9th December 2017 at 12:36 pm #601
What can you do if you’re being bullied at work but you’re not an employee? Do I have any rights?
9th December 2017 at 12:38 pm #602
Hi, I’m Anna. I’m a fiction writer who has worked in many different office jobs, usually in media-related spheres. I continue to work during the day as writing doesn’t pay all the bills yet.
I have worked with many different bosses. There is no such thing as the perfect boss but most of my bosses have been reasonable and fair in their demands. One or two have been inspirational. And three have been bullies.
If you are crying at work because of someone talking harshly at you, you’re being bullied. You’re also being bullied if you are asked to do a task that is outrageously beyond your experience and paygrade and you feel you can’t possibly say no or you’ll be shouted at or lose your job.
It’s hard to remember at times like this that the bully is behaving unacceptably and that you can’t and shouldn’t put up with it. If you think you’ll suffer due to losing the job and being broke, think again about how much your health, confidence and mood will suffer by staying.
I was a temp at the BBC in 2008. It was a three month booking so I felt I had some secure income even though it wasn’t forever (there is very little temp-to-perm at the BBC). I was invested and keen to do it well.
In the first week, one of my superiors, let’s call him Eric, gave me a departmental spreadsheet that needed a serious rehaul, both in formatting and content. It contained hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of annual budgeting with complex Excel formatting and while I can use Excel, I am not an accountant and could not be expected to know what the department spent or projected. I was amazed I’d even been shown such data.
Terrified of Eric’s response if I refused, I gamely had a go. Fiddling with it felt like a bad joke. I stayed late and told Eric the next day I wasn’t qualified for this task and he lectured me in a hostile tone about my lack of enthusiasm for my role. He took the task away but made sure I had additional tasks to my already overfull workload in the weeks to come.
I noticed that many of Eric’s colleagues felt intimidated by him, despite socialising with him after work and that, fearing for their jobs or fearful of creating an even more unpleasant atmosphere, they felt unable to speak up about his unprofessional behaviour. Eventually Eric had another go at me in a meeting room which resulted in my leaving in tears (we were alone, conveniently). My colleagues comforted me in the canteen and one told me I could take ‘action’ if I wanted to. I didn’t know what they were talking about. She meant going to HR.
Every office usually has some sort of HR department, especially a large public body like the BBC and HR’s job is to listen to you, the victim, impartially. When I spoke to HR, I was told I had three options:
1) Do nothing
2) Take out an informal complaint
3) Take out a formal complaint.
I wanted my action to have the biggest effect possible so I went with ‘formal’. As it turned out, Eric had already had a few formal complaints taken out against him in the past. The department happened to be going through a reshuffle so with his record freshly smeared, he was demoted to the point where it didn’t make much sense for him to stay. So he left. People often return to the BBC but as far as I know, Eric never worked there again. He’d been there thirty years.
My colleagues were surprised at my bravery. It’s easy to underestimate a temp but as you only have so much invested in your workplace, you have the power to risk change. You got this temp job, if the worst comes to the worst, you can get another one. There is an unspoken understanding, especially in the media, of putting up with bad work conditions and bullies because hundreds of people supposedly want your job and it’s ‘showbiz’ but it’s usually not worth it. Long term it won’t damage your career to speak up and you’ll learn a vital life skill which is to protect yourself at work so you can do your job effectively.
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