Thursday, October 29, 2009

When Bullies Grow Up.

My spirit is bruised and bleeding today, and my soul is so heavy it's hard to keep going. Why? Because I am a victim of workplace bullying and have been for the last 5 years. I used to have an exciting and worthwhile job working with Texas landowners. I made a difference.

But then I got a new boss. At first I was excited. She was the first woman to head up the Private Lands and Public Hunting program--the agency's flagship program. There were the usual tensions, but I attributed them to the usual adjustments people must make to having a new job, and of having a new boss. But I was wrong. It only got worse. And worse, and worse.

I suddenly couldn't do anything right. Or I would do something I'd been doing for years only to find out she'd already done the task without telling me. As I did my best to communicate my concerns, I was repeatedly told the problem was with me--she was the boss and I needed to adjust. But she was also very quick to blame everyone else when she did get things wrong. Worse, it was her word against ours, and we always lost.

She doesn't have managerial skills, and sadly doesn't seem overly interested in acquiring them. She doesn't understand the role of authority and responsibility. If you give someone a responsibility, you must also give them the authority to get the task done. She doesn't understand the connection. Nor does she understand the difference between delegating and "dumping." She tries to do everything. When it turns out to be impossible she will then dump the task on us. Then, when it doesn't turn out properly WE end of taking the fall for it.

I went the division director--who had been one of my former bosses--and tried to explain what was happening. Essentially I was called a liar. Again, I was told it was my job to adjust. Now, I'm smart enough to know that this is not the whole story. At some point, as a good supervisor, she has a responsibility to utilize the skills of her staff and maximize their potential.

No, I'm not the type to just quietly roll over. I went to HR and begged them for help. HA! Their suggestion? Quit. Yeah, that's right--maybe I should just quit the job. Now what sort of job retention program is that? While the agency claims to have a grievance process, the truth is that it is a sick joke. Unless the complaint is one that concerns an EEO violation, or an illegal activity, you're just out of luck.

So what does workplace bullying have in common with other types of violence? Actually, quite a bit. It is psychological violence and the trauma is as physically damaging to the victims as if it were physical. With it comes the same feelings of shame, humiliation, sense of despair, a very real fear of retaliation and reprisals.

Each time I tried to assert myself and explain how her actions were affecting me, the program, and sometimes the landowners of Texas--I lost another part of my job as she "showed me who was boss." I have had nearly all my job duties taken away from me, one by one. For some issues there was simply no other way--I did what I ethically had to do. I am sorry about the consequences that have come about because of it, but I'm not sorry I did what I did. It was necessary.

I do no meaningful work. Many of my work assignments are totally inappropriate because they require skills I'm not required to have--like building an Access database for the wildlife division's publications. I'm not a programmer, and my job description doesn't require me to do any programming. So I'm caught between refusing and being insubordinate, or accepting the assignment and being penalized for failing.

But to everyone's surprise, I DID create the database. And I did a really kick-butt job of it. It has all sorts of fancy bells and whistles, utilizes gorgeous agency artwork--the whole bit. Of course come time for performance review, I wasn't allowed to use the aquisition of this new skill as professional development.

This past year I was also set up to fail and this time I did. I was assigned to do archeological reviews for our wildlife management areas. No, this isn't something I'm supposed to have to know how to do either, but that was the point. However, this time I at least got documentation saying that I was never provided with what I needed to do the job, and it therefore should not be held against me. I'm sure she didn't like that, but it worked.

I am isolated. I am not allowed to have any contact with anyone outside my program without prior permission. Email, phone calls, you name it--unless I get prior approval it's not allowed. All of which makes it extra difficult to do any of the stupid little jobs I've been assigned to do.

I have been denied the equity pay adjustment I was entitled to allegedly because of my poor performance THIS year. But she has not followed agency policies by providing me with the required improvement plans for last year; she has not provided justification for lowering my performance review score from satisfactory to unsatisfactory, and she has denied me dur process THIS year by counselling my about my "poor" performance and what I must do to improve. And above all, the pay adjustments were not supposed to be tied to performance!

Did I protest? Of course. But all I have been told is that it is her perogative. I know that already. My question--that still remains unanswered--is a)when does SHE have to follow agency policies and procedures, and b) WHO is supervising her? It's not MY job to supervise her!

My professional reputation is pretty well shot because she doesn't do this with men, only mature, competent, women. I'm not the only one she does this to--I'm just the loudest. I am on anti-depressants, I have stomach problems, borderline high blood pressure. I clench and grind my teeth, and I pull at my fingernails. I cry frequently. It is all I can do some mornings to push myself out the door to go to work.

Twice now I have found myself at my desk dealing with her latest abuse, trying to remain calm and professional and playing with my pair of scissors. I am horrified to look down and see that I have been cutting on myself and that my hands are now bleeding. I didn't even realize I was doing it, but in a way it felt "good" because it was a pain I could see and focus on. Yes, I have thought about suicide. I won't do it because I understand why I am feeling this way, but yes--I do understand why people would want to kill themselves. It makes the hurt go away.

While most bullies are men, the victims of a female bully 70% of the time are other women. Bullying in the workplace is every bit as damaging as any other type of abuse, but with a major difference. The sad part of this is that bullying in the workplace is not illegal. HR departments do not exist to help employees--be clear on that. They exist to keep employers out of trouble. They will side with the supervisor each and every time. They are not your friends that you can count on to help you.

Will I quit this job? Hell no! I'm sure that's the ultimate goal of hers, but I refuse to throw away my financial future just because of her. I can retire on March 17, 2011, and when that time comes....well, let's just say I'll go out in style! Don't know how yet, but I will.

If you want to learn more about this legal form of psychological violence and the trauma it causes, start here at As is true about educating yourself about other forms of violence, this is not bedtime reading.

And now, back under my desk to hide from the consequences of once again being correct...


  1. who in their right mind has the right to taht to someone!
    Linda Keeping you my prayer (hugs)

  2. I am sending you the biggest hug I can possibly manage

  3. Everyone has to answer to someone, we just need to figure out which person has the cloudt to kick her posterior, and guts to do it! If it's a government agency, surely there is a civil rights, discrimination, sexual harrasement department? I live in Texas, would be glad to help out if you'd like. Sorry things are so bad because of one power-ego woman! Hugs to you!

  4. I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I've had to deal with workplace bullying myself- in the end I was basically forced to quit. The best I can offer is a great big virtual hug. And please try to stop hurting yourself- I understand where you're coming from, but you have a lot of people who care about you. You just stick it out until retirement, then give 'em hell!
    -Michelle of CreativeCritters

  5. You really should consult an employment attorney. The fact that you are not allowed to speak to coworkers without permission could be illegal as it is an attempt to prevent the formation of a union.

    I was dealing with something like that myself over the last couple of years and the entire staff quit en masse one day this summer. We did so after speaking to an attorney about the various issues and learned that many of our bosses "personality" issues that we took issue with were actually illegal.

    Consult with an attorney. Since your duties are being reduced, it's likely that they are preparing to fire you. If nothing else, there will be documentation with that attorney as to when you sought help, what your issues were, that the issues existed prior to your dismissal and it will put you in a good position to fight a wrongful termination suit and could get you a severance package if you win.

    In the mean time, look for a new job. Being right isn't worth being miserable.