Bullying is a hot button issue for parents. Every day it seems there is a new incident or piece of research on how to prevent or handle these incidents among our children.
What happens, though, when YOU are the one experiencing bullying?
Early in my career, I worked for a bully. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. I was young and inexperienced. I thought my lack of exposure to professional environments made everything seem scarier than it actually was. Over time, I realized it wasn’t a normal working relationship. I won’t go into identifying details, but the insults, the veiled threats, and my fear–every single day–that I might go home jobless actually drove me to seek therapy.
I found myself pulled over one day, en route to the airport for a business trip with my bully. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having a panic attack. It was so severe, I called to cancel the trip. Eventually, after she attempted to coerce me into signing a document admitting guilt to things I didn’t do – I refused to cave anymore and instead wrote my resignation on a piece of notebook paper and walked out the door. Looking back, it was probably the most profound moment of my career. Even among all of my milestones as a working woman, I’m most proud of standing up for myself that day.
Before you think this was the case of a newly graduated girl having trouble adjusting or a symptom of being overly sensitive or PC, let me assure you, it was much more than that. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school and began to intensively study workplace bullying (almost a year after quitting that job) that it occurred to me what had happened. When I read my first journal article on it, I nearly fell out of my desk chair. It was as though the researchers had written about me. Even years later, I still get a feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about it. One of her favorite phrases before launching into a mocking tirade was “Do you have a minute?” To this day, those words send me into a panic. It’s been almost a decade since I quit.
Today, I love my job and the people I work with. I feel so fortunate to have found others along the way who showed me that going to work didn’t have to be miserable. But I’ll never forget my experience with an adult bully. And now that I’m a mother, I hear horror stories of women who experience it when becoming pregnant, taking maternity leave or caring for their children.
Do you believe you may be experiencing workplace bullying? Below, find some signs and tips to help you determine your course of action. Take it from me–you shouldn’t have to go to work every day to face the adult version of the mean kid on the playground. It can affect your relationships, your physical and mental health, your home life and your long-term career.
First, a definition from the Workplace Bullying Institute:
Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is :
- Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
- Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or
- Verbal abuse
- Those with authority over you withholding information or resources required to properly do your job–and then punishing you for not doing the job correctly
- Efforts by the bully to coerce others to side with them against the target (such as stop talking to you or inviting you to lunch)
- Feelings of anxiety at home before you go to work the next day; feeling nauseous is common
- Heavy use of personal days to escape work
- Arbitrary negative feedback with no means of resolution
- Feeling agitated at work, often described as waiting for something bad to happen
- You are targeted in such a way that you sound “crazy” if you try to explain it to someone who can help. It’s often very subtle.
If you believe you may be a target, I encourage you to reach out to the Workplace Bullying Institute, as well as seek physical and mental professional opinions and help. While not every negative workplace relationship is bullying, it’s very serious if it fits the criteria.