Bullying and Victimization In the Workplace

 

This is an account of cases of abuse of staff at several different petrol stations which were under the same overall management in the New Zealand city of Hamilton. This is referred to in the trade as a “cluster” of fuel stations. The outcome of the pattern of abuse that occurred is that the abuser, Janice Mckeany, was promoted to middle management, and the abused staff left. A very real outcome also is the short and longer term effects of wounding aggrievement, and psychological confusion which bullying imposes on its victims.

 

Site compiled by Simon Overall, Hamilton, New Zealand. [email protected]

 

The Author at Work at Shell Eastside in Hamilton

 

My observations are about events, things that I have observed - and outcomes,  for staff to leave their jobs to escape or avoid this pattern of intimidation or abuse, and possibly another outcome, for a site manager to resign his position to become forecourt staff.

 

In situations of abuse victims are advised to keep a record of incidents and after controversy involving Janice I began collecting in my mind the succession of events which could form part of an account of what was occurring. The incidents were linked by a continuity, they were part of a pattern.

 

First a definition:

 

Workplace bullying is repeatedly attacking someone verbally or physically with the intent of causing hurt, humiliation, belittlement, isolation & discrimination. (downloaded from the internet.)

 

Note that in the above definition, bullying is behaviours that are repeated or recurring, such that the pattern becomes the pertinent part of appraising the process, the incidents being only part of the totality... the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

 

THE INCIDENTS THAT MAKE UP THE TOTALITY

 

Shell Dinsdale

 

When Janice commenced her employment with the cluster she was at Dinsdale and to my knowledge three staff left there because of Janice. One of those three reported that a fourth, Leilani, had left for the same reason. They were Andrew, Sam (Samantha) and a night shift worker, by the name of Brian I think. He approached me when I was at a supermarket one day in my Shell uniform. He described his and Leilani's experience in that they left because of Janice. I have since run into Leilani but did not get the opportunity to inquire of her personally - Why did you leave Shell? The other three have said to me personally that Janice is the principle reason why they left. This is four staff members who reputedly left one site because of Janice.

 

Shell Eastside...My own experience of Janice's provocative behaviour occurred at Eastside when she began her role as "area manager". I was a night shift worker and one morning before my departure at seven thirty she felt the need to tune us up over the tidiness of the station. She rattled out directions about routine to be followed or jobs to be done which could not possibly be attended to all at once. If her mind is quick she is able to issue instructions to do things faster than they can be attended to. However Joe and myself were left trying to do them and all the while following her, trying to answer the latest inquiry... but before we can do this she will be quickly on to the next. I had boiled my coffee over in the microwave and she focused on Joe when noting the mess in there, saying "that's not acceptable". With each direction the tension one feels becomes higher and after twenty minutes of this when I left at seven thirty I had to take a bus across town to try and unwind. There is a corresponding process of arousal in people who are subject to this harassing kind of instruction.

 

My use of the term arousal is deliberate in that she has obviously "worked herself up." To use the terms of psychology, there is a need satiation which the process of arousal, then aggression, is reinforcing.

 

Because I saw and experienced examples of her provocativeness at this time I started taking a more serious interest in what had occurred in her relationships with staff. This was especially so after an event which occurred at Eastside twelve months ago when she seemed to be focusing on Joe, who was then the site manager at Shell Eastside, for supposed shortcomings surrounding a no-show incident when a staff member failed to turn up for a shift.

 

THE NO SHOW INCIDENT:

 

It began one Saturday morning at seven thirty when the day shift failed to turn up. However Lynette, who was early for her start time of eight o clock, commenced work and I stayed with her as this was her first shift other than some training earlier in the week.

 

During this time George, who was rostered to do the twilight shift, turned up and said that he was thinking of ringing in sick as he wasn't well. However he said his cousin who worked at Shell Five Cross Roads was available to work his shift and he rang Joe to confirm this. It sounded like some hap-hazard arrangement where an unreliable staff member had engaged another staff member... and did not have a ring of credibility about it. George, who is as big and as healthy as a horse, was saying he was too sick to work... but he was there as large as life in the station,

 

Meanwhile I stayed with Lynn through the morning until about eleven o clock when Brownie from Shell Te Rapa happened into the station. Knowing that I was a night worker and had stayed on, he said he could work with Lynn and I could leave and get some sleep. Well I said yes and then got in touch with George and asked him to get in touch with his cousin, saying that there was a staff member on the premises who could fill the twilight shift. This way I could leave at that time and get some sleep and the arrangement whereby George's cousin was going to come in to take George's shift need not proceed.

 

I believe that Craig, the site manager of another site, had become involved somehow in that he objected to one of his staff (Brownie) getting caught up relieving at another site and had made phone calls about it. Thus at some point Janice become aware that there had been a no-show with these associated complications and arrived on the Monday all pumped up to pursue this with Joe.

