THERE IS ALWAYS ONE.
A GUIDE TO PREVENTING STRESS FROM BULLYING AT WORK.
“What are the people like at your work?”
Pick an answer from the following replies.
(a) They are a great team. It’s great to be working with such an enthusiastic, motivated and happy set of people.
(b) Well, There’s always one.
I wish that I could say, that throughout my career, my answer would have been most often (a). Unfortunately, more often than not, it has definitely been (b). Usually followed by a wry smile and a nod that infers….”You know what I mean.”
If your answer to this question is (b), then this guide is for you.
Over a number of years, I have closely studied management and management techniques in a retail environment. I am not a psychiatrist nor do I have any qualifications in this area other than my experience.
At the heart of management, there are people. And how those people work together or individually to achieve a profit or reputation for ‘The Company’ Is the job of ‘The Boss’.
It is ‘The Company’ who have the responsibility of providing policies and procedures to address the growing problem of bullying in the workplace.
It is ‘The Boss’ who has the responsibility to behave with leadership qualities to ensure bullying does not occur in his business unit.
If ‘The Boss’ and ‘The Company’ are working closely and continue to allow bullying to happen then It may be better to work somewhere else. The point of this guide, however, is to empower you to stay in your current role, minimise your stress and highlight to your boss the unacceptable behaviour of ‘The Bully.’
Apart from this introduction, I have split this guide into three parts. The first part is a rather self-indulgent history of my experiences in retail. With this story, I would like you to see that it has taken me many years to be able to identify bullies. Even longer to act against them. The key here is, if they make you feel stressed or belittled then they are bullying. It is then up to you to define how they are bullying.
Part two covers the behaviour and nature of ‘The Bully.’ So you can identify them.
Part three covers ‘The Bullied.’ How you can behave to minimise your stress and continue to do your job as well as possible.
As I have already stated, I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist. I do not have a degree. I write simply. I do not want to over-complicate the issue of bullying or indeed, over-simplify.
I have suffered the anxiety of bullying in the workplace. Sometimes it is easier to change jobs rather than fight back against ‘The Bully.’ Personally, I have changed jobs because of a bully. I wish I had kept fighting, this is a very personal decision. Stress and anxiety can make you ill. Only you can decide the way to relieve you and your families suffering.
My A-Level results were not quite good enough to get me into college. I was disappointed. The next best thing though was to start earning. I started as a retail trainee manager in the mid-eighties. I was lucky enough to get the only job I had ever applied for. I had worked for this multi-national retailer part time as I studied for my A-Levels. I got on the trainee program, packed my bags and left home for South Yorkshire.
My first Store Manager was a monster! He was a big man. He had a face that only his mother could love. He wouldn’t have looked out of place with a bolt through his neck. The management team called him Herman Munster. He called it how it was.
His management style was definitely ‘Rule by Fear.’
“A bit harsh.” I hear you say. “He couldn’t have been that bad.”
“Well, he was.”
Being managed by fear, was an experience. The management teams’ only goal was to manage his mood.
Coming into work the first question on everyone’s lips would be “What mood is he in?”
He would have ‘chiller chats’ with certain members of the management team. He would take them into the walk-in fridge and shut the door. What happened inside was left to the imagination.
He used to swear-A lot. Usually out of earshot of the customers. Not always, though. When he was angry, spittle used to spray from his mouth.
My worst memory of this time was when he was not happy with my facing up of the tea aisle. I had done the evening shift. Working until two in the morning. One of his minions came knocking on my door at seven in the morning. Telling me I had to go to work ‘as ‘The Boss’ wanted to see me.’
He grabbed me by the earlobe! Dragged me around the shop, pointing out my mistakes. I had missed part of the tea aisle. So I deserved it?
Things came to a head sometime after that. He was, to be fair the same with almost everyone. His two or three minions were the exception.
I took a call in the general office. It was for him. He was there and asked me to put it through to his office. I didn’t know how to do it. I lost the call. I had never seen someone go that red in the face whilst spitting and swearing in my life. I was terrified. For the first time, however, I stood up to it. I walked out of the office and slammed the door. A while later, I was summoned. He continued to berate. I told him. I was not going to take the abuse. He became quiet. I left. Later that day he cornered me. He told me that I had ‘balls.’ That was all it took. I had to stand up for myself. From then on he never bothered me.
I really feel that this manager had two major effects on me. The biggest one was to desensitise me against bullying. The other was to help me recognise when a manager was using fear to motivate.
I did not, however, at this stage equate this style of management with bullying. Or if I did, I thought that was the right way to do it.
A few years later. ‘The Company’ went through, what they call a ‘sea change’. Before this, I had struggled with the notion that I had to manage like ‘Herman’. Managers were sent on ‘Teamwork’ courses. We were taught to respect staff, (now called colleagues) and were managed by behavioural competencies. This was a big change. It suited me better and took a few years to fully understand the implications.
