Interviews with Karen and Stephen of No Bully For Me

Below are a selection of interviews with us (Karen and Stephen) and our experience of workplace bullying and our activities since being bullied, running No Bully For Me.

Announcer: Broadcasting live from Vancouver it's the Bill Good program. Now, here's Bill Good.

Bill Good: And welcome to those of you joining us on the Corus Radio Network this morning. We started the week by looking at the problem of school yard bullying. We're ending the week with a look at another type of bullying, one not confined to the playground. This bullying occurs in the very adult world of the boardroom and the workplace . The Corus Networks Yvonne Emore takes a look at a growing problem, workplace bullying.

Yvonne Emore: If you thought you left that childhood bully behind on the playground, think again. Bullies are just prevalent in today's boardrooms as they are in the school yard. They're the demanding boss, the undermining subordinate, the manipulating coworker and they're victimizing the workplace with what some experts call the silent epidemic, workplace bullying. It is hard to prove and yet it's effects on the workforce can be devastating. Washington State psychologist, Dr. Gary Namie, has studied the phenomenon for several years many workers will recognize his list of the tactics favored by the workplace bully.

Dr. Gary Namie: Their very tactics of controlling other people are sometimes devilishly creative and inventive uh but very cruel. Uh blaming people, accusing people of errors that were never made. And actually the bully helps invent the errors. They set the stage for the errors they set the person up to fail. A host of nonverbal intimidating tactics. Staring and glaring, and just looking hostile, the grimacing, the uh furrowed brow the uh everything but worried the appearance of hostility and rage. Um, discounted um discounting a persons thoughts or feelings um basically denigrating them in meetings. Using the silent treatment to ice people out and um icing out is pretty potent and its pretty sick. The mood swings the wild raging, fist pounding, vein bulging, maniacal mood swings in front of groups.

Yvonne Emore: Experts estimate as many as one in six workers is targeted for bullying in the workplace. A study conducted last year through an online survey shows woman are more likely to be targeted. The bully is likely a boss and men bullies are meaner than their female counterparts. Namie says workplace bullying is nearly invisible yet it is three times more prevalent than sexual harassment and it can turn making a living into a living hell. Karen is 38 years old and feels betrayed by the company that employed her for the past 8 years. Karen held a managerial position at one of the Lower Mainland's big box retailers. When she sits down to tell her story inside a noisy coffee house the pain is evident she had to leave this career path for the sake of her health. Going to work was making her physically sick.

Karen: I can't go back. I can't. I just broke down. I started crying. I never throw up. I've thrown up maybe three times in my life. I don't throw up that's not something I do you know and I threw up in the parking lot and I was shaking and I was just heart pounding I couldn't breath. And I thought , oh my god, I can't go back into this I can't do this there's something wrong and I was so depressed.

Yvonne Emore: Karen even considered suicide something not uncommon among people who are targets of a workplace bully. Karen says her bully was insidious tormenting her and her staff, lying and even threatening to kill her. Not only did the employer do little of anything to diffuse the situation it even convinced her not to file a police complaint about the death threat.

Karen: My boss wouldn't let me. I went to my boss, I said look I got to call the police but our thing is always you go to your assistant warehouse and manager before you go. So he two hauled me into the office and their like look, you can't do this, you can't call the police, we can't prove anything there was no one else there with you. It will just be worse for you let us handle it we will make sure it doesn't happen again. You know, the whole spiel and I talked to them for about 2 hours trying to say, you know, we got to go to the police this is ridiculous.

Yvonne Emore: The ridiculous became the unbearable and Karen is now on unpaid medical leave and without a income. She is contemplating legal action but does not have the money to drag her bully and her uncaring employer to court. Karen's sense of betrayal comes from the employer's refusal to help her. She says her superiors wanted to turn a blind eye to an ugly secret.

Karen: Yeah, don't rock the boat, don't tell anyone higher, we don't want anyone to know there's a problem here. You know, it's the whole it like a big dysfunctional family. It's the big secret that's the worst part of all of this. Is that if you keep it secret no one knows about it, it's not that bad. Right. But it's, it's worse . Once it's out you can deal with it. But everyone wants to keep it a big secret.

