‘I was made a fool of, laughed at and belittled in front of staff and clients. It was unbearable’

Bullying in the workplace: We asked you tell us about your experiences. This is what you said

Bullying in the workplace costs the economy a huge amount of money each year. Photograph: Getty Images

Bullying in the workplace costs the economy a huge amount of money each year. Photograph: Getty Images


Last week we reported on bullying in the workplace, a serious issue that is often not taken seriously enough by employers. It costs the economy a huge amount of money each year – and, more importantly, comes at a cost for workers’ health, both mentally and physically. We asked you to tell us about your own experiences of workplace bullying. This is an edited selection of your responses

‘One colleague bullied me almost daily for two years’

“I worked in a team of about 10 at a company in Dublin. One female member of staff, at the same level as me in the company, bullied me almost daily at work for two years. She had done this to my predecessor in the same role. She had a ferocious temper. She would review my work and constantly shout out (in a quiet office) whenever she could find anything she perceived she didn’t like in my work, causing me a huge amount of stress.

“She didn’t like my family background and decided she would make me constantly defend my work or resign from the role. She would isolate me as much as possible by inviting the other team members on nights out, not inviting me and then discussing the outings the following day in front of me, to highlight me being left out.

“I developed a head tremor from the stress, and this developed into a life-limiting chronic-pain brain condition that I have to cope with today and for the rest of my life. I raised the bullying issue with my team leader at the time, who did almost nothing to fix the situation, as she feared this employee’s temper also. My team leader’s manager ignored my pleas to resolve the situation, as she liked this bully’s work ethic.”

‘My manager made my life hell’

“I was constantly told I was ‘known as trouble in the workplace’. I was undermined, ridiculed, sneered at, excluded from meetings and training. Other people presented my work as theirs – with my manager’s knowledge. One time a male employee threw a file on my desk in temper and I was called in for mediation. He was never reprimanded – he was highly insulted at being challenged.

“My manager made my life hell. She was a pernicious bully. I attended the counsellor offered by my workplace. (This service is there for all employees for any number of reasons, not just bullying.) She was wonderful: she advised me that the next time my manager told me in public that I was known as trouble I should ask her to put it in writing to me or stop saying this. I did. She stopped.

“Her next piece of advice was to look for a new job. I did take a bullying case against my manager. She lied outright constantly. The mediator never challenged her. The agreement sent for me to sign was a joke. I was so exhausted at the end of the process I just wanted out. This was an excellent pensionable job, and I lost it because one person did not like me. I was not satisfied with the outcome of my bullying case, but I had no support. The result is that I moved to a six-month-contract job on lower money and no pension and am now looking for another job – with Covid-19 flaring up again. Bullies are despicable people.”

‘Women can be as bad if not worse than their male counterparts’

“My situation got so bad that in the end I reported the perpetrators to the guards. I didn’t think it would make any difference, but, looking back, it actually saved my life. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is fine, but the employer has all the advantages, employing an experienced industrial-relations expert in my case. They know all the tricks in the book and had my hearing suspended a number of times on questionable grounds. (They hope you will give up.)

“I had to get professional and personal help to see me through the process, which almost took two years. I won my case in the end, but nobody really comes out of a WRC process as a winner – both parties lose something.

“There is a perception that bullies are always men, but that is not true. Women can be as bad if not worse than their male counterparts, particularly if they have been assigned management roles without any formal training in how to manage people.

“There is also a view that workplace bullying only occurs in the commercial sector, but in my experience the voluntary and charity sector is worse and many of these ‘third way’ organisations are making it up as they go along.

“I would urge anyone affected by workplace bullying to report it to someone. It’s not your fault. And if it gets really bad, and/or there is a threat of physical intimidation, get the hell out of the place and report it to the relevant authorities. Life is too short to have to put up with these types of companies.”

‘I did not feel physically or psychologically safe in the school’

“I worked in a school where I was bullied by one of the two SNAs working for me. At the start I thought I was imagining what was happening, as some of the things that she did were so subtle – and then increasingly became less so.

“Every morning I would greet her and she would not respond: she just blanked me. It was a disheartening start to the day. On frequent occasions she left my classroom without informing me as to where she was going, and sometimes this could be for up to two hours. Another time she misrepresented my response to a critical incident in the classroom. I talked to the SNA concerned and asked her if I had done anything wrong. She said no. The situation did not improve.

