Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Triggers: What brings up the yucky stuff?

There are many facets of recovery post trauma.

One of them is that forgiveness is not always a completely "done deal".

We feel that we have moved on.  Come to terms with parts of the past.  Yet, these ugly memories have a mind of their own.  They come back at inopportune moments when we least expect them.  They rear their ugly heads.  They don't whisper; they don't shout.  They scream for attention.

Triggers.  They bring up the "yucky stuff" when we least expect them.  They bring back all the feelings of anger, rage, helplessness, voicelessness.


*******

None of us are immune to this phenomenon.  I believe we process things as much as we can at any given time and then we feel that they are laid to rest forever.  But they're not forever dead and buried.
Why?

Partially because they're stored in parts of our brain like my photos are stored on Picassa.  There ready to be retrieved when the time is right or, in the case of trauma victims, ripe.

Partially because there is more processing, more recovery yet to be done on the road home.

A wise friend of mine recently told me that she thinks that some things never completely go away.

Some things never completely go away.  Trauma is one of them.  The memories are stored in our brains waiting to resurface when the right trigger comes along.

*******

For the last few weeks I've been struggling with the resurgence of a lot of "yucky" stuff which has thrown me off-balance more than once.  Making me exceptionally vulnerable to triggers which bring up all the "yucky" stuff.

It began with the blog posting entitled Surviving Workplace Abuse:  My leaving story - part 3:  When bullies take control posted on September 8th.  It was probably the hardest blog I've ever written.  It took me three days and left me reeling in it's wake.  Struggling to breathe through all the toxic fumes it brought up.  All the helplessness I felt.  The voicelessness.  That all my power and control had been forcibly stripped from me and given to others.  Others who probably could have cared less - at least about my well being.  All these things came back in force.

That single blog summed up my experience with workplace bullies, their tactics, the toxic atmosphere in the workplace and how it spreads to others.

That single experience in the donut shop was perhaps the most crushing blow I experienced.

I could not even leave the toxic workplace on my own terms.

And yes, I've suffered from the repercussions, the shock waves of that single incident ever since then.

I think writing that post was both good and bad.  Good because it finally got my experience out in the open.  I've come out of the "closet" of being bullied as an adult in the workplace by other adults.

Yet, at the same time it has left me vulnerable in ways I could not have expected.  Vulnerable to triggers I had not yet identified in my journey towards recovery.

Take a few incidents that happened just last week for example:

I've talked in recent blogs about my need for routine as a coping mechanism.  One of my routines is to watch TV series either on the net or on DVD.

On Tuesday I keyed in a TV web site I've used hundreds of times in the past only to discover that it had been blocked by Bell who happens to be my internet service provider.  The frustration I experienced was overwhelming.  After four days of not being able to get into this site, I finally contacted Bell.  After more than an hour with several different people and departments most of them not very helpful, I came away very frustrated.  The frustration escalated to anger.  There was nothing I could do about the situation.  I would have to get Bell to be my service provider for my TV.  Problem.  I Do. Not. Own. A. TV.  Nor have I for the entire 34 years of our marriage.  I. Cannot. Get. A. Service. Provider. For. TV. Without. Physically. Owning. One.  The Bell representatives could not understand this simple concept and it left me feeling helpless, voiceless, with no control over my life.

Sigh.

I felt like I was in the grips of a huge, uncaring monolith that only wanted what it wanted and was determined to get it at all costs.  Paid TV subscribers.  No more "freebies" as in internet access to this particular TV website which Bell apparently has some connection with.  In other words, I felt helpless in this situation once again.  I felt voiceless.  I felt like shit.

I realize that this is a very little thing in the lives of others who are going through other struggles in the world.  Yet, it loomed so very large in my small, isolated, world.  It prevented me from using my coping techniques.

If that wasn't enough, later in the afternoon of that same day, we found a notice in our mailbox that our carrier had complained about "safety" issues in our neighbourhood arising from our street being used as a detour route during a construction project on another street in our area and that our home delivery was being suspended until further notice pending their "investigation".  I felt then - and continue to feel now - that Canada Post is unlikely to realize certain aspects of the situation such as it being a temporary situation which has been on-going for five months now and has approximately one month to go.  So why a complaint now resulting in a cessation of service when the end is in sight? 

What triggered me in this situation?  The lack of power and control.  The helplessness.  The voicelessness.  The fact that there was nothing I could do to change the situation.

It brought up all the "yucky" stuff from my workplace where one individual who didn't want to do the job she was paid to do went to I don't know how many people and got them all to feel that she was the victim here because I wanted her to do her job.  She seemed to know all the right buzzwords to get everyone in the office to become allied with her.  That was my trigger.  In my mind, I am perceiving a Canada Post employee who may not like her job, knows all the right buzz words to use to everyone on her side to deprive an entire street of mail service.  Just. Because. She/He. Can.

