19. That awkward age when you’re expected to start adulting, but nobody actually treats you like an adult. You feel like an imposter in your grown up work clothes – kind of like you’re wearing a costume. But you still have to contribute as a mature member of society.
And yet some of the ‘mature’ people you’re expected to shadow treat you like absolute shit.
I’m not 19 anymore. In fact, I turn 26 next month. But last week, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across something that not only hit super close to home, but it also produced an overflow of extremely nasty memories.
My younger friend’s colleagues were bullying her. She posted a scathing status about the situation, but she was adamant that she wasn’t giving up. She enjoyed the work, the company had a kick arse reputation and sticking things out would most certainly open doors.
Basically, if I had kept a diary when I was 19, it would’ve sounded exactly like that.
Kids on bullying. Post continues below.
After I graduated high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I completed a few business administration courses, and then scored myself a job as a junior receptionist.
And although I found full-time work terrifying at first, most of my colleagues were wonderful. They treated me like an adult, but they also understood that I was young, new and scared. They taught me all about the workforce, they helped me master the art of the telephone switch board and some even showed me how to navigate my confusing train commute.
But just like everything in life, there are always people who enjoy stomping on and destroying a damn good thing.
When I met my work bully for the first time, I thought she was lovely. She even gifted me a chocolate cupcake and insisted that I visit her should I have any questions. And anyone who knows me knows the best way to win me over is through my stomach.
Everything was great for the first few days. She answered my ridiculous questions, provided me with extra work when I was bored and even she vented to me about her personal life.
But then things started to change. She began assigning me tasks that were definitely not part of my job. And I’m not talking fetching coffee, photocopying and general grunt work here. What I’m talking about is this woman forcing me to do her groceries, or making me walk kilometres in the rain just to secure her favourite Boost juice when I really should’ve been doing my job.
Later, I discovered she didn’t even tell our CEO the truth about my little adventures – she informed everyone that I was out doing the office banking. And when I confronted her about it, she just laughed and said, “It’s part of your job, darl.”
Things started to escalate pretty quickly. She started palming her work off to me, while she and her credit card gallivanted around God knows how many Gucci stores. Meanwhile, I, the receptionist who had held the position for the ripe time of… well, one week, focused all my energy on not ripping out every single strand of my hair.
And the jobs she left me with were freaking important. The first time, hundreds of documents had to be compiled in time for her boss’ meeting with a top-notch executive, or we’d lose the client. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the skills or the experience to get things done in time, which is when the shit really hit the fan.
My bully’s boss wasn’t happy. When she asked my bully why she had left the office, my bully just said she had an ‘extremely urgent’ doctor’s appointment. She told everyone that she briefed me beforehand and that any disappointment felt was completely my doing.
I think I spent the rest of the day in the bathroom trying to pull myself together. I felt shocked, humiliated and ashamed that I was doing such a crappy job.
But once I got the hang of things, others started asking for my help, and I felt useful. The only problem was that my bully dragged me away whenever possible. According to her, she took precedence over even the most senior staff members.
Eventually, six months passed and I was still at this woman’s every beck and call. However, one day a few older staff members overheard a conversation between the two of us. My bully was asking me to fetch some medication for her sore back, but I had urgent work to do for other people.
One of the older staff members practically bit both of our heads off. She told my bully that I wasn’t her personal workhorse, and that there were more important things that needed my attention.
The bully agreed, but as soon as we were alone, she continued hassling me. She suggested that I sneak her medication back into the office and then call her telephone from reception so that the others wouldn’t know.
And that was my breaking point. I decided that I’d had enough. In a pent up rage of stress induced aggravation and annoyance, I snapped. I told her that I didn’t work for her, that I didn’t work for her boss and that I was sick of buying her tampons and razors.
She was obviously annoyed. Just because she was older, she thought it was ‘normal’ to take advantage of younger staff members. It might have taken me a long time to realise it, but eventually I felt comfortable enough admitting this and standing up to her.
From that day on, she backed off. But when I was promoted to a more senior role, she wasted no time moving on to the new receptionist – a sweet, kind and innocent 18-year-old woman.
Luckily, I was still around and recognised all of the warning signs – hushed voices and continuous calls to the bully’s phone that resulted in her ducking out to reception and returning with an extra large Kit Kat Chunky.
I know what you’re thinking – why didn’t you just leave that place, or file a complaint?
Well, I guess I was just young and naïve. It was my first real job, and all I wanted was to fit in.
Because I was new, I was also hoping that things would improve and that my bully would one day stop taking advantage of me.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. I had to make it happen. But the thing is, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
When you’re a young person starting out in the workforce, everything is foreign. My bully had already been a respected staff member for several years, so why would anyone take my word over hers?
Either way, things eventually sorted themselves out. She doesn’t work there anymore, and neither do I. She left long before me due to a number of different circumstances involving many different complaints.
And now that I’m older, I realise that there’s absolutely no excuse for bullying of any kind.
Yes, young people are at the bottom of the office hierarchy. I get it. I agree that we should have to earn our proverbial stripes, but not at the expense of our dignity and self-worth.
After all, young people should be taught, not bullied.
One day, I just hope everyone will be able to differentiate between the two.