Thursday, July 25, 2013

Evolution of a Work Place Bully

So while bullying may start in childhood, the behaviors follow people throughout their adulthood too.  Especially if they've been rewarded early on as signs of strength, ability to influence and individuality.

Fast forward to being a grown up, and holding down jobs, and the bullying culture is ever more present.  It evolves from hair pulling and name calling.  It gets so much dirtier.  So much more tainted and passive aggressive.  I'm beginning to think the use of social media in bullying for teens is going to make this even more impossible to overcome when in adulthood, they've already honed the passive aggressive mob approach to bullying.  It scares me.  It really does.

My own experience with grown up bullies hasn't been a happy one.  I'm a strong and intelligent person, and as I've recounted before, I've always been the one to stand up and put a stop to bullies.  But at the same time, I've been brought to my most vulnerable by 2 major factors of adulthood:  Becoming a parent and dealing with a workplace bully.

See, on the playground, the only real difference between a bully and his or her prey, is age, size, and whatever social/physical quirks are visible.  It's very much a visual connection that drives a bullying situation to open up and take root.

At work, it's beyond the visible.  It's about inferiority of the mind, inferiority of public persuasion and political influence.  They say preschool is a dog eat dog kind of world.  But the workplace is as cannibalistic as it comes without being you know, a real cannibal.

If someone perceives you to have different methods, ideals or communication're a potential target.  If that person holds a position of authority, they have the added bonus of the big stick, without having to work hard to use it.  If that person has direct authority over you, they have the big stick, they use it, and it takes an awful lot to get them to put it down.  OH, and the whole time you're being bullied at the office, the one thing they can take away from you, means almost more than any amount of pride stinging or self esteem bashing they could have done as children.  They stand between you and your livelihood.  They stand between you and putting food on the table for your children to eat.  They stand between you and your next rent payment, electricity bill.  They stand between you and the necessities of life which let's face it, is the ultimate blow to a person's identity and pride.

So while there were outlets for handling bullies in your childhood, now you have to figure out how to beat the assholes at their own game, and if you thought the mob mentality of the internet was difficult to deal with...try looking at your HR rep, the group benefits guy, and the "employee assistance representative" who are all paid by the same guy who's paying your bully.  Oh - and their job, first and foremost, is to make sure you're "OK enough" to keep going and making the biggest guy the bully, really has you over a barrel, and he or she has the most layers of protection a bully could ever wish for.  That is all to say, in the work world where people have the power to affect change, there really is no such thing as allegiance for the victim.  Any way out means you have to find a new way to earn your living, redefine yourself and re-establish new street cred.  You need to remove yourself from the situation, which you know, just doesn't mesh with the golden rule and the social mores of fairness and justice.

My workplace bully was promoted and rewarded despite the many reports HR, the ethics team and the ombudsman received from several sources.  He was highly scrutinized and his reputation was tarnished, and he STILL came out ahead.  My reputation was tarnished, the perception of me was that I was weak, evasive, incapable of managing my work.  I got punished for being the victim.  In many ways, I'm still being punished through his legacy.  Ever tried rebuilding street cred when nothing else in the environment has changed?  On the playground, one did this by actually fighting back and laying the bully out.  You gain credibility, when the other's perceived superiority is diminished.  In the workplace however, the only way to escape and change this is to literally quit your job, and branch out into a new industry.  Start over.  Let me tell you how impossible that is.  My livelihood is still at stake.  Food on the table for my child is what keeps me in what amounts to an abusive situation.  Supporting my family is what keeps me from doing what is right - standing up for myself and for others, because it's bitten me in the ass once already...who does that twice?

So if bullying takes this route to stardom, and simply not being one makes you the perpetually opportune victim, what's the right answer?  I wish I knew it.  My only advice is to stop it in it's tracks early.  Be less attached to your earnings and earning potential, maybe?  This is one of those things that's easier said than done.  I've been trying to escape this situation going on 10 years.  My bully has moved on, but another one is surely following him.  The pecking orders of a work environment breed and thrive on bullying culture.  The only way to really escape it is self employment, and as a friend once said, then you have the world's worst bosses to answer to...yourself and your customer.

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