In this Trump era, it seems as though bullying has become a more prevalent practice. As a child, I was told that I was too sensitive and being made fun of regularly should not have been an issue. When I became an adult and became employed in the corporate world, I had to learn very quickly to develop “thick skin”. However, I never anticipated working in a culture in which bullying and harassment were not only tolerated, but accepted. From speaking to many of women about this issue over the past several months, the stories of this type of treatment are appalling, especially in cases were the bullies were other females. Sadly enough, in my situation, the environment was a large law firm (go figure!).
In the beginning, I had a fairly good relationship with my manager. I would laugh and joke with her (my usual self), provide feedback in meetings, and work extra hours to complete all of my assignments. You know, proving myself from the start. But, there was one thing that I, as well as everyone else in our small department, could not ignore – the high turnover.
I began working at the firm in January, during year-end close (those in the finance world understand how incredibly stressful and hectic this time of the year is). In addition, three other employees started within 3 months earlier. There were only six permanent employees, one part-time employee, and two employees that split their assignments between our department and legal assistant duties (they were located outside of the area near their attorneys). For the department to be so small and recently hired four new people was a HUGE red flag!
After a few weeks of getting acclimated, a few of my co-workers began to express a certain obvious character trait of my manager – she could become incredibly snarky at times. One of my co-workers and I had chatted about having been in leadership positions before and understood how demanding the role could be. However, I was also wise enough to know that managing people requires a certain interpersonal skill set. Certain people, regardless of level of intelligence or knowledge, are only equipped with managing processes…not people. To be an effective manager (or leader, although there is a difference) you need to master both. It didn’t take long to realize my manager was unequipped.
The office gossip followed. I learned about an employee who had worked for years in this department and left because of how my manager treated her. Then there were about two more who did the same, while one was terminated. She even frightened off one of our high school student interns! All of this happened in less than a year. It was disturbing to know, but I tried to stay focused on my new role. I figured I would excel, nonetheless, due to my knack of building great relationships with attorneys (which was essential for my position) and my 13+ years of experience.
Soon enough things unravelled. A month after I started, one of the newly hired employees abruptly left without notice. Before the end of the next month, another one gave notice. That now makes six employees from the department that left the firm in a year. At this point, it should have been VERY clear to leadership that there was a serious issue. And the root of this issue was not a lack of understanding a process or a skill, but poor management. We live in a world in which disgruntled employees take matters into their own hands. Thereby not handling the matter sufficiently (or in this case, at all) could serve as a possible threat to the safety of employees.
I realized this firm was not a good fit. My manager’s tone and words were derogatory, her mood shifty from one moment to the next, and she was the pettiest micro-manager I had ever reported to. However, once I told her I was overwhelmed (for the 4th time) and made an alternative suggestion regarding her shifting my workload, it was taken as undermining her authority. Then the real fun began!
This woman worked overtime at assassinating my character. She harassed me, removed assignments, falsely accused me to HR, would not allow me to train employees, not delegating my work when I took off more than a couple of days, and spoke to me like a piece of garbage when we were the only ones in her office. She would manipulate HR by stating how great of an employee I was so she couldn’t understand why I was having a hard time there. This contradicted my earlier statement, but for some reason, HR wouldn’t investigate.
She could never prove anything, although I did in writing. Nonetheless, HR was biased towards her. Regardless of how hard I fought it as an exercise in futility. Not only did I HATE going into that office, but the stress had impacted my health – physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. It was so bad that my son would text me every day to check on me and call within minutes if I had not responded. Worse yet, my manager was fully aware that I needed this job, post-divorce, to care for my son. I believe that made it even more a thrill for her. Since workplace bullying is not illegal (definitely a form of misconduct) I decided to fight back – the smart way!
This is what I did early on:
- Looped HR in (although the person I reported her to was of very little support)
- Documented everything!!!
- Sought therapy using EAP
- Applied for internal and external opportunities
- Informed her when she was being disrespectful (although that made her more vicious)
- Scheduled an appointment with the EEOC
- Wrote down my experiences in a journal
- Bcc’ed myself on important emails
- Participated in a prayer group
- Rarely engaged with or reciprocated in dialogue with her, unless necessary
- Researched the firm’s policy on bullying
- Recognized the relationships she had with leadership
Here are some ways to identify if you are experiencing workplace bullying:
- Constant harassment (verbally, electronically, etc.) even if unprotected by the law
- Spoken to in an offensive tone and words
- Treated unfairly or constantly being targeted
- Given a different set of instructions/directions than your colleagues on the same process
- Threatened with job loss
- Passed over for promotions or internal opportunities that you are qualified for
- Ignored (in presence, email, etc.)
- Your feedback is not valued
- Intentionally not delegating your assignments when you are off for more than a couple of days
- Passed accountability on you for issues that are her/his fault
- Falsified statements about your character, performance, attendance, or other areas of your jobs (even without documentation)
- Demeaned you in team meetings
- Passive aggressively complimented you to HR to give the perception that You are really the problem
- Known personal issues of unhappiness that get manifested in the workplace (i.e. divorce)
- Spoken poorly about you to colleagues and forms an alliance with them
Characteristics of a workplace bully include:
- Low self-esteem and highly insecure
- Feels threatened by your knowledge and experience
- Can be indignant and condescending (and possibly throws tantrums)
- Uses his/her position for power and authority instead of influence and development
- Tries to intimidate
- Incredibly petty
- Constantly needs ego stroked
No one deserves this form of unhealthy, toxic treatment in the workplace! Every organization has a responsibility (and obligation) to provide a safe working environment for all of its employees.
I initially believed that reporting directly to her was not a good fit. After experiencing how HR tolerated her behavior and would not investigate, I knew the firm, itself, was not a good fit. I would not advise anyone to stay at such a hostile working environment beyond the time necessary. Be very cautious not to move from the pot to the frying pan. Once you find that right opportunity, leave on the first thing smoking!