Workplace Bullying

For the past 3 years I was bullied at my work. The worst part about it, was that for the first few years I didn't even realize it was happening.

workplace discrimination

Three and a half years ago I started working at my current company (which I am thankfully about to leave). At the time I was happy to have a job since I was unemployed for an extended period of time because the economy sucked so I put my head down and worked extra time because my boss made us feel like that's what it took to be a team player in his eyes.

We had a big project that we were working on, I think the ideal size team would have been 5 developers all working on different parts of the project, but my boss seemed to think that 3 was fine. I think he was trying his hardest to cut costs for the company so he could make his budget look better. Anyways, after working on this project for over 2 years my boss started to feel the pressure from upper management, he had grossly underestimated the scope of the project and we were also down to 2 engineers to work on this massive project. He first began to blame us for underestimating the project scope and time. Personally, I think that as our manager that was his job since he was the one that assigned us to this project in the first place, he had underestimated the scope, and we were also down to 2 engineers. I had also given us about 8 more months time to work on part of the project than he did and he did not like my estimation so it was really his fault that the timeline was not met. (My estimation was still short by about 8 months but on what is now a 3 and a half year project with a third less man power that's not as bad as it really could have been)

Anyways, after 2 years of this project, we only had small parts of this huge program to actually show anyone for our efforts. So my boss began to try to motivate us in new ways to get more work done in less time so he could start to get upper management to see the results of our work. Some of the threats he brought down on us included being forced to work overtime on weekdays and weekends where he would not pay us fully for our time (we were hourly employees not salaried). He would threaten us with our jobs telling us that he could just buy software instead of this massive program we had written for the past 2 years. He threatened us with not moving up in the company or not getting raises. It became toxic. Everyone was unhappy and he always twisted it so that it was our fault for not meeting our timelines and goals and then he would scold us like little kids and threaten us more. I knew why our timelines weren't being met, when we gave a timetable for a specific part of the project if we said it would take us 3 days to complete he would say, "That should take a day, not 3" so we would have to switch it to a day. He was right in a sense, it really should only take a day, but since we were an IT department we have to resolve any other problems that arise in our department too. So in a given day we would lose on average 2-3 hours of work to do other tasks that came up. On bad days you might lose 6-7 hours. Hence our project was always delayed.

After about a year of the constant threats my health started getting worse and worse. My stress levels were through the roof. I couldn't sleep well, and when I did I had terrible dreams about forgetting things at work and being yelled at for it. When my boss was not around we began to joke about slipping up and getting yelled at by our boss. It was sad that we found it became a joke that everything we did would end up in some gross overreaction.

I couldn't take it anymore. I started writing down meeting notes of what days we had meetings (which was almost everyday), what times the meetings took place, who was in them, and quotes of what was being said in them. After 3 months, I had 8 pages of notes. With almost daily meetings that took about an hour it's a wonder I got anything done. I lost an hour of work because I was getting yelled at everyday. Taking notes on everything is extremely important, without this I don't know if upper management would have taken my case so seriously. Here are some of the highlights:

"If you can't meet the schedule you have to work overtime to catch up and I'll only pay you for half. Otherwise I might just dismiss the Dev team."

"I'm not telling you not to take a vacation but I'm hoping that you can wait until the project is deployed." (I heard this for the last year and a half)

"I am a perfect person. I expect it to be perfect!"

"If we don't get the project out this year then how can you expect me to give you a raise this year?"

workplace bullying

Now imagine reading 8 pages of this over and over in slight variations of the same thing.

One morning my boss was not happy with us again, I forgot the exact thing it was over because I am really trying to forget it, but at the end of the meeting he held me in his office to talk to him more. He said I was zoning out in the meeting and he was accusing me of sleeping at work because I looked disinterested at work. To be truthful I was zoning out, I was zoning out because as soon as he starts to threaten me, something inside me starts to turn off because I no longer think that what you are saying is important.

That was the last straw for me. He started questioning my work ethic, and I worked way to hard for that to be brought against me. So I went upstairs with all of my notes and talked to my boss's boss, we'll call her Debbie. I said to Debbie that I was having an issue with my manager and after about a minute I found the courage to continue. I had been dreading bringing this up because to me it felt like I was tattling and I couldn't handle the problem on my own. But to be honest, it was past the point of where my boss would listen. I treated it like a Band-Aid and got it over with, "[My boss] is bullying me. He's threatening everyone in the department and here are my notes on what he has said in meetings for the last 3 months. This has been happening for much longer but 3 months ago I started to take notes because it was getting out of hand."

After about 35-40 minutes of describing what was happening, pointing out key things in my notes and her asking me questions and saying she had no idea this was happening I went back to my desk to work as if nothing had happened.

The next day the company Controller asked to speak with me (he was speaking with everyone in my department individually actually) but we went over some of the things I had brought up. He said that he wished I had brought it up earlier to which I told him that I had done lots of research online about workplace bullying and somewhere I had come across a statistic that said over 60% of people that complain about workplace bullying end up leaving their jobs within a year, and that I had to be brought to a point where I was okay with not having a job if I were to bring up this complaint. I can't find that statistic anymore but I did find this one:

"40% of bullied workers voluntarily leave"

That is what I am currently doing. I have 4 business days of work left at this point! But if 40% leave on their own, how many are forced out? How many are unreported? I assume the 60% statistic I found before is closer to accurate. I was brought to the point I was simply going to leave without another job to go to but I was lucky, I know that not everyone else can be as lucky as I am now.