“The impact was that I did not feel physically or psychologically safe in the school. I did contact my union about this, but they talked about documenting everything that occurred. I started this, but, frankly, I could have spent all my day writing incidents in a notebook, to the detriment of teaching.

“I decided to leave my permanent job, as the environment was toxic. I have yet to secure a new permanent job and am on another one-year contract. Education staff are reluctant to raise issues about bullying, as they are relying on school principals to give them references when they look for another job. Bullying in the education system is rife, from talking to other teachers.”

Share your story about workplace bullying

‘A lot of the behaviour took place online while we were working from home’

“I was bullied for about a year. I worked for a charity. The bullying began small – mainly a lot of gaslighting. I didn’t share the passion for a certain area of the business, and that was my biggest crime in all of this – it felt as if I was a target and needed to be taken out. It spiralled from there.

“The largest chunk of the behaviour took place online while we were working from home – ignoring me in meetings, disregarding any of my comments, brushing aside suggestions, etc. I spent numerous nights crying to my partner after calls with this one person on the leadership team. I was torn apart emotionally. I had a couple of people in the workplace who had seen it, and reassured me, but up to this point I genuinely thought I was just imagining things.

“There are endless stories I could tell you around gaslighting, ignoring and consistent abuse through coercive power. However, their main move came at the end of last year. They made me reapply for my job. On December 24th I got an email. It said no one had met the eligibility criteria and so they would be advertising again. I was shattered. I spent a lot of Christmas Eve in my home uncontrollably crying and feeling battered and bruised. It was like the valve was opened and I just crumbled under the pressure.

“What did I do? Short answer: nothing. I have moved on to better things, but I was left without a job for five months and am still incredibly angry. Workplace bullying can happen anywhere.”

‘Each day meetings are derailed as he swears and attacks others’

“I work for a large US company’s office in the west of Ireland. It’s a well-respected company who are pretty good to work for. The biggest issue is that certain people are considered above others in the workplace. On my team there is one individual who has spent the past four years I have worked with them targeting abuse at a number of our team, myself included.

“It all may seem like pretty small stuff, but it has a huge impact on the mental health and work ethic of people. Each day meetings are derailed as he swears and attacks others. Raise your voice in defence and suddenly you’re the C-word, or he’ll tell you to ‘shut the f**k up’.

“For years subsequent team managers have allowed it to happen. There’ll be the odd ‘Stop that’ or ‘That’s not appropriate’, but it’s not uncommon for him to tell a manager: ‘It’s a f**king joke.’ I’ve been the target of quite a bit of his abuse; he’s belittled my appearance, and mocked how I speak by doing impressions during meetings. He routinely mocks me and others and swears at me when we are engaging with other teams, both internally and externally.

“Disagree with him in any way and he screams, swears, gets abusive and degrading till you just stop talking. It’s been reported to multiple team managers, HR have had reports of it, but nothing happens. A previous team manager said that it’s just banter and that if you don’t enjoy it then please stop attending meetings, so that you’re not offended.

“It’s got to the point where I often just ring in sick if I see we are on the same schedule. I have sleepless nights wondering what he’s going to say next. I’m at the point where I’m considering quitting and taking a job anywhere else just to stop it. It’s been four years of constant and unrelenting abuse, all excused and explained away as me simply not having a ‘sense of humour’ – or, as one HR employee said, I’m ‘not a team player, as team players don’t report the bants between team-mates’.”

‘I struggle 10 years later with PTSD’

“After working 20 years in the same workplace, after the crash, big changes were being implemented. I had a young family at the time, and we were told if you could not work with the new changes you could submit a hard case to the HR department. I did so, and eventually, after much stress and many difficult meetings with management and department directors, it was decided I could have a redeployment position.

“This caused much animosity among colleagues, as some were pushed to take voluntary redundancy and others to work a roster that had less work-life balance, longer shifts, changes in work practices, and more responsibilities for less pay. This caused huge upheaval among staff, and morale was at an all-time low.

“I started the new role, and after a few weeks management decided the position was not working out. I was put in a position outside my normal working environment, which caused more animosity among staff. After a few weeks I was told by two members of management, in a meeting, that I had to go back to my original role, working the new hours/rolling rosters etc.

“I went to the union for help. A meeting was scheduled – it was hostile and not at all in my favour. The union rep told managers that if they kept up the level of treatment towards me I would end up very sick. This is exactly what happened. I was brought into meetings on my own – and always with two other members of management – to be berated and told if I did not do the rosters etc I would face dismissal.

