Today is Know Bull Day! Australia’s national anti-bullying day designed to raise awareness of bullying and eradicate these destructive behaviours from our workplaces. The prevalence of the issue makes it a hot topic of discussion and one a lot of people are interested in understanding more about. Just in the past week I’ve been asked to share my advice in The Age, on ABC radio, Gold FM and Chanel 9’s Today Show.
While I enjoyed the opportunity each provided to offer advice about how to deal with bullying, what they didn’t allow was time to share stories. That is to share insight to the devastating consequences I have seen bullies have on the health and well-being of people at all stage of their life and career. No matter their seniority, tenure, industry or profession I have seen careers and lives destroyed thanks to bullying.
This was certainly the case for Geoff who struggled for years to overcome the health consequences of being bullied by a colleague. Psychological injury is not uncommon when people are exposed to prolonged negative stress from incessant bully attacks. Often symptoms that victims report include hypersensitivity, obsessiveness, irritability, fatigue, depression and sleeplessness.
Mary is yet another example of someone I have seen suffer at the hands of a bully at work. In Mary’s case the bully was her boss Ben and over time his behaviour dramatically undermined her mental health and eroded her job performance. Ben was new to the organization and determined to make his mark in the eyes of the Board. With total disregard for the wellbeing of the people he was brought in to lead Ben drove hard and pulled no punches in his determination to achieve quick results.
Ben very quickly and unfairly decided that Mary wasn’t right for her role and was standing in the way of the team’s success. As a consequence Ben went on a mission to drive Mary from not only his team but from the organisation altogether. Ben had no respect nor regard for Mary or the 16 years of service she had given the business. As far as he was concerned Mary needed to immediately ‘step up or step out’.
To say Ben ‘drilled’ Mary with questions in meetings is an understatement. Those in a position to observe consistently described Ben’s behaviour as targeted, malicious and unrelenting. When Mary cried in a meeting Ben chastised her for being unprofessional and lacking in the strength he expected from the people on his team. When approached for help he accused Mary of being too lazy to learn or resistant to change. While ultimately Ben was fired, Mary was pushed to near breaking point and was forced to take extended leave.
During the three months Mary was on stress leave she worked with a psychologist to begin to unravel the fears and anxieties etched onto her psyche by the treatment she had endured. When the time came for her to transition back into work, at first Mary struggled to simply get past the front door without feeling a sense of dread and panic rising up inside her. Even the thought of being challenged in a meeting caused Mary to physically shake and refuse to attend work. Six months after Ben left the business Mary was still dealing with the consequences of his behaviour.
Any reasonable person would agree the way Ben behaved was totally unacceptable. To drive bullying from our workplaces we all need to understand the devastating impacts a bully can have and do our part to drive it from or workplaces. Until we all choose to stand up for the Mary’s of the world and tell the likes of Ben to back off and engage with respect we will continue to be a problem in our society.