Hermans’ reign of terror came and went. I think he got moved on. After complaints of swearing by customers.
I moved stores every two or three years or so. Either upward or to the side or for better hours etc. Many different managers all talking about teamwork and feedback. All touchy-feely as it should be when managing emotional people. The most common trait amongst these various managers seemed to be building a team around them. Mostly in a good way but occasionally in a favouritism way. I was either in or out of this. I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘creep’ so mainly I was out.
After taking a year out on secondment. I returned to some bullying. I think my manager felt he needed to put me in my place. I came back to a very busy department and the scheduling system was going through some changes. I was struggling. I asked my vicious, human resources manager for help. She was too busy. She was in league with ‘The Boss’. Some days later, my schedule was poor. It led to queues at the tills. I was told that I would be having a performance meeting with ‘The HR manager’ and ‘The Boss.’
I could see what was happening. I had learned from experience that I was being unfairly treated. I replied that I was happy to attend a performance meeting but I wanted impartial people to lead it. Preferably from another store. In the meeting, I mentioned that I had asked for help and been refused. I also implied that ‘The Boss’ and HR were both treating me unfairly. I mentioned that I was thinking about putting in a grievance.
The worm had turned.
I temporarily left retail then. Mostly due to personal reasons. Eventually, I took up part-time retail as a supervisor in a discount store. This was eight years after originally leaving. The bigger retailers were on the decline and the cheaper discounters on the up. The store manager was buckling under the stress and the assistant manager was a new type of bully.
I could see that they felt threatened by my experience. It took a long time, maybe eight months to work this out. The assistant was very two faced and I am convinced that she was intent on making me look as bad as possible. All that mattered to them was that they got the holidays and shifts they wanted. I had never experienced holidays and scheduling being used as a punishment before.
The manager left due to stress. The new manager who I hoped would be my salvation turned out to be worse than the assistant. Within weeks of the new manager starting I had my shifts changed without consulting, was asked if thought I should move nearer my home. I was micromanaged to a point of bullying. Things were picked up on that were not wrong. I was told I would be performance managed. I was used to performance management from my previous experience and had no fear of that. It may highlight their error I thought. I did realise that I was being unfairly treated and put together a comprehensive grievance, including my views on the new managers’ behavioural competency. After my performance review. In front of the area manager. The review being embarrassing for the new manager who had clearly never done one before. I handed the area manager my grievance. I explained that I could no longer work with this manager. Producing that grievance had taken its toll on me and my family.
I was moved to another store while my grievance was investigated. After two weeks I was told that my grievance had been partially upheld. As there were no other positions available to me I had to return to the store. I could appeal to the regional manager.
‘The Boss’ had lied in the investigation and some of my points were completely missed. I felt I could have successfully appealed. I didn’t. For my sanity and the sanity of my family I resigned. On this occasion ‘The Bully’ had won. I felt ‘The Company’ had let me down.
Not long after this, I attained a position in a more reputable and slightly larger supermarket chain. After six months I realised that I needed to progress and went for supervisor assessment. To the surprise of my manager, I passed.
Here, I feel is where the problem began again. Again my manager felt threatened and started to compile a list of everything they thought I was doing wrong. Cleverer and more subtle than any bully I had met previously. This bully would have one to ones. Some of the things spoken about were complete fabrications. I was accused of leaving a mess the day before. The day before had been my day off! I was accused of being slow to get the shop floor replenished. They had taken a colleague to do cash without informing me so the process was stalled until this was realised. I filled in a delivery note without realising it had not copied onto the sheet behind properly. I was accused of not completing a stock check. I had done it, but they had checked the wrong day. I put forward my side. They apologised and just carried on. If I bought it up at any other time the answer would be,
“Well, I have apologised.”
I was used to giving and receiving feedback in a particular format. I even checked ‘The Company’ guidelines for feedback. This manager was in the wrong.
I started to look over my shoulder. I knew I was being treated unfairly. I went to speak to my store manager.
I must admit I thought it would all get neatly swept under the carpet and I would be told to get on with it. He did say to hold on. He would speak to them and told me to watch the change.
They did change. They stopped the one to ones. Things quietened down for about five months.
Then we had a health and safety audit. They were in charge. I was the supervisor. Well, we got roasted. Anything that could go wrong went wrong. They spent the aftermath trying to blame anyone but themselves for our failings. Accountability was a dirty word.
When asked about it by the deputy manager I explained my thoughts on ‘The Boss’s’ lack of accountability and poor teamwork.
After that, they continued to try to make me look bad. Scheduling was the next target. I was accused of bringing moral down in the store because I had scheduled someone to the wrong day. This had been due to my lack of knowledge of the system. I had asked for their help and they had palmed me off with some gobbledygook. Bullshit, as its called in the trade.
So. There I was. I was getting stressed. Did I go to the store manager again? Did I just go straight for the grievance? Did I hand my resignation in? Or did I just take it on the chin and try not to let it get to me?
