The Professional Playground: Bullying in the Workplace

The Professional Playground: Bullying in the Workplace

buly-200x214I used to think that bullying was something only kids did. Kids with low self-esteem and insecurity issues. And as they got older, people stopped their immature games and got on with life. I never met any high school queen bees like in the movies and never heard of any sorority queens wreaking havoc at SMU. So despite the known frat hazing rituals, bullying was always a very foreign term to me. It wasn’t until recently that I would become a victim of bullying myself.

At my last job, I was bullied by my boss. This was a very confusing time for me because of the current stigma about work in today’s culture. We are told to work hard, stay late, always try to prove our worth, and to never argue with upper management. At least, that’s what I was taught. These were the very thoughts that kept me in a negative environment for far too long. It started out as small things like leaving me out of team conversations and getting a smaller work load than my peers. It then escalated to verbal tear-downs, non-constructive criticism, and an overall fear mentality that caused me severe anxiety and a sense of helplessness. I was criticized for my laugh, my personality, my appearance, and my clothes. One day I was too withdrawn and the next I was too chatty. I remember getting called in and asked why I was so withdrawn. After replying that I was on anti-anxiety medication and that the side effects could be to blame, I was told that that wasn’t a good excuse. I was under a microscope. Every tiny error in my work was scrutinized while my achievements were rarely mentioned or praised. I was called out in front of my peers and publicly shamed. I was kept in fear for my job with the constant reminder that if I didn’t change, I would be fired. All the while I recited Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ”. So I worked with a smile on my face while sneaking trips to the bathroom to cry in the stall. I would pray asking God why he wanted me at this company. He had made it so obvious that it was the right choice and yet I was miserable. I prayed that if he wanted me to leave to make the choice obvious. And after 9 months, the Lord was faithful and provided a way out.

After leaving that company, I still didn’t consider myself a victim of bullying. I didn’t realize it until an ex-coworker told me that my old team believed I was targeted and over-scrutinized on purpose and for no reason at all. They were not surprised that I decided to leave. For the first time in my life, bullying was real. It wasn’t some celebrity PSA. It wasn’t a sad story I read in the news. It was real and happened outside of elementary school and off the playground. It was by an adult. I don’t know why I was targeted and treated in such a way. I don’t know why God put me at that company. But I do know that I have infinitely more empathy for others who have been bullied. It is an emotionally and physically exhausting and damaging situation. Bullying exists and can happen at any age and by anyone. It is more common than you think, especially in the workplace.

Looking back, I wish I would have been more bold and spoken to HR about my experiences. I was even too afraid to be honest in my exit interview out of fear of what would happen if my comments got back to my boss. I also remember thinking that I was too sensitive and that what I was experiencing was typical for corporate America. It’s not. A hostile work environment is not o.k. in any circumstance or in any industry. You are not powerless and there are many resources available to help.

Below are some resources on bullying in the workplace, for further reading:

Workplace Bullying

Identifying and Coping with Workplace Bullies

Missing Out

Missing Out

“I know that life is a doorway to eternity, and yet my heart so often gets lost in petty anxieties. It forgets the great way home that lies before it. Unprepared, given over to childish trivialities, it could be taken by surprise when the great hour comes and find that, for the sake of piffling pleasures, the one great joy has been missed. I am aware of this, but my heart is not. It seems unteachable; it continues its dreaming … always wavering between joy and depression.” – Sophie Scholl

We all get caught up in the ins and outs of everyday life. And I don’t know about you, but I am just WAY to busy. I barely have time to sit down and eat a meal! I always have somewhere I need to be or something I need to do. It can all get pretty overwhelming and exhausting. Recently, I’ve been asking myself “what am I doing?”, “Is this worth it?” etc. And then I realize that there is more to this life than work and the weekend. I am easily distracted by my To Do list and schedule and forget to appreciate the beauty around me and the ultimate prize that lies ahead: Jesus. When I think of all the tasks in front of me (that next project at work, that much needed oil change, texting that friend back…), I have to stop and remind myself that all I do is for the advancement of the Kingdom and not for my me and my selfish reasons. When I remember this, everything became a lot less stressful and a lot more fulfilling. When I have to work late and miss church? What a wonderful opportunity to represent God’s church at the office! Am I receiving a lot of criticism from my boss? Maybe the Lord is trying to teach me to not rely on myself and my abilities but to rely on Him while I show my boss God’s love. Stuck in traffic again? I just got more time to spend with Jesus. Ultimately, everything in life is trivial in comparison to the glory that lies ahead.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 says,

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Everything we do for ourselves is meaningless. It is what we do for Him that is truly important. And in realty, everything we is for Him (or should be). “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if working for the Lord, not men” (Colossians 3:23).