Some experiences of workplace bullying just leave you emotionally drained, while others – especially those that that involve patterns of strategic mistreatment, overbearing supervision and cunning behaviour – can cause harm in innumerable other ways, jeopardising their victim's health, career and personal life.
After revealing a number of stories about workplace bullying, we continue to share some of our readers’ experiences:
Masego – ‘She would follow me to the toilet and just stand there’
It all started in November 2016 when I was promoted to creditors clerk. I joined the finance department, and when people came to congratulate me on my promotion, my supervisor gave them dirty looks that would make them feel uncomfortable and leave. When I spoke to colleagues, she would interrupt us. She wanted me to speak only to her. I sat two desks away from her. She would follow me to the kitchen when I went to make coffee or warm my food and just stand there. She would also follow me to the toilet and just stand there looking at me.
After two weeks, I'd had enough so I applied for my previous position of production administrator. The position was still vacant, but my previous manager said he couldn’t take me back because he wanted to work with a man. He said, "Women are a problem because they fall pregnant and go on maternity leave." So I stayed and endured the bullying. I was not the only one that she targeted. One of my colleagues, who reported to the same supervisor, would sometimes end up crying in the toilet. She would refuse to approve annual leave, and when I stayed away from work due to sickness, she would be angry for several days.
I decided to report her to my boss and our HR manager, but they did nothing about it. I was told that the reason why she occupied her position was because she was good at what she did. And we were told that we should excuse her behaviour because she had lost a son in a car accident 12 years previously, something she had never recovered from. They then went ahead and told her that I had reported her behind my back.
Every time I dressed smartly she would be angry the whole day. Stilettos haunted her. If I wore them she would deliberately give me difficult work like filing, as well as manual work that required flat shoes. When I fell pregnant in 2017, I thought she would change, but she just became worse. She reported that I gossiped about her behind her back, so the whole department was called in and told that no African languages were allowed to be used anymore. English and Afrikaans were our only options. I didn’t adhere to this, and subsequently a cleaner was fired because she communicated in isiZulu to me.
While I was on maternity leave last year, my husband tragically passed away when our baby was just one month old. When I went back to work, I found that all my things had been moved to a desk right next to hers. I did not ask any questions but just carried on. When I spoke to anyone on my cellphone or the office phone, she wanted all the details about the call. The stress became unbearable and I had an anxiety attack in the office. I was breathless, my limbs were shaking and my left hand was numb. I didn’t know it was an anxiety attack. My supervisor was very dismissive about these attacks. I went on to have several anxiety attacks until my doctor referred me to a psychiatrist, after which I was admitted to Akeso Psychiatric hospital with major depression and anxiety.
I stayed there for four weeks and while I was there I received messages from my supervisor saying that I should know that I wouldn't be paid in full if I didn't return to work. A colleague visited me while I was in the clinic and told me my supervisor was going around making fun of the fact that I was in a psychiatric hospital, and that I had lost my mind. When I returned to work, I’d hear silly comments about my situation. One manager even told me that I had ‘lost [my] marbles’.
And then, suddenly, my supervisor suddenly started treating me differently, being nice towards me, yet still abusing everyone else. Shortly thereafter, a new lady was hired and my supervisor started training her to do my work (while I was there). I knew something was "off" until I was told I was being retrenched because the company had no money. I was given hours to make a decision. I was advised to take voluntary retrenchment because, either way, I was going. I was informed on a Thursday that by the next Monday I had to leave. Honestly, I was over the moon. I was happy that I wouldn’t have to see her face again. I am much happier now.
Erin – ‘She reported me for negligence – after having my key the entire day’
I was initially a teacher and later became an environmental education officer and lectured on environmental issues at schools and universities. I've had two line managers and it's difficult to decide which one was more toxic. The first one once found the key to my office in the door. She took it and kept quiet about it. I panicked the next day when I couldn't find it and asked everybody that was on duty if they had seen it. After being locked out of my office the entire day, she came to me and said she would have to report my negligence. She then gave me the key – she had kept it that whole day.
We had monthly meetings to discuss written reports on the work we had done. She would sit stone-faced and then tear my report apart, saying I hadn't done enough. On one occasion, I stood my ground and confronted her, after which she became upset and immediately ended the meeting. Bear in mind that I was employed on a contract basis.
Every year-end I had to go to her office to ask whether she had renewed my contract. I felt like a beggar. It obviously gave her a feeling of power to see an adult standing there awaiting her approval. I should’ve reported her to her manager, but I had a feeling that she'd already painted a bad picture of me.
She then went on maternity leave, and although I was the obvious candidate to fill in as manager, she brought in a lady with no knowledge of the field we were working in and with no degree (which was a prerequisite for manager at that level at university). I was on contract for seven years at that time. I then went to her manager and said I wasn't comfortable with not building up a pension on contract. Eventually I was employed on a permanent basis. I was sixty and only had five years to retirement.
This manager eventually resigned, and in walks toxic number two, who had a grudge against me right from the beginning. I learned that she was promised my job by my former manager, who was her friend, but I got the job. When she became my manager, she made my life hell. She reported me for insubordination and I was dragged before disciplinary hearings. She would send me emails every day to complete tasks that were not within my job description. She did it to undermine me.
She was friendly with the Human Resources (HR) department, and slowly started building a case against me. I later received a letter from HR, accusing me of gross insubordination and bringing the name of the university into disrepute. I was given a choice of early retirement or being moved to another department. I opted for the latter. I kept my head up because I knew I had nothing to hide. I could, however, sense that my new colleagues saw me as a "troublemaker", as I had been called.
Initially I was given really menial jobs, but accepted the situation, and slowly the people got to know the real me. I was happy in my new situation and worked there for two and a half years before retiring. I endured 12 years of bullying and ended up with only five years in a permanent position.
Anne-Marie – ‘He would have my whereabouts watched and restrict my breaks’
I was employed by a corporate hospitality agency where a client from a certain bank managed us at the head office in Rosebank. This client was a bully to most staff members, but more so to me. He would constantly overload me with work and give me things to do that were not in my job description. He would give me rules to follow, but bend them himself, so that I looked incompetent. He would also become verbally aggressive and lash out at me for no reason.
Among other things, he would have my whereabouts watched throughout the building and restrict my lunch breaks and tea breaks. If I did step outside for a few minutes, my phone would immediately ring to call me back to my desk. My work was immaculate, but he kept finding fault irrespective of the praise I got from others. I approached my company as they were the middle ground, and they promised they would fix my situation as they understood that I was being bullied and victimised. Things were okay, until the company decided to side with the client to "save their reputation". I decided I couldn't take it anymore and resigned.
I’m now unemployed with a two-year-old son. I was, however, very underpaid, and only earned about R70 000 per annum after working at the company for six years. I felt like I had been exploited. The company rejected my application for other jobs on the same level, and I am still struggling to find employment elsewhere.
* Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals involved.