A 2014 survey found that 27% of employees have experienced workplace bullying. I hope this never, ever happens to you, but if it does – know that you’re not alone. Today, Lauranne is sharing her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Lauranne. I am an animal nut, I love DIY and spending time with friends and family. I love food, wine, and exercise (although the exercising is mainly done so I can consume more wine!)
How did you find this job? And how did you feel about it when you started?
I remember thinking how lucky I was; I got it straight out of university; it was in the area I’d studied. I was really proud of the work I did and I felt like my job mattered. I was going to make a difference in the world and I was beyond excited.
Do you remember your first impression of your manager?
He seemed keen with a slightly dark sense of humour, but nothing that made me concerned.
I remember making a mistake on my second day. I asked a member of staff who’d been there longer than me how to do something and he gave me the wrong instructions. I remember thinking I didn’t really deserve to be told off quite so harshly, because I didn’t know any better. But I had made a mistake so maybe they were right to chastise me?
Do you remember the first time he bullied you?
My manager was gone for a week and I had run the department single-handedly. I put in long hours and I was proud of how well I’d handled it.
When my manager came back, she told me she’d heard I’d spent the week goofing off and asked me to justify how I’d spent my time. I showed her everything; she was satisfied but warned me that rumours were being spread. I went to my boss with my concerns and he told me no one liked me and they didn’t think I was pulling my weight.
What were some of the things he said and did?
It wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it. After I switched departments, my boss would blame me for issues in front of the entire office – issues that I couldn’t possibly have caused because I hadn’t worked in that department for months. I felt like every mistake was blamed on me.
How did you react to this bullying? How did it affect your job? How did it affect the other areas of your life?
Initially, I tried harder. Since my boss said people didn’t think I was pulling my weight, I worked longer hours. When that didn’t stop the (imaginary) complaints, I started skipping breaks.
I spent my entire day worried about what to do. It got so bad I started recording my every movement on scraps of paper “9am, walked into office. 9.00 – 9.02 turned on computer. 9.02 – 9.30 worked on X 9.30 – 9.35 went to the loo.” It destroyed me.
I wondered why people couldn’t see the real me. I worried that I couldn’t read situations or social cues. I started to worry that my friends were just putting up with me because they were too nice to tell me to go away. I doubted everything and would overanalyse every situation trying to find the “real” meaning.
I stopped eating properly and only slept three hours a night. I became a different person.
What happened when you reported his behavior?
Believe it or not I never intentionally reported his behaviour. I went to my union in desperation, after being encouraged to be a colleague. She said “No matter what you do, they seem to think you never do anything right,” and that was an epiphany. Maybe I wasn’t imagining this!
The union reps told me, “It doesn’t sound like you are bad at your job. It sounds like you are being bullied.” They spoke to a manager in an adjoining department who backed up everything I said. Slowly, colleagues came forwards and voiced their support of me.
My co-workers shared stories of how they had treated and “celebrated when I was upset.” I can remember I used to bite my lip to stop myself from crying and one more than one occasion I bit it so hard I drew blood.
Are you still at this job?
No. An internal investigation was carried out, though I use that term loosely. They refused to speak to half of the people who offered to provide any evidence. In the end, they said it was just a misunderstanding, bad management. They wanted us to have weekly half-hour meetings, just me and my bullying boss, so we could work on our communication.
I refused to go back in the office and asked to be transferred. Two other managers said they would happily have me but HR refused to move me.
The department I was in was completely reshuffled, the guy who was bullying me lost his own private office and was forced to share and office with three other people, including his boss. Officially there was not a problem; there were no marks on his professional record.
It was Christmas Eve when I kindly told HR where they could shove this job. I walked away from my career. I still feel like he won.
What books/tools/people have helped you get past this?
I blog. I got counselling when it all happened. But honestly, I’m still not over it and I’m not sure I ever will be. It’s been almost five years since this happened and I still get nervous when my current, lovely boss comes asks to speak with me. I worry about silly little things and never fully relax when I am at work. I still worry about my ability to read social cues and trust people.
What advice would you give to someone going through something similar?
Admit to yourself that it’s happening and take steps to deal with it.
I thought by pretending this hadn’t really affected me the bully hadn’t won. I pretended that leaving the career and starting over was all part of some great plan, but it’s been a struggle. Now I can admit that I was bullied and that I’m still dealing with the after-effects. I am not ashamed. The fault was not mine.
Facing what I went through head on and talking about it has helped me heal. I would encourage anyone going through this to speak out, know you are not alone and know, no matter how it may seem, the fault does not lie with you!
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Lauranne. Have any of you experienced something similar? And if you have, how did you deal with it?