by Dr. Dianne Dodsworth
(Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
“Bullying in the workplace is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could mentally hurt or isolate someone. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well. Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behaviour that is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people.”
I wish I had this information upfront when I started my work at a Calgary non-profit organization in 1998. It would have made life a lot less complicated had I known what to look for early on.
However, I was innocent and naïve as I entered the world of business, having spent all my life, to that point, in schools and universities, working in education where you are trained and mentored to aspire to the highest level of respect and honour for your students and colleagues.
At this organization, there had been a culture of bullying as set by my boss. To me, it was like going back to the 50’s where the boss ruled and everyone else cowered. I spent most of my time trying to figure out what made my boss tick? Had this person absolutely no compassion? In our office we had a new hire, who happened to begin the new job on the day of the birth of his first child. There were complications and the new hire did not show for two days, although he had called to say that his wife was in hospital…. well the fuming and fussing that went on about the missing of the two days was very surprising to me! And he was docked two day’s pay…nice start! From there, it just got worse until the boss became ill and eventually left. I applied for her job because I thought I could do a good job! And I had the qualifications. I got the job and then “the fun” started. It is difficult to move from being “one of the staff” to being the boss but I knew this, addressed it with the staff and moved on, or so I thought.
Two of my former colleagues let me know the first day that I would not be successful but they would support me! As time went on, some changes were made in the office (such as not noting the minute staff came and left the office…monitored by the administrative assistant) and it became a very respectful place where staff felt supported in their work, turnovers stopped and there was a level of satisfaction.
Little did I know that the Financial Officer, who did not want me in this position in the first place was manning a campaign and “enlisting” my staff to join ranks against me…I called it team A and team B…building a real sense of a team approach was impossible when half the staff was indoctrinated into “we are against her” position.
I noticed that, when we all went to a meetings and conferences, I was ostracized and ignored, which didn’t bother me as I had work to do in my office, came for the sessions and meals. I cherish my privacy and really was not interested in hanging out with this group anyhow.
The Team A and B situation continued the “divide and conquer” scenario but I initiated changes in how we did business, made and excelled goals and budget…all good. I sense that, whatever I did made no difference at all to the dissenters! However, I was very successful in my work and relationships with the industry and stake-holders. I am sure this infuriated the ring leader more than ever.
The turning point came when I overheard a conversation where a person from another department, who was working on a project with us, was yelling at one of my staff “Are you lazy or just plain stupid”? I intervened and ended the conversation and reported the incident to my boss and her boss…big mistake…
I was accused of interfering where I shouldn’t and of creating poor inter-departmental relations. There was a meeting where we both were asked to attend. My boss and the CA (who bullied him as well) came ready to fire us…but, for whatever reason, this did not happen.
Then, the word was out and the writing on the wall. No matter what I did, it went nowhere. My sense was that my boss and the (CA) perpetrator were all just waiting for the right moment to let me go. Interwoven with the “silent treatment” I received from the perpetrator and her “team”, were all of the typical ways of bullying, undermining, withholding information, not answering e-mails, closing down projects, withholding funds…anything to make me appear inefficient and unproductive.
Finally, on the day I returned from vacation, I received an email to meet with the boss. I sense this was “it” and asked around…everyone lied!
I walked in and was told my services were no longer required due to re-organization, my buy out was presented to me and I was escorted out the door.
I was in disbelief…. just one hour earlier, I was in charge, now I was out the door…how humiliating was that!
I felt humiliated, angry, sad (could not say good bye to my staff etc.) and confused. I found solace in my family and friends, and allowed myself six months to make sense of all this and start to heal. I researched Workplace Bullying, found NBFM and decided to see if there was interest in Calgary.
I was fortunate, as I was not trying to build a career at this organization. I just wanted to explore what learning can look like in the workplace. Although going from a comfortable salary one day to nothing on the next day required a bit of money management, money was really not a worry. However, it would have been a different story had I been early in my career and if I was just starting to attain financial success.
However, my involvement in addressing workplace bullying is just the beginning of trying to create ways that workers can be protected under the law as well as educating workers, management and the public so that others can be aware of what workplace bullying looks like, intervene for the bully and the bullied and make business and the health system aware of the financial and health costs of such bullying behaviour.
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