A few months ago I wrote about a client who I called Jane. She sparked my interest in bullying in the work place of women by women. It was enlightening and eye-opening. I shared my discovery experience of the whole process via a series of posts, which hopefully you are familiar with. I examined the reasons why women bully, the methods they use, the differences compared to male bullying, how organisations deal with this phenomenon and finally what victims can do to deal with it.
However, in the intervening months many of you have been repeatedly asking “Whatever happened to Jane?” Jane, you will be pleased to hear, has quietly but effectively been doing what she felt she needed to do and asked me to wait before I shared her experiences until after she had completed her own healing process. She is now in a place where she is looking forward and has given me permission to share her story.
One of the first things I did as a coach was to research bullying, establish what it is and to decide if I felt there was a real issue of abuse in Jane’s case. I’m the eldest of 4, with an authoritarian father and my early career was spent in the steel industry, so personally, I have a reasonably high resistance to intimidating behaviour, so I have to factor that in. But after researching, there was no question in my mind – Jane was being systematically bullied and ground down. What was additionally painful for her was that her husband felt she needed to toughen up and assert herself which added to her feelings of isolation. Here is a re-cap of her story. She was:
– singled out for public criticism about her work and appearance
– regularly called into her bosses office at 17.20 to be given additional work with tight deadlines
– excluded from email circulation lists and meetings
– only person in the department not invited to a social event at bosses house
– attempts to discuss had been dismissed with contempt
– The HR department would only get involved if a formal complaint was made
Benchmark the case
Jane’s first task was to carry out a health check on her own job performance. In the absence of official feedback, she felt satisfied that her own performance met expectation ( surpassed it even). She noted all her major achievements during the previous 12 months and produced a list of metrics to support the contribution she had made to her department. Her second assignment was to make her own research project on general guidelines on bullying within her company and sector and to establish where she felt her own treatment lay on that spectrum. She produced concrete evidence which indicated fairly strongly that sector and workplace guidelines and recommendations were being contravened. This not only helped her trust her own instincts again, but also allowed her talk to her husband in a factual and neutral way about her own position. In her case, getting genuine support from him and dealing with the personal relationship issues which had arisen because of this bullying, was as significant as confronting the situation in the workplace.
Keeping a log
She went back and tracked all the instances where she had felt bullied and began keeping a log of each new incident. She asked precise and specific questions relating to feedback on all the issues for which she had been publicly criticised, notably her appearance and work performance. Her emails received no response but the public criticism stopped as did private negative comments. In fact she was given no feedback at all. In just a year under her new manager, she received no formal professional goals or performance review, despite numerous requests.
She also carried out an audit of the emails where she had been omitted from the distribution list and made a list of the meetings from which she had been excluded. She let all her superiors in the hierarchy know that this was happening. She kept a tracking record of the times she was asked to work late and made suggestions for improving workplace through put. Those requests also stopped.
I would love to say that Jane went on to talk constructively to her boss about her struggles with her managerial style, air kisses were exchanged, hands shaken and their difficulties eventually resolved as it might in a movie. But this is her story and that didn’t happen. She had lost all respect for her boss and just wanted to put the whole experience behind her. We had also worked simultaneously on job search strategies and at the end of June, Jane was approached by another organisation and has subsequently accepted their offer.
In her carefully crafted and fully annotated resignation letter and later in an exit interview with HR, Jane stated clearly that bullying was the reason for her leaving. This complaint was not processed previously because it had not been formally introduced. Her manager is now being investigated internally, although Jane, somewhat cynically, doesn’t think anything will come of it as the department produces excellent results. “She’s tough but she gets things done” is the comment made of her boss. She did hear from an ex-colleague that there was talk of introducing an intermediary ( buffer) layer reporting into the departmental head, but so far that has not been made official. Perhaps creating a promotion opportunity was Jane’s legacy!
Jane consulted a lawyer regarding suing for constructive dismissal ( that is being forced to resign). Her lawyer was doubtful about her chances of winning, although she felt she had a “reasonable” case given Jane’s excellent record keeping. Apparently it would have been stronger if Jane had been physically assaulted or yelled at publically. So interestingly, one moment of extreme physical abuse (male style) carries more legal weight than a year of covert intimidation (female style). Stealth bullying by women is very hard to audit and to prove. Additionally, her company is a global household name and the process could have taken years.
However, she was given the option of gardening leave during her notice period because of “untenable circumstances”. Combined with her annual vacation entitlement and an unpaid “gap period”, she is touring in Asia as we speak with her husband. She starts her new job in November.
Her final words are ” It will never happen again”.
That’s her happy ending.