job has already been lost and if they don't get out quickly then they could lose everything, like I did. I'm on medication to prevent me from thinking about killing my ex boss, without the medication my natural thoughts are murder, which is dandy for a peace activist! :-)

Thank you for your expressions
by: Induring

Recently left a job after nine years. Never have been one to gossip about others. Have since learned that if there are those who engage in this behavior, beware! The bully at my work was not a supervisor when I started working there but let me know right away she did not like me. My sales prints would go missing off the printer and I would have to reprint them. Upper management was no help in finding out why these prints went missing frequently. Instead would say, "this seems to happen only to you." (that should have been a clue that the office manager was a bully also and enjoying my frustration even if it cost the company productive work time.) Being that I am not of that sort, took me awhile to figure it out. IN retrospect, what I found to be the most effective tool that a bully uses, is that they create an adverse situation for you. If you do not react to that one, they will continue to create more and more situations till you have to finally confront someone. Now the bully has what they need! They turn the situation around and lie and make it appear it is your fault for reacting. (got written up for this once and had never been written up before in my life!) I am 63 and was just trying to make it to full retirement age. On my last day of work, a situation developed where one of the bullys conspirators created a situation that I confronted her about and she blew up in a rage! I told her she was a troublemaker and drowned out her yelling, pick up the phone and asked the office manager to come into the sales office (supervisor was gone) and continued to work. Later that day, the office manager took us out to the break table for each to explain what had happened. Although this bully's story made no logical sense, which I pointed out to the manager, she sided with the bully and said there were various forms of truth! (If I had any doubt she was part of the conspiracy, I did not now). I was stupefied. I managed t finish the day and could not sleep. By 3 a.m I knew there was no way I was going to be able to go to work the next day as I was feeling weird somehow emotionally. Distraught, anxious and exhausted, I finally called in and quit without giving any notice. Everyone was in on the bully's clique except me.

Now I still awaken in the night with what I can only describe as night terrors and cannot go back to sleep.

Today I found out I was denied unemployment even though I sent them a letter with documentation of what went on and that a person does not just to decide one day after nine years to call in and quit.

Tomorrow I have an interview. I need a job but am feeling very anxious about ever having to experience such a thing again!

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