Tough boss or big bully? Part 3
In this final part in our series on real-life bullying experiences, we share another story from a reader who experienced bullying – with an unfortunate outcome.
(All these stories have been shared with iHR by our readers and are published with the permission of the individual. Names have been changed to protect privacy.)
Malcolm, 41 years old, business manager
My bullying experience really resulted from the deterioration of my relationship with one of the company Directors. We had worked together for about three and a half years and had a reasonably productive relationship during that time. I wouldn’t have called us buddies, but it was certainly civil.
The catalyst was a new set of financial sales targets. I could see the Director grow increasingly anxious about my team meeting these targets – and the pressure on my team increased with each passing day.
Despite implementing a range of new strategies and sales techniques – many of which yielded immediate results – the Sales Manager within my team became the target of the Director’s bullying. She was frequently berated, undermined and pushed to deliver more and more, well beyond what could reasonably be expected.
Over a number of months, he frequently referenced her personal circumstances – both in one-on-one conversations and meetings with the executive team. The gist of his comments was that, as a new mother, she really didn’t have her head in the game and really wasn’t that dedicated to the organisation.
To me, it seemed borderline discrimination and I felt uncomfortable that it was allowed to continue. But, across the organisation there was a general acceptance that this was just what the Director was like. I remember a particular incident at the company’s executive retreat, where the CEO joked about how he’d come to expect a call from the COO on a Friday afternoon about which employee the Director had flayed that day. Everyone laughed readily about what a frequent occurrence the Director’s blow-ups were.
Eventually, I confronted the Director about the bullying of the Sales Manager that I had observed. This was enough to turn the Director’s attention on me. He made it clear that the problems he perceived with the Sales Manager were, in fact, my problems – the inference was that I was a weak manager and that I had allowed her to get away with substandard performance. I disagreed.
As if to drive the point home, he increased our sales targets further, to absurdly high levels well beyond any previous performance. And these new targets provided plenty of opportunities for him to continue belittling me and the Sales Manager over alleged non-performance.
The Director had a lot of human resources experience so he was pretty careful about his behaviour. Most of the time, the bullying happened in private – but in glass-walled offices, nothing is ever very discreet. He would frequently undermine my authority by going directly to my employees and making off-hand comments about my management of the team. It was humiliating that the escalating tension was so obvious to everyone.
The bullying culminated in a particularly harsh dressing down – first of the Sales Manager and then of me. I was already on edge, feeling extreme tension and anxiety. This was enough to push me into a few days of sick leave – my GP was happy to support my claims of extreme workplace stress.
The escalation of the bullying had coincided with the arrival of a new CEO. When I was back in the office, I had a frank conversation with him about the bullying and the impact it was having on me and my team. A couple of days later, I was invited to another meeting with the CEO. This time, I was offered a severance package – but there was absolutely no acknowledgement of the bullying I had endured. I was quite torn, but I decided to take the package.
The bullying affected me in a range of ways. It shook my confidence a bit and I remember being perpetually worried that my fourteen-year career might be coming to an end. I often felt (and still feel) stressed about the damage to my professional reputation that this incident caused. It made me want to create a distance between myself and any of my colleagues, stakeholders and contacts from that role – I did not feel confident continuing to have contact with them and I worried about how I was perceived because of what had transpired.
Trying to meet the ridiculously high targets that had been set also had some severe impacts on my personal life. I would rarely be home early enough to spend time with my young sons, and I was struggling to socialise with my friends and family. I didn’t want to be out and about; I didn’t want to have to talk to anyone.
Perhaps the biggest impact it had on me was that it made me very conscious about what kind of organisation I’d like to work for. After this experience, workplace culture and working in a supportive environment have become much higher priorities.
I remain a bit frustrated that the perpetrator was never brought to justice. Part of me is still annoyed at myself for not pursuing a formal complaint.