Bullied By Stealth
(Melbourne, Vic, Australia)
I worked as a bookkeeper in a Legal and Conveyancing Office in my hometown for 14 years. Unfortunately, although I knew something was obviously wrong, I stayed there for far too long. I couldn’t comprehend that people could treat each other in such a mean, nasty and devious manner. This abhorrent conduct towards me crept up stealthily probably in the first couple of years of my employment. This treatment made me feel like a loser.
There were two main bullies in the office – One being the Boss and the other was a staff member. I would describe the male boss as a narcissist. The female staff bully would collude with the boss to make my working life unpleasant, obviously with the intention to eradicate me. I now know once they choose you as their target, they will continue their mistreatment until they rid you from the office. The staff bully would be pleasant to my face, but as soon as my back was turned she would say underhanded things about me. I should have wised up earlier as she often ‘bitched’ about other co-workers in the office. It was obvious somebody was running to the boss, when I was out of earshot, as the boss would approach me maliciously for things that I had thought I had innocently expressed in private.
The bullying/mobbing I experienced was very subtle and probably not all that obvious to the outsider. This insidious behavior crept up on me slowly over time. By the time I realized something was terribly wrong, it was too late and my days/months/years (depending on how long I would put up with it) were numbered.
The rest of the staff, which was about 10 or so, soon followed the bullies’ lead, which I now know as ‘mobbing’. I was the target and there would be nothing I could do to change that. Even the staff members, who I thought I got along with, seemed to change in their attitude towards me. I could sense that something had shifted and they seemed disinterested in anything I had to say. So eventually I had nobody to turn to and therefore felt very isolated. It seemed as though there was some malicious rumor going around about me and that I was not worth knowing. As far as I was aware I had done nothing wrong. I could not understand why they would choose me to victimize.
This is a sample of some of the things I experienced at work:
• When entering the office in the morning everybody received a warm “good morning (name)”, from the boss. All I received was a cold unsmiling “hello” if I could not be avoided, or no hello or good morning at all. I gave up saying ‘good morning’ over time, after receiving no response.
• The only time the boss used my name was when he yelled out to me from his office when he wanted me for something. I was then to attend his office to find out what he wanted.
• The boss did not direct or instigate any conversation with me, but spoke to the other staff members, in a friendly manner, whilst I was in the room.
• Exclusion – I was not invited to some events by co-workers, at their home or charity events in the office. I felt very sad and very isolated.
• Not invited to the new bank premises, even though I attended there nearly every day. A couple of the Solicitors were invited instead, even though they had very little to do with the bank.
• I would be Invited to a work lunch by the boss, but then ignored.
• Excessive workload – kept piling the work up even though it was impossible to complete the tasks given. I wrote a long letter pleading my case, but it did not make any difference.
• Another employee was employed to assist with my job without my knowledge. I thought that this was unfair, so I mentioned it to some of the staff (including the bully). The boss later came and yelled at me and said “It is my business I can do what I want”. I was then asked to show the new employee what I did, even though I didn’t have time. I had an uneasy feeling that by teaching her what I knew that I was doing myself out of a job. I was right to feel that way. She was told by the boss what a great job she was doing – I was never told that.
• The staff chatted and talked loudly to each other, or on the phone, most of the day, which I found problematic because I couldn’t concentrate on my enormous workload. The boss did erect some boards to absorb the noise, on one wall, but of course, they made no difference. There was not much conversation directed at me and when I spoke the staff were all of a sudden too busy to listen and a lot of the time turned their backs.
• I purchased an ipod, at my own expense, so I could block out the noise. The boss then told me if we had a fire or an emergency I would not hear it, so he seemed to begrudge me using it.
• Eventually the boss allowed me to listen to my ipod, but did not appear happy about it. It seemed he didn’t like it because it was a solution and not his idea. I didn’t really think it was an acceptable solution, but I felt like I had no other choice. I was also told there was no other location in the office that I could work in. I therefore was forced to stay where I was in an extremely noisy atmosphere.
• The staff would not provide me with their work hours, which made it difficult to do their weekly pay. Doing the pays was another task that was thrust upon me, when I couldn’t cope with the massive workload I already had.
I then had to spend time going to the staff individually to get their hours, which was time consuming. I was told by the boss to give them normal pay unless they advised me otherwise.
The boss was not forthcoming in providing me with the information to do the pays effectively. He appeared agitated when I asked for help on how to complete some of the tasks and did not spend the time to instruct me properly.
• I wasn’t included in some of the teachings of a new computer program. Only invited to attend some of the lessons even though I was expected to do the work, but had little understanding of how it was supposed to operate as was not asked to attend or included in all the lessons.
• One of the bookkeeping programs was set up on the computer downstairs so I could work down there without any interruptions. When completed I was told by the boss that it took me too long, even though I was very pleased with my accomplishment in the short time allocated.
• The boss often accused me of things and blamed me for things that were not my fault. He was highly, unnecessarily critical of me.
• The boss did not stick up for me when difficult clients were verbally abusing me on the phone. Tended to let me take the rap and implied that it was my fault.
• I needed his signature, especially for the trust account, on numerous occasions so I could complete my tasks. I would put the paperwork in his tray for the signatures. He would sometimes return them late causing great angst and further complications for myself.
• I was expected to attend the bank to obtain bank cheques for the Conveyancing staff, which resulted in me falling behind in my other tasks.
• Many clients would deposit funds directly into the bosses trust (bank) account and some of these were to be invested. It was very confusing and time-consuming when there was no reference. The boss did not insist on references, making my work more difficult. Being Trust monies I did not want to allocate it incorrectly. It appeared that the boss was deliberately making my job more difficult than it needed to be.
• Was not included in a performance review. I did receive a pay rise, but it seemed like I was deliberately avoided in any conversation, assessment or appraisal. The pay rise was never mentioned to me. It just appeared in my weekly pay as the boss made the computer adjustment. It appeared from what the other staff said (not directly to me) that they had had the opportunity for a formal appraisal.
• Informed on a few occasions that the boss had been saying negative things about me behind my back.
On my last day at work an incident was intentionally directed at me, by the boss, in front of co-workers, which was extremely humiliating – I was seated at my desk and the boss was standing over me, shaking his finger and berating me in a raised voice, which I found to be belittling, intimidating, demeaning, degrading and it was done in an accusatory and offensive manner – all for something that was not my fault.
It was obvious that this was his way of forcing me out. I left the office and was extremely shaken and upset by this treatment. Not one staff member stood up for me or followed up on my wellbeing. I had worked there for 14 years. It is now nearly a year ago.
Initially I was relieved but I found I could not sleep, felt anxious, would startle easily, got headaches, heart palpitations and I did not want to be alone. It felt like some sort of grieving process.
To this day I do not understand why I was the target of such hostile and unfriendly behavior. I find that this undermining conduct erodes your self-esteem I have a fear that it may happen again if I can gain the courage and are lucky enough to land another job, especially with no reference.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t leave sooner. I am now 52 and unemployed.
Thank you for this opportunity to express some of what happened to me. I find it therapeutic and strangely enough, a comfort to know I am not alone and that this insidious treatment does happen to many others. I wish them well.