Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bully Bully

Always at the forefront of last week's news, today we want to talk about bullies in the workplace. An article in the increasingly USA Todayish New York Times had hundreds of people spilling their guts about being bullied in the office. Long, anguished texts describe horrid behavior from bosses, coworkers and underlings alike. Women are found to be terrible, frequent offenders.
I think the word bully does not do justice to who these people are. Bully sounds almost innocuous. I propose: evil, pustulent miscreants.
But since we are in a confessional mode, here are some of my bullying stories.
In my case, they are rather mild. I've been mostly lucky to work with nice, decent people in the best cases, and, in the worst, terribly inept, chaotic bureaucrats, but not too many bullies. When a bully has reared its ugly head, I've never stuck around for too long after that. I can only take so much unhappiness and humiliation in my daily life. Life is too short.
However, I've had very bad bosses. The first one was a shrew, way back when, who was not technically a bully but a singularly undiplomatic, rude, unprofessional, miserable bitch. Imperious, unfair, full of herself, she got a kick of making overqualified people run her petty errands. She ran a pathetic office as if it was the Principality of Monaco.
She was the director, I was the assistant director. She would constantly ask us to do things after work hours. One day she asked me to go pick up her dry cleaning. I refused.
She gave me some sermon about how disappointed she was at my uncooperative attitude. I don't remember how she justified such an inexcusable request, but I still refused. She never asked again.
She got me fired because I refused to lie to other employees about my salary raise. I said I would not volunteer the information, but if someone asked, I would not lie. She flew into a rage, screamed and snapped her fingers at me and fired me. For a couple of years after my departure, former assistant directors and I would sometimes meet at a café and reminisce, exchanging horror stories about her. There were plenty.
I had another boss, one of those secretary-to-CEO types, who was utterly incapable of recognizing a good advertising idea if it bit her in the ass, but would berate you, at 11 o'clock at night, for using staples instead of paper clips. 8 months is all I lasted, and I can't believe it took me so long.
Another time, as a freelancer, I was told to work with a creative team, two women who had been there since the paleolithic era. One of them was a real verbissener bitch, the corners of her mouth permanently contorted into a grimace; the other one was slightly less toxic. It amazes me how instead of happily welcoming someone and looking forward to collaborate, evil, pustulent miscreants expend so much energy and effort in sabotage activities. These two did everything in their power to exclude me from the work. They did not let me know when they were meeting, they did not answer my calls and, at one point, when I proved to be too much of a pest, one of them actually told me that they were used to working on their own. So I went to my little forlorn cubicle and worked on my own too. I was advised to rat them out to their boss, but I really didn't want to be a crybaby. We're supposed to be adults, no? Instead I asked them to involve me. They said yes to my face and then ignored me. Then they had no qualms about using what I wrote and passing it off as theirs. Both really expended all their energy in resisting everything that their boss asked of them. Entrenched, bitter resistance to every single request. As a freelancer, I did not want to be perceived as whiny or contentious, so I did not say anything. But I do think that they made it look as if I was not contributing enough.
I left my job of 15 years when a new chief creative officer was brought in who was indeed a bully. I had two brushes with his Napoleonic, delusional self and realized that it was time to call it quits. In the space of a year, he managed to destroy an advertising agency that had been profitable and well-respected for over 20 years.
When confronted with this kind of people, my consolation (something I learned that first and last time I was ever fired), is that one does not need to wish hell on evil, pustulent miscreants, because they already live in a hell of their own devising every second of their pernicious, dessicated lives. But the more important lesson is that bullies happen because we let them.
Put your foot down, and make it harder for them to make it hard for you.

1 comment:

  1. The best part is sitting in a cafe and reminiscing about the bastards. Especially if they've suffered some kind of delicious comeuppance.