 

Janice's RESPONSE TO THE NO SHOW INCIDENT

 

On the Monday on her arrival at Eastside Janice came to the counter and said to me, in reference to the fact that I had worked on past the end of my night shift on the Saturday, "I believe that you are our hero". She then used her characteristic phrase "that's not acceptable" and it became apparent that the person who she considered responsible for this "not acceptable" situation was Joe. The fact is that he had not been on site or involved in the incident in question.

 

I was not privy to the resulting dressing down she gave him which occurred in the environs of the store room or the office and continued as they walked to the car, but observed the whole tenor of events without hearing the verbal. The body language of the two participants denoted that it was an unequal exchange. She made him attend to him... walking out towards her car parked outside the station and then sending him in to speak with me about the business of making arrangements in respect of staff without reference to him.

 

Her first statement to myself was with an inflamed or aroused expression around the eyes and the use of that phrase "that's not acceptable", all focused on one target whose role in the events was minimal. Her whole reaction was a little strange in that she would exult one staff member, referring to them as "our hero" then systematically disparage another who had little to do with these events.

 

Joe talked about it in these terms "I have to go out the back and get my arse chewed."

 

Another element in respect of her attitude to Joe was apparent when she rang to speak to him one morning and I answered the phone. She said I want to speak to "the boy" or some expression as "is the boy in yet" and on inquiry it became apparent that she wanted to talk to Joe and "the boy" was her disparaging expression for him.

 

Rather than a boy Joe is a young married man with a child and I think Janice's reactions to the no-show incident had become a crisis for him and his family. He was at the station on the Sunday morning after the no-show incident and the body language of himself and his wife betrayed a serious dismay about developments. I presume because he was going to have to deal with the reaction from Janice on the Monday.

 

Another occasion was subsequent to the no-show incident.

 

I did not at the time note down what the issues were, I think it was the start of a new promotional period and Janice had come in to find that something had not been attended to. As she exited the station she was talking to Joe and using that same perverse character of eye contact with him.

 

It is a more than a little unnatural. I asked Joe about the eye contact and the expression... and he said something about the “evil eye”. Joe remains calm throughout and does not react to the perverse character of aggression that is directed at him.

 

Bullying is a traumatic, stressful experience that often results in the mental breakdown & otherwise ill health of the victim. Physical & mental health problems, fatigue, low functioning, and even suicide are common. The victims can no longer be productive at work & are sometimes forced to resign even as the bully is rewarded & promoted.                         (downloaded from the internet.)

 

Joe did say to me that he was intending to become an ordinary staffer rather than carry on as a manager. What did eventuate is that he went to Shell Five Cross Roads and worked there in an intermediate position, then at some point he transferred back to Eastside. This meant he would have once again been under Janice's influence... and this is when he made tentative plans to resign his manager's position and become ordinary forecourt staff.

 

The incidents involving Joe were noteworthy and were the genesis of my serious observations of Janice's behaviours. The character of voice, eye contact and general tenor of disparagement were elements of bullying as much as the verbal content of the exchange. My background in Social Science lends me to examining them analytically and in a respect of zoological functioning as well as part of an interpersonal process.

 

THE ZOOLOGICAL CHARACTER OF JANICE'S BEHAVIOURS

 

When one normally talks about bullying or such like, the business of intent and behaviour is lumped together. One could say one sibling is cruel to another, which parcels together the attitude and the actions into the single concept of cruelty. Psychologists are the specialists who study behaviours by themselves and taken out of the context in which they are occurring. They could look at verbal content in one respect, then look at the physical behaviours and only then assess the whole as a totality. I have studied little psychology, but try to use this kind of description to convey how unnerving Janice's actions are. If they are broken down into their components of verbal, physical and "iconic" elements and each may be seen to be beyond the norms of civility, it is less easy to dismiss the whole as being idiosyncratic or just a reaction of anger to a certain situation.

 

Within the zoological world, communication is non verbal and the use of posture, sound and expression is how animals communicate and organise their social life. A cat confronted by another adopts a posture with their back upraised or whatever and they whine at each other. Thus, prior to combat, size and volume are increased. These are iconic signals, an icon being a representation. A dog's snarl is iconic of an attack... Thus bull terrier dogs inside a car on a station forecourt can be terribly intimidating even through there is glass between oneself and the dog. The snarl, the teeth, the sound are real and frightening.

 

Human beings are mammalian creatures but we have cognitive faculties and speech which makes us a cut above creatures like bull terriers. However we have added the cognitive functioning of abstract thought to the existing range of abilities which we and the animal world possess. When in extreme situations of fear and anger we still display the characteristics of the zoological world. Our eyes bulge with alarm or aggression.

