The Professional Playground: Bullying in the Workplace

buly-200x214I used to think that bullying was something only kids did. Kids with low self-esteem and insecurity issues. And as they got older, people stopped their immature games and got on with life. I never met any high school queen bees like in the movies and never heard of any sorority queens wreaking havoc at SMU. So despite the known frat hazing rituals, bullying was always a very foreign term to me. It wasn’t until recently that I would become a victim of bullying myself.

At my last job, I was bullied by my boss. This was a very confusing time for me because of the current stigma about work in today’s culture. We are told to work hard, stay late, always try to prove our worth, and to never argue with upper management. At least, that’s what I was taught. These were the very thoughts that kept me in a negative environment for far too long. It started out as small things like leaving me out of team conversations and getting a smaller work load than my peers. It then escalated to verbal tear-downs, non-constructive criticism, and an overall fear mentality that caused me severe anxiety and a sense of helplessness. I was criticized for my laugh, my personality, my appearance, and my clothes. One day I was too withdrawn and the next I was too chatty. I remember getting called in and asked why I was so withdrawn. After replying that I was on anti-anxiety medication and that the side effects could be to blame, I was told that that wasn’t a good excuse. I was under a microscope. Every tiny error in my work was scrutinized while my achievements were rarely mentioned or praised. I was called out in front of my peers and publicly shamed. I was kept in fear for my job with the constant reminder that if I didn’t change, I would be fired. All the while I recited Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ”. So I worked with a smile on my face while sneaking trips to the bathroom to cry in the stall. I would pray asking God why he wanted me at this company. He had made it so obvious that it was the right choice and yet I was miserable. I prayed that if he wanted me to leave to make the choice obvious. And after 9 months, the Lord was faithful and provided a way out.

After leaving that company, I still didn’t consider myself a victim of bullying. I didn’t realize it until an ex-coworker told me that my old team believed I was targeted and over-scrutinized on purpose and for no reason at all. They were not surprised that I decided to leave. For the first time in my life, bullying was real. It wasn’t some celebrity PSA. It wasn’t a sad story I read in the news. It was real and happened outside of elementary school and off the playground. It was by an adult. I don’t know why I was targeted and treated in such a way. I don’t know why God put me at that company. But I do know that I have infinitely more empathy for others who have been bullied. It is an emotionally and physically exhausting and damaging situation. Bullying exists and can happen at any age and by anyone. It is more common than you think, especially in the workplace.

Looking back, I wish I would have been more bold and spoken to HR about my experiences. I was even too afraid to be honest in my exit interview out of fear of what would happen if my comments got back to my boss. I also remember thinking that I was too sensitive and that what I was experiencing was typical for corporate America. It’s not. A hostile work environment is not o.k. in any circumstance or in any industry. You are not powerless and there are many resources available to help.

Below are some resources on bullying in the workplace, for further reading:

Workplace Bullying

Identifying and Coping with Workplace Bullies

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