20 March 2009

COMMENTARY - The BS about Workplace Bullying

Few things make my blood boil as much as hearing excuses for workplace bullying.

I’ve heard otherwise intelligent people put bullying down to a personality clash or the fact the ‘target’ – one doesn’t say victim anymore – is outgoing, quiet, quirky or some other lame excuse.

Crap. Bullying is a serious business issue costing employers billions of dollars every year. It eats into the investment employers make in hiring, training and paying their staff. It can also ruin a person’s health - sometimes permanently.

A new CareerOne survey shows bullying is all too common at work yet the way many employers manage bullying incidents just makes matters worse according to two experts I spoke to.

Managers should have a chat to every new employee to spell out what is considered bullying and that such behaviour is unacceptable. It would put the manager on notice as much as the new employee. Research by Dr Barbara Griffith of Macquarie University has demonstrated how rudeness drives down productivity, particularly when it comes from a manager.

There are HUGE cost savings to be made by blocking bullies. When someone is being bullied he or she is not thinking about the job they are paid to do. Nor is the bully or the supporters of both sides. Bullies intimidate colleagues. They suppress good ideas and block talent from rising. Add in the cost of absenteeism, legal costs, compensation, insurance and counselling. And many people never report the bullying – they just walk out the door and need to be replaced.

Yesterday I spoke to Marie Hutchinson, a lecturer at Southern Cross University about a massive research project she co-authored with Professor Margaret Vickers of the University of Western Sydney on the health sector.

At a time when Australia was experiencing a critical nursing shortage, well trained nurses were choosing to drop tens of thousands of dollars in pay so they could reduce their hours just to avoid a bully. Staggering.

In the years I’ve been reporting on work, I’ve had a tonne of email detailing some awful cases of bullying and I stay in touch with some of those people. Here are just two that show how employers can lose the good employee and be left with the dud bully.

John was bullied by a woman he actually recommended for promotion. He had worked for the Queensland tourism company for seven years and won every sales award it offered year after year. After putting up with the bullying for a year he left with a pay out after contacting lawyers – it didn’t go to court – and now works for a competitor. “I have great contacts in the sector and won every award they offered now I am using everything I have to help a major competitor succeed. She is still there and they are bleeding staff and clients because of her. It’s a shame because I really got on well with the owners and totally believed in their vision.”

Tanya from Melbourne was bullied by her boss at a charity (sadly I’ve had a fair few complaints about bullying from staff working for charities). She hung in there for 5 years and four months but felt she was “going mad”. “I was forced to leave because of his behaviour. This has been a really tough decision as I really believe in the organisation and my role/work in it. I also am a single working parent and financially it is quite scary. I’ve never been without employment.” Tanya left very recently and has since heard other employees have made complaints but for now the bully is still employed.

The really sad thing is there is really little support out there for the targets. I would urge anyone experiencing bullying to talk to your GP as soon as you can. So many people wait until they can’t sleep, can’t eat or are over eating, hitting the bottle or are depressed. Also read up on bullying starting with Beyond Bullying.

Share what you know. Have you experienced bullying? Did you report it and what happened when you did? Also, if anyone knows some support groups out there or other websites please share them.


I have just read Surviving the Office Monster. Dr John Clarke has
opened my eyes, even though I already knew. It is my immediate boss who is the bully in my case. He is very clever and powerful in the community and government sectors and I feel that no-one can touch him, and his behaviour is ignored and/or massaged by our head organisation, but all this is being kept from the board. I work in the
Community Sector and we deliver programs to help people with a disability.

After I left, HR received complaints from other people. It reached boiling point during the busiest time of the year when a lot was happening. The bulk of the bullying and harassment occurred in the form of oppressive micro-managing and delegation with blame.

I am feeling scared and emotional about the future but just needed to get out away from him.
Sadly, I loved my job and it is why I’ve held on for so long.

The whole team felt the strain but because I ws there so long, more than five years, I reached my capacity to tolerate the situation. I used up sick leave - HR recommended I do this - and was put on stress leave.

Hurt & Angry of Melbourne
Thu 19 Mar 09 (09:52am)

Shaun Newman replied to Hurt & Angry
Thu 19 Mar 09 (11:18am)

Hurt & Angry of Melbourne, I tolerated this behavior for 21 years because they also undermined my confidence in myself. These little Hitler’s find ways of intimidation in all sectors. My joining a union finally bought things to a head and bought me a positive outcome. Sadly it was too late for me as the years had left me an emotional invalid for life.

Helis replied to Hurt & Angry
Thu 19 Mar 09 (11:50am)

my sympathies go out to you. I was working for a multi-national until they handed me a redundancy letter last week. To make matters worse I believe it is because I complained about being sexually harassed and bullied by one of their key clients. This same person had a history of bullying and sexual harassment and his superiors did NOTHING to stop him. Anyway my partner advised me to document everything he did, said, the time, date and location. This I did and I am glad, I have since consulted a great solicitor who believes I now have a strong case against my employer for not protecting me and against their client. The fact that I documented everything is so very important.

Did you do the same? and if you are interested I can give you the contact details of my solicitor if you wish to investigate the possibility of taking action. Don’t be afraid.

