Bullying in the Workplace

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...

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A report in The West Australian newspaper yesterday (Page 7, Wednesday June 8 2011) stated that ‘bullying and discrimination are still rife in the workplace’ and that ‘Almost a third of the 5100 workers surveyed claimed to have been bullied at work’ with more than 1 in 10 having said that ‘they had been the victim of systemic workplace abuse or intimidation’.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t surprise me.  This is why I thought I’d share part of my story, as ‘bullying’ can be atypical, and it can really sneak up on you, catching you unawares.

So here goes…

It’s strange that at the pinnacle of my career I could fall victim to bullying. I presume that this is what we call the tall poppy syndrome? When someone is doing something good, and is happy, then they obviously need to be bought down a peg or two. We see it in the cricket, in the football – Aussie culture? I certainly hope not!

After a hard slog in a male dominated team, with a serious lack of training (training? What was that?), high workloads, insane deadlines and politics galore, I was fortunate enough to win 2 company awards – the prizes being right up my alley (a travel voucher and a junket to a tropical getaway for a get together with other successful people within the company to listen to inspirational speakers). It was funny that even though I was excellent at what I did, and had great respect from customers and stakeholders alike, I had struggled with my confidence for years. I mean, my average scorecard was 10/10, and I still had confidence issues… Sudden, unexpected recognition just blew me away – I was astounded by the reactions of my associates and customers and had a sudden surge in confidence.

Of course, there is always a flip side to the story. The days, weeks and months following turned into hell at work. First, the cold shoulders and what I called ‘death glares’, followed by the snickering and gossiping. Then the team meetings – people could not talk to me without feeling the wrath from certain offenders, I couldn’t talk without getting eye rolls. I couldn’t even tell my team about the junket I had been on to share the inspiration I had gained from some amazing people, due to having to tread on egg shells. I could have handled all of those things, but then came the attempts to discredit my work, my reputation and my personality. ‘She slept her way to the top’, ‘It’s because she dresses the way she does’, ‘She’s on with all of her male colleagues’. (Now I’ve worded them all so very nicely so as not to offend but you can get the gist!!!). And some people believed them (not everyone, thankfully).

I had seen things like this happen to other successful women in the workforce, but it still came as a surprise. Perhaps it was my new-found confidence? Thinking back on it now I admit this story goes back a few more years, from when I was the shy, retiring type starting work, to when I started taking pride in my appearance, dressing in suits, doing my hair, wearing make up, talking and excelling and whatever it was I did! The rumours and innuendo probably started then. Disappointingly, it was all from women (I think that’s a whole new blog in itself!).

There were so many ways I could have handled this, and admit that exhaustion from the job did contribute to my ability to deal with the situation – but that also gave me clarity.

Some of the steps I took to deal with the issue were:

– I discussed the issues, how I was feeling, possible ways to deal with it with my Manager, and other trusted Managers;
– Attempted to discuss with the ring-leader;
– Discussed with my ‘friends’ at work (most of who had left by then – which perhaps symbolised some bigger issues in the greater company at the time – who backed me up to anyone they heard ‘dissing’ me;
– I tried blocking it out as ‘ignorance was bliss’;
– Just tried to not care.
– I didn’t feel like I could report anything. How can you substantiate gossip?

In the end I made the hardest, and easiest decision I had to make in a long time – I quit. I think what helped me to this decision was the realisation that sometimes you cannot change people, a place or a culture, and I had done all I could do there. I needed to be around people who were like me. I needed to look after myself.

I admit that I have still not found the right place for me, and have gone through a few more interesting ‘experiences’ since then, BUT I will never regretted the decision I made to leave when I did.


On Being a Red Head in the Australian Summer

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE summer, but the Australian summer is just not conducive to my hair colour and complexion

Yes, I’m a red-head, and I’m partly pasty white, and partly freckly.  I was born in Australia, and have lived here for most of my 33 years in existence. I definitely don’t fit into the atypical Aussie stereotype of blonde, blue-eyed, and tanned.

Originally, my family come from England, which may explain the hair colour and complexion. For part of my youth, we lived in a mining town, which was nothing more than scrub, red dirt, salt marshes and sun. We then moved to a farm…5 acres of ‘land’, which wasn’t much more than dried up grass (hay for the sheep), a mostly dried up water-dam, scrub and sun. At the end of my teenage years, we moved near the beach – finally WATER! And sand, surf and sun…

10 minutes in the sun where I live – which is Perth, Western Australia – sees me ‘glowing’ red, the sun having commenced its roasting process. I worried the other day when I looked in the mirror after attending a barbecue where there was a pool. I never usually swim until it is about 35 degrees, and with the prediction of 41, I didn’t hesitate to prun-ify myself. But after getting home and looking at myself in the mirror, my freckles seemed to have taken it upon themselves to get busy and breed. An explosion had occurred all over my face, with a whole lot of baby freckles as a result. Joy.

My mass-producing freckles

My mass-producing freckles

Note: For those sun-smart individuals who may want to lecture me on the perils of not ‘slipping, slopping and slapping’, I was wearing sunscreen…that doesn’t stop my freckles. Nothing does (except maybe Winter).

At the moment, the weather prediction for Perth is a solid few days of 40 degree (celsius) heat. Nothing new there. We get heat waves every Summer…In January and February, the weather prediction is hot, hot, hot, with a possible dose of humidity thrown in for good measure. More times than not though, there’s not much humidity. We here in Perth, and the greater part of Western Australia, get that dry, harsh heat, whereby the minute you step outside and breathe, you gasp from the sudden dryness in your throat, and your lungs scream from the shock of leaving cool air to something that is more like what it would be on Mars. This is possibly why I love going to somewhere like Singapore for a visit, as it’s hot AND humid.  Sure – your hair frizzes, and you sweat buckets, but at least there’s some degree of moisture, and you don’t fry after 10 minutes tackling the elements!

I could move to a place with a cooler climate. Yes I could. But I can’t even tolerate the Australian winter, which from the accounts of friends overseas is nothing. Shout out to those in the UK at the moment doing it tough! (Although I have spent winters overseas and have had no issues – that would be thanks to a thing I love called central heating).

So, I’m still in Perth, loving being warm, but not really being able to go outside. In fact, I was sitting in the car earlier today on the way to the shops to get some groceries, and I felt like a vampire, shying away from the sun’s rays that were trying to ‘kiss’ my skin.

Sometimes I do really question whether I was born in the right country!