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Tough boss or big bully? Part 2

12 February 2013

What does it feel like to be bullied at work? In part two of our series on real-life bullying experiences, we share another story from a reader.

Steven, 35 years old, Account Executive

I'd only been in my new job for about eight weeks when the bullying started.

I was working in the sales team at a homewares wholesaler, and I had a number of big accounts to manage. My boss was a pretty highly strung guy. Whenever he felt pressure, he would get tense and pushy, demanding answers and stalking around the office.

At the start, I thought it was just his personality; but as the weeks went by, I noticed that a couple of us got it much worse than the others.

The manager had a really accusatory tone – every question felt like an interrogation. Meetings were the worst – he would sit there barking orders at everyone: "Where are we at with this account? When are the samples arriving? Why hasn't that been wrapped up? What have you been doing?"

It was his tone and manner that really put me on edge. I don't know if I can capture it here, but it was tough to take in a public forum. And when someone speaks to you like that, suddenly you can't answer properly, you don't have the right figures in your head. It makes you look and feel completely incompetent.

Often the bullying behaviour was pretty subtle – snappy responses, eye-rolling, rudeness, impatience. But there were a couple of more obvious incidents that stick in my mind.

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The first one concerned a girl who worked in the office. She was absent from work one day and the manager, at a team meeting, told everyone that he thought there was "something druggy" about her, that she always seemed on edge and stressed. "Yeah, she just looks like a drug addict," he concluded. I was shocked – but no one said anything. In retrospect, I can't believe none of us spoke up.

The second incident was directed at me. The office was open-plan – my four colleagues in the sales team were sitting nearby and there were another four or five people within earshot. The manager came over to my desk and demanded some info about a particular account, which I hadn't yet completed. "I'm just so frustrated with you," he yelled. "I don't understand why you don't get anything done. What have you been doing all morning? No, really, what have you been doing?"

Over the next few weeks, I began to feel increasingly anxious about going to work. There were some days when all I could do was drag myself out of bed and make myself go. I didn't want to fall into that trap of just calling in sick ¬– which is what I felt like doing – because I knew he'd use it as more ammunition to cast me as a bad employee.

I remember an underlying feeling of stress and anxiety. I used to refer to it as the "Sunday dreads" – that awful feeling you get at the end of the weekend when you realise you have five days of working misery ahead. Looking back, I was feeling very intimidated about working with him.

It's funny the impact all that criticism and demeaning treatment had on me. I began to really feel like my skills weren't adequate for the role, even though I had done equally complicated roles elsewhere. I had a lot of doubts about my ability to perform to the required standard.

I only lasted four months in the role. The company lost a few big accounts and my manager started stressing about the sales targets. He pulled me into a meeting and told me it was clear I would be unable to meet my sales targets. He told me to go away and come back with a plan about how I was going to meet the targets – while in the same breath admitting that there was no way he could even meet them.

I stressed about it over the weekend, and then on Monday he told me I was no longer required. I would have liked to fight it – but I didn't want anything to do with him. What rankled most in the end was how these unrealistic sales targets were used as evidence of my incompetence.

To read part 1 of this series, click here.

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