“I was made work a roster that I found difficult to work – no set days, no set times, at very little notice. I was muzzled, isolated, made to feel an inconvenience and a nuisance on numerous occasions. My health suffered: I could not sleep, and I developed extreme pain in my bowel when I was heading into work on the bus, and would have to rush to a toilet in a panic in case I soiled myself.

“I went to bed with the dread of work and watched every hour on the clock until it was time to get up to face the day ahead. I would receive phone calls on my day off from the director of the department, telling me I had to work the roster or face dismissal.

“Staff were afraid to talk to or engage with me in case they were next in the firing line. My working life was a sense of dread. I was made a fool of, laughed at and belittled in front of other staff and clients. It was unbearable.

“The last straw was a meeting that was held in the office by a director and manager at the order of the HR director. I was told that I had an unblemished record but if I did not do ‘what I was told’ I was going to face dismissal. The tone and tenor of this meeting made me run to the bathroom, where I was physically sick – the manager was knocking on the door, telling me to get back into the meeting.

“I ran out of the place in a distressed state, never to return. I told my union what had happened, and they contacted HR. I went to my GP, who could not believe the amount of weight I had lost and was shocked by what I had told him. I was put on antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, stomach meds and sleeping tablets. My GP told me to contact my solicitor.

“I had a case in the Labour Relations Commission at which it was suggested I be given voluntary redundancy or a return to work. I never went back. I took a High Court case for bullying and harassment. It took years and it was costly – and nearly cost me my life. I have not worked since.

“I am a confident, outgoing, bubbly, hardworking person by nature, but what they did stripped all of this from me. I struggle 10 years later with PTSD. I have had counselling, which has helped. It is a very lonely place, and no one really understands what happened to me.”

‘A month after I left my bully was promoted’

“I was bullied for about a year until I left the company. My bully was a manager who treated me awfully. She would make passive-aggressive comments daily and belittle me in front of my peers. I remember working on a close project with my team in a small office in a client’s building. I asked for help with something and she rolled her eyes at me in front of everyone, said I should know how to do that and laughed at me while walking out the door. I had to then sit in a room with five others who had witnessed this.

“This type of behaviour happened on a regular basis until I had had enough and decided to switch jobs. I was severely depressed as a result of working there, and in the years since then my partner has said how worried she was for me and how I was not myself while working there.

“When I was leaving I made no secret of my treatment, speaking to numerous peers on my team about what I had experienced. The general response was a lack of surprise, or hushed stories of previous colleagues who had either switched teams or left because of her.

“In my exit interview I brought up all the bullying I had experienced and was asked by HR if I wanted to make a formal complaint. I told them it would make no difference, because everyone knew what she was doing and getting away with. A month after I left she was promoted.”

‘I am only a shadow of the person I was five years ago’

“I have just concluded a long battle with my previous employers, and I still feel that I will never fully recover from my experience. It is extremely difficult for an employee to receive justice or to hold an employer accountable for injustice.

“In 2015 there was a change in management at work, and following that I was bullied, discriminated against, isolated and subjected to verbal abuse, and endeavours were made to demote me.

“I would have considered myself to be a confident, strong person, but following 18 months of this behaviour I suffered a breakdown and could not return to that environment. Thankfully, I had a wonderful GP who initially helped me, and a friend advised me to seek legal advice, which I did. Little did I know then how difficult it is to receive justice and how employers are getting away with this behaviour.

“Mediation talks were arranged over the summer, and I ended up settling my case for a financial reward. It was more than five years since all this began, and my life has been on hold since then. I don’t feel any sense of justice, as there was no accountability.

“My confidence and mental health have suffered so badly. I have to take antidepressants every day and have no motivation. I am only a shadow of the person I was five years ago. Would I go down the same route again? No. I should have just left my job and moved on to another from the onset. The system is so bad.”

‘I was told to ‘knock myself out’ for St George’s Day’

“I was born in England to Irish parents who brought me up to consider myself Irish. I have lived in Ireland for 20 years and work in the Civil Service. A woman on my team at work took to routinely telling me: ‘You are a Brit.’ On St George’s Day she even sent me a work email with a huge Union Jack – she could not even get the right flag – and a message telling me to ‘knock myself out’ for St George’s Day.

“I could have gone to HR, but I knew what would happen. She had done it in such a way that, if I reported her, she would claim that it was all a big misunderstanding and that she had meant well. Nothing would have been done, and I would have been ridiculed as some peculiar ‘oversensitive Brit’ with weird delusions of Irishness. So I did nothing.”

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