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I am being workplace bullied both verbally at meetings and in git comments. My colleagues also feel I am being bullied by the one specific individual who is causing all of this. They feel the trigger is that I have more experience than our scrum master and he feels threatened by it, so is trying to get me to leave the team via bullying.

I cannot handle the anxiety because I’ve never been this highly scrutinized before, ever. He left over 100 comments on an MR and I have a ton of programming experience including being a lead developer of a large project at a very well known company. I am afraid to share this with my boss because I do not want to appear weak or unable to handle criticism/the competitive nature of Software Engineering. In the past, the scrum master has also been protected when bullying has come up. However, the level of nitpicking with this scrum master is making me truly feel harassed. 100 comments on an MR? Really?

Another colleague was bullied by this group, got an accommodation to work 75% at home due to his anxiety from the situation before a spot opened up on a different team. Would it look bad for me if I sought out the same accommodation just to get through how ever long I am on this team for? I am concerned that it’ll make me look like I am in cahoots with my colleague who was bullied by this team. Currently I can WFH 2 days per week.

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    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on The Workplace Meta, or in The Workplace Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – DarkCygnus
    Aug 8, 2023 at 18:51
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    Details needed: why do you think home office would improve your situation in any way? As I see, git comments won't change, and you still have to attend at least some of the meetings, so I don't understand why would it help.
    – Neinstein
    Aug 9, 2023 at 8:54

9 Answers 9

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In my opinion, you are asking the wrong question as the solution to bullying by colleagues is to document, speak up personally, and escalate to management / HR (Assuming policies are being violated), not to shy away.

By shying away and attempting to use work from home as a method to avoid the problem, you are not contributing to ending the problematic behavior by him to you or potentially your other colleagues as @SF02 noted. If the bully sees his actions are having the desired effect on you (making you less available etc.), he could be empowered to become more abusive.

Although I have never encountered ill treatment towards me by colleagues before, I have witnessed instances of ill treatment of colleagues by other colleagues, although these were based on legally protected characteristics such as religion , race etc. that admittedly may not apply to you. I did not have to speak out or offer support and could have chosen to ignore such behavior. However, I chose to support my colleagues experiencing harassment.

What I would do:

  • Document the unprofessional behavior with whom, when, where, and in what circumstance

  • Clearly state that you don't appreciate the behavior, its affect on you, and that you want the behavior to stop

  • Clearly state if the behavior continues, you will report the problem to management and / or HR (if policies are being violated and your manager was given an opportunity / is aware)

Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and strongly consider taking a stance to mitigate the problem the bullying colleague poses, rather than using meekness to dodge the problem.

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    Thank you!! :-)
    – zee
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:49
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    @JulieS I can confirm, having been bullied for a long time, that the only way to stop the bullying is to stand up. In my experience bullies tend to be cowards. They only bully a person because they can see that they will be able to do so. Record a session on your phone and escalate it. Aug 8, 2023 at 5:17
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    "Clearly state", in writing. That way, after you submit that note in writing, if this needs to go to HR, you can send HR a word-for-word copy of what was presented. That may help HR use that in a way more favorable to you, but even better, it also sends the message more strongly even before getting to the HR stage. Just make sure to keep the document short, stating just what you need it to (identify the behavior, and say it must be stopped). Don't lengthen it with tons of supporting examples, as more length may increase chances of some detail working against you, best not being in writing.
    – TOOGAM
    Aug 8, 2023 at 6:31
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    Agreed. It is not OP's fault, it is management's problem to fix (at the latest when pointed out by OP). competitive nature of SE: I've seen them; my current team has a very mutually supportive culture (one screws up, all help to fix, no git blame). Scrum Master is non-technical & sometimes leaves us to self-manage, we offload non-tech chores to him. Though team members are quite average, we have good productivity and a successful project launch (high-profile multinational) - probably key goals for good managers (->foster the right culture!) We are now even asked to bail out other projects.
    – frIT
    Aug 8, 2023 at 13:24
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    By shying away and attempting to use work from home as a method to avoid the problem, you are not contributing to ending the problematic behavior by him to you - or even worse, you're taking that behaviour into your home, which should be your refuge.
    – Chris H
    Aug 8, 2023 at 21:13
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Do not tell management you have anxiety unless the source cannot be managed. There are too many jerk bosses out there who could use this against you in future assignments, promotions, layoffs, etc.

In this case, the source can absolutely be managed. This is 100% a management issue. This does not make you appear weak, it makes you appear strong that you can stand up for yourself in the face of unreasonable criticism. Take the data to your management and tell them that this person is purposefully trying to drive you out of the team and that isn't okay with you. Tell them you feel this is workplace harassment (use those words).

