Workplace bullying: It happens, it sucks, and here’s what you can do

Guest post by Christina
Stop bullying image from Etsy seller SVG Originals
Stop bullying image from Etsy seller SVG Originals

Did you know that at any given time, 10% of adult workers are being bullied on the job? Or that around 30% of us will be targets of bullying at some point during our careers?

I was the target of workplace bullying. I had been a great employee; I was even awarded Employee of the Month! After awhile, I became the person who knew the job inside and out, and could do it in my sleep. I was a little bored, but competent and content. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, targets are usually independent, ethical, nurturing, “‘go-to’ veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance.” That was me in a nutshell.

In 2003, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik defined a cycle of Employee Emotional Abuse (aka bullying). Here’s how that exact cycle played out in real life…

The 6 stages of workplace bullying

STAGE ONE: Initial incident
This could be anything, including being hired into a new position. The bully may be jealous, feel threatened, feel you wronged them in some way, or be experiencing turmoil in their personal life.

I believe the incident that triggered my bully was when my coworker had a last-minute opportunity to take an international trip the same week I that had taken off for a trip. He asked to switch our time off, and, after I said no, he started treating me differently.

STAGE TWO: Progressive discipline
This is the stage when abuse becomes normalized because the abuser is in a position of power, and technically behaving legally.

In my case, my coworker was eventually promoted to shift lead, and treated me like I was incompetent — overreacting to small mistakes (even those which I quickly and easily fixed without incident). Nothing I did could please him.

STAGE THREE: Turning point
This is where it gets personal. Abuse is repetitive, and events are reframed by the abuser so targets are made to seem like the problem.

When I confronted my coworker about the issues I was having, he made me feel like the bad guy with responses like, “No one else has a problem with me, so it seems like you’re the one with a problem.” I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me. I sometimes felt like I was losing my mind.

STAGE FOUR: Organizational ambivalence
The target informs management or Human Recourses, who either steps in and confronts the bully, mediates the situation successfully, or does not help at all.

In my case, it was the latter. I mentioned to the manager that I was having trouble working with a coworker, and they told me that I needed to learn how to work with people. Because most of his infractions were minor, I was accused of overreacting. I started to wonder why should I care about the company when the company doesn’t care about me?

STAGE FIVE: Isolation
Feeling alone, like there is no one to turn to. Your family and friends, at this point, may even get sick of it and tell you to stop complaining.

I dreaded going to work on days when I knew that one coworker was there. Some nights, I was so stressed I had trouble sleeping. I hated my job and wanted to quit, but had nothing else lined up. I didn’t want to say anything to coworkers, because I didn’t want them feel like they had to pick sides. At least I had emotional support of friends and family.

STAGE SIX: Expulsion
The target leaves by transferring, quitting, or being fired.

I was eventually terminated. After the initial shock and sadness wore off, I was absolutely relieved. I don’t believe I was let go on rightful terms, but part of me didn’t care. I don’t know whatever happened to him, as I lost touch with all my former coworkers, so the cycle may have restarted after I left.

So… what do you do if you are being bullied?

Speak up:

Speak to someone above the abuser or someone in HR. Put it on record. A friend in HR told me that her company conducts anti-bullying training during orientation, and that many people do not realize when they turn into “Mean Girls.” Employees have complained and she has intervened several times with success.

Get educated:

Have you experienced workplace bullying? Did it seem to follow those stages? Did anything solve the issue?

Comments on Workplace bullying: It happens, it sucks, and here’s what you can do

  1. This hasn’t happened to me, but it did to my uncle. He was an oil rig worker at the time, there was no official way to get help, and he ended up leaving the job because he became injured. It was terrible, I remember how ashamed he was; it took him a while to recover emotionally. Thanks for writing this.

    • Recently, I changed jobs because of workplace bullying.
      Last year, I had an accident and was off for two months. During my time off, they had three different people try to fill in one particular job and all three quit or transferred out because the work was simply “too hard”. So, when I returned to work, the job I had was filled by another and I was placed in a job no one wanted. I was assured that I would be returned to my old job as soon as they hired a replacement.
      During this time, the workplace bullies showed up. The first guy, on a major day of business, showed up drunk and hungover and could not fulfill his obligations on his position. He just kind of sat down and hung out. His work was substandard, at best.
      I filled in and made the job work , not saying a word. Just doing my job. My boss thanked me for doing a good job.
      After this incident, this person became more and more prideful over simply accomplishing his job. Patting himself on the back, bellowing his “simple” accomplishments, but yet, seemed to be needing assistance and then saying “I knew that”.
      The new H/R person became the apple of his eye, greeting her and asking her day was going. This situation greatly disturbed me because behind her back he was saying how “he would get with her”. I played it off and told him bluntly that the H/R dock is not one to fish off of.
      We were both nominated for EOQ for the time period. For the most part, I was working incredibly efficiently at my new post, often leaving early by an hour with everything done. We were offered more work for our unit and I chose one thing because my boss had already assigned me 2 other things. So it had three new things to my job and I was still managing my section very thoroughly and efficiently, basically still getting off with an hour left.
      Meanwhile, the bully was not happy. His section was slower and was forced to to take time off along with the others in their section. He spoke to the supervisor about how unfair it was that I had two new things on my job list and he had three things. The supervisor confronted me and dragged me out in public about this. He raised his voice and said “did i think it was fair that I had two items while others had three” I told him he should ask the person who made the task list up. The bullies laughed thinking it was funny.
      A couple of weeks pass and I was assigned a very labor intensive task along with the other tasks I was already doing. ( There went my hour. )
      A couple more weeks pass and suddenly it was my job to make sure that a task anyone could do was now my responsibility to make sure it was done every time. The entire time, the bully (the drunk) was playing passive aggressive with the H/R person complaining about how things could be better if i applied myself. (with what? I have no time)
      Suddenly my job wasn’t good enough for the head of my department. Suddenly, I could not do my job and after being out for a year from section, i was supposed to pick up where I left off (after they changed the standard and the items) and do the other job and be evaluated.
      My boss, who doesn’t like working his regular days off, (he needs to get over it), suddenly looks at me and says how i can’t do my job anymore. (new bully)
      But somehow, someway, I got nominated for EoQ again after all this.
      One week, I thought i had weathered a storm. There was situation, beyond anyone’s control, where I had to work and stay local because people could not get to work. My boss changed my day off three times in one week (one day off). I thought I had made the turn and maybe I had weathered the storm.
      Suddenly, my boss begins micro managing me and finally drags me aside and tells me this going to happen and it is not subject to compromise. He tells me what do and if i don’t like it “I can quit”… so I did.
      I did something I swear would never do. I walked out of a job. Left 2 weeks of vacation pay on the table, but i kept my sanity, I kept my self worth and i kept my pride.
      Within 48 hours, I found another job with better pay, better benefits and less stress. The bullies? i am sure by now they have figured out what I was doing and now, have to do it.

