There is a fabulous site on workplace bullying called Bullying Online. It outlines what workplace bullying is and how it manifests itself in the workplace. My previous workplace will deny it until they are blue in the face but the facts of the matter are that I was bullied and victimized in the most horrific way. This series of articles are the diary of a bully. There is not just one bully in this story; rather there are a few. I will use this website to highlight how systematic bullying occurred at my previous workplace. My story will be presented over a series of articles.
The Bullying Online site outlines three ways in which people are bullied in the workplace. These are:
Isolation – This can take the form of constant nitpicking focusing on trivial issues instead of the big picture, refusal to acknowledge the contribution of the worker and undermining the value and worth of the worker.
Control and Subjugation – This includes being constantly singled out and treated differently, being belittled and the setting of unrealistic expectations that cannot be achieved.
Elimination – This includes misrepresenting and distorting what the worker says, being subject to disciplinary procedures for trivial offences, being pressured to resign and being dismissed on allegations that have no basis in fact.
This site was a godsend to me because it enabled me to label the behaviours and actions of the people that bullied me. I encourage anyone that feels that they have been bullied in the workplace to consult this site. I will use these headings throughout this series of articles to describe the bullying that I was subject to. Readers can find this important information at – http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm#what_is_workplace_bullying
The core business of my previous workplace is political and very much focused on image. They are focused on ticking boxes, the hierarchy of control and maintaining the status quo. My role has always been as a change agent. I create change and advocate for that. I am not too concerned about image. Besides, what better image can you have than to lead the nation in promoting first class inclusion for people with a disability? That is, and will always be, my focus.
Now my experience in disability is very broad. I have worked with many disability groups and been responsible for a myriad of programs that have promoted and improved the lot of people with a disability. That is over 25 years. I am not, and never will be, a bureaucrat. A bureaucrat is a person that is hell bent on making sure things run smoothly. Having to change how things are done and commit an organization to a process of positive change that requires a significant financial outlay is not something that sits well with them.
Now as an experienced disability person I know my stuff. I have contacts everywhere. I develop strong arguments and back them up with convincing evidence of need. I am not a person that produces booklets about how to communicate with the deaf and CDs showing inspiring achievements of people with a disability. I strive for real and sustainable change. I develop arguments that are difficult to refute and get these arguments backed with evidence from around the nation. For a person who has to supervise me, and one that has little experience of disability, this can be intimidating.
Sure it sounds like I have tickets on myself but I am trying to paint a picture where my immediate supervisor is someone that has a very narrow focus or experience in disability and they have to supervise someone who has far superior experience and knowledge. The focus of these people is often about care and being inspired. It is about people with a disability beating all challenges put before them. It is about a society that “looks after them.” As such people with a disability in these circumstances have little power and are pitied.
Here is someone, me, who is not interested in this sort of melodrama. All I am interested in is real and concrete changes that enhance inclusion for people with a disability. This requires investment of a significant kind. Of course for the bureaucrat this is frightening. Rather than embrace positive change and investment in people with a disability the bureaucrat chooses to control and suppress in the hope of protecting the organization from a significant financial outlay.
There is also the age old disabled and non-disabled power struggle. Recently I met a person who was a previous employee of where I worked. We were having a beer and this person, startlingly, told me she knew what had happened during my job interview. It seems that one of the panel members had breached confidentiality and told her what had happened. Apparently at my interview the panel had been split. There were people who were for me and people who were against me. It seems that they generally agreed that my experience and skills were the best of the people that were interviewed. However, one of the more powerful people on the panel was hesitant. This person felt it would be “too hard” to employ me because communication would be too difficult.
It was apparently argued that this was illegal and discrimination. It was argued that I was the best candidate and that should be it. In the end sanity prevailed and they offered me the job. What this demonstrates is that for people with a disability employment is not an even playing field. The people in power often do not like change. In this situation employing me would entail change. It also entails a certain expense in paying for interpreters. These are the challenges that people with a disability face. It is not just a straight argument about whether the individual with a disability is the best person for the job, other factors like prejudice, ignorance and basic economics come into play.
Clearly it can be an uphill battle for people with a disability to get employment. Indeed the Blog, Heart of a Nation, points out that, “If you say you are disabled on your job application form, you are six times more likely not to be interviewed. If you get an interview, you are six times more likely to be rejected for the job. And if we look at the question of wages, most disabled people are forced into poorly paid, low skilled jobs. That’s the reality of life for disabled people in the job market.”
There is a clear power imbalance to the point where it can be argued that people with a disability are an oppressed minority. It is an unpalatable fact that many people who do not have a lot of experience of people with a disability have a rather warped view of disability. They will let all and sundry know that they believe people with a disability have the right to equal opportunity. But the reality of their view of people with a disability is quite different. To them it is not “normal” for people with a disability to be employed it is “exceptional”. It is an inspiring thing. They believe they are “helping” … Because they are helping they sub-consciously feel an element of power.
I strongly believe that when I was successful in winning this position my direct manager wanted it to be a success. I also believe that by employing me she got what might be called, ‘warm fuzzies’. Now I am anything but warm and fuzzy. I am direct and I take change seriously. I take people on and challenge the system. Incremental change is fine to a point but incremental change is also responsible for the pace of change for people with a disability being excruciatingly slow. I am, to put it mildly, a brute of an advocate.
I have a theory that this shook my manager to the core. By advocating to employ me she felt that she had done her bit for society. She had argued for the employment of a person with a disability. Sub-consciously she probably felt I needed to be grateful to her. Sub-consciously her perception of people with a disability is one where it’s a social contribution rather than a business decision to employ them. That a person with a disability might be her equal, even her superior, is and probably remains a foreign concept to her.
It is all a theory really, but to my mind there are few workplaces where people with a disability are seen as equals. So when I arrived at my place of work there was an expectation that I was being helped, that it was a nice thing to do and that it would be a matter of simply leading me gently, so to speak. It didn’t work out that way and very soon after I started I am pretty sure that my manager knew I wasn’t to be trifled with.
She knew that I had the potential to be a very, very powerful influence. I believe that this scared her and others of her ilk out of their wits. As soon as they realized this they set out on a none too subtle path to control me. Later, because my knowledge and my influence were far beyond what they imagined, they realized that controlling me was going to be difficult. Once they realized this they set on a strategy to force me out. This strategy was one of constructive dismissal.
Over the next few weeks I will outline in detail a horrific story of bullying and victimization that occurred over a period of almost two years. What happened to me is not unique. It has happened to many people. In writing this I will probably have to forgo the possibility of any compensation from the organization that I worked for. But that is not important. What is important is that people should never be subject to the treatment I was subject to. But they are and we have to do everything within our power to stop it.
It will not be pretty reading but it will be a compelling and important to document. I urge you to read and share the articles that will follow as widely as possible. What happened to me should not happen to anyone. Help create awareness of bullying in the workplace, particularly as it relates to people with a disability.