Abusive Phone Calls At Work:
What Are They And
What To Do About Them

Are you receiving abusive phone calls at work? Do you think some phone calls may be abusive but you are not sure?

In this article I am not going to talk about people receiving calls in call centers or customer service centers from dissatisfied customers. The organization itself often has protocols in place for dealing with such matters.

Rather I am going to deal with people who are being bullied at work and the phone calls are an integral part of the abuse. Sometimes the phone calls themselves constitute the abuse, but more often than not there is face to face abuse and the phone calls are more of the same.

This is a situation where the normal advice for dealing with harassment over the phone, of not answering or blocking the number, is not appropriate. Not talking to your boss at work, for example, is really not an option!

So let's look at what constitutes an abusive call and what you can do about them.


Abusive phone calls at work - what are they?

It's important to be able to distinguish bullying and abusive phone calls because in an organizational situation, it's often easier for the company and the bosses to blame things on a clash of personalities, or the victim being too sensitive, than to deal with a situation of mobbing, or bullying, in the workplace. They will try and redefine what is happening in order to be able to ignore the real problem.

Mobbing, or workplace bullying, is an emotional assault on an individual. It consists of disrespectful and hurtful behaviors, carried out over time, by one or more co-workers, with the intention of creating such a hostile environment that it forces the person out of the workplace.

Notice two things here. There must be repeated behaviors over time. If the boss reprimands someone once every six months because they made a mistake, this does not constitute mobbing. If someone is subjected to ridicule, belittling and criticism every 2 or 3 days, or even daily, then we are talking about mobbing. You can read more here about the signs of an abusive boss.

The second important thing here is that it makes no reference to how the victim is affected. Some people may tolerate mobbing for months without showing many effects, others may only go two weeks before they start showing symptoms. Just because someone is not showing symptoms, does not mean they are not being mobbed. Given enough time, the vast majority will suffer distress, illness and social misery.

Many of the disrespectful and harmful behaviors that occur in face to face bullying encounters may occur over the phone as well.

  • You are not allowed to express yourself on the call
  • You are constantly interrupted
  • You are yelled at and scolded loudly
  • Your work is criticized
  • Your private life is criticized
  • You are threatened with all sorts of things
  • You are terrorized
  • You are called names during the call
  • Your decisions are questioned
  • There are sexual innuendoes
  • Or even outright sexual harassment
  • There are threats of physical violence
  • When your phone rings and you answer, the other person does not talk to you, or you can only hear heavy breathing
  • You are told to wait on the phone and no one comes back to you for ages
  • When you answer there are very loud noises made that cause you discomfort, whistles, sudden loud bangs, etc.
  • Strangers call you and say personal, hurtful thing to you
  • People stop calling you so you have no idea what is going on in the job
  • Some people are even given an office away from everyone else and there is no phone in the office.

If these types of calls are repeated over time, then they are considered abusive calls.


Abusive phone calls at work - what to do

Start taking notes and record the calls if you can. Note the date and time, people, place and what was said. If there is face to face abuse, record the details of each interaction, too. This information will be very useful for you.

Get help and support from family and friends. Make sure not to isolate yourself. Do activities outside of work. Get some exercise. Do things that distract you from the stress of the workplace.

Learn about mobbing. What it is, why it happens, how it occurs, the effects of it and so on.

Get professional help. It will save you a lot of distress and suffering. Make sure it is someone who understands psychological abuse and bullying. Otherwise, chances are that you will be blamed in some way for what is being done to you.

You might consider going down the legal route. There are lots of reasons to do this, and lots of reasons why someone might not want to do it. It could get expensive, there are no guarantees, your reputation may be at risk and so on. However, you may feel very strongly about standing up for your rights, you want compensation while transitioning to another job and you have a very strong case with meticulous notes and these things may spur you on to seek out a lawyer to take your case to court.

Most importantly, the abusive phone calls are typically aimed at one result, to get rid of you. Oftentimes it comes down to the fact that the office is not big enough for both of you. Either you go, or the bully goes.

Taking on the bully can be a big deal. First of all, it's worth going to the Human Resources department early in the process. Get a copy of the protocol for mobbing. Start the process as quickly as you can. This serves 2 purposes. It's better that you complain first and the bully has to defend him or herself, rather than the bully complaining and you having to defend yourself. Oh yes, the latter situation happens a lot!

The second reason for doing it quickly is to know how well the protocol works. Many companies have a protocol in name only. They have a brochure, or they make one up on the spot for you! But there is no actual process. Many companies have a protocol but implementing it is almost impossible. You have to jump through hoops, bend over backwards and bother people a lot to get anywhere. This is all "semi-intentional". It's easier for the victim to just give up, leave the organization and find another job on their own.

And some places are very good about bullying situations. They step in quickly, they recognize that the bully is the problem and take steps to put an end to the mobbing, one way or the other. The bully is told that they basically have to stop the abuse or leave.

A fourth situation, which is all too common, is where the victim goes to HR for help and the organization itself begins to bully the victim as well! The organization itself, often in the form of a member of the HR department, starts to scrutinize the work of the victim. There may be frequent meetings with this HR person, "just to check in". The victim may be given more paperwork to fill in about the supposed abuse.

All of this is done on top of the victim's usual workload. Because of the stress, the vctim may make mistakes. These are then used to justify the behavior of the bully. In other words, the victim is blamed for the problems. If there is organizational abuse, it's best to forget taking on the abuser. There is little or no way to have the abuser removed from the workplace. The abuse is basically being okayed by the management. In such cases, getting out as quickly as possible while you still have your physical and mental health is the best thing you can do. In most cases, this is what happens anyway.

In many situations the only way to put an immediate stop to the abuse is to go out on sick leave. If you are thinking of doing this, it's better to do it before you are actually forced to. Don't let the situation get to the point where you are unable to work because of anxiety. You don't want to be in a situation where you are looking for a new job but you are so traumatized by the bullying that you are an emotional wreck. Take care of your health at all times.

So, irrespective of what HR does or does not do, and whether you go down the legal route or not, it's very useful to be working on a plan to leave for a new job. This dispels any sense of hopelessness and gives you a reason to keep going. This is very, very important! I can't stress this point enough. Many people who suffer mobbing get depressed and may feel that there is no way out of the situation. Planning an exit and a new job goes a long way to preventing this from happening. It's important to maintain a sense that you have control over what is going on.


Abusive phone calls at work - more reading

You can read more about controlling behavior in the workplace, verbal abuse at work, dealing with controlling people, what makes someone a psychopath and what a manipulator does.

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