When one thinks of workplace bullying, it is common to visualize a white-collar office scenario where some members of middle-management are rude to subordinates while trying to flatter those above them, or deliberately sabotage or steal the work efforts of others on their own level an effort at corporate climbing made by people sufficiently short-sighted or lacking in empathy to step on the feelings and careers of others.
Or how about the “Diva Boss’; who comes from the world of media, fashion, or entertainment, whose prominent position in a field which influences public opinion has “gone to her head”?
In recent years, she (a “Diva Boss” is usually portrayed as a female, though surely they exist in both genders) has become a stock character in movies, television, and celebrity gossip columns, perhaps because of well-known real-life examples such as Anna Wintour, as well as celebrities of both sexes who have been known to engage in physically abusive behavior towards service employees.
The Diva Boss (close cousin to the “Bridezilla”) seems to strive for perfectionism, but uses employees’ mistakes as an excuse for verbal abuse.
However, similar behavior by bullying bosses exists in workplaces far removed from the fashion world, and in jobs that don’t have the sort of glamour, money, or prestige associated with major fashion magazines.
I work as a home attendant for a disabled relative. Admittedly, situations where you live and work “in the family circle” are scenarios where all parties involved are subject to developing a fraught “frienemies” relationship or to behaving in ways in which crossing the boundaries between “family member” and “employee” is a constant hazard. There are people who advise against going into business with a family member or working in a family business for that very reason.
And no, I am not perfect: sometimes I do things wrong, and yes, there are times when I am in the wrong about something. But, as the saying goes “two wrongs do not make a right”: while physical abuse is (usually) out of the question on the part of someone who is disabled, in this case, the individual involved has been known to resort to verbal abuse.
Calling me names does not solve the problem, and in fact can be counterproductive, because taking an accusatory stance tends to get me nervous, and thus likely to make more mistakes. Perhaps because I am not only a “family member” but also one who is lacking in prestige or worldly success (otherwise, according to the opinion of the extended family, I would have a more “important” job) she sees it as “OK” to engage in this type of behavior with me. She has other attendants, and by comparison, she is remarkable at controlling her tongue and temper around them. However she does tell them stories about things that occurred while I was growing up which put me in a less than flattering light (a particular hazard of working with or for family!), yet she would strenuously object if I were to tell such stories about her.
The true intensity of her behavior is often not readily apparent to others, because the nature of the job often requires us to be alone in each other’s company, and that is when the majority of the verbal abuse occurs. Leaving this job for a similar one in a more impersonal setting would be likely to lead to a more indirect and impersonal sort of bullying. I knew a woman who worked in a group home for the mentally retarded who approached a lawyer in an effort to sue for wrongful termination when some higher-ups tried to wrongfully blame her for injuries to one of the clients and use it as an excuse to fire her. The lawyer said he believed her side of the story, but that “They” (the organization running the group facility will remain unnamed) “are real bastards, but you can’t do a thing about them”.
Though things like dressing another person and brushing their teeth seem far from glamorous, and I don’t have the salary Anna Wintour makes, I still have an important job. One time when the disabled relative directed the verbal abuse at her own mother, instead of me, she was literally left with nobody else to rely on. Her mother got so upset, she left the house and blew off steam by driving around town for hours.