It is intimidating but realise this: your ex boss has effected your mental and physical health, he had effected your career, you had to leave a job you loved as a result. He has had other complaints made against him. Their HR department have records of this. They did nothing to help you or support you. Imagine their horror at the thought of something like this going to court. They will settle before it even goes that far.

Jonk replied to Hurt & Angry
Thu 19 Mar 09 (10:24pm)

Bullying happened badly in my workplace as well. The guy who controlled the rosters - ie. who had all the power - was touching other male employees in very inappropriate ways that didn’t seem matey at all, they seemed like a pervert trying to cloak it as matey.

But the masters couldn’t comprehend male-on-male sexual harrassment and wouldn’t touch him.

Annie replied to Hurt & Angry
Fri 20 Mar 09 (02:29pm)

I can sympathise with other people for sure and have related to the stories. I am being bullied myself at work at the moment and it sure does a job on your mental health. If the job market was not so tight it would be easy to up and leave, but it would only solve the problem for me and not the next person who fills the position. I am also with a company I have worked for for 7 years and have always loved until I made the big mistake in changing jobs and moving offices a few months ago. I am publicly humiliated daily, shouted at and constantly critised by my new manager - this all happens in front a floor of people including the dept HR Manager and Country Manager who do nothing about it. My fellow work colleagues sympathise with me, but they fear for their positions so they don’t say anything. A HR manager from another dept whom I confided in just advised me to resign and find another job. This is HR and their job to help - earn your paycheck! These bullies have you over a barrel knowing there are not many jobs to go to and they do need to be reprimanded and given lessons in people skills. I don’t think I should be forced out or made to go on medical leave with stress and anxiety after giving so many years to this company, but know I can’t keep going on like this for much longer.

My employment was terminated with 1 hours notice and I had received no written warnings about my performance and was then given 4 weeks pay and told to pack up my belongings and to leave the premises.

My problems started the week I came off probation with my former employer.

The solicitor I worked for was disorganised, I caught her out lying, she would get abusive towards me, blame me for mistakes she had made and it was when I started keeping a diary of all work I was doing that I noticed she was blaming me for her mistakes.

She would constantly change the proceedures to the way she would like my tasks to be completed i.e. told to do it one way then I would complete the task and then be told that it was wrong and that she would like it compeleted another way and end up still being wrong to be put back the way that I had originally completed the task.

Then she told me that I have not worked out and that it was my fault she was so disorganised, that she was so stressed, that she was making mistakes with her work and was unable to meet deadlines. I did everything I could to organise her, no matter what I did it was always wrong and I felt like a punching bag for her to take her frustrations out on. I eventually brought up my concerns with the office manager in January and I was told to bite my tongue - “she is just that way” and to make it work.

Two weeks after that the solicitor sent an email to myself and the office manager accusing me of not completing some tasks she had given me to do -I had completed the tasks and so replied to the email. Things went down hill from then, everyday she was saying she had emailed me to complete a task and but had not emailed me. The office manager took her word over mine. One of the other secretaries who had witnessed everything spoke up but we were told we were ganging up on the solicitor. I have since found out that she has treated all of her secretaries this way but they left before having their employment terminated.

I am concerned now that I have possibly been bad mouthed to job agencies because I have not received any call backs from 4 agencies I have applied for jobs through. Would it be worth removing this job from my resume?

KB of Sydney
Thu 19 Mar 09 (10:03am)
Tane replied to KB
Thu 19 Mar 09 (11:17am)

That sounds horrible - I don’t understand, though, how the office manager could “take her word” over yours about email, just check the server logs. My guess: the office manager is shagging her so she gets to behave however she wants.

Bottom line is you managed to hang in there until she fired you, while all the others have quit first. Sounds to me like you ‘won’. smile And yeah, if the job was that bodgy (and short term) it might be worth leaving it off the CV.

Brett replied to KB
Thu 19 Mar 09 (11:22am)

KB, it sounds as though your ex-boss may be giving out a bad reference for you. Have a friend call pretending to be asking about you as a referee and see if she bad-mouths you. If she does you may have some recourse.

SD replied to KB
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:21pm)

Tane, the solicitor generates money, KB doesn’t, therefore they side with the earner.

If you want them to take your side then you have to show her actions cost the company too much for what she brings in, otherwise the company probably is willing to burn their way through PA’s to keep the earner. I worked in consultancies for too long.

Bob replied to KB
Thu 19 Mar 09 (02:57pm)


Address the problem with your ex-employer. The case as you state it would certainly fit into the definitions for workplace bullying and abuse of power. Your ex-employer has a duty of care to ensure a workplace free from bullying and other forms of harassment and is negligent in that duty of care if they do not act to prevent or rectify issues of harassment. I suggest you contact the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission via http://www.humanrights.gov.au for some guidance. The worst thing you can possibly do is nothing, as that simply compounds the problem for others. Good luck, Bob.

