Case 025 - University

I am a 54 year old female who worked in a highly-regarded research centre in a prestigious department of a top university. I had been in my post for six and a half years and had excelled in it. Unusually for a university, I had been reasonably well rewarded for it, with an annual salary of £36,000 per year - very high for someone in an administrative role as I was. I was a bit of a whizz kid - I saved the department's bacon a couple of times (literally) and the head of the Centre once said that my salary wasn't really high as I saved the Centre at least that every year by efficient stewardship of funds which totalled millions of pounds.

I had a good boss - it was his philosophy to reward people adequately, to delegate and leave things to people if they were being well done. My working life could not have been better. Unfortunately, my boss was poached for a high level government post and left almost immediately and very unexpectedly.

He was replaced by a notorious bully who was humourless, inflexible, a workaholic, a perfectionist and a grudge-bearer. Because of this, he had not had any direct management of staff but even those he came into contact with indirectly complained of his manner. However, he was the only person who was able to take on the top job immediately and he relished it. For one thing he had hated my previous boss with a vengeance and had taken every opportunity to denigrate him professionally and personally. For another reason, it gave him a power base he had craved for, with control of hundreds of thousands of pounds. To control that he felt that he had to control me - I was an obvious target and I knew this.

My problems began on the second day of the new regime. He screamed and shouted about trivial things and eventually stormed out of the meeting. From that day on I kept a diary of his activities which was to prove to be one of my life-savers.

He knew that I was under immense pressure outside work. My husband had recently been diagnosed with a very serious illness and I had an elderly mother in law living with us who had become severely disabled and who needed lots of care. I had developed high blood pressure and high cholesterol, although this had been treated and was under control. No doubt this made him feel very sure of himself.

Over the next months the pressure intensified and I realise now from reading Tim's book that he did 80-90% of the things in it that are diagnostic of bullying, all of which I documented in my diary. At first I rallied and fought off every assault. Later came the tears and depression. It took only four months for him to break me. At the end of four months I had a breakdown and was signed off work by my GP. I made the decision never to go back and have not done so.

I was very lucky to have the services of an excellent trades union. They immediately assigned a caseworker who specialised in bullying cases to me and she did all the initial negotiations whilst I was at my most ill. She herself had been bullied some 20 years earlier and knew the score. The Department accepted that I had been bullied but offered only the purchase of one added year of service to my pension (I had expressed a wish to retire at age 55 but this had never been accepted; when it became convenient to accept they did so with amazing speed!). I estimate that being bullied has cost me some £13,000 - £23,000 depending on how you view it. - the different between my salary (£36,000) and my pension (£13,000) - less the £10,000 extra they put in my pension fund if we are being scrupulous.

I am angry that as the victim I have to pay the financial and psychological costs of the bullying and, of course, the bully has got off scot free. However, I requested an exit interview at the university and made it clear that I was leaving because I had been bullied, that this had cost me dear both in money and psychological distress and that I would become a campaigner on behalf of those being bullied.

I have learned many valuable lessons - that the bully chooses you because you have the qualities they lack; that there is no justice where bullying is concerned and that from start to finish bullying can destroy your career so fast - within month, weeks or even days. However, I have also learned that I am basically strong, I know that I was not at fault and I have no intention of being a victim for the rest of my life - in fact I already class myself as a survivor, only days after final resolution of this event.

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