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BIG BAD BULLY… The Dream Job Turned Nightmare

You got the job!

You took the GMAT three times to get wait-listed and then finally admitted to that high end school for your masters. You have attended the seminars and chased job recruiters at workshops. Your resume was circulated by four different headhunters. All that sacrifice led to a great future and over $63,000 in student loans. You have paid your dues… and are still paying the dues.

Dream to nightmare?

Now, you have landed that dream job, at the dream company.  You are thinking it has all paid off, only to find that you have been hired by the Big Bad Bully, Darth Vader in a Brooks Brothers suit. After further investigation, you find that most of the people reporting to him might last just under a year.  They quit unexpectedly, transfer, walk out, or just give up. But wait, with $63,000 in debt, a car note and rent, you barely have enough to enjoy dinner and a movie, let alone walk away from this “dream” job.  It took eleven months to get this position, how can you possibly conduct another job search?

This sounds like a line from the Devil Wears Prada, landing a job a million girls would kill for, but in truth this job would kill a million girls.  All the education in the world doesn’t protect someone from the Big Bad Bully on the job.

This big bad bully throws staplers and pushes papers and pens off the desk in anger.  He smiles when clients are present, then reverts right back to the rage-a-holic demanding hot pastrami sandwiches and a cold Belgium beer from the corner deli. He berates you in meetings, and sends hostile email directives which include the entire department. Working for him is crazy making, leaving you with long hours to catch up, sleepless nights from stress, weight gain and a horrid case of adult acne.  One day when the big bad bully is out, you even catch yourself browsing for local psychologists in the area.  You feel desperate and absolutely demoralized.

These symptoms of stress, aggravation and weight gain are normal for anyone facing a bully at work.  Targets often feel stuck, ashamed and even suicidal at the idea that they are trapped in an impossible situation. Studies show that young people under 30 are the target of the bully 25% of the time.  Bullying is based on power, and often the people with the entry and middle positions have the least amount of power in the organization.  They are in the most vulnerable position and wind up the target.  Also, age discrimination doesn’t become a viable option until someone turns 40. While employees have other Title VII protected class distinctions in race, gender and religion, bullying often happens within protected class status, (woman to woman, Latino to Latino, man to man).  In turn, workplace discrimination is often ruled out as an option for the target.  Saddled with student loans and a challenging job market, what are the options?

How to handle the situation

1. Remember: This job doesn’t last forever.  Keep skills transferable, and keep the warm networks warm.  However, looking for a job is cause for termination, so be careful about announcing your intentions.

2. Get support from friends and family.  Targets of bullies tend to isolate themselves at work and at home, making them feel as if they are the only one experiencing bullying.  Studies show that over a third of the population is dealing with a bully at work. Don’t feel alone.

3. Consider Human Resources (HR), but keep in mind that HR seldom helps the situation.  Only a few targets report relief when they report that the boss is a bully. In fact in many organizations, the situation gets worse for the target once he or she goes to HR.

4. Maintain healthy habits and a locus of control.  Exercise, counseling, good eating habits, meditation and even a healthy perusal through the job board on the weekend can keep a target focused on the next job instead of focusing on the tyranny in the current position.

5. Learn the bully.  While the behavior of the Big Bad Bully is beyond unfair, try to anticipate the bully’s demands.  Bullies do use aggressive tactics, sequester important information or change expectations without notice.  However, if you know he wants reports early, do them early. If you know she gives projects with no notice on Wednesday and Thursdays, keep those days clear. Try to remember that the bully has the problem, acting out of a need to control.  Avoiding protest and conflict, even to unfair expectations, might ease the situation until you can leave.

No one wants their career derailed by a bully.  In this economy, more people are enduring bullying behavior to keep up with their bills.  Though many organizations don’t have strategies to minimizing bullying, individuals can develop strategies to survive a bully without losing themselves in the anxiety.

Share your story or comments below.  Do you have successful strategies for withstanding a Big Bad Bully at work?

For more detailed information on workplace bullying and discrimination, visit our website at www.diversitytrainingconsultants.com or check out Unequal Opportunity: Fired without cause, Filing with the EEOC on Amazon.com.  Dr. Hollis’s new book Bully in the Ivory Tower has expected release in October, 2012.