Yvonne Emore: The lack of support comes as no suprise to Stephen, he's been there. The 48 year old said he was drummed out of his job at a post secondary institution when a gang of bullies made his work life intolerable.

Stephen: Well, it's a lot of dismissive comments. Such as I'd be in the middle of saying something in a meeting and somebody would just interrupt and start talking about something completely different as though I hadn't been saying anything. Or once I started speaking people would get up and leave. On three occasions I was asked in for a 'chat' with management and on each occasion it turned out to be a disciplinary/grievance procedure. One completely made up. One completely blown out of proportion and one malicious.

Yvonne Emore: Like Karen, Stephen found his complaints were falling on deaf ears and even today he questions why he didn't quit.

Stephen: That's a very good question and and now when I'm advising people who are in a bad work place I'll always ask them what about just leaving. Should you just get out. I think there, there are several factors at play there. One is as they say is a question of right or wrong and if I'm being treated incorrectly/wrongly then it's not right that I should have to leave my job.

Yvonne Emore: Stephen's health began to fall apart but he didn't make the connection between illness and his toxic workplace and again like Karen, Stephen thought his situation would improve if only he worked harder. Stephen and Karen have some of the the star qualities that make them attractive as employees and sitting ducks for bullies.

Yvonne Emore: Dr. Namie says they are the workers most prone to the traumatic and debilitating effects of bullying.

Dr. Namie: Often the strongest, most highly principled person is the one whose most traumatized. They stay longer, they get sicker. They they jump higher, run faster. They don't tell people because of the sense of shame in the beginning. They keep it to themselves and during that silent period they are trying to prove to the bully that they are not incompetent as the bully has accused them of being

Yvonne Emore: He says that employers are reluctant to get involved in an issue that they would rather ignore. Vancouver psychologist and workplace conflict consultant Marje Burdine finds managers simply don't know what to do.

Marje Burdine: And most managers a) don't understand the dynamic and don't know what to do about it. So here's a problem that comes to them and their reaction may be, please just sort this out you two like learn to get along and grow up. Or, I don't even want to hear about this because I don't know what to do about with it. There's no easy solution here. I'm not going to fire either or you and I'm not going to move either of you. So what am I suppose to do to fix this. So they fell stuck with a problem they would rather not hear about. That's a very common reaction.

Yvonne Emore: Burdine says Canada is far behind other areas of the world where workplace bullying is not only acknowledged, it?s a crime.

Marje Burdine: And why has North America been so slow in getting on the bandwagon. I mean France has something like a twenty thousand dollar fine and up to five years in jail for workplace bullying. Sweden has been dealing with this for twenty years - Sweden. Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, England you know for some reason Portugal even. And here North America there are very few places to go to learn about this topic.

Yvonne Emore: She says harassment policies are not enough. Burdine says bullying has to be handled separately because it is so distinct.

Marje Burdine: A lot of the policies are so vague. They have definitions of what is harassment. Many of them only deal with sexual harassment or perhaps discrimination as well as because that is covered under the legislation. But very few of them deal with personal harassment. So in other words if you were doing something to someone of a different ethnic background or sexual orientation or whatever then it would be covered. But if you just treat someone in this kind of demeaning, derogatory way and they don't fall within those grounds there is no protection in the policy for them.

Yvonne Emore: Employers might try a little harder if they knew that bullying affects their profit margins. Australian data suggests each case of workplace bullying cost an employer twenty thousand dollars. Other research indicates that with fifteen million employees in Canada's workforce, workplace bullying could be costing Canadian employers twenty-four billion dollars a year. But for Karen any epiphany on the part of her employer would come to late.

Karen: Couldn't go back. There's no way. I mean I know I've lost. I've given up all my original career dreams and everything that I had hoped to accomplish there and that's kind of is disappointing. You know there's a lot of things that I had hoped to do and that's just not an option anymore.

Yvonne Emore: Karen and Stephen have linked up to form a support group for the targets of workplace bullies. They're trying to turn their ugly experiences into something positive, if not for themselves than for others. And the people who bullied them - well they're still employed. This is Yvonne Emore from Vancouver.

