True Story: I was bullied at work

bullied at work
A 2014 survey found that 27% of employees have experienced workplace bullying. I hope this never, ever happens to you, but if it does – know that you’re not alone. Today, Lauranne is sharing her story.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Lauranne. I am an animal nut, I love DIY and spending time with friends and family. I love food, wine, and exercise (although the exercising is mainly done so I can consume more wine!)

How did you find this job? And how did you feel about it when you started?
I remember thinking how lucky I was; I got it straight out of university; it was in the area I’d studied. I was really proud of the work I did and I felt like my job mattered. I was going to make a difference in the world and I was beyond excited.

Do you remember your first impression of your manager?
He seemed keen with a slightly dark sense of humour, but nothing that made me concerned.

I remember making a mistake on my second day. I asked a member of staff who’d been  there longer than me how to do something and he gave me the wrong instructions. I  remember thinking I didn’t really deserve to be told off quite so harshly, because I didn’t know any better. But I had made a mistake so maybe they were right to chastise me?

Do you remember the first time he bullied you? 
My manager was gone for a week and I had run the department single-handedly. I put in long hours and I was proud of how well I’d handled it.

When my manager came back, she told me she’d heard I’d spent the week goofing off and asked me to justify how I’d spent my time. I showed her everything; she was satisfied but warned me that rumours were being spread. I went to my boss with my concerns and he told me no one liked me and they didn’t think I was pulling my weight.

What were some of the things he said and did? 
It wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it. After I switched departments, my boss would blame me for issues in front of the entire office – issues that I couldn’t possibly have caused because I hadn’t worked in that department for months. I felt like every mistake was blamed on me.

How did you react to this bullying? How did it affect your job? How did it affect the other areas of your life?
Initially, I tried harder. Since my boss said people didn’t think I was pulling my weight, I worked longer hours. When that didn’t stop the (imaginary) complaints, I started skipping breaks.

I spent my entire day worried about what to do. It got so bad I started recording my every movement on scraps of paper “9am, walked into office. 9.00 – 9.02 turned on computer. 9.02 – 9.30 worked on X 9.30 – 9.35 went to the loo.” It destroyed me.

I wondered why people couldn’t see the real me. I worried that I couldn’t read situations or social cues. I started to worry that my friends were just putting up with me because they were too nice to tell me to go away.  I doubted everything and would overanalyse every situation trying to find the “real” meaning.

I stopped eating properly and only slept three hours a night. I became a different person.

What happened when you reported his behavior?
Believe it or not I never intentionally reported his behaviour. I went to my union in desperation, after being encouraged to be a colleague. She said “No matter what you do, they seem to think you never do anything right,” and that was an epiphany. Maybe I wasn’t imagining this!

The union reps told me, “It doesn’t sound like you are bad at your job. It sounds like you are being bullied.” They spoke to a manager in an adjoining department who backed up everything I said. Slowly, colleagues came forwards and voiced their support of me.

My co-workers shared stories of how they had treated and “celebrated when I was upset.” I can remember I used to bite my lip to stop myself from crying and one more than one occasion I bit it so hard I drew blood.

Are you still at this job?
No. An internal investigation was carried out, though I use that term loosely. They refused to speak to half of the people who offered to provide any evidence. In the end, they said it was just a misunderstanding, bad management. They wanted us to have weekly half-hour meetings, just me and my bullying boss, so we could work on our communication.

I refused to go back in the office and asked to be transferred. Two other managers said they would happily have me but HR refused to move me.

The department I was in was completely reshuffled, the guy who was bullying me lost his own private office and was forced to share and office with three other people, including his boss. Officially there was not a problem; there were no marks on his professional record.

It was Christmas Eve when I kindly told HR where they could shove this job.  I walked away from my career. I still feel like he won.

What books/tools/people have helped you get past this?
I blog. I got counselling when it all happened. But honestly, I’m still not over it and I’m not sure I ever will be. It’s been almost five years since this happened and I still get nervous when my current, lovely boss comes asks to speak with me. I worry about silly little things and never fully relax when I am at work. I still worry about my ability to read social cues and trust people.

What advice would you give to someone going through something similar?
Admit to yourself that it’s happening and take steps to deal with it.

