Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bully for You

Currently I’m reading my way through a young adult series from back around 2009, which means it has vampires and a boarding school in it. Ah, the good old days. In one book, the main character has to deal with the school bitch, who, because she’s part vampire, is probably decades if not centuries older than she looks. And yet she behaves like a teenage mean girl, because this is a young adult novel. The feminist movement and years of social change have had next to no impact on what we market to impressionable teenage readers, apparently.

This book got me thinking about bullies, and the mistaken impression bullying is a childhood problem, that presumably vanishes once you and your nemeses grow up and hit physical and emotional adulthood. News flash: no, it doesn’t. I’ve worked in literally dozens of companies and a variety of industries. I’ve both witnessed and personally experienced more bullying in the so-called adult workplace than I ever did in twelve years in the public school system.

It’s not just the boss throwing his/her weight around, either. I’ve seen supervisors bully their subordinates, employees bully their manager, and employees bully each other. My mother worked in a retirement facility, and related tales of how the employees played games of divide and conquer with their harried supervisors. I was once harassed to the point I had to quit a job. Complaining to management did no good because the production manager was part of the clique attacking me. I witnessed something similar happen to a girl at another job. Any place the sharks smell blood in the water, they move in and start to circle.

These aren’t kids fresh out of high school and still carrying teen mindsets around. These are supposedly grown men and women, some of them with spouses and children. It covers all age groups, includes both genders, and crosses whatever status lines exist at your workplace (the group that targeted me didn’t even work in my department). I once had a coworker who would try to get me in trouble if I didn’t help her do her work (which wasn’t even part of my job, or my department.) She was in her 70s. So much for growing out of it.

Here’s a classic bully story. I only witnessed this; I didn’t have to deal with it, thank God. The office manager at one of the newspapers where I worked liked to play games with her two subordinates. She’d constantly pick at one while fawning all over the other. That office had a revolving door of workers for close to two years. We were having to bring in new office workers every couple of months or so.

Why did she do this? I assume because she could. One of the sales guys had known her at another job and said she’d tried to get her boss fired there. She was in her 30s, I think, married with two kids. Allegedly a grown woman.

Every employee who walked out the door gave the same story to the general manager: “I can’t work with her.” His answer was always the same: “Nothing can be done.” Why? Because she was the owner’s drinking buddy. They’d hit bars together on the weekends. The owner wouldn’t hear a word against her. The first thing a bully does is secure his/her own position. Once they’ve got their asses covered, they can start trolling for victims.

Why do people do this? Like I said, because they can. And because they get some kind of payoff from it. Dr. Phil has often stated, “People do what works.” If bully behavior worked for you while you were growing up, why would you abandon your winning formula just because you’re not a kid any more?

Also, consider the circumstances. The average workplace is populated by a bunch of people who, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have anything to do with each other. A lot of them probably don’t want to be there, but don’t have any choice. They’re stuck in an enclosed space for eight to nine hours a day, at least five days a week, performing the same tasks day in and day out. Cram enough rats in a cage and pretty soon they turn on each other. The weak, the different and the unprotected get eaten alive. That’s how our children are socialized from the ages of five to eighteen. Then they step out of the classroom and into the office and they’re right back in the same situation. Is it any wonder they carry the lessons learned into adulthood?

As far as I know, none of these bullies ever got fired from their jobs, at least not for bullying. That office manager I talked about earlier ended up quitting because she lost her protector. The owner got married and didn’t need the manager to hang out with any more. The manager moved on to greener pastures and fresher game. Most of the places I worked went out of business, some of them while I was still there, so I’m assuming the bullies lost their jobs at some point, though not for anything they did to me or any other victims. I’ll just have to be content with that.

I wonder about that manager’s children, too. They should be old enough to be moving into the work force by now. How will they treat their fellow workers? If they’re pulling this same crap on others, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. If your kid is complaining about bullies at school, take a good look at the parents. Odds are the little darlings learned their bad behavior at Mommy or Daddy’s knee.

This is just another reason why I’m in no rush to find a job that puts me back in an office. I need to stay away from the rats. Yeah, I know about cyberbullying, but that’s a whole other topic. As long as I stay off Facebook, I should be okay.

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