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A blog a day in March: On bullying

March 1, 2012
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I’m doing a little challenge. It’s a blog a day in March. Let us begin!

Today, it’s what’s on my mind. It’s a bit of a heavy. But it’s where I’m at!

On bullying.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bullying this past week. Off the back of Kevin Rudd’s contest for Prime Minister I suppose.* But other things weighed in too.

Many years ago I had a boss I would now consider a bully. I wasn’t a model employee, I’ll put that out there first up. And she was not a model boss.

A classic mean girl, she pulled staff members into her confidence (usually to bitch about other staff members, but sometimes to discuss shoes. One of these things is ok). Whoever was absent at the time was a target. There were many other passive-aggressive traits but that was probably the kicker. Everyone (especially other women) deep down was aware they had to watch their back.

I’m not adverse to challenging conditions. I’ve worked in law firms and dog pounds (yes not much different, except in one there’s lethal injections). I’m happy to work 24 – 48 hours for an organisation or individual. It’s when the culture is sullied for no good reason that I get upset about the injustice of it. I wouldn’t excuse bullying by someone who was under pressure anyway, but in this case it wasn’t even that. It was a habit. A habit which affected the whole team.

Towards the end of it my confidence was shot, I was incredibly unproductive (not that there was much work, but that’s another story) and I was incredibly sad. I was having anxiety attacks. I was short of breath at work so it sounded like I was ‘sighing’ all the time. Really my chest constricted and I felt like I couldn’t breath. I don’t say this for sympathy, but rather to paint a picture and to say if you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone.

So many of us stay in jobs where the culture is completely wrong because we’ve come to a point where our confidence is so low we don’t think we can get another job. Go for another job. If for no other reason than to find out for sure. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised. (You may even be worth more money than you think. Wouldn’t that be worth finding out?)

Keep a record of behaviours you find inappropriate – dates, times, quotes and how it made you feel. You may not use it, but putting it down and letting it go has value. When you can, take a step back and observe the moments rather than absorbing them.

The other side of bullying (if you’re not one of the parties involved) is how it affects the workplace culture. Bullies lower the bar for everyone’s behaviour. They make every workplace safety/anti-bullying/positive culture sign, training course and policy a farce. They cause illness. They impact negatively on productivity.  They get away with it.

The fact is in many professions bullying is accepted by employers. Individuals are sheltered by partners or owners because they meet budgets or network well to the outside world. It’s not ok. I don’t have an answer. I know lots of bullies who have stayed in their jobs for many years. Often they’re the ones who can’t get another job because their reputation precedes them.

Years after I had the above experience I went for a job in the arts. I was excited. I dropped perhaps a quarter of my salary to take it. And there was a bully. The other girls told me they went home crying most nights for the first six months they worked there, but then they got used to it. I stayed two weeks. The manager of this person was aware of her behaviour. It was just inconvenient to him to do anything about it. And if staff were happy to stay, really what impact did that have on him?

I can’t control another person’s behaviour. I can’t control the bully or their enablers.

What we can control is where we set our boundaries. Let’s start there.

For more information on bullying, there is this website.

*I don’t know enough about this to comment, but the fact that so many people didn’t want to work for him, and the comments about his management style got me thinking in general about workplace culture.

Working in a pound is harder than working for a bully. True story. (image: petrescue.com.au)

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