Two years ago, I landed a dream internship at a magazine. I can still recall the sick feeling in my stomach as I stepped into the office every morning, my innards lurching and my mouth growing dry. I wasn’t nervous because my dreams were coming true, I was fearful of the day ahead because a colleague was harassing me.
A junior member of staff made it her quest to rip into my work, make horrible comments and try to exclude me socially whenever she got the chance. At first I ignored it, but recent family problems had left me feeling vulnerable, and I slowly soaked up her negativity. When I looked in the mirror, I began to see someone who lacked not only motivation but, as time went on, self-esteem.
I was too embarrassed to tell my friends that I was being bullied in the workplace. I thought, ‘Surely this is the kind of thing that only happens at school?’ When I did muster up the courage to speak out about what a miserable time I was having, to my surprise, it turned out I was far from alone. Some of my friends had experienced this misery too. In fact, according to a recent survey, 37% of people in the UK have been bullied at work, and a further 21% have witnessed it occur
. A Norwegian study
published this year even linked workplace bullying to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts.
I reached out to some fellow twentysomethings to find out about their experiences with workplace bullying. Chloe*, 23, was bullied in her job at a high-end retailer. "My manager was against me early on for no reason. She tried to get me permanently moved to another part of the store and would send me to do impossible tasks she came up with in the stockroom", she says. "One day she grabbed me and pulled me across the shop floor in front of customers, and she even hit another member of staff with a clothes hanger. Everything I did was met with hostile comments and damning critique, and nothing was ever good enough. I often spent my lunch break crying in the toilets. There was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation".
Last summer, 22-year-old Leah* from London began working at an interiors company. Initially the role seemed ideal her boss was accommodating, allowing her an afternoon off each week to attend therapy for long-term depression and anxiety. However, a group of older women in her office tried to intimidate her.
"They just wanted to stamp their authority over me,” explains Leah. “They would do stupid, petty things like go and make tea, and there would be an inch in my cup. They were all egging each other on. At first I thought, “I need to be quieter and more refined”, but then I realised that it wasn’t my problem that they didn’t like me. The final straw was when one of them told me off in front of some other employees when it wasn’t her place to do so”.