I thought by pretending this hadn’t really affected me the bully hadn’t won. I pretended that leaving the career and starting over was all part of some great plan, but it’s been a struggle. Now I can admit that I was bullied and that I’m still dealing with the after-effects. I am not ashamed. The fault was not mine.

Facing what I went through head on and talking about it has helped me heal. I would encourage anyone going through this to speak out, know you are not alone and know, no matter how it may seem, the fault does not lie with you!

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Lauranne. Have any of you experienced something similar? And if you have, how did you deal with it? 

photo credit: bethany legg // cc

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  1. Charlotte

    I went through a similar, horrible experience. I also stayed way too long because I thought there was something wrong with me. I left that job and switched careers because I had so much anxiety I couldn’t even function in that type of job at different workplaces!! I eventually switched to a great career, but I still struggle with anxiety! ?

  2. anonym

    I can so relate! I never realized it was “bullying” until a new colleague asked me how I dealt with it. My boss has since had a new boss over her, and he has kept much of her bullying in check, and our working relationship has improved.

  3. AL

    I have been bullied at work. At one point, the person actually admitted to my boss that she treated me poorly and she knew it (she bullied my boss, too, so nothing happened). She had a reputation for mistreating many, but because she brought a lot of money to the company, nothing was done. I can relate to the feeling of anxiety that you carry over into your next job, and struggling with overanalyzing every little thing. It’s a horrible, exhausting thing to spend every day wondering when you’ll be leveled for something you didn’t do.

  4. Lauren

    I remember at my first proper full time job, an older woman used to bully me. She was nice at first, until she realised I wasn’t going to be her lap dog, and then she turned. She had no authority over me, yet she requested copies of my emails from the IT manager because she was convinced all I did all day was write emails (I didn’t).

    She was an awful person and the reason I quit in the end. I made a point of telling management in my exit interview that I was leaving solely because of her (a sentiment that they said had been mentioned by several other leaving staff over the past year) but she was never fired. *shrug*

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      This kind of story makes my blood boil. Why do companies do this?! It’s so, so short sighted and, honestly, such bad business. It’s really expensive to hire and train new people!

  5. Anonymous

    My heart goes out to you. I lost a 25 year career in my 50s under similar circumstances. I couldn’t believe that anyone could think I was the awful employee they needed to get rid of. I was so ashamed that I didn’t seek out any help from my union until it was years too late. The corporate culture of this place was so awful, and they have repeated what they did to me to many, man other employees. Why they think this awful treatment will get better work out of their employees blows my mind. They hired a new vice president about eight years ago who was clearly brought in to be the henchman, and he absolutely relished the role of having everyone afraid of him. Many talented folks who gave their best for decades to that company have been shoved out the door like yesterday’s garbage- it makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it.

    And the effects are lingering. I am now self employed, but every time I get a phone call from a client I expect to be interrogated over minutia and to have to defend myself. It has changed me completely, and it’s only six years later that I feel like I’m returning to the person I was before all of this. My bullshit meter works a lot better. I was starting to be treated by one of my clients in a similar way to what had happened before, and I stood up for myself, knowing I could get fired. But I won’t be treated like that again.

    The good news is that the henchman vice president got dumped, too. Poor him. He destroyed so many people…

  6. Julia

    I quit my job 9 months ago after finally admitting to myself that I’d rather make NO money than the 6 figures I was making while taking abuse from my manager. It was a high stress job already but when she told me that I wasn’t getting things done because I “just didn’t have enough life experience, like a divorce or anything” I made up my mind. I wasn’t getting things done because we didn’t have enough staff and there was too much on my plate! Like everyone else in these comments – you convince yourself the problem is with you and you’ll have these personalities anywhere you go, but guess what? Not true. I have never felt one ounce of regret for quitting even though it’s been a mentally difficult 9 months. I start a new job on Monday! Hooray!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Congrats on your new job, Julia!

  7. Grainne

    This happened to me!!!! At the time I was a trainee and needed support and guidance. Instead I was left completely to my own devices and when I didn’t produce perfect result was ridiculed and failed on modules. My university tutors all acknowledged that it was a terrible workplace and an unfit environment for a trainee BUT they did nothing. Eventually I confronted the bully and told her (even though I was hyperventilating) that I wouldn’t be working alone with her again, I involved all levels of her management and got a new mentor.

