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.
- Bullied at work – and it’s not just the boss to blame (theage.com.au)
- Bullying at work shows no let up (theage.com.au)