Bill Good: You're with Bill Good on the Corus Radio Network. When we come back more with Yvonne Emore on today's special report on workplace bullying

Bill Good: With Yvonne Emore and a special report on bullying in the workplace Are there characteristics of a workplace bully are they easy to spot in the workplace?

Yvonne Emore: There is no real simple answer to that - it's yes and it's no We listened to Marje Burdine, she's a Vancouver counselor on workplace conflict and harassment, and she's been sort of been pioneering the efforts here in Vancouver to learn about this because really nobody knows that much about it. There are some characteristics but she says the one common denominator for sure is that there is always a power deferential. Whether it's a superior to a subordinate or whether it's one personality is stronger than the other there is always something involving power. But you can't really go into a work site and sort pinpoint those people

Marje Burdine: There's the person whose climbing the ladder. Somebody in their way they will find a very sophisticated way of lowering their esteem in the workplace. There is the person whose just simply very insecure and they see somebody else getting more attention then they get and they will do them in. There is the exploitive person who is just going to milk every ounce of energy out of their employees that they can and they know that these people cannot leave. So often this is when you have a very young or inexperienced workforce or maybe people who are new immigrants english may not be very good they don't have a lot of job options or when there is a lot of downsizing so they know they can push people to the breaking point. And the last one is the chronic bully who really gains some sense of power and pleasure from hurting, controlling seeing someone else tormented.

Yvonne Emore: These are not people who are just harassing and not knowing that they have abrasive personalities or whatever. And our US expert, because really there aren't many experts to talk about this, Gary Namie, he's from Washington State, he says you cannot stereotype type a bully in the workplace, however, he also says there is a common denominator.

Gary Namie: There is no one particular style or tactic. The over arching theme that all bullies share is a lack of control of their own lives. They are desperately grasping for control of some aspect of their life or all of it. And they don't have it. They can't control a spouse, they can't control their money making ability, they can't control their education level, they can't control something. And out of it and a sometimes a very deep seeded insecurity based on early familiar relationships you know prior to adulthood - they?ve got a hole in their soul. And they are going to use everyday, they are going to fill everyday in the workplace by controlling other people to compensate for something that there lacking.

Bill Good: And what happens when these bullies are confronted?

Yvonne Emore: This is, this is really difficult once you want to do that. Dr. Namie says that will depend on who confronts the bully. The target, he likes to call them not victims, but targets will get nowhere he says because the bullies consider the targets to be so beneath them what they say doesn't matter. So they might listen to a boss. Marje Burdine says the confrontation will not be easy and it will probably be nasty.

Marje Burdine: And they usually are very defensive, very verbal, very slick in being able to blame the other person and defend themselves. Very self-righteous, very indignant you know there's (pounds mike) you can expect this kind of a response.

Bill Good: So why don't those people who are being targeted just stand up to the bully or sit down to try and work it out.

Yvonne Emore: Well you think, that's what you think and when I first sat down with um two of victims or targets or whatever you want to call them and I have to admit I was like everyone else, I hope everyone else, a thought went through my head - deal with it. Like say you know say something.

Bill Good: That's because you would be very difficult to bully.

Yvonne Emore: We'll I'm glad to hear that. Well so would you I think you would be too. But you know what it's a psychological violence almost that is committed on you and that's really really hard to prove. And it's um so Karen one of the victims that I talked with said it's easy to say isn't it just a personality conflict like just sort of deal with it if you can't get along with someone learn to get along.

Karen: Oh god, a personality conflict is when you have different beliefs in things you know when you agree that something should be done differently. But most people are rational and sane and willing to talk things out or even if they are stubborn, you know, you can work around difficult personalities.

Yvonne Emore: And Dr. Namie has a really, really good analogy and if you keep this in mind then you kind of understand. He says we tend to fault the victim's in situations like this and he says workplace bullying is just like another form of abuse that we are all familiar with.