The word "investigation" in itself is a huge trigger to my already vulnerable psyche as I've been through several "investigations" during the bullying scenario at work.  I've seen how investigations can be completely subjective and biased.  How they can be manipulated to get the outcome the investigator wants.  In short, I have no faith in any organization to do a fair and unbiased investigation.

This incident fed into all the wounds which I thought had been closed and healed.  Apparently, they're not completely closed or healed.

Again, I felt helpless, voiceless in the face of this monolith called Canada Post.  It doesn't matter what I say.  They're going to do what they're going to do irregardless of any facts based on one person's complaint.

Brain fog has ensued.  Lethargy.  Itching all over from the inside out.  The scalp.  The eyes.  The skin.  You name it, it's there.

And then, the final kicker?  I've applied for life insurance and was turned down.  The company claims it is because of my history of anxiety which is due to the workplace bullying.  Sigh.  At this point, there is no fight in me left.

I'm tired.  I'm discouraged.  I'm ready to lie down and give up.

******

Yet, there is hope on the horizon.  The last person I talked to at Bell the other day was able to help me figure out a workaround to the block.  In addition, the block appears to have been lifted by Bell the day after.

We're still not receiving home delivery of mail; however, it appears that the Postal Service has heard from many people on our street who have been affected by the delivery stoppage.  None of them happy.  Most of them expressing their displeasure rather forcefully.  Canada Post is indeed looking at a permanent solution for a temporary problem - which I am not happy with.  They are planning to rush through the installing of a Community Box so we will get our mail again.  However, I feel that this one person's complaint has fed into Canada Post's ultimate agenda:  to suspend all home delivery with the implementation of Community Boxes.  

I hate agendas.

And the life insurance?  That is still pending; however, it appears that another provider has been found.

Triggers.

I've worked these last seven years with a fair amount of success to identify my triggers: however, this past week, I got blindsided by a few I had not yet identified.

Once identified, the same triggers will not have the same power over me.

I hope.

Until tomorrow....

Monday, September 29, 2014

Surviving Workplace Bullying: Staci's Story

Workplace bullying is becoming more and more a concern.  I don't know if the prevalence of workplace bullying has significantly increased in the last decade or if awareness of workplace bullying has increased.  Either way.  Workplace bullying is a force to be reckoned with.

I have long believed that I am not the only one who has encountered and been affected by bullying in the workplace.  I believe there are a lot of us out there.  Mostly invisible.  Mostly unheard.  But crying out for visibility.  Crying out to be heard.

Today, I share with you Staci's story:  a incredible survivor.

*******

I'm S.C. Sowers, Certified Law of Attraction Practitioner, Ordained Spiritual Coach and Bullying Awareness Advocate.  My first encounter with bullying in the workplace actually happened  when I was in my late 20's.  I was working for a National Travel Agency as a Travel Counselor.  I was unfortunate enough to witness a conversation between one of the Travel Agents and a customer.  The conversation was a little tense and the customer became a little testy.  After the customer had removed themselves from the office, the Travel Agent involved in the incident made a comment about the customers ethnic background.  It wasn't a malicious comment, but rather a comment about there being a large ethnic population in the city  in which we were currently living, and how it made her uncomfortable, not understanding their culture.  In the middle of her conversation with herself, something happened and she swore silently to herself.  In context, she had done nothing wrong except perhaps succumbing to the stress of the retail environment and vocalizing it out loud on her way to the back room.  The Manager of the office however, overheard bits and pieces of her story and created his own version of what had transpired.  It was escalated to Human Resources. Shortly after it's escalation, the Travel Agent involved relayed to me that since I was a witness to the incident, the HR Manager was requesting a call from me.  My Office Manager was out of the office that particular day, and since the HR Manager out ranked me in seniority, I called her as I was directed.  When I called, she seemed to know why I was calling, so I didn't question anything. She inquired about the incident, and I was honest with her.  We ended the call and I thought everything was fine. The next day when I arrived in the office, my Office Manager cleared out the back room, slammed the doors and trapped my inside.  He demanded that I sit at the table, and accused me of going behind his back and over his head to the HR Manager in defense of "my friend".  I was naturally  terrified by his abrupt, rude and downright scary behavior. In fact, I almost got up and called the police,  because I clearly felt my safety was being threatened.  Instead, I carefully and nervously recounted the previous days events, honestly and as accurately as I was able.  When I was done, he nastily said.." Good answer, you're lucky, you can keep your job." He got up and left the room.  I was so shaken that I went home and told my husband.  He immediately advised me to begin my search for another job.  It was an experienced which both scared and scarred me.  It was because I had integrity that I was cornered, and because I was naive that my Manager got away with bullying.  I of course, wish now that I had reported him. In the end, I was able to find employment elsewhere. But it took me a long while to really get over the way I was treated. 
My second experience with bullying in the workplace occurred when I accepted a survival job for a Respitory DME company.  I have a disability called Expressive Language Disorder, which is related to Dyslexia.  When it's expected that I complete online modules to read policy, take tests, etc, there are occasions which I need extra time and a quiet place to complete these requirements.  This was one of those times.  I did as I was supposed to, I explained my needs and requested accommodations.  My request was flatly denied.  While I did complete the required material in the time they requested, I did so with difficulty and a lower passing score then I would have,  had the requested accommodations been approved.  After I completed the required testing  I was then  subjected to repeat questions regarding my ability to learn, to read and my overall ability to do the job for which I had been hired in to perform.  I was actually called into their HR office, and they asked me to read material in order to prove I was able to read.  In my shocked and vulnerable state, I did as they requested.  Luckily I had received a phone call from another employer that same day about another position and I called them, accepted the position and left that job, never looking back. In fact, it happened all in the same day.  Again, getting over this experience took much longer. 
Bullying happens way too often in the workplace. It happens to adults too. It's not just in school yards and with children and teens.  While I do feel it's valuable to reach out and bring awareness to it in the school systems, it's being neglected in the workplaces. How are we supposed to teach our children not to bully others when the parents are the ones who are setting the examples and are often guilty of the same?  
I currently work with people in transition, people who have been victims of bullying in the workplace, in churches and in their personal lives.  It's all too common and all too ignored in today's society.   Here at C & A Coaching, my goal is to help those who have been victims transition into more successful circumstances, through awareness, education, effort and positive thinking.  You can learn more about C & A Coaching at http://clarityandawareness.webs.com/.
Bullying is abuse. There's no getting around it.  It's emotional, mental and can affect a person for life.  The feelings of helplessness, isolation  and persecution bring pain.  The reason for it varies.  Perhaps the person being bullied is over qualified for the job and those doing the bullying are threatened? Maybe the person who is being bullied has a mild disability and requires extra effort and understanding, or perhaps their circumstances are misunderstood, therefore they're targeted, or maybe the bullied is only a bit different.  Whatever the reason, there is never a good excuse.  