 

What is evident in incidents involving Janice's approach to Joe is this use of behaviours which signal aggression as much as the verbal content. The eye contact and expressions used by Janice can be seen as iconic behaviours and have been so common that I have noted them and put this account on paper. They signal her aggression in interpersonal exchanges, the functioning beyond the ordinary, the extraordinary character of aggression she brought to the site on occasion.

 

This use of zoological or iconic behaviours was noted by John Griffin in his account of travel in the Southern States of America. He had taken medication to colour his skin so that he could write of the experience of life as a black man in a segregated community. He noted the peculiar behaviour of women when he went past a congregation of white citizens which had exited a church one Sunday morning. The men were neutral but it was women some women amongst the congregation who used what he called a "hate stare". This is iconic behaviour to signal aggression and intense enmity.

 

Janice's ANXIETY REDUCING BEHAVIOURS

 

At this point I would progress from observations about the physical elements of her aggression and move into amateur psychology...

 

My first experience of Janice was on the occasion when Andrew Rouse walked off the job. She had come in at the beginning of Andrew's shift and commenced to set the duties she expected of him. This amounted to a succession of  chores or tasks to be done. He found that the list just got longer over time to the point where it was impossible to do them. At some point early in the shift he decided to walk off the job rather than carry on.

 

I received a phone call that night and went in to work at Dinsdale at two thirty a.m. to find Janice at the site. She left to get a few hours sleep then returned to work as early as five o clock and proceeded to assemble the promotions for the new period. Before doing this she spent a short time facing up the drinks which had been mentioned as she departed.

 

In the light of the controversy that has arisen around her I have sometimes thought her face has the appearance of an anorexic person and that her activity in driving herself at work physically is a manifestation of the exercise mania associated with this genus of disorders. It indicates a craving for order or an inner anxiety which can be soothed by engaging in activity, in this instance going straight to the fridges and beginning to face them. I think within psychology they talk of the reinforcing neuro-chemical changes that this repetitive activity induces.

 

To note the continuity in this behaviour... She had just in the last twelve hours, had one staff member walk off the job, had had to have the cluster managers assistance at the gas station on Sunday night until three a.m. She had then gone home for a very short rest then returned to the gas station. Her last preoccupation was the drinks... this is what she mentioned to me as the jobs I might attend to in my shift... and the first thing she attended to on her arrival at work soon after five a.m. was the drinks. The exercise mania associated with this disorder is a form of masochism, harming oneself or punishing oneself with an exhausting exercise regime or work regime. She has demonstrated a punitive element or disposition which is a source of her aggression. Associated with this is a vengefulness as she seems to be vengeful to particular individuals.

 

The typical bully uses aggression & violence to compensate for overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Some bullies suffer from mental health disorders (such as the Narcissistic, Paranoid & Antisocial personality disorders).             (downloaded from the internet.)

 

The military martinet:

 

At some point after he had left Shell I was in conversation with Jo, one of Janice's targets. In respect of his experience and Janice's personality he mentioned that her husband had been in the army. It was only then that I realised that one of her routine behaviours has a parallel in portrayals of military life. This had been when she came on to a site and like a vengeful Seargeant, had gone straight to those parts of the retail part of the station where she could play out this role. She could find stock on a shelf that had past its use by date. Unless staff are especially vigilant this will occurr from time to time. In my experience she could quickly shuffle through the magazine rack and find two different issues of the same magazine, - the older one was supposed to be removed and returned to the distributor for a credit.

 

I observed her going through this process one morning, once against she was targeting her immediate subordinate, the site manager. On finding what she was looking for, some stock which had expired she had a strange character of command in her voice... " " barking out her name in a way that it was literally a bark. It was so offensively aggressive, it had crossed a threshold from human communication in its harridan quality. When appraised that her husband had been a military man I was left speculating about the character of married life which had made her so mad, or whether she had always had these qualities of zoological aggression.  

 

THE EXPERIENCE OF THE STAFF WHO LEFT Dinsdale...

 

It is in the light of the aggressive behaviours of Janice which are so provocative that I talk about them in zoological terms, and of a punitive attitude or disposition, and of the obsessive behaviour regarding the drinks, that I would revisit the experience of the three staff who left Dinsdale. I presume only a sustained character of aggression could induce several staff to leave their employment.

 

Samantha described her as hot and cold... She would make some aggressive comments to Sam and these were so marked that Sam said "even the customers are afraid of her." She would then disappear into the office and then come out some time later all sweetness and light.

 

What Andrew says about Janice is unprintable.