Ryan replied to KB
Thu 19 Mar 09 (05:23pm)

KB, I dont think your old employer is ‘bad mouthing’ you. The job market has crashed. Everyone is feeling the crunch. You might even find that the jobs your applying for don’t even exist - whilst this is illegal and unethical, it’s reality. Recruitment agencies do this to build their candidate portfolios, pre-empting vacancies. Also, given there are in excess of 600 recruitment agencies here in Brisbane (I know your in Sydney), I’d suggest that’s a lot of phone calls your old employer would have to make. Cheer up, perservere with your job search, keep your old employer on your resume, just don’t put her down as your referee.

Good luck.

I left a job because of workplace bullying that was made worse by my addressing the issue with my manager and HR. Can someone please help me with the following with regard to job interviews?

What is the politically correct way of describing why you left a previous employer if bullying was the reason you left?

What is the politically correct way of explaining why your immediate manager is not your reference (i.e. either they were the bully, or they supported the bully)?

(I have a manager from a closely related section of the job as a reference, but I am always asked about the fact that I don’t have my immediate manager as a reference).

Would love any help or references people could point me to.


Max of Brisbane
Thu 19 Mar 09 (10:35am)
James replied to Max
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:48pm)

I agree with what Kate has noted below.

However, I would like to add that while it is difficult to do after having been demoralised through bullying in the workplace, you need to enter an interview with confidence.

Also remember that regardless of the jobs climate, you are interviewing the prospective employer as much as they are interviewing you.

Additionally, when you are providing a CV, state that your referees and other documents are available upon request. You can then provide them only if there is genuine interest and can prevent some unethical people trying to do their research on you before meeting you.

Max replied to Max
Thu 19 Mar 09 (03:18pm)

Thanks for the comments. I’m currently taking a “sabbatical” from work as the whole situation unfortunately got to the stage where it has affected my self confidence. My advice to anyone who is suffering from workplace bullying is to access help from your GP and counsellors before it gets to that stage.

I worked for company “X” for several years and have professional qualifications at the postgraduate level. I currently answer my questions by saying that I am looking for new challenges/develop new skills/opportunities for advancement etc. and secondly by stating that as I had been working for the company for a number of years I had reached the stage where I worked independently in BAU tasks and worked more closely in ad hoc tasks with managers in other sections and therefore they are more acutely aware of my advanced skill set than my direct manager who only managed the BAU tasks. (Answers that just totally avoiding raising the issue of bullying).

Unfortunately I have been unable to get a job (I’m sure that the GFC hasn’t helped) and I am wondering if my answers are too evasive. I’m hesitant to bad mouth a previous employer as it’s rule #1 of what not to do in an interview. I’m also hesitant to even hint at issues that might reveal the whole mess as even though I tried to address the issue, I was unable to fix it and ended up leaving and I’m not sure that a future employer will like to be made aware of that.

Overall, I have found this blog both good and bad. While I am comforted to know that I am not alone, I am concerned as to how pervasive this issue is in the workplace, and to how consistently badly it is managed.

big surprise

Laced replied to Max
Thu 19 Mar 09 (05:57pm)

References??? What are those? I’ve done contacting in my field of work for nearly 10 years and I’ve found over the past few years that companies are more and more everyday not providing references.
Firstly it is illegal to give a bad reference (from what I have been told) as it’s defamation (how ever spelled) of character.
Also any place should know you would not provide references if they were going to be bad.
In the case you have Max, just don’t offer the reference with you job unless they ask. You can always say that don’t give references, or something like “due to a conflict in managing styles from my manager this was one of the reasons why I left and would prefer not to use him as a reference as under their management I found myself not providing the best work I could provide due to their management skills”

Whatever happens do not lie, they will/can find out and it can cause problems. Depending on the situation you might feel you can can some people while working their where making it very difficult to do you work and this is why you left. Or start out forget that part and say you wanted to expand your skills and find another position.

Hi Max, I would love to hear what other people have said but there is something called a “sh** sandwich”. That is where you answer the question by inserting a positive, then a negative then end on a positive. So something like: “I got a lot out of the experience of working at X but the particular manager heading the department had a style with staff his/her staff found challenging and that included me. I prefer to nominate the managers who I think you will get most value out of talking to. I am someone who loves what I do and really wants to work productively with my manager.” Hopefully they will read this as you being discreet and the manager being an issue not just for you but other people. There is also the issue of privacy for the former employer so you could try that too. So something like: “I got a lot out of the experience of working at X but the particular manager heading the department had a style with staff his/her staff found challenging however I feel I would be being indiscreet or unfair to the organisation to say more.”

Kate Southam
Fri 20 Mar 09 (08:43am)

“At a time when Australia was experiencing a critical nursing shortage, well trained nurses were choosing to drop tens of thousands of dollars in pay so they could reduce their hours just to avoid a bully. Staggering.”

True. Others may beg to differ but the healthcare industry is Bullying Central. I pulled out of my nursing studies for this very reason. It is certainly NOT true for all nursing staff but I will say that in my own experience a lot of the very same people in the industry complaining about the lack of nursing staff are quite likely responsible for that.

I was bullied no end in practicals in the hospital system and decided that if this is what I had to look forward to at the end of study - no thanks. I have no problem speaking up for myself and I went through the “correct channels” ... but ultimately was labelled a troublemaker and copped worse from staff.

