The Office Bully: It Doesn’t Stop in the Classroom

Although the term “bully” immediately sets off an image of a kid in the school playground holding court with his or her power, bullying actually continues well into life and surprisingly even exists in the nursing home environment. It seems, once a bully, always a bully.

Although much is written on bullying in the playground, the office environment is a haven for bullies. As just as everyone knows in the playground who the bully is and who the victim or victims are and are afraid to speak out, this phenomenon also occurs in the office.

Let’s look at the case of Michelle. Michelle is a lovely person, full of happy, lighthearted memos to her staff. That is, until one of them crosses her or challenges her authority. Then her true colors show. But in Michelle’s case, it is very subtly done so as not to appear overly aggressive to both her staff and her boss.

But the victim of Michelle’s bullying knows very well what is going on. Time sheets go missing, so pays are held up. Emails are used as a way of bullying also. Where once the victim was addressed by name and the email signed, often with terms of appreciation such as “thanks!” etc, the emails are no longer titled, the person is not addressed by name and the email is not signed personally, but merely rubber stamped with the bully’s title that appears on all their emails.

Then comes the “accidental” physical contact whereby the bully uses a crowded situation to knock a sheaf of papers out of the victim’s arms and onto the floor or to push a cup of coffee onto their shirt. Of course, there are lots of apologies and even offers to help clean the shirt while an audience is present. But everyone is aware of what is going on.

Unfortunately, just as it was in the schoolyard, very few people are prepared to stand up to the office bully for the same reasons that no-one spoke up in the classroom – the bully might turn on them. And so these people continue to wreak havoc in the workplace causing low productivity, low staff moral and high attrition rates.

Interestingly, but not surprising, classroom bullies often grow up to be criminals or at least corporate thugs. The latter, while committing no obvious crime, can wind up in court on other charges. Research has also shown that children who were bullied in school have a higher risk of becoming depressed and anxious as adults. Therefore it is vitally important that bullying, which is an illness in itself, is contained early on the child’s life so none of us need fear going to the office, so to speak.

Meanwhile, in Michelle’s life she has been finally challenged by a woman she has been subtly bulling for over a year. A report was made and the culprit was found to have nothing to answer to, so her victim had to have time off work as she was devastated. But as the saying goes “Truth is the Daughter of Time”. When the verdict came out in the office meeting and word got out in the larger community, former workers stepped forward and announced that they, too, were bullied by Michelle.

The company has admitted liability in an outstanding volte-face and Michelle is now in the unenviable position of being taken to court by the victim’s lawyer.

With so many witnesses to testify against her, Michelle’s reign of terror has, for the moment, come to an end. Sadly, because of her personality type, Michelle will do the same in her next job, but at least in this instance she will have a taste of what it feels like to be under the microscope.

Related articles:

Dealing with the Office Psychopath

Is YOur Boss a Psychopath?