What I learned from my own workplace abuse experience

Many people look to us for advice on their personal workplace bullying experiences or those of their family members. While we’re not qualified to give legal or mental health advice, I wanted to pass along what I learned from my own bullying experience and my experience with the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates:

  1. Justice may not be achieved in the way that you think. When I went through my experience, I knew that the abuse was unfair and should be illegal. The truth is that most workplace bullying cases are currently not illegal. When you’re up against leaders who won’t take responsibility for workplace abuse, you likely won’t see change. I’ve heard of legal battles full of more bullying. For me, justice isn’t directly going up against those who violated me. I’ll never get anywhere. Justice will be achieved when this bill becomes law and my former bullies can be held accountable in the future for their toxic behaviors.
  2. Doing nothing may be more effective than doing something. This idea goes against our sense of integrity, but a 2012 Workplace Bullying Institute study shows that those who spoke up at work generally had the same results as those who said nothing. While involving the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), your union, an attorney, or a lawsuit were more effective (16.4% effective tops), studies showed that doing nothing (3.25% effective) was almost as effective as speaking up to the boss (3.57% effective), the bully’s boss (3.26% effective), or senior management/the owners (3.69% effective). My bully retaliated when I spoke up to higher-ups and Human Resources. Nothing improved and in fact got worse. Speaking up is tempting and can be empowering. And a lawsuit can be warranted. But more often than not, workplace bullying situations apply to the big gap in the law that doesn’t protect you as an employee from a bullying boss or the retaliation that may come after you speak up.
  3. Just leave. While I blogged earlier about how frustrating it is when people tell you to “just leave,” unfortunately the clock usually starts ticking once you’ve become a bullying target. Once targeted for bullying, an individual faced a 78% probability of losing the job he or she once loved through quitting, firing, or being forced out according to a 2012 Workplace Bullying Institute study. While employees shouldn’t have to “just leave,” it may be the wisest decision to start the ball rolling to find a way out if you’re up against a toxic corporate culture and no end in sight to the bullying.

While each case is different and I’m in no position to give professional advice, I wish that I’d been told these ideas years ago when I went through my bullying experience. I sense that until we pass this bill, we’ll most likely experience uphill battles resulting in nothing but frustration when we directly stand up to our bullying bosses. We just aren’t protected against workplace bullying.

What advice do you have for people going through workplace bullying right now?

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14 comments

  1. Robbin Miller

    Hi.

    I agree with what you wrote. Nothing can be done until the law is passed. I learned how Human Resources can be an enabler in allowing bullying to go on. Granted I was fired and given unemployment insurance to keep my mouth shut, I won’t be quiet until the law is passed. Though I lost an opportunity to go into a lucrative field due to my bully boss, I have not given up in being creative in earning money in different ways. Bullying did not take away my personal sense of being. I know who I am on the inside.

  2. Debra Askwith

    My advice is to not define yourself by your job. Twelve years ago, when I was a target, I was so wrapped up in my profession. that thoughts of leaving the job traumatized me as much as the bullying. “If I ceased to be a ________ (fill in the blank with your own profession), then I ceased to exist.” I found salvation when I redefined myself, and even added new titles to define who I am. I am a daughter, aunt, runner, traveler, etc. A change in work location and a new perspective on myself allowed me to continue in my chosen profession. Oh, I also became an advocate, and that has enriched my life in countless ways.

  3. suki

    Those that stand by the sidelines and witness the bullying are also affected. I kept thinking if only…….they would speak up…. if only they would come forward….. if only they would admit to what they witnessed. But in fact, they did the opposite. They outright lied due to the fear of them becoming the next target. I hate to admit it but too many nurses working in healthcare are so codependent. They were possibly raised in such an environment that this learned behavior is not something that will change. They function out of fear.

    • PTSDshock

      Why do they always do that, Why do they remain quiet or join?…… as you can see, I’m still in the WHY? phase. It’s a torturous miserable limbo, but I’m bound by the operating system that they call the human brain and human psyche. I am harmed as I am human. I am stuck in the disbelief of it all.

  4. Laurie

    I saw my physician 2 weeks ago with my ongoing saga and he prescribed Lexapro stating that if I took it , the bullying will continue but I wouldn’t care; that I can’t change the bullier or save the world (aka my fellow employees as I am the HR person). I broke into tears when I explained my feelings of helplessness when employees come to me with their stories on a near-daily basis.

    I followed that diagnosis with a letter to my doctor stating that I refuse to have to be medicated to get thru my work day because of the way I am treated. My doctor replied favorably with a letter stating that my condition of stress and/or depression is directly related to my job thus allowing me to resign with dignity. I do have an attorney working with me who deals with employment law and who also claims to loathe bullies.

    There is hope and help out there if one can only believe in the system. I have found that fellow employees are so very hesitant to comment regarding legal action for fear of losing their positions, understandibly. I tell them that the bully – the owner of the company – cannot continue to get away with ths, although he truly believes he is untouchable. He has a long history of this and someone has to step up on behalf of the rest who lack confidence or are sincerely afraid.

    I am sorry that I could not make it to Boston to tell me story with a video – I do not get paid for any time away – sick, Holiday, vacation – making it virtually impossible to intervew for other employment and earn a week’s wages. This guy knows all the methods of keeing employees beaten down – I know for a fact that he has an atorney on retainer for even the simplest of things such as completing a claim for unemployment benefits…..go figure.

    I will keep you informed of my progress..I am determined to see this through and hope others will find the courage to stand up to this mistreatment.

