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The Office Bully: It Doesn’t Stop in the Classroom

Although the term “bully” immediately sets off an image of a kid in the school playground holding court with his or her power, bullying actually continues well into life and surprisingly even exists in the nursing home environment. It seems, once a bully, always a bully.

Although much is written on bullying in the playground, the office environment is a haven for bullies. In the playground, everyone knows who the bully is and who the victim or victims are, but most kids are afraid to speak out. A similar phenomenon also occurs in the office.

Let’s look at the case of Michelle. Michelle can be a charming person, full of happy, lighthearted memos to her staff. But Michelle suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Not all bullies suffer from NPD, but Michelle displays the required number of symptoms that would clearly point to a diagnosis of this disorder. Which is one of the reasons why, as charming as Michelle can be, if any one of her colleagues crosses her or challenges her authority her true colors show. But in Michelle’s case, it is very subtly done so as not to appear overly aggressive to both her staff and her boss. Again, this is part of the narcissistic power plays at work.

But the victim of Michelle’s bullying knows very well what is going on. Time sheets go missing, so pays are held up. Emails are used as a way of bullying also. Where once the victim was addressed by name and the email signed, often with terms of appreciation such as “thanks!” etc, the emails are no longer titled, the person is not addressed by name and the email is not signed personally, but merely rubber stamped with the bully’s title that appears on all their emails.

Then comes the “accidental” physical contact whereby the bully uses a crowded situation to knock a sheaf of papers out of the victim’s arms and onto the floor or to push a cup of coffee onto their shirt. Of course, there are lots of apologies and even offers to help clean the shirt while an audience is present. But everyone is aware of what is going on. Yet the narcissist looks “clean”.

Unfortunately, just as it was in the schoolyard, very few people are prepared to stand up to the office bully in case the bully turns on them. And so these people continue to wreak havoc in the workplace: causing low productivity, low staff morale and high attrition rates. Narcissistic bullies are commonly found in high positions in corporations. Because of their inability to empathize with others, they have no hesitation in behaving in ways that can cause emotional distress in their workplace colleagues and no sense of remorse in destroying people’s careers or reputation. In fact, the corporate world is such that these people are often rewarded for their ability to mow through any opposition like a human tank, and still sleep well at night.

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, classroom bullies can also grow up to be criminals or at least corporate thugs. The latter, while committing no obvious crime, can wind up in court on other charges. Research has also shown that children who were bullied in school have a higher risk of becoming depressed and anxious as adults, so it is vitally important that bullying, which is an illness in itself, is contained early in the child’s life.

Meanwhile, in Michelle’s case, she has finally been challenged by a woman who she has been subtly bullying for over a year. A report was made but, unfortunately, Michelle was found to have nothing to answer for. Again, this is a common outcome as the bully is often valued in the workplace for their personal characteristics, as mentioned above. Her victim had to have time off work as she was devastated by this outcome.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. As the saying goes “Truth is the Daughter of Time”. When the verdict of “no case” came out in an office meeting and word got out in the larger community, former workers stepped forward and announced that they, too, had been bullied by Michelle.

The company has admitted liability, performed an about-face, and Michelle is now in the unenviable position of being taken to court by the victim’s lawyer.

With so many witnesses to testify against her, Michelle’s reign of terror has, for the moment, come to an end. Sadly, because of her personality type, Michelle will do the same in her next job, but at least in this instance she will have a taste of what it feels like to be under the microscope.

It is important to learn skills to cope with bullying in the workplace, particularly if the bully suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. If you, or someone you know is being bullied in the workplace, click on the available articles on NPD on this website. Learning about setting boundaries against bullying and narcissistic behavior will assist in dealing with unpleasant workplace issues. For further assistance, you can book a session for personalized assistance in dealing with this ever-increasing problem.


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