A veteran HEO who has personal experience dealing with workplace bullying at CUNY offers some insights and advice. This HEO was bravely willing to share her story, but the PSC wants to protect her from further mistreatment, so we’re leaving out the personal details.
What does it feel like to be bullied at work?
People are made to feel that they are outsiders, causing them not to complain about bullying. The bully always tells you, “If you do not like the situation, you can just leave.” Some people internalize the bullying and get sick from the stress, and then they must take time off from work. I have seen it done to other people. You sympathize, but you do not know how it feels until it is turned on you. You do not really understand what is going on. You feel bullied and alone, you feel that you have a flawed personality and are the cause of the bullying. It is an eerie feeling always being on guard, not being comfortable anywhere; everyone talks, but you do not know when the bully is going to try and get you. You fear that she will come back with a vengeance.”
How has your experience affected how you act?
I speak up for people who do not speak for themselves. HEOs are a scared group of people. HEOs are the most vulnerable full-time employees in the PSC contract. As far as other people we work with, DC 37 members have permanent status and are protected, professors have tenure, College Lab Techs have tenure. With 13.3b we do not have enough protection. HEOs do not have adequate job security. We are not secure. I am living proof of that. Too many HEOs do not go to the PSC for help or advice.
I was involved with the PSC already, so I felt comfortable going to the union and I hope that after what I went through other HEOs would be more willing to go to the union. Sometimes, HEOs feel that their problem will not be helped. I want to help HEOs become more comfortable coming to the PSC. The fear is that they will be looked at as not being a team player because they came to the union. Many HEOs have a sense of commitment to their colleges, but the colleges do not do enough to protect them. That’s why we have a union.
Why is there bullying in CUNY?
We at CUNY do not train people to treat each other better. We must do it together. Bullying often comes about when someone comes into a position and feels insecure. Feelings of ineptness can lead to bullying. It happens in CUNY a lot; managers who are not really managers are moved up the ranks without management skills.
Is it important to document the situation if you feel that you are the victim of a workplace bully?
Yes! Not everyone knows or thinks about documenting the situation if they are being bullied, but it has to be done. Being bullied is debilitating, and I can understand how a victim may not want to add to the stress by having to document her situation, but it has to be done. The PSC’s newspaper, Clarion, published a short list of advice on what to do if you’re the target of a bully. HEOs should read it.
What do you think about people who bully others?
How can they treat another person that way? Even if I don't like another person, I want her to be as comfortable as possible. I could never cause that amount of stress intentionally.