After the meeting.

PETER: When I was first put onto the Black Eagle Lager account as the senior strategist, I raised concerns, given the fact that some of their past campaigns promoted an unhealthy alpha-male image dripping with toxic masculinity, but the GM told me to man up and get the job done. In fact, his exact words were, “If you still want to work here, stop whining and get cracking. There’ll be plenty time to sip tea with the girls and talk tampons.”

COACH MASUKU: How did that make you feel?

PETER: I felt belittled… (hangs his head shamefully) as if I was being somehow obstructive.

COACH MASUKU: (makes a note) Go on.

PETER: I knew someone who had worked on the Black Eagle Lager account before, and they had told me that the way female models and crew were treated during shoots was… (looks away in disgust) Turnaround times are ridiculous, and often we don’t even get a proper brief, let alone a signed PO!


PETER: Purchase Order.

COACH MASUKU: Of course. What’s the culture of the agency like?

PETER: In one word? Toxic.

COACH MASUKU: How so? Perhaps give me an example?

PETER: Well, if you are not one of the boys, you’re sidelined and receive information on a need-to-know basis. Dissenting voices are not tolerated. I remember the one night… (shakes his head) We were pulling an all-night creative brainstorm session. The GM, creative department, and client service department were all there. When we eventually left, I was called back by the GM informing me that the client wanted a meeting with me first thing in the morning. I protested, but I was told that it wasn’t a request and I need stop behaving like a (makes quotation marks with his fingers) “wet lappie” if I wanted to swim with the big boys.

COACH MASUKU: That bad, hey?

PETER: It gets worse. The following day, one of the creatives who’s chummy with the GM threw a dirty rag at me as I walked into the creative department, shouting, “Hey look, it’s Lappies!”

COACH MASUKU: What did you do?

PETER: I lunged at him, but the others held me back and told me it was just a joke: “No need to get so worked up, dude.”

COACH MASUKU: Have you ever called a meeting with the CEO and the GM?

PETER: Yeah, I did. The CEO said he doesn’t have time to play referee. The GM then called me aside later on and said if I ever pull a stunt like that again he would ensure that I never worked in another agency again.

COACH MASUKU: What was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak?

PETER: One night, management was wining and dining the client at a restaurant after the successful launch of a TV campaign. At about 9pm, I could see that our GM and the client were getting drunk, so I politely got up, thanked the client, and excused myself. The client was fine with it and thanked me for coming, but the GM… (holds his head in his hands and sighs heavily)

COACH MASUKU: (leans back and folds his legs) Take your time.

PETER: He starts going off at me in front of the client and a colleague, shouting, “And where the hell do you think you’re going?” At first I tried to ignore him, but then he muttered something about knowing who wears the pants in my house. I swear I wasn’t going to hit him, but when he said, “Go on! Go wash your bloody panties, Lappies,” I don’t know what happened…Suddenly my fist and his nose were both bloody and people were pulling me off of him. That person that night…(starts shaking his head) I’m not like that. (looks straight at Masuku pleadingly)

COACH MASUKU: (scribbles in his notebook) Let me guess, your job is on the line for assault, reputational damage and bringing the agency into disrepute with the client? Perhaps a criminal case?

(Peter just stares at his hands.)

COACH MASUKU: Did you do what I asked you to do a couple of weeks ago?

(Peter stares at him blankly.)

COACH MASUKU: The chronological and detailed list of events leading up to this…incident?

PETER: Yes, yes I did. Why?

COACH MASUKU: You will need it, and any other corroborating evidence to present in your disciplinary hearing as mitigating factors. Now look, we’re going to have to deal with that outburst of violence — I suspect it has been a long time coming — but in the meantime, call him: (hands Peter a card) he’s a labour-law specialist; he owes me a favour. Tell him I sent you.

PETER: (reading the name on the card) Thanks, coach.

Tell us: Have you ever been bullied, or been the bully? What’s the best way to deal with bullying, in your opinion?