Beware the bully in heels. A U.S. survey found that 40 percent of workplace heavies are women — surprising, given our allegedly maternal natures — and that they tend to pick on their XX-chromosome colleagues. In fact, women are the most common targets of bullies of either gender, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, based in Bellingham, Washington, which led the 2007 study. And while there aren’t any national statistics about bullying on the job in Canada, the experts say it’s prevalent here, too. Quebec, a leader in addressing the issue, receives around 2,000 complaints a year at its labour commission from non-union employees alone.  I saw this article in Chatelaine and I could not put it down!

What’s more, research has found that the damage caused by bullying can be more severe than that of other, more high-profile cubicle troubles. A Canadian study determined that victims of bullying were more stressed and withdrawn, and less satisfied with their jobs, than those of sexual harassment.

“It’s one of the most important health problems in the workplace today,” confirms Angelo Soares, who teaches organizational behaviour at the Université du Québec à Montréal and has listened to nurses and engineers alike recount traumatic tales. They say bullying can happen anywhere. No one’s safe.  I know.  It happened to me.


Workplace bullying is defined as deliberate and focused mistreatment of an employee. Quebec, the first jurisdiction in North America to specifically protect against this type of psychological harassment, describes it as repeated, vexatious behaviour that erodes a worker’s dignity. Here in Québec we call it  "harcèlement moral" or moral harassment and its taken very seriously! Tactics range from the loud — yelling, door slamming and ranting — to the subtle: A bullied employee might find herself excluded from important meetings or assigned tasks without adequate resources to complete them. Her co-workers could be recruited in a campaign to isolate her. And behind her back, the bully may trash her to higher-ups, although bosses themselves are often the culprits.  I was victimized in such a way due to a misunderstanding. This person was relentless in making my life at school miserable.  I could not turn to the principal for help because she had also twisted his mind against me. I did not see it at first but much later it became very clear how conniving that person had become.  Always smiling in my face but in time I could see she had a master plan.  I was not her only victim.

  She was a resource teacher and felt threatened by me because I had far superior skills and degrees than her.  I never had any intentions of taking her job.  I totally loved my job as a classroom teacher. She acted out of fear with not regard for me.   She finally was able to convince the principal to let me go.  This is the same principal that had written a glorious review about my work 6 months earlier. 

In his research, Soares has seen victims of a slew of behaviours that even his first-year management students recognize as inappropriate: a supermarket cashier who received letters from a supervisor every few days detailing minor infractions — an unironed uniform, shoes not conforming to code, arriving two minutes late; a secretary whose computer was “losing files,” who eventually learned it wasn’t a virus but a colleague deleting them after hours; and a hospital-pharmacy worker whose boss tried to control her day so much that even her bathroom breaks were monitored.

The employee under attack is often a competent, committed one, singled out for her strengths, not her weaknesses. And she’s often on her own, says Gary Namie, the research director for the Workplace Bullying Institute. Even though it’s a form of violence — psychological violence — it’s still seen as the victim’s fault.
Experts also note that the gender — of the bully or target — doesn’t determine whether this happens or to whom; rather, bullying typically occurs in an organization with poor leadership.  There is an element of bullying that’s simply predator-prey, says Diane Rodgers, project coordinator for BullyFreeBC, a lobby and education group.

High blood pressure, clinical depression, diabetes, even post-traumatic-stress disorder, shingles can befall a bullied employee. While working at a public-relations firm on the West Coast, an employee developed shingles. Her boss’s hallmark behaviour included storming out of meetings, throwing news releases in subordinates’ faces and shouting at her staff: “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you think?” After only four months, the employee could no longer cope with the bullying — she had to quit.
As with many employees subjected to this mistreatment, my confidence also suffered a hit. But even to this day, I still have self-doubt.

The disruptive behaviour under fluorescent lights also goes beyond the personal: It hurts colleagues, hampers productivity and costs the health-care system. After I was transferred from my school many other teachers became anxious worrying that their jobs were not safe.  The Canadian Centre for Occupation Health and Safety, a federal agency, reports that bullying cultivates an unhealthy environment, which increases absenteeism and turnover and decreases motivation and morale among employees.  I was transferred to a school with a bad reputation.  I was given a class where 7 of the students were serious mental health patients.  These children were very agressive.

  The meds were potent and seriously hampering their judgement.  I often had to protect other children from their attacks.  In October 2007 while trying to calm a child who was having a rage attack against his friend,  I sustained 3 herniated discs.  I have not been back to teach because of serious back pain.  The school board is trying to fire me.  Had I been able to keep my job at my neighborhood school I would still be working.  I did bump into her one day at a store.  I felt my blood pressure rise instantly and I started to shake while adrenaline was cursing into my veins.  I also felt my eyes filling with tears.  She said that she heard what had happened and felt sorry for my "misfortune".  She ran out the door.

  I did try to explain my story to the school board but they maintain that principals have complete authority.  I have spoken to a labor lawyer and it has helped extend my salary payments but whatever money came my way was spent paying his bills....I have closure.

  I have spent this last year living it up in the Middle-East with my husband.  This is the picture of the resort where we lived:

Not bad at all, dont you think!  Now if I could get rid of this back pain, life would be better!

  This has been an important life lesson for me in all kinds of ways.  What is the silver lining you ask?  Spending quality time with my husband!  It also helps that I kept cute notes that the students have written to me over the years.  Reading them is very comforting!

Were you ever mistreated by a bully in heels at your workplace?