Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Laying the Foundation: Behaviours that indicate you're being bullied in the workplace

I believe this is a Portuguese Man of War.  What I do know is that it is a type of jellyfish.  A life form that floats seemingly innocently in the water.  But woe betide the person or thing that it wraps its tentacles around!  The pain is excruciating.  Unwrapping it from it's unwitting victim is difficult and incredibly painful.  I know.  One of these guys - or one of his kin - wrapped itself around my father's arm or leg when I was just a toddler.  Even today in my 60's I remember the pain.  Searching through my pictures for something to illustrate today's blog (I was actually looking for demolition sites), I came across this.  To me, it's a portrayal of the bully boss.  Seemingly innocent but capable of incurring a wealth of pain on its victim.  Wrapped tightly around the target.  Never letting go.

As I've been working on this series about the first experience of workplace abuse, recounting the story in a "safe" setting - a setting where I'm not interrupted and made to feel like a whiny kid.  A setting where I can say what I want or rather need to say, how I want to without someone interrupting and being angry at my choice of words.  Or stopping me in mid-sentence and telling me to "let it go," I've realized for the first time, that not only was situation #1 more than a "bad work situation," it constituted workplace abuse.  It fits into the parameters of the research I've done on the phenomenon,  including the fact that it is often misinterpreted as a "personality conflict."

Today, I want to digress once more from the narrative and explore a little bit:  what made this experience fall into the category of workplace abuse?

Bullying is not vague.  It's complicated.  It's complex.  Each case seems to be different - at least in it's specifics.  Yet, there are commonalities in the whole.

As I've mentioned, the scenario started when I was given the more complicated half of another co-worker's responsibilities while she was off work for surgery.  As the scenario progressed, it became evident (at least to me) that I was expected to do this job without mistakes with inadequate training while at the same time accomplishing all my other responsiblities.  There was no mentoring and no appreciation for what I was accomplishing.  Criticism, yes.  Unexpectedly so.  Criticism for small things ... like being human.  Having emotions.

Approval and encouragement:  No.

The more the situation progressed, the more fear and dread I felt while in the workplace.  I kept waiting for something bad to happen - even when I hadn't done anything to deserve it.  One instance of this was when the contact for the major account, mentioned in earlier posts, discovered that I was not only on contract but near the end of it and asked for contact information to send in a recommendation.  He not only was as good as his word, but forwarded a copy of his email to me.  There was nothing wrong in his email.  In fact, it was glowing.  But a huge sense of dread welled up in me as I read it.  Nothing I could explain.  Nothing that the situation would warrant, after all what company wouldn't want to know they had an outstanding employee?  But it was there all the same.  If you remember from an earlier post, the 2-Up was livid over the recommendation and I was subsequently forbidden to mention my status as a contract employee again - in any circumstance.

Here it is where I switch tracks for a wee bit.  This is where I stop the narrative for a moment and delve into the research - which is plentiful.  Where I put key words into a Google search to back up my rhetoric and theories.  I'm not looking for the one article that supports my position.  I've been looking at many references, resources over the last few years.  I've read the same things about workplace bullying many times, on many different sites by different authors.

Yesterday, I put in the key words:  "you know you've been bullied when" ....

Below are a few things that came up during that search which almost eerily describe the situation I found myself in in that upper room:
  • You attempt the obviously impossible task of doing a new job without training or time to learn new skills, but that work is never good enough for the boss.  
  • You are constantly feeling agitated and anxious, experiencing a sense of doom  waiting for bad things to happen.  
  • Surprise meetings are called by your boss with no results other than further humiliation.  
  • Everything your tormentor does to you is arbitrary and capricious, working a personal agenda that undermines the employer's legitimate business interests. (
  • Constant nit-picking, fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature - the triviality, regularity and frequency betray bulling; often there is a grain of truth (but only a grain) in the criticism to fool you into believing the criticism has validity, which it does not; often, the criticism is based on distortion, misrepresentation or fabrication.
  • simultaneous with the criticism  a constant refusal to acknowledge you and your contributions and achievements or to recognize your existence and value.
  • where you are in a group (eg at work), being singled out and treated differently; f or instance, everyone else can get away with murder but the moment you put a foot wrong - however trivial -action is taken against you.
  • being overloaded with work, or having all your work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks (filing, photocopying, minute taking) or with no work at all.
  • having your responsibility increased but your authority taken away
  • being denied training necessary for you to fulfill your duties
  • having unrealistic goals set, which change as you approach them (  
  • exclude or isolate their targets
  • make unreasonable demands, constantly change work guidelines, establish impossible deadlines and deliberately interfere with the completion of work.
  • blame, scold, criticism work ability and belittle opinions
  • apply made-up rules inconsistently, hand out underserved discipline or punishment and threaten job loss (alis,
  • Constant criticism:  if the criticism from your boss or co-worker never seems to stop, despite your history of objective competence and even excellence, a bully might to be blame,  Workplace bullies also tend to have a different standard in mind for their targets, experts say.
  • Remembering Your Mistakes:  If your boss or co-worker seems to keep a file of your mistakes and constantly refer to them for no constructive reason, you're likely being bullied.  Falsely accusing your of errors is another common tactic.
  • You're not invited to Lunch or Meetings:  If you feel like you're being singled out and/or isolated by your co-workers or boss, socially or physically, you are probably being bullied, experts say.  That can mean having your desk moved or not being invited to meetings or even lunch.
  • Sabotage:  A workplace bully may try to find ways to ensure that you fail at your job.  Examples include changing rules on the fly that apply to our work or not performing tasks crucial to your success, such as signing off on details or taking calls. (
Have you read enough?  As you can see, the writing style and the wording is different for each resource, each author, yet the conclusions each one comes to are similar.

Notice how all four sites described similar features of the phenomenon.  How the patterns I experienced in that upper room carried through all four sets of descriptions:  the overload of work, the lack of training, constant criticism and blame.  Withholding of approval for a job well done but criticism for small mistakes.

A constant barrage that never ended.  

That is enough for today.  More than enough.

Today's narrative began with the bully boss, yet the target's journey doesn't end there in the workplace being abused.  The target's journey continues on out of the workplace - however that may happen.  Just as this man's journey didn't end in an operating room where he lost a leg.  I took this picture because this man stirred in me something.  A sense of what a true survivor looks like.  I never met him.  I never spoke a word to him, or he to me.  Our paths simply crossed one day while he was running on the beach and I was strolling - ever present camera in hand.  Yet, just seeing him run that day has continued to inspire me on my journey through and out of workplace abuse.  As I hope it does you.

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