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What Every Target of Workplace Bullying Needs to Know

Bullying By Women Managers

by Elaine
(United Kingdom)

About two years ago I offered my services as a volunteer to a Brussels based NGO, the deal was that I would work to procure EU Commission funded research project and work as the Research Officer for this organisation to support the manager. I was successful in procuring three projects which meant funding of around 250,000 Euros from which I would receive a salary. All went well until the funding came in.

The first problem started with the contract. I requested that an expert in EU projects be consulted to ensure that the appropriate contract was drawn up, instead I was offered a "homespun" document, which I refused to sign and this problem continued throughout the period of my involvement with this organisation. Effectively I worked as a "contractor", which meant I paid my own National Insurance.

My time was constantly called upon to provide voluntary assistance as well as the work I was expected to do within the projects. I suppose the biggest problem was a lack of boundaries and clarity of what I was expected to do, both within the projects and in a voluntary capacity.

The organisation in Brussels represents a number of national organisations throughout Europe and the manager is overseen by a voluntary president and representatives of these organisations. There is an Executive Committee in which a smaller number of representatives are selected to ensure that the finances and general political management run smoothly.

Within a month of commencing the projects, I resigned, because I believed that the decisions of the manager were at the very least questionable. For example, she wanted to use personal data from one of the projects for the benefit of the organisation, however this would have contravened the agreement with the project consortium and data protection laws. I made my views clear and was shouted at. At a meeting of the representatives she presented her concept which would have meant my involvement in carrying out surveys, analysis and writing reports as a volunteer and she informed the representatives that I did not agree, without giving me the opportunity to explain why.

Over the next year, she interfered in my work and made it very difficult for me to simply get on and do my job. I have a PhD in Social Research, so I guess I know my job and I found it very difficult to work with a person with no qualifications in this field, that kept trying to control me and my work.

In August last year she presented a diagram to the Executive committee in which she outlined my position and the work she expected me to do - as a volunteer - which was completely separate from the work I was doing within the projects. I objected and commented that as a matter of courtesy she could have asked first. Her response was to bang her hand on the table, shout at me and then to the Executive "I hate this f*cking federation". Some of the Executive committee felt that I was to blame because I created tension. Shortly after this, there were discussions within the Executive meeting to decide what to do, which included appointing a working group to find a solution, the result of this working group was to support the manager. As a consequence, the president and technical officer resigned and there was a rift within the Executive Committee.

In November last year, I was invited to a meeting with the Accountant and was asked to revise the invoicing system and was told what was required - which was to increase the amount that I claimed. I was somewhat perplexed as to what this meant and said that I would not do anything illegal and I was assured that this would not be the case.

Shortly after this, I sent the Administration Officer my timesheet and was asked to change the hours I worked to lower number, so that they could claim the remaining hours from the EU Commission for the organisation - this was to overcome the difference that was needed to cover the portion that the organisation had to fund. I refused and this lead to a discussion with the president and others in the Executive committee. The President agreed with me. Finally the manager and Administration Officer believed that it was appropriate to use project funding to cover my expenses to attend the organisation's internal meetings and a conference (which had nothing to do with the specific project). I was told that this was acceptable and while I believed them in the first instance (and consequently signed the claims sheet), I later asked for confirmation from the consortium and was informed (in writing) that this was not acceptable.

I informed the Executive committee and submitted a grievance against the manager.

I was asked to attend a meeting and when I asked what would be discussed, I was told that my grievance would be discussed along with other issues - "outside my role as Research Officer". I asked that any issues be sent to me in writing in order for me to prepare myself, but none were forthcoming. In the meantime, the manager had sent out reports criticising me to all the representatives, to which I replied to defend myself, including my concerns about the submission of expense claims.

At an Executive meeting in February this year the two issues of altering time sheets and submitting claims for expenses was discussed. The majority of the Executive committee agreed that it was unacceptable to alter timesheets. However, they agreed that the expense claims from project funding to cover my attendance at organisational meetings and a conference should be submitted - their view was that it was worth trying, even if the claims might be refused. I resigned and informed the Executive Committee that I wanted my objections recorded in the minutes of the meeting, but they were not. Instead I was later contacted and asked to sign a retrospective contract to appease the EU Commission project officer (due to the fact that my initial advice was not taken and the manager had screwed up) dating from six months before I became their Research Officer, I refused.

I felt that I was targeted by some of the representatives including the new president, due to historical factional issues within the organisation. I certainly felt bullied, undermined and belittled by the manager and as a result I became physically ill. I know I can't do anything about this, but just being able to write it and let others read it, helps.

