COMMENT:

A Herald article on bullying left the impression there is somebody to turn to for help when being victimised by bullies in the workplace. There is not, at least not in my experience.

Over a period of about eight years I was subjected to a sustained and orchestrated campaign of harassment disguised as "performance management".

There was nobody to turn to for help. I met with the head of Human Resources and she denied such a thing as bullying, telling me it was interesting that I had the "perception" I was being bullied. "Interesting", she said.

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I made a complaint using the legitimate complaint procedure open to staff. However, making that complaint sealed my fate. The management circled the wagons and defended themselves against not only systemic failures but individual blatant wrongdoing. I became scapegoated and even more intensely targeted.

I was bullied and harassed over minor technicalities which were blown up out of all proportion and which resulted in my extreme stress. It wore me down. I couldn't fight it anymore. I took sick leave, then tried to return to work but made further mistakes caused by the stress.

These in turn led to further "investigations". It was a Spanish Inquisition.
Colleagues narked on me for expressing my frustration and anger in perfectly normal ways, given the circumstances. Long-time friends in the workplace abandoned me, such was the climate of fear.

My union rep stubbornly refused to bring up the "bullying" word in any of the so-called "disciplinary" meetings. I could only think it was like mentioning animal rights to a butcher. I had to find and fund my own lawyer when things got really hairy, because the union couldn't afford to fly their only qualified lawyer from Wellington.

That was a mistake. When I acquired the services of a lawyer the management got two. And that just ramped things up, like a red rag to a bull.

I just wanted to keep my job, because, despite the stress of the management, I actually loved what I was doing, and I did it well, as proven by the results that mattered. With hindsight I can say that I was under the illusion that it was all going to get better and I would eventually be recognised for my contribution. How wrong I was.

A mediation meeting was called. It was a continuation of the bullying on a grand scale. The mediator was clearly biased towards the management and actually personally attacked me when I tried to defend myself against blatant lies and untruths. I was told I was "digging myself into a deeper hole".

One of their lawyers was an attack dog, setting the tone of the meeting with a litany of character assassinations. And this when lawyers are bound by an Act that says they have to treat people with integrity, courtesy and respect.

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But, of course, they are also expected to work for the interests of their client. This seems to be a massive conflict of interest, especially when their client maintains a toxic culture of bullying and the lawyer's job is to enable it, put it into action where it really hurts, destroying people's livelihoods.

There are personal bullies and there is institutional bullying. It is a bad enough scenario to find a chronic personal bully in an institution with a toxic bullying culture. A worse scenario is when you have a manager who prides himself as "fair and just" acting out the faceless senior managerial agenda all because he/she wants to "climb the ladder" to success.

To prove he is up to the task of his high-pressure job he will willingly step on whomever he is told to, regardless of the triviality of the charges, regardless of the victim's wellbeing.

Oh, its okay, they offer three free counselling sessions, and in their formally delivered letters express how much they realise it must be a hard time for you.

And these people strut the community as though nothing is amiss, often gaining respect for the wonderful job they are doing for the organisation and the "stakeholders".

They continue collecting their oversized pay-packets while their hapless victims retreat to the world of irregular contract work or taxpayer funded handouts, shattered and traumatised, their professional careers ruined, unable to trust anyone in the workplace ever again.

What country does this to experienced, dedicated professionals? Putin's Russia? Mugabe's Zimbabwe? Yes, very likely, but also it happens with great frequency in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

I hope Finance Minister Grant Robertson's "wellbeing" budget for mental health will include an enquiry into workplace bullying and its devastating effects. I wish to advocate here for something similar to South Africa's "truth and reconciliation commission", where the perpetrators of workplace bullying can be taken to task, made accountable, publicly shamed.

Maybe then the many victims of this insidious management practice will find some kind of long-awaited resolution and closure.

• Paul Judge worked in the tertiary education sector for 17 years.