    • I worked as a data entry person in the customer service department of a small local publishing company for sixteen years. Most of my years working there were good ones, but when another supervisor was brought into our department to reflect certain changes that were happening in the company in general, things began to go downhill, quite rapidly.

      The new supervisor was as tough as nails, ingratiating herself with people by being super-bubbly, friendly and complimentary. In reality, there was another agenda, because what this new supervisor did was to break down people’s defenses, affectively get them to confide in whatever had gone on with them in their lives, and then make an about-face and treat them miserably. To make a long story short, three people out of the six people in our department that were left there by the time all this stuff really started going on, ended up filing grievances.

      With the help of my union, I was able to get a good severance package, with some retraining money and a letter of reference (from another supervisor who’d been there longer than the new supervisor who came in.), and severance pay. I used the money to go to Piano tuning school, and some other stuff, so I bought some time and learned a new skill. Another woman in my department left for San Francisco, CA, with her partner. Still another woman who was bi-racial, did an MCAD (Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination) case, which, unfortunately, got denied. She stayed on for afew more years, and then, one evening, shortly before midnight, she called me to say that the whole Customer Service department and Accounts Receivable department, as well, was being laid off. So was the new supervisor.

      I was more than happy to leave a sinking ship, and I still keep in touch with and occasionally see the woman who’d done the MCAD case, and been denied. I was only too glad to leave that workplace. I’d filed a formal complaint, because I had no choice, but I feel that I’m a stronger person (even though it’s years later) for having stood up for myself.

    • HR is never, ever your ally in a bullying matter, ESPECIALLY if the bully is a supervisor or manager. It’s HR’s job to protect management from bullying lawsuits, and the bigger the company, the more powerful HR and their company lawyers will actually coach the bully on how to legally terminate you by due process…write you up for minor infractions, such as, answering the phone in 4 rings instead of 3. Having supervisor speak to other employees about you in a negative way and asking that they help to watch you and let the supervisor know if you do or say anything…supervisors will often give peers the ok to treat the target with disresepct or egg the target on by saying something derogatory about their appearance, work, etc…and when the target speaks out or tries to tell the supervisor, the supervisor marks this as an inability to get along with others (who will back this). HR will say none of this is anything they can do anything about, because its nothing illegal. Its legal for a supervisor and staff to set you up, I had people in the office taking my work off my desk and nobody would know where it went…then the supervisor would ask me where I was at with that one piece of paper. When I admitted it was missing, I was blamed for losing it. Then, the next day, it was sitting on my computer keyboard in the AM. The supervisor said she had no idea how it got there and didnt care. She fired me the next day for an minor error I made. But she had trails of things like this she had schemed out. It was devastating , I had just transferred to this department after 14 years w the company and had no idea anything like this was even possible. I recvd my unemployment. Its been a year and I have put in over 300 applications locally and 100 out of state and have not so much gotten a phone call. I interviewed at a new store opening at petco part time for $8 an hour, thought it went very well, but no call. I was making $21 an hour. Moral of story, one bully can easily and swiftly destroy a 14 year career in less than 5 months. I am living proof.

      • Omg Rebekah,I’m sorry to hear that. I went through similar process, but it was not that fast. I worked for a CA state university. My sup. was projects-obsessed and wanted me to do rigorous projects besides my every day routine work (which was a lot already). When she saw me I couldn’t do it she wanted to dump me. In order to fire me she had to write me up, etc. which she did. She wanted me to suffer, she enjoyed it and she was giving me to do projects that she knew it’s not possible to do. Basically a set up for a failure in order to fire me. The union guy did not really help me a lot. I was lucky to find another job before she had the chance to fire me. The union guy even told her where I am going to work. Can you believe it?

