We like to think that bullies from school somehow got their just rewards, that somewhere someone bigger and nastier than them got them back. And you were karmically rewarded for your own suffering. But, sadly just as bitchy girls grow into bitchy women, so schoolyard bullies grow into workplace thugs. It may be subtler and harder to pin down, but bullying in the adult world is endemic.
I find this terribly sad. I was one of those bullied as a child. I was never sure why. It was girls much, much older than me who seemed to find it amusing as tough grade sixers to monster a child in grade two. It must have made them feel wonderful. There was a girl in my class (grade 2 still – must have been a great year) who played the more devastating bullying games of you are my friend, you aren’t, you can come to my party, you can’t. Essentially she was a bitch and one of my happiest days was when she left school at the end of that year – off to torment someone else, somewhere else.
For years then I was free of torment, had friends, got on with my life, went to uni, got married, had kids, made a life. But now I find myself in a work-place where bullying is endemic. It is part of the culture it seems. Is it because that’s part of the culture in this country?
It is, of course ironic, because, as well you know I work in a school, where we’re meant to protect the kiddies from such nastiness, where we have anti-bullying policies but where bullying of the staff is a daily occurrence.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with bullies in the past and dealt with too many students who are failed by school anti-bullying policies. When faced with bullying most schools fail to deal with it adequately. At my last school students were clear that bullying happened and no-one on the vast pastoral team had any real idea it was going on or dealt with it effectively.
It seems to me that bullying is one of those things we know we’re meant to abhor and need policies for but very few of us know how to deal with it effectively, either when we know others are being bullied – our own children, students in our care, friends – or ourselves.
Part of the issue as an adult is the shock that you are actually being bullied, that you’ve somehow let someone do that to you. It offends your decency, your professionalism, your sense of self-worth. It’s often a sneaky thing, a subtle undermining of your value, your ability to do your job. You’re set deadlines that you can’t meet, not because you’re inefficient but because the deadlines are unreasonable. You’re set a task but not told the parameters of the task, yet if you ask you’re considered incompetent: how can you not know how to do that? You’re signaled out for an offence and ‘dealt with’ while others who commit the same crime are let go. You’re called to a meeting with an hour’s notice and an agenda as long as your arm. How can you be prepared? You are expected to perform in a particular way but nobody else is and if you are found wanting you are called into the office. You may even be disciplined.
Bullying at work is designed to under-mine you, shake your confidence, isolate you, lessen your performance so you can be legitimately sacked, or end up succumbing to illness from the stress of dealing with the on-going bullying.
Bullying at work is carried out by your superiors; someone with power. Think Devil wears Prada. Sometimes by people who are threatened by you: who find something about you, personally, or your performance, unsettling. Are you too good, too qualified, too experienced, do you show them up in some way; are your methods or philosophy not in accord with theirs?
Yes, your work-place may have a swag of lovely anti-bullying policies (ours is Dignity at Work) but try getting one to stand up. Try complaining about your bullying Line Manager. Doubtless they’ll be protected when you complain because the organization itself will be incapable of recognizing the problem and manifestly incapable of dealing with it. Or, even better, they didn’t realize what they were doing, just a misunderstanding, really and truly.
I think the truth of bullies being deeply insecure people holds but it matters not that they may need help themselves, they cause an enormous amount of damage in protecting themselves. Careers and lives are ruined by bullies.
Bullies are everywhere. They run large businesses, banks, governments; they work in entertainment, they manage schools. If you think Jimmy Savile wasn’t a bully you are severely deluded. There was a man with a nasty dark secret to hide and he used his position to abuse and bully young girls and then anyone who stood in his way.
What do you do if you’re bullied at work? Leave. The evidence shows that people who lodge grievances or complain about their bosses never win. Invariably they are bullied even more, forced out of their position, no matter their worth or ability.
What you should do (but you’d probably get sacked) is follow the advice some parents give their children. Hit back: hard, fast and nasty. Some people are never bullied, they’re the scary, mad ones in the corner: the beserk warriors from Norse legends.
Find a bit of the beserk in you – hit back, find the weak point of your bullier, and go for it. Stop worrying about being liked, being the good guy; stand up hard and strong for yourself and your colleagues. At the end of the day bullies are only bullies because we let them be. (Images courtesy Google Images)