This morning’s news story about the managing editor of Virginia Quarterly Review committing suicide after being bullied by his boss brought more than 100 comments to the ABC News website. Most of the comments were from people who had been bullied by their bosses.
Isn’t it amazing that bullying bosses are so common?
I’ve often said to myself, Where do they find these people? Why do organizations hire bullies as bosses? For they do. And they keep those bullies in place, even when they’re driving out dedicated employees.
The story of boss Ted Genoways yelling at and belittling Kevin Morrissey, managing editor of award-winning Virginia quarterly Review, brought back memories of my own experience with a bullying boss. My experience also took place at a university. And I was also an editor of a university publication.
Unlike Kevin Morrissey, I did not suffer from depression. But my cruel boss and the university structure that supported her despite all evidence that she was destroying our department could have plunged me into depression. That’s for sure.
When she was hired as director of university communications, she took over a well-run department filled with employees who liked their work and who worked well together. So she could have ridden the wave of success without anyone knowing she incompetent.
But like many bullies, she could not allow the well-operating team to continue.
Like so many workplace bullies in supervisory positions, she changed many people’s assignments.
She reassigned a deaf graphic designer to answering department phones, and then belittled the designer when she couldn’t handle the job. A deaf person answering the phones. Can you imagine?
Because the designer was now answering phones, this supervisor decide that I should take over the design of the newspaper I wrote and edited. My writing/editing job took 40 hours a week, but the supervisor thought that because a specific computer program could design publications, I should be able to incorporate it into my editing duties.
I remember asking her what tasks I should drop in order to add this new series of tasks to my workload.
And I remember the look of total disdain she gave me as she said, "My job is to tell you what to do. Your job is to do it."
Being a conscientious employee with nine years of excellence in my position, I did my best to both edit and design the newspaper. Eventually the overwhelming workload caused a serious injury that put me out on medical leave.
I remember her screaming at the man who performed the public relations tasks for the university. I remember her kicking the wall of his office, slamming his door, and shouting that he was failing at his job. I learned later that his doctor told him to leave university employ because he was headed for a heart attack. All because of this workplace bully and the stress she was causing him.
Several people left our department. Our budget ran out before the end of the budget year, complicating all our lives. I kept wondering why no one in the entire university administration saw what was going on.
Like Kevin Morrissey in this morning’s news story, I tried to find help for our department in the Human Resources Office. And just like Kevin Morrissey, I found no help there. In fact, after my meeting with HR, I was seen as a problem employee. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that after 11 years, I left a job I loved, and sued a university I loved, and settled for a decent amount.
Two or three years later, after completely devastating our department, the bully was fired, and she too sued. As I think back on those days, I think of all the careers that were ruined, the lives that were disrupted, the psychological torment and physical illness created because a workplace bully was in a top position and no one in the university cared to change that.
As my husband and I watched the morning news about Kevin Morrissey committing suicide because he could no longer endure his cruel boss or the university administration that supported that boss, we shook our heads in sadness.
My husband had his bullying boss story. Just like the 100 people who commented at the ABC News website.
"Why does the organization protect these rotten bullies?" I asked.
Al had an answer: "One reason is that the people above the bullies don’t want to be seen as making a hiring mistake," he said. "If they hired a bully or a loser or an incompetent, it makes them look bad. So they protect themselves by backing up the person they hired."
It’s so counter-productive. So in efficient. So totally destructive.
And in the case of Kevin Morrissey, it’s even worse.
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