September 28th, 2013

Let’s Talk with Kalola: Disillusioned by the Workplace

Dear Kalola,

Two months will mark the year anniversary of my disillusionment from employment. I continue to have many sleepless nights, suffer from depression and am frankly scared to even look for work. For anyone who thinks bullying is a playground taunting toward the weak or society’s outcasts – think again. It can be a subversive, calculating and cruel breakdown of a good person/employee’s belief in themselves and their abilities.

For a bit over eight years I worked in a large corporation as an Executive Assistant. For the greater part of that time I was considered one of the best – independent and proactive with unquestionable integrity. Then my organizational structure changed/grew and 4 other Assistants joined the department.

Over the course of the next two years one of these Assistants (peer) lied, set up “failure traps”, twisted my best traits into weaknesses and effectively gained the support of the other Assistants and her Executive. The mob grew fast. It was shockingly evil and efficient. And I was shockingly naive for far too long! Not until it snowballed into my PIP (performance improvement program) did I fight back. Defending myself at this point fueled the bully’s fire. Speaking with my boss put him in a difficult position with his own peers (the bully’s bosses). Bringing in HR not only was ineffective, but strengthened my reputation as a liability to the company.

After living under these circumstances for months (some incidents got quite ridiculous: one involved Ms. Bully writing an email to HR and my boss because I hadn’t put an envelope in a travel packet, breaking some unknown, unspoken and un-requested protocol; Ms. Bully actually gave my name and phone number to a police officer as a possible suspect in a crime!) I put in my resignation. My boss and I worked out a 6-week transition period so I could train a replacement and find another job within the company. By this point I was a broken, anxious, emotional wreck but I still had the hope to stay within the company. I had multiple interviews during those six weeks and for the month following my official last day that went very well, and then mysteriously disappeared.

I know there can only be two or three people in my life who actually believe this blow by blow and those are the select few of my closest friends whom I worked with and confided in at the time. My poor, dear husband and family have only seen it’s devastating affect on me.

Society will only start believing and understanding when stories like mine combine with other types of workplace bullying – education must include types, prevention, interference techniques and recovery.

Companies will only start taking workplace bullying seriously when a potentially large monetary penalty is involved – if discrimination is illegal, workplace bullying should be illegal.


Dear Teri,

Thank you for writing in and sharing your experiences in the workplace.


You were with your employer for eight years and everything was good.  Then the employer re-organized and expanded—enter new people to the office.  Your job and work life were never the same again.  You were outnumbered by the bullies who ganged up on you.


The Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) came from HR.  In reading your letter, it would appear that HR was helping management ease you out of your job.  Instead of truly helping an employee to improve, the worker is taken down a path that often leads to dismissal rather than continued employment.  There should have been a verbal warning, then written reprimands before the PIP was put in place.  You would have had or at least should have had the opportunity to respond to allegations made against you.  There should have been a follow-up meeting to see that you were on track in improving your work performance.   With an allegation of workplace bullying, HR might have taken the time to have a third-party investigate (someone who could give a fair and impartial report) to determine whether abusive conduct did occur.  The person investigating should not be a member of management or the particular office where bullying took place or HR.

The employer had an investment in you which cannot easily be replaced and that is your knowledge and experience.  It will take years before the bullies will have garnered that same knowledge and experience.  An employer cannot easily replace a worker who has good skills and abilities, knowledge and experience, a strong work ethic, who is loyal to the employer and who has integrity.


Yet, with everything that happened to you, you remained the consummate professional.  You gave proper notice to the employer of your resignation.  You also agreed to stay longer in order to train your replacement.  You attempted to transfer within the organization and even interviewed in other departments but mysteriously no transfer materialized.


Have you discussed with your primary doctor the symptoms that you described in your letter, i.e., sleepless nights, depression, and anxiety?  If not, I would strongly recommend that you see your doctor now.  Please talk to your doctor about the symptoms you have been experiencing, and what happened to you in the workplace.  Bring a list of the medications and supplements that you have been taking to your appointment.  If you were prescribed medication and it is not working for you then tell your doctor so he/she can adjust or change your medication.  Also ask your doctor for a referral to see a mental health professional who can help you to cope with what you experienced.  A mental health professional can help you to get over your fears of going back to work, and help you to rebuild your self esteem.


