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A subtle bully in the APS

By Masquara - 8 September 2007 86

I don’t want to embark on a whine fest, but if anyone has dealt with, or observed, a subtle bully in the APS I’d appreciate some advice on what to do. I’m experiencing the classic subtle bully – everyone else on the team kept happy as lark, and I’m on a ‘slow track’ and my bully (who at 50-odd is still just like the ‘playground bitch’) who took an intense dislike to me on her arrival in the department, is thoroughly enjoying being able to comment on just how junior my position still is in the organisation after three years (while everyone else is being promoted).

A bully knows of course all too well that if you label a team member as barely competent, you can engineer a perception of incompetence, followed by de-skilling, followed presumably by actual incompetence through depression. (not there yet, but I’m starting to feel at risk). Have any rioters observed someone in my position and can senior management do anything? All advice I’ve had so far is ‘get the **** away from any corporate bully’ – but the work itself (once I manage to get just one rung higher than my current role) should be rewarding and I don’t really want to shift.

Just one anecdote to illustrate this gal’s MO: announced to a recent team meeting with immense hilarity and schadenfreude that she had heard one of the dept’s graduates had made a massive faux pas by telling the Secretary she felt her skills were underutilised, and my manager stated with a lot of cruel mirth that the grad was now on a slow track to annihilation and now had no future in the department. It was a little like witnessing a public stoning. No doubt the graduate’s actual name was mentioned in a tighter group – a chorus of ‘what was her name?’ was only stopped at the main meeting when a team member piped up and said she didn’t want to know.

Luckily for the graduate, the Secretary had it understood soon after, that she welcomed the frank discussion with the graduates. Being in this bully’s own team, I have no such protection from a member of the Executive!

As I said, though, I actually want to salvage my career, not embark on my own series of victim anecdotes! Any tips or advice welcome. My bully, by the way, believes she is ‘like THAT’ with the Secretary. Is it inevitably career suicide to identify as a victim of a bully, and just how wide is the gap between HR rhetoric and the way victims are treated by HR?

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86 Responses to
A subtle bully in the APS
ant 7:20 pm 08 Sep 07

Wow, you have got to get out of there NOW. I am not joking. You won’t win this one. Just get the hell out: transfer, get seconded, whatever. Be quiet, and be swift.

Why? I’ve been there. I didn’t get out, until it was too late, and then I did the ultimate get out, I resigned (for something a lot better I must admit). without my dream job to head to though, I wonder where it would have ended?

Most APS areas do not have good managers and supervisors, so what is happening to you won’t be recognised, and it won’t be dealt-with. People might even realise what’s happening, but NOTHING WILL HAPPEN. You can’t beat city hall. The only chance of bullies like this being beaten is if a number of underlings band together and take action. And the APS (and other big companies) tend to protect their senior staff.

Don’t cling on to a job you like, in a poisonous atmosphere that is going to poison you. Just fade out of the picture. Seriously.

Once you’re out, then explore what you can do to beat that bully. She’ll move on to others, guaranteed. And wherever she’s come from, there will also be people she’s trashed. Strength in numbers.

boomacat 6:49 pm 08 Sep 07

I have seen peoples’ lives destroyed trying to fight systematically entrenched organisational bullying.

GET OUT – you will never change this woman or the culture of the organisation you are working in; it takes a very brave maverick at the absolute top of the food chain to manage such a task.

Don’t sacrifice your own wellbeing with this shite. Take one of the gazillion great jobs that are around at the moment and make your future success your victory over the loser who is bullying you now.

sepi 5:57 pm 08 Sep 07

I agree with everyone else- get out. If you then still want to work in the job one rung up, you can get the promotion elsewhere, then move back sideways. Probably though, you’ll find something else just as good.

I had a sh*t boss who gave me absolutely nothing to do, and then used to tell me off if I left early. I was used to being busy, and being my own boss, so hanging around late with nothing to do seemed ridiculous. He started to make me doubt myself, but as soon as I moved sideways I felt 100 times better.

