Women

Caution - Bullies At Work (Part 1)

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Remember that playground tyrant? Well, she’s moved into the corner office where she can wreak havoc on not only your career but your health too. Here’s what you should know about this growing trend.

When stacie started as an account manager at an architecture firm two years ago, she couldn’t believe her luck. In a tough market, she’d landed her dream job at age 31, complete with a great salary, friendly coworkers, sleek high- tech offices, and a corporate gym membership. There was just one problem: Her boss was a nightmare.

Description: There was just one problem: Her boss was a nightmare.

There was just one problem: Her boss was a nightmare.

The first time that became clear, Stacie was stunned. “I had turned in a project I’d worked really hard on, making sure to submit it to MV lOSS on time,” she recalls. “I was sitting at my desk in my cubicle, and suddenly she was standing over me screaming, ‘What the hell is this crap? And why is it so late?’ I tried to say I thought I’d done exactly what she asked for, hut she cut me off and yelled about how incompetent I was. Everyone in the office could hear I was so humiliated.”

Soon Stacie found herself flinching every time she went to a meeting, handed in an assignment, or even just saw her boss walk toward her. She never knew what to expect, but she was sure it would involve outbursts and insults and that she would feel completely helpless. “A few months ago, mv boss abruptly pulled me into her office and accused me of ‘not having my Sh*t together,’” says Stacie. “I asked her what the problem was, and she replied, ‘I don’t know I’m going to have to think about it.’ Another time, at a team meeting, I was singled out as ‘the employee you don’t want to be like.’”

After a few months of encounters like that, Stacie was unable to relax even during her downtime. “I’d he anxious and nauseated all weekend, wondering what my boss had in store for me on Monday. On Sunday nights I couldn’t sleep at all.” Finally, she went to her doctor, who prescribed anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills, but Stade admits that what she really needs is a new job. “It’s so sad, because I love what I do!” she says. “But I simply can’t take the abuse.”

Power Trip

Stacie’s situation may sound extreme, but it’s surprisingly common. Some 54 million Americans more than a third of the workforce have been tormented on the job, according to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), a research and advocacy group. And the toll on their psychological and physical health is high, with many people reporting mental health problems and a wide variety of other ailments.

Description: Stacie’s situation may sound extreme, but it’s surprisingly common.

Stacie’s situation may sound extreme, but it’s surprisingly common.

Nearly three-quarters of those identified as bullies hold positions of authority, but their behavior goes beyond just being irrational or lacking strong management skills. The hallmark of these abusers is that they repeatedly target a specific individual with the intention of causing distress or harm, As a result, the picked- on employee feels singled out and held up to public ridicule. Her work might he disparaged in front of others, and she may be subject to personal insults (“How did an idiot like you get this position?”) or become the focus of vicious office gossip. Sometimes the mistreatment is more subtle, with bullies taking credit for their victims’ work, cutting them out of the loop, or sabotaging their projects.

That’s what happened to Dana, 35, when she was a communications coordinator at a Boston area university. She was in the midst of launching a major publicity campaign when a higher up began taking away some crucial aspects of her job and reassigning them to students. “It made me feel totally worthless,” she says. “She also started excluding me from important meetings. I’d find out about them after they’d taken place or she’d schedule them when she knew I had a conflict.”

One time, after Dana left a brainstorming session early to attend to a prior commitment, a coworker told her that the supervisor spent the rest of the time belittling her and asking her peers whether they thought she was mentally ill. “She seemed intent on beating me down,” says Dana. “I couldn’t believe I was in my 30s and being bullied.”

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