        Sent from my LG V10, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

      • Hi,
        I have had the same experience in two different places. In both situations, I chose to leave which made issues worse. I am moving into another position and understandably concerned about this happening again. Do I let my new supervisor know what happened? How do I deal with co-workers? I have this attitude of minding my own business and not reading meanings into situations but have found out that in previous instances of workplace bullying, no one said anything to me directly, everything was done with mean spirited comments which could be explained away as part of normal conversation so you are accused of over-reacting/mental instability etc. What was incredible was how they acted like two headed snakes, smiling all the time time yet saying vile things to you. It’s always a double bind. If you react it’s documented as evidence meanwhile they are free to disrespect you. It’s almost like once they (bullies and their cronies) decide that you are too much of a threat to them they spend every waking moment micromanaging and making sure they torment you enough for you to either leave or get fired, all because what they really want is to do a lot of CYA. It’s a shame.

      • I’m in the same situation, and facing providing for my children alone while going through a divorce with no support money from soon to be ex. Not only did she wrongfully fire me ending my income, but I lost my health insurance which was part of my job. I have no doubt she enjoyed doing this, just as she enjoyed creating reasons to find fault with me and put me down- so long as she had an audience. She also put other employees down the second they walked out of the room. She is an abusive person and not just at work. Did you ever find new work, and if so, how? If you tell a new possible employer the truth about the bullying boss, the tend to doubt you.

    • I experienced a similar situation to this when working for a regional supermarket chain. I seemed to be singled out and targeted by numerous people who spent more time focusing on my job performance than on their own. They’d always put me down as this “terrible worker” often calling me a “slacker, or goof off” and often making cracks about my weight-appearance within ear shot although not directly to my face. They’d complain about me to managers saying I was “doing a piss poor job.” Oddly, I was never spoken to, disciplined or reprimanded by managers about my job performance. And after nearly a year, I eventually took a different job and left on my own accord. I really had no idea what their problem was with me or why they tried so hard to put me down and see to it I was gotten rid of.

      • I find people in positions of power in general tend to abuse that power. Look at how many students are bullied by teachers and school administrators. I recall many times being told “It’s my word against yours who do you think they are going to believe?” It was never anything sexual or inappropriate on that level, but still having someone single you out and lambaste you in front of an entire class and not really having any recourse is not very much fun. One teacher often felt that certain students were “not living up to their full potential” and instead of speaking to them privately, she’d say things of this nature in front of an entire class. She once chewed someone out because their mother was actively involved in their education to the point of calling up teachers (including her) to complain. She implied and outright stated that this person was a “mommies boy” and that his “mother was not always going to be around to fight his battles for him.”

  2. This is happening to my husband…we are fighting it, but his managers are useless and part of the problem! The only way out is for him to leave. We are just sick of it, it’s caused six months of the most horrific depression I’ve ever seen

    • This happened to me. Every single step. I went as far as the corporate HR office (each division has a middle-man HR department to help with the work load). I was told that the manager was always right regardless of being wrong LOL. How backasswards is that? I ended up having to find a new job and took a pay cut (big big pay cut) just to get out of there.

      I hope your husband gets the help he needs and that his management gets some kind of reprimand. I never got justice. My former boss is still bullying people around. It just makes me sick,

  3. I have watched my husband live through this and I have had a position that was less than stellar. It is key to keep as much paper trail as possible. Record any incident that happens. Take detailed notes. I really feel for anyone experiencing this because so often it is treated as nothing. It sucks to feel like you aren’t valued or protected by the people you are supposed to value and protect. The biggest thing is to be honest with yourself about the culture of your workplace. Is this just part of the culture? It was for my husband. It was a toxic work environment and once he realized that and left, he was way healthier and happier. @Jess, I totally hear you on the depression it can cause. My husband was in that situation too. Anxiety and depression.

  4. Sadly, I was also in a similar spot. A coworker was hired because she was liked by one of the higher ups and treated like her daughter. She was a terrible employee that looked to get out of every task given to her despite it being obviously in her job description, pushing blame on everyone else all while being a royal jerk at all times. She was so bad and she knew it, that when I confronted her personally on it, she said “I’m going to make your life miserable”.

    Unfortunately since she was treated like a higher up’s daughter, there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it. Reporting her to several managers got the tears flowing about “how she doesn’t know why no one likes her”. Or how she was somehow able to turn her repeated and incredibly loud cussing storms while I was on the phone with clients into my fault.

    After 2 years working there, I got awfully sick due to stress from hating to come in work. After missing 5 weeks worth of work (which I couldn’t afford) with a doctor’s note, I was called by a supervisor and told that “we have to work something out” to which I was pushed to quit. I still wish I sued that place simply to call her out on her crap and the weird abuse of power that was being thrown around.

  5. I’ve been going through this for 6 years. Unfortunately jobs are slim in my industry, I can’t quit and get a new job. Im actually working on getting my degree so I can make a sideways move to another department away from these people. We had a layoff in 2008, I was kept while another employee was let go. A third woman who is friends with that person felt the company made a bad decision and has been a condescending jerk ever since. She is also H.R. so there is no one to escalate to. She complained so long she eventually talked the owner into re-hiring the other employee 2 years ago, now I have two jerks to deal with. As the years have gone by everyone in the department treats me that way even the manager. The only reason I haven’t been fired is beacause I know my job back an forth, the owner of the company only trusts me on quite a few things (yet another problem). I love what I do and the owner is fantastic, it’s the rest of the staff I have issues with. Great article, actually made me feel better.

  6. This happened to me a few years ago. My biggest challenge was that I was a contract employee through a talent agency, not an associate of the company.

