Bullying At Work, and What I Learned

Personal Development for Career Professionals

Bullying at work is defined as “repeated, unreasonable behaviours, where the behaviours create a risk to health and safety”. Bullying can include such behaviours as: • Abusive, insulting, or offensive language;

• unjustified criticism or complaints; and

• setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines.

In the mid 2000’s, I was bullied at work. I didn’t recognise it as such until afterwards, when a friend put the name “bullying” to what I was describing. The person doing the bullying was my then supervisor. Let’s call her Veronica for the purposes of this article.

Veronica worked part time, and had a couple of days off in the middle of the week, e.g. Wednesday and Thursday. She would often give me a large piece of work to do, some time on Monday, and ask me to have it completed before 5pm Tuesday. This often put me under extraordinary pressure, as the work was more than could reasonably be completed in the short time available. I comforted myself with the thought that perhaps Veronica was requesting this so that she could look at the work whilst she was at home. However, I found out that Veronica very rarely took my work home, and it usually would sit on her desk until she got back on Thursday. So, the deadlines were arbitrary and unnecessary.

Once I did receive the work back, there were often many criticisms, and I would usually have to completely rewrite it. Veronica would often tell me that I had not followed her instructions. She would say that she had asked me to do X, but my clear recollection was that she had asked me to do Y, which was quite different. I could seem to do nothing right. I found this quite distressing, as I am someone who pays careful attention to verbal instructions, and will ask questions to clarify anything I don’t understand.

I eventually refused to take verbal instructions from her, and would only accept instructions in writing, so I had written proof of what she had asked me to do. This made things a little better. However, Veronica then sometimes would replace my name on work with hers, without my knowledge, and then take credit for the work at meetings. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Veronica referred to me one day as her “worker bee”, which made me feel completely worthless.

My distress and anxiety increased over the months, until it got so bad that I would get chest pains whenever I heard Veronica enter the office first thing in the morning. The first time this happened, I thought I was having a heart attack! Thankfully though, it turned out to be stress related heartburn, for which I had to take medication for many months.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I took a course on emotional intelligence, mainly to get out of the office for the day. The facilitator, Barbara Miller, was an organisational psychologist and a life coach, and so I asked her to take me on as a client to help me cope with what was going on at work.

Over a number of months, I worked with Barbara on rebuilding my shattered self-esteem, and implementing techniques for coping with stress. I learned that my value as a person wasn’t dependent on what others thought of me, but what I thought of myself. I started reciting positive affirmations to myself about my ability and my value during the bus journey to and from work each day. Finally, I began to really believe again that I was a person of value, who had something worthy to contribute.

After 3 months of coaching, I had the strength to do what I knew I had to do. I knocked on Veronica’s door, marched into her office, and told her that “her management style was making me ill”. I said that I would not work with her anymore, and that whilst I looked for another job, I would like to be transferred to another section and work with a different supervisor. Thankfully, she agreed.

I am so grateful to Barbara, and for the work we did together. It saved my sanity, and gave me the strength to get another job, where I worked happily for a number of years. It also taught me about the importance of drawing upon my own beliefs as the main source of my self-esteem, rather than relying entirely on others to make me feel good, or bad, about myself.

Have you ever been bullied at work or anywhere else? Are you stuck in a job where you don’t feel appreciated? What are you going to do about it?

If I can help in any way, please let me know in the comments section or, if you prefer, contact me directly.