What is workplace bullying?  It is more than incivility, rudeness or misunderstandings.  The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines it as:  Malicious, repeated, health-harming mistreatment:  verbal abuse, threats, humiliation, intimidation, work sabotage and/or exploitation of a known vulnerability.  It prevents work from getting done, undercuts employer productivity, and harms an employee’s health.


Workplace bullying is driven by the perpetrator’s need to control the Target.  It is the domestic violence of the workplace where the perpetrator is on the payroll.  The bully chooses when, where, and how he/she will target the worker.  The intent is to cause pain and injury or distress to the Target.  It is repeated, abusive misconduct.


From the WBI website, let’s look at what Targets have reported experiencing on the job:

  • You attempt the obviously impossible task of doing a new job without training or time to learn new skills, but that work is never good enough for the boss
  • Surprise meetings are called by your boss with no results other than further humiliation
  • Everything your tormenter does to you is arbitrary and capricious, working a personal agenda that undermines the employer’s legitimate business interests
  • Others at work have been told to stop working, talking, or socializing with you
  • You are constantly feeling agitated and anxious, experiencing a sense of doom, waiting for bad things to happen
  • No matter what you do, you are never left alone to do your job without interference
  • People feel justified screaming or yelling at you in front of others, but you are punished if you scream back
  • HR tells you that your harassment isn’t illegal, that you have to “work it out between yourselves”
  • You finally, firmly, confront your tormentor to stop the abusive conduct and you are accused of harassment
  • You are shocked when accused of incompetence, despite a history of objective excellence, typically by someone who cannot do your job
  • Everyone—co-workers, senior bosses, HR—agrees (in person and orally) that your tormentor is a jerk, but there is nothing they will do about it (and later, when you ask for their support, they deny having agreed with you)
  • Your request to transfer to an open position under another boss is mysteriously denied
  • Key findings from the 2010 Workplace Bullying Institute’s U.S. survey:

    • 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand (an estimated 53.5 million American workers)
    • 62% of bullies are men; 58% of targets are women
    • Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
    • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal harassment (from 2007 survey)
    • The majority (68%) of bullying is same-gender harassment
    • •

    I’m not going to say that moving on is easy.  You were dealt terrible blows by a mean group of work hoodlums who ganged up on you.  It takes time for a person to recover from the health harm caused by working in a psychologically-abusive work environment.   Each of us is different in how long it takes to recover.  Left untreated the health-harm or health conditions can become chronic or long lasting.   The types of health harm that Targets have reported:  high blood pressure (hypertension), anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, migraine headaches, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, weight gain/weight loss, chest pain, feeling sad or depressed, as well as other symptoms.  How serious are these conditions?  For example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) calls high blood pressure a silent killer that can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.  The CDC says it is called a silent killer because there are no warning signs or symptoms.  To read more about high blood pressure go to the CDC website.   If you are experiencing a sudden severe, debilitating headache that won’t go away or are experiencing chest pains, go to your nearest E.R.

    Ten months have now passed, and you have become disillusioned about the workplace due to your experiences.  In my own experiences, I can tell you with certainty that not all workplaces are bad.  I’m not going to say that you will never encounter another work bully.  Because you have had the experience, you are more sensitized to what bullying is and you will recognize it sooner than those who have not experienced it.  Yes, the bullies did a number on you.   However, do not doubt who you are.  Believe in yourself.  Don’t let those bullies continue to cause you pain and suffering.   I don’t want you to remain stuck in that bad place where you were treated so badly.   What happened to you in the workplace doesn’t define who you are; you get to do that.

    I encourage WBI’s readers to write in and give support to those brave workers who write in and share their workplace experiences.  It takes courage to write one’s personal story.  The sharing with all of you is intended to help others, and for each of you to know that you are not alone in what happened to you at work.  If you have advice that has helped you, please share it with the person who took the time to tell their story.  Thank you so much.

    Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”   … Princess Diana





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    This entry was posted on Saturday, September 28th, 2013 at 9:00 am and is filed under Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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