Office horror stories: Workers tell of trauma at the hands of office psychopaths and bullies

Dealing with workplace psychopaths can take a toll on your psychological and physical well-being.
Dealing with workplace psychopaths can take a toll on your psychological and physical well-being.

Bullying is a slow and painful death, said Sherry Benson-Podolchuk in her TED talk in 2015. A victim of workplace bullying and harassment for more than 20 years, Benson-Podolchuk says she was bullied by many different managers, including a manager who was in charge of her performance assessment. 

Earlier this month, Health24 ran a story on several types of psychopaths you might find in the workplace, and reached out to victims of workplace bullying. They told us about how the thought of work filled them with dread. They were cornered for every little mistake, and the anguish and pain of being bullied was sometimes so severe that often throwing in the towel often seemed to be the only way out. Here are their stories:

Ncedisa* – ‘I was hospitalised for three weeks’

Everything started off so well at a company I joined in January this year. I was offered a position as an environmental consultant and didn’t have to interview for it. I had a good relationship with everyone in the office, until my operations manager started her bullying tactics. It began with her WhatsApp status that said: “Sleeping with the boss doesn’t mean you are also the boss. Focus on what you are appointed to do.”

Things slowly built up, and after other employees also laid complaints about her behaviour, she was demoted. But then things got even worse. The operations manager discredited and provoked me on a daily basis. I cried every night. She would arrive at work, greet everyone, but deliberately excluded me. The situation disturbed me psychologically, and it manifested as physical pain too – I had difficulty breathing, my chest ached and I found it difficult to get out of bed.

I was put on antidepressants, and am still taking them. My operations manager used this to make fun of me, calling me an "attention-seeker" and a "spoiled brat". After seeing a clinical psychologist, I was hospitalised for three weeks. She was fired last month, but has been using the office administrator to get at me – so the bullying continues. I’ve lost interest in my job. She’s killed my confidence and made me doubt my every ability.

Catherine* – 'My co-workers sabotaged me'

I’m a medical receptionist at a doctor’s surgery and was hired with a warning about bullying that had happened prior to my employment. After the first two months, my co-workers started to sabotage me and insult me in front of patients. I approached my boss about it and she handed out verbal warnings to everyone before leaving for a vacation in America. She told me to note bullying incidents and that she would support me if necessary.

While she was gone, one of my co-workers, who was previously a victim of bullying, befriended the very people who bullied her. She was happily lapping up this newfound acceptance. When I told her about how her new dynamics were in fact a game to remove her as my ally, she was offended.

When our boss returned, she complained to her about what I had said and suddenly our boss commented that she was not aware of any previous bullying incidents prior to my employment, and that I was not fulfilling my job role – this after she had commended my work just before leaving for America.

My probation period ended today. Paperwork was slipped into my folder that wasn’t mine, and I was accused of unprocessed paperwork. I was confronted and reprimanded in front of patients like a naughty kid, and my boss said she had to let me go.

Shakira* – ‘I had a mental breakdown’

Whatever work I did was never good enough for my manager. The feedback she gave was always negative and she kept on insisting I didn't do what she asked – even though I followed the briefs. I was scared to talk to her, and even open communication from her was always borderline harassment. I had to go on stronger anxiety medication and even needed to take a week off work because of a mental breakdown. I rapidly started gaining weight and my bubbly personality disappeared. I finally left the company as she was too much to handle.

Tasmin* – ‘He abused his power’

I was a supervisor in the travel and logistics sector, and became a victim of my manager’s bullying for seven years. He made my life a living hell. He abused his power, and even when employees presented proof of his behaviour, he manipulated the directors of the company and nothing came of it. 

I reported his bullying to HR and received no help. He eventually made everyone see me as a "crazy" person by always managing to "flip the story around".

As employees, we always followed his instructions, even if we felt things wouldn’t work out his way, and when they didn’t, and the situation would blow up, he wasn’t willing to own up and take responsibility for the situation. He broke us down and caused arguments between members of the management team.

My manager would do anything in his power to reach the top. Towards the end, I felt suicidal and saw a doctor. I kept on requesting, for a full year, to be transferred to a different branch of the company, but my manager always had the last say and blocked my attempts. I finally left the company.

Liza* – ‘My doctor advised me to find another job’

I was bullied by a co-worker since the day I started my job. This co-worker told lies to me while training me on my job, so that she could correct me later in front of our boss and co-workers. She deleted files and reports that I had filed and saved to a computer programme we all use.

She has taken it upon herself to start looking at everything I do (even though it’s not part of her job description), looking for ways to demean, humiliate and sabotage me. Sadly, although my boss isn’t blind to any of this and has heard similar complaints from others, she insists there’s no way to prove it or to fire this co-worker. My doctor advised me to find another job because my blood pressure had gone up drastically (despite medication) since taking this job.

Anelise* – ‘I chose to abandon my job for the sake of my health’

I work for a large food retailer company in Canada. There had been several incidents of bullying and harassment in my workplace over the past few months. It became so bad that I was anxious and uncomfortable going into work. I was afraid to ask questions for fear of getting yelled at or threatened with bodily harm.

My manager’s unprofessional behaviour started during orientation, and she even said that she hated everyone, including her own Dutch family. She comes across as very blunt and abrasive. During a training shift in January this year, she gave me a hard time because the trainer and I had made a mistake price matching a box of cereal. We both apologised. Our manager then yelled loudly: “Yes, you won't make that mistake again because we're not in the business of giving crap away for free.”

This occurred in an aisle where other cashiers and customers overheard everything. I repeatedly spoke to HR about the issues of bullying, harassment and abuse of employees in the store. No one did anything. I even talked to the owner of the store, but he brushed it off saying he didn't see anything wrong with how we were being treated. Despite my complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) and a consequent hearing, my manager and the store owner denied everything, so the bullying continued. To make matters worse, I have Crohn's disease, and all the bullying I endured worsened my symptoms. I chose to abandon my job for the sake of my health.

Are you a victim of workplace bullying? Share your story with us via email and we may publish it. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

* Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals involved.  

Image: iStock

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