Comments for Bullying By Women Managers

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The Tangled Web
by: Solange

You were stuck in the proverbial tangled web. It sounds like there were issues initially with agreements, meaning what was expected to be paid and what was expected to be volunteer. Since things weren't set out clearly at the beginning, a lot of people took the liberty to revise your working situation based on what they needed and wanted at the time. Their "ideas" for you were not always ethical.

You also had a manager who was acting from what we could call her "wounded child". Whatever was going on with her, allowed her to act out in ways that were completely inappropriate and violated your basic human right to be treated with respect. Reactions like that are generally based on the person's projections of past pains (totally unrelated to what is going on in the present). They think taking it out on you will make them feel better but any effect can only be temporary. Only enlightenment on her part into what is "pressing her buttons" can allow her to come to peace to the point where she no longer feels the need to project her insecurities onto others in the form of verbal abuse.

In the meantime, you are trapped in the web. When you respond to her brutality, you are not only responding to the behavior, you are responding to the present injustice. Problem is, her perceived injustice (completely unknown to her) is in past. You are not the cause of it.

However, because you are making noise reacting to this insanity, it makes you look like a troublemaker to others. Since the other person's behavior is so irrational and can't be explained, others focus on your behavior because there is an underlying logic they can deal with and explain. You become their target because going after you seems reasonable while the other person goes scot free. Your abuser gets off without repercussions BECAUSE of their irrationality. When behavior can't be explained, no one wants to deal with it. Did anyone else see this person's abusive behavior? If they did, it might have even triggered some fears in them. You were obviously easier to go after.

(see part II)

Tangled Web, Part II
by: Solange

Sorry this happened to you. It sounds like you are now suffering from post-traumatic stress. Holding onto stress over long periods will indeed make you sick. That is because, unlike other species, we humans don't release the neurochemistry of stress as we go along. Animals literally shake it off. Humans grin and bear it. Ultimately, we pay for that because we never rid our bodies of the stress hormones that were designed by nature to give us extra get-up-and-go to run away from a stressful situation. These chemicals, when present for long periods, are actually neurotoxins. They can trigger a "battle" between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which can be debilitating. You don't want that. Instead, you want to rid yourself physically and mentally of this mess. I would recommend a process called Radical Forgiveness. You can find it at www.radicalforgiveness.com. Best of luck to you. Your EU colleagues have lost a lot by losing you. But the bright side is that, by starting to identify what it is that is inside of you (your "buttons" -- and we all have them) that allowed you to get stuck in the tangled web instead of cutting through its insanity, you can release all kinds of internal junk that may be holding you back from the freedom, success and inner peace that you want so that you are open and ready for a better experience next time. Best to you!

Been there...
by: Lar

Reading your story made me dizzy, nothing personal mind you, it sounds like you were dealing with some massive egos.

Giving advice is not my cup of tea, but it always seems that when more than one person work together, there is disagreement, or should I say, differing points of view.

If you are in any way like me, then I can honestly say that, I am surprised that anything really meaningful gets accomplished.

My story is exactly the same as yours, except that the names and the faces are different. You obviously struck a nerve, and as soon as that happens, they go into attack mode.

Doesn't anyone ever reflect about anything anymore... It's never about the work, it's always about their egos, and they can't stand it when their precious egos are bruised.

I know that your intentions were good ones, only considering the project before you, they see your intentions as a threat to their existence, because actually doing work is counter to their thinking, instead they basically practice posturing.

How does this help your feelings of dread and being psychologically abused you ask?

Well, only that you recognised the insidiousness of the illogical and irrational behaviour, despite having put everything you've got into it, giving up time and money seems like a complete waste, but, it wasn't, because you now have a new perspective and you made the correct decision to move on, they will continue stabbing each other in the back long after your gone.

Take heart, recognition is the first step to the path of recovery.

My experience changed everything for me, I am such a different person now compared to before. I would have to say that the one change that stands out the most, are trust issues.

I simply do not trust anyone anymore, everything seems to be tinged with suspicion, and I hate that, I suffer because in some ways I sense the internal conflict within me, the push and pull if you will, between trust and distrust.

I am much less naive, and for one that has not experienced being bullied, then one cannot fully appreciate how devastating the effects are.

You are not alone, at least in the sense that there are those that understand and sympathize with you.

Response to Solange
by: Elaine

Firstly, thank you very much for your kind words and support. I really appreciate it.

To be honest, I was just trying to understand what happened and for me writing is a form of therapy. I knew that my manager ? a younger woman - was a bully, but I didn?t know that there existed a specific definition for the type of bully that she is, until I came across a website called www.bullyonline.org. Using their definition, the majority of the elements of that list fit her profile perfectly: my previous manager is a serial bully. I?m a pretty tough old bird and a great believer in Zen Buddhism. I recall a parable which I can relate to and that gives me comfort.