Nurses provide a vital service and there are some incredible and amazing staff out there.... but for those of you that insist on bullying up-and-comers trying to enter the system - shame on you. And frankly, the “system” is no help. It is designed the protect the system, not you.

I’ve since started my own business, it’s going great and I’m happier than I have ever been when it comes to work. Despite this, it is a shame I had the experience I did - I had a genuine desire to help.

Sue of Sue
Thu 19 Mar 09 (10:43am)

unfortunately, i have witnessed a number of incidences of bullying in the workplace, and it has all been by women.

Thu 19 Mar 09 (11:37am)
Sue replied to r0y
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:29pm)

Sorry to agree with you Roy, but I too have seen some shocking examples of women bullying. :(

Lil replied to r0y
Thu 19 Mar 09 (01:40pm)

All the bullying I have seen has been by men.

I work in a male dominated profession, one notorious for bullying. In my professional community there have been three sucides attributed in large part to bullying in the last ten years, all women. In all cases the “targets” had approached HR and nothing had been done because the men they were complaining about were earners and they weren’t.

People asked alot of questions about why they didn’t just leave their jobs, but I think, apart from the financial aspects, any abusive realtionship is the same whether it be personal or a professional, and all systematically destroy self esteem.

A lot of the time women who stand up to the bullies (myself included) in my profession earn themselves a reputation as being a bitch, uptight, humorless or difficult to work with. A lot of the women I have worked with, espeically the older ones, have had to grow very thick hides to make it through, and then they’re accused of “trying to be a man”.

But just in the last few years the issue has really come to the fore as a result of the gender balance of graduates swingining back the other way, and is, I think, being dealt with a lot more effectively.

Lauren replied to r0y
Thu 19 Mar 09 (02:11pm)

Years ago, the bullying I came in contact with was by men… and also a couple of key women.

I think it swings both ways.

Women are more subtle - when I was doing an admin role years ago, there was one girl who used to hide my files, delete work off my machine or move my orders to the incorrect tray. Whenever I was reprimanded for any of the items she caused should would just sit there and smirk.

Guys however are different - They don’t sneak around as much, they’re straight out with it.

Sue replied to r0y
Thu 19 Mar 09 (03:08pm)

I would agree with that, Lauren. While neither approach is good, men seem to be “upfront” with their bullying… so there’s no mistaking what it is. I can only speak from my own experience that women can indeed by quite subtle… so much so that you initially question yourself and wonder if you’re over-reacting!

James replied to r0y
Thu 19 Mar 09 (06:07pm)

In my experiences, it has been women guilty of bullying while I was working for respective companies.

Men are more vindictive and tend to feel you have done something wrong by them first. Women who feel threatened in their role tend to become workplace bullies.

The last bully I dealt with was an arrogant guy with a big ego. I resigned after seeing the direction of the company head in a direction I wanted no part of. He saw my resignation as a personal insult which would damage his business and his reputation. As a result, he made futile attempts to ensure no one else in the industry hired me.

Hehe, that did not work - I know more people in the industry I work for than he does and I have done favours for many of them in the past which has made them a lot of money.

He even tried to convince my new employer’s referral partner (mutual referral partner for both businesses) to pull their referrals from my new employer if they hired me. It kind of backfired as we now get more referrals than he does and we have taken some of his referrals due to the superior service we can provide the referral partner who has told us that the more he complains, the more he loses…

I agree with Sue of Sue, in that nursing is bullying based, due to its hierarchy. I have lost around 3 jobs due to bullying. In 1990, I was once grabbed by the neck by the manager & said, “Ah, you are bloody hopeless!” Each day when I went to work, I was shouted at & blamed for any mistakes in the workplace. In 2004, I lost another job due to bullying & racism in a renowned run down Hospital on the North Shore. In 2006, I lost another job in another public hospital due to those smart British girls, who messed up their own tasks & reported me for not helping them. After 22 years of nursing, I was sent to the senior management to explain why I didn’t answer call bells soon enough. I responded to their complaint & wrote to the director of nursing, which resulted in me receiving a warning letter from HR. I had to employ a lawyer, stating that I didn’t initiate any complaints, but only responded to complaints made against me. Eventually my warning was lifted, but at a price - my career. I have been reputed to be a difficult person to work with in the organization, & have been blacklisted by all affiliated hospitals.

I have nursed across the globe, so I will set my next destination & say good-bye to this Country, the above is part to blame. Whose loss is this? The system? The patients? oh oh

Repeated victim of Sydney
Thu 19 Mar 09 (11:41am)
Sue replied to Repeated victim
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:33pm)

This is just awful, RV. and you are correct - ultimately it is the patient who loses out. It is extremely difficult to disprove a label of troublemaker or “difficult” when up against the system. I’m very sorry this has been your experience - particularly sad given your years in the profession. I am at a loss to understand why, in the face of so much evidence that bullying COSTS any organisation HUGE $$$, nothing is done about it - and I mean something beyond meeting about it, talking about it and doing an awful lot of hand-wringing about it.