  5. suki

    My biggest recommendation for those going through a bullying situation at work would be to have a strong support system outside of work! The system you have at the place where the abuse is going on will be on the line. More times than not those “supporters” will turn on you. You will then feel betrayed, hurt, bewildered and begin questioning your own sanity. From the first inkling that you may even “think” you are being abused, bullied, plotted against; you more than likely are correct. Begin collecting your supporters from outside of the work place. You will need a soft place to fall. Because when you do hear the nastiness, the lies, the accusations and any other dirt that they will throw your way; you need someone outside of the he&l pit to fall.

  6. PTSDshock

    If I had a lobotomy I would not be bound by this central operating system that they call the human brain and emotions. Why don’t folks get this law passed. Why is there not uniform understanding that we as human beings function based on the central part of our existence…the mental and psychological condition. We can overcome and retrain our damaged bodies physically when the state of our minds are undamaged. The things we can do with a healthy mind…..BUT!! when we have been relentlessly made the target of abuse as we are held hostage to control the behavior and erect our boundaries to protect ourselves, the CENTRAL OPERATING SYSTEM to our lives is run down and is disarray. Nothing can go well if your psychological health is damaged. Since we are human, the outcome of being made a target is slanted to the side of sure damage. Yes it is true that we are resilient, but there must be a relief in order to relieve the pressure to allow a safe recovery. If the abuse is too severe and/or goes on for too long, there may not be a recover.

    We seem to understand the power of the CENTRAL OPERATING SYSTEM of human beings as we often comprise widely used statements that evidence this such as:

    Mind over matter.
    If you put your mind to it, you can do it.
    Believe it and you can achieve it.
    And many more proclaiming the power of a healthy and in tact psyche. It is Central, but not invincible. We may be damaged and thus that damage will control the possibilities of having a normal and by in large happy life. The opportunities and potential that was present before the ordeal will be diminished drastically. Some of us may not recover ever. There is something to be said about feeling helpless and hopeless when our boundaries are trampled and we are dragged kicking and screaming into workplace abuse. It is a traumatic and life altering experience. The thought of societal rules and laws becomes a myth. We are dumbfounded as to how to live on when we know that the facade of protections from deviant and harmful behaviors is only a facade as far as protections at work.

    We need laws for workplace bullying….like yesterday!

    • Laurie

      After leaving my job I slept all but 10 hours of the weekend that followed….the psychological and emotional paralysis I have going on is so NOT ME!!! No one should have to go through this when all any of us want is to do a good job at work and leave at the end of the day with a sense of pride and not exhausted from the torment, not dreading driving there the next morning, and definitely NOT lying awake night after night in self-doubt, “What did I do to deserve this”? Bullies are punished in schools and in other social situations, why is it accepted in the workplace? I can’t think past today nor make a plan yet. Society has to know that this is REAL and REALLY BAD……

  7. Cath

    It is absolutely appalling that as mature adults we are subjected to the most juvenile antics because of others insecurities. I was bullied by my Boss for 17 months. Four months before I resigned I found out he had known for 8 months prior that Head Office wanted to promote me to his position. That meant that the girl he hired to replace me, (mind you he offered her my job before I’d accepted another position and then told me I’d made it awkward for him and he’d have to now create a position for me) was actually employed to push me out. To make things really twisted, she was the one who supported me because of his bullying. I developed anxiety and she fed it by creating scenario’s and then implying that the threatening nature of these incidents were my bosses doing. This increased my anxiety. She advised and supported me with my decision to resign. When I left and realised what I’d been up against I wanted to return to work and confront my bullying Boss with the support of my peers and Senior Management at Head Office. But then she became abusive and threatening, it was horrendous, I had documents planted in my yard & was then accused of breaking into the office. I was threatened with police arrest if I was seen anywhere near the office, I isolated at home for months. I lived in the area and I was too scared to leave the house. She knew I was struggling with a drinking problem and turned up one day with an AA pamphlet stating that her and my ex boss need me to admit I’m an alcoholic. I felt like I was a deer stuck in headlights, I confronted my ex boss and begged for it all to stop – he told me to get out of his house. I decided to confront this girl. She said and I will never forget her words “Look, I’ve done a lot of damage to you personally and professionally and if you say anything to anyone I’ll deny it all and no one’s going to believe you anyway because you’ve got a drinking problem!” I asked her why she would do that to me and she said because everyone liked you. I could not believe what I was hearing. It still haunts me. It was trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma.had happened let alone what was happening since I resigned. Everyone at work had turned against me and I didn’t know why. If I did run into anyone I was completely shocked by the accusations and rumours that were being spread. This happened over 12 years ago and I struggle with the indignation and injustice of it all each day. It was absolute malicious cruelty.

  8. Bully Victim

    Im going through this. I do not drink or do drugs. I have a career and work in public health in an area of preventing workplace injury and violence. However in a place that should be a role model, here it is torchure, passive agressiveness gone wild. It is shameful. Humiliating that humans, especially those working in public health, can treat anyone this way. But here it is happening.

  9. suki

    Bullies do it because they can! They have been operating like this for years. No one will stop them. It will continue. If I knew what I know now; save every penny possible from your first employment. Save your money for that rainy day. The day when you CAN walk away from the torture and not be homeless. Those that bully know they have the upper hand. They know the majority of people are stuck in their jobs.

  10. Nina

    Bullies are allowed to bully so they do. It is unbelievable the losses I have dealt with because of being mobbed at my old job. I never knew such things existed. Nothing helps. I can only hope that one day the children of these bulliers are bullied and that their parents see done to their children, what they have done to others. It may seem mean but it would certainly make them think about their own mental illness.

    • suki

      Bullies will raise children that learn how to bully. It is their way of life. The cycle will continue. Sad but true. Have you ever met the parents of a bullying child? The parent cannot fathom why people (at the school) are angry with their bully child. Because it is their way of life. They don’t get it, they never will. It will continue.

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