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    Thank you to everyone who answered. My favorite replies were Anthony and Tiger Guy - very helpful info
    – zee
    Aug 7, 2023 at 19:41
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There is a saying that a fish rots from the head down. If the bully has a history of bullying and has not been axed or reprimanded for it, the logical conclusion is that the bullying is supported by management. The problem is then also not too likely to be confined to one team of the company (although it is possible that it is), as in a functioning organization the manager not disciplining the bully would normally themselves be brought in line after some time.

If this is the case, it is certainly still useful to document everything, and to document in particular instances where rules in your employee handbook or laws of your jurisdiction have been broken. It might also (at the right time) be useful to call these out, in the sense that it will help others down the line by creating a paper trail and that fighting back might make the bully withdraw temporarily. But I would not count on it being likely that a permanently good situation can be achieved.

The best plan of action would probably be to document everything, carefully try to understand what political support the bully has, and at the same time line up another job in order to leave the organization for a better place. When and how escalation of the documented information to HR/management is useful would strongly depend on the outcome of analyzing the politics that have kept the bully in their spot so far.

Edited to add: When sufficient documenting is done, I would also recommend consulting an employment lawyer. While a lawyer will not be able to resolve the situation, knowing the legal lay of the land in this type of situation does at the very least provide useful background knowledge.

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  • What if the bully is also an exceptional worker hence management wont ever get rid of him?
    – solarflare
    Aug 8, 2023 at 4:00
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    Taking that into account would be part of the taking stock of the political situation that I alluded to in my comment. However, it's worth noting that no matter what their other contributions are, a bully is acting in a deeply unprofessional way. In a functioning organization, holding them accountable should be the same priority as holding someone accountable who, say, steals or defrauds the organization (indeed, I would argue that typical forms of workplace bullying contain an essential element of deception and misrepresentation of work-relevant issues to both the victim and the org).
    – Polytropos
    Aug 8, 2023 at 10:31
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You should attack the technical content of the reviews directly. This shows you care about delivery, and makes the case that this is bullying stronger.

If there are 100 comments on the MR, they are almost certainly a combination of small style disagreements, and some major design difference with wide impact.

If it is a style difference, the house style should be articulated in some central document and/or linter configuration. Picking up individual minor style points is an ineffective way to onboard new developers or sustain the desired style.

If it is a design decision with broad impact, then the problems with that design should be articulated in a single argument of a few paragraphs, or maybe a diagram. Maybe there is even some earlier design discussion that can be pointed to or updated. Pointing out the diffuse impact rather than the common structure is poor engineering communication.

I'm guessing the style guide doesn't exist. And the design understanding probably doesn't either. Indeed, I'm guessing it's mainly vibes, plus, as you suggest, explicit bullying of someone whose technical experience is interpreted as a threat.

If the person was serious about delivery, they would take a step back and communicate in a serious, consolidated way that let you do your work and the project to move forward.

You have as good or stronger technical chops than this character. Articulate these technical problems. I think you mentioned remote communication, so I would suggest doing it in writing. (It's also easier to return to in a dispute.) Ideally, you would share these documents with the team, including the bully. However, I understand if you feel that isn't possible. If so, include these in your escalation to the manager. The argument is: this makes no sense as engineering practice, but it does make sense as bullying.

As a last note. I have been a participant - one of the main commenters - in a 100+ MR review. It also proceeded over a week or more, with multiple revisions. It was for an intern I managed, whose code, at the time, was not of the professional standard required of the codebase (basic errors, not obscure style rules). I and the other main commenter did not intend it maliciously. But in retrospect I definitely think I made a mistake. After the first round, one of us should have sat down with the intern. We could have worked on the code together, explaining the expectations as we went. That would have been more efficient, and perhaps less embarrassing, given that comments go to the entire team.

I'm sure you aren't making the newbie errors of an intern, so there's even less excuse in this case.

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Asking won't damage your career, but I'd be surprised if it helped.

You might not want to invoke the interpersonal as a reason, though. This is not generally going to be considered justification for working from home, if the company wouldn't otherwise allow you to do so. It may be justification for moving you to another assignment where you're working with different people.

