Leaving a job due to workplace bullying
Some things hurt to write about, even years later, but often those stories are important ones to tell.
I was the target of workplace bullying, although it took quite some time before I recognized that was what I should call it. While I knew intellectually that workplace bullying existed, it took a great deal of reflection to realize that was the right label to apply to the experiences I’d had.
Up until the time that I experienced the bullying, I was very confident in my work as a mental health nurse. I was good at my job, and this was something that my colleagues as well as patients recognized and respected.
The problems with the team leaders involved in the bullying began a couple of years beforehand. As far as I can tell it originated because they had heard through the grapevine about my mental illness, and as a result didn’t want to hire me. I filed a union grievance because the way it was done was so blatantly unfair, and I won. I won the grievance, but from that point I was marked as the enemy.
Things really started to go sideways when a colleague who I had a complicated relationship with outside of work made a complaint that I was bullying him. He was angry at me for personal reasons and that was how he decided to try to get back at me. The real problem, though, was this offered a perfect opportunity for the team leaders to justify taking their treatment of me to a whole new level.
It was a mix of both subtle and blatantly overt attacks on my reputation and professional competence. Anything I brought up was immediately attacked, and the attacks extended not only to the ideas I raised but also to me as a professional and as a person. Even when I raised concerns about important issues like patient safety, I was made out to be the source of the problem. I was not a team player. I was unprofessional, disrespectful, incompetent, etc., etc.
I knew I was an excellent nurse, but the frequent attacks made me start to question myself and my own abilities. I felt attacked from all sides, including by the organization I worked for that allowed this kind of thing to happen. I was crying multiple times daily. I felt like work was systematically excising the life out of me, and I was terrified it was going to cause a relapse of my mental illness.
I started thinking about how I could get out of that situation. Having a bully for a manager and supervisor was going to make it difficult. I was feeling really betrayed by the entire organization I worked for, and the thought of continuing to work for them made me feel ill. The bullying happened because the organization culture fostered that kind of thing; this was not something that was or would be an isolated incident. I knew that if I resigned without having another job in place, based on my union contract I could risk losing the seniority, vacation time, and other things I’d built up if I didn’t get a new job within 6 months. It was a risk, but nurses are in demand and I didn’t think it would turn out to be too much of an issue.
After a horrendous meeting with HR about the bogus bullying complaint about me, I had a meltdown. I hid out in the washroom and sobbed uncontrollably. After I finally pulled myself together, I decided no job was worth being made to feel the way I was feeling, so I composed a resignation email to my manager.
I felt lighter after doing that, but the bullying didn’t let up over the next 4 weeks (I was required to give that much notice). I began applying for jobs, and didn’t think too much of it at that point that I wasn’t getting responses. A couple of months later, I had an interview. A couple of weeks after the interview, I got a call from the manager. She said they weren’t going to hire me because concerns had come up about my ability to work as part of a team.
My heart sank. Since that wasn’t a valid, reality-based issue, the only one who would say it was my ex-manager, who I hadn’t even given as a reference. It dawned on me that the bullying while I was at work was only just the beginning; now this person was trying to destroy my career. That realization was the straw that broke the camel’s back and triggered a relapse of my mental illness.
Despite being really unwell, I continued applying for jobs, and lots of them, but I was offered no interviews, despite having loads of education and experience. There are only a small number of organizations that employ nurses where I live, and it became increasingly clear that I was blacklisted at all of them. The depression made the whole situation even harder to deal with. I spoke with a lawyer, but going to court would have been costly and may not have ended up accomplishing all that much, so I chose not to pursue it.
I ended up being unemployed for 9 months before I finally found work on a casual basis. The relapse of my depression that was triggered by the bullying has led to my illness becoming treatment-resistant. My overall level of functioning is much lower than it was prior to the bullying, and I’m not able to work much.
Still, if I could go back in time to when I was writing that resignation email, I would still press send a hundred times over. Quitting allowed me to exercise at least some power and control over a situation that was untenable. It allowed me to choose the direction I was not willing to go, and forge my own course. A bully tried, and nearly succeeded, to destroy my career, but I’m still here, and I’ve risen above to become a vocal mental health advocate, blogger, and author of a new book. As for those who bullied me, I’ve come to see forgiveness as not my problem; that’s something they need to seek from their own higher powers, and they deserve no further thought or consideration from me.
And finally, after three years, I’ve stopped spending so much time looking backwards. The bullying chapter in my life has closed, and it’s time to move forward. It may be in a different direction than my life was headed in before, but I move forward as a survivor, not a victim.