Fortunately I was able to over come my experience and now my focus is on helping others who have been through it achieve success.

*******

Thank you, Staci, for being willing to write this post and to share your story.  

I invite anyone who has a story to share to contact me.  We all have a story to share.  We all need to be heard.

Until tomorrow....


Friday, September 26, 2014

Recognizing Toxic Employee(s): Can the source of the fumes be identified and stopped?


While working on the last two posts, I found an interesting article on the net:  called Recognizing Toxic Employees by David G. Javitch, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist.

This article likens the toxic employee to a virus which infects most, if not all of the employees in the workplace.  It is invisible to the eye.  But it permeates the entire atmosphere with its toxicity.

Below is a list of the symptoms exhibited by and caused by the toxic employee:
  • A decrease in or lack of productivity
  • A decrease in or poor morale
  • An increased frequency in arguments between the employee and others
  • A sense that the employee is increasingly frustrated because "things just aren't going right"
  • A negative, antagonistic attitude
  • An increase in negative comments and personal attacks
  • An unwillingness to work overtime or stay late without reason
  • An unwillingness to "go the extra mile" while encouraging others to refuse as well.
Javitch then goes on to say:
Other symptoms include infighting, backbiting, passive/aggressive behaviour (aggressive actions done in a passive or weak manner), arguments or criticism for the sake of being different or antagonistic, and an unwillingness to help out others in a culture that values providing input and assistance to colleagues.
Bingo!

This describes exactly the situation I was caught up in and victimized by in the office.

My situation started out with three distinct individuals who at first were not connected in any way.  One wasn't even in my office and shouldn't have been working the same hours as my shift.  As these co-workers' perceived grievances against me mounted, they became aligned with each other against a common target i.e. me and became a force in and of themselves.  A clique.  Later, a fourth person, our immediate supervisor, joined the clique by becoming friends with these co-workers both inside and outside of work.  Lastly, a fifth person also in our office but on a different shift joined their ranks.
Sigh.  Why didn't I see the writing on the wall then and just quit?

Perhaps because I can't read invisible writing?  Or smoke signals?  Or toxic fumes?

My guess is that one of the original three members of what I call the clique was the main toxic employee infecting the others and eventually the rest of the work environment.

How does one identify who the main toxic employee was?  Can it even be done?  Were all three of these co-workers toxic?  Four, if you count the supervisor?  Five, if you count the last one into the mess.

In other words, who was the real toxic employee here?  That is what the rest of the article deals with:  identifying if there is indeed a toxic employee and, if so, how that employee should be approached and what the goal of approaching that employee should be.  The goal, according to Javitch, is not to be confrontational but rather to present the facts and see if there is any agreement on the situation and try to facilitate a change in the toxic employee's attitude and actions.

Changing the toxic employee is the main goal.