Local Government is also Bullying Central, so much so I am fed up with civil engineering and have managed to get out for the time being and hope to not go back. I have a third string to my bow, one where I am pretty much left alone to deal with the complexities, and am full time on that and much healthier and happier and I was when I was doing engineering or spatial analysis.

Of the three LG employers I have worked for over the last 20 years, bullying has been rife in 2 of them, particularly of female technical staff. When a manager leaves you never know what you will get or whether you will be relegated to secretarial duties and pretty much excluded from the engineering work and any training and it’s a “man’s job”. Other department’s male managers tend to dump on you as well. Interestingly, while doing this you get trotted out regularly to be displayed as a shining example of a female in engineering. Hypocrisy at its best.

Oh, and yep, put my hand up for the ‘What do you say’ in an interview. Employers do not want to know the truth. I remain astounded by the number of employers that think there are no repercussions from them ringing up and asking about you to your current employer. Of course there are, and in plenty of places the employee’s life becomes completely miserable after the bully finds out you are on the lookout for another job. In many cases, that is what they want, so it encourages them to up the ante.

Thu 19 Mar 09 (11:41am)

I had a serious injury at work but through misguided loyalty continued to work 12 hr days, 6.5 days a week until I became so ill with infection, a gangrenous wound and necrotic flesh, that I was forced to take 2 months off work with daily medical attendances to manage the injury.
My employer, a public company tried repeatedly to force me to return to work when doctors were adamant I could not. When I did return, work colleagues attitude toward me had cooled. Over the following years I had recurrences of infection culminating in admission to hospital emergency and treatment with intravenous antibiotics. Whilst in hospital my manager would call home and ask if I would be coming to work the next morning. Finally a couple of years on I was sacked, and this is a warning to others. Even if you continue to work whilst you have recurrent problems from a work injury, you have no recourse when your employer sacks you because of the injury!
I went from being a very fit man to being 40 kgs overweight. I still suffer depression, and I am unable to work conventional hours. 13 years on I still have re-infection problems and will have for life.
This is the evil face of employer instigated workplace bullying that goes on unrecognised because a victim who is unwell is not able to fight for their rights.

prozac of Sydney (Reply)
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:02pm)

I have been subjected to workplace bullying now for five years. Unfortunately it is a small business, and the bully is the director - he answers to no one.

The incidents are too numerous to name here, but include the following:

- Shouting/physical intimidation - for example he may randomly ask me why I have not completed some task. I will tell him I document each task in writing and that he never gave me this task. He will insist he did give me this task, and start to get aggressive about it. I will tell him I do not want to be held responsible for a task I was never given, he will accuse me of lying, I will tell him he cannot talk to me in such a fashion as it is not professional. Then he will stand over me, yelling into my face (and spitting) that this is his business, he will talk to me however he pleases, and if I don’t like it I can get out. On one occasion he told me I was fired and to get out (he rescinded this later - more on this)

- Excessive micromanagement - He may spend a whole day 1 foot away, directing simple tasks. He gets impatient at the slightest whim and snatches the keyboard/mouse away. Ironically he then also blames me for not getting his own work done when he chooses to do this.

- Random unlikely accusations - I have been accused of theft - of stamps of all things. My boss is obsessed with stamps, he is convinced they get stolen even though no one is the slightest bit interested in them. He does a monthly review of them, keeps them in a lockbox and once when a coworker quit, he forced her to sit in the centre of a room on a chair “so she could not steal anything” and had another employer count the stamps to ensure she was taking none with her. When I pointed out no one wants his stamps, he said to me quite seriously “stamps are money - currency”

- Personal insults and put-downs - I received these liberally. I have been told I come to work with “food in my beard and on my clothes” (never true - I am a hygiene freak) and got denied the chance to branch into another role in the company because it would involve contact with clients directly and he told me word-for-word quote - “and lets face it..Your no adonis”

There are alot more and I have seen this behaviour towards other people too - he is quite open about his prejudices, telling a female job applicant he “would never hire again a woman who is of fertile age who might go and get pregnant and go on maternity leave” and when another coworker asked for a pay rise in-line with another worker in the same job role, she was told “Well your 26, and he is 43..when your 43 I’ll pay you what a 43yr old is due, until then I’ll pay you as a 26yr old”

- I feel sick, miserable, stressed out and worried all the time - but I have a fiancee, two daughters (a family to support) and my job skill range is extremely narrow and specialized - once I have a job I am nearly impossible to let go (very secure) but finding a job in my field is nigh impossible, positions are extremely rare. I know he would fire me if he was able to, but he knows the odds of finding a replacement in this field are near zero. Also financially my family is single-income and we cannot afford at all for me to be out of work.

Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:30pm)
James replied to Kuhr
Thu 19 Mar 09 (01:17pm)

It may be daunting but is there any scope to start your own business in the same field?

Or, rather than being in something so specialised, could you move to something in the same industry, similar role but more generalised?

Bad bosses with poor interpersonal skills tend to lose sight of the fact that their clients pick up on how happy their staff are and tend to have a feel for how the business operates. These clients are often happy to take their business elsewhere if they can get a better offer at a cheaper rate.