What I feel is far more important is that I can live with my decisions and my integrity is intact. I just really needed to get this off my chest. The chances that anybody I know will actually read this are slim and all considered, immaterial.

I suppose the question should be, can I prove all of this and am I willing to do anything about it? Of course I can prove it, I've been around too long not to keep documents. But I guess the moral dilemma for me at least, is not so much that I was asked to participate in their attempts to deceive the European Commission - for financial gain, but that I still support the ideals of the organisation that I represented.

Ultimately the Executive Committee was fully aware of the situation but chose to ignore the moral and legal implications of what I can best describe as attempts to ?cook the books?, apart from her bullying and I accept that they identified me as the easier target because they saw me as a troublemaker.

In the end, the greatest shame is to witness this noble NGO become just another traveller on the Brussels gravy train.

by: Elaine

Seven years later and justice has prevailed.

The two people who wanted me to commit fraud were exposed. The projects were audited and as a result the organisation had to pay back a significant sum of the project money because of what appeared to be irregular accounting. This has created financial difficulties for the organisation (good), the woman manager has been replaced and the finance manager has been made redundant.

Allegedly, the auditors identified (as I had highlighted) that there were problems with the "hourly rates" as well as what I had indicated to the executive committee all those years ago regarding charging for work which was not part of the projects.

Being a whistleblower is not an easy choice, but it's far more honourable than being complicit to fraud.

The Irresistible Force meets The Immovable Object
by: Resilient!

I’ve used codenames for the principle characters to avoid defamation suits. Around the turn of the millennium I worked at a major UK financial services company. For the first 5 years it was great. I initiated projects that brought in a lot of income - I’m talking seven figures - and got on well with pretty much everyone, colleagues and customers. It was a friendly place to work and very profitable for the shareholders. In a way growth was its downfall. The enlarged Board brought in The Irresistible Force. I’ll call her TIF for short. TIF introduced herself with the words "What's your problem?" I replied "Normally it's only Saturday night drunks who's looking for a fight who open conversations that way, so what's your problem?" That set the tone for the relationship. TIF proceeded to try and make my life a misery. In a 1 to 1 meeting she asked "How long have you been here?" "Five years" I replied. "Well I think that’s too long for anyone to stay in any firm. I know lots of good people I want to bring in" she said. The implication was pretty clear and whilst I was obviously concerned I was determined not to be intimidated and to let her know as much . "I’ve an unblemished record, I bring in a lot of income, I’m fully aware of my employment rights and I don’t plan on going anywhere soon" was my response. A few days later she fired one of my colleagues, a woman in her early 30s. She was well thought of by colleagues and customers alike. In all she’d been with the firm about 10 years but she’d had a break in her service, leaving but returning when her new job didn’t work out. At the point where she was fired she had less than 12 months’ continuous service and no UK tribunal rights. She’d done nothing wrong – TIF just wanted to make space to bring in one of her "Good People". This turned out to be a woman she’d taken with her from one place to another for her last couple of moves. So in came The Beanpole – five foot eight of shapeless self-important nastiness topped off by a blotchy red face and wispy hair, her head resembling a baked bean that has grown some mould. The Beanpole soon made it known that she was "TIF’s eyes and ears in the office". Well, that made for a nice working atmosphere. Grade-wise The Beanpole came in on the same grade as me but tried to boss me around nevertheless. I mostly responded by ignoring and/or laughing at her, which caused her head to actually glow. On one occasion I had to tell her outright to get lost when she was standing over me, haranguing me over something or other. Then after a short holiday I returned to find my desk had been turned around so that instead of facing into the office it faced the wall with The Beanpole now sitting behind me looking over my shoulder. I proceeded to put it back where it had been before my holiday. "TIF said it had to be turned around that way!" screeched The Beanpole. "TIF can kiss my arse" was my answer. No more was said and my desk stayed put. Around this time the company was taken over and the founder left. TIF quickly ingratiated herself with the new senior management. She was the type that tramples those below her whilst smiling and nodding obsequiously to those in authority above her – a ‘cyclist’ as my German friends refer to such people. (Think how a cyclist moves his feet up and down with the pedals in a trampling motion whilst all the time nodding – clever people the Germans, with an under-rated sense of humour!) Things got worse. One morning a month was given over to a meeting with TIF where I and the other assistant managers were taken to a room at a nearby hotel where TIF pointlessly moved projects around boxes on her insane and incomprehensible planning charts. Then we’d go back and work free overtime to make up the time she’d just wasted. Then she seconded to a project that was completely outside my skill-set and nothing whatsoever to do with our department. I told the project manager as much so he sensibly dropped me from the project team. TIF said nothing for six months and then in my appraisal she screamed at me for getting myself off the project team. Obviously the secondment was just an attempt to marginalise me. I found myself being gradually pushed out of my role with more of my duties being assigned to The Beanpole. The problem for The Beanpole and TIF however was that the customers still wanted to talk to me when they phoned in. I wasn’t the only target of her hate. One day whilst meeting with her she took a call from a director. When the call finished she rubbed her hands, laughed and announced "That’s his career finished!" She had connived to get another senior manager into trouble, laying a nasty trap for him. He’d been with the company since its foundation, a thoroughly pleasant and hard working individual. A short while later he died of a heart attack.

