the truth about workplace bullying – the system, and what happens when you make an “official complaint”

The likelihood of becoming a victim of workplace bullying is extremely high. According to research conducted by beyondblue, almost 50 percent of Australian employees will experience some form of workplace bullying during their lives.

Beyondblue’s research also found that people who are bullied at work will experience higher levels of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as cardiovascular problems, migraines and obesity. I can personally attest to four out of six of those, having been a victim of workplace bullying throughout 2017 and 2018.

The research further found that current methods used to combat bullying are not working and can make matters worse in some situations. This is something I can also attest to.

Most workplaces have policies and procedures in place to deal with workplace bullying. I was employed (and technically still am) by a very large employer where employees are educated on workplace bullying and harassment. There are policies and procedures in place to deal with such issues should they arise, and this information is easily accessible to all employees.

When I realised that I was being bullied, I armed myself with all this information. I had been diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder and I was suffering from anxiety attacks daily – sometimes multiple times a day. I could no longer bear going to work, so I made an official complaint. Little did I know what lay in store for me…

I was being bullied by my Team Leader, so I approached upper management and advised them of my concerns. This was then escalated to the Human Resources department (HR), who requested I provide a written statement.

I had kept a diary of events as they occurred, so I was able to provide a statement that listed, in chronological order, the events I perceived to be examples of workplace bullying as they transpired.

If you have been following my blog, you would know that I was a high performing professional and my previous performance appraisals had never identified any problems with my work. I loved my job and I was well respected by my peers and by management. I used to love going to work – I even enjoyed Monday’s (not kidding). That was until a new Team Leader came along who would change everything for me…

So, what happened next?

The statement I provided to HR, accompanied by a statement written by the Team Leader who I had made the complaint against was provided to an “independent assessor” within the organisation so that they could conduct an “internal investigation”. We were both interviewed by this independent person, who then provided a report of their findings to upper management.

During my interview with the independent assessor, I gave further details of the events and provided further information as requested. I was honest and emotional. The assessor seemed nice on the phone, but I was devastated when I read the report that didn’t address all the information I had provided and was advised that the outcome of the investigation had found no evidence of workplace bullying… Really? Did you think I was bulls*i**ing when you made me re-tell how embarrassed and humiliated this person had made me while the tears flowed? (Seriously, I’m no Oscar-winning actress).

I was able to request an appeal of this decision which would be assessed by another “independent”. This time an external assessor would conduct the investigation but this external organisation still falls well within the same business line as my employer. I was told this process could take months to complete.

I took some time off work as I could not bear going to work under that same Team Leader. My anxiety had become worse due to the stress of having to go to work every day as though nothing had happened. There were days that I attempted to “suck it up” and just go. Those days were probably the worse as they sent me spiraling backwards, but I really just wanted to go to work, so I kept trying.

After several weeks, I received a phone call from upper management to say that the Team Leader had been moved to a different team and that I could come back to work under a new leader when I was ready. FINALLY! I thought I had received a small win… I thought, OK, it will be better now, I can go back to work and just get on with my life.

Ummm, no.

After another couple of months of further bullying, harassment and gaslighting by my new Team Leader and another two members of the upper leadership group, I had had enough. My job was on the line and I had no choice but to leave work again and seek workers compensation.

Shortly after I filed my claim I was bombarded. The insurance company wanted me to write another statement and they made an appointment for me to see an “independent” psychiatrist.

My employer assigned me to a return to work specialist and made an appointment for me to see their “independent psychiatrist”.

I sought legal advice. I sought the advice of my own medical practitioners, I surrounded myself with my tribe, and I tried to stay calm.

I attended both “independent” psychiatric appointments. They were horrible, extremely stressful events. During one of these appointments, I was deliberately made to feel confused via the use of questioning techniques that were presented in what I can only call back-to-front English. For example, “Do you never think it is ok to…?” I asked what the question meant and why I was being asked that question, I said I didn’t understand… I was not provided an explanation; the question was just repeated to me until I provided an answer – the wrong one of course.

