A reflection one year on from Surviving bullying in the workplace
I was crouching in the corner of the living room last week and it dawned on me that my old workplace was perhaps the most insincere place I had ever been in, let alone worked in. I wasn’t crouching, crying or scared. I was crouching with a paint brush, jabbing the brush into the join of the skirting board and damming them to insolvency – or something worse. Big of me, I know.
It was a work environment where those that spoke directly were punished if what they said wasn’t what senior management wanted to hear. Staff learnt to ‘smile’ and not say anything. The business was delaminating. Staff briefings began to be a charade. People would nod and appear attentive as the boss spoke, while silently, on Messenger, memes and GIFs would ping about the room. In fairness it was a way for staff to cope.
I wrapped the paintbrush in cling wrap, poured a generous dollop of paint into the tray and gently worked the paint on to the roller.
Staff would have private conversations and share sad experiences. The work place bully that had two faces or the recent-hire, fast tracked to the executive team, although no one could actually work out what exactly they did, and when they did do something it was pocked with mistakes they blamed on others – except the “others” would talk amongst themselves, soon realising, they had been played off against each other. How did they get here? How did they get to stay here? Why are they being promoted? Why isn’t something being done? Are they shagging the boss?
The roller stippled a creamy layer of fresh paint over the wall. It felt good to see the old colour disappear, though it wasn’t completely gone, I could still see the original pigment. The harder I stared, the more I could see coming through, like a stain. “I think I’m over thinking this” I said to my husband. “I need to let it dry. I need to give it time”.
Staff left on a regular basis. “Oh they were a bit odd anyway”. “The problem is, that role has no career path”. “She just needed to put her big girl pants on”. “Oh, he was always whiney. And toxic – he’s just toxic”. I calculated for the size of the business the number of weeks there was a role advertised compared to competitors – it did not look good, it did not stack up. “It’s disappointing they don’t conduct exit interviews” said my husband. There’s a good reason for that. They don’t actually want to know what people think. It could lead straight back to their leadership.
As I was finishing my second coat, I fretted I could still see the old paint colour seeping through. I needed another coat. This DIY project was taking forever. Nothing had been easy in this room from the start. When I had pulled up the carpet the floor was covered in fine staples that needed careful extracting, individually, on hands and knees, with pliers. Shit.
A year ago I left. I didn’t take the bait or play the game. I was out. Radio silence. The bully sent me a text not long before my final day. Apparently, they ‘just found out’, they were ‘so sorry to hear I was leaving’. They ‘wanted to catch up before I went’.
I pushed the throws back into the corners of the floor and pried the lid off the final tin of paint. It was as rich as double cream as it poured into the tray. I slowly loaded the roller and looked around the room for a starting point.
Once free of that work place my body exhaled and began, what I can see now, was a process of releasing and cleansing. My close friend said “oh you’ll need time to heal”. Internally I rolled my eyes. A few months later I admitted to her she had been bang on. I remember updating my accountant about my new life direction and what had brought it about. “This happens all the time. Believe me. ALL. THE. TIME.” He was so calm. He treated me like an intelligent person who had made a life choice. Because I was and I had.
I kept busy. I kept a routine. I made lists. I made contact with quality friends. I kept at the gym. I cooked up a storm. I put on a bit of weight but I decided that was ok. I spoke to professionals. I spoke to wise non-professionals. I learnt new skills. I explored new podcasts that led to new books and rabbit holes of information that helped me contextualise what I had experienced. I cleaned out rooms, cupboards and sheds. I bought a label maker. I found the perfect font on the label maker. I labelled my fishing rod. I took up fishing. I helped friends with job applications. I helped friends with their businesses. I took friends to medical appointments and said nothing to anyone else as they had asked. Some days I was happy, others I was angry. Occasionally I would be tearful – pushing the lawnmower crying.
It’s been a year and I can see how far I’ve come. I feel physically and emotionally better. I can see opportunities now. I’m kinder to myself. I see that all those ‘jobs’ I was busy with not only improved my environment and relationships, they helped improve my own view of me. They helped me regain my emotional equilibrium. I did them well. They gave me satisfaction. I made progress. My friends appreciated my work.
After the final coat of paint, I washed the rollers and brushes and quietly folded up the floor throws, taking them outside to shake. In silence I swept the floor and then mopped it, staring at the timber floor boards that I had sanded and varnished. My husband had, when home from work, stood at the doorway watching me still crouching over the screaming sander. Later he said he had admired how I just got on with it, even when it was a noisy, dusty, protracted, sweaty job. All I could see at the time were the imperfections of my work. Where I had scalloped the timber, where I hadn’t been able to get the sander close enough to the wall. Now as I mopped and waited for it to dry, I admired it. The old wood glowed, the nicks, grooves and stains added character. I dressed the room. Later that night my husband and I had a boardgame in it. We discussed what we could put on some of the empty walls. The room was completed.
My next chapter is still unknown. I have a good lead and a couple of slowly evolving side gigs but for now, I’m in an ok spot and I’m heading toward a better one – on my terms.
Written by a friend of Self unLimited who bravely shares the raw poignant details of their experience, so they requested anonymity in the publishing of this content.