Case 073 - Private Industry
At the end of 1996 I was asked by a guy I had known since 1989 to help him set-up a new business. He had formed a company some months earlier but the business plan was not working. The new one required technical knowledge and a confidence that he didn't have. There was little money available and no payments would be made until the business itself made some. At the time I was also trying to get a small business of my own (IT Training) off the ground and his plan sounded feasible. To try and generate income for my family it was agreed that I would continue to promote my interests so long as they did not interfere with his, as it turned out they were complementary.
We both worked full time at his business and used my house as the base (we moved to offices after two years). My own business began to build and all work was done in the evening. Later, some day time work was required but this never amounted to more then 23 days a year. Over the next 4 years we built his business up to a £350,000 turnover with just the two of us. In those 4 years I was paid a total of £41,000.00 before tax, that's £10,250.00 a year. During all that time I invoiced for my services for amounts that he dictated. We used my 'self employed' status for paying me to avoid having to pay NI and PAYE in the lean early years, but it carried on even when the business stabilised. He justified this by saying that we needed to build a reserve of funds in the bank to tide us over slack times, and by remaining 'self employed' it kept outgoings to a minimum. My little business also generated income so all appeared fine. In essence, this was good business practice and the working relationship flourished - or so I thought.
By July 2000, I realised that my business was becoming a little too successful, whilst his business was beginning to slow down. By this time in the year I had already spent over 20 days out with my own clients and bookings were building. I had a decision to make, and I made the wrong one. I handed over my business to him and signed a Contract of Employment. At the time this appeared to be the right move. The company employed two additional staff with NI and PAYE, contracts etc., it also needed a boost to its income and I honestly believed I was doing the right thing. And the Inland Revenue were also questioning my 'self employed' status.
Soon after I began to see cracks in his character, but did not recognise them for what they were, classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He began to treat me differently in a way that is difficult to describe. His attitude changed slightly, from that of friend to that of an employer. He no longer asked my advice to the degree he had before. He became a little more dictatorial. It also transpired that he and his girlfriend were having problems because he would not commit to a family. She was a nice woman, I had known her as long as I had known him, and we were affectionate in a friendly way. When she came in to the office we would greet each other as friends, peck on the cheek etc. But, shortly after the event in July, he commented on this and asked why I was kissing his girl friend. Maybe I should say here that I am 20 years older than the pair of them.
Over the next few months it became obvious that their relationship was under stress and they eventually split up, but stayed friends. In January 2001 she lost her job and he immediately took her on, put her in charge of sales, a job he and I had carried out successfully for four years, and so the final phase started. To relay every twist and turn in the tale is pointless and could easily bring in emotions so I will stick to the facts.
The business was highly technical but she had no technical ability. She had no sales experience. She was emotionally upset at her dismissal from her previous company and taking them to a tribunal. I supported her in her sales role to the extent that I did most of the work.
During 2001 other aspects of his character began to bother me. I had noticed them before but had not interpreted them correctly. . He was sporty but did not like team sports. He liked running, cycling and swimming, solitary sports, but did not like competing. On the few occasions he did compete, he was always evasive when I asked how he had got on. He never won and was critical of those who did - they had better equipment, had trained harder, were younger - there was always an excuse for not winning. He was jealous when other similar businesses were doing well, when their turnover was higher, when their phones never stopped ringing. He had few friends and those he did have had equally strange qualities. By the end of 2001 I found out that she was paid more than me, that she was getting commission on sales (who was doing the sales?), that she had more say in the running of the business. I realise that here I am in danger of showing jealousy, and maybe there is a grain of truth in this. Yes, I did begin to feel that I was being side lined.
2002 saw a complete change in his attitude to me. The business had began to slide, sales dropped, turnover began to drop. This was expected as the industry is cyclical and fashions come and go. But there was more to it. He found a new girlfriend, the first in two years, but she 'dumped' him within days. He bought a new house and a new flashy car. Meanwhile his office conversation with me trailed off to almost zero. When I mentioned the known reasons for the downturn in business (the product's life was almost over), the 'war chest' to see us through the blip, and the new product we were developing, I was criticised for not supporting him. Now the bullying really started. I was ostracised, ignored, accused of everything from being in a bad mood to not concentrating on what I was paid to do. The atmosphere in the office was awful and when I questioned him about this, on several occasions, I was told I was paranoid, it was all in my head and I was just imagining it. Classically, I believed him. Almost every symptom of office bullying was present - but I did not know it or understand it.
During that year things went from bad to worse. At one point I went to my doctor but did not know where to start or end. I had great difficulty in explaining how I felt or what was happening except that I felt he wanted me out of the business. The doctor suggested I had to decide whether to stay or leave. I confronted him more often about his attitude and suggested that it might be because I was older, I was popular with customers and clients, I had a stable home life, a lovely family, interests outside work, honesty and integrity. In fact a large number of the qualities you list under Personal Qualities that Bullies Find Irresistible. Every time there was complete denial and I now realise that he displays almost all the criteria you list under How do Bullies Select Their Target.
By October I was in an emotional mess, finally cracked and broke down in tears during yet another confrontation with the guy who I had helped for so long. He was sympathetic and suggested he take me along to my doctor to explain my paranoia. This bit is classic. He spoke to my doctor and explained that everything was in my head, I was depressed and so thought he wanted to get rid of me. He said this was untrue and I was a valuable member of the company. The doctor put me on an anti-depressant.
Three weeks later he told me I was redundant due to a fall in turnover and as I was last in I was selected as first out. She, by the way, had been excluded from the selection and the other guy in the company had been taken on a few months before me. I could not believe what I was hearing. That was easily explained because I had been a 'self employed contractor' for four years and had only become an employee late in 2000. Ironically, the Chairman of the Board, to who I appealed against the redundancy, also displays many of the bully characteristics. Finding and reading your web site was a blessing. Ever since I was made redundant I, and my family and friends, have been asking, 'Why has he done this?' Now we know, and the knowledge has removed all the doubts I had about myself. Now I know I can face the challenges to come when I go to the tribunal and I can hold my head high when anything is questioned.