All the recent furore about the alleged bullying culture at No. 10, coupled with statistics that say that 14 % of the UK’s workforce are bullied at work and 21% aware of bullying going on at their workplace, reminded me of a few encounters with office bullies and how I dealt with them.
My first encounter with an office bully happened when I was working as part of a sales team and this new guy joined as Director. From day one we didn’t really hit it off. We were similar ages and had similar number of years’ experience and, to put it bluntly, he clearly had it in for me.
How many appointments did I have? It was never enough. What were my sales figures looking like? They were looking fine, despite him telling me about his ‘gut instinct’ telling him that they wouldn’t be (the quarter in question they were actually 12% up year on year, so much for his big fat gut!). Every week was the same. His questions never satisfactorily answered by me, with relentless criticism and questions about my ability ensuing.
Come review time, he told me he was setting me some ‘key tasks’, the majority of which were totally unreasonable and unachievable. No matter, he set them anyway, and when I failed to meet them he gave me a verbal warning.
Life carried on like this for a few months. More warnings and a lot of misery until one day whilst on holiday I told my wife I really didn’t want to go back to work. He had made my life so miserable that when I returned from my break I resigned the same day, despite not having another job to go to. In the meantime he had been busy behind my back turning a few colleagues and friends against me, telling them that I had been talking about them. I hadn’t, but that was his modus operandi. In short, he had won.
Fast-forward a few years and a chance conversation with a friend I hadn’t heard from for a while. She told me what she had been up to work wise and said that she was currently out of a job because ‘the last bloke I worked for was an absolute bastard’. She then described why her working life had become such a misery and, as she told me, I had a horrible sense of déjà vu.
I didn’t even have to ask her the man’s name. It was a different workplace, but the very same guy who had also forced me out of my job a few years earlier. Talk about coincidence!
From that day on, I vowed never to give in to office bullying.
Fortunately I have only come across two since and neither worked directly with me. Both were recruiters and both were clients.
One used to phone up and tell me exactly what he wanted. He didn’t ask for professional advice, he just told me what was what. If I tried to constructively question his demands or offer a constructive opinion he would say “I don’t want your opinion, I just want you to do it!’ I ended up asking him why he bothered using the services of an advertising agency. He’s still around today, no doubt as brash and unpleasant as ever.
The other instance was a recruiter who seemed to rule his office with a rod of iron. Whenever I went to see his company, the staff seemed to live in fear of this man. “Oh, David (not his real name) won’t like that” or “Oh don’t mention anything to David”. The man was seemingly a tyrant!
Anyway, tyrannical ‘Dave’ phoned me up one Thursday and barked that he wanted me down in the West Country (location changed, but it was a proper trek for an 8am meeting on Monday. I apologised and said my diary was already full that day and could we make it another day? Dave then offered me Tuesday at the same time.
I gave it a moment’s thought and said to him “Eight? That means I’ll have to get up at about four in the morning to make that time”. “I know” Dave said. “Life’s a bitch isn’t it?” to which I replied “Life may be a bitch David, but I don’t get out of bed for anyone at 4am”. The line went quiet before a slightly flustered Dave retorted almost apologetically “Uh. Oh. Well, er, maybe, er, could you do 10.30?” I expect he took it out on a few of his staff later that day. After all, these kind of people tend to be serial.
The moral of the story is, you will, even if only once in your career, at some stage meet a bully in the workplace. My advice? Stand up to them, before they turn your life into a misery. After all, they’re just unloved puppies really, but puppy or not, they really shouldn’t be getting away with it in this day and age.