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I have been an anti-bullying advocate for years. Long before anti-bullying became cool and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. As a victim of bullying, I don’t like to see it happen to others. As an advocate, I’m frustrated.

I hear a lot of talk from agencies and governments about how bullying needs to be stopped. Yet, when it comes to taking any real action towards stopping bullying, all I get is hot air. It’s all talk. No one wants to take action against those who feel they have the right to push others around. I’m not sure why they do it. Power? Amusement? I honestly don’t get it.

Back in my early 20s I took a course through Grant MacEwan. It was called “Public Relations and Advertising”. I learned one thing there; people are cutthroat and I didn’t have the balls for it. After only one semester I dropped out. I realized I was far too nice and wasn’t able to undercut my fellow students. I’m still that way. I’ve often turned down writing jobs only to recommend a friend I know is better suited for it than me. Other writers have looked at me like you would a retarded puppy when they hear that, but it’s the way I am. I know my writing. I know what I can do and I know when I’m not going to produce the best product. Clients appreciate it and trust me with future projects. I’ve always felt it’s a better way to work.

Today, however, I realized that I’m a minority. I already have Non-Verbal Learning disorder, which makes communicating with others difficult. I don’t read non-verbal cues and, so, miss out on much of what’s being said. Imagine being dumped in a small fishing village somewhere in China with nothing but the clothes on your back. That’s a little what it’s like for me.

This became clear when I was out shopping today and looking for a new plug for my kitchen sink. I went into Home Depot and could not get anyone to help me. Frustrated, I went to the customer service and got, what I later learned, some bad advice. Frustrated, I mentioned that I didn’t like waiting for 10 minutes for someone to come and help me. The girl looked me in the face and said in absolute sincerity, “you know, if you’re negative, then negative things happen to you. You should be positive.” I was stunned.

I consider myself a nice person. I try to see something pretty in everyone I look at and try to compliment people when I can. Very often I’ll lend a hand to a stranger when it’s needed and I try not to be cranky too much. I don’t always succeed at that last one, but I do try. When the woman made that comment, she made an assumption; I’m a negative person and it was up to her to show me the error of my ways.

As I was leaving I said, “I am a nice person. I could have been here yelling and making you feel bad, but I recognize my frustration and that you are not the source of it. So I come here politely and tell you the problem. However, all being nice got me was you telling me what a negative person I was. Thank you.”

I felt angry at this woman, this stranger, making such an assumption. It stayed with me like a bad lover and I didn’t nearly enjoy the day as much as I might have wanted to. The lesson I learned was being nice only gives people permission to treat you however they like. Yet I go on being nice.

So it is that I’m often the target of bullying. Like Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory”, I don’t understand much of human interaction but I do try to follow the rules only to find that the rules are arbitrary. So it is that I’m the weird kid who has trouble understanding why the joke that everyone else laughs at is funny. Often the joke is about me. However, I’ve learned that I don’t have to put up with bullying. I don’t have to put up with it, but there’s no one out there who will help me stop it.

I was working for About Staffing when an assignment went bad. It happens and details don’t matter. However, I’d reinjured my knee and was thinking about going to Worker’s Compensation Board for help. About Staffing decided not to use me because of what happened with the job. That happens. I was angry, but I couldn’t dwell on it. As the day wore on, though, my knee got steadily worse and I made the decision to go to WCB. Later that day I got a phone call from the agent from About Staffing screaming at me that he was going to call the other agencies in Edmonton and tell them not to use me. He also claimed that my phone call had been recorded, a crime in Canada (you cannot record calls without informing the party they’re being recorded, first). I was stunned and felt abused.

Here’s where I found out the uselessness of Canada’s bullying laws. First I went to a lawyer. They felt sympathy for me, but nothing more. All he’d done was issue threats. Until he acted on them, they couldn’t do anything. So I contacted ACSESS, the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services, is a governing body that acts as a watchdog for behavior with employment agencies. I put myself on the line and issued a formal complaint. The verdict? I got a letter that stated, “we do not find any breach of the ACSESS Code of Ethics and Standards and this file is now considered closed.” Since the agency didn’t actually DO anything they’re not to blame for anything.

I cried.

According to our country and those we rely on to protect us, it’s not bullying until something is physically done. People can scream, threaten and say all the nasty things they like. They can beat you down verbally and make you feel horrible.

Suck it up.

No one will help you. You can plead with people to help you. You can get angry and feel as helpless as you like.

Shut up.