Dr. Namie: It's exactly like domestic violence. The difference between bulling and domestic violence is the abuser is on the payroll. That's the key there. And it's identical in it's interpersonal dynamics. The perpetrator characteristics are the same it's the blowhard whose all about controlling other people and their partner in this case and the poor target is the same characteristics as the victim. I'll stay, um, forever and show that I can do this I can tough it out I'm not week I'm not as stupid and undesirable as he says. And then we, as observers, mirror exactly what we do in domestic violence too. Of you know if it were so bad why does she stay for so long.

Yvonne Emore: And it took us a long time to get to the point where domestic dispute, domestic abuse was accepted, was understood and it's like sexual harassment, it's like racial discrimination it's all those things that those sort of ugly the ugly side of society that until we name it until we define it and in a lot of these cases the victim's they break down when they realize oh my god there is a reason that I'm feeling so bad. If they go on a web site or someone talks to the about workplace bullying. Because they feel validated that their not crazy that their not imagining this stuff.

Bill Good: What about the ongoing effects of workplace bullying?

Yvonne Emore: Karen says that she is a changed person after years of the bullying because. And one of the problem that makes it so difficult is that it's so relentless it's day after day after day. She had several problems at work and the bullying it's weathered toll on her outlook on life.

Karen: He kind of drained all hope for me that there was any good in people and I'm a real high idealist. But just that continual pressure and intimidation and emotional abuse was it just wears on you and your just exhausted and fighting it everyday. Everyday you cringe because you don't know what's going to happen next. You don't know where it's going to come from. Is it going to come from him or someone else he's riled up or you don't know where it's coming from, you just don't know where it comes from next. So stressed out I couldn't sleep at all I was getting like two hours of sleep if that a night . I mean total lack of concentration um I was terrified of people, I totally terrified of people. I was so not myself so I was withdrawn it was ridiculous. I was such a far caricature of who I really am I didn't even recognize myself when I left there.

Yvonne Emore: And Stephen also had emotional and physical illnesses some of which sounded quite bizarre as he endured years of bullying. He said he became hyper-vigiliant he would see somebody walking down a set of stairs carrying a manila envelope and he would start freaking out because when he was at work all of the bad stuff that happened to him would come via a manila envelope. So it's, it's so hard for us to understand. He said he was eventually diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress.

Stephen: The sleep was disappearing. Physical numbness. I couldn't feel my lips, my hands, my feet. My vision had been wonderfully perfect, extraordinary, I mean absolutely completely out of the ordinary wonderful eyesight and it started going down, down deteriorating very rapidly. And I had all these strange symptoms going on.

Bill Good: It's interesting how people look back and recognize what was going on and what was happening to them when at the time they knew something very unpleasant and uncomfortable was happening but they didn't hadn't recognized it for what it was.

Yvonne Emore: They didn't know what it was and they kept trying to make it better that's the weird thing and it's not them it's somebody else.

Bill Good: We will take a break and come back with more with Yvonne Emore and a special report on bullying in the workplace. Your with Bill Good and the Corus Radio Network and we would like to include your calls but we have a little bit more of this report to get in before we open the phones.

Announcer: Your listening to the Bill Good program. Once again here is Bill Good.

Bill Good: Yvonne Emore with us this morning with a special report on bullying in the workplace. So how do people react once they recognize what's going on.

Yvonne Emore: Once they recognize it if they're the victims they want to try and fix it and by that they usually think it's their problem so they work harder. Those around watching the bullying either turn a blind eye or they can either get on the band wagon and get in with the bullying it like it becomes a learned behaviour. Oh this is the way it is done at this work site or whatever. And then at the BC Teachers Federation we were running a story this morning that the Burnaby Teachers Association had commissioned a report because following complaints that a very small and I want to stress that, a very small group of principles, in the district had been bullying teachers. So the BCTF the BC Teachers Federation struck a panel to investigate this and the reaction of the school board because the board chair said that the teachers were not identified neither were the principles although I am now told that the school board was told who the principles were because they weren't identified the school board said it couldn't take any action and it sort of didn't really t do anything with the report. So that's a little bit of inaction. The BCTF Assistant Director, Field Services Division is a woman named, Mavis Lawrey, now she was on the investigative panel and she also drew up a paper on bullying and principles quite separate from this panel report. And she said that when she first started hearing these stories and I think she's referring to these teachers once they were holding these hearings she couldn't believe that this was real and she had the same response that I had when I'm listening to these people - and I'm going deal with it people, like get one with it.

