July 2nd, 2012

Laid Off Lounge: Workplace Bullying

By John Tommasino, Laid Off Lounge, July 1, 2012

Leslie* was an experienced professional—a productive worker, 20-year veteran and a valuable asset to her company. But her job nearly destroyed her life when she became the target of an office bully, her new boss.

The bullying started when Leslie’s company changed hands and a new manager started running her department. Soon enough, a steady barrage of demeaning comments were addressed to Leslie from her new supervisor. Once a joy, work now became a daily grind of verbal abuse and performance sabotage.

The new supervisor began to concoct false details about Leslie’s work and doctoring her routine company performance evaluations so that she received unfavorable reviews. “It was really traumatic,” Leslie remembered. “I would have good days and he (the manager) would twist it all around so that I’d get a negative review.”

As the bullying escalated, the comments from her boss also began to include crude sexual references, something that made Leslie extremely uncomfortable. The daily hours of constant verbal abuse led Leslie to develop serious cardiac problems. Her physician advised quitting, but Leslie needed a job to support herself and her family. The bullied professional finally consulted an attorney, obtained a severance and left the job that she once enjoyed.

“It was so bad that my doctor told me I could quit and live or go back to work and die,” she recalled.

Now in a new position with a different company and enjoying her work again, Leslie still remembers the abuse as if it were recent. “You’ll always remember it. It can destroy your life. It’s like they put their mark on you,” she remembered.

Sadly, cases like Leslie’s are becoming routine in the current workplace, according to Gary Namie, PhD of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington. Thirty-two percent of the current workforce has been the target of bullying while on the job, institute studies have determined.

In most cases, the bully has been identified as a company manager, Namie said. Contrary to popular myths, “standing up” to the bully or other confrontational tactics will not stop the bully and often escalate the unwanted attacks.

The bullying behaviors have nothing to do with the target’s perceived strength or assertiveness and are never the fault of the target. Most workers who are the brunt of bullies are competent and conscientious employees, well-liked and respected by their co-workers and unconcerned with office politics, Namie said.

Many former targets of bullying carry a sense of shame about the incidents, a pattern that must stop, given that workers never choose abuse, and a large number of workers are bullied regularly. “You have to remember two things about bullying: 1. It’s not your fault and 2. You’re not alone”, Namie said.

“With the economy the way that it is now, the economic safety valve for employees has been cut off. You can’t just quit your job anymore and hope you’ll find another one. Now if you quit, you live in economic destitution,” Namie said. Abuse can lead to severe health problems, which end up costing workers in healthcare bills and companies in absenteeism.

Many workers fall into a trap when they bring their cases of abuse to the company’s Human Resources Department. In reality, a company’s Human Resources Department exists for the benefit of management and never helps a worker, Namie said. “If they (Human Resources) say they’re there to address workplace problems, they’re lying. Human Resources Departments are a lie. They exist for the company, never the worker,” Namie said.

Namie recommends that workers break down the abuse into a monetary figure as to what a bully is costing the company in absenteeism, healthcare and other costs so that managers higher up can actually see the price of bullying.

This tactic has worked. It has persuaded companies into actually firing bullies when they see the cost. But Namie also recommends that talented employees take their work elsewhere when management adopts bullying tactics. “It’s just not worth it,” he said.

*The first name of the bullied worker in this article was changed to protect her identity.

Gary Namie, PhD, is an author and the director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington. The organization’s website is www.workplacebullying.org and features many resources to aid targets of abuse in the workplace.


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  1. kachina2 says:

    For me, the decision to leave my job boiled down to “your money or your life”. I chose life, and am paying the price. So are my husband and children. That price is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars…but we think it was worth it.

    • Angela says:

      kachina2, I agree. I walked out of my job because health had suffered. It was a case of leave immediately and give my health the chance to recover or until I had a nervous breakdown. It was tough afterwards with no money, but leaving was the best decision I ever made. 

