Confessions of a marketer on workplace bullying: ‘Everyone is getting aggressive’

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

The head of social at a fashion brand used to love their job. Today they are considering quitting.

In the latest installment of our Confessions series, in which we exchange anonymity for candor, the marketer revealed that they are being undermined in front of colleagues by their new boss — behavior they describe as bullying.

Excerpts edited for clarity and flow.

Why has your new boss’ behavior made you consider resigning?
Around 18 months ago, someone internally was promoted to marketing director. It raised a few eyebrows at the time due to the person’s reputation for not being good with people, but we all decided to give our new boss the benefit of the doubt. I had headed up the social media strategy for the brand for over three years and then got told my role was being given to someone less experienced than me. There was no explanation or consultation on why the decision was made. Despite this, the marketing director said it was my job to train and then manage that person. It only made sense when I realized the person I was training was our new marketing director’s friend. It was just the start of “mean girl” behavior from my boss who now won’t even acknowledge me if we pass in the corridor.

What other examples have you got?
The person who I was training started spreading lies about me to agency execs and talent managers I work with. There was no support from my marketing director or the HR team when I tried to prove my colleague wrong. I couldn’t continue to work so closely with someone who wanted to stab me in the back the way my colleague had tried to, so I decided to go for a different job within the same team. Rather than support my decision, the marketing director said she was disappointed in my behavior and claimed I had let everyone on the team down. That happened late last year and since then it’s felt like the digital team hasn’t had any real influence on the marketing strategy. One colleague handed in their notice as a result of how bad things got and it hasn’t even been acknowledged by my boss that they’re leaving — that was three weeks ago.

Has it been harder for the digital team to get work signed off under this marketing director?
I had spent more than three years developing our influencer strategy. It was one of the things my team had led, and received internal recognition from global executives. But the marketing director wanted to go with something different. Whereas I had pushed for long-term relationships with influencers who were fans of our brands, the marketing director chose my replacement’s approach, which involved taking people out to get deals over the line and going away on expensive trips for meaningless bikini shoots. There’s no return on investment like that for brands that profess to understand Gen Z the way we do. My suggestions were ignored and in turn, the new strategy was presented to the global team who said it wouldn’t work. The marketing director failed to acknowledge me after that meeting. It was as if I wasn’t there.

Have you gone to HR?
My manager went to HR for support and the director there didn’t do a thing. Rather than admit they made the wrong hire, the HR director defended the marketing director. Another person on the same HR team, however, said they were aware that the appointment was wrong, but said it was too late to change anything. My manager left shortly after hearing that. Most of the digital team has left, which I think was the plan all along. We were seen as the creative lot within the marketing team and were central to the rest of the other teams, which meant we were in-demand. I don’t think the marketing director liked being on the back foot with colleagues as it was clear from their job history they were under-qualified for the role. By forcing out some of the digital experts in the marketing team, it felt like a way for her to get rid of some of the marketers who would challenge her.

Is the marketing director’s behavior affecting other teams too?
It’s not just our team. I’ve seen some of the strongest characters I’ve ever worked with crying at their desks. One colleague came up to me recently and said: “I’ve not cried at work for two days” as if that was a good thing. Everyone in the marketing team has turned on each other because they’re fearful for their jobs and see colleagues as competition. Everyone is starting to become aggressive.

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