In a way I feel guilty that I didn’t make official complaints against him, in case he continues to do this to others, but in reality I was new to the department and it would have reflected badly on me. I didn’t want to look like a whinger. He was surprisingly well liked too – although not so much now.

Anyway – I got out by applying for every ‘acting’ role I could even halfway do. I didn’t actually get one, but by putting my name out and sending my resume around to managers with vacancies, one eventually offered me something else. And now I have no shortage of decent referees.

If you don’t get out, you may never get to that job one rung up, cos your current boss may not provide a good reference at the crucial time. Best to test the waters now – you never know – she may be glad to move you on and write something glowing anyway.

deejay 5:40 pm 08 Sep 07

It may be possible to get out with a good reference, depending on how you handle it. This is someone who obviously doesn’t want to see you advance, so she won’t help you for an upwards step, but she might help with a sideways step if you frame it as “wanting to gain more exposure to other portfolio agencies.” That is, nothing critical of her (employ a bit of suckup about how you admire her breath of knowledge if the relationship isn’t too far gone for that to be plausible). You can write an email, to both her and her manager, to the effect that you have benefited a lot from your time there (gag) and want to get some extra exposure and start working on succession planning, with a timeframe of 3-6 months, and can you all meet to talk it over? You’ll probably impress her manager with your consideration for the department and graceful handling, and might be able to get a reference there.

Another option is to put up your hand for short projects that take you away from your immediate manager and put you under someone else’s supervision – even if it’s just for a half day a week for a month or two. Then you’ll have that person as a possible referree as well.

nyssa76 5:32 pm 08 Sep 07

I so know this topic.

I’d get out. Don’t hang around, get out for your own sanity.

The system won’t care that you’re a victim, they’ll only care about their bottom line.

They won’t care if the bully has a history of bullying staff, as long as their work is good, they won’t be reprimanded. Hell, they’ll even be promoted!

The bully won’t care, they’ll see it all as ‘sport’ and gladly watch your health deteriorate.

Furthermore, anything said in public will be taken by your employer as misconduct and you can be punished for speaking out, even on here……

jemmy 5:32 pm 08 Sep 07

I’m not in the PS, but assuming it works similarly to private enterprise:

Everytime you feel uncomfortable, write the situation down, including times and people there. Document everything, especially the small incidents. The natural tendency is to document the big ones because they feel more important, but it’s actually the small ones that are more important for the later tribunal in establishing a trend of continuous intimidation and a culture of acceptance. You want to show that it wasn’t just a few isolated incidents.

Once you have several incidents documented, make an official complaint about the culture or the bullying to HR. It will establish your bona fides (sort of) and at least start the process before your manager is able to complete their chain of intimidation that is designed to remove you.

Accept that the likely outcome is that you will move positions. It’s highly unlikely they will move the manager instead of you unless others have the same problem.

Having said that, the incident with the manager disclosing gossip that is critical of another employee is very unsavioury and would be a good case to document.

Don’t let them wear you down. Adopt a position of righteous indignation. You will be moved so don’t try and accept the unacceptable in an attempt to prevent conflict, your relationship with your manager is already over.

el 5:29 pm 08 Sep 07

I agree with basically everything that’s been written so far – time to move to a different department entirely – SHITLOADS of jobs around at the moment.

Loosebrown absolutely hit the nail on the head WRT working with good people, too.

loosebrown 5:18 pm 08 Sep 07

I agree with the theme of the responses here. I was in one team and ‘counselled’ by a manager for non-performance of duties. This was almost immediately after I began my career in the public service, when I probably needed a little guidance as opposed to disciplinary action! Thankfully I was moved to another team where the manager was amazing – very supportive and gave opportunities to her staff to try new work and develop new skills. About six months later I won an award from the departmental secretary for my achievements in her team. I think the moral of this is that if you are in a team where you are not ‘in’ or feel you are being bullied – move to another team, or look for a new job. I don’t care how good the work is, if your manager is a bully or incompetent then it will suck.

