Bullying, by definition is the process of “seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable)”.
This is a word we were all too familiar with at school level, with our class mates chanting “after-school-is-after-school” once they’ve heard what little Sally has in store for you. The entire day you’re unable to concentrate because the threats made by little Sally keep playing in your mind. She’s much bigger than you are, and it doesn’t help that you’ve seen her picking up a boy with her bare hands and throwing him across the classroom, just to show off her capability.
Growing up, you couldn’t wait to finish school so that you are no longer exposed to this kind of abusive behaviour. You decide to get your degree and begin your search for that job that will make your dreams come true. You search in the local newspaper, on recruitments sites and you’re even speaking to your cousins’ grandfather’s uncle to help you find suitable employment. As you dream about your future life, it never crosses your mind that little Sally becomes a grown up too and, she is still struggling to move ahead based on merit. She has now made it to your adult life, which you did not see coming. And there you are, questioning yourself and your ability.
I was in a similar predicament where I was offered the title I had worked hard for. I was so excited to get the position that I had three celebrations to commemorate my achievements. All those years of doing the extra job that no one else in the office would offer to do paid off. I was assigned a manager and given a desk to sit at. There was no training, no introduction to the team I had been promised, nothing on the shared drive to reference. Being the bad ass that I was, I proudly took the opportunity to create the whole department from scratch, working up to 14 hours a day.
After all, when the company hands out golden achievement awards, I’ll be first in line, right?
A month in, I quickly realised who the Queen Bee of the show was. You know, the one who decides who is given lunch, who gets an increase, who is invited to corporate functions and even, who gets to do the job they were paid to do without interference. I would attempt to complete projects and would be blocked from every side; finance, IT, Sales, you name it. I would then be asked to account for my incompetence. Being new to this, I was shocked at the obstacles thrown my way daily. There was even a point where I had decided that these things weren’t really happening to me. The team would go as far as to include external companies in the drama. They would intentionally withhold information and then write an email to an external party, asking if the reason work from our side was delayed was because I took too long to respond.
Unfortunately, these stories are far too common for the Black working class in SA. If you are going through a similar, here are some tips that assisted me on my journey, and I hope that it will help you on yours:
- The incident, who was involved, the date and time are most important
- Keep it professional and remove emotion
- Ensure that you document face-to-face and telephone conversations.
Know the company’s HR policy
- The HR policy should outline which process to follow should employees have an incident to report
- It may even contain the company’s stand point on acceptable conduct at the workplace
- This should give you valuable information on what your next steps are/should be
- Understand the company’s definitions of fair treatment and abuse/discrimination.
Seek legal advice
- A labour union is your first point of contact. If they are unable to resolve the issue, you may seek legal advice.
- This allows you to concentrate on your work while someone else fights for you. See it as that best friend you’ve always wished you had.
- NB the company may request a meeting with yourself, the other party involved as well as your HR representative to discuss your complaint. Although a union representative is not allowed to be present during the initial meeting, you can call them whilst the meeting is underway, so keep your reps details on speed dial
- Having a witness testify about what you have stated adds weight to your case
- Keep in mind that when a witness testifies, they too will be protected from future misconduct should they follow the same process of filing a complaint/incident/grievance.
Make yourself a priority
- Start taking a walk after work
- Read a book that you get lost in or start journaling
- Compile a playlist of music that helps you relax, unwind or recharge
- Take a bubble bath
- Seek professional help from a health practitioner if you need additional support.