    My supervisor was abusive, and her supervisor was on her side because they’d worked together for 25 years. Worse, I didn’t have access to the company’s HR because policy kept me tethered to my talent agency. And I couldn’t quit because doing so would have put my unemployment benefits at risk; I would’ve left with nothing. Every morning in the parking lot, I’d pray for the strength to just get through the day.

    One day, I flatly told my supervisor to stop yelling at me. The next week, they ended my contract because I’d developed a “bad attitude.”

    Thank you for posting this. It’s been a few years and I’m in a much better position (and happier!) now than I ever was there. But still, it’s a suck-ass thing to have to go through.

  7. A similar situation happened to me when I started a new job a couple of years ago. For a long time I felt incredibly self-conscious about being fired (even though I was fired because of a lie told by said bullying coworker), and I hated myself for letting it happen at all. Sometimes it feels like there’s just a shame about being bullied as an adult, especially if you were bullied as a child, like we should know how to keep it from happening, or how to stand up and stop it by now.

    • There’s a huge stigma for adult targets of bullying! Part of the problem is that so many people think that bullying is only for kids; they don’t believe it happens among adults, too. Part of it is the “blame the victim” mentality. I wanted to share my story to raise awareness, and to let people who have been targets of bullying that they are not alone, and it’s not your fault!.

    • I hear you on the shame thing! So much of what we go through in this process of being bullied is so cleverly masqueraded that you just end up feeling like its your fault – and that is part and parcel of the bully’s MO. By the time I realised what was going on it was too late to do the paper trail thing, as he had wised up and was being much less overt, but by that time I was broken anyway. Besides, he was my manager. It annoys me that when we receive training on workplace bullying it is assumed that the bully is a co-worker, which conveniently side-steps the issue of the workplace hierarchy. In so many cases I know of, the bully is a manager, and that makes things SO MUCH MORE complicated! In the end I quit a job I was good at, and could have made something great from. It took me a year to start recovering from the experience.

      • I quit yesterday my boss was questioning my adequacy & commitment
        telling me to use his words not mine he belittled my opinion & ideas

        he boasted his skills & ability so i just quit hated to go to work he socially excluded me at lunch time with the other 2 guys in the office I was the only female & older so think he really didn’t want me there
        told me I was doing horrible just not worth it I quit another job to go there & be disrespected I made a bad choice but he should not get by with it

    • Harassment and bullying are very similar, but very different according to employment law. Harassment is when a coworker continually picks on/creates hostile work environment/is a total jerk to you because you are a member of a protected status. This includes sexual and racial harassment. This is illegal in the United States.

      Bullying is when someone is a jerk because they don’t like you. It has nothing to do with your gender, race, religion, etc. There are no national laws against workplace bullying in the US, so unless your bully assaults you, it’s technically legal.

      • Oddly, a bully can be someone who picks on you AND kind of likes you. I get along well with a coworker when he’s in a good mood. He doesn’t seem to dislike me, but when he’s in a bad mood, I’m his convenient doormat, targeted with angry outbursts, sarcasm, belittling comments, and harsh criticism over aspects of my job that are none of his business. This is bullying, due to his low self esteem and anger issues, not due to disliking me. Because he doesn’t “hate” me, managers and coworkers (who don’t see what he’s done to me in private over the years) refuse to believe that he does what I say he does.

  8. This hit home for me very hard! I really wish I’d have had this article 7 months ago. Knowing I wasn’t alone would have helped a lot. I was bullied throughout the last year at my last job. I didn’t realize it was happening for a long time- or rather, I didn’t realize that it was intentional. Sadly, I was in a very small workspace, and the bully took advantage when we didn’t have a director to pull some of her schemes, which included giving me her old job, creating new work for me, and not training me so that I appeared incompetent. Our “HR” person is her life partner, so there was no going that way. All the other staff knew what she was doing, but they had their own problems with her, and we had a vacuum of power leadership. Several months later I’d been so worn down by the demands of my position and dealing with her that I just quit, even though I had nothing lined up, and limited opportunities in my field. Our new boss gave me the option of using the city’s HR rather than our internal one (since said conflict of interest) but by then I was DONE, and needed the peace of mind to plan my wedding and connect with my then-fiance-now-husband, as I was taking my pain and frustration home every night. I’m really glad I left, even though I’m now underemployed. On the one hand, I know there were plenty of other reasons that my job sucked- in the past year 11 other staff people (in a staff of about 12) have left as well- it’s still really hard not to feel the shame that I “gave in” or let my bully win. I wonder what it would have been like to try going through HR.

    • When I read the Lutgen-Sandvik article for class, I was amazed that it laid out perfectly what had happened to me. It also took me a few months to figure out what was happening, that he was treating me differently. His actions were so subtle.

      I felt the same way about feeling that “he won.” I asked myself why does he get to keep his job and be praised? What makes him better than me? I eventually got over this feeling (after getting a new job and rebuilding my confidence), but it was hard to shake.

  9. The sucky thing about this is when you do everything you’re supposed to and nothing still happens. Myself and a coworker are currently dealing with this, and have been for 3 years now.

    We have kept a paper trail, we have reported the coworker to our bosses, our bosses’ bosses and HR. Nothing has been, can be, or will be done about it. When we showed them the paper trail, they said they’re hands are tied and that the evidence wasn’t substantial enough. The bosses can’t do anything unless their bosses do something, and those guys won’t do anything because they are remaining neutral in the situation so as to “not rock the boat”.

    The other problem?