If having a young family is the only reason you are avoiding starting your own business, do not worry. If you have a solid business plan to present your bank manager, then it is likely you can get finance to start the business and cover your living expenses.

A couple of things to think about anyway…

Paranoia replied to Kuhr
Fri 20 Mar 09 (03:05pm)

I agree with James. You sound like a consultant in the making. Do some courses on running your own business (what insurances, licenses etc you’d need - search the government courses on this one, there’s an entire federal department to assist small businesses) and speak to a bank manager about any startup finances you might need.

Then quit. Tell this guy you’re going to do consulting work, and your new rate - substantial - and remember that he DOESN’T speak to you like that. Are there other firms to give you work?

Or there’s always retraining in another field.

Good luck!!

I have worked for a number of employers who have all had their interesting situations.

My first real job was about 9 years ago at a recruitment firm in Sydney as a trainee administrator. I was doing well and impressing the owners. Then they hired a psycho of a general manager with a hatred of anyone who was “Gen Y” and male. She called myself and another guy into the boardroom and told us we were doing a crap job and she will see to it we were both fired… A few months later, she told me to do something which became my undoing and resulted in my services no longer being required as a result of a “redundancy” due to a loss of clients by the firm as a result of 9/11…

This MD lost her job a short time later after being caught out providing unauthorised references for myself to recruitment agents…

I then found myself working in various call centres for the following 5 years (good pay for no experience) I found myself working for a small company with a contract to provide outsourced call centre solutions to a Health Insurance company. The call centre manager there was also a bit of a psycho (kind of like she had PMS 30 out of 28 days of the month) and would scream at everyone over issues. I had a week off work sick and she cut my permanent full time position back to permanent part time. She also made it difficult for anyone to look for a new job. I finally handed in my resignation there and a week later she screamed at me in front of everyone for refusing to do overtime given I had made plans (job interview). I changed my plans and informed her that it would my last day in exchange.

I now no longer have to worry about these issues. I am in a good stable job with a career I enjoy and should I ever leave my employer, my qualifications, skills, experience and industry reputation allows me to choose my next employer, not the other way around.

James of Brisbane
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:31pm)
James replied to James
Thu 19 Mar 09 (05:33pm)

Another point to note:

If your manager/boss/anyone you are required to report to is engaging in bully tactics of any sort to the point you have no other option but to leave (voluntarily or otherwise) you may have a claim through the AIRC for constructive dismissal. To prove it, you need to keep a diary of everything that happens (time, date, where & what) in detail.

You also need to show where possible you have attempted to resolve the matter internally. Include details of the meeting in your diary. Otherwise if there is no one you can resolve this with, include this detail with your complaint to the AIRC.

I got this advice from a workplace lawyer I saw when I was going through an ugly situation with a previous employer. I did not proceed with this as I managed to find another job instead where I could not devote the time to attending hearings and was happier anyway.

I worked at an office for three years where I had three bosses during that time. The first two bosses left because they were bullied out by their manager, and then I had to leave after the third boss bullied me.
He was a mysoginist who treated all the female staff like crap, but went out of his way to treat all the male personnel like they were his best mates. I had worked hard to get up to a certain position but my responsibilites were taken away from me because “the men can do that better”. I kept asking for more work but wasn’t given any projects to do, or was sent on menial tasks like getting the coffee for the blokes.
It came to a head when I went to ask for a pay rise. I had met all the criteria and completed the required courses to get a pay rise, and I was told they would look into it. A day later I was hauled into the office by my boss and his manager and told I had a bad attitude, was lazy and was underperforming (all of which was not true). My boss told me I hadn’t completed set tasks on certain days - which all happened to be days I was off sick due to the fact I broke my ankle (which I didn’t realise until I got home and checked my diary). I was informed I would be on probation for a month and if I didn’t improve I would be fired. I was furious and called in my union, who were absolutely hopeless and did nothing to help me, telling me “there’s nothing we can really do, you’ll just have to go along with it”. The union rep even baulked at coming to my second meeting with my bosses because the meeting fell on a public holiday day in his state!
They decided they would keep me but told me I would not be getting a pay rise “any time soon”.
I ended up staying there a few weeks longer, then quit. That pig of a boss has since left the place too. But I’m sad I had to be pushed out of a workplace doing something I loved in a town I loved to work in just because my boss was a woman-hating pig. I have vowed I will never be bullied again at work, it was bad enough being bullied at school for being a hard-working smart kid (ironic, eh?). If any bullying starts I will complain straight away, and if nothing is done straight away, I will quit immediately. It’s not worth my mental health.

Jane (Reply)
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:32pm)

I just wanted to say to all who have posted thus far that I am very sorry you have experienced such awful behaviour in your workplaces. Obviously this is a subject I’m quite passionate about. It makes me so very angry that there is such a large number of the populace being harassed in places where they spend such a large part of their waking hours.

Sue of Sydney (Reply)
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:37pm)

I find a lot of manager’s don’t always realise they are being bullying. Managers can have big arguements at high levels and are used to argueing points to establish their position. However when it goes to lower levels, teamwork is promoted heavily and thus people at that level do not tend to argue points and the like to the same level as their managers.

