I lost my job because I was accused of being a bully

Tell Me About It: ‘I’m afraid to look for a new job. I fear that I’m a bad person’

PROBLEM: Recently, I lost my job. It wasn’t Covid, it was because I was accused of being a bully. I don’t know how I was a bully but I know I wasn’t the most “friendly and open” person, and a lot of the office politics were getting to me, sometimes petty things, but also more serious things such as unfair salaries and favourites among the management who were allowed to get away with things I was told off for doing. I thought things were getting better before I left, but I guess I was wrong.

I think my partner is upset with me for losing my source of income, and I’m afraid of how to manage without a decent salary but I’m afraid to look for another job. I feel like everything will happen again elsewhere. I wanted to leave at some point to focus on my own business, but it’s hard to make money in my work, even though it’s something I care about more.

Being stuck in an office all day made it hard for me to do things and my own goals were being hampered by the office, but now I feel like I’m stuck in a situation where I can’t do anything and I feel overwhelmed by the fear that I’m a bad person.

ADVICE: It sounds as though leaving work was a traumatic experience for you and even though you may have wanted to leave, you are now unable to find the confidence or motivation to use the time you have for more creative thinking. Being accused of being a bully and losing your job is quite a big thing for any workplace to do and I’m wondering if you got a good understanding of what the problems were?

Sometimes a crisis of this magnitude might offer you a chance to look at the behaviours and begin to tackle them in a way that will be to your benefit in the future. You know that you were not the most connected person in the place and that you had a resentment about the structures and inequalities and now you have a chance to look at these things and develop an understanding of how this crisis happened. When you gain a sense of control over how and why this happened, you can begin to make a plan for your life that incorporates your new knowledge so that you don’t have to go through this again.

You can start with your partner and ask for their thoughts on why they think this has happened to you and what you might need to address to fit in better in the workplace

It all starts with self-awareness and sometimes you must look to your own upbringing to find some clues. How was authority and power dealt with in your background? Did resentment lie underneath the surface and was openness and friendliness rewarded or derided? You seem very tuned into injustice and it would be worth looking at how your family dealt with unfairness or favourites.

These things are worth investigating so that you can track how you respond to these things and how you might need to address them in a different way if you are to be successful in the world of work. Setting up your own business may well be an answer to dealing with messy and difficult people but eventually you will have to engage with customers and probably employees, if you are to be successful, and these issues are likely to raise their heads again and again in your life.

You can start with your partner and ask for their thoughts on why they think this has happened to you and what you might need to address to fit in better in the workplace. We often cannot see clearly from inside our own fog of thoughts and you might be able to hear the comments from your partner, not as criticism, but as a belief in your capacity to overcome these difficulties. If you are brave, you might also ask an ex-fellow employee and see what this throws up for you.

At least then you will be dealing with the real issues. Most of what we need to learn is to do with developing empathy and care for our fellow workers, the ability to challenge without resentment and to have some faith in the ability of managers to develop the talents and skills of their employees. In general, what we put out, we get back and if you put out bitterness, criticism and resentment, you tend to get it straight back. The research into emotional intelligence is clear that we can all develop and grow the competencies that we need to be successful – empathy can be grown, optimism can be learned and assertiveness can be developed without the need to put someone down. It will of course take effort and learning but you have time and opportunity on your hands, so engage now and you will see the benefits quickly.

Confidence and motivation (which you now feel you lack) are natural to all of us so the work is to rid yourself of the fear and stagnation that is blocking you. Reach out, be brave in your asking for help, be open about your fears and you will begin to find that you are growing exactly the characteristics that will lead you into a better future. You have a partner who wants what is best for you and you have the support to face the tough lessons from your accusation of bullying.

Take this on board and your energy and motivation for future projects will follow naturally. (For reading on emotional intelligence and learned optimism look up Daniel Goleman, Martin Seligman and Martyn Newman. There is a library of accessible books available).