Thursday, November 6, 2014

Workplace Abuse: Types of Workplace Bullying - one type is the serial bully

Even when I was still in the workplace, I had become aware of what was happening.  Because of the dynamics which existed among the co-workers, management, HR and even the union, I was powerless to prevent or stop it.  But I was aware.

Very aware.

It was an odd situation, at least to me, as the more I learned about what was happening, the more the research lined up with what I was experiencing, the less I was heard.  The more I was victimized.

I believe that I've mentioned the phenomena called "mobbing" before.  We often think of mobbing in terms of an actual mob storming a physical place.  Like the mob that overtook the American embassy in Tehran back in 1979 and took embassy personnel hostage.  Or mobs attacking a person out on the street leaving grievous damage.

We don't often think of mobbing as occurring in an office situation.  But that's exactly what happens when the one bully becomes two then three and keeps growing from there.  It wasn't until I looked at the signatures on the petition disguised as a complaint that I realized the full extent of what I was up against.

Every co-worker in our small office on all three shifts had signed - except one brave soul.

How did all these people get involved?  What did these people, one of whom only saw me once or twice a week because he never arrived in time to take over his shift before I left, have against me?  Why - or rather how - did they get involved?

In one word:  gossip.  In another word:  backbiting.  In two words:  character assassination.  Need I go one?

Although those in power in the office would scoff at that last line claiming it was my "perception" and "assumption", logically there is no other way that this could have spread to so many people.  Most of whom weren't physically present when I was working.

You've heard the phrase:  "what happens in the ________ stays in the ________."  Well, that wasn't so in our office.  What happened in the office, in our shift, among the three or four or sometimes even two of us who were working at the time, didn't stay with us.  It spread.  Rapidly.  Viciously.  Like a virus.  Somehow everyone knew what Suzanne had done this time.

No one ever had the decency to come to me and tell me what they'd heard and if it was true.

No one.

They all took what was said at face value.

And that is why I believe there was one person at the tip.  One person who might - or might not - have been a sociopath or psychopath.  But one person who was charismatic enough, powerful enough, convincing enough to sway otherwise intelligent people into following her.

At this point, as I'm letting my fingers do the talking on this post, I have two roads to follow today.  One:  the road I started with re: mobbing.  The other: continuing yesterday's road re: sociopathy or psychopathy in the office.

For the moment, I'll choose to follow the mobbing thread because I think it's important.

In my initial research at the beginning of this journey called workplace bullying aka pyschological harrassment, I learned that there were several forms of bullying in the workplace.  Below is a list I've copied and pasted from Wikipedia which cites Tim Fields as the source of the information. 

  • Serial bullying — the source of all dysfunction can be traced to one individual, who picks on one employee after another and destroys them, then moves on. Probably the most common type of bullying.
  • Secondary bullying — the pressure of having to deal with a serial bully causes the general behaviour to decline and sink to the lowest level.
  • Pair bullying — this takes place with two people, one active and verbal, the other often watching and listening.
  • Gang bullying or group bullying — is a serial bully with colleagues. Gangs can occur anywhere, but flourish in corporate bullying climates. It is often called mobbing and usually involves scapegoating and victimisation.
  • Vicarious bullying — two parties are encouraged to fight. This is the typical "triangulation" where the aggression gets passed around.
  • Regulation bullying — where a serial bully forces their target to comply with rules, regulations, procedures or laws regardless of their appropriateness, applicability or necessity.
  • Residual bullying — after the serial bully has left or been fired, the behavior continues. It can go on for years.
  • Legal bullying — the bringing of a vexatious legal action to control and punish a person. It is one of the nastiest forms of bullying.
  • Pressure bullying or unwitting bullying — having to work to unrealistic time scales and/or inadequate resources.
  • Corporate bullying — where an employer abuses an employee with impunity, knowing the law is weak and the job market is soft.
  • Organizational bullying — a combination of pressure bullying and corporate bullying. Occurs when an organization struggles to adapt to changing markets, reduced income, cuts in budgets, imposed expectations and other extreme pressures.
  • Institutional bullying — entrenched and is accepted as part of the culture.
  • Client bullying — an employee is bullied by those they serve, for instance subway attendants or public servants.
  • Cyber bullying — the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.

The four I've always felt applied to my situation were #s 1, 3, 4 and 5: serial, pair, gang and vicarious.

My situation involved, at least initially, two people.  Two separate people who initially didn't have a relationship with each other.  One was a person who didn't even work in our office.  In fact, she wasn't supposed to be on our shift, but somehow she convinced those in management, HR and the union that she didn't need to work day shift with the other office workers, that she could do her job quite well on another shift, and was allowed to design her hours to suit her life.  Initially, she and I had a good relationship until one day ... I said something that I shouldn't have.  Something that hurt her.  Something she never let go of or forgive me for.  It was in jest.  I meant no harm.  They were having trouble finding a replacement for someone who had left who worked in conjunction with this woman.  She had gone through several replacements.  One day, I unthinkingly said something to the effect that this one couldn't get along with you either.  Oops!  A big oops!  I think perhaps I was closer to the truth than I knew.  

This woman had told me once that she didn't get angry, she got even.  I thought that was just one of those cute little sayings.  It wasn't.  She really did live that way.  She got even.  Even if it took her years to do so, she got even.

She had in a way "warned" me of that when we were still friends as she told me about a co-worker whose job intersected with hers that she didn't like.  She didn't say anything.  She simply kept a record of all the mistakes this person made.  Photocopied then.  And then when she had enough, she placed them in an envelope and put the envelope on her supervisor's desk.  The result:  the person no longer worked there.

At the time, I didn't spot the warning signals.  I didn't see this part of her.  In fact, when she would ask why someone would take her to HR claiming that she made this person feel small and belittled, I would stand by this woman.  I.  Did.  Not.  See.  That.  Side.  Of.  Her.

It was only after I made that one unfortunate remark that that side of her became visible.  Not all at once.  But gradually.  Very gradually.  Over time.

I believed then during my subsequent experiences in the workplace and still believe now, that this woman was initially a serial bully.  She picked on one person, got that person out and then picked on someone else, until they left.


Enough for now.  Today's post in long enough.  I don't want to write a book.  At least not in a blog posting.  So I will stop for now.  For today.

In the end, besides involving the entire office on all three shifts, there were five main people involved.  Each one different.

Perhaps it's time to start unravelling the knot, separate each strand i.e. person or dynamic, and identify it.

Until tomorrow ....

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