When the manager questions points in a discussion as s/he is used to doing, it often comes across as bullying. The manager is thinking they are exploring the idea, but to a lower level position it often feels like the manager is picking their thoughts to peices, which discourages them from raising ideas in the future.

Good communication is about your audience, not you.

Sheep (Reply)
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:40pm)

In the last place I worked the biggest bully was the highest manager. He was the person you had to go to if you were being bullied!

I also utterly despise those types who put you down without saying it to your face. There’s a lot of scum in life, I guess you just have to “suck it up princess” as they say. I have no confidence in complaining. Change the laws and bring back the biff I say.

bring back the biff
Thu 19 Mar 09 (12:42pm)
Hathor replied to bring back the biff
Fri 20 Mar 09 (01:08pm)

I have witnessed workplace biffo.

Back in the 80’s I worked for a well known pharma company and their QA area had a supervisor who was notorious for getting in her staffs’ face and poking them in the chest with her forefinger when she was angry. Her tactic was to poke and yell whilst backing then against the wall where they would be screamed at and poked for a good five minutes, of course no one did anything to stop her.

As it was an open workplace with a lot of glass partitions, everyone could see what was going on and at least once a week one of this womans’ staff would run out of there sobbing. One day she tried it on a friend of mine who had an even worse temper than the supervisor and we were all treated the sight of my friend slamming the supervisor’s head into the wall repeatedly.

Needless to say that supervisor never touched her staff again and my friend kept her job.

Karma, pure karma.... wink

I wouldn’t say I was bullied at work but I was subject to a junior colleague bringing up my sexuality and referring to it in a derogatory manner on numerous occasions.

Initially it started with her telling a story about a gay guy in my presence and mimicking him and generally being derogatory and offensive. I didn’t say anything to management at the time as I wasn’t too fussed about it as she was a new employee and I thought I would give her the benefit of the doubt. When this employee blatantly started ignoring me, for example when I would say hi in the morning, I contemplated saying something to my manager as I felt she was being immature and inappropriate.

I ended up reporting the situation when this colleague sent me an email describing a shop assistant she had recently dealt with as a ‘useless f*ggot.’ I was pretty upset and irritated by that comment and when I told my manager about the incident she suggested I should have come to her sooner. She also suggested that this would be dealt with quickly and in accordance with company procedure and that I would be kept up to date on what is happening.

My colleague who made the remarks was spoken to by the general manager, operations manager and my team leader and the severity of her behaviour was outlined. She resigned a couple of weeks later. It was not my objective to get this employee terminated and in retrospect I feel I should have approached her after that email but I didn’t want that employee aware that she had upset me as I feel that was her intention.

I am a pretty confident guy and the reason I suggested at the start of this post that “I wouldn’t say I was bullied…” is because although her behaviour may meet the definition of bullying, it didn’t overly affect my productivity at work or my emotional wellbeing.

Lilo of Mullaloo
Thu 19 Mar 09 (01:01pm)

Hi Lilo. Your colleague’s behaviour does sound like bullying and harrassment. It’s great you were not adversely affected but someone else might have been. Good on you for taking action. Don’t beat up on yourself for not approaching her earlier. While it sounds like your employers were appalled by her behaviour and took swift action employers really need to educate people before something goes wrong. Written policies are just words on a page unless the employer “lives” these policies. My office didn’t have any problems but as part of ongoing training and culture building it arranged for someone to come in from the Diversity Council of Australia and talk to us. Fantastic woman who is now its CEO. It was really good to hear from a neutral third party who is also an expert.

Kate Southam
Fri 20 Mar 09 (07:58am)

I was bullied by the manager second in charge. My direct supervisor and manager were too afraid to do anything about it. It was insidious as he used my “job performance” as a way to undermine my confidence. I was offering a service to the customers that they appreciated and this was initially encouraged by management but later criticised as it “showed up” less capable employees. Everything I did was constantly monitored and I was forced to get signoff over and above what any other employee had to. I had numerous conversations with hr and the higher boss about it but when the big boss and hr manager both left and were replaced, the manager realised I had no more allies in the company and stepped up the campaign. His aim was to break me and force me to quit but in the end I stayed and forced him to get rid of me. I sought legal advice straight away and eventually got a small settlement (although my lawyer said it was higher than she would have expected). I would have settled for re-employment at the company in another area but there was no way they would agree to that.

Karen (Reply)
Thu 19 Mar 09 (01:09pm)

I suffered from workplace bullying for 2 years and now find myself unemployed and demotivated.

I always deemed it would be too difficult for me to prove bullying as it was always verbal and without witnesses.

I tried on several occasions to keep a diary as to who said what and when. But I felt completing these diary entries took up too much time, was too risky to keep as it may be found by colleagues and I feared getting the sack if my productivity was questioned.

I also felt that if I raised a complaint it would not be upheld as my evidence was based purely on verbal comments that had no witnesses.

How does a person prove bullying when it is all verbal and there is no witnesses?

Are cases won like this?