      On a different note, the ex-Chief Executive of France Telecom has been indicted in Paris following allegations that he led a corporate culture of bullying and harassment. Over 35 suicides have taken place in France Telecom over the last 2 years and most of the staff left notes stating that work pressures were to blame. I’m in the UK so I’ll be watching this case closely. 

  2. Preasley says:

    Since last August when the bully set her targets on me my life has been a roller coaster of emotions. Now almost a year later after going to management, HR, and supervisor I have realized that they have done nothing but make it worse! And the bullying has escalated with the help of her little army of 3 that she has turned against me. I’m trying to transfer out of my department but not sure how much longer I can hold on till I decide to just quit for my safety. Helps to know after finding this website that I am not alone.

  3. eva says:

    It’s hard. But after five years, starting to wonder. My life or a paycheck?
    Hang in there. You are not alone.

  4. Chonkiz says:

    I was fired by my bully supervisor on June 20. She said it was due to poor performance. This was after I received a satisfactory performance review in May. I don’t know what she told HR to have them okay my dismissal. I’ve only just begun my fight to get my job back or rather A job back with the same company. The kicker is that my two colleagues and I had gone together to a mediator to complain about my boss’s treatment towards us and the immense stress it had on us. Still she remains employed. She would say things like we weren’t performing at our pay grade and she couldn’t trust us. Constant demeaning comments. Someone has to be held accountable for such behavior. I guess it’s more common that the victim be punished for complaining.

  5. Duncarl says:

    I thought I was all alone until I saw this website.  I work at the Federal system.  I know my supervisor doesn’t like me, and is making my life miserable.  I have often heard it said that you can never be fired from the Federal Government, it isn’t true.  A manager gets you stuck in the sight, they don’t let up.  I have tried HR, my supervisor’s boss, his boss, without sucess.  Next is EEO, which all claims have been accepted.  I am not alone.  Thank you for this website.

  6. Herstory says:

    Have been following this subject for quite some time, coming to the conclusion that workplace bullying is a form of eugenics using the work/financial well being formula instead of outright murder of the victim. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_eugenics and the impetus behind corporatization of access to resources ensures slow extingusihment of individuals whose existence a dominant group does not desire in their mist for whatever perverse reason. Simply being born and alive does not guarantee human rights under this structure of defined perceptual and systematic discrimination, its culturally embedded.

    Tactics used in the American workplace mimic those gestapo used, and in the case of women, constant harassment is aimed at dis-empowering any social advancement they have made since entering the workplace and political sphere. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_Third_Reich#The_Nazi_feminine_ideal is worth reviewing for its systematic structuring into dis-empowerment. Similarly, the ideal is close to recently expressed Republican’s ideals of where women in America should at in terms of their participation in policy setting and public status. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_Third_Reich#German_women.2C_accountable.3F : “women who are enslaved economically and morally, cannot exercise their
    freedom by being confined in the home and placed under the rule of their
    husbands.[47] Thus, we associate studies on the subject during the 1980s mainly with perceptions that women were victims of “machismo” and a “misogynist” fascism.”
    Bad policies conceived under “machismo” and a “misogynist” fascism” are instituted always for the gain of others, not because they are consensus desired, and is the most marked difference between democracy and Reich-republics. Policitcally in the USA we continue to ask “Where are the women?” and why must they adopt male behaviors to succeed in the workplace when those behaviors slay collaborative success denigrated as “socialism” in favor of anti-social, psychopathic behavior, which is rewarded.
    Changes in administration from one political party to another quickly changes the USA’s work atmosphere from one of getting things done and balancing budgets, to War, unemployment and credit crisis forcing foreclosures. The money control is the same push to prevent pursuit of freedom and well being- it is financial eugenics in action and is the catalyst factor behind todays problems of top-down bullying spilling over into our workplaces and social fabric. All of us bare witness to this on a daily basis, knowing its being effected surreptitiously without understanding the origin of the onslaught. Yet it is time to review and decry its historical roots, and prevent its further spread of destruction. The forgoing analysis is an exposure to exactly said purpose.

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