Daily Archives: August 3, 2009

Office politics and dirty tricks equal bullying

The following is a guest post written for eBossWatch by Margaret W. Jones, Ph.D. Margaret is a psychologist and author with a private practice in Stoughton, Massachusetts. She wrote and published Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches, which is a personal documentary about her struggle to overcome abuse and how it made her vulnerable to spiritual and emotional abuse in churches.

I left a good paying job with excellent benefits because I had grown weary of dealing with what is typically called office politics and which I now understand as bullying and dirty tricks aimed at defeating rivals. Most times the bully was a fellow employee while at other times it was a supervisor. Whether the supervisor was the bully or not, I know of only one case where the supervisor took effective action to stop the bullying. Most times the supervisor supports the bully either because they need the bully to advance their own career or because the bully has successfully deceived him. Bullies are very good at casting blame on the innocent while exonerating themselves.  

Most of these cases I assumed were motivated by racism or sexism. It is only when a white male came into my office for treatment that I began to appreciate that racism and sexism are forms of bullying where the target is chosen from a disenfranchised group who has little hope of anyone coming to their aide. Bullies, however, will also attack anyone who threatens their desire for promotion or who advocates changes they don’t want. My male client was a facilities manager whose honesty threatened his immediate supervisor. It wasn’t immediately apparent why his supervisor was verbally attacking him and making false reports to the board until my client discovered his supervisor was stealing large quantities of supplies to resell for personal gain. Once he made that discovery, his supervisor became more abusive and eventually had my client fired. When my client came in for treatment he was depressed, anxious and exhibiting signs of trauma. Only he had never been physically or sexually abused and he wasn’t a combat veteran. This is when I realized post traumatic stress disorder is not just caused by a life threatening event but also by extreme and prolonged stress that threatens a person’s livelihood, career and identity. 

The worst cases may involve mobbing where several employees gang up on one person. A female client came to me after being harassed by her male supervisor and co-workers for more than a year. She had taken a job in a male dominated occupation. The men began harassing her. Her male supervisor berated her in front of the other men who joined in on the “fun.” My client was often called into her boss’s office where he made crude and vulgar comments about her body. She eventually took a leave of absence and while on leave was fired. At my urging my client sued and won a case against her former employer. Unfortunately, she has never been able to regain her confidence and remains on long-term disability. She has attempted to change her occupation but as soon as there is a hint of bullying or harassment, traumatic memories are triggered and she resigns.  

Bullying is a common workplace event. Often the best and the brightest are targeted. As with my clients, the employee is frequently forced to resign or is fired on trumped up charges. Only when a supervisor is savvy to what is happening and takes steps to end the bullying can a targeted employee keep their job. However, it may still have a significant negative impact on job satisfaction and motivation.