If you look at the forms of workplace bullying listed in Bullying (10): Workplace Bullying, you know that almost everyone who works for others has been somehow bullied at work. The expectation to stay at work late has increased in the last 20 years so much that when you talk to people about getting home on time to be with their kids, they are 100% convinced that leaving work at 5pm (as they should do) will threaten their job, their career and their financial situation.
17 years ago, when we lived in California, all my women friends said their husbands returned home at 8pm, barely had a chance to kiss the kids goodnight and only spent weekends with the family. For everyone – the wives, the kids and the workers – that was part of life and they felt they had to accept it.
I have to say that most of my life, I worked for private places that used my services as a consultant and paid me well, so I did not experience this much, but Gal’s last year of employment was so demanding that he came home at 5:30, had dinner with us, put the kids to bed and sat at his computer from 8pm until midnight for more work. In the last 3 months of his work, he lived like this on weekends too. He worked about 14 hours every day of the week. His workplace asked him to document things and promised him that when he was done, they would move to another office and he would have the promotion they had been talking about for over a year, but a week after they moved to the new office, they told him that they were downsizing and escorted him out of the building. The promises turned out to be blackmail. He had lots of knowledge and for 3 months, he was bullied into documenting his knowledge and work overtime. It was not human.
As with children bullying, there are other players in workplace bullying and by joining the bully or not supporting the bullied victim, they all help increase the bullying phenomenon at work and risking that one day, they will be the victims. What they do not take into consideration is that they are bullied by fear too.
Situations at work that create victims
- Being new at work (makes you vulnerable)
- Being different somehow
- Getting a new manager
- Getting into a conflict with a bully
- Being at the wrong place at the wrong time (witnessing something that puts the bully at risk of you exposing them)
- When the previous victim has left the company and you are the next easy target
- Being successful, which makes the bully jealous of you
- Having no social skills – bullies use social pressure
- Feeling needy for the job (vulnerable)
- Doing anything to avoid conflict – bullies seek weakness, so if they know someone is threatened by conflicts, they will use it as a weapon to gain power
- Supporting someone else who is being bullied – puts you immediately in the victims’ camp
- Being physically injured
- Being emotionally vulnerable because of personal circumstances – again, it may be perceived as being exposed and used for blackmail.I have a friend who works at a lab for a government organization. The pay is so low she works 6 days a week and she cannot take a day off, because there are not enough people in the lab. She needs to book time off 3 months in advance. She is eligible for many days off, but she cannot take them.When I asked her to go and talk to her manager, she said, “I have and she told me, ‘You don’t like it, go somewhere else!'” When I told her it was illegal, she smiled and said, “Ronit, you are so naïve. They pay so little that only needy people work there and they know we need the money”.To be able to spend more time with her kids (a 5-year-old and a 12-year-old) and avoid leaving them unsupervised, she is bullied into working the early morning shift, which means leaving the house at 4am, forcing her husband to take care of the kids in the morning and coming back at 10:30am.This way, my friends see the kids in shifts, because he comes back late and she already goes to bed at 8pm.
- Having a position that others find threatening, so they try to bully you out of your position (manager, boss, union representative, etc). I was once in this sort of threatening position, which got me into a conflict with the bully in power. I was studying Special Education at the time and as I was a very good organizer and a social leader, I became the class representative.Throughout the year, everything went smoothly and I did a great job representing my class.One of our teachers was the head of the Special Education department, which was an excellent department. She was old, on her way out and when she taught, she was all over the place. She used many foreign words and at the end of every class, we did not always know what the topic was. All that time, we thought we did not understand her because we were still in our first year. We never thought it had anything to do with her teaching style.
One day, she came to class and said, “Prepare for a test”. We asked, “We don’t really know what were you are teaching us”, and she said, “You know what? I will take one of your notebooks and base my test on it. She called one of the girls and asked for her notebook, but that girl did not want to give her notebook, because it was all a mess and without anything that would make sense, so she said, “I’ll give you my notebook in a week”.
This girl, who happened to be my best friend, went home, researched every topic that was mentioned in her notebook, made a new notebook with extensive research and description of every word written in her old messy workbook and gave it to the teacher. She was my best friend, so I had a chance to look at it before she handed it in.
The teacher assumed we all had similar notebooks, so she wrote multiple-choice questions based on that girls’ notebook. When we came to the test, we saw about 50 questions and the only thing we could do is guess the answers.
When the test was over, the class erupted like a volcano. Everyone was very upset they did not know the answers and had to guess. When they asked that girl to see her notebook, they realized what had happened. The corridors were on fire for about two weeks, after which I was asked to go to the teacher, represent my class, say we would like to sit for the test again and explain that our notebooks did not have all the information. So I did.
As a representative, I had good relationships with all my teachers, including that one, so I went to see her and asked on behalf of all the students to have another test, because that test was not a reflection of our knowledge but our ability to guess.
The teacher was not happy and said to me, “You had a very good guess then, because you had 43 correct questions”. I knew I had guessed and as a representative, I could not back off, so I said, “I’m happy I did well, but I’m afraid it is not based on knowledge”.
Apparently, that girl and I got good grades, but the rest of the class failed, so the head of the department had to give us another test. This time, everyone copied that girls’ notebook and most of the students passed the test.
Still, the teacher was not happy at all and a month later, she handed me a letter (from the department) saying that because of my low grades, I would not be able to continue my studies at the college.
I was tormented for a whole month, until I woke up and said to myself, ” I have the best grades in the whole class. I have submitted 4-5 projects with an average of 98% and sat for 8 tests with an average of 95%”. I went to Student Services to ask about this letter, where I discovered she had written it herself with the hope that I would pack my things and leave.
Well, going to Student Services made it worse. The manger said to me, “Leave this to me. You have upset her somehow. Don’t worry and please, please stay out of her way and don’t talk about it to anyone”.
Eventually, I continued my studies and the teacher left her position and got a side job supporting other teachers for another year before she was kicked out at the end of my second year. I did not choose to represent my class anymore and until the last year of my studies, no one else did.
By not stopping bullying it at work, we make sure it will spread outside of work into people’s personal life and will make them bullies in an attempt to gain some of their lost power.
In the next chapters, I will describe what we can do as a society to help all the players in the bullying game, stop the bullying cycle and hopefully live in a better world.
This post is part of the series Bullying:
- Bullying Facts and Myth
- Bullying Statistics are Scary
- What is NOT Bullying?
- Types of Bullying
- Why Do People Bully?
- Victims of Bullying
- Bullying Bystanders
- Home of the bully
- Home of the bully (2)
- Workplace Bullying
- Workplace Bullying (2)
- How to Help Bullying Victims
- How to Help Bullying Victims (2)
- How to Help Bullying Victims (3)
- How to Help Bullying Victims (4)
- How to Help Bullying Bystanders
- How to Help Bullying Bystanders (2)
- How to Stop Workplace Bullying
- How to Stop Workplace Bullying (2)
- How Workplace Bullying Bystanders Can Break the Cycle
- How Organizations Can Stop Bullying
- How Organizations Can Stop Bullying (2)
- Bully Parents
- How to Stop Parental Bullying
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (2)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (3)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (4)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (5)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (6)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (7)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (8)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (9)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (10)
- How to Stop Parental Bullying (11)
- How to Stop Bullying with Empathy: The Story of Two Apples