Javitch addresses both the process and the desired outcomes in a section entitled:  "What exactly should you do?"  He writes:
The answer is, "It depends."  If you're a laissez-faire, hands-off leader, then you could do nothing and just hope the situation will go away or burn itself out.  And every once in aawhile it will.  But understand that in the majority of cases, this action (which is really an inaction on your part) will not correct the situation. On the contrary, it will only serve to allow the problem to grow and continue to negatively impact and infect your business's other employees, productivity, growth, profitability and success.

Again bingo!

Ignoring the problem, didn't work.  Become friends with the toxic employees i.e. in my case also the aggressors, definitely didn't work.  Allowing the toxic symptoms to go along unchecked, just erodes the morale of the rest of the employees.

So what does work?  Or rather can work?

The rest of the article involves the steps a pro-active management can and should take regarding the situation.  It involves a series of investigative steps to identify if there really is a toxic employee and then narrow it down to who is the toxic employee leading up to a general, non-confrontational meeting to see if the issues can be resolved.  If not, if the employee refuses to change, then the article concludes that beginning the termination process for the toxic employee is in order - to protect the rest.

Great and thought-provoking article, but that's not what happened in my workplace.

Why?

Probably ignorance in management's part facilitated by the fact that by the time we got to this part all upper management were no longer in our building so for them to realize that something was amiss they would need to be told.  Who would tell them?  Lower management who had aligned themselves to the toxic employees?  Middle management who turned a blind eye?

I presume that upper management remained blissfully unaware in their ivory tower of what was going on in the trenches.

In addition, I feel that the person I believe was the main instigator was very good at her job.  She had more seniority than I did.  I was in an entry-level position, while this person was not.

The key question is:  would this particular toxic employee have been willing to change?  Even if her job was on the line?  I doubt it.  Which may be why it was easier, far easier, to get rid of me than to pursue who the real problem was.

I observed many of the symptoms in this person - and the other two.  They were unhappy.  That did not feel like they were valued or appreciated.

By the time all was said and done, I was the one perceived to be the bully, the bad guy.

I've always wondered if after everything was said and done, and I was terminated if that made those in the workplace happy as everyone seemed to think it would?  Or did they simply choose another victim?  Or ... did they continue the noise about me and continue the office "soap opera" as long as they could in my absence?

I'll never know for sure .. but I have my suspicions that removing me from the workplace did not solve the problem.


Until Monday ....

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Workplace Abuse: The effects of toxic fumes in the workplace

Yesterday was a bust - in so many respects.  Cognitively, my mind decided to go AWOL (Absent Without Leave which is now known in the military as UA - Unauthorized Absence).  No matter the semantics of the thing:  it was gone - and refused to come back.

After several hours of bulling through and trying to put words and thoughts together to make sense, I gave up.

Recovering from workplace abuse - even if that abuse has been some time in the past - is still hard work.  I recall just recently how a friend whose life has also been impacted by workplace abuse told me recently that she wonders if it ever completely goes away.

I think there's a kernel of truth in that.

So yesterday turned out to be a rest, working on recovery day.  But now we're at today ....

Looking down on Hamilton Harbour from Hamilton Mountain
It's hard for me to find appropriate pictures from my own archives when writing about things like a toxic workplace environment as most of my pictures are of nature - of peaceful things, not of things that wreck havoc.  Especially havoc in the making.  I've never been in a cataclysmic event such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan a few years back.  Yet, I've seen the pictures, the videos on the net.  Heart-wrenching pictures of people's lives being changed in an instant.

Also, the full-blown effects of bullying facilitated by a toxic work environment cannot be photographed.  There are no broken, bloody bodies strewn around or boats floating on what used to be streets, buildings demolished.  There are only people; people who look normal from the outside yet struggling on the inside where no one can see to survive.

As well, the toxic fumes caused by gossip, slander, defamation of character, even libel, are not visible like the fumes from the steel mill in the opening picture.

Writing about the toxic workplace is not easy as too many people don't understand it.  It's like the furniture in the living room.  Simply there.  

However, the fumes of a toxic living place can be photographed such as these pictures taken in 2013 of the steel mills in Hamilton, Ontario's industrial area.

I wonder if these steel mills which emit these huge clouds of smoke - probably toxic smoke and fumes - into the Hamilton air are as commonplace to the residents of Hamilton as the toxicity in my former workplace.  Just there.  Always there.  For generations.  Kind of like the living room furniture.



The town of Hamilton kind of has two parts:  the lower part by Lake Ontario where the steel mills are and what they call the Hamilton Mountain which is part of the Niagara Escarpment.  I've been told that residents in the basin have a lot of health issues while those living on top of the escarpment are generally healthier.

The toxic fumes perhaps?

*******
What is toxicity in the workplace?  Yesterday, I gave an example of a toxic employee in my work environment.  That is only one of many examples I could give of how toxicity became a fixture in that workplace.

Let's look at the phenomenon of toxicity in the workplace a bit more, this time from my research on the net rather than by examples from my work environment.


