Case 014 - Public Sector

I'm a 27-year-old male who once worked for the Australian Public Service.

In the first half of 1997, I was working for a large government agency and had accepted a temporary promotion to a small, self-managed team within the same organisation. My duties were mainly to process the travel-related paperwork of the team's members as well as helping arrange meetings both in the main campus and at external sites.

A man whom had been recruited from another federal government department headed the team. The team was to be a pilot for a major reorganisation of the agency, and it was our task to ensure that it went smoothly. It was not long before his bullying began.

When he was calm, he would be extraordinarily patronising and condescending. When he wasn't getting his own way on something, no matter how trivial, he would throw the most appalling tantrums in the office. These tantrums would often involve screaming fits, verbal abuse, name calling, and threatening gestures towards his current target.

In one instance, he called our office from a mobile phone whilst he was interstate. I answered the phone as the person he wanted to speak to was not at her desk. The connection was very poor, and so I asked who was calling.

He then exploded into a rage, screaming foul-mouthed abuse down the line at me. I would have hung up had the person he wanted to talk to not returned to her desk. His behaviour was in direct contravention of agency regulations regarding misuse of communication equipment.

He was incapable of treating anyone who was not his superior with basic respect and dignity. This alone makes him virtually unemployable, as it is impossible in this day and age to conceive of a workplace where this is not a minimum requirement. Around his superiors, he would put on an Oscar-winning performance of civility and affability, sometimes bordering on pretentiousness. This effectively disguised his true nature.

He would not allow anyone under him to perform well in their jobs, as it would have shown up his own incompetence and inadequacy. At team meetings, he would often make a big fuss about some minor issue, whilst paying scant attention to matters of substance. Although he often claimed to be playing 'the devil's advocate', with hindsight I believe that this was a ploy to conceal his own inability to manage.

On one occasion, I had to organise a high-level meeting with about five minutes notice because he had failed to notify me until almost the time it was about to start! Working right through my lunch break, I had to book a room, arrange refreshments and make sure the location was sent out to all participants. Although the meeting was a success, he never once thanked me for my efforts in making it so.

The worst incident occurred about a fortnight prior to my departure. I had already found out that he didn't want to extend my position there. He called me into his office under the pretext of discussing why he wasn't extending my tenure. As soon as he sat down in his chair, he dramatically spun around and began berating me. I was taken aback at first, not expecting this kind of treatment. I attempted to reply, but he kept cutting me off with more accusations.

A few weeks earlier, I had attended a training seminar on assertive communication. I applied my skills to this situation. I remained calm and stated my case. This clearly rattled the bully. He reacted by exploding into another 'grand mal' tantrum, hysterically screaming all sorts of abuse at me and babbling incoherently about some totally unrelated issues.

At one point, this bully became so aggressive and irrational towards me that I genuinely feared that he was about to become physically violent. I will never forget the filthy, evil look he shot at me as I gratefully departed his cubicle at the conclusion of his abusive tirade.

I was in a state of shock afterwards. I wound up back at my old job in another section, with an accompanying pay cut. I did complain to personnel, and I was able to extract a written 'apology' from the bully. It was scarcely worth the effort, though, because in his 'apology' he reiterated his opinion (should that be 'fantasy'?) that it was all my fault anyway. I was left with a psychiatric injury (depression) that lasted about eighteen months and a stress-related skin condition, which has only recently cleared up, as a result of my experiences. The bullying, however, didn't end there.

My ex-leader would continue to make smart-alec comments whenever we passed each other on the campus. When he stalked me one weekend in a local shopping mall, I decided to seek legal advice on a restraining order. The lawyer I consulted was quite surprised that I had been able to extract a written apology from him. He informed me that most people in my position didn't even get that far.

I was stunned to discover that he had an appalling history of misbehaviour and misconduct at his last workplace, including sexual harassment as well as verbal abuse and tantrum throwing - they certainly weren't sorry to see him go! When I appealed to them for help, in full accordance with their own guidelines, I was instead betrayed, belittled and patronised. In effect, they said that I was just young and stupid and didn't know what I was talking about. And then they wonder why all their good people are leaving...

I've pretty well made a full recovery, thanks in no small part to Tim Field. I am now a full time IT student, having taken a generous redundancy package about a year ago. Never again will I allow myself to become an unwitting victim of a workplace bully.