I had been on a temporary contract at a manufacturing company and when I got offered a permanent role I was delighted. I was 43 at the time, a bit younger than most of the people in my team of 10, but they were friendly and I got lots of positive feedback.
The office I worked in was very old school – most of the people had been there and known each other for many years and they were quite fixed in their ways. The company, however, wanted to change and trying to implement initiatives like lean management.
I had been at the company about three months when my manager decided he wanted me to apply for a more senior role, which would have more people reporting into me and put in charge of a larger section of the business.
I was open to the change and applied for this particular role, but the following day word had got round, I have no idea how, and when I walked in and said, ‘Good Morning’ nobody responded.
The team I was working with just blanked me. For a moment I thought I must have imagined it. Then the women who I sat next to in our open-plan office space completely ignored me when I tried to speak to her – it became clear that this wasn't in my head.
I had no idea what was going on, but later in the day, a young woman I was friends with from another department suggested that it was because they didn’t want me to get the job. A couple of days later this was confirmed when I was walking past a stairwell on the way to another part of the building. I overheard the woman who sat next to me talking to another colleague and saying she couldn’t believe I had been given my position and that I would be a dreadful manager.
It rocked me hearing this woman, who I thought was a reasonable individual, being so negative about me. She’d not even asked me why I had applied for the job or what I thought I could bring to it.
This was the start of six months of me being ‘sent to Coventry’ at work. My manager could see what was going on – but he was powerless to help. He was also getting bullied himself in another direction for being an outsider, having only been recruited a few weeks after I was.
Nobody would speak to me and I found it more and more difficult to operate because I couldn’t ask anyone anything. Another department also refused to interact with me and although my manager issued orders for people to liaise with me, they still refused. It was amazing to watch - and quite ludicrous, although I felt deeply shocked. I didn’t think that people really acted like that in real life.
People would still just about answer me on email, but there were delays in responses and I was often ‘fobbed off’ on information requests, meaning I had to go back and ask again and again. On occasion, I would be blanked through this route as well. There was a constant cycle of asking for information and then having to escalate issues through senior management. My hands were effectively tied and my job was impossible to do most of the time. I looked incompetent and my clients became increasingly fed up.
I went to talk to a senior man who had been at the company longer than anyone, and whom the majority of people would go to if anything had gone wrong. I suggested it would be best to talk about what was going on, rather than be blanked. He just said it was a difficult situation and they didn’t like the way the company was being led. I later found out the whole conversation had gone back to the woman who sat next to me.
The company had one HR person, and she was overloaded with everything else she had to do. She told me to keep a record of how people were behaving and what the effects were on me, but her answer just seemed to be to encourage me to get signed off sick, which I wasn’t going to do.
I had spent a long time trying to get over a bereavement before joining this company and had lost my confidence so I was nowhere near as resilient as I had been. I ended up going to the GP and getting medication to help me through as I was feeling very low most of the time. I would wake up in the morning and dread going to work. Partly to help me to cope, I also started doing mindfulness, meditation and yoga, which is something that is still with me to this day and has made me more robust.
The bullying went on for six months and when I finally told my manager I wanted to leave he said: “not before me!” I felt completely unprotected. In all companies, no matter what the size, there should be processes in place that can be followed to help to identify bullying ringleaders and address their behaviour.
I learned that if you’re in a work environment with an established clique and they turn against you that’s not going to change. Unless you are incredibly resilient and determined to tough it out, you have to think of your sanity first, even if that means leaving.
When I got another job I was utterly relieved, but I was left with a residual dint in my confidence which was hard to get through. I didn't talk to anyone about the experience I had just been through at my new company. It would have made me feel weak and vulnerable - because that is how an experience like this makes you feel.
Thankfully it hasn’t had a long-term impact on me or my work, but it has taken a while to get over it and, most importantly, to understand what happened and that it wasn’t my fault.