There is a lot of discussion in the news right now about workplace bullying. I think we'll be seeing a lot more awareness and campaigning in the coming years over workplace bullying, in that it's quite common, but the effects aren't publicly well recognised yet potentially severe.
I experienced workplace bullying in my previous job, after being targeted by an older colleague, some of which was sexual harassment. It went on for over a year and made me feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe both at work and getting to and from work. Furthermore, the colleague in question was the Managing Director's personal assistant, which injected a lot of stressful politics into the situation as she indirectly wielded a lot of power and was quite happy to use it.
In some ways I'm pleased how I handled it, and in other ways I'm not. I think my biggest regret is continuing to stay at the company for over a year after it began, expecting at some point that my employer would put a stop to it, while letting it cause a lot of self doubt and other damage. Unfortunately I was quite naive in having a high opinion of my employer, which was entirely unjustified, and it took me a long time to adjust my expectations to match reality.
What I did right was to find a counsellor to help me. She was invaluable in giving me an understanding of why I was feeling what I was. My ex-employer was making me feel I was being irrational for being upset (I was even told by my boss that "It's not normal to be upset about this kind of thing"), and being able to take that to my counsellor and get a second opinion was extremely important to my perception of the situation and the people involved. It made me understand that it was normal to be feeling what I was, and that's an important step in understanding the best way to resolve the issue.
She was able to tell me plainly that my ex-employer wasn't taking my well-being seriously, that my boss was not listening to my concerns, and that it really, really, really wasn't OK or normal or professional that the HR representative claimed to be impartial but was going out for lunch with the other woman while declining meetings with me and not responding to emails because she was "too busy", or scheduling meetings that she didn't attend(!!!). The last part seems like it should be obvious, but when you're in an environment where these things happen every day and bad behaviour is being perpetuated by authority figures... well, sometimes it helps when someone else can just say "actually, that's not OK".
She was also able to use her life experience to convince me that my employer was doing a particularly bad job, and, on average, I could have expected more professionalism from other employers. I didn't have the experience to evaluate that at the time, but now I have a bit more experience of dealing with other employers, I can see her point. The HR representative was more likely employed for her native Russian language skills in dealing with our Russian developers rather than any competence in the field of HR.
When I did eventually leave, nobody asked me why I was leaving. My boss had a chance to solicit feedback and to understand what he could have done better, so as to grow as both a person and employer, but did not.
Even now, a few months later, it still affects me. I go past my old workplace on the train every day and I still feel noticeably stressed when I do. I consciously avoid the area near old office on my lunch time excursions, just because it stresses me to be near the building. I unfollowed my old employer on LinkedIn and anyone who re-posts its posts, because it stresses me to see them. I still wake up in the middle of the night having nightmares about working there.
It's a psychological wound and will take time to heal; one I wish I had been more proactive in shielding myself from.
I would fully recommend anyone in a similar position to consider leaving as their main concern, but, equally, I also know doesn't seem easy. However, healthy workplaces do exist, and you deserve one.
In the end, the counselling left me probably about £1000 out of pocket, but it helped me move into a more professional and healthy workplace in a higher paying job, so in that respect, it has paid for itself.
Some interesting resources I found on workplace bullying:
Reflections on 20 Years of Treating Targets of Workplace Bullying — A very interesting article, which includes the following insight:
They [victims] also tend to have a strong belief in a just world e.g., people get what they deserve and that justice should prevail. When an organization does not recognize a problem or deal with an allegation effectively, this sets this type of person up to develop a secondary wound - the sense of betrayal from people they believed would provide support and justice. As a therapist, I have seen this lead to as much or greater wounding as the experience of Workplace Bullying itself.
The Trauma of Workplace Bullying — containing the following insights:
Workplace bullies are predominately female and don’t always act alone. 7-out-of-10 people leave their job due to workplace bullying. 4-out-of-5 bully targets suffer depression and sleeping problems after bullying.