There is not a law or governing body that will come to your aid.

How do you move forward from that? How do you keep going when it happens again and again? I’m not 8 years old and getting taunted at school. I’m a grown woman who simply doesn’t understand people being bullied by people who are supposed to be colleagues.

I’m a nice person. I don’t want to be bullied any longer. So if you read this and you’ve been bullied at work, please share it on your Facebook or Twitter. Maybe if enough people read this the powers that be will realize that words do hurt. Threats do make a difference. Maybe we can convince someone out there to stand up and stop this.

Many of us, growing up, had periods in our lives where we were either the subject of bullying or bullied others. Usually in school anywhere from grade 1 to 12 and varying in intensity. For myself, I was the bullies object of choice.

I was very much a loner in school, content to play by myself, as the other kids were very confusing to me. I grew up around teenagers and considered them normal. Kids my own age were boring and immature. Why, they didn’t listen to groups like Nazareth or Led Zepplin and had never even heard of the movie “Tommy” or “The Posiedon Adventure”. What on earth did I have to talk to them about? I think the other kids were just as confused about me and, in the way of kids, dealt with it through teasing and bullying. At one time it got so bad that I had to be switched to another junior high school one month in as I was being beat up on a daily basis. My parents feared for my safety.

Once we graduate high school (or in a few rare cases, university or college), that’s all over with. Right? Adults don’t bully and if they do, they’re one of “those people” and we don’t associate with “them”. You know the type; no job, in and out of jail, abuse their kids/wife/husband/neighbours/whatever. Shiftless, dirty, uneducated. Those are the only adults that bully. Right? What if they’re not?

If you’ve ever held down a job in your adult life, you’ve probably gotten involved in or been subjected to office politics. Those little mind games that people in a job do to one another to get ahead and make themselves seem more important. There’s another name for it recently coined; “office bullying” and it’s just as damaging now as it was in school.

What is office bullying? Office bullying is any behaviour which is detrimental to an employee’s mental, physical or psychological health. You have probably been subjected to it at one time or another and either put up with it for the sake of the job (bills have to be paid, after all) or switched jobs. The problem is that neither option deals with the heart of the matter.

There is several types of bullies and most of them have learned that this aggressive behaviour is the way to advance their career. What amazes me is that adults think this behaviour is acceptable in the work place. We expect children to treat each other with dignity and respect but when we fail to do it ourselves we call it “office politics”. Bullshit. If we cannot treat others in a manner that is productive, respectful and healthy then we cannot reasonable expect children to do so. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a bad idea and never works. You want to stop school bullying? Then show your kids that bullying in any form is not acceptable.

So how do you know if you’re an office bully? Here’s my criteria; if your child said something similar to a peer that you say to a co-worker, would you be proud or ashamed? If your child behaved at school in the way you behave at work, would you praise or punish him or her? (This also works if you don’t have kids. Just imagine how you would feel if you saw kids behaving the way you do) If you’re not proud and praising your child for the behaviour you do then you’re an office bully and you need to stop.

How do you know if you’re a target of a bully? Personally, I think you’d know, but just in case you didn’t, here’s my criteria; if you feel harassed, violated or threatened, you’re the target. If you think your job is in jeopardy, you’re the target. If you saw your child being treated the way you are, would you stand for it? (Again, you can substitute a generic “child” if you don’t have kids). If you wouldn’t stand your child being treated this way, then what makes it okay for you to be treated this way?

Bosses: if you have office bullying going on, you have the power and ability to stop it. As the employer/supervisor/manager, you have an obligation to create a safe and healthy work environment. Bullying is not only detrimental mentally, emotionally and psychologically but physically the stress can cause illness. It also detracts from the quality and quantity of work produced by your employees. If they’re worried about the office politics going on, they’re not working and you’re losing out. It’s up to you to put an end to it. If you are the office bully, then shame on you. You should really know better.

Office bullying is a problem and so far there is very little attention paid to it in Canada. Yes, most offices have a “mutual respect” policy, but that doesn’t go far enough. There needs to be a venue for those being targeted to go and discuss their issues with either human resources departments or management. The employer needs to have clear steps to deal with office bullying in place.

You can stop office bullying. If you’re the target of office bullying then make sure your boundaries are understood and respected. If they aren’t, you need to tell someone. If you are the office bully, then it’s up to you to stop it. Work should be a place where you can feel respected and like you’re a contributing member. It shouldn’t make you feel like you’re eight years old and in the school playground again.

June 2017
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