I have now come to the realisation that now I really don’t care what work I am doing – as long as I work with people I like. Life is too short to have anxiety attacks, etc because of an oppressive work situation.

And there are so many jobs out there at the moment! You could ask someone higher than your current boss for your reference.

Masquara 5:02 pm 08 Sep 07

Trouble is, how do you move to a decent alternative job without a good reference from current manager?

JD115 4:57 pm 08 Sep 07

Move… drongo! Why the flock would you hang around when there are hundreds of jobs on the gazette. Don’t imagine for one moment that your area is the only chance you’ll have of finding interesting work. Most PS jobs above the ASO3 level are as interesting as you choose to make them anyway.

You will only continue to lose out by hanging around in an area where someone has got it in for you. How do I know? I was in the same boat until the last two months when I was shunted over to another area. For the first time in years the effect of the bitches from hell has been left behind and I amd recognised for my abilities, not the rumours that old molls have been circulating behind my back.

Ralph 4:45 pm 08 Sep 07

I have to say I agree with Chester.

Felix the Cat 3:29 pm 08 Sep 07

Chester might be on to something there…
Women bosses seem worse than men for some reason in my experience (I am male).

Felix the Cat 3:27 pm 08 Sep 07

I’ve been in a similar position myself previously and found it a no win situation.

# 1 Rule – the Boss is always right
#2 Rule – if the Boss is wrong, see rule #1

It’s not right but it’s how life works.

There are two ways in which to remedy the situation, one is for you to find another job in a different area/dept or, # 2, hope that she does.

Eventually my position was made redundant, “officially” I had a period of 3 months to find a job elsewhere within the dept (supposedly with the help of HR) or take the money and run. I hung around for a couple of months and HR kept finding all these jobs that were nothing like the one I was doing and ones I had no experience of qualifications for so I decided to take the money and run. The other thing was that even if HR found me a job then my old boss could have a word in the ear of my new boss and tell her/him that I was an incompetent arsehole and after the 3 month probation period they could sack me and I wouldn’t get any redundancy money.

The only thing to do is to be proactive about the situation yourself and not rely on HR, Secretary, Union delegate or anyone else to look after you. When push comes to shove everybody will look after their own interests first and yours second.

chester 3:27 pm 08 Sep 07

Gosh you’ve picked my special subject area!

Short answer: Do yourself a favour and get out of the PS and get out of Canberra. Find a way to go into business for yourself. You’ll work a lot harder, you’ll still have to deal with morons but you’ll have the satisfaction of being able to tell them to simply f@*k off rather than kowtow to them.

This town runs on the culture of mediocrity. If you already know half a dozen 10 year olds who demonstrate more intelligence and maturity – and it sounds like you do – I’m afraid it’s all down hill from here. And worst of all while you see a bunch of adults (and inevitably they run in packs) acting like spoilt, ill-behaved brats, they will be drunk on what they believe to be their sheer cleverness the whole time they’re doing you.

They are the modern Chinese mandarin. They’d drown in the bath if they didn’t get in wearing their floaties. They are the equivalent of men with very, very tiny d*@ks which is probably the underlying problem a good many of them are experiencing. Don’t even get me onto the weird species of frigid bitches who seem to derive some kind of perverse sexual pleasure from it. WTF is that all about???!!?

Oh and nepotism is alive and well, see.

Hey I was a paying customer. As an employee you don’t stand a chance. No point moving up or sideways. Out is the only escape. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

PS And I rate that post as a piece of classic chester. Clear, succinct (relatively speaking) and straight to the point. 😀

Maelinar 2:47 pm 08 Sep 07

Use the word ‘Naturally’ when being subtly bullied.

It’s dismissive, and it passes the perception back to any listeners that you are more competent than the bully.

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