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  • I would use anxiety with a note from a medical doctor as the excuse
    – zee
    Aug 7, 2023 at 15:00
  • Good luck trying to get a medical doctor to specifically say you need to work from home rather than be reassigned. You're going to need it. Seriously, I don't think this is worth pursuing; if moving to a new group isn't a good fix, you are in the wrong job.
    – keshlam
    Aug 7, 2023 at 15:06
  • "Asking won't damage your career," - how do you know? People hold a grudge - the manager in charge may damage his career. So yes, asking MAY damage the career.
    – TomTom
    Aug 8, 2023 at 11:58
  • By that logic, anything may damage a career... These days asking about remote work isn't likely to surprise any manager, and the worst they are likely to say is "no".
    – keshlam
    Aug 8, 2023 at 12:49
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Will be following this as I'm in a very similar situation - To give you a perspective from what happened to me from my choices I'll share my story:

My "bully" wasn't an experienced senior, it was the opposite, someone almost half my age a few years out of uni in his first real job who thinks he knows everything. To be fair he is a great engineer but a lousy teammate.

I quietly wrote everything down for months, had a record of everything, what was said, who was present, date/time etc.

Then I chose to raise the issue with our line manager and have called out the actions of the person doing the bullying. I told them of my records but never shared it but did say I will take it to HR if needed and that will be a lose/lose for us all (as we all know: HR is not your friend).

It has since resulted in an in team mediation but the bullying party is still arguing back even to the manager that he is right and he isnt nitpicking. Overall I feel it has been very damaging to my career and in hindsight I should have just quietly looked to move to a different team with a different excuse (which I am doing anyway) instead of making an issue about it. However I didnt want to let it go without the bully being called out on his actions.

He has (so far) stopped bullying - in fact he wont come anywhere near me. It is an ongoing situation.

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    I think you did right by bringing it up with your line manager. Unfortunately they dropped the ball by not handling him, and as you mentioned, now he is pestering the manager. People who think they're always correct aren't just a pain, anything that does go wrong will be everyone else's fault. When he'll eventually get fired, it will be company's fault and he'll feel justified bashing the company (at best) and making threats (or worse). He is a ticking time bomb and the higher ups must not be educated on spotting future trouble employees ahead of time. Avoid him at all costs.
    – vspmis
    Aug 8, 2023 at 9:19
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    @SpaceGiraffe he pesters anyone who dares speak up. The team dynamics are at the moment, everyone is afraid to speak up as the bully will openly disagree and argue back with anything that wasnt his idea. The designs he comes up with are over complicated and every project he influenced has been behind schedule as a result. He ends up doing 90% of the work anyway, working 16 hour days. I brought all this up to the manager in private. But because he's working more than the rest of the team and the business analysts seem to love him so he's still the precious little darling that wont be touched
    – solarflare
    Aug 8, 2023 at 22:30
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    @solarflare: Been there, seen it, my sympathies. Aug 9, 2023 at 1:43
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    @solarflare The company must think they're so smart, getting a great deal - use up this sucker and let him go once he burns out, won't be hard either with the portfolio of complaints he'll have on his name by then. But I can now only imagine the pure hatred he'll have when he believes he singlehandedly made everything and they will let him go the minute he'll just physically won't be able to do 16h days. 16h days-> he doesn't have anything outside work, hobbies, relationships, he doesn't have anything to lose. If he ever jokes about guns I'd get out of that company asap
    – vspmis
    Aug 9, 2023 at 5:26
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I wasn't really going to place another answer here, but I feel that some things must be said, as I've read some misunderstandings that my conscience can really not leave be. You need to work on the maturation of certain interpersonal and behavioral patterns.

My colleagues also feel I am being bullied by the one specific individual who is causing all of this. They feel the trigger is that...

Communication has never been served well just by "feelings", they are subjective and, usually, based on a lot of past experience that others don't necessarily share with us. Second-guessing is a great way to lose time, ruminate unproductively and feed your bad feelings. I know it's hard, but if you would like to know why, just ask. There have been times I have been getting on someone's nerves without even knowing. God, I wish they had just let me know earlier, I felt such an idiot after finding out how my actions were causing them distress. Be prepared, however, to not always be able to resolve things by asking... immature behavior is something you will have to be able to deal with, and, occasionally, the answers may not be meaningful, or even make sense. That is especially common when immature competitiveness prevails and stakes are at place.

I cannot handle the anxiety because...

You don't need to feel like you are "explaining yourself". You should get used to being considered innocent until proven otherwise. You are not expected to be able to handle any unreasonable level of anxiety all by yourself. Even in anxiety-riddled jobs, like law enforcement, your training has a dedicated focus on that fact of life. Furthermore, anxiety is not (easily) objectively countable, what may be causing you an X amount of anxiety, may be causing someone else 10 times more anxiety. We are different, and there are measures in place to ease the coordination of those differences.

