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"It was subtle and manipulative." The reality of workplace bullying.

When we think of bullying, often it is overt, obvious displays of harassment, abuse and maltreatment that come to mind. But this is not always the case.

I experienced ongoing workplace bullying for years at my previous workplace and, in my situation, it looked significantly different.

I was bullied by a female member of staff. She was slightly more experienced than me in our roles, by two or three years. But it was when she was appointed to a leadership position that it all started, and it made me go from absolutely loving my job to absolutely hating it.

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I had worked in my role for about two years, I had many great friends and I was flourishing. For those first two years, I had little to do with Kerry*; we worked in different offices. Then she became my ‘sort of’ manager. I had to seek her approval for ordering equipment, materials and resources I required. We began working in the same space, we had meetings every week and had to conduct events together. At first it was fine. But slowly, when I contributed my ideas, or suggested changing anything, or raised any issues I had, Kerry began to change.

Kerry’s actions were often not really obvious things, it was subtle and manipulative. She misused her power and authority to make my job harder, and that behaviour became more frequent over time.

I remember once I was at my desk in our shared office. I was watching a video clip that was a part of the task I was doing; the sound was very low. Kerry stormed over, literally huffing and puffing, reached over me and turned the sound off. “This is too loud,” she said to me at the top of her voice in front of about ten other staff members. I was completely shocked and embarrassed.

Many of Kerry’s actions were observed by other staff members, who commented to me that what Kerry was doing was not okay. They would tell me that “she is threatened by you”, “It is because you are young and full of great ideas”. They tried to explain why she was doing this but really it didn’t matter to me why; I just wanted it to stop.

The bullying grew from smaller incidents to larger ones. Kerry began denying me materials and resource orders that were necessary for me to complete my job and failed to tell me important information for events and meetings to make me appear incompetent.

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She sabotaged my ability to perform tasks and was continually condescending and belittling in the way she communicated with me. The bullying slowly built, until it eventually avalanched into a near nervous breakdown. I was just no longer able to cope.

I was left anxious, upset and insecure pretty much every working day. I would go home crying. I would see her speaking in our lunch room with other colleagues; she would look at me and laugh, making it completely obvious it was me she was speaking about. I couldn’t do my job properly, I looked incompetent because of actions she took to sabotage me, I went from loving work to dreading every minute of it. Then one day, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

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Despite making previous official complaints to senior management, it wasn’t until about two years of constant bullying that it overwhelmed me, leaving me hysterically crying in the senior manager’s office.

Unfortunately, because of the deceitful and manipulative way in which Kerry acted, despite witnesses verifying my account, management who investigated the claims deemed the complaint unsubstantiated. They were simply unable to prove it.

I was left out of work for over one year having to claim WorkCover for the severe psychological impact it had on me.

They diagnosed me with severe anxiety and depression. I was put on anti-depressants and was referred to a cognitive behavioural therapist to work on my conditions, it helped a lot and I slowly began to feel more confident again.

Although having time away was beneficial, the process of Workcover was definitely an added stress. I would say this significantly impacted my recovery. I had constant phone calls, requests for me to see psychiatrists to ‘prove’ my condition, then ongoing pressure to have medication and get back to work before I was actually ready.

I returned to work the following year but left shortly after my return. Being back in the same environment, with the same people, including my bully, was just too difficult.

Before his happened, I always thought bullying was someone calling you names or physically hurting you but more often than not it is nothing like that at all. It can go under the radar so much that you, yourself question whether it is bullying too.

The reality is though that bullying can be like psychological torture, the mind games and manipulation by someone who holds power is horrendous and can do so much damage.

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