Mavis Lawrey: My first reaction was come on get a life surely your not going to complain about this. And then it was when I heard the whole thing in context and saw the big picture and saw that it was relentless. It happened over and over daily it's kind of a wearing away at the employee wearing you down, picking at you in little ways that cause you to loose your self esteem and self concept but when you list all those incidents they don't sound like much.

Yvonne Emore: So it is really important that you can not take these complaints in isolation you have to look at the overall situation it's in what is going on. Like she says your first reaction is this sounds really trivial this is stupid, deal with it. Individually they don't sound like much but It's the relentlessness and repetitiveness that make it so bad.

Bill Good: But why do the reactions of the victim's seem so extreme?

Yvonne Emore: And they are quite some of them can be so extreme. That's what I found that people who are the victim's and I talked to three people and one including a teacher who I just so wish she wasn't so afraid of being taped because she was terrified of retribution she was so well spoken This had happened a number of years ago. You would have thought it happened yesterday. She was just I talked to her for about a hour and it didn't matter what question I asked she just started and she just took off talking, She could barely keep up with herself it was like it just kept coming out and out and out and out. Dr. Gary Namie, Namie, our Washington State Psychologist says these people have been traumatized and one of the reasons they react so violently is because of the trauma.

Dr. Namie: Because that's the nature of trauma. Trauma comes from surprise. Trauma comes from an overwhelming of the individuals ability to cope with circumstances. It's so irrational, it's so strong. It's debilitating because of the surprise nature to it. The jarring from the violation is what causes trauma. It shakes the person it causes an immediate lose of sense of safety and security. It overwhelms their ability to cope and they can't believe that ?s what's traumatizing.

Bill Good: And why is it so hard to deal with?

Yvonne Emore: Marje Burdine, she's our local expert, she says for one thing it is easier to ignore but people have to know that if they don't, employers need to know, workplace need to know, unions need to know that if this issue is not handled it's not going to go away.

Marje Burdine: It's toxic . I mean that's the word for it and it does because it's so under ground it just kind of smolders down under there it doesn't get dealt with. So it can the say the average person will put up with bullying for three years before they either resign or go to a lawyer or take some radical step to get away from it. But three years of putting up with that kind of treatment is a long time.

Bill Good: So don't employers know there's, problem given the fact targeted employee's are not performing and they are so obviously distraught.

Yvonne Emore: Well they can and one thing Marje Burdine says is the effect is felt not just by the target but it's also the workforce and the employer can't say I didn't know she says because it is not a secret. She says it's not a secret who the bullies are and not a secret that only the bullied workers are being affected.

Marje Burdine: Bullying as opposed to other forms of harassment often is well known about within the workplace. So any workplace you go in to they can name them so it's not hidden. The workplace got their spectators, bullying often happens in meetings or in front of other groups of people where it's even more affected because the targeted person becomes more humiliated when it's public. So it does affect the workplace, it affects bystanders and there often a group of bystanders who see it happen over and over and they see it escalate and they may feel, they may feel very um outraged that people are being treated this way in their workplace but they won't say anything because they are afraid of being next. Or they'll be um seen as connected to the victim.

Bill Good: Yvonne Emore with a special report on bullying in the workplace. We have a couple of more things to get to when we get back after the break but I would also like to include your calls. Perhaps your personal experience on this. Your reaction to the suggestion that workplace bullying is a big issue that it's something that employers should be very aware of and I'm told that there have been some huge judgments in the United States around this issue. So employers had best get educated on the topic. Back with your calls and more with Yvonne Emore six, zero, four, two, eight, zero, nine, eight, nine, eight (604-280-9898) is my number toll free one, eight, seven, seven, three, nine, nine, ninty-eight, ninty-eight (1-877-399-9898) back after a break,

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bullying and to promote respectful workplaces.

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