Workplace Harassment: Leanne’s Case Study
The following case study is based loosely around a real story but the people and the circumstances are fictional.
Leanne is a 48 year old woman who is one of two product managers in a major computer parts facility. Leanne has excellent qualifications and experience as a manager in the computer sales industry. However she has been having lots of personal attacks against her from one of the other managers, Rowena, over the past year.
Rowena openly ridicules Leanne at meetings about her lack of organisation, poor communication and writing skills and lowering staff morale on the team. Leanne has reluctantly taken on the onerous role of managing a team that is quite divided, at the Head of her section’s insistence.
Rowena who is in her fifties and prides herself on precision organisation and authoritarian style of managing, had held the management position prior to Leanne and has subsequently criticised Leanne at every opportunity since that time. Rowena has the ear of the Head of the section and is frequently in her office. The Head is known as a weak leader and lacks knowledge of the expertise and abilities of her staff. The Head relies on Rowena to keep her informed of their work performance.
Leanne has noticed that Rowena is always the first to start work and Rowena always sits near the entrance to the building in the morning and evening to observe who is late and who leaves early. Such observations are raised by Rowena at meetings, and since Leanne has a daughter with a disability who needs to attend special classes at School and arrives a bit later than most, she is a target of Rowena’s cheap shots and belittling.
Rowena has everyone worried about being branded lazy and useless poor performers and as a result, people conform to Rowena’s demands. Rowena has held impromptu meetings with Leanne, with the most recent involving Rowena telling Leanne loudly that the business ‘team’ is totally dissatisfied with her performance as manager and she had better get her act together because she said ‘you are responsible for all of the problems and low morale of the business team and should be ashamed. Nobody respects you here.’ Leanne knows that Rowena’s notion of ‘the team’ includes Rowena and her two other devotee clerks. The other 12 people on the actual team are never consulted by Rowena.
Nonetheless Leanne was confused and feeling deflated by Rowena’s accusations. Desperately she told Rowena that she would try to improve her performance and work longer hours and come in on weekends to show the team she was committed. This had little effect except making Leanne tired, irritable with her family and having no time for her family. Rowena and her team continued their attacks on Leanne’s credibility as a manager, despite Leanne’s recent success in the tendering process for a large computer contract.
Rowena has mentored a couple of other newer staff devotees over the past few years. They openly admire Rowena for her authority and organisation and for her contempt of the ‘dead wood’ in their section (that includes Leanne). Rowena is coaching them on keeping files, emails and so on, on ‘dead wood’ colleagues of which Leanne has been portrayed. Other staff are fully unaware of this behaviour until the Head of the section presents a large document to Leanne one day outlining criticisms and shortcomings of her work performance over a 12 month period. Leanne is devastated that they would do something like this especially given a lot of the trivial accusations they had included.
Leanne calls in sick the next day on stress leave. Leanne’s office is immediately cleared of her books, files and boxes of business papers the following day and her computer is seized and checked by Rowena and the Head of the section. The Head rings Leanne at home and tells her that she must provide a medical certificate immediately or disciplinary action will be commenced by the end of the day.
Leanne is no longer able to cope with all of this stress and attempts suicide. Fortunately she survived and has been receiving psychiatric treatments and care for over 6 months. Leanne never wants to return to work again. Her family are devastated and her husband has threatened to leave her with their child because he has had enough of her depressive behaviour.
What can we make of Leanne’s story?