How to deal with being bullied at work

The media industry is a wonderful creative place to work. It can be fun, you can make great friends and despite the long hours and some of the mundane tasks, it still has an air of glamour. This competitive world brings with it egos, insecurities and bullying.

When I got my first job in the industry in my 20s, I was so excited, passionate, keen to learn, probably a little cocky but appreciative of where i was and how I’d got there. Within six months my confidence was chipped away, I second guessed myself and felt like I was doing a really bad job. My positive sunny disposition and can do attitude were seen as being arrogant and no matter how much I talked about what I achieved, my boss would find something to find fault with. In hindsight I knew my boss was insecure having worked there way up the ranks via the typing pool but there was a determination in her to break me, to reduce my confidence in order for her to assume control. I’ve seen this in many reincarnations across my career, not just for me but for a great deal of other people. My passion, my positivity and my charm which helped me in my career, for some people just used to rub them up the wrong way. I rarely showed weakness, I challenged when I thought something was wrong, and when I was contradicted and told off and I know that I wasn’t wrong then I proved it. What I couldn’t understand was I knew I was doing a great job other managers said so but this boss didn’t like that. I’m independent and I think those that are insecure in their own roles need to be needed and perhaps are threatened by someone coming up the ranks who knows what they want to do. I don’t know, but I do know, opening my mail, telling me I was shit at my job, trying to send me to two places at different ends of the country in the same day (I managed to do that) ,undermining me, excluding me from meetings, stealing my ideas and general nastiness were not how a boss should behave. On reflection maybe I fuelled the fire but I remained professional and remained the only member of the team not to cry in front of this person (blimey how awful is that).

I often was told “just play the game Simon” or ” just tell them you don’t know what you are doing, they just feel a bit put out that you do” I found that I needed to make excuses for my professional I do know what I’m doing and if I don’t then i will ask you attitude. I’d seen other people rise up the ranks using these tactics, feigning ignorance, being sycophantic, sharing tit bits of the lives in order to seek advice, be nurtured or simply just to be remembered. Now I’m a northerner and had worked I different industries , even sales before TV and my work was related to commercial success so it was evident when I was achieving and when I wasn’t, in TV I felt these areas become greyer and murkier. I’m rubbish at being fake and I have the worst poker face ever, so the idea of stealing someone’s ideas, only speaking to someone above a certain level, actively going for drinks with people that could further my career (it’s different if I liked them) didn’t sit too well with me. Marry that with being a doer and not shouting about everything I’d done every five minutes then I felt that maybe I did need to change to succeed. I didn’t though and I’m glad of it.

However I remained focused on the work, and maintaining relationships and I have had and still have a wonderful career.

The freelance and competitive nature of television can breed insecurity and this breeds bullies. Many a time I have seen a bully rewarded for their behaviour and a bullied person told that ” x is successful, they have earned the right to be like that” or ” that’s just the way x is?” They may make brilliant programmes but surely if half the team are depressed, confidence in shatters and scared at the end of it then was it worth it? There is the whole element of weakness, if I complain I’ll be seen as weak, or I may never work again. These are very real in the industry. So what do you do and how do you cope? There are no clear and definite steps but here are some things I’ve learnt in hindsight.

If someone says something personal or offensive to you then say something to them. Try not to do this in a crowded office even if you are hurt, humiliated and upset. Arrange a coffee with them and tell about how their words made you feel. No one can argue with how something made you feel. They may become defensive, dismiss their words as banter, call you over sensitive. Remember whatever they say this is your truth. If it upset you it upset you. I remember a boss making really derogatory comments about northerners and another telling me “I wouldn’t understand the conversation as I’d never have kids” I was offended by both these things and told them so. Make a note of what was said in the conversation afterwards and date it.

If this behaviour continues, be it personal comments, inappropriateness or exclusion (this is very common) make notes and dates of all these times. You may never need to use these notes but factual evidence always holds more sway. You may feel like crying, screaming, shouting and believe you me it’s difficult not too, but remember they are looking for fault in you so remain dignified. Bullies look for a reaction so try and remain as professional as you can, one boss was infuriated by my lack of reaction that all they could say was “I can’t read you”.

The easiest thing and I’ve done it is to tell everyone else, “you won’t believe what he said to me”. You’ll need an outlet of course you will, but choose who you talk to very carefully better to have one trusted friend or impartial hr person to speak to then slagging off the person everywhere (even though that’s very tempting)

If they are unfairly criticising your work or making unrealistic demands, the ask for objectives in writing for your personal development. When you meet these objectives you then have evidence of what was set and discussed.

Remember as hard as it may be, this is about them and their insecurities not you. After just being praised publicly by someone very senior in TV I was dragged into a meeting room by a former boss and told that all the other people in the team were performing at a much higher level than me and I could easily be replaced. As horrible as that was and it was horrible I knew this was a direct correlation to me getting praise and ultimately and manifestion if their insecurity.

Focus on the job in hand and if it is a contract role keep your focus on that end date. Don’t believe that you are rubbish at your job. A good manager will give you clear objectives and tasks and tell you where you need to develop and what you are doing wrong. I don’t mean to sound flippant as I know this can take over your life, but where possible try and see the good and make positive changes to make things feel better for you. There is nothing worse then waking up and dreading going into work. If that’s the case talk about it with a trusted colleague and take action, whether that means complaining, or looking for a new job, but if you can then try and get out of a bad situation if you truly believe you have no control in making it better.

TV is a wonderful place and I have had fantastic bosses and wonderful mentors, but I’ve also seen personally and through people chatting to me, many examples of bullying. If you feel like this then please talk to someone, don’t internalise those thoughts and believe them. When you move on to another job recognise that not all managers are the same and don’t expect that same treatment. I don’t profess to have all the answers and please don’t let this deter you from a wonderful tv career but I hope my thoughts and experiences can help. We need to open up the discussion on this so I no longer here things like “everyone cries in TV you just have to go to the loo to do it so nobody sees”.

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