If you are feeling a sudden increase in anxiety, stop there, take a moment and check it out. You are not alone in anything in life, you can ask for support in handling this, just like you can ask for support in handling anything else. If you don't know who to go to for support, you can always ask that. Make it a habit to build your supporting infrastructure and "defenses" before everything else when starting any job (or any other official relation for that matter). This includes you knowing your rights, how to resolve or handle disputes, who to go when you cannot handle something, etc. It may come to some people as a surprise, but questions like "who to go to when in trouble" are not stupid or funny, especially regarding professional environments; they are very serious and meaningful, if you are aiming for a healthy and productive workplace culture, at least.

I am afraid to share this with my boss because I do not want to appear weak...

Newsflash for you! Sharing reflects strength, not weakness. You need to be strong to share, so you got this wrong. Any boss regarding this as a weakness needs to step down or get their story straight. Weakness is a qualitative feature that is implicated in reduced action. Speaking and sharing is action, not lack thereof.

[...] or unable to handle criticism/the competitive nature of Software Engineering.

How well can you handle criticism? A good result in any professional effort has criticism as a prerequisite, how else are you going to find about your mistakes and improve? Fair and efficient criticism stands firmly on de-personalisation of the conveyed content, it is not driven by emotion and should not be interpreted as such. If you are not able to handle criticism, then either you are misunderstanding what criticism is, and possibly need to work a bit on your attitude, or, as is most likely in your case, what you are receiving is actually not criticism but aggression.

Another colleague was bullied by this group, got an accommodation to work 75% at home due to his anxiety from the situation before a spot opened up on a different team.

So the company assists in marginalising employees, based on whatever rationale some group plays upon. If you feel insulted by this mentality, good, you are totally right. Do you want to keep working there? If yes, then you need to gather some of those people that are on your side, and speak up, follow the proper course, exactly as Anthony exceptionally put it. Keep in mind that this effort is also going to benefit the company (if they care about a respectable workplace culture, that is), so you should be proud of taking this initiative, which, once again, demonstrates strength, not weakness. If not, I can assure you that competent web developers are on high demand, worldwide. You can demand high standards from your employers, just as they do so of you.

Would it look bad for me if I sought out the same accommodation just to get through how ever long I am on this team for?

Imagine a parent, listening to their child, in the early morning, saying that they "don't want to go to school today", because some guy is picking on them for no reason, and being there is like hell. You are effectively asking whether it would look bad on the child to go to school only half of the days (effectively missing out on communication, collaboration, shared knowledge, fun, etc), until school is over. Who would even contemplate for a moment that this could be a solution? I know the comparison feels harsh but it is what it is. Bullying is bullying for adults as much as it is for minors. To directly answer your question, it would not look bad on you, not at all. You know why? Because those forcing you to ask such accommodation cannot really feel anything, let alone good or bad.

I am concerned that it’ll make me look like I am in cahoots with my colleague who was bullied by this team.

But you should be in cahoots... on how to break this workplace habit of this team. Ask your colleague what they went through, help them follow the course set forth by Anthony's great answer. Joint effort against bullying in the workplace is frankly nothing to be ashamed of.

HR is not your friend

I've seen this thrown around and I must say I strongly disagree. Perhaps treat HR as if they were not your friend, but do not count on them not being able to be your friend. Managing to align a significant part of your company's interests to those of your employees is a truly wonderful, however elusive, workplace experience.

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Criticism is one thing.

Buly is something completely different.

Print out all the comments, messages, everything relevant. Archive the whole repo, to have track of everythink you did and was bullied for. Ask the former colleague for their archives as well.

Pack it in neat boxes with a nice ribbon on it and give one box to your boss and another to the HR. If nothing happens, give third box to your lawyer.

It is about time the D.VIII got caught with their pants down.

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Generally I would focus on content and process and try to sidestep personal feelings. Focus on the mechanisms, not on the persons. Try to be impartial.

What matters to the team and to the organization is that you're productive as a team. So I'd approach the issue from that angle.

Clearly, an excessive amount of comments from one member to another is a sign of suboptimal cooperation, so it is something for the team to optimize. Feeling harassed probably has a negative impact on productivity as well, so avoiding that is another thing for the team to work on. Handling such things is part of the scrum master's role.

So the proper thing to do is contact the scrum master and say: look, we have a process issue here that negatively impacts our team's work; how can we resolve this? Since you're both involved, the obvious next step is to involve a third person who can look at the situation impartially. Then, instead of pointing fingers, ask why questions. Why is this happening? There must be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Maybe there's a way to agree on the underlying issue and a way to address it that makes the problem go away.

If not, that's the best you can do.

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