real life

'Constant criticism, exclusion and public shaming. How Lorraine bullied me out of a job.'

I was 30 years old when I first experienced bullying in the workplace. I didn’t realise it immediately and it took several months for me to unravel what for the most part, felt like a bad mood swing.

When I first started working with Lorraine* I thought we got along great. I’d heard she could be a handful, but given our similarities, I figured I could handle it, she can’t be that bad surely.

After working with Lorraine for a year, I started to feel a little more down than usual. I started to feel more anxious at work and depressed in general. It wasn’t until our senior management emailed out an employee handbook with the bullying policy within, that I understood what had been going on. It all started to make sense as to why I was feeling so low, and honestly, I felt elated so have found a cause for how I was feeling – I was being bullied.

Workplace bullying can be defined as repeated malicious behaviour that undermines, intimidates or denigrates a co-worker.

The signs were gradual over time, I guess I thought nothing of them until I started writing down what I was feeling. If I could go back, I would have done this sooner, this was one of the first things I should have started doing but didn’t – documenting.

The signs for me were mostly feeling anxious around Lorraine, tip toeing around her, nervous to include her in email’s for fear of her negative comments, her constant criticism and her excluding me in general. I felt depressed coming into work and while I knew I was good at my job; I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was never good enough.

Some examples that you’re being bullied are:

  • Public shaming
  • Unfair and excessive criticism
  • Undervaluing efforts at work
  • Uninvited to meetings or events
  • Unreasonable work demands (impossible targets)
  • Passive aggressive behaviour
  • Overbearing supervision – taking micro management to new levels.

Deciding what to do about the situation wasn’t easy and so I tried a soft approach at first. I spoke with Lorraine directly. I let her know in an informal way that I didn’t need follow up emails (plural) after her initial one and that given, we sat next to each other, I would much rather her speak with me about the task. I let her know I found it hard to achieve my targets when she had the best and first pick – could I perhaps take the next big client? I felt like over the course of six months I’d tried a number of ways to self-manage the way she was treating me.

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After that, it was time to take things into my own hands, I had to talk to people about it. I sought refuge in other co-workers who had worked with her before. Depressingly, they all had similar experiences and shared condolences rather than courage to change the situation. From there the next steps were a little more serious.

Steps to take if you feel like you’re being bullied at work:

  • Consider speaking with the person informally.
  • Document everything, track what’s going on. Know that HR or management will want a certain amount of ‘proof’ if you feel comfortable to make a formal complaint.
  • Find your company policy on bullying.
  • Seek allies. It can help to demonstrate to others when you’re visibly being bullied.
  • Speak up! Find someone in a position of senior management or HR who you can talk to about how your feeling.

For me, after a year and eight months I had decided enough was enough, it was time to leave. I knew Lorraine had enough political power within the company, that she would be protected. When work equals misery, it’s hard to handle not being the bubbly person you usually are, I felt like my personality was changing after working with her.

How to know when it’s time to leave?

  • Know your rights, if you don’t feel like the situation is being handling professionally either leave or take action by contacting the Fair Work Commission.
  • Question why you’re staying – is this your dream job? Are you aiming to be promoted to another division? Are you staying for the sake of your colleagues? Then ask: Is it enough?

The hardest part to bare was discovering that there were plenty of employees before me who had trouble working with Lorraine. They’d all left the company without saying anything to senior management for fear of ‘causing drama’ and so after they left, the same repeated behaviour would happen again and again.

After I left the company, it felt like a weight had been lifted. I literally felt like I was breathing deeply for the first time in months. I never regretted my decision and as for Lorraine, well as it turns out, she resigned two months after I left. All I can hope is that the company now has a little more positivity.

*This name has been changed.

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