The day I stood up to a workplace bully
Alex Turner-Cohen explains how to call out workplace bullies, and live to tell the tale.
We all have that one person at work. Whenever they’re on a shift with you, they make your life a living hell. They pick favourites and you’re not one of them. They’ll make you feel incompetent, socially awkward, and you dread working with them. You’ve fantasized punching them in the face.
And you’ve also seriously contemplated quitting.
This was me. Working a part-time job in hospitality, for minimum wage, I was literally not getting paid enough to deal with this crap. I just wanted to keep my head down, earn some easy cash, and maybe even make some friends in the process. However, one of the assistant managers had other ideas.
He would make nasty comments, and generally make a three hour shift the worst three hours of my week. I realised it wasn’t just me. Other workers cried on shifts when he was in charge. He swore at people when they weren’t doing a good job. A lot of people quit as a result.
One day, it all reached boiling point for me.
A co-worker, Tracy, and I were working out the back, prepping food. Then he came out.
“Oh my god, we’ve lost a fair bit of stock this month,” he told us both casually, by way of conversation.
“Wait, so you mean —” I began. A classic conversational gambit.
He turned to me and I could have sworn I saw sparks in his eyes.
“I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to Tracy,” he said, his voice a growl. “I don’t expect you to understand. Only speak when you’re spoken to.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. Because it’s fair enough to tell people they’re not doing their job properly. It’s excusable to boss people around, however rudely.
But this was not justifiable. Enough was enough.
“Jesus Christ, take a chill pill,” I fired back.
“I am chill,” he said.
“Are you sure about that?”
“I don’t appreciate your attitude, Alex.”
Faces flushed, we both went about our business, avoiding one another for the next five hours. To an outside observer, it would have been bizarre — working side by side but not acknowledging the other’s existence. We were two wolves, circling each other cautiously, our beady eyes always watching.
The awkwardness held us in a bubble of silence. It was unbearable. I knew I had to break that bubble, shatter it.
So at the end of the shift, I cornered the assistant manager. “Hey, sorry about my outburst earlier,” I said. Apologising to him made me feel physically ill but I knew I couldn’t start off aggressive. “But if someone’s rude to me, it’s my instinct to be rude back. I understand your job can be stressful at times. Just try not to take it out on people like me.”
The next day, the assistant manager was the nicest he’d ever been. He labelled my water bottle, he made jokes with me.
It seemed I had finally gained his respect.
Now I’m not saying that calling your boss out is always going to have a happy ending. But for me, it certainly worked wonders.
I’m not planning on quitting anytime soon.
Alex Turner-Cohen is a second-year journalism and creative writing student. She’s the mother of dragons (well, twin pugs) and many stories. A huge GoT fan, she wants to write her own fantasy epic one day. When she isn’t writing you can find her at home, trying to persuade herself to go to the gym