Wednesday, July 24, 2013

CHALLENGE DAY 27: A PROBLEM YOU'VE HAD


Workplace bullying. I used to hear those words a lot and not really give them much thought. To me, bullying was something that happened in school but that no-one would ever get away with in adulthood and the workforce. I couldn't comprehend that there could ever be a dynamic in a workplace that would lead to grown adults getting away with bullying behaviour. 

I wasn't far into adulthood when I experienced workplace bullying first-hand. I can't even describe how sick the whole situation was. I was working for a small PR firm with a whole other bunch of young women hungry for a leg up in the competitive communications industry. Most of us were fresh out of uni and well aware of how hard it was to find paid work. If you've studied Communications, you'll know what it's like! I guess this gave our boss quite an advantage over us. She knew we were hungry, our resumes needed something like this on them and hence she could pay us whatever the heck she liked and we'd still come to work each day!  In fact, we were being paid below the minimum wage. It's crazy, I remember nodding and accepting the job without having even asked about the salary! I actually recall her sheepishly providing me the numbers but explaining them away, saying we were getting a good opportunity and that the business was just starting out and so forth. Plus, she explained that she actually paid herself less than what she paid us. When I was young and naive, I believed a lot of what came out of the mouths of people who were older than me. I always assumed I knew less than them. (This is kind of off-topic but if you're a young person reading this, I want you to know that you should never underestimate how little those people you think you ought to look up to actually know. Never assume that just because they are older than you that they can't be immature, irrational, inappropriate or wrong. That includes your boss, your uni lecturers, even your own parents. Don't assume they're right when they treat you like you're stupid or wrong. You'll be their age one day and you might find you know infinitely more than they ever will - give yourself credit!)

Anyway, the pay stuff was a bummer but I let it go. But then there was the verbal abuse and the alienation. Now, I had interned and worked in magazines and PR in the past and I was very familiar with the whole "nice girls don't get the corner office" stuff that some bosses/colleagues bought into. But this wasn't anything like that. What took place in this small firm was downright abuse. I first noticed it when we'd get interns coming in to work. Often we'd have them go away on lunch and never return, it was that bad. They were usually warned by the girls to never ask the boss a question, that if there was something they needed to know they should e-mail one of us and act like they know what they're doing. Some interns hadn't got the memo and the minute I'd hear them approach her, I'd just about be sick. They'd ask an innocent question about how something should be done and she'd tear them to shreds. Usually it would be a question back to them "Are you seriously fucking asking me that question?" but sometimes she wouldn't even acknowledge their presence and one of us would, in that awkwardly silent moment, frantically rush to their aid. Then we'd quietly shoot them an e-mail apologising for her and saying something like "in future, if you have any questions, just ask me". 

I can't even believe I'm saying this but I got used to her behaviour. We all did. Her humiliating one of the other girls while we all looked on, unsure of what to do or say. I developed a twitch in one of my eyes and couldn't take a deep breath the whole time I was working there but I never once considered that I was under way too much stress. I honestly thought this was just how working life was! And then one day the bullying started to be directed at me. One time, in the middle of a staff meeting, she berated me for the fact my page wasn't as neat as hers. She wondered how I could possibly get any work done when my notes weren't in neat columns. She halted the meeting, made me go back to my desk and re-write my notes in the same format as hers, then return and show everyone the changes. It was humiliating, being treated like a primary schooler in front of all of my colleagues. After the meeting, everyone showed their support quietly, in e-mails or whispers when she was out of the room, but the sting was still there.

