Constant criticism, sabotage, denial, undermining, intimidation, hostile body language? Read this
Case history #3
Female, voluntary sector, UK.
I worked as community fundraiser for a large local branch of a national charity. Over the years I took on more and varied responsibilities, to include PR and Marketing, thereby lightening the load of management and also raising the profile of the agency. I formed warm and productive working relationships with all those with whom I came into contact. I had been a loyal, hard-working and conscientious member of the team for six years, and I know that my work was recognised and valued by my colleagues as well as all three previous Directors and the Deputy Director with whom I had worked closely.
In September 1998 a new Director, who had previously managed another, much smaller, local branch, took over in the run-up to a merger of the two centres. She was immediately recognised by all the staff as a control freak, constantly comparing us unfavourably to the other branch, changing individual and office methods and systems just for the sake of it, rummaging through staff's desk drawers in their absence, butting in on conversations and talking loudly in the office even when staff were in the midst of telephone calls with distressed clients.
At first she was very friendly towards me, taking me out on shopping expeditions for the office, assuring me that my position would never be under-valued, and that she knew I had a very heavy work-load for the limited number of hours I worked. However, from late February 1999 onwards, after she had been exposed in the first of many lies, I became aware of a shift in her attitude. She began to check up on my work, telling me that she had been told to do so by the Chair of the Trustees, although I subsequently learned that this was another lie. Despite my agreeing to work an extra day, she then told me I couldn't, but increased my workload anyway. I never received thanks or even acknowledgement. I was subjected to nit-picking, unfounded criticism, and specious comments. She kept making criticisms that I couldn't relate to, and to which my colleagues couldn't relate either. Instructions were changed, denied and contradicted. She pointedly ignored all the positive aspects of my work and made only trivial and negative observations which also demonstrated her lack of understanding about my job. She spoke to me on more than one occasion as if she were a tyrannical headmistress reprimanding a naughty child. Her tone was intimidating and more than once I was left shaking and close to tears.
My work was constantly undermined and de-valued. For example, after much time and energy, and with her knowledge, I produced detailed Fundraising and Marketing Strategy documents for the benefit of the centre. She finally asked to see the completed documents nearly 3 months after I had told her they were ready. She said we would discuss them further at a future date. They were never referred to again. A successful grant application which I made was reported on with no reference to me, either directly or indirectly. She attempted to sabotage a project which I undertook with some local university students, and then lied to the management committee that their final presentation had not taken place.
She told me I had "taken too much on myself", and when I asked in what way, she could only say that certain items of post came addressed to me instead of her. She ignored or belittled all my ideas and suggestions, set me frivolous tasks and made it impossible for me to carry out my work. The very nature of my job was changing. After I politely asked to be treated with respect and spoken to courteously, her bullying behaviour escalated in frequency and intensity.
I continued to lose confidence in her ability to manage me and to make balanced decisions. She would not trust me to get on with any of the jobs I had been used to doing. Often I would find notes from her asking why I hadn't done this or that. During regular supervision with her, she would patronise and belittle me, and no record of these sessions was ever given to me. As I tried to organise a fundraising event, she interfered constantly with my work, insulting my knowledge and experience by giving me menial tasks to do at every stage. In June I was invited to attend a meeting to report on my progress on the event so far. Throughout this meeting, she glared at me, complained I hadn't done things that I patently had, and made unreasonable and illogical demands. She also laughed as she encouraged dishonestly obtaining money from supporters.
During this very busy period when I had other major tasks to do as well as organising this event, she continued to give me time-wasting exercises, which resulted in me frequently having to stay late in order to complete unnecessary work. We learned of people who had left because of her, that the branch where she had come from were delighted to get rid of her. Her behaviour was upsetting everyone; there was a palpable sense of relief in the office on her days away. But I was clearly the prime target. I always found I could relate very well to all my other colleagues, as well as to my previous bosses, but she didn't seem able to relate to anyone without playing the heavy "boss lady".
One Friday in mid-1999 she stood over me in a threatening manner and addressed me with such hostility that I had to ask her not to speak to me that way. This took place in front of a witness, who was shocked by her facial expressions and body language. Early on the following Monday morning, a non-working day for me, The Witch (as she had come to be known) telephoned me at my home. The content of this call was completely ridiculous and her tone was highly aggressive. She continued to abuse me until I became so distressed that I told her I resigned.
When I later visited my GP, she diagnosed me with acute stress and depression, and told me had I not left my job, she would have had to sign me off. Not receiving any apology from The Witch, I then wrote to the Chairman telling him of my reluctant decision to resign. Some days later, I received a vitriolic letter from her which was clearly intended to intimidate me and resulted in me breaking down in fear and hysterics. This led to me consulting a solicitor and I took action for constructive dismissal.
The next four months were sheer hell. I had other pressures going on in my life at the time, I was out of work, and I had to write a detailed account of everything that had taken place. I was exhausted, I kept crying uncontrollably, and my blood counts were severely affected (I suffer with a serious blood condition which, until then, had been kept fairly stable). Without the loving support of family and friends, and constant telephone calls from ex-colleagues, I don't know what I would have done. This, and anti-depressants, helped me through until I was fortunate enough to find another job. Had I not been helped towards this by a friend within the organisation, I would possibly still believe that I was incapable of finding new employment.
Why did I stick it out as long as I did? Because for ages I refused to allow one individual to force me out of a job I loved. I had felt I was doing something of value, and was worried, as my health doesn't permit me to work full-time, that I wouldn't find anything else. Eventually I realised I had already lost the job I loved - she had taken it from me as soon as she started her campaign. Now, eighteen months into the far better job which I found, still in the voluntary sector, my self-esteem is finally more or less restored, though it doesn't take much of a trigger to bring the memories flooding back. My understanding, supportive boss tells me that when I started there I appeared terrified all the time and my body was turned in on itself. I have wonderful colleagues, I meet amazing people all the time and, perhaps best of all, I am in a position to make some inroads into raising awareness of the scourge of workplace bullying, particularly in the voluntary sector. There is life after bullying, and together we can tackle it.
Back to bullying case history index
The Field Foundation | Bully OnLine
Workplace bullying | School bullying | Family bullying
Bullying news | Bullying case histories
Bullying resources | Press and media centre
Stress, PTSD and psychiatric injury
Action to tackle bullying | Related issues
Books on bullying and related issues