    Union. I love my union and I hate my union. I love my union because they negotiate for fair contracts and will back us up when we go up against management. I hate my union because in situations involving people from the same union…they won’t do anything about it. It also doesn’t help that this problem coworker is on the union board.

    My only option to rectify this toxic work environment is to simply quit. But I do not have a new job lined up. At least not yet (not for lack of trying too).

    • Yes, I have seen this injustice in union jobs. I haven’t been the brunt of the bullying, but a friend and coworker has. Several others have effectively been run out of their positions because of the bullying, good ol’ boys club, and the promotion of the least effective workers to management.

  10. Eeeeesh. Thank you for reminding me how glad I am to work alone, now. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything worse than horrific incompetence (and one wrongful termination from the shittiest job on the planet), thankfully.

  11. This not exactly the same situation but I feel like working at a job that was an emotional dumping ground for my boss was its own form of abuse.
    I worked for a very emotional person for several years, she would use drama to rally her friends around her, if there was no drama in her life she created. It didn’t matter how good life got for her, she found ways to have emotional drama at all times. Usually this revolved around her boyfriends or family but eventually even this was not enough drama for her and she gradually started pushing friends away, all the while bringing all the emotional baggage to work with her so that the people around her were forced to be personal counselors. Eventually that drama was sent my direction, she started being very tense and silent around me, it turned out it was my turn to be the problem person in her life.
    I talked with my husband about it and we decided it was best for me to quit, he was really supportive and he knew very well all the drama that went on in the workplace.
    It was a very stressful decision to leave my job but it has been such a relief to be away from all the day to day emotional baggage that was a big part of that job.
    About 6 months after I had quit my job, out of the blue one day my husband turned to me and said “Do you know what I love?”
    “What?” I asked him.
    He said ” That I don’t know anything about your former boss’ life, I don’t know who she is having drama over, or if she is yet again planning to leave the current boyfriend, nothing.”
    I had no idea how much he hated that I would come home and vent to him, after my stressful days at work.
    I am happy to say we live a much more drama free life now.

    • I ran into a similar situation when I began working in a personal assistant-type role for an acquaintance. At first it was great. We came to be really close friends, he introduced me to a whole new community of fascinating people, and I even met my live-in guy as a result of our working together.

      I became his dumping ground for business and personal stress- and OH my god! the dramadrama with whoever he was dating at the time became my issue to support for some reason. He had absurd expectations of me, was a shit communicator, and turned out to be straight up shitty friend. It all ended one day when in a bout of utter frustration, I told him that contract he couldn’t find was probably up his ass.

      • Being someone’s emotional dumping ground is a life sucking position to be in.
        The truly sad part was that I was way more passionate about the job than my boss was.

    • Ah gosh, this sounds very familiar! I once had a job with two toxic, melodramatic co-workers, who both behaved inappropriately – one by attempting to bully and manipulate people and the other (the head of department) by ignoring the problem and joining in. It was a really draining atmosphere. A couple of things really helped me – firstly, I made an extra effort to dress smart and behave even more professionally. Secondly, I took every opportunity I could to get out of the office to break up the week (meetings off site, training courses, the occasional day of annual leave).

    • I truly feel for anyone who has been legitimately bullied at work or anywhere. But I am a little bit skeptical of a lot of these stories. Maybe it comes from growing up in a family where in everyone’s workplace stories they portrayed themselves as the “victim” and everyone they didn’t get along with as “the villain.” I sided with many of my family members many a time. But as I got older, I began to question why they seemingly were incapable of getting along with anyone they worked with anywhere and why they seemed to frequently change jobs yet still have the same “problems.” My father is a prime example, other than a few exceptions where he’s held certain jobs for years, most of his employment tends to last for a year or less. He has issues with co-workers, superiors, subordinates and often paints them as being the “problem” I believed him for the longest time, but as I grew older and could see what he was like around the house I began to realize that maybe at least some of the problem lied with him. He can be very moody and confrontational sometimes it feels like you are walking on eggshells when he’s around. I take it he was largely the same way at work which is likely why he clashed with others. He too would tell many of the same stories you see on this website “I was the victim”, “so and so devotes so much time to making my day-life miserable.” “Everyone is out to get me and is conspiring against me.”

      • Dude, you might be right in some cases, but I believe that most stories here are legit. I have been bullied now for 6 months by my senior coworker who always makes fun of me in front of my other coworkers, cursing, using diminishing and rude comments and when he sees that i dont like it he loudly laughs to make me feel even more misereable. About 5 months ago I told him to stop that shit and since then he stopped taking me out to service calls at work and isolates me from the team. He turned against me the whole team. Noone from our team socialize with me anymore or talk to me like before unless I ask something. He tells them bullshit about me behind my back and they believe him, because he is “cool” and their “bro”. He brainwashed them against me. I found out that he is going through my drawers at our office even in front my coworkers and laughs at it. We have a fairly new supervisor who has his office right next to ours and his doors are open most of the time. He is a quiet guy, shy type, not really a supervisor type of a guy. Even if the bully does or says something and then laughs at it with my coworkers, the boss pretends he does not hear it or that he does not pay attention it. My coworkers didn’t say anything when he was going through my drawers. They are like his “puppets”. When he is talking bullshit about me behind my back to them they laugh together. They are already on his side and they also don’t take me to service calls anymore. And when I ask them, they make silly excuses. I think that I am a legit victim of a bully, what do you think?
        Sent from my LG V10, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

        • The thing that raises doubt with me is the “lone victim” theme that many of the stories share in common. That a supposed “bully” targeted one individual and focused 100% of their attention on ruining that person’s career-life. No bully that I have ever known has ever had just one victim.
          Some might target different people In different places or multiple people in the same place, but there is always more than one target. The other thing is the fact that the “bully” was able to turn people against the victim and the entire office seemed to be on the side of the “bully” against “the victim” was the question of “why” ever asked? Why would all of these people take another person’s side against you? Unless of course you aren’t the “innocent victim” you portrayed yourself to be and actually had a stake in a contentious relationship that was more about two or more people not getting along than it was about one person picking on-being picked on by another person?

