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What Every Target of Workplace Bullying Needs to Know

Sabotaged Out Of A High Paying Job I Loved

by Amie

At the age of 37 in May 2009, I landed an executive job at an up and coming company with high visibility. The company relocated me to New York from my native Boston. It was not the first executive role I'd held, in fact it paid 10K less than my previous job which I had left to start my own company. Unfortunately, my timing for my company coincided with the economic crash of September 2008. With the state of the economy such as it was, my new company could not get off the ground and I had to seek another high paying position. I felt extremely fortunate to be offered a six figure income at the job in NYC plus bonus, because it is truly one of the worst job markets in memory.

Immediately from the moment I accepted the position, there were signs that things were "off" with the company in NY. For example, before I started work there, I emailed a question to the HR manager who had formally offered me the job and with whom I'd negotiated the payment package. Her email bounced back with a comment that she no longer worked for the company. I later found out that she had been escorted out of the company that day; fired out of the blue. Nobody took the trouble to reach out to any incoming hires who might be slightly bewildered to find the HR manager was abruptly fired just as they were joining the company.

And indeed her abrupt firing did impact me. The company insisted on highly invasive background checks including credit checks the results of which were contingent on the offer being "official". Because I know my credit to be spotty, I asked the HR assistant who had taken over from the manager to confirm in writing that the results of all the background checks were in and acceptable and that the offer was truly now "official." I did not want to start the job and then be told "oh your credit check did not work out, please pack your things and go." So I was careful to confirm that they were ok with the results of the credit check before I left for NY. The assistant in HR did confirm this in writing. However, he was incorrect: at the time of his writing that, he had not even processed my background and credit checks, he had literally not even submitted these. He did not get around to submitting them until after I was already at work in my new job. About the third week of my being there, my boss who was as strange as they come at the best of times, started acting extremely disrespectfully to me. I knew at once what was the source: I intuited that the result of the credit score had only just come in. It was the only explanation for the sudden change in his attitude. I knew that even though I did not at the time know that the credit check had been submitted so late. I could feel my boss' lack of respect immediately; my skin turned to gooseflesh from it. It was 3 weeks into my job and he wanted me gone. But he couldn't get me out, not legally.

It was the fact that I had requested -- and had received -- written confirmation that the credit check had gone through without issue and that the offer was official -- that prevented them from firing me on the spot. Which they undoubtedly would have done otherwise.

So that happened in my third week there. I told myself that I could still win him over. After all, I was there, he couldn't get rid of me (or so I thought). If I worked hard and did good work, I could reverse his bad impression from my credit score.

But even before then, from the moment I walked through the door, it was the most hostile environment I have ever had the displeasure of working in. I had three direct reports. I met with two of them on the first day. The third one did not bother to make herself known to me: I later found out that she was the daughter of the chairman of the board, hence her confidence that she did not have to ingratiate herself with her "boss". The first direct report I met introduced herself by saying that she should have had my job. She went on to say that she was more qualified than the other two of my reports and that she should be managing them both. The second direct report introduced herself, saying that she was on the brink of a nervous breakdown from overwork. Then she went on to say that she was more qualified than the other two of my reports and that she should be supervising them. Both of these reports made it crystal clear that they considered my status as their boss highly impermanent -- they each claimed to have had bosses that each lasted no longer than 3 months previously. They greeted me as: so you're our supervisor this week'. Then I watched as these two women, who both only minutes before had just indicated extreme disrespect about each other, leave together to have lunch. Why invite the new boss, right? She's only temporary. They were already loudly gossiping about their impressions of me just moments after I had finished talking to them. I could hear them; that's how rude they were.

It was such a terrible impression that I cancelled the subletting of my home in Boston: honestly I felt the whole place was such a hostile disaster that it could blow up at any time. Had I the remotest alternative, I would have run for the hills.

I am a single mother, I had my son when I was 21. I put myself through two highly regarded graduate programs. It is the core of my self pride to be able to provide for my son. There is nothing I would not do to provide for him, and to provide for him amply. So I stuck at this job. I worked 80 hour weeks. I rose above the saboteurs' hideous behavior, I produced great work, I tried to work in good cheer. I am passionate about what I do -- and I actually really enjoyed the work. I managed out the two hideous women I described earlier. But in the end, it did not work. I could go on for 50 pages about all the hideous treatment I got from would-be competitors in that hostile workplace. I could describe the way my despicable boss clearly sent a signal to women placed well below me that there would be no consequences for being utterly rude to me; he wanted me out as soon as he saw my credit score. In his anal retentive, mathematician's brain, he could not fathom how someone with a weak credit history may be an excellent professional. It's called single parenthood, folks.

So women placed below me, and one in particular, plotted and planned against me. I was well placed, a rare female exec in a male dominated company. I'd more than earned my role, I had the education, I had the experience, I was committed, I worked ridiculously hard, and I produced amazing results. Nobody ever faulted me on the quality of my work.

I was fired less than a year after my start date because I had "failed to integrate with the team." The team by the way were exclusively my juniors. I was the only female exec at my level -- and the only exec at my level who was expected to work exclusively with my juniors -- oh and the juniors treated me like I was their subordinates.

I called them on it. I am not afraid of confrontation. Again, it did not work. After all, my boss who was COO, made it known that they could go after me with impunity. He wanted them to. In time, I lost my sense of humor -- the critical asset one needs to survive a hostile workplace. They were able to characterize me as cold and haughty. They got rid of me. And the young woman who was the orchestrator of the sabotage now supervises the staff I recruited.