Things were coming to a head. Late one Friday I was in the middle of a telephone conversation when TIF came up to my desk and cut off the call. That was how rude she was. She dumped a problem on my desk, told me to sort it out and then call the customer who’d raised it. Ironically enough I’d been speaking to the very same customer when she cut me off. He’d raised the problem with her the day before and had phoned me because he’d heard nothing from her. By now it was after 5pm and the company I needed to speak to was closed so I left it until the following Monday morning. I made the call at 9am just as the company opened its lines. About 30 seconds into the call TIF came in and cut me off again. You couldn’t make it up. If somebody had scripted this for a TV comedy the viewers would not have believed it. She proceeded to scream at me in front of half a dozen of my co-workers. "I told you to phone Mr -------------- on Friday night. Why haven’t you phoned him? He’s just phoned me to complain." "No you didn’t" I replied. "You told me to sort out the problem and then phone him. I was sorting the problem when you cut off my call. Now I’ll have to start again." She carried on screaming at me so I blew my top: "Don’t you come in here screaming at me. In all my life I’ve never worked with anyone as nasty, pig ignorant rude and obnoxious as you. If you want to talk to me like that you invite me into your office and don’t carry on at me in front of other staff!" I yelled at her. "Right – my office now" she said. "No thanks" I replied. "I’m not having a conversation with you, I’m going to have a conversation with HR about you." I went and complained to the HR director. She was a friend of mine and confided that I was just the latest in a long line of people who had complained about this woman. TIF however was ‘protected’ by the senior management so nothing changed. Next I was moved out of the department proper and into an off-shoot, though still technically under TIF’s authority. That turned out to be a mistake on her part because immediately after my move the bosses announced a review of the department proper. She wanted to include me in the review (so she could fire me!) but suddenly I was on another team. Realising her mistake she called me to a meeting and spent two hours insisting that I should ‘sign myself in’ to the review anyway. I stonewalled. If I was in the review I knew she’d make sure I was soon out of a job. Eventually she threatened that if I didn’t sign myself into the review then I would never be eligible to apply for any promotion at the company however long I worked there. That was a threat too far. I took formal grievance procedure against her for bullying. We both ended up before a director where she blatantly lied about what she’d said. It was obvious he didn’t believe her but he wasn’t going to be seen to take my side either so we came away with a technical ‘draw’ but one that was in reality a victory for me. In the process I’d made clear that I’d take legal action and that obviously made them nervous. After that she avoided having any dealings with me but it was obvious my career was dead. It was also affecting my health. In the first five years I’d averaged between zero and two days a year off sick. In the last couple of years I had about four weeks off. Then one day it was announced that our department would close. We were told we could all apply for jobs in the relocated department 200 miles away. I told them to shove it and took redundancy. The Beanpole was gutted. She’d left a well-paid job to follow TIF around like a lapdog but now she was out of work too. I found a new and better job immediately with more pay and closer to home. Two years later I founded my own company which is highly successful, so successful that I’ve just been offered £2m for it, though I have no desire to sell it. TIF meanwhile has been through several jobs, The Beanpole likewise. I have one thing to thank them both for – they made me determined not to work for anyone else ever again. One of my female co-workers reckoned TIF's behaviour was down to the fact that she was a butch lesbian and she didn't want a strong male figure (me) in the office. This was a new experience for me. I've had several gay and lesbian friends and co-workers over the years and none of them had this problem, but it's a plausible explanation. On my last day of employment she summoned me for one last meeting. "I just have to tell you that of all the people I’ve had under me you are the only one I have not been able to manage" she said. I just smiled. The Irresistible Force had finally realised that she’d met The Immovable Object!

irresistable force
by: Elaine

Dear Resilient,

Seems to me you wasted a load of space to relieve your angst - you could have started your own blog.

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