    The whole experience left me so traumatised though. When I graduated I was terrified of that field of work and convinced I was lazy and incompetent. I took a menial job but still had panic attacks on the way in that I wasn’t good enough and that people were laughing at it. 3 years on I still feel the effects, I have returned to my trained profession on a part time basis but face constant anxiety every minute because of it, I’m not sure if I will ever feel comfortable in my role.

  8. Jen

    I completely understand! The job I got right out of college was very similar! At first my boss was great, but as time went on I realized it was an extremely catty and immature environment. It was an all female organization, because it was a childcare job, and the “supervisors” where as bad as a high school clique. It wasn’t until I got pregnant, at the same time as a few other employees, and they started trying to force us to quit, that we all realized how horrible it was. we all went on maternity leave and never went back. We tried to get the labour board involved but because the organization was so small we had NO ONE to turn to. I’m sure they are still treating employees the same and unfortunately many child care employees are treated the same.

  9. MC

    Yes! Happened to me as well. The worst part was, being at a nonprofit (where I was the only employee) there was *no* HR, no one to talk to, and a remote board of directors who was disconnected from anything happening. Among other serious issues (such as sexual harassment of other individuals sharing the co-working space) my ‘review” happened, which consisted of the CEO going through each and every time I had made a mistake, he had 8 pages of items. The items were things such as: ‘Needs to smile more’, ‘Spelled the word ‘important’ wrong’, ‘Employee needs to be less straight- forward’, ‘Was not able to problem solve to fix copier/fax/printer machine in first week of employment.’ I asked for the 8 pages of BS and stuck a post-it note on the pile that said: ‘Remember as a training tool for how NOT to treat employees. Reminder to report bullying. Remember as an example of when to report, get help and stand up for self.’ Of course I’m no longer with that nonprofit. Yes, I have anxiety. On the good side, I’ve been able to give really killer advice to friends, acquaintances, and students who have sought me out for advice on professional development, workplace ethics, and standing up for ones self in professional situations as a female.

  10. Rachel

    I never wish to work for a small business again because of the bully I worked for for 5 years right after college. My boss and her husband/business partner always patted themselves on the back for being “progressive,” all the while cutting corners, hiring only attractive young women (preferably women with no intention of getting pregnant any time soon), and constantly making fun of religion (and sending out emails about attending atheist lectures). I should have left after my boss yelled at me for getting up to pee too often, but I didn’t know how to leave. I witnessed her move away from bullying me to bullying my coworkers, and then it came around to me again. I developed the worst anxiety and depression I’ve experienced to date. I was constantly getting sick. I left shortly after she wrote me up for attending a very necessary doctor’s appointment instead of staying at the office.She had a laundry list of things i’d done wrong over the course of 5 years. I wish I’d left her high and dry, but instead I put in 2 1/2 weeks so I could train someone else up no my position. Even now, 4 years later, I get anxious when a manager wants to speak with me.

  11. JessB

    It’s taken me a while to comment, because I still get anxious when I’m reminded of my own workplace bullying situations- yep, I’ve had two experiences with workplace bullies! Yuck.

    What the two situations had in common was that both bullies had been at the company, in the department, for much longer than I had, both of them were fearful women at heart, both of them were really vindictive- and both of them were well known throughout the company or the faculty as bullies. There were a lot of previous incidents, but nothing was ever put on record, and no action was ever taken against them, to try and re-train them so their behaviour was more appropriate, no performance plan to hold them to a standard of proper workplace behaviour, nothing. Many people before me had left the company to get away from both of these women, but the people in charge still didn’t want to deal with the issue.

    I learnt a lot from both experiences, though, and I am a lot stronger now when I see something that isn’t right at work- I jump on it right away!

    Now I make sure I am doing my job well, and if I have questions, I get clarification. I don’t want to give a bully genuine cause to question whether I can do my job! I take advantage of regular catch-ups with my Team Leader to get real feed-back on my overall progress and our morning team meetings to set my priorities for the day. I fully participate in the extra events that my company runs, so that people outside of my team know me and can testify that I’m really good at my job as well as being a nice person. I also made sure to be familiar with the dispute resolution process at my company, to really understand what I can do if there is a problem in the future. Phew!

    In the end, both of my experiences with workplace bullies were really horrible, and I felt so abandoned by both of the organisations I worked for. But I did learn a lot, and I’ll never let that happen to me again. I’m so glad Lauranne got out and is working towards healing. I hope you get there. You sound like a smart, competent and kind woman.

