At the age of 12, my daughter began having problems with other kids at school. It’s the usual, I-can’t-figure-out-who-I-am-so-I’m-going-to-torment-you,
7th grade problems.
As an adult, I am finding that many similarities exist between 7th grade bullying and workplace bullying. While you’d expect that maturity would kick in, I have found that sadly, even though the setting has changed, the behavior has not.
I am typically an outgoing person, but as an OR nurse working with a small staff, I found myself being torn down to the point where my self-worth was squashed, and my motivation became non-existent. My workplace bullies were referred to as the Triangle of Terror—three women who did what they could to tear down, intimidate, and spread rumors about others. I have to mention that each member of this Triangle had worked there for an extensive amount of time and were very skilled at what they did. Their talent and seniority ensured their value to the department and many surgeons preferred to have them in their case.
It started at the beginning of my employment. Nit-picking my skills, telling my manager that I should have never been hired. If I presented an idea, it was quickly shot down or mocked by one of them. If I worked well with a surgeon, they would loudly point out my imperfections—sometimes right in the middle of the case. After time, I began to believe them. I should have never been hired. If I did well, it must have been a fluke. Surely a failure was right around the corner. My paranoia grew as I was certain they were sharing every faulting detail with anyone who would listen.
I had allies, and I was not the only target. Frankly, these friends are what kept me coming back each day. However, because of the environment of fear, even though they witnessed the bullying, and knew it was going on, no one wanted to stand up. Speaking out only reserved your spot as the next victim. It was best to just come, do your job and go home.
A few months ago, I discovered the book called The No Ass-hole Rule—Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Bob Sutton. I do not receive any benefit for plugging this book, but I have to highly recommend it-regardless of your profession. As Sutton discusses in his book, the bullying that I experienced rarely manifested itself in a large, dramatic fashion. The ripple effect from their behavior was crushing. I took my stories home and dumped them on my husband. He could do nothing but helplessly watch and try his best to keep my spirit alive. My attitude and mood were sour every day when I came home and I’m certain my children felt it. My health took a hit and my sick days were used to the max.
After 19 months of being slowly broken, the best thing I did was to quit—even though I was stepping away from my benefits and a job that I loved (I did love the job itself). It took nearly two years after leaving to finally consider myself healed. Writing about it, hearing the experience of others and knowing what they went through has also helped.
Workplace bullying is rampant and we lose far too many great nurses to it. From my experience, the same stress, insecurity and competition that drove the 7th grade torment has the ability to manifest it’s ugly head in adults. In writing this, I am hoping to bring comfort to those who are bullied and awareness to those who might be bullying others. Share your story, speak out and support others whether online, in person, or in the comments below. You never know who may be experiencing the same pain, or who you might be able to help!
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