Getting Evidence of Brisbane (Reply)
Thu 19 Mar 09 (01:29pm)

I’ve been the target of sexual harrassment at several workplaces. (It comes with the territory of being female and not-butt-ugly.) Thankfully, I have good strategies of not letting it get to me.

As a result I stay employable in a highly lucrative industry.

A friend of mine who did complain is now blacklisted. I learned my lesson to keep my mouth shut from what happened to her.

Thu 19 Mar 09 (01:35pm)
katie replied to Mandy
Thu 19 Mar 09 (03:18pm)

I’ve been reading these and it’s such a shame that people seem to learn that keeping their mouth shut and just taking it is easier and healthier for their careers. It’s so wrong!

Mandy, What strategies do you use? I would be interested in a few ideas.

Mandy replied to Mandy
Fri 20 Mar 09 (12:34pm)

The main question is this:

How much power does the guy have? How you respond to the situation really depends on his position in the company.

1) If he’s the Big Boss, or someone with a lot of power, the best thing I’ve found to do is just laugh it off. Yes, it’s demeaning, and in a fair world you should never have to put up with it, but it happens.

- If his words are flirty, just smile and change the topic.

- If he touches you too much, take a subtle step away every time he comes close.

- If he gropes you, firmly remove his hand and say, “Now we wouldn’t want your wife/my boyfriend to see that, would we?”. Keep your tone light.

- If he’s drunk, remove yourself from the situation and go home.

- If he arranges for the two of you to be alone at work after hours, set up an emergency phone call in advance so that you can leave.

- And always, ALWAYS have an excuse ready of why you must urgently go.

The key trick I’ve found is my acting ability. I keep a smile on my face, I’m very firm, and that seems to work; i.e. he realises it will go no further.

And I try and take it as a compliment - obviously he finds me so hot that he can’t control himself. That way, it doesn’t get me down as much as it could.

- If he’s a peer, then I’m nowhere near as nice. Death glares seem to get the message across. But the same strategy applies - *do not* let it get to me, be firm, direct and *do not* play his game.

In all cases, I keep a meticulous diary of what’s happened. I even have chat logs from some incidents; chances are, the guy won’t be logging his IM window but I always am. I haven’t yet had to use these records but they are there as a fallback.

Oh, and I tell a couple of key friends as extra insurance.

In my profession I have seen the devastating effects bullying can have, but I have also worked with a few capital-V-Victims. I think the reason this is such a difficult area is because of the vocal minority of people who believe being told firmly but fairly that they’ve done something wrong (coming in late, personal calls, too much Facebook, etc etc) and to smarten up is bullying.

A secretary I once had was lazy and useless. I’m a pretty good boss, I’m understanding about family issues, I give great birthday gifts, I share praise and include support staff in the perks when they’ve done good work. But this lady was awful. After two weeks and the fifth time I had asked her nicely to do something and she had chosen instead to text and play on Facebook, I took her into my office and told her firmly, and without accusatory language ("I feel” “I think") that it wasn’t good enough. I was angry, but I was very careful with my tone and to make sure I explained to her the importance of the task I had assigned her to the team as a whole.

She quit the next day, telling all and sundry I had bullied her. It’s a damn fine line.

What’s your advice for dealing with that situation, Kate?

Lil of Perth
Thu 19 Mar 09 (01:53pm)

Hi Lil. I do know what you mean. Sadly, the nice people do cop it. For example, there is another story out today from Harmers Lawyers who claim they have seen a spike in the number of false allegations of bullying and harrassment being made supposedly from people who think if they pop a claim in they can’t be targeted for redundancy. Talk about desperate measures. What they are talking about is fraud in my book and really akin to criminal behaviour. Dodgy folk will be dodgy folk and the Harmers findings do not cancel out the much greater number of people who suffer in silence from genuine bullying or who get clobbered when they report bullying. Back to you, sounds like you were indeed gentle about the whole thing and no doubt relieved when that lass left. You could have anticipated her reaction and brought someone else in - like an HR manager - to watch your back but that would have humilated her so again, I think you did right by the PA. It is human nature to get defensive when you have been caught out. From you have told me, it sounds like her level of self awareness was pretty low.

Kate Southam
Thu 19 Mar 09 (02:30pm)

I suffered from workplace bullying for 2 years and now find myself unemployed and demotivated.

I always deemed it would be too difficult for me to prove bullying as it was always verbal and without witnesses.

I tried on several occasions to keep a diary as to who said what and when. But I felt completing these diary entries took up too much time, was too risky to keep as it may be found by colleagues and I feared getting the sack if my productivity was questioned.

I also felt that if I raised a complaint it would not be upheld as my evidence was based purely on verbal comments that had no witnesses.

How does a person prove bullying when it is all verbal and there is no witnesses?

Are cases won like this?

Getting Evidence of Brisbane
Thu 19 Mar 09 (01:54pm)
T replied to Getting Evidence
Fri 20 Mar 09 (01:05pm)

I’ve also been bullied at work before and have been reduced to keep a diary before at another workplace. You DON’T keep it at work though.
What I did was write very brief notes i.e. a post-it note size with the time of the incident, and use the note to write about the incident into a diary at home or in your car.

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