Here is what one author says:
Bullying can also have a toxic effect on the workplace as a whole. When a workplace is characterized by bullying, it is by definition a poisoned work environment, a place people will naturally try to avoid or leave, resulting in increased absenteeism and turnover, along with decreased morale. With such a workplace environment, an employer can look forward, in addition to increasingly substantial legal costs, to increased costs for recruitment and retention, increased use of employee assistance programs, and a loss of reputation and good will. http://www.harassmentinvestigation.ca/bullying.html
This particular passage focuses on the monetary effects of the toxic workplace:  law suits, employee turnover and the costs associated with recruiting employees to replace those who have left and retaining employees, etc.  However, in our workplace, people didn't often leave.  They may have liked to gripe and complain but our employer paid us well and gave good benefits.  A lot of the people I worked with were "lifers" - or hoped to be lifers.  To stay there as long as they could - preferably to age 65 and retirement.  Especially the older ones who had already put in 20 years or more. Even though the climate in the workplace was changing with the takeover by the multi-million dollar conglomerate who bought us, the changes were slow and people, in general, didn't want to leave - unless they were forced to.

As far as financial costs to the company, I know that there would have been costs in my case with my disability claims, overtime for employees to fill-in my position while I was off sick and finally the exit package.  However, they made sure that they did not have legal costs by coercing me to sign away all my present and future rights in the donut shop that day.

Yet, financial costs are, to me, only a small part of the danger of a toxic work environment.  More important to me, being a people person, is the toll the toxic atmosphere takes on morale:  the willingness to go the extra mile, to work overtime, etc. as well as the erosion of self-esteem and confidence.

Most employers - or at least mine - did not seem to realize the effects on the bystanders the bullying they were observing was happening.  My workplace also did not seem to realize that gossip, backbiting, etc. were part and parcel of a toxic work environment and, therefore, did nothing to stop those behaviours.  In fact, one manager said to me:  "I can't stop people from talking."

?

I agree.

But ... talking, surface level chit chat is far different from gossip - and that behaviour could have been and should have been curtailed.

... continuing on:
....  An Employment Law Alliance poll conducted in early 2007 found that 44 percent of American workers have worked for a boss they considered abusive.¹ More than half of poll respondents reported experiencing rude treatment at the hands of a supervisor or witnessed such behavior directed at another employee. The reported behavior ranges from dirty looks and sarcastic jokes to public criticism and outright screaming tirades.
But this is not the only type of toxicity that can pervade a workplace. Other harmful office issues could include chronic pessimism, gossip and back-stabbing among staff, an ambivalent attitude concerning ethics, and the big two – sexual harassment and racial discrimination. For the unguarded employee, such behavior could become a way of life at work and home.
“It’s going to affect your self-esteem and confidence,” said career coach Hallie Crawford, MA, CPCC. “When there’s negative energy, it seeps into you and can make you become that way as well. You can become blind to that and not have as good of boundaries in your personal life. You begin thinking its okay for people to treat you that way.”
For companies, such attitudes can be extremely detrimental to the organizational culture and the financial bottom line. It can lead to decreased job satisfaction, less productivity, and lower retention rates of employees and clients. Each situation is unique, so Crawford recommended that employees take a series of steps before deciding to cut ties.
http://www.localwork.ca/job-resources/268-beware-of-the-toxic-workplace

  1. As I've indicated earlier, my co-workers - especially those involved in the bullying - liked to grip and complain about policies, about management, about everything.  In short, in my opinion based on observation, they were very unhappy people in general.  And when people are unhappy, morale goes down.
  2. Morale is, to me, the biggest casualty in the toxic workplace.  As I observed the behaviours of those I worked with who seemed to be immune to all censure and discipline from HR and management, I became more and more disgruntled and unhappy. More unwilling to go the extra mile.  I'd already been prevented from working any overtime because one employee who had the supervisor's ear maintained that "anyone could do my job" and, therefore, I should not have any overtime.  Even when the person on the shift after mine called in sick, I was denied overtime because the supervisor felt that complete coverage of the eight hour shift was not necessary, therefore she gave the overtime to the person coming in on day shift who was quite junior in seniority to me.  When I complained, she became implacable and said "That. Is. My. Decision. To. Make." and made it a power and control issue - which is a crucial aspect of bullying that I have not really delved into as of yet.
And yet ... was it her decision to make?  Was she in effect saying that since she didn't feel that that shift deserved full-time coverage when the person who owned that job was ill, was she in effect changing policy and saying that that particular job/shift should be changed to part-time or even eliminated altogether?  Was that her call to make when assigning overtime?

I also watched one major player in the clique of bullying co-workers come and go as she pleased - arriving late and leaving early.  Seemingly with impunity.  I watched this same person surf the net for hours on end.  If asked to help me with a task, she would take what I now realize was the "passive aggressive" route.  She wouldn't say no and be upfront about it.  She would either simply not move or move very, very slowly so that I could have accomplished the task I was working on plus the one I had asked her to do in less time than it took the two of us to accomplish the tasks at hand.  Therefore, I became more and more reluctant to ask for any help.  It wasn't worth it.

