Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Repressed feelings: bullying in the workplace

This is me being vulnerable, so I hope it is helpful for someone.
I had a supervisor training this past Saturday. The first thing we spoke about, and the longest time was spent on harrassment. And of this, the majority of the time was spent on bullying. Gosh, I wish I had this term a few years ago.
Bullying is something that happens often in the workplace and it can often go overlooked. We began our discussion with the question, "What should you do if someone tells you they are being bullied?" One of my fellow supervisors-in-training jumped in and said, "Talk to them. Get their story. Find out if it is true or not. Blah blah blah." I was screaming inside 'NO NO NO!' Our facilitator said, "I want to go back to when you said, 'Find out if it is true or not.' That is not for you to determine..." YES YES YES! You MUST validate their feelings. Feelings are real and they cannot be denied. We were told over and over, if someone is doing something that makes someone feel offended, hurt, upset, etc, that person needs to stop doing what they are doing to the offended.
So, about the repressed feelings, I realized that I had some scars. During this discussion I felt myself withdraw. I could hardly speak. My pulse was racing and my heart was pounding hard. I wanted to cry. I had been through all this and I felt like there was no justice made.
A few years ago I was having a very difficult time with a boss which began nearly when he became my boss. It began so subtly and progressed so slowly that I did not even recognize it until 2 years later during a company given training on (ironically) harrassment. Harrassment was the only term given, but it included things like belittling, extra workload, singling out. By this time I was depressed, I dreaded going to work, I couldn't enjoy the things I once enjoyed. I wondered if I should take action. I union advised me to. I drew up every incident that I could think of (but how do you put into words every little look, jab, body language that happened over 2 years?). They said there would be an investigation. There was a meeting with 4 administrators and little ol' me and my union rep. I was attacked from all sides, bullied in my own meeting! Though I had what I wanted to say written down, I could hardly express myself. I tried to keep composure, but I was a wreck.
Oh, did I mention that this was a HUMANITARIAN agency??
I found out that there really was no investigation, other than the incidents which I had turned in to the union (I was not told that this would be the basis of the investigation. This was only a rough draft.) I asked, "What about Josh? What about the other team members?" I was told that Josh could not be interviewed because he was my husband. What!!!! For the last 2 1/2 years it was pounded into my head that he was not my husband on the job, he was my co-worker!! And the other team members were not interviewed because I did not name anyone as a witness because much of what happened was in private and I couldn't say if anyone overheard anything. Tell me, would this stand up in a court of law? I was told that the harrassment charge was unfounded and, oh, yes, could you sign this paper saying you agree with the outcome?
No, thank you.
After this was my annual review, which he did not have the guts to give to me himself. My first review with him was glowing, this one gutted me. Hmm, do I smell retaliation?
Josh recognizes that there was justice. Almost immediatly he was pulled from our program and put in charge of another. I could not work there any longer though. My spirit had been quenched. I was very, very sad to leave my clients, but I could not work for this agency any more.
They asked me in the meeting what I wanted to see happen. I said I did not want the guy to lose his job. I just wanted him to stop doing what he was doing and maybe go to some anger management or leadership classes. This was just laughed at and I was told our managers recieve good training from the agency.
The only term I had at the time was harrassment. So people automatically think it is sexual. When it is not, they think, what's your problem?
Here are two good definitions I found for bullying:
"Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress"
MSF Union, 1994
"Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (eg promotion) for the bully."
Tim Field, 1999
Here is some good information on where bullying happens, how to recognise a bully, and what it does to your health. Click around on the other links and find other information on bullying.
If you are or will ever be in a leadership position, take this to heart. Learn how to recognise a bully. You can do something about it. It is not always the person in authority who is the bully. It happens a lot between staff members. Bullying does have lasting effects.
More information from bullyonline:
People who are bullied find that they are:
*forever subject to nit-picking and trivial fault-finding (the triviality is the giveaway)
*isolated and excluded from what's happening (this makes people more vulnerable and easier to control and subjugate)
*singled out and treated differently (for example everyone else can have long lunch breaks but if they are one minute late it's a disciplinary offence)
*belittled, degraded, demeaned, ridiculed, patronised, subject to disparaging remarks
*set unrealistic goals and deadlines which are unachievable or which are changed without notice or reason or whenever they get near achieving them
*denied information or knowledge necessary for undertaking work and achieving objectives
* either overloaded with work (this keeps people busy [with no time to tackle bullying] and makes it harder to achieve targets) or have all their work taken away (which is sometimes replaced with inappropriate menial jobs, eg photocopying, filing, making coffee)
*find requests for leave have unacceptable and unnecessary conditions attached, sometimes overturning previous approval. especially if the person has taken action to address bullying in the meantime
Why do people bully?
The purpose of bullying is to hide inadequacy. Bullying has nothing to do with managing etc; good managers manage, bad managers bully. Management is managing; bullying is not managing. Therefore, anyone who chooses to bully is admitting their inadequacy, and the extent to which a person bullies is a measure of their inadequacy. Bullies project their inadequacy on to others:
a) to avoid facing up to their inadequacy and doing something about it;
b) to avoid accepting responsibility for their behaviour and the effect it has on others, and,
c) to reduce their fear of being seen for what they are, namely a weak, inadequate and often incompetent individuals, and,d) to divert attention away from their inadequacy - in an insecure or badly-managed workplace, this is how inadequate, incompetent and aggressive employees keep their jobs.
You know what? I found it humorous that so much attention was given to this subject during my training for a little supervisor position at Starbucks, yet this supposedly humanitarian agency just brushed it under the carpet, denying my feelings.


Adventures In Babywearing said...

I am so sorry you had to go through all of this. I have experienced it before (embarrassingly enough to say it was back when I worked at The Hang Up!) My manager was the meanest, most unhappiest person ever and I couldn't believe anyone would treat me the way she did. I wrote a letter to her boss, including dates of incidents, details, etc. I heard later that she & her boss had a "good laugh" over my letter. SO frustrating! Eventually she was promoted and made me the manager. At least she was out of the store and I could be there on my own. I did find out that she had a lot of problems at home- mainly with her husband and still I don't think that gives anyone grounds to belittle and bully someone else. I would say most likely all bullies have major problems in their private lives and they are trying to "build themselves up" or make up for what they lack internally. So unfortunate because I have seen more & more in the news about bullying in schools with little kids. They don't know how to "process" that like adults in the workplace. (and still many adults don't get things resolved obviously, too!!) Ok- sorry this was so long!

Soteria said...

You are so right that bullies are lacking something. They are often lacking maturity and confidence. They are intimidated by someone so they pick on them to make themselves feel better. It can happen anywhere and I even experienced a wee bit of it at Starbucks!
That's too bad that your boss's boss didn't even help. They must have been pretty chummy. That's another thing with bullies and it makes it hard to identify them. They can be very smooth with others. Very Jekyll and Hyde.
And the kids! Poor kids. I hate to hear of bullying among them. I think there is a charity here in the UK that works with bullied kids.