 

The third staff member was a night shift worker at Dinsdale who approached me when at a supermarket in my Shell uniform. I had not met him before this. I think his name was Brian. He mentioned the business of the drinks to me. He would say that the fridges would be faced but then a customer or a few customers would make a purchase of drinks, and then Janice would notice the gaps and start getting on their case about it. I presume that it was with the strange character of aggression that was so unpleasant that several of them, Samantha, Brian and Leilani would rather just leave than carry on and try to deal with the offensiveness of it or complain about it.

 

lastly I would mention two supplementary issues, which have occasioned hardship on the part of the staff and because of her record I am suspicious of her actions surrounding them.

 

THE MAGAZINE RETURNS

 

When Lynn, originally a staff member at Eastside, went to manage Shell Angelsea she would call on me to assist with the magazine returns. Because I have done them for years I am familiar with the challenge. There are several jobs in one with the returns because there are several distributors - one has to know how to recognise the different return sheets and retrieve them, and when to process them for each distributor. Well I started getting Abe trained to do the returns, then Abe went down to only a few shifts a week and Lyn started calling on me to assist with them. I tried to start her off on recognising them in the document tray and plucking them out and attending to them, and noting which return sheet has to be processed at each point in the cycle. I don't think she took it seriously enough at first because Janice approached me and told me to stop assisting her with them. 

 

Well in due course the return sheets banked up and were not processed when they should have been and Lynn tells me that in future if the return sheets were not done on time any losses would be debited to her pay.

 

Also I was called on by Trinity to assist with the fuel reconciliation at Eastside. He had a new night shift guy who was working with them and he did not have the knowledge to do them. Well she said the same. “Don't assist Trinity with the fuel reconciliation.”

 

This she told me at Shell Angelsea one morning after I had come down to talk to a night staff worker about something. In response to Janice I said that as I was night shift support I had been exploring what sort of support I could offer. I was not on shift at this time and in my ordinary clothes and she made a bizarre comment about that fact that I wasn't in uniform. She said "I'm shocked". We were clustered round the coffee table at the time.

 

It was I suppose part of her idiosyncratic trait of wanting to assert herself in the inter-personal exchange but being without any issue to do so she made one up.. the fact that I was not in uniform. It is this idiosyncratic nonsense that occurs from time to time which reminds me of her potentialities for abuse which prompted me to complete this account of her bullying behaviours. I began it when her focus on Joe was occurring.

 

Abuse has been a focus of my studies at university and one theme that is persistent is that abuse is of continuity... in relationships an abuser will batter a succession of spouses. The context (the marriage partner) may change but the abuse stays the same. I presume that Janice's provocativeness is of continuity and has been evident in her previous employment and relationships... but it is not something that is put on her CV... and that in due course there will be manifestations of this in future.

 

Considering that civility and consideration is the only thing I have experienced from staff while working in the cluster, it is out of the ordinary. I am a university graduate and I presume none of the other parties have the skills to frame arguments on paper and print them or latterly publish them on the net. I have been a spectator to what has been occurring but have been motivated to put these events and my interpretation of them on record.

 

SIMON OVERALL .... [email protected]

Appendices

Material downloaded from the internet about bullying.

Workplace bullying is also known as "workplace harassment".

Tim Field of bullyonline.org defines workplace bullying as a

“persistent, unwelcome, intrusive behaviour of one or more individuals whose actions prevent others from fulfilling their duties."

 

Workplace bullying is repeatedly attacking someone verbally or physically with the intent of causing hurt, humiliation, belittlement, isolation & discrimination.

 

Bullying is a traumatic, stressful experience that often results in the mental breakdown & otherwise ill health of the victim. Physical & mental health problems, fatigue, low functioning, and even suicide are common. The victims can no longer be productive at work & are sometimes forced to resign even as the bully is rewarded & promoted.

 

The typical bully uses aggression & violence to compensate for overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. Some bullies suffer from mental health disorders (such as the Narcissistic, Paranoid & Antisocial personality disorders).

 

Handling tips

 

Do not be afraid. Believe in nothing whatsoever the bully has been saying to you. A bully works best with LIES & DECEPTION. Do not succumb! You are not the problem, the bully is!

Talk to your family or close friends. Let it out of your head, do not bury it inside. It is good to know that there will be people supporting you.

Keep a record of what has happened, e.g. the words used, the actions taken, the frequency, venue & time. Collect proof. Your records will come in very useful when you want to prove who's the bully or when planning to take legal action.

Talk to a person in high position in the company about what has been going on. If the person refuses to believe in you, talk to the local unions, or employment governing bodies for advice.

 

"You don't drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there. Edwin"                                                     Louis Cole

      

        "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

                                                                                                            Eleanor Roosevelt

 

        "You can get better...or you can get bitter."

                                                                          Anonymous

 

        "Courage is mastery of fear, not absence of fear."

                                                                           Mark Twain