The most stressful part of being bullied is the thought process of identifying whether your treatment amounts to bullying or not. If you keep replaying the scenarios over and over in your mind, then the answer to this, is usually yes.
The longer you stew on these thoughts the more stress will be put on you and your family. Try to relax and turn off when you get home. If you can’t then it’s time to follow this guide.
Here are some definitions of the behaviour of two types of bullies. These actions will be part of their habitual treatment of you.
The simple, obvious and direct bully.
The old fashioned, or school ground bully. Will show some or all of the following traits.
– Bigotry, (will pick on any differences).
– Lack of respect.
– Over the top.
They will also use humour and pass off their bullying as ‘banter’. They won’t fool anyone for long. They are easy to identify and are becoming rarer in the workplace.
The clever, indirect and subtle bully.
More difficult to identify initially.
– Nit Picky (Will call themselves a perfectionist. Or obsessive.)
– Poor listener.
– Poor coach. (does not understand the difference between training and coaching.)
– Poor to delegate.
– Not accountable.
– Quick to blame.
– Has favourites.
– Creates non-inclusive teams.
– Quick to criticise
– Makes up own rules, outside of company policy.
Some of these traits are due to poor understanding of positive management behaviours. Because they think they can act this way as their position in the company allows them to. They find it hard to change as they do not admit to any faults. I have heard this referred to as ‘maladjusted perfectionism.’Not only can they be quick to criticise but they can unfairly criticise. There aim is to find fault, to prove that you are not performing to standard even if there is no fault to find. They can discuss you behind your back within their circle of favourites. They find it very difficult to say the words ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand.’ In their eyes, this would show weakness. Although they can act in a superior way they have an underlying inferiority complex.
Bullies feel threatened by anyone with better knowledge, experience or temperament than themselves. They are in fear of losing their position or status. They will call themselves winners because they cannot deal with losing or coming second best to anyone. This makes them very determined and will resort to any tactics to get where they want.
They often progress within the company due to appearing driven and determined. This looks like they are being rewarded for bullying and intimidating by other colleagues. This leads others to think that this is the correct behaviour required to progress. Overall within a business unit, bullying by one colleague can lead to a high turnover of colleagues, poor teamwork, poor morale and poor results. It should, therefore, be in the best interests of ‘The Company’ to not allow bullying to take place.
Carry-on, leave or fight?
It may be that you can put up with being bullied. It may be that ‘The Bully’ doesn’t pick on you. You can see that your colleague is a bully but you are one of their favourites. You can ride on their coat-tails. Maybe you are a bully? If not continue reading.
Remember at any time you can, carry-on, leave or fight.
If you decide to fight, you always have the other two options.
1. Talk to someone.
Most companies have anonymous helplines. You can talk to your union rep. Talk to trusted colleagues. They will help you decide if you are being bullied.
2. Empower yourself.
Write everything down. Make a diary. Dates. Times. Witnesses. Everything ‘The Bully’ says or does and how it made you feel. Go back as far as possible. Write it down even if you can’t remember all the details.
This is not just for preparing a grievance. It is just as important for reducing your stress. Everything becomes clearer and simpler when it is written down. Externalise instead of internalising.
3. Raise the issue informally.
Who can you speak to?
‘The Bully’ directly? This is the bravest option. If you can, try this.
“I feel that your behaviour towards me is unacceptable. I feel intimidated (Or bullied) by you. If you continue to behave in this way towards me then I will raise a grievance with your superior.”
This is sometimes enough. It maybe that ‘The Bully’ will now leave you alone. It may be that ‘The Bully’ didn’t realise their behaviour was having that effect. Do not get further involved in a conversation. It is now up to ‘The Bully’ to work out what they are going to do with this information.
It may be easier to talk directly to ‘The Bullies’ superior.
It may be easier to talk to a union representative or a trusted colleague. They must be aware that you are prepared to put in a grievance.
At this point, you will probably be given some assurances that this will not happen again.
It is a big step from here to handing in a grievance. Only you can decide when the time is right to do so. You can keep threatening to hand it in if it helps temporarily.
There will come a point though that you decide to hand it in.
4.Put in a grievance.
You have documented all relevant communication in your diary. Get help and advice to write the letter. Stick to facts. Don’t waffle. There are some good templates online. Gov.uk is a good one.
If you do not get a satisfactory outcome to the grievance then appeal.
The outcome of the grievance must be to reduce your stress. If it hasn’t then you must leave, carry-on or continue to fight.
I have found that as I get older it becomes more difficult to deal with stress. I need to stick to a healthy diet, exercise and get good sleep.
Being bullied can be very harmful to your health. It is a balance between your stress levels and stopping ‘The Bully’. You must decide when to fight and when to back off.
One thing is for sure with bullies. Wherever you go ‘there is always one.’