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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Erica Loberg: Bullying In The Workplace - You're The Boss of You!

bullying in the workplaceWith our current economy, none of us are in a position to lose our job.  So – what – does this mean we have to put up with endless psychological nightmares at work?  When does bullying in the workplace become worse than waking up with no job?

The current economy puts us in a situation of being victims at our job, and in our lives.  This is a terrible situation that demands attention and guidance.

I once had a toaster oven thrown at my head.  It was my first job out of college and I didn’t know the rules and boundaries of the workplace, and what’s acceptable and not acceptable.  I was working for a producer (about 90% of industry jobs are fueled with inappropriate behavior: verbal, mental abuse runs ramped) who mentally tore me down every day. I lost weight, I lost my hair, I lost myself.

But a toaster?  I’d take a toaster over a passive aggressive or verbally abusive boss any day of the week.

Bullying in the work force gets little coverage or attention because we don’t want to lose our jobs, especially when we love what we do but hate the people above us.  And it’s not only superiors that are a problem, sometimes our peers in the workplace are bully’s.  I’ve found a majority of jobs to be an extension of high school.  Cool people are bullies and others aren’t, so they become isolated from the pack, left to feel alone and rejected, lowering ones self esteem and pride.

We have two types of bullying: bosses and co-workers.  Both are terrible in their own right.  As a former, and sometimes present, victim of bullies in the work force, I’d like to share a few stories:
When I started out in the work world I worked in the movie industry; it was bullying on crack.  In fact, I was so shocked and disturbed by the treatment of assistants that I made a documentary.  I’ll never forget a story told to me by a guy that worked for some major producer that demanded he had a specific energy bar on his desk everyday at 4:30 pm.  The assistant was so paranoid that he put the bar on his boss’s desk at 4:25 pm just to make sure it wasn’t late.  The boss called everyone into his office for a meeting and half way through the meeting, he saw the energy bar on the corner of his desk and stopped:

“Why is this energy bar on my desk?”  And the terrified assistant, living in fear every day, replied, “You said you wanted it on your desk at 4:30 pm so I put it there to make sure it wasn’t late.”  

And the bully’s response was, “The kitchen is two degrees cooler than my office, so if you put it there before 4:30 pm it gets melty.”  (“Melty” isn’t even a word, probably my most favorite line of this ridiculous story). “You’re fired.” And that was the end of him.  But, having said that, I’d rather have some ridiculous circumstance over an energy bar then a mentally abusive situation.
Being yelled at or put down is worse.  Mental abuse in the work place resides in your brain when you go home.  You wake up dreading going to work, and sit at your desk all day feeling as though it may come under attack at any given moment.  It’s also very difficult to prove mental abuse, and sometimes impossible.  Since society barely acknowledges mental abuse in the work place to begin with, it leaves us alone, and more or less at a dead end.   It is the worse kind of abuse, not because you can’t document it, but because it affects your psychosis.

My next job was a government job.  My new boss came from the corporate world.  (I have some experience in corporate America, but bullies in this environment have more to fear since the threat of a lawsuit is always looming).  What I learned at this job is that, if it’s not sexual harassment or verbal harassment that can be documented or proved through emails, you’re dealt a terrible card.  An abuse that you can’t prove with concrete data, but feel exposed to on a regular basis, is the worse kind of abuse.  You get an anxiety attack when an email comes from your bully, or when you see their number pop up on your phone and know you have to answer it.  It is truly a terrible situation.  Government jobs have unions to address this type of behavior, but in my experience, don’t do much to remedy the situation.

Since bullying is psychological, you have to turn the tables and play the game right back in your bully’s face.  Set some boundaries, slowly.  Stand up for yourself in a savvy fashion, which will gain respect from your bully.  They can’t get away with everything so pick your battles and stand strong with confidence.  Make the bully look ridiculous in a soft psychological fashion; it’s a tight rope to walk, but a starting point to redirect the relationship to a place of balance that involves less threatening bullying throughout your day.

Then we have the co-workers.  Co-workers bully all the time without even realizing it.  They’re not your “boss,” so they really don’t have the right to inflict pain (bosses don’t have the “right” either but have clout to get away with it).  This type of bullying isolates you from the pack and makes you dread work.  Sometimes our workplace is a terrible high school cafeteria.  Are you in the “in” crowd?  No.  So what do you do?  Keep a low profile.  Not being the loud mouth, the funny one, the lame co-worker that thinks they have all the answers, is just fuel for your coolness.

Sometimes when I shop for wine and have zero knowledge of wine, I ask the cashier, “Do people like this?  I’m a follower so…”  It’s an inside joke I play with myself cause I’m most definitely not a follower and you must keep that in mind when dealing with the crowd of bullies, or even one bully, in your work force.  We’re not in high school anymore.  Unfortunately some never left high school, so laugh at it.  Be nonchalant.  That attitude will beat your bully and give you the mental freedom you deserve.

Try to take on bullies in the work force with hard pride and confidence.  You’re better than that, and as far as your nightmare boss is concerned: he or she is a sad, unhealthy, pathetic person, dealing with demons that unfortunately you have to live with in the hours you work.  Switch your perspective.  Pity them and know that YOU are a rock star and will do your best to mentally rise above it all, everyday.  And you will end up stronger at the end of your day, everyday.

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