The national news covered a story this week about someone who was bullied and abused by his boss to such a degree, he took his own life. Apparently he also suffered from depression which must have made it impossible to bear and his co-workers confirmed publicly that he’d been singled out for torment by this particular individual who of course, promptly hired a defense lawyer. The victim had made several attempts to speak to the employers but it seems he was ignored.
Some time ago, I interviewed with someone looking for a ‘right hand’ to help with marketing, copy writing, legal contracts, etc. I interviewed with this person because they were purportedly one of the best in their field and I thought it was a smart way to learn all aspect of the business in order to further my career.
I’m honest about my skill levels in interviews so I made it very clear at the outset what my talents were and what experience I’d had, relevant to the position in question. I also mentioned I had a scheduled 4 day vacation to visit family across the country and that my flight was booked. “No problem!” he told me. Looking back, I realize that he wasn’t actually listening but indulging in puffery and self-aggrandizement, while at the same time heavily criticizing my predecessor – I was so fixated on ‘working with the best’ that I chose to overlook this red flag.
During my first 3 weeks I was subjected to such an overwhelming amount of abuse that I did two things; first, I started looking in earnest for another job and secondly, I started to keep a daily log of his behavior. What follows are a few examples of what I experienced on a daily basis, frequently within full earshot of other staff members and clients:
• Offensive, sexist remarks.
• Insulting comments about my nationality.
• Being told; “Shut up and listen”, whenever I asked for clarification. I should point out here that with his slight speech impediment, it was sometimes hard to understand what he was saying so I would have to repeat something back to make sure I’d got it – this enraged him as apparently it proved that I wasn’t listening properly in the first place.
• Having his right fist punch repeatedly into his left palm barely 3 inches from my nose, while telling me to “Shut up and listen” – see above.
• Being told; “I hate what you do with your eyes and your face – you really irritate me”.
• Being told that he and not I, will decided when I can take time off as he pays my salary (he didn’t, the parent company did) and as he hasn’t given his permission I must cancel my family trip. He denied I’d ever mentioned it. That was a costly cancellation in more ways than one.
• Being repeatedly told that I’d exaggerated my skills at my interview, that he was extremely disappointed in my lack of knowledge and that the only thing I did well was interview.
• Being told that my predecessor was a PhD by comparison (The person whose character and work ethic he’d demolished in my interview).
• Being called at home on a Sunday evening because his son needed help with his homework and had computer issues, then becoming angry because I was unavailable.
• Being told; “You have too much self-esteem – you’re not that good and you need to be knocked down a peg or two”………and so-on….there was so much more but you get the drift.
It wasn’t just me who was subjected to this tyranny. I observed him verbally humiliating numerous other female colleagues on a daily basis. Men on the other hand, were treated as good ‘ole buddies. Strangely enough, when I twice offered to resign and help find him a replacement as he was clearly so unhappy with my work, he back peddled and expressed appreciation for everything I did – for a day or so.
I recall rationalizing his behavior being partly due to the fact that he’s short in a Napoleonic way; barely tall enough to reach my chin in his high heel booties. But that’s absurd as I know several wonderful men who are short in stature.
During the first couple of weeks – and I’d like to add that this was the most egregiously offensive thing of all; I had a quiet word about the issue with the ‘office manager’ who’d been entrenched for 17 yrs and presented a motherly demeanor, encouraging me to seek help anytime as I was ‘new’.
I was told the following; “Yes, I agree that he’s a problem but don’t bother reporting any of this to the HR person as she won’t do anything”. This was probably true as the ‘HR representative’, who worked for the parent company but was stationed in our office, seemed to be no more that a job application processor and demonstrated all the communication and interpersonal skills of a door mat that read ‘Go Away!’
I countered this non-advice by suggesting that surely, this type of inappropriate behavior shouldn’t be tolerated and why had nobody filed a lawsuit over the past 20+ years that this had apparently been going on for?
You know what she said? She said… “Oh, yes we all know he’s totally out of line but no lawyer in this small town would touch it – they all play golf together and it’s an old boy’s network, so don’t waste your time”.
Fortunately for me, I found another job within 3 months but I admit it was a grueling 3 months – and, like all true narcissists who have bad boundaries and believe they’re the Center of the Known Universe, he asked me on my last day if I’d like to continue working for him part-time because he couldn’t cope without my help. I actually laughed all the way home.
I lasted as long as I did because I’d also been going through a 6 week interview process for my new job. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel which made it more tolerable and this time, it wasn’t a freight train coming the other way.
I escaped unscathed and recovered instantly but how about you? What would you have done in my position? What HAVE you done in this situation and is any job worth hanging on to when you work for an abuser?