I spent four years in an organization, two of which were horrible, due to workplace bullying. I eventually left abruptly after things came to a head. My manager (due to pressure from our “big boss”) was harshly reprimanding me for not following guidelines of a loosely defined assignment, even though my colleague was doing the exact same thing but with no consequences. She also was going to write a negative yearly evaluation that didn’t take into account any of my accomplishments. My bullied experience took its toll on my health and caused me to choose whether to stay and continue the humiliation or leave and have faith that I can find a different way to support my family in a bad economy. With several young children it was a hard decision to make. Ultimately, I chose to leave and have not regretted it since. I cannot be specific as I was forced to sign an agreement to not disparage the organization in order to receive severance pay. Here is more of my story.
I worked in a small organization and we did good work. I established myself with some good projects and had a good rapport with colleagues. Things started to turn after I inherited an Ill-conceived and over-budgeted project. The organization’s leader was corporate-minded and the morale of the organization reflected this. After my second year any feedback given to me was always negative. As a good worker I accepted the feedback and tried to do better (we all must improve in whatever work we’re in). But, however much I improved or accomplished, I never received du credit. Additionally, any errors I made, no matter how small, were the focus of my performance. The feedback received was also vitriolic and delivered more to demean than to improve performance. With bills to pay and children to support I kept trying to be a good worker and accepting their assessment of me until I noticed major errors all around me, from fellow colleagues or even management. However, depending on who caused these errors, they weren’t looked at as errors and certainly didn’t receive the scrutiny I was.
It was increasingly apparent that I was in the dog-house permanently, no matter what I did. I also noticed that those around me weren’t receiving the scrutiny that I was receiving, due to some type of preference. I still feel that there was some gender bias as I worked in a female dominated environment but we’ll never know. My suspicions were confirmed when randomly and unsolicited, colleagues came to me and indicated I seemed to always get a raw deal no matter what I did. As a test, I even borrowed pieces of a previously heralded writing assignment that a co-worker (held in positive standing) used and was told “we don’t write like that here” and “this is not good writing”. On another occasion, my immediate supervisor complimented my presentation to our board on a major project I developed. Hours later she took it back because the big boss didn’t like my presentation, though the board members were clearly impressed. There were more instances where my successes were nullified and errors emphasized even while colleagues and bosses were making the same errors, but with no negative reaction. So when things came to a head, I chose to gather my pride and have faith in myself, rather than accept their bullying efforts just to hold on to a paycheck.
The experience left me depressed, anxious, angry and my weight had been a yo-yo. I decided the stress of working there and the lack of respect I received outweighed the anxiety of not knowing where my next paycheck is coming from. Now, I feel great about myself and my health has improved dramatically, physically and mentally. I now work in a temporary full-time position that pays well and with people that value my work. I still need to look for a permanent situation but have no doubt that I took the right course of action. I know because my health has improved, I know what my strengths and weaknesses are and my self-respect has grown immensely from how I ultimately handled the situation, by taking control of my career from the bullies. Some lessons I’ll keep from the experience are:
Don’t wait to protect yourself from bad evaluations or feedback that you deem is unfair. If the bosses have negative items in your record, you need to have a written rebuttal, with examples backing your argument.
· Know the personalities of those around you (and above you) and what are the best ways for you to communicate with them. Some people are more “A” type and others are more “B” type. You need to know which you are and which they are (or at least seem to be).
In my situation, my boss was type A and very competitive. Her attitude was finding fault was like a competition, with a winner and loser. Once she didn’t like me she looked at me in a negative light no matter the situation. For these types of people you have to defend yourself aggressively, not say “OK, you’re right” which I did for too long. Appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive. Sticking up for yourself garners respect.
· Tout yourself. Not in a fake way but keep a file of accomplishments that you’ve made throughout the year/career and bring them up in your reviews.
· Be honest with yourself and your boss in terms of the mistakes you make. That way you can improve. When you make mistakes (we all do), own them and look for ways to show improvement and note them.
· You’re only as good as your latest boss says you are. If your boss is always negative towards your performance and it doesn’t get better, it’s time to go. Kick the job search in high gear.
· If you’re health is suffering (not eating, depression, anxiety) leave skid-marks. It’s cliché but your health is all you have at the end of the day. Letting the bullying boss negatively impact your health is unacceptable.
· Make connections within and around your organization. The more linkages you have the more positive you are viewed and that can be a protection from bulling bosses.