The reports came back. Both psychiatrists had managed to make a completely inaccurate (biased, in favour of the insurance company and my employer) assessment of me in 60 minutes flat. Their reports were confusing, out of chronological order and very repetitive. I am sure they used cut and paste to make the report longer which might make it seem as though they worked hard, which then looks like they did enough to earn their big $$’s to make a completely rubbish assessment of me.

I then received the report from the insurance company. Their job is to gather all the evidence and make an assessment. This included my statement, reports from my own treating practitioners, the reports by the “independent” psychiatrists, information received from my employer and whatever else they managed to dig up. The result, claim DENIED.

Finally, I received a phone call from the “independent” external assessor that was investigating my request for a review of the internal investigation that was conducted, the one that found that there was no evidence of workplace bullying. The assessor seemed nice on the phone. Again, I was honest and emotional because having to talk about the same events over and over can take its toll – it’s like re-living the whole thing all over again, it’s tedious and painful.

A week later I received a letter from the external assessor stating that they were siding with my employer, that there was no evidence of workplace bullying. Devastated. Again.

As an empathetic person, I have come to realise my career was never going to progress in this job. While it was good, it was great, but when it got bad its effects were devastating. Management in this organisation do not appreciate people who like other people, they don’t realise that if you treat people well they will exceed your expectations of them every time. Instead, they place value only on progressing their own careers and people are just numbers to them. They don’t care about their staff and they don’t care about the work – they are only concerned with who is in their way and who is making them look bad. (me).

In this place, where I used to love to work, people like me are in the way of the Corporate Psychopath. These people can spot people like me a mile away. Often the Corporate Psychopath who is very good at spotting fellow psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists, will recruit his like-minded colleagues to band together to identify (and destroy if necessary) the individual who has called them up on their bad behavior. (me).

This was and still is a truly toxic place to work, but it took me a long time to work it out. I think this is mostly because I give people the benefit of the doubt – I like to think there is good in everyone – but I know that I’ve been naïve.

Workplace bullying has cost me my career with this organisation and I am unable to work for now, but ever the fighter, I know that my health will improve in time and that things will get better again. It will take me a long time to heal but writing about it and being an advocate against workplace bullying is helping more than I ever thought possible.

Had I not found myself in this position, I would never have started my blog – so I believe I have won in some way… actually, in a big way – because I have found a part of myself, I knew was there somewhere, but I was never really sure exactly what it was.

Even though I have been through a lot and have put up with a hell of a lot I know I tried everything in my power to stay in my job – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Right now, all I have is my truth and I’ll keep telling it to whoever needs to know about it.

So, the HR department have their agenda, the insurance company and the “independent” psychiatrists employed by them have their agendas – but I have my truth and I will keep backing myself because I know what happened. I was there and they weren’t. I have taken my employer on, so it’s not over yet. The saga continues and honestly, it’s not pretty.

There are more appeals and there is more story to come, I only hope that somewhere in this story justice is served. However, if it’s not, I’ll still have my truth and I will have to rely on karma to do the rest.

My advice to you, if you are in a similar situation is to simply stay true to yourself (sounds cliché I know, but I truly believe this). Keep speaking your truth – don’t be hushed (even when you think the Corporate Psychopaths and all those people with their agendas are not listening – believe me they are – but they don’t possess empathy, so they cannot acknowledge your pain, (if they did have empathy, they wouldn’t be able to do the jobs they do).

My big lesson is to be forever wary of the Corporate Psychopath because they exist EVERYWHERE.

In my next job, I will be different. I will work hard as usual and I will be friendly with my colleagues, but the different part will be that I won’t share personal information with them. It sounds cold but another thing this experience has taught me is that true friends are hard to come by at work. When things get serious for you, people will listen at first, they will care, they will want to help you in some way, but then they will get scared – the fear that siding with you will upset the Corporate Psychopath will set in and they won’t want to become implicated, and unfortunately, you will quickly find yourself on your own. (Of all the people I considered to be a friend at work – only one has shown themselves to be a true friend, and to that person, I am forever grateful).

At the first sign of workplace bullying in my next job – wherever that may be, I will not hesitate to put a stop to any form of bullying before it even starts.

They beat me down once, but I’ll come back stronger – but never meaner – because, ever the optimistic fighter, I will continue to believe that kindness will always prevail.