What It’s Like to Be Bullied at Work

Everything changed the day my boss quit — and was replaced by a new manager, along with our department’s VP, who had just returned from maternity leave.

work bully
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If I had the space of a novel to tell you about my experience, I could begin to give you a complete picture of the truly staggering amount of unacceptable behavior I witnessed during my time there. Instead, here’s a smattering:

  • The company gave my direct supervisor a monetary incentive to compete with her staff, so she undermined us whenever possible. She took any opportunity to berate us in front of the whole staff, despite that fact that we performed well and hit our targets.
  • Our VP repeatedly confused me with another woman of the same ethnicity, despite the fact that we looked nothing alike. (There were fewer than 10 people on staff. It should not have been hard to get our names right.)
  • That same VP had a habit of making sexist, homophobic, and racist comments, and we were discouraged from talking to HR about any of this behavior.
  • Questions were met with open hostility and personal attacks. Asking, “When is the deadline on this?” might merit, “Why are you even asking that? What do you want?”

The bullying took a serious toll — my hair started falling out, I lost weight, and my eyes were constantly shadowed. I began to have nightmares about going to work, and I dreamed about my superiors making derogatory comments aimed at me or my coworkers. When I got a promotion, I didn’t feel one ounce of happiness or accomplishment.

I felt trapped.

I wasn’t the only one being bullied, so it was a slight consolation to know that it clearly wasn’t me. The entire staff felt victimized on a daily basis. We met secretly, in the bathrooms or in private Skype chats, to commiserate. There was a lot of crying and hand-wringing, and outright confusion as to what we had all done to provoke these people.

When I did push back on the insulting, degrading behavior, they made it seem like I was the one with attitude. It was my first job in a new field and I was very young — I didn’t know any better. I was hugely ignorant of the industry, and they knew it.

Why didn’t I quit sooner, instead of sticking it out for more than a year? I ask myself that all the time. It comes down to naiveté and misplaced trust in my superiors. I believed them when they told me that every place was like this. They told me that there were a million people who would do my job for free, and that I was lucky to be there.

Eventually I hit a wall and gave notice. I thought I was jumping off a cliff and would never work again, but was immediately offered contract work at the company. As it turns out, there wasn’t a slew of people waiting to do my job for free.

If I could go back and tell myself anything, it would be that my skill set is one that deserves to be valued. I would tell myself that I could find a workplace where I felt respected. I was told no such workplace existed, that it was a unicorn land I had invented. But it does exist. My current job meets that criteria and then some, and I’m never going back.

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