          • I see what you’re saying. You could be right in some cases, but it can depend on the hierarchy too. In my situation, my immediate supervisor speaks condescendingly towards me, but is as nice as pie to everyone else who is either her peer or above her. I’m the only one who directly reports to her, and I can tell you, her attitude towards me is based on her insecurities in her position. If there were others reporting to her, I wouldn’t be surprised if they would be bearing the brunt of her condescension too, but as it stands, I’m the only one. It’s the power play coming into effect here. But that’s just my case, not everyone else’s.

          • I understand what you all are saying regarding this situation. But Jonathan, trust me it happens. I’ve experienced this. I think that in teh first place, for the bully to be able to operate the workplace must have some toxic elements. In the first instance, the person(psychopathic co-worker) befriended me (I was new and didn’t know most people there). In fact, she told me about the position etc, so by the time I started she had already planted in the minds of the other co-workers what to look out for. So it didn’t take long for rumors to start flying especially when I was not the lazy person she had described me as. And so she created rumors to spread around but being the two faced devil that she is, she would create rumors and turn around to be supportive worsening the situation. And how do they turn others against you, by also telling the co-workers things you said that you really didn’t. It’s that simple. And mind you, the director was eating out of her palm so she looked the other way even when I complained. In the second instance, i recognized who the bully was right way based on my previous experience and so did not let him gain control. Guess what? He recruited others to do his bullying. It’s just that easy. Once seeds of doubt are planted, all the bully has to do is to direct the drama by using others(flying monkeys). I also used to say stuff like why is everyone saying the same thing until i experienced it. Are there things I could have done differently? Probably, but there were other workers doing same or worse, (in terms of reactions to certain stimuli)and they were not targeted. I was targeted because I held myself to a standard the other’s didn’t and so they felt they had to put me in my place. If you have ever been truly bullied (i’m talking the covert type) you will understand how easy this divide and conquer process is.

  12. Challenges are great when your workplace bully is your boss, with only one person above him. That happened to me at a previous job – I was targeted because he didn’t like my educational background, and took advantage of the fact that I was insecure about my abilities. I got memos in my in-box daily in bold black Arial font questioning what I did and chastising me for minor things, so I’d end up making more mistakes down the road. I was isolated (evening and weekend shifts) with very few I could turn to for support. The union tried to help, but I think my immaturity, my anxious personality, and this person’s “not over the line” actions made it difficult to defend me. In the end, we agreed I would leave the company, and it took me 10+ years to regain the confidence I had lost. I think my insecurity and anxiety made it difficult for me to succeed in future positions as well, but I’m slowly improving thanks to more counselling.

    I also see workplace bullying happening to colleagues by their superiors, and hear that there is nothing they can do without risking their professional reputation or their position at my current workplace. It’s frustrating. Makes it really hard to support the “pink t-shirt” anti-bullying days they host in the fall at work. I support the concept, but it doesn’t change anything.

  13. I was bullied at the job I am still at. It started randomly, and I had no idea what I did to trigger it– just being “different” I guess. Who knows. It was a co-worker with whom I had previously had a good rapport with, so I was totally blindsided. The first thing I did was go to her privately, and I remember I said to her, “I am really sorry if I said or did something to offend you. Can you please tell me what I did so I can apologize and make it right?” She bit my head off and said she was “too busy” to talk about it. I just let it go and it escalated to her talking behind my back and getting other co-workers to ostracize me. I went to our departmental supervisor and she basically played dumb and did nothing. I was miserable. Fortunately I was moved to another section of our department so I could physically avoid her most of the time.

    Then one day a wonderful person in another department told me something very valuable. He said that she’s just an unhappy person and can’t stand to see any one happy or kind, so the best way to deal with her was to kill her with kindness. As simple as it sounds, it worked on her! I just started being pleasant and behaving “too busy” for her bullsh*t. After a month she was frustrated that I wasn’t reacting and she moved on to someone else in the department. I watched her do it 2 more times to other people before I got a promotion and was transferred to a different city. (Each time I saw it, I gave those people the same advice that was given to me).

    In retrospect, I wish I had been a bit more proactive and gone to HR with it once my supervisor proved herself to be inept. (And she repeated that with the other victims of this lady until one day that lady lost her cool and went all psychotic on someone trying to get a reaction. At that point management couldn’t ignore her anymore).

    I don’t recommend the “killing with kindness” for every situation, but it certainly works on the kind of people who feed off reactions.

  14. I have had this happen at a couple of past jobs (sometimes I think maybe it is me, but I’ve been in my current position for over three years with no problems yay!).

    I read an excellent book (the only self help book I’ve ever read in my life) called Toxic People: 10 Ways Of Dealing With People Who Make Your Life Miserable

    It helped me identify what was going on in that work relationship, and the best way to handle different types of toxicity (which often manifest as bullying behaviors). While the methods helped alleviate tensions/hostility, I think that the best thing that can be done is to remove yourself from the situation.