Because I work in the IT department and all of our work is tracked in a ticketing system it's actually quite easy for us to determine days that we worked past our regular hours. Also, since we had been doing this for years I was able to do this for my entire employment at the company. When I brought up my notes to Debbie to discuss, I also brought up a printout of items I had worked on and timestamps of what the system said for when I had worked on them. I was able to get my company to straighten out my unpaid overtime that my boss kept threatening us with. They did this for everyone in my department.

I was paid for 264 hours of overtime (at 1.5 times regular pay) or 33 days.

That was a nice bonus to get back, but it wasn't really a bonus, I earned it. I actually earned more, but that was all that I could easily prove that I had worked. There were many times I worked later but did not enter something into the ticketing system before I left.

I wish there was more on this topic because it's painful to go through and reading the other personal experiences I had read were helpful to my situation. I hope that mine can help someone else.

DON'T GIVE UP

People talk about changing your job as if it's some kind of great feat, when in reality, leaving is one of the easiest ways out of everything. If you are that unhappy then do what's best for you, if that means leaving then walk away. But for me I found that confronting the problem head on benefited me greatly. Getting an extra months pay was what I deserved and had I not stuck up for myself I would have walked away with only feeling abused. Don't be unprepared though, I still was looking for a new job when I brought up the issue, but I didn't want what was happening to go unnoticed. I wanted other people to see my terrible boss for who he was and I feel like the upper management at my company had definitely taken notice.

Originally I thought I would summarize this post. But I realized there is very little out there on personal experiences of workplace bullying (I know, I looked for them). I imagine that if you are looking up this topic you won't mind reading all the details, I hope this can help someone out there with their struggle on what to do. It takes courage and fortitude to be able to stand up for yourself and realize that you don't deserve to be treated poorly.

-Zee

8 comments:

  1. Good for you man, good for you. (Or woman, not sure what Zee stand for but either way I'm proud of you :)). It def. takes balls to a) send it upwards to upper management, and then b) Head out without another job lined up... I hope you find one soon! And that this helps others out there too as you wish :)

    Do you know what ended up happening to your boss after all this went down? I can't imagine things would be allowed to continue...

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    1. Thanks! Upper management responded really well to my situation. First they covered their asses saying they were unaware that this was happening and would correct the issues immediately. They said that my boss probably didn't know the overtime laws for our state and they would review it with him. Then they talked with everyone in my department and everyone corroborated my story/notes. My boss then became sunshine and flowers for the next few weeks but to me it was already too late. I hated the job too much by then so I just felt anxious coming to work.

      I do have a new job lined up, my last day at my old job is this Monday! I also gave myself a 2 weeks to get back into a better working mindset before I start at the new company.

      As for my boss.. I don't know what is going to happen to him. I think that when performance reviews/raises come around in December he will have a difficult time getting much out of the company. Also once this big project is finally completed and it has been released and stable for a few months, then they might replace him. My guess is that nothing will happen to him until next year. If I hear more about it I will definitely do a follow up post.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post!

      -Zee

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  2. I too am so sorry you had to deal with this. I can't imagine the stress that you were under. I would love a follow up post about what happened to your boss.

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    1. Hey Cat! Thanks for reading my post! Right now I don't know if they have done anything specific to my boss besides talk to him and "retrain" him on what the state laws are for overtime. My guess is that nothing will happen to him until next year when the large 3 year project is deployed and stable for at least a few months. Once they feel like they don't need him around I suspect he could end up being replaced. If I do hear more about changes in the company I will definitely write a follow up post.

      As for me, I'm on to greener pastures! My last day of work is tomorrow and then in 2 weeks I start a new (better paying/closer) job!

      -Zee

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  3. That's a really tough situation. I bet it took a lot of courage to go talk to your boss. On the other end though, you'll now be moving to a new position which is hopefully a better work environment, you'll get paid more, AND you'll be closer to work saving you lots of $$ and time! Congrats and good luck!

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    1. Yeah, it took months of getting fed up to the point of taking notes on all of the illegal things that my boss was doing to us. Then it took a few more months of just collecting notes. Once I felt like I had enough notes to back up any possible legal case it took me getting fed up to the point where I was willing to leave my job that very day to bring up the issue with upper management.

      I had been looking for a new job by then but had not landed anything yet, but I was still brought to the point where I was going to walk away from everything just to leave.

      I know I made the right decision, I just wish I had made it sooner. I like to think that I'm a strong person and I respect myself enough to not be treated unfairly. But that was a really extreme situation where I had to be pushed really far before I pushed back. I just hope my story will help other people be aware and learn to try to protect themselves before things get too bad.

      The problem was job stagnation for me. I was comfortable because I knew my job well, and letting go of it all with only uncertainty was the most difficult part.

      -Zee

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  4. Man, tough story dude.
    Glad you got the hell out!

    I felt about 10 months worth of management and figured out a way to engineer my own layoff with a severance. So thankful.

    Work isn't worth abuse!

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    1. Thanks Sam. It was one of those experiences where looking back I wonder why I put up with it for so long. It's just one of those things where you don't realize the gradual shift until one day you wake up and find that everything has gone to hell.

      I considered going out on mental disability for just fearing going to work. I figured it would have been easy to get onto disability with the health issues I had and the proof that my boss was being abusive.

      Some people I talked to about this said that they thought I would be abusing the system to get paid to just take time off of work. Other people thought it was a good idea to take advantage of the benefits that I pay for every month. If you pay disability insurance every month why not use it once in your life.

      I also considered trying to get myself laid off so I could collect unemployment, but I knew that they would never fire me after I brought up my complaint. In the end, the timing of finding a new job was the best way to leave.

      I've been interested in your book for some time actually. I'll probably end up picking it up one of these days, maybe the next time I'm thinking of changing jobs or hopefully when I'm quitting for good! If you had physical copies I would probably buy this for my parents since I think they are nearing the point where they might retire soon.

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