The changes to bullying legislation have prompted me to revisit my one and only personal experience of corporate bullying.
30 years ago I joined one of the big 4 banks as a graduate trainee. As part of our supposed fast-track development into a head office job each member of the graduate intake was allocated a branch where we were to spend the next 2 years honing our skills counting money, serving customers and ordering Bankcards.
I was lucky enough to score Kings Cross as my branch. I say lucky because it was close to home and had as its clientele the most eclectic bunch of people you could imagine. Travellers, corporate big-shots, shady nightclub owners, some very attractive women, down-and-outs and the odd famous person would regularly queue up together to do their banking (ATMs had only just been introduced into the country).
My first contact with Erica was immediate and full of foreboding. As with most bullies, she assumed her position of superiority using the oldest trick in the book – the surprise attack. No sooner had I been allocated to her by my manager with a reassuring “don’t worry, Erica will show you how things work around here” than she had me totally cowered and subdued. To this day I’m not sure how she did it. It was a mixture of physical presence, confidence that she was right about everything, the aforementioned ability to strike immediately while most normal people are still in the “checking each other out” stage and an office environment which allowed this type of behaviour to flourish unchecked.
I wonder how I might have handled the situation better. Could I have been more assertive, should I have said something to my manager (surely he could see what was going on I used to say to myself – Erica’s bullying occurred in full view of everyone) or was ignoring it, as I did, the best approach?
I was not alone in being bullied either; every new employee at the branch was treated similarly yet those of us who had been and were still subject to Erica’s bullying said nothing.
As an aside, I have to say I quite enjoyed my time at the bank. My other co-workers were delightful. I left 15 months later not because of Erica but because I realised my future lay elsewhere. Sadly, this is not a common outcome of workplace bullying. As we know, people do often quit a job or take extended stress leave (or even worse) because of workplace bullying. I was one of the lucky ones.