Dear Thelma: Daughter is distraught from the bullying at her workplace


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Dear Thelma,

The issues that our daughter is currently facing in her workplace with her colleagues are taking a toll on us as parents.

Our daughter is currently attached to a government hospital as a doctor, and puts her heart and soul into her work at all times. She tries to do everything possible to have a good working relationship with her peers, bosses as well as the support staff.

However as the majority of her colleagues (doctors) are of the same ethnic group, they for no apparent reason seem to gang up against her and always communicate in a language that is not familiar to her and appear to have issues with her on a constant basis thus creating a toxic environment.

In order to keep abreast of the conversations that go on in their dialect, my daughter has subscribed to online learning sessions. But it is not easy to learn a language from scratch and at the same time do your best at the workplace.

In the course of her work, she makes sure she does not leave her job as soon as her shift is over but, instead, takes time to fully update the doctor taking over, to ensure continuity before clocking off without any disruption.

She also cannot seek refuge by laying bare her problems to her higher-ups because, from past experience, she knows it will make matters more unbearable as she will be seen as a “non-team player”.

She has tried every possible way to build a happy working relationship with the doctors such as showering them with gifts and food but this has not had the desired effect.

We fear all this may affect her mental health.
We have been reading your column for a long time, and are amazed at your replies and solutions which really prep up many a lost soul.


Distressed Parents



Dear Distressed Parents,

I'm so sorry your daughter is being bullied at work.


Thank you so much for your kind comments about the column. I hope I can offer some useful suggestions.

You note that you are affected, but the letter focuses entirely on your daughter. I'm guessing that you are stressed as you feel helpless? As such, here are some thoughts that you might share with her.

Toxic workplaces are the pits but, sadly, they are commonplace. Your daughter has already seen that the managers are part of this abusive environment, so there is no point in going there for help.

I think the best way to tackle it is to take a look at why this happens and what her options are.

Bullying is where a person or group derive their power from abusing others. People make excuses for bullies but I think you should remember the fundamentals here: bullies enjoy hurting others; they get real satisfaction from it.

Because they know that this is wrong, they make up fake reasons to support their actions. Common excuses for violence are that the victims are different in looks, religion, language or that they don't speak, think, or live in the same way. It can be as simple as a like for a different football team.

Your daughter's bullies tell themselves that their birthplace, ethnicity or mother tongue makes them special and that it gives them the right to abuse others. This is complete nonsense. Everyone is entitled to dignity and respect.

Your daughter has tried to placate them. I understand why. There are many of them, and she is alone. And with normal, nice people, we make friends by sharing common ground.

But these bullies are not nice, normal people. They have no intention of accepting her because being mean to her makes them feel good about themselves. They will not give up this behaviour because the status quo suits them.

If they were children, I'd recommend a good sit-down and a talk. But these are adults, doctors even, who should know better.

My first suggestion is that your daughter needs a support group. As she's a victim of bullying, she will be tired from being picked on. It may lead to depression and affect her self-esteem.

It's important to recognise that we know logically that bullies are bad people, but in our hearts we can't help but wonder why they pick on us. The mind is a funny thing; we would not tell a friend to question why they are victims, but we victim-blame ourselves rather easily.

A support group will help your daughter keep her spirits up and give her a safe space to vent. Gather people from her old school, from her neighbourhood and perhaps a few older family members. Lean in.

Remind her often: her own values and her excellent work are what matters. What people of proven bad principles say or think is unimportant.

Also, there will be others who are bullied at work. Have her connect with them. She need not be bosom buddies; being allies is good enough.

Next, consider a change. Can she transfer to a different shift, to a different department, to a different hospital? Perhaps she can go for some kind of training, just to get away for a while. Can she go private? Or perhaps work in an associated field, like a scientific foundation?

As her managers are also toxic, it is possible that they will try to limit her options. Therefore, I suggest she talks to a lawyer who specialises in labour law and preferably someone who has experience with the MOH.

Usually, suing an employer doesn't work well unless you leave your job. However, if you are looking for a transfer, knowing your rights can help. Sometimes, it opens up other avenues of thought.

Finally, these bullies pick on your daughter because she is alone and they know the bosses won't help. But if your daughter had a skill the bosses were frightened of losing, she would have allies. As bullying is a pervasive issue, I strongly suggest she becomes an expert.

Ideally, this would be specialist training. But learning to use a particular tool like a diagnostic machine may be enough. In a big organisation, sitting on a committee can bring influence as well.

She may consider public speaking, even. All hospitals want doctors who speak to the public and many staff are terrified of this. If your daughter became the go-to person to give talks, the bosses would take notice – and they might do the decent thing and give her a bit of support.

I hope this was helpful. Think over all the options carefully and consult. Don't do anything in a rush. And if it helps, please know I'll be thinking good thoughts for you all. Such a dedicated soul deserves lots of success and happiness.

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