This non-action of just sitting there, not moving, hands in lap was one that was very much in evidence from her very earliest days in our office when I was training her.  

Also, there's effects to the bystanders, to those who are watching this scenario play out.  The bystanders are not immune to the disease either.  Many, especially those who worked in our small office, joined their allegiance to those emitting the toxic fumes of gossip, backbiting, slander, defamation of character either.


As in Hamilton, Ontario, no one living in the area near the steel mills and their fumes is immune from diseases caused by this emissions, so are the employees of a toxic workplace.  No one is immune from their harmful effects.

*******

So today, I will publish this post - a day late.  I will focus on my routine which affords me a chance to regroup and rest.

Until tomorrow ....

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Perpetuating the toxic workplace




My workplace was far removed from this peaceful scene I shot in the fall of 2006.  It is pictures like these that bring back the good memories, the things that kept me level and moving forward for so long in what was becoming an increasingly difficult situation.  A situation where toxicity flourished unchecked.

At the time this picture was taken, I was fresh, very fresh from a secondary trauma when my pastor showed up unexpectedly and very angry at my doorstep because I'd thrown my Bible on the floor.  

At that time, I'd been through workplace abuse experience #1 but was not able to recognize it for what it was.  I had a therapist who also did not recognize the workplace abuse nor the trauma it had caused nor had any idea had to treat it.

For eighteen long months there was no healing, no help, no recovery. I was well and truly stuck emotionally.

Finally, just the month before I threw my Bible on the floor that fateful day in the church library, I had connected with a new therapist.  One who was well-versed in trauma, PTSD and had a proven track record in being able to work with people like me and help them on their roads to recovery.

She was the first one who acknowledged the role of trauma and PTSD in my life and in my actions.

Unfortunately, getting a good therapist and starting to work on the road to recovery does not mean that things are going to happen quickly.  There are no magic wands in recovery from psychological damage.  It's a long road involving a lot of hard work - and the occasional set back.

I love to look at this set of pictures because although I did not know it then, I was embarking on a journey, not one set out in road maps, rather one not clearly defined.  I look back at these photos and see how far I've been able to come from where I was.

If I only knew then what I know now, would things have been any different?

*******

If I only knew then what I know now, would things have been different?

One can only hope.

My head at this point is filled with lots of knowledge, research about workplace bullying and different aspects of it such as the toxic workplace.  Knowledge clamouring and begging to be let out.

I think by this time that we can definitely agree on one thing:  my workplace was toxic.

Contaminated.

Not contaminated by chemicals or toxic waste, but contaminated by toxic workers.  Wikipedia defines a toxic employee as: 
  1. In the context of a toxic workplace, a toxic employee is a worker who is motivated by personal gain, uses unethical, mean-spirited and sometimes illegal means to manipulate and annoy those around them; and whose motives are to maintain or increase power, money or special status or divert .
    Notice that the quote above describes the toxic workplace as being inhabited by a toxic employee - or employees as the case may be.  There cannot be a toxic workplace without at least one toxic employee.

In my former workplace, I believe that one or more than one employee was toxic beginning long before I ever walked in that compound.  I have come to wonder if toxicity was actually part of the workplace culture.

It certainly seemed to be an environment where toxicity flourished at different times with different people and where the infrastructure had become so cracked that toxicity was part and parcel of the "normal" work environment.

One incident that gave me pause occurred with a totally different employee who had gone on to bigger and better things by the time I was injured by bullying in the workplace about a year after the picture at the beginning of this posting was taken.

As I've noted, my workplace resembled the grass in south Texas where I once lived; everyone had their own burr, thistle or thorn.  "Walking" without extreme caution was inadvisable.

Working without extreme caution in my workplace was not advisable either.

At one point, I was learning a new job - that of dispatcher on an off shift.  Now, the dispatcher in a distribution environment is the "top dog" so to speak.  He (or she) is responsible for getting the trucks out on time.  He/she is not responsible though for the production of the paperwork for the truck leaving.  That is another employee's responsibility.  An entry level position.

In this incident, I was the dispatcher.  A young man was learning the ropes on producing the paperwork.  His trainer was a university student who had had a "casual" position with the company meaning part-time since she had been in high school.  She was more than capable of training this young man...

But .... was she toxic?  Did she spread toxicity to this new employee?

At one point, she was teaching him the ins and outs of the needs of a certain client whose truck was not due to depart for more than an hour when I had an urgent need for paperwork to be done right away.  Therefore, I asked the trainee to do up the paperwork for me.

He refused.

He said he was working on something else.  I pointed out that this need was immediate and should take precedent over what he was working on.

The trainer then told me very nastily to do the paperwork myself.

?

I don't remember how the paperwork got done that night.  I do remember that I felt like I'd been hit between the eyes by a blow I hadn't seen coming.  I had never treated a co-worker, especially one in a position above me like that.  It had never occurred to me.  And I wondered why she felt this behaviour was appropriate especially in a training situation.  I felt that by her actions she was teaching the newest member of our "team" a lesson he would never forget ... that certain people did not deserve respect.  That it was OK to refuse to do a job which was part of his job.