Another day I arrived at work to find that she had written an e-mail to the entire office informing us all that I would be going to the grocery store for supplies for the office and that if anyone needed anything at the supermarket, to e-mail me with their requests. It was so horrible to be punished at work, to have my role undermined like that. Others in the office would have tried harder, apologised more, stayed back later. I think it was a combination of shock and losing the desire to even be in such an environment, but I said nothing. I simply went to the grocery store as per her request and tried, unsuccessfully, to get my head straight. I didn't know how to resolve the situation, especially when I realised that all the passion I had once had for the role was fast draining from me. What happened when I returned, though horrendous, was a blessing. She had wrongfully assumed I had made an error on something and, being impetuous, flew off the handle at me. "WHAT KIND OF F--KING RETARD..." was how she began her tirade. It was loud and disgusting and frightening. I'm not kidding, I nearly wet myself. I am the kind of person who freezes in frightening or shocking situations, so how I did what I did next is beyond me. I managed to get up from my desk and calmly state: "Mary*, that is not how an adult should ever speak to another human being". She didn't know what to say, I don't think. But she had the last word, which was "just - just - go and take lunch". I then walked out of the place, never to return again. 

Though I knew she was out of line, my confidence was around my ankles after the whole experience. I started second-guessing my abilities and questioning whether any of the things she had said about me might have been true. After being in more positive, professional environments after that, I realised just how toxic my old workplace was. My confidence returned and I could see that my ex-boss was indeed a very twisted person and the situation I was in was quite serious. I know if I ever meet anyone in a similar situation I'd want them to know that this is absolutely no reflection on them and that they should never, ever put up with it. Even if everyone else in the workplace appears to be accepting it, it doesn't mean it's right.

*Not her real name

5 comments:

  1. On my God Anna that woman sounds evil!! Good on you for walking out she was obviously a very depressed and bitter woman hence taking it out on all of you.
    I've been in a similar situation at a very famous fashion house in London where I used to work, again like your boss my boss was the bitch from hell! She once screamed and swore at me infront of everyone because I didn't wear a blazer for an in house meeting, seriously the woman had issues! I think people don't realise that where you work is basically 80% of your life so it's sooo important to love what you do and where you work, I honestly became abit depressed by working there. Anyway glad thats all over for us both now! I cannot stand bullying no matter where I see it xxx

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    1. It is really horrible that you had to be in that situation. You are right about it being important to love where you work. I actually ended up working in a totally different field after that. I took on an admin role as I was desperate for work. It was, to some a "step back" but it was the happiest I had ever been in a workplace. I loved going to work each day for the first time in ages.

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  2. Hi Anna,
    Funny to read your post , I was actually thinking of 'Mary' last night. Good to see you put it in print. I am sure others who read it will be encouraged.
    It was an awful situation for you, a situation no young person should be exposed to, but sadly the world has its share of BULLIES, who inside wish they were like the person they are BULLYING, but sadly BULLIES are sad, miserable, tortured, jealous selfish creatures!! their only hope in changing is to take a good look at themselves. Mum

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  3. Hi Anna,
    I love your blog, I discovered it today! I came across this post and loved it. 6 months ago I was in the same situation. I was 18 and took time off uni to work full time. The funniest part about this is the witch in my situation was actually called Mary! She was horrible. She bullied me, shouting at me about nothing at all, trivial things like you mentioned. She would talk about me to other staff, putting me down, yelling and screaming about me while I was two desks away in the open office. No-one knew what to do, everyone said "it's just her". No-one should have to suffer what these horrible people put their staff through. I stood up one day and said no more. I was suffering from extreme anxiety that would soon develop into depression that I have only started to recover from. I decided that this needed to be taken higher, I lost the job I had because of a woman that treated me like I was not a person. In may I took her to court and won. Everyone should know that there is always someone higher you can go to, and something you can do. I know I'm a changed person, and no amount of money will compensate for the suffering that you can endure at the hands of a person and even after you leave your position. I'm glad you posted this for other people reading, because without previously experiencing it you don't really realise what you're in until you've been affected. Love your blog and hope you're happy and healthy at work :)

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    1. Thank you Jess for stopping by and also for sharing your story.
      I'm sorry that you had to experience that. I have spoken to other people who have been in the situation and, like you, they say it changed them - robbed them of their confidence and their happiness. It's difficult to believe how much the words of others, especially those with "authority" or whom we look up to, such as a boss, can harm us and influence the way we see ourselves. I hope you can see what a mature and wise person you are (I can't stress enough how much of an asset that is) and that you will always believe in your capabilities. Know that there are far, far better things coming your way. Thank you again for your comment, Jess.
      xoxo

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