    If HR/Management is aware of a toxic employee, and they choose to do nothing, then the only thing that you can do is to leave and find a place where that isn’t the case.

    • Thanks for the book recommendation.

      While leaving a job is ideal, in this economy, for some of us it just isn’t an option. In my case, I was bullied right at the height of the job market being in the toilet. I support myself, and I’m in my 40s, so changing jobs is more challenging for someone “older” than for someone in their 20s (for a multitude of reasons). In a situation like that, learning how to deal with the offending bully sometimes is our only option until such a time that they leave, or we can.

  15. Geez… This is me, almost to a T. I have two of them in the office. I’m not 100% certain what started it, but I suspect it began when I was put in a position to coordinate Bully A’s “team” by my then supervisor. The person had been with the company for over 20 years and was generally left to do her thing because she did it well. Then one day you have me, half her age, with the company only months, and I was to check in with her daily and offer assistance where needed, and then report back to our mutual supervisor. Shortly after I started that job, the passive-aggressive behavior began. I mentioned it to my supervisor, only to be told to let it roll off. When I finally left that position and transitioned into a new group, it didn’t stop. What did happen was suddenly I had Bully B, who is a close friend of Bully A. By taking the new position, I inadvertently replaced one of Bully B’s favorite lunch buddies. The cycle began again, but now there were two of them.

    My supervisor always just told me to be the bigger person, let it go, etc, etc… She basically ignored it. After she left, and we got a new supervisor, not a whole lot has changed. He’s a great person, but is very non-confrontational and urges everyone in the department to just “get along” and “work together”. I gave up long ago on this getting any better. The kicker though, is that I am now out on an extended medical leave, and Bully B is covering desk. It leaves such an awful taste in my mouth as I have little doubt that she is spending this time happily looking for a reason to get rid of me and I am not there to defend myself.

  16. I have a colleague who does this. She’s a higher rank and has kind of burned out on the job, I think. I’m younger, and she was always accusing me of saying things I hadn’t said. Mostly misinterpreting things I said as being negative comments about her when they weren’t. Then she’d go off angry on me. I started confronting her in a professional manner after she and I had both cooled off, telling her that the way she was talking to me was completely inappropriate. When she accused me of something in an email, I responded professionally and copied to our supervisor. Eventually she started apologizing for the misunderstanding and it happens a lot less now.

  17. I could have written this post. It happened to me for a long time and was completely awful. Having a job you love and are good at becomes terrible when someone there is singling you out and doing everything in their power to make you miserable. I’m out of that situation and my job now is amazing (I’m a freelance artist and work from home, on my own schedule), but I spent too long coming home from work and sobbing about the fact that I had to go back the next day, and being told by management that it was my problem I had to get over. It had a lasting effect on me, and I still get horrible anxiety in situations that remind me of it.

  18. Back when I was a temp, I had a similar incident where the bully was the person who hired me.
    I got on great with everyone else in the department, the HR department that is and always found new tasks to keep myself busy and to be useful. However hiring lady would try her best to trip me up, divert tasks to someone else (which defeated the purpose of why I was hired – to take some of the extra workload) and excluded me from every discussion big or small.

    I later learned that she was going through a nasty divorce where the ex was leaving her for a younger woman. One of my co-workers suggested my age was the reason hiring lady was giving me such a hard time, and that was it! Nothing else!
    I also found out, that the office manager had been behind the decision to hire me after all, not hiring lady. She wanted another candidate, who despite not having the same skill set, was a far better option than having some reminder of why her marriage was breaking apart. A reminder that I was not that younger woman!

    I was fortunate that I made some good friends and was able to confide in my co-workers and eventually the office manager. Even when there were no more tasks for me to do and I decided to move on to another company, they invited me to their Christmas party because I was a lot of fun. Coincidentally, hiring lady who organized this party (for the whole company) did not turn up, as she “was sick.”

    The point about the root coming from somewhere personal was true in my case. I was lucky to have a happy ending but it took some guts to open up and vent my problems before they got to me.

  19. Thank you for mentioning that oftentimes we do not recognize when we become Mean Girls. I know from experience, when you feel like your back is against the wall and that no one else will defend you but yourself, how easy it is to slip into the Aggressor role. I bullied my bully with logic and 50 cent words, and when someone pointed it out to me I felt terrible about.

  20. Thank you so much for this post! It couldn’t have come at a better time. I quit my job one week ago without notice because I was so tired of the assholes at work. I worked in a child development center, and the Mean Girls comparison is spot on. It was like Jr. high all over again. The final straw was my bully admitting during a meeting that she doesn’t like me, she hates all of the “stupid shit” that I do (such as:I politely asked her to unplug her scent warmer one day because we share a working space and the strong smell made me feel sick) that she doesn’t hide the fact that she’s rude to me, and that I’m the “black sheep” of the center. All of this, plus profanity IN FRONT OF MY SUPERVISOR (who was supposed to mediate, but instead sat there and said nothing). This is after months of me telling my supervisor many of the hostile things this woman did. At this meeting I said very little because my blood was boiling and I didn’t want to lose my shit. Afterwards my boss tells me the she wishes I would’ve “defended myself,” because it wasn’t her place to say anything.

    Unfortunately, this kind of crap happens way too much, and too many supervisors are either asses themselves or they have no balls.

