I was bullied by my boss. At first it seemed like my boss was a very caring person. The start of the bullying was insidious. It was little things—she would say she did not receive emails I sent. At first I tried to understand and would apologize and send them again. I rationalized that she was very busy. Then she would blame me if she was not prepared for meetings or could not meet deadlines.
The relationship I had with her was similar to an abusive relationship. She would apologize and tell me personal stories, like a friend would. It would help make me feel secure for a while. Sometimes talking with her was easy and other times she would be angry. If something had gone wrong she would find someone to blame. If she blamed someone for something and they stood up for themselves, she would even get angrier and then it seemed she would target that person. I started to feel on edge. I felt anxious going to work wondering what she was going to get mad about.
I decided that the best way to manage her was to work hard, but try to maintain a low profile. I was drained emotionally and physically from working with her. I started to doubt myself and every time the phone rang or I heard she wanted to talk to me, I wondered what I had done wrong.
I got support from my friends, colleagues and family. I started reading about bully bosses and found out she fit the bill. I loved the work but found the negative effects on my health were too much, so I left. I have never been happier. I now have a director who has the unique ability to make everyone feel important.
What I have learned is that many others are bullied and put up with it because they may not recognize what it is, or they feel they have no other options. But, there are options. If you are bullied by co-workers or a boss you need to recognize it and learn more about it.
Are you a victim of bullying?
If so, you are not alone. Although there are no national Canadian statistics, statistics from the United States show that almost half of all U.S. workers (49%) have been affected by workplace bullying, either as a target or by witnessing abusive behavior against a co-worker. Being bullied can be devastating and affect many areas of your life. Workplace bullying can happen to anyone.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is “repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three.” It has nothing to do with work itself. It is driven by the bully’s personal agenda and actually prevents work from getting done.
How do you know you are being bullied at work?
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, here are some things you may experience:
- Your work is never good enough for the boss.
- You may find surprise meetings are called by your boss, for which you are unprepared, and which result in further humiliation.
- Everything the bully does to you undermines your work. The bully interferes with most aspects of your job.
- Others at work may have been told to stop working, talking or socializing with you. Outside contacts may have been told how inept you are.
- You constantly feeling agitated and anxious, experience a sense of doom and wait for bad things to happen.
- The bully feels justified screaming or yelling at you in front of others, but you are punished if you defend yourself.
- HR often does not interfere and tells you to “work it out between you.”
- You are accused of being incompetent, despite having a history of past excellent performance—typically by a bully who cannot do your job.
- Everyone—co-workers, senior bosses, HR—agrees (in person and verbally) that your tormentor is a jerk, but there is nothing they will do about it (and later, when you ask for their support, they may deny having agreed with you).
- Your request to transfer to an open position under another boss may be denied.
How do bullies in the workplace affect us?
Workplaces where bullying occurs may see turnover and absenteeism. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, people who are bullied may experience a range of effects, such as:
- Shock or anger
- Feelings of frustration and/or helplessness
- Increased sense of vulnerability
- Loss of confidence
- Physical symptoms, such as inability to sleep or loss of appetite
- Psychosomatic symptoms, such as stomach pains or headaches
- Panic or anxiety about going to work
- Family tension and stress
- Inability to concentrate
- Low morale, productivity and motivation
What can you do if you are bullied in the workplace?
- Recognize the bullying is not your fault. It is the bully who has the problem, not you.
- Personal confrontations with the bully are almost never productive, especially if the bully is your boss.
- Check if your employer or union has a policy or complaint resolution procedure for workplace bullying.
- Watch who you talk to and what you share. Remain professional and do not give your bully any ammunition.
- Keep records about what happened—place, date, time, persons (both those involved and those present) and what was said or done. Ensure that your records are accurate. This information may be useful later, particularly if formal steps need to be taken.
- If any form of bullying happens to you and you feel safe and comfortable to do so, make it clear to the bully as soon as possible that the behaviour is unwanted and unacceptable and that you will not tolerate it. Silence allows the bully to continue intimidating you. If you don’t say something, the harassment may get worse.
- If the bully is your boss, and you choose to speak to him or her, Jennifer Olsen, chief executive officer of Resourceful HR, says she often “encourages the employee to confront the individual directly in a non-confrontational manner by stating some of their observations and perceptions. The tone should come across as non-threatening.” Talk to the individual in private.
- Talk to co-workers. Get support. It may be difficult to bully you if you are with others. Bullies often don’t want witnesses.
- Build your self-esteem and appear self-confident. Look professional, smile and talk to others with confidence. This is important for your mental health and it communicates to the bully that you are not a target.
- Do not share personal information with your bully. Bullies will use anything they can for power, including information you share with them.
- If nothing is done about the bully and the behaviour continues, recognize what you can change. Do you want to stay in this organization and continue to have your health deteriorate? Leaving is not easy, especially if you have been with the organization for a long time; however, is it worth the pain to stay?
- Once you have left the organization or the bully leaves, let go. The passion for revenge is often overwhelming, but no one wins. There is evidence that letting go has a very healing effect. Retaliation makes you like the bully. The best revenge is living a happy, healthy life.
- If you need help do not be afraid to talk to a mental health professional. This may help you put the bullying into perspective.
- There is a lot of information about bullying at work. Stephanie Goddard has a good reference called “101 Ways to Deal with a Pain in the Butt at Work.”
Please note that health information on this website is for educational purposes and is not intended to replace advice from your physician or other healthcare professionals.
 Newman, J, 2010. Confronting Violence in the Workplace: Bullies and the Bottom Line. http://www.hrvoice.org/confronting-violence-in-the-workplace-bullies-and-the-bottom-line/
 Namie, Gary and Ruth. Workplace Bullying Institute Definition, http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/problem/definition/
 Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (2012) http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/bullying.html
 Quest, L., http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2010/12/06/never-mind-co-worker-sabotage-what-if-im-dealing-with-a-bully-boss-part-one/
 Goddard, S. available at http://www.work-stress-solutions.com/about-stephanie-goddard.html as a free download.