Bullies are everywhere, not just on the playground anymore. I ran into some in the workplace (at my first job, as a matter of fact), and I learned some…interesting lessons from that run-in with workplace bullies.
If you want to know what they are, grab a snack and take a seat. First, I have to tell you some backstory.
I was 20 years old, and had graduated from business college with an Associate’s degree in Fashion Merchandising. My dream was to be a Fashion Consultant and help people look their best. Today, it’s being a Stylist.
In my hometown there was a high-end store, and I thought that would be a great place to start. So I filled out an application, got an interview, and was offered a Sales Associate position.
A week later, I went through an 8-hour training class and was put on the sales floor the very next day. I was excited, but nervous at the same time.
Since there weren’t any openings in any departments, I floated from department to department. My main job was to cover breaks and fill in for absent employees. It was great! I got to meet new people and learned my way around the store.
A few weeks later, I was assigned to the Misses Sportswear Department. Yay! Now I had a department home. Everything seemed to be going well. I liked my co-workers and my manager too.
One day, while I worked with my manager, she asked me if I had ever gone to college. Not thinking anything about it, I said yes and that I had an associate degree in Fashion Merchandising.
The moment I mentioned I had a college degree, her whole face changed. I can’t describe the look, but I knew I had said something wrong.
When I came in to work the next morning, I was moved to the Juniors department.
Years later, I told this story to a friend and said I couldn’t understand what had happened. My friend said that my manager probably felt threatened and thought I was after her job.
That shocked me! I didn’t want her job, I wanted my job! Honestly, I saw this position as a way to get my feet wet in the Fashion industry. Being a department store manager was the last thing on my mind. (No offense to department store managers.)
Meeting the bullies
At the time, I was confused why I had been switched to a new department, but okay. This department carried the clothes I wore anyway. Back then, the Juniors department dressed everyone from age 10 to age 34. I mean, seriously, if you wanted trendy clothes this was the place.
Anywhere I go, I try to get along with everybody. After the first day, everyone seemed cool, except for a few mean girls. I don’t know what their issue was, but we didn’t seem to gel. It was okay though. There were some girls I did like and got along with.
Well, it seemed the bullies didn’t like this, so they started telling the other girls stuff about me. I never found out what it was but some of the other girls started to avoid me.
At the time, I didn’t understand why they pulled away, and it hurt my feelings. I thought we were cool. Now that I’m older, I understand. I guess they went with the bullies because the bullies would pick on anyone that was friendly to me.
So, I kept to myself and did my work.
The last straw
My manager, I’ll call her Dea, went on vacation for a week. Let me tell you about Dea. She was one of those no-nonsense kind of women. Though Dea could seem like a butthole sometimes, she was fair when it came to punishments. I respected her!
One day during her vacation, I was at work and got bored. So bored, I started straightening up the clothing on the various tables around the department. It was dull, but it was something to do.
Anyway, while I worked, I saw the store floor manager, Mr. M, walk toward our department. I assumed he was going to his office in the back of our department.
At the same time, I saw two of my two co-workers standing around and talking at the counter in front of his desk. I greeted them as he passed and went into his office.
I finished my table and looked around for another one to work on. Across the aisle from my two co-workers was a table with a hutch with several cubby holes.
The clothes on this hutch were a mess! I had seen that table earlier and decided do it later. So, I moved to a table on the other side of it.
While I worked on that table, Mr. M came out of his office and walked to my co-workers. He told them they had talked enough and needed to get to work. Then, he pointed to the hutch and said they should fix it.
The girls walked over and started to work on it. A minute later, one came over and said I needed to finish the hutch. I laughed and said: No! ‘I’m not doing that. Mr. M told you to do it. I was saving that one for last anyway’.
The look on my co-worker’s face was not happy, but I didn’t care! I was tired of being dumped on and stuff said behind my back.
The truth comes out
When Dea got back from her vacation, she called me into the office. I took a seat, and then she began to yell at me!
She told me that before her vacation she had been told I didn’t want to help anyone and was being mean everyone. This surprised me! I wasn’t being mean or not helpful. What had happened was I had found my backbone and said no to doing other people’s work.
So to be yelled at for something I didn’t do, caused me to break down. I started crying and told her everything! As I talked, Dea’s face got redder and redder.
When I finished, Dea’s face told me she was livid! She said she had been told the opposite and apologized for yelling at me. Then she told me that if anyone asked me to do their job, to tell them SHE (Dea) said I wasn’t to do it. I said thank you and left her office.
Days later, I saw one of my co-workers–I’ll call her Torri–marking down the prices of clothes on a rack. As I passed, she said I should do the markdowns instead.
I knew Dea had given her that job, so I said no! She looked at me and asked why. I told her Dea said I wasn’t to do anyone else’s work.
Torri got quiet and then went to the office. A little while later, I saw her coming out of the office, and she did not look happy. I figured Dea had backed up what I said.
So that’s how it went for the next few days. Soon, the bullies stopped messing with me and began to ignore me. Which didn’t bother me. I was happy to be left alone.
What I learned from all of this
I learned 4 things from this experience.
1. There are still bullies. This was a complete surprise to me! I thought they were left back in school.
2. Folks will be devious if it gets them what they want. They will lie and tell only half of the truth.
3. I don’t talk about my work experience or education anymore.
4. I talk very little about my personal life. Here’s why. When I would talk about my personal life, the bullies would find out and use what they heard to start rumors. So avoid all the drama, I just tell what I want folks to know.
5. If the bullies start stuff, talk with your supervisor about it. Why? To get your point of view out there. I think if I had spoken with my manager earlier maybe things wouldn’t have gotten to this point.
Side note: If your supervisor is the one doing the bullying, there are two choices. Well three. Go to their boss, go to HR, or quit. I once had a manager who made my job life miserable! I didn’t feel comfortable going to his boss, and I didn’t know how HR worked (at the time). So I ended up finding another job and leaving!
Watch out for the bullies at work. If they start messing with you, bring it to your supervisor. She/he may not do anything but at least you have your side out there. Remember, there are people out there who if they can hurt you, will hurt you.
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