    • I have noticed that when employers are chummy and constantly laughing with certain employees, the employer fails to see the faults of these employees. The employer may nitpick on the performance of the shy and quiet employees instead. Sometimes, employers find it easier to criticize the less popular employees and use that criticism to advance their careers.

      I had an employer would wrote on my performance appraisal that I fail to realize when employees are busy. In truth when the boss was away, his favorite employees would:
      1. leave work 15 minutes early and leave me alone with customers who rightfully walked in before the advertised closing time.
      2. pretend to arrive early to work, when in actual fact they were goofing around (often reading the newspapers, shopping around for coffee/snacks, making personal telephone calls, etc).
      3. often using the internet for social media (sometimes spreading defamation of staff), playing games (eg. World of Warcraft), ordering goods from Amazon, arranging their bachelor party/wedding plans, reading the internet news/gossip, checking out movie reviews and prices, planning their next holiday or social outing, etc . (this also often happened when the manager was around but hidden in his office)
      4. backstab staff via phone calls to other branches.
      5. deliberately ignore answering the phone or ignore my requests for help at reception (sometimes more than 10 customers could arrive at once, and the phone rang practically non-stop). The manager would usually help out at reception, or would not help but instead complain if I answered the phone whilst customers were at reception. I knew that expecting a constant stream of visitors throughout the day is not unreasonable (leaving no time to answer phone messages).I knew that his favorite staff would not answer the phone, let alone be bothered to help out with phone messages.
      6. exit through the back entrance, away from view of the manager’s office, to spend 30 minutes to collect the office mail. The manager allowed his favorite office girl to collect the mail, a job that was taken away from me because I complained that I needed help when work was busy (he allowed his favorites to choose how to help). BTW it used to take me 5 minutes to safely collect the mail, without jaywalking through busy city traffic.
      7. hardly ever relieved me at reception to provide me the required 2 x 15 minute work breaks. Customers can constantly be in the office, and when customers weren’t visiting the phones would definitely ring, which meant I would not be afforded the luxury of time to go to the toilet (the boss helped out at reception more than the other staff). A crazy staff member monitored my lunch breaks: once I had gastro and took 36 minutes for a lunch break because I had to use the toilet (that staff couldn’t be bothered to allow me a tea break when customers were always around at work that day).
      8. were rude and obnoxious to me, even in front of the customers, but were super polite to the boss.
      9. they rarely helped out at reception, unless their friends visited or the boss ordered them to help.
      10. the banking always used to balance when I did it. The manager took that job away from me, and gave it to his favorite male employee to take care of, which meant that the banking would sometimes not balance. That male co-worker would be smug and angry towards me when the banking did not balance (demanding to know why it did not balance); however, I wasn’t the only person responsible for taking money from the petty cash tin.
      11. when relieving me of reception duties, they would leave me with new phone messages to take care of (when the boss relieved me of reception duties, he would never leave me phone messages).
      12. when relieving me of reception duties, they would make too many database errors. This would make my job difficult (eg. finding a patient via data of birth search or annoying the boss by having to re-check their work).

  21. It’s been over a year since I left a workplace where I was being bullied. For the most part, I’ve coped with it and moved on, but even still, this post was a wonderful and reassuring read. I didn’t know there was an outlined cycle, similar to the domestic violence cycle – but now that I read it, it’s spot on, which just helps me remind me what was going on was messed up, and it was not my fault.

    The initiating event for me was being told I should “bend over backward” for the organization and be willing to be “on call” perpetually during my time off and willing to come in to work an extra shift at a moment’s notice without pay. I didn’t even directly say no; I offered to be flexible with my schedule and change shifts around if needed, or if they really wanted me to work extra, I was open to discussing compensation for it.

    I had been there for a month-and-half and already had my required skills competency checklists signed off and had thus far had absolutely no problems. Everything changed after that one interaction, though. The director began calling me derogatory names (I was the youngest in the group, so she called me “baby” and “little girl”), and my co-workers started frequently talking about me behind my back and ostracizing me. They would send each other very hateful emails about me with my name as the subject line, and then leave them up in the office where they knew I was going to need to work on that computer and would see it.

    I was suddenly accused of performing poorly, of my past jobs obviously being terrible and my university also being terrible. They had to be to produce someone as incompetent as me, right? When I asked them to produce documentation where I had made mistakes or had poor outcomes, they couldn’t do it, and it didn’t matter that I had documentation that they had observed me performing the skills necessary for the job and signed off that I was competent (on 2/3 of the observations, I was actually rated as having excellent performance, not just satisfactory).

    I had been there 3.5 months when they finally told me I could leave or be fired. When I told my director’s boss that she had called me “baby” and “little girl,” that boss just said “Well, I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it.” I went home, called and talked to my family about it, then emailed my resignation that evening. The director then had the nerve to ask me if I would come in and work the next day. Obviously, I didn’t.

  22. I ran into something like this at a former workplace. My husband said that to really make a difference you need to get HR involved and don’t be afraid to throw around phrases like ‘Hostile work environment”. Things like that will get their attention and then they will be obligated to contact the manager and find out what’s going on. Things like that can be a lawsuit waiting to happen. With me, I drafted that email, HR contacted my manager, she contacted the bully employee and called him on the carpet. Even if they don’t think it’s a problem, they have to show HR that they did something so they’ll do something. In my case it did get an apology out of the bully and things did better after that. I left fairly soon after to go back to school, but don’t be afraid to be the squeaky wheel!

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