  12. Kamina

    I have a sweet story to counter all the nightmare scenarios in the comments (with which I empathise deeply and I’m glad you all shared!) A lot of you have recounted how your experiences with bullying left you traumatised and anxious at your next jobs and it reminded me of this:

    A former housemate of mine had been bullied by her family and really struggled with self-worth and believing she could do well in any kind of situation. When she got her first full-time job and moved out of home for the first time (to live with me), she told me that every time the boss called her into his office, she was terrified and thought he was going to fire her.

    She must have told a couple of people this because it got back to her boss somehow. He’s a really sensitive guy with a sense of humour. He started calling her into his office every 45 minutes. Just to chat or compliment her work or for no reason at all. It got to the point where it was weird how often he was calling her in and it was kind of a running joke around the office (I think her colleagues got it before she did). Eventually the boss told her he figured he’d better keep calling her into his office and not firing her over and over until she got desensitised and learned that she didn’t need to be scared when he called her.

    I thought that was great!

  13. April taylor

    I work in a after school club , I have been working there for three years plus ,now and last year I got shouted at by my co-ordinator / manager twice in front of adults and twice infront of children . I put in a grievance last year to the chairman and got no reply I sent another , I told him I was keeping a diary and I was going to the care inspectorate next if I got no response . I contacted the care inspectorate and I also whistleblew both the shouting infront of children and our numbers were over our registered number . After our inspection and a very bad inspection report I was faced with all the staff three , all ignored me and called me clip etc they still make sarcastic comments not directly at me but meant for me . I had a meeting with the chair just after the inspection and he promised me a meeting a month after .No meeting ! My manager was refusing me to have hosp appointments and as I have ms it was effecting that bringing on relapses . My job is threatened regularly saying things like you would have had three warnings by now and that’s a saccable offence etc , i am going through hell at the moment but I’m holding my own ! My mothers stubborn nature and my belief in rules is driving me on , why should I leave? They are are fault not me ! I have joined unison and my meeting with the manager and my representative is next week , my unison rep got in touch with him and arranged the meeting as my manager would not give me his contact details ? I wonder why ? I am constantly getting badgered and belittled making the children disrespect me and things that are said infront of them are effecting them greatly . So wish me luck ! Please all off you stay strong and do not let the bullies win !

    • Barbara Taylor

      I bullied a girl at my office and got her fired. I was going through a divorce and didnt care. She eventually started emailing me after she was fired and said some pretty mean things to me. I called the police on her and got her in trouble with the law. I hope karma doesn’t get me. But I think it will.

  14. Amanda

    I was bullied at work by a girl who was upset that I replaced another employee who I never even met. She sabotaged my work. She lied about me at work. She set me up at work. Like a cancer, she spread her hatred to the other employees. When I confronted her she told me that it had nothing to do with me, but that she was upset that I replaced a fellow co-worker and she was still pissed about it. That’s how insane and irrational bullying is. When I informed the owner, he told me that he had other employees quit because of her. In other words, he knew what kind of person she was, what she had done in the past, and how detrimental someone like that was to his business. The problem was that he couldn’t fire her. She was fucking his partner. I left that job and got a job that I loved. That place went out of business and she was dumped by the partner (married as it was). The last I heard she couldn’t find a job (which is what happens when the only real skills you have is spreading your legs), and she was living in her car. Karma is a bitch.

  15. Carmen

    I have an easy solution for stopping bullies at work. This is a last resort. Besides documenting it (audio and video, if possible) go to the boss and tell them who is bullying you. Then drop a bomb on the boss. Tell him this happened to a friend of yours and that they sued the business and won a substantial amount in a settlement because businesses have a legal obligation to make a safe working environment for their employees. Then drop another bomb, and tell him you have been documenting it, audio and video, and your friend’s lawyer now has all that information that you will not hesitate to have him use to initiate a suit against the business, unless he/she make that person stop. Believe me, money, or rather the loss of it, is the only thing a business is going to understand. It is better to say this happened to a friend of yours rather than yourself, otherwise the boss might just think you are a perennial troublemaker. Also, as soon as someone tries to bully you, call them out. If it doesn’t stop, do the last resort above.

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