I don't always use the right words so sometimes I substitute another word.  I told the trainer that she was teaching him not to respect my authority.  To which, she took a lot of umbrage and let me know that I didn't have any authority.  Which apparently is true.  The dispatcher is the senior employee in the office, but does not have any authority.  

However ...

I realize now that the word I meant and should have used was "respect".  She was actively teaching the new employee to disrepect another employee.  One old enough to be their mother.

And therein laid part of the problem.

I took the young man out of the office later and we had a talk about what had happened and how we were both feeling.  It turns out that this young man felt like he was working with his mother - and he didn't like it.  I realized that a huge part of my problem was that I have been an authoritative person and that he was reacting very negatively to that trait in me.  I agreed to work on the authoritative part of my behaviour if he would work on his issues i.e. perceiving me and reacting negatively to me because of my age.  I may have been in his mom's age bracket BUT I was not his mom.

I also talked with the trainer with much less success.  She refused to budge on her actions.  In fact, she brought up everything thing I had ever done or said in the workplace.  Not positively.

I was already a year into the therapy that was steadily, slowly changing my life and felt that bringing up the past was not productive.

I talked with my therapist about this and we both felt the young lady in question was being toxic.  So I went to my manager.  Who went to her manager.  Who was this young lady's mother.

Oops!

I think you can guess what the outcome of that was.  Nothing.  In fact, from my point of view worse than nothing.  The 2up felt that there was nothing toxic about her daughter's behaviour.  So the stink continued.

Several years later, this woman who was at that time our 2up became my 1up.  Her feelings and perspectives from that encounter lingered on and I believe polluted her ability to deal with the bullying.

The young man in question?  He too continued on in that position for years.  He was one of the signees of the "complaint" I mentioned in a past post - the one that resulted in my termination.

*******

If I knew then what I know now in terms of the dynamics and the futility in trying to change the workplace environment what would I have done?

I think it best if we deal with that question in future posts.

Until tomorrow....









Monday, September 22, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Unexpected challenges yet life is still worth living


I started this post months ago in the period after I went to Write Canada.  Going to Write Canada was a significant event in my journey towards recovery post workplace abuse.  It is one of several unfinished posts in which I cached pieces of other posts which just didn't seem to fit in at the moment.

Right now, right at this moment in space and time, dear friends, I feel totally wiped.  Worn out.  My mind doesn't want to function.  My body wants to stay in bed.  Things that used to interest me, don't light my fire right now.

In short, I have a lot of the symptoms of depression according to the linked article from Huffpost.

I also feel disjointed - which is why I think reinventing this old conglomeration of bits and pieces from other posts fits today.  It fits the way I feel.

Yet, at the same time, disjointed and lacking in continuity as it may be, it does have a certain amount of fluidity.

In my journey towards recovery from workplace abuse, depression seems to be part and parcel of the journey.  Sometimes worse than other times.  Sometimes better.  It sort of seems to wax and wane like the moon.

The problem is to realize it for what it is.  If I can realize what it is, what I'm going through for example identify trauma, complex PTSD and depression in my life, then I am able to deal with them, to cope, better.

This post starts with Write Canada, goes on to an earlier part of the journey and then goes back to Write Canada.  It sort of meanders all over the place - like that creek I mentioned in my last post.

Yet ... yet, I think there is some validity in sharing these disjointed parts of my journey.  Because although disjointed, they still form a whole.

*******

Sandra Orchard, Published fiction writer from Ontario, who conducted some of the workshops who just happens to be wearing one of the scarves I made and brought to give away to anyone who blessed me.
Conquer?  Not exactly.  Write Canada does not need to be conquered.  It is not Mount Everest.  It is a group of people, mostly Christian people, who write.  We come from all over Canada, East and West, we come to share this time, to meet new people, to reconnect, to learn and to grow as writers.

Me.  I came with my own agenda.

To continue on the course of recovery from Workplace Abuse.  My own personal Mount Everest.

The journey home from a place which left me lost, alone and lonely.

From picture archives 2011 of ambitious camping trip in what is called the "Near North" of Ontario

I had no way of knowing back in 2011 when everything was happening at the workplace and I had those two back-to-back stress breakdowns what was in store for me.

I knew that what I was experiencing in the workplace was trauma.  I knew that I had complex PTSD from previous situations including and especially the first run in with workplace abuse.  But I really didn't understand how profoundly trauma was going to affect every aspect of my life and how long it was going to last.

It was like starting out on an unplanned, unexpected journey on the spur of the moment with absolutely no idea of where I was going or how I has going to get there.  If I got there at all.