I don't know if it would help me to write out all of the terrible things I went through at that company; all of the things I rose above. Each one, in exhaustive detail. I remember it all so vividly. I know that in some terrible way, surviving for one year in a place like that is some sort of masochistic triumph. But the experience has given me post traumatic stress disorder. It is more than 6 months since my firing and I think about my old job each and every day. Tiny moments from that year appear before me as I walk down the street, or take a shower, or moments after I wake up, random moments from the year I spent in that hell. My brain searches and analyzes: how could I have handled it better? Most of the time, I can't think of anything I could have done better. That I think is what hurts my brain the most. What can I learn from this? What did I do wrong?

In a normal workplace. I would have been promoted instead of fired. I know this, but I can't stop berating myself, feeling like a failure.

And lastly, since I knew from the moment I walked in there -- that that place had "batshit crazy" written all over it, why, oh why am I berating myself for being fired from there? So many good people were fired from there. So many good people are sabotaged all the time. I knew the place was mean and crazy, I always knew that -- so why does it hurt so badly to have been treated this way? It must be primal. I was not the survivor. I was escorted out of the building by my boss, like I was a criminal. I was the road kill. And I get to be the roadkill in front of my son who needs to look up to me, his only parent. The shame and humiliation are unfathomable. I don't know how to tell this story without my being the loser in it. I can't figure out how to understand what happened without feeling myself a failure, an innocent incapable of surviving in the real and all too cruel world.

But if I could go back in time and give myself a bit of advice, here is what I would have said to myself that first week I'd arrived in that hell hole. "Work 9 to 5, and then in every available other moment, LOOK FOR ANOTHER JOB. GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Don't wait for it to get better. Don't try to win these freakshows over. GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT! (Once you have a job" Boy, do I wish I had told myself to do that instead of like a battered wife, try to make it better, try to rise above the inhuman treatment I received.

Thanks for any advice you can give. It is most sorely needed.

Comments for Sabotaged Out Of A High Paying Job I Loved

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Sabotaged Out
by: Linda Guirey

I applaud your tenacity and I applaud your advice to others. You are absolutely right - there is no point whatsoever, in remaining in that sort of hostile and negative environment, any longer than you really have to. Use them to find yourself another job.

The fact that you lasted as long as you did is a miracle, but then at what cost? I know you tried to win them over and by the sounds of it you did an incredible job, working all those hours and getting good results. But they had one goal in mind, regardless of what you were going to achieve. You were fighting a losing battle from the start.

Bullying is systematic and repetitive and you had no support. In essence it turned to mobbing - where others were encouraged to bully, undermine and make your life difficult.

By leaving you ultimately did the right thing - now focus on your health, try not to allow thoughts of that job to creep into your life because you are giving them the power and control over your life again. Don't let that happen. I know it's easy to say, but by allowing those thoughts into your head, you are giving them control again.

It's time to leave all of that - focus on the strong person that you are. Tell yourself that you are a great person, with an incredible future - and focus on that.

Linda Guirey
The 'Marbles Expert'

The Real Cause
by: Solange

You are so right! Trust your instincts and protect your own interests. Mobbing is extremely painful. Recent studies have looked at our biological inheritance. We are social beings. We are hardwired to find rejection from the group depressing. Having an experience like the one you had is not worth dwelling on. You have learned a lesson that many of us who read this blog have experienced. The more of us who have the courage to write about it, the greater the awareness. With increased awareness, others may be able to avoid this type of trauma. It helps us to cognitively override our hardwired biological inheritance (i.e., make different choices about our behavior and stick with them) and shine through to become better human beings.

Also, remember that the real cause of workplace bullying is the corporate culture. Your mobbing was not personal. It was the result of two things: a culture with a value that you did not fit due to their lack of flexibility and unwillingness to have a perspective that could overlook reasonable circumstances, and you had a boss who was a coward. He was not willing to face things up front so he had things done by his minions, who were perfectly willing to tear you apart. You had great courage to stick with your values and do good work despite this culture. But, ultimately, you don't want to be in a culture of goons (which is what is was) so pat yourself on the back, get on with being the good person you are and be happy that you are not there. Just be sure to keep your antenna up. Will this ever happen to you again? Quite possibly. But next time, you will recognize it before you can be hurt. Best to you!

So Sorry...
by: Anonymous

So sorry that this happened to you. What *should* have happened was an honest discussion about the credit score and either one of two outcomes:

(1) Recognizing that you were an excellent employee, and putting the credit score in the past or

(2) Arranging a very, very generous severance arrangement for you, combined with outplacement and an outstanding reference.

If the company you worked for was a finance firm, I can understand the manager's concern about the credit score. It is a big issue in investment management, banking and related fields. That said, you should *not* have been sabotaged, your co-workers' behavior completely was unacceptable, and I am sure that you were an outstanding employee who deserved much better treatment.

In terms of moving on:

(1) You did great and were very strong in your behavior. Feel proud about this. That you conducted yourself with courage speaks extremely well of you. Many others would not have been able to conduct themselves with such professionalism and to obtain excellent results under such pressure. These qualities will serve you well in future jobs and throughout your life.

(2) No, you could not have done anything differently. Mobbing and workplace bullying are not events created by the target. This happened because of your co-workers and the company, not you.

(3) Your account indicates that this company had a variety of personnel problems. This seems to have been a systemic problem, as evidenced by the sudden departure of the HR professional and the experience of your predecessor. So you can be confident that it was them, not you.

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