In Canada, we are hearing stories about bullying and harassment by male RCMP officers, towards females. Workplace bullying, especially after the stories of student bullying, are increasingly in the media. I do not believe that this is anything new. Always it was so, bullies found any chink in one's armor. You were too short, too young, too old, stupid, smart, skinny, fat. They beat you up to build themselves up. Homophobia seems to be a small part of this. The result, in young people in schools, is depression and suicide. The result in the workplace is unproductive workers, lost work time, overuse of the healthcare system, and it takes a toll on employee, colleagues, staff and the public. Stress, lack of confidence, mistrust, anger, and angst.
It happens in all workplaces, from nursing (Rowe, M & Sherlock, H 2005, ‘Stress and verbal abuse in nursing: Do burned out nurses eat their young?’, Journal of Nursing Management, vol. 13, pp. 242-248.) to the public law enforcement institutions we have grown to depend upon:
- Female Mountie (RCMP) alleges she worked in 'fear'
I have had a comment or two on this blog about teachers facing bullying by school principals, those who act as bosses, rather than leaders. This many years later, I still have nightmares about one principal, whom we called 'The Princess'.
Content to bully anyone she felt in her way, or who threatened her, she would yell at the alleged offenders in the hallway, in the office, or in the very public staffroom, whether parents were near-by or not. The Princess yelled at me, other staff, the Family Council chair.
When upset with something I had done, I demanded union representation. She told me she would then discipline me in the hall. My peers witnessed this, and were shocked. There was no evidence of assisting me in improving my teaching practice, only to punish, coerce, and look good at the Board office.
She favoured the younger, more malleable teachers over the rest of us.
She allowed favoured staff to control budgets, text books, organise fun events, which led to issues that resulted in ramifications for the rest of us.
She favoured the male teachers who were aspiring to be principals. Punishing me by changing my classroom and/or assignments 4 years in a row, it came to a head one year. She lost her temper in public, walked out of the school during the awards assembly, in a tantrum, leaving the rest of us to cope.
The Princess undermined my authority as a teacher, as did several principals. The new notion, about how desperately children need more exercise, has resulted in principals sending kids out for recess who have been kept in for extra help. Am I old-fashioned? Should an education preclude exercise, since many of these kids were active after school, and in organised sport? I made a decision, and even the students felt she was wrong.
Principals who bully do not hesitate to emotionally push and shove their teachers, but also their support staff. For example, the school Meal Program workers, custodians or Family Council parent reps.
There are ways to protect yourself
- I went through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), seeking counselling. My counsellor's comment? "Principal bullying seems to be on the rise. I have several clients complaining about this."
- Keep an Aide Memoir. Write down each incident, with time, location, specific words said, and witnessed. Print it, keep it at home. Give it to your superintendent. I did. It then went to the Safe Schools department at the board office, where the case was said to fail to meet the requirements of harassment policy and procedures. There was no gender, race, or age bias. (We were both women, both white, and I was only older by about 10 years.)
- Take time off. My adequate employee evaluation was not affected, but my students deserved having their teacher happy, supported, and healthy.
- Get medical help.
- Look after your physical well-being. My health suffered. Look out for signs of depression or PTSD. Exercise, get massage therapy, learn relaxation techniques, eat properly.
- Transfer schools if you can – although that nearly backfired as The Princess was transferred to a school beside my new one!
- Talk to your union. They were no help in my case. They did not know what to do about her, or with me. Transfer was their solution, yet The Princess affected school morale, the work climate, and student behaviour.
- Fifteen Signs of Workplace Bullying
There are laws in the province of Ontario. It is a universal issue, and one which must be addressed. You can read a case study from South Africa here.
- Rowell, P 2005, ‘Being a target at work: Or William Tell and how the apple felt’, Journal of Nursing Administration, vol. 35, no. 9, pp. 377-379.
- Salin, D 2003, ‘Ways of explaining workplace bullying: A review of enabling, motivating and precipitating structures and processes in the work environment’, Human Relations, vol. 56, no. 10, pp. 1213-1232.
- Sweet, M 2005, ‘Beating Bullying’, Australian Nursing Journal, vol. 12 (1), pp. 16-19.
- [PDF] Workplace Bullying [Excellent resource] Workplace bullying, a form of interpersonal aggression, is not a new phenomenon.
- Bullying in the Workplace Canada Safety Council (May 2002)
- Addressing Workplace Violence Glenn French and Paul Morgan (May 2002)