I recently experienced one of the worst situations of my life, almost equivalent to the disappointment of my parents’ divorce many years ago. I am 29 years old and up to this point I have been grateful to have worked in positive environments with bosses who demonstrated the values of strong leadership: values of honesty, integrity, hard-work, and humbleness. I guess I was a late bloomer because recently I landed what seemed to be one of the best opportunities of my life until in turned into a nightmare.
Like many of my peers, I have worked extremely hard right out of college, had diverse jobs, worked with different types of people, and have been in some challenging work environments. Each challenge has been an opportunity to practice my problem solving skills and has been tolerable. I am here to tell each of you: there are some instances of harassment that no one should ever tolerate. These situations exist and their complexity can lead you to believe that you are going crazy and not capable of doing your job even though your work history proves otherwise.
Here are the signs that you might have a bully boss or that your boss is engaging in non-physical harassment. This could happen anywhere. It happened to me at the YMCA of Silicon Valley, a place that nurtures and empowers the strengthening of community bonds.
When I got the call to interview for my dream job at the YMCA as a Marketing Manager, my family and I were more than thrilled. This was finally my big break. The person I would be directly reporting to was the Director of Digital Marketing. She seemed overly enthusiastic and wanted to help me in any way possible to land this position.
Sign 1: Too Helpful, If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is
The Director continuously called me over the weekend “prepping” me for the second interview. She seemed to really want to help me land this position and took me under her wing with her positive language and initiative to explain what would be expected in my second interview with the VP.
Once I got the offer, my world would change forever. The entire package was the best I have ever seen: great compensation, wonderful benefits, a pension plan, and free YMCA membership for the family. Seems that it would take a lot for someone to leave those luxuries. I landed the job and quickly realized my two directors were playing extreme mind games, manipulating everything, and sabotaging each project I worked on. Their personalities were extremely different than their helpful supportive disposition during the interview process.
Sign 2: Your Boss Spends More Than Half Their Time Gossiping to You and Warning You of Politics, Huge Red Flag
Usually the first few days of a new job consists of training and learning about the resources you will need to complete your projects successfully. My first few days and everyday after that consisted of my directors explaining to me how to watch my back due to the politics of everything. As a new employee and a dedicated hard-worker, I reacted in a polite manner and did not partake in any gossip sessions. I just wanted to learn about my role and successfully deliver on my projects. This, however, was not an acceptable route to them and they shunned me for not partaking in their toxic behavior.
Sign 3: Your Boss Gives You Feedback and Later Says Something Different
Every past employer of mine could tell you that I do great with constructive criticism and use the feedback to improve my skills. The first few pieces of feedback I received at the YMCA seemed logical so I applied that feedback to my future projects. My directors would flip flop and confuse me making instructions and expectations unclear. When I say my directors flip flopped I am not talking about day-to-day decisions changing due to business needs. I have worked in very innovative environments like Apple and NASA where you have to be prepared for things to instantly change but the type of flip flop behavior I experienced at the Y was not due to the needs of the business.
Joe, when you write Facebook content, include a link in almost every post so the customer can learn more, like a link to a PDF flyer with more information.
This is basic feedback that can easily be fixed but what if later your director disapproves of a post that includes a PDF link and says something like: if a customer is using their mobile device and they try to open a PDF, it just doesn’t work well. This statement is ridiculous and this exact example happened to me. My director said this in front of an executive during my 30-day review even though the prior week she told me to include PDF links. This is only one example of many over the course of a month.
Sign 4: Not Getting Any Credit for Projects You Completed
My bosses intentionally sabotaged multiple projects I completed and never gave me credit for those projects. Do not mistake this for getting a pat on the back for a job well done. I completed multiple projects that my director failed to mention during my 30-day review. Instead she mentioned a couple of projects that she claimed I did not deliver on and were poor quality. I actually completed things she asked me to complete. I was asked to create a flyer that would later be posted to Facebook. She and my other director edited the flyer and even gave their feedback along the way only to tell me the next day that they were not going to use it because it did not add value to the company. In retrospect, this flyer totally could have been posted. I know it would have added value to the YMCA brand.
Sign 5: Getting Assigned Projects and Often They Are Not Used
Again, I am not referring to situations where an event causes a change to happen. I am referring to a horrible pattern where you are asked to work on projects and once completed they are thrown out the window. This is a red flag that you are being set up for failure because while you are investing your time working on these things, later when they are thrown out, your bully boss can say you did not deliver on other projects which were never clearly given to you.
Sign 6: Go With Your Instinct, Especially If You Feel Physically Ill Each Day
Lastly, go with your instinct. Although it is not written in stone that your colleagues have to speak to you, if you are a boss or manager you have a responsibility to communicate with your employees. These directors would give me the middle school cold shoulder and not say a peep to me on certain days even though they giggled happily with everyone else around me.
There is a certain degree of professional challenges that we have to endure but no one should ever have to deal with extreme bullying and non-physical harassment in a professional setting. Unfortunately, everyone I have told this story to, tells me they have experienced it at some point in their life and yet everyone is quiet about it. When the culture of a company drives out top talent, the company’s future is at risk.
After a month at the YMCA of Silicon Valley, I quit on the spot, something I have never done at any job in my entire career. I wrote and sent a letter to the CEO about my experience. She read it and I was able to provide details to their executives but that’s where it ended. We must speak up about these experiences and keep them documented because it’s the only way to stand up to bullies in the workplace.
What experiences have you had with bullies in the workplace and how did you stand up for yourself?
Written by Stephanie Briggs
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My Mantra: Strive to be the best me and improve a little every day. Be compassionate, especially to those who may not practice it. Continue to learn and love. Take a moment multiple times each day to breathe. Forgive myself and forgive others. Read books. Live what I preach. Accept others. And above all, laugh every single day. (P.S. I have an infatuation for horror and disturbing and dark true stories.)