The experience of being bullied at work can be quite traumatising for a victim. In fact, the symptoms of bullying have been found to be similar to those associated with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD; Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2004). It is no surprise that workplace bullying does not just affect an individual but has a rippling effect through out an organisation (See infographic below). In my previous post, I talked about what bullying is and what actions are considered to be bullying in the workplace. In this post, I like to share with you a personal story about the effects of workplace bullying.
A long time ago, I landed one of my first roles in an organisation where I had the duty of helping people (I will not say more to respect the confidentiality of the company). As a Psychologist this was something I was so excited to do and felt blessed to have an opportunity to change people's lives. I started my work with a lot of enthuse and determination. After the first few weeks, I noticed a couple of colleagues disgruntled with our Manager, Lucy (name concealed for privacy) and very abruptly leaving the organisation. It was not long before my day had come…
One afternoon, I was asked by Lucy to falsify information in a particular document and sign my name to it. I felt ethical alarm bells ringing all around me. I told her politely that I could not sign the document and provide false information. She was not happy, and walked away without saying a word. It was from then when things got from bad to worse. One morning, I came into work 15 minutes late for the 2nd time in 6 months only to find a leave form on my table with a 'post-it' note telling me to fill in the time I was late. What surprised me was that my other colleagues who were frequently 30 minutes late several times a week were not made to fill up any forms. These are just a few examples. As time went on, I started to feel really depressed about coming into work. Not from the work but from having to deal with Lucy and her daily tactics. However, at that time, I told myself I had to push through as this was one of my first working experiences and I wanted to build up my skill set and knowledge. So, I carried on.
After countless incidents, I decided that I needed to do something about this. In confidence, I contacted Lucy’s manager (the Regional Manager) and Human Resources (HR) in hopes to resolve this matter. The next day, the Head of HR who works from a different site and who had never stepped into our office before, walks in. Without any notice, I was called into Lucy's office for a ‘chat’. During the meeting I shared my side of the story only to have Lucy decline everything. The Head of HR proceeded with telling me that perhaps I had misunderstood what had happened. I confirmed with him that I had not misunderstood anything and he followed up by completely ignoring what I had said. I was dumb founded and realised that I was alone in this. Feeling devastated, I left the meeting quite quickly, and knew at that point I could no longer bring myself to work for Lucy or the company. The next day, I handed in my resignation. Not long after, I was told by my one of my colleagues that I was not the first person to resign because of a situation like this and many others just like me have raised concerns and issues about Lucy. It was then that I realised that the organisation was engaged in numerous unethical activities and was one with a toxic culture.
When I left the organisation, I felt a huge relief, as if a weight has been lifted of my shoulders. As I tried to move on, it was quite a hard battle for me not having built up much experience at that time and knowing that no new employer would want to hear “I was being bullied” as a reason for leaving a job. There was also a huge emotional pain within me, and a real fear that I might experience the same thing in my next role. Thats when I started to seek counselling from a psychologist specialised in work place bullying.
After a 3 month break and several sessions of counselling, I landed a new role in an organisation with a much more supportive environment and started to build back my trust. In a strange 'karmic' way, I got a call from an ex-employee telling me that Lucy, the entire HR team, including the Regional Manager and others who were involved in unethical activities were fired (with a new CEO on board).
Thankfully I had recovered from the experience and can now share what had happened. I hope this article would shed some light for individuals and organisations; for individuals to take the ‘right’ action and for organisations to take workplace bullying as a serious issue and set up policies, strategies and actions to counter this.
The author, Bhali Gill is an organisational psychologist, executive coach, trainer and writer at Corporate Wellbeing. If you would like to contact her about the post or for any enquires please drop her an email firstname.lastname@example.org