Career Advice

It's Not Me. It's You: Bullying in the Workplace

Manda Milling Posted by Manda
min read
Product School X Zkk5x T8 Xrk Unsplash

When I started my working life – okay, I'm going to say it – over 35 years ago, the relationship you had with your boss or manager was very different to how it is today. It was very much a 'master/servant' relationship. When the boss employed you, you were jolly lucky to have the job, and you exhibited suitably deferential behaviour as a result. In most instances, your boss was addressed as Mr (and, no, that wasn't a mistake, because all the bosses were male). A lot of it had to do with the economic downturn in the early 1980s. 

I remember when BHP was at Newcastle and huge numbers of people were being laid off (I don't think we used the term redundant in those days), there always seemed to be a petrol strike, and basically you were pleased you had that job. This was on the eve of interest rates hitting 18%, being the early stages of the build up to the recession of the late 1980s and the early 1990s, which was brutal. So, why the trip down memory lane? I was chatting to a friend of mine recently who had told me he had walked away from his job due to the behaviour of one of the principals of the firm. 

Now, this surprised me, as the last time we caught up, he was having a great time with the firm and couldn't praise it highly enough for the interesting work and buoyancy of the business in general. So, what happened? Over a period of twelve months, the behaviour of one of the principals became progressively worse. This person was from the 'I am your boss, and you should be grateful I employed you and you must do everything I say without question' era. In other words, about 35 years out of date. So what was this behaviour that made my friend walk away from a much loved job, someone who has a pretty thick hide and has worked for some high profile blue ribbon businesses in his career? It comes down to one word: bullying. The guy was a bully. Hiding behind his position, he verbally abused my friend, shouting and screaming expletives (and I mean the absolute worst kind of stuff), all day, every day. 

The other people in the firm had put up with this behaviour for years, including his business partners. He must have stifled his true nature during my friend's probation period and then let it rip. Given the list of examples I was provided with, this guy's behaviour was nothing short of disgraceful, as was that of the other managers in the business for allowing it to happen. 

So why didn't he do anything? This business is not in a major CBD, but in an area where everyone knows each other. My friend said that if you are seen as a trouble maker, you just won't get another job in the district. I am certainly naive to think that this sort of thing only happened when I started my working life and not in 2015. No number of laws will ever adequately stop this kind of bullying behaviour if people do not act. I, of course, advised my friend about Fair Work Australia and the various laws that exist to protect workers from this type of treatment, but unless someone actually makes a complaint, then this type of situation will continue. Ironically, when my friend was walking out the door, this principal said to him he didn't know what he would do without him. I guess he will just have to find himself another punching bag.