Bullying in the workplace is more commonplace than would generally be expected. The result being Post Traumatic Stress, which, when untreated, can have far reaching consequences, as is evident in the following personal essay written by Julian Turner.
The year is 2014 and I have just celebrated 30 years’ service at my organisation, a huge financial institution. I’m proud of myself for having survived for so long, having survived the war of ruthless corporate politics, bullying and endless back-stabbing. Ten days later and my world caves in. I’m sweating profusely for yet another attack on my character and ultimately my family. I have been set up for a fall, this time by the boss in collusion with a spy in the ranks. My world collapses around me, but this time I do not have the energy to fight back. I decide to end it all by leaping off a cliff into a deep gorge. My suicide attempt though is thwarted by a higher power and I survive an 80m fall by landing on a ledge. I am laid off work for 6 months and make a comeback, stronger than ever both physically and mentally to put in the hard yards for another 5 years. I am proud of myself. I leave the company on my terms this time and celebrate the mission accomplished with a boat cruise on the Baltic with my wife of 30 years marriage.
I am not sure whether anyone is really ready for retirement; it’s not like it’s a complete switchover. My head is pumping with pain, I’m ducking and diving, the knives are out and the story repeats itself. I awake with my body in a sweat, it’s the early hours of the morning and I have experienced yet another nightmare. My corporate life is not yet over as I thought. I do some research; I’m suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It’s real, I thought it only happened in war-time, but hang on a minute, I have been in a war – one that lasted 35 years! I seek out a psychologist, as I cannot do this myself. It’s been two years and the nightmares are continual! I am introduced to a wonderful woman, Dr Lize Wolfaardt. She is warm, compassionate and becomes my counsellor, and friend, for the next 12 months.
We start the process as a partnership, going through the details blow by blow. I recall the multiple incidents, many of which are just par for the course of the corporate world, but it is the ones which involve bullying which stand out. They are the ones which need to be tackled; they are the ones causing the PTSD. Corporate bullying is rife. It comes in multiple forms and can be direct or subtle. Workplace bullies use more sophisticated tactics such as making false accusations, body language intimidation, using the silent treatment, exhibiting mood swings, going against corporate policy, differential standards, disregarding satisfactory work, reputational damage through spreading rumours, singling out a target, stealing credit for work, abusing the performance measurement process, exposing confidential information of an individual, discrimination, making impossible demands, sabotaging one’s work and forcing one to voluntarily resign. It’s a cruel world, this world of politics, one that has been learned through years of experience rather than an elective course at university.
I know that in a world of rules, hierarchy and competition that politics will inevitably arise – I am not naive. I know my own values, my standards of work quality and integrity. I use the skill given to me to build up key work relationships for the benefit of the company, the very entity which pays my salary. The length of service which I have given to my corporate employer is defined by my number one character trait – LOYALTY. As we work through the more cut throat examples of corporate bullying during the three and a half decades, we single out the number one source of hurt – BETRAYAL. The very people whom I trusted, betrayed me. I agree with Dr Lize to single out the perpetrators. I write their names down and what they did to harm me. The first part of the healing process is complete – to sift through days and months and years of extreme examples of corporate bullying, write them down and bank them.
The next part of the process is to track down the perpetrators. I use multiple methods through the use of Facebook, LinkedIn, TrueCaller, Instagram and any other source of personal data. Whether the communication medium is via email, mobile number, social media messaging mechanism, the important thing is to establish contact. It is vital to acknowledge to the perpetrator that I am suffering from PTSD in the workplace and that their actions contributed towards it. I don’t go into detail of every action carried out by them, but I stress the points that their actions were tantamount to corporate bullying, that they abused their powers granted to them in the form of their rank. I myself held a senior position, so tackling them on their transgressions gives me great satisfaction. I am now retired, so the political landscape no longer stands in my way, and neither does any form of repercussion. My words are not threats, but rather facts which gives the receiver food for thought over what control, or lack thereof, they had over their actions. As I am typing, I feel a load falling off my shoulders. These thoughts have been bottled up for months and years and have consumed my mind and my life in general. I feel good expressing my views as I type, as I recall the horrors of the nasty corporate world called politics. I give my transgressors the opportunity to reflect on my allegations, to reflect on how they behaved, to reflect on the impact they had on myself and others. I also give them the opportunity to apologise for the hurt caused for which I am prepared to forgive. It is with forgiveness that one experiences freedom. The freedom of having my say without repercussion, the freedom to express my views of how leadership principles were compromised and the freedom to set the path of next steps. I am in control now… of my past, of my life going forward.
The responses are interesting and come in all forms; acknowledgement of the transgression, acceptance of their actions, request for forgiveness, fighting back, silence, broad apology, and even shock that I could allege such actions on their part. This moves me into the next phase of my recovery, one of processing each response, taking the good with the bad and packaging it as a whole to do with as I please. This gives me great power and allows me to take control of my life again, to take control of my retirement and to regain my peace of sleep.. and happiness. It took a whole year to go through this process of recalling the incidents, of shaping my messages, of hunting down my detractors, of dealing with the responses, of rolling it all up so that I could roll it out of my head, down my back and into the ground. I could not have done this on my own; I needed someone to talk to, a confidant and a mentor, to share with me the horrors of the past, of my demons, of my shame. I am healed now. Thank you to Dr Lize my psychologist and to my wife Sheryl for all the love and support.