Should you quit when you have a bully for a boss?

Saturday November 27 2021
Bully
By Salome Gregory

For some of us, the term “bullying” takes us back to our school days. This is because we tend to believe that bullying happens to adolescents who are in the growing process and learning life’s skills as they approach adulthood. How wrong we are! As it turns out, bullying is everywhere - and happens even to adults.
Woman’s survey shows adults bully each other too but the majority can’t tell it’s bullying, as the take-it-easy habit is very common day to day, be it at the workplace or at home.
But what exactly is bullying? A google search yielded the following results; “seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable. Other similar words are: persecute, oppress, torment, intimidate, cow, push around, pressurise and bulldoze among others. Bullying can be physical or verbal.
Five-out-of-ten women interviewed by Woman said they had been victims of bullying. Three weren’t aware they had been bullied until they were told the definition of bullying and two said they had never been bullied.
Regina (not her real name), experienced bullying at the workplace three years ago. She says it was so bad that she had to quit her job as communications manager at some big company in Dar es Salaam. Regina says she felt overwhelmed and that she had no one to fight the battle for her. The human resource (HR)manager to whom she reported the matter couldn’t do anything about it.
Problems started after a new boss joined the company. Before he came, everything was running smoothly at the office and Regina’s work was always perfect as she always met her job targets. As soon as the new country director from Uganda joined the organisation, he told Regina she would be reporting directly to him.
“He started criticising my work although he never said what it was exactly. The situation went on like that for months. I decide to face him one day and asked him what was wrong with my work but he only said it lacked the oomph.”
She asked the new boss whether he had the beef with her as an individual or if it was all about work but he did not answer her. She approached the HR manager and reminded him how she had been meeting her targets over the years but the manager did nothing to help her, which prompted her to call it quits.
“I was so depressed. He made me feel uncomfortable about myself to the point that I began questioning my competency. I lost confidence and started hating my job. I later learnt that he got someone from outside the country to cover my position.”
For the first six months after Regina left her job, her former employer kept calling her back to assist the new communications manager. She says her boss’ bullying behaviour continued with some of the remaining staff, a majority who left the company. He is said to have brought in his own team of workers at the organisation.
Like they say, nothing lasts forever. It took one person to report the bullying boss to the organisation’s headquarters, after which an investigation on the matter was launched. Regina was among the ex-employees interrogated by the investigation team. Although her boss was fired, Regina says he had done a lot of damage to many workers.
Leah* (not her real name) wasn’t aware her boss was bullying her until Woman sought her comment for this story. Her boss used to ask her out and started treating her differently when she turned his offers down. He went cold on her and Leah thought he was just busy. It didn’t occur to her that he was angry with her.
She started sensing something wasn’t right when he started relieving her some of her duties without explanation. Some of the work she used to do was assigned to other staff members, leaving her with less or no assignments at times.
“In my mind I thought it was just a new way of doing things but now I realise he has been bullying me. This has really affected my performance. I am not planning on facing him but to rather work harder, even doing work that I have not been assigned,” says Leah.
She has decided to keep things this way for now, since her boss hasn’t been doing anything that directly shows his bullying intentions. After all, she is in a position to perform other tasks within the company and plans to do exactly that to ensure her work performance isn’t affected. Leah does not want to give her boss the chance to use poor performance against her.
Explaining the psychology of bullying, pyschologist Charles Nduku says most bullies behave so because they grew up with a low self-esteem. When such people are in position of power, they tend to bully others as a way of gaining what they lacked when growing up. The psychologist advises reporting such people and pushing responsible authorities to take action.
He says giving up or living in pain creates self-doubt, which can lead to stress, anger and depression. Nduku says this can go on to affect other people not involved in the bullying. “One may be bullied at work and transfer their pain to their family at home,” the psychologist says.
Nduku says bullying comes in different forms such as cyberbullying, physical bullying, which can involve pushing or kicking, verbal bullying like calling names and relationship bullying, such as spreading rumours.
Lilian Mtei, an insurance officer and the mother of two children advises those facing bullying to ignore the bullies and concentrate on working to achieve their life goals.
She says if it gets worse and one doesn’t have the guts to report the bullies, then quitting should be the option in order to gain peace of mind. Although she has never experienced bullying at work, Lilian says her in-laws used to bully her.
“Being able to forgive them and moving forward has helped me get this far.”
Lilian says the bullying happened seven years ago. Despite converting to Islam, her in-laws never accepted her. They wanted their son to marry a real Muslim. They also didn’t like her because of her skin complexion.
“They used to say I was too dark and that this was going to affect their grandchildren. Eventually, the religion and dark skin issue turned to be something they took so seriously. It reached a point where everything I did was perceived to be wrong. In the end, my husband decided to divorce me,” says Lilian.
Although it hurts, what she went through has taught Lilian to hassle so as to give her children a decent life. Apart from her formal employment, Lilian has also ventured into real estate, marketing and in the entertainment industry where she works as an MC.
She strongly believes in the saying of the wise: that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”