The breakdowns and initial damage occurred in late winter/early spring of 2011.  By the fall of 2011, I was starting to move into what I now know was the chronic phase.  I was tired all the time.  A tiredness that never went away.  We had planned a two-week camping adventure starting out at Tobermory Ontario on the Bruce Peninsula, taking the ferry across to Manitoulin Island and then making our way across to Saulte Sainte Marie, up to Manitouwadge, Ontario and on back.  Little did I know at the time how challenging this trip would be.  How severe the damage was.  And that it was going to last for quite for time.

I simply thought if I got a good night's rest I would be fine.

That didn't happen.

I did notice that I felt safer in smaller spaces.  We have two tents and my husband chose to bring the small, canoe camping tent rather than the larger one.  I was glad he did.  I felt comfortable in that small, enclosed space which held so many good memories of previous trips when it was just hubby, me, the canoe and God.

The old lighthouse, now unused, at Big Tug Harbour, Tobermorey, Ontario
I also noticed that I had quite a startle reaction.  On our first night in Tobermory, a young child ran past me emitting loud noises - as children do.  And I startled badly.  I stopped.  I had a panic reaction.  It was then that we realized that going into a restaurant for our evening meal was not going to work.  Hubby suggested we buy sandwiches, etc. at the local food store and then go to the old lighthouse to eat them.  There were lots of other people there and I started to panic again, but hubby knew what I needed and led me to a secluded spot in the rocks where we could sit virtually unnoticed and simply observe as we ate our supper.

What I've described in today's blog was only the beginning of the affects of the trauma which became apparent in the days, weeks and months to come.  Affects I still wrestle with.

The "long and short" of it.  Myself and Heidi, one of the hardest working and funniest women I have ever met at Write Canada 2014
This is part of the background of the story as to why even being able to go to Write Canada 2013 with my niece as constant companion was such a victory and why going alone this year to Write Canada 2014 felt akin to climbing Mount Everest - or perhaps going up the CN Tower.

Also, why I find life such a challenge even now more than three years past the initial injury, the initial trauma.

*******

Life, my friends, is all about living.  Living to the fullest.  Living to the best of our abilities DESPITE our challenges.

During my journey - and largely because of it, I have had the privilege of meeting many people mostly through the net who are as disenfranchised in their own situations as I am in mine.  Most of these people have autoimmune diseases which have caused drastic changes in their lives.  Pain.  Immobility. 

Yet these people soldier on.

Life, I am finding is not about avoiding all obstacles and challenges but in meeting them head on and finding a way to cope with them.

Today, my challenge - should I choose to accept it - is to find a way to rebalance myself and soldier on.

I accept the challenge.

Until tomorrow ....






Friday, September 19, 2014

Workplace Abuse aka Bullying: Cracks in the infrastructure

How did this experience of workplace bullying which impacted me so badly leaving serious injury in its wake start?

There are no clearcut, decisive answers.  

However, looking back on the situation, I wonder if it had to do with the "infrastructure" of the workplace, a term usually used to denote the basic physical and organizational structure needed for the operation of a societyor enterprise ,[1] or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function (Wikipedia) but used here to denote the management style and company culture exiting within that particular workplace.  

Several months after I signed that document and resigned from the workplace while I was still very much in turmoil from the emotional fall out of what had happened to me, still trying to get a grasp on understanding the dynamics involved, I got up the courage to speak to a friend of mine who used to be a manager in a totally different industry.  As we spoke, all the examples he could give me were completely work related.  They had nothing to do with what had happened to me in my workplace.  They had nothing to do with the "I don't like you so I'm not going to work with you" mentality that I had experienced.  In fact, at what point he said that he had never experienced anything from a managerial point of view like I had experienced from a worker's point of view in my workplace.  Finally, he said that from where he was sitting, the "infrastructure" was broken and probably could not be fixed.

Ironically, less than two weeks after that conversation, the head company announced that it would be completely closing our facility and building new - outside of our immediate area.  Meaning that while people could apply for positions in the new plant, the company was under no compulsion to re-hire them.

Also, it was separating the plant/processing function from the warehouse/distribution function by building a new third-party warehouse operated by a separate company.  Which again meant, that current employees could apply, but there was no certainty that they would be hired on.

*******
I wonder if the infrastructure within the company was already cracked by the time I walked in just three weeks after I'd been walked out of the workplace abuse experience #1.  Freshly and wounded, I was very vulnerable very probably resembling a deer caught in the headlights.  A perfect target.

The workplace I walked into was a company on the verge of major changes.  It had begun as a small family-owned local business and had grown over the years - similar to the company I'd worked in prior.  It was an institution in our community - as was my former workplace.  Always there.  Like NCR was in the Dayton, Ohio area where I grew up, it was a major employer.  Unlike NCR in my former home town which long ago pulled its manufacturing process out of the Dayton area and tore down all the buildings, both companies were still there.  Still producing.  Still employing people.

When I walked in, it was said to be hard for a person to get employment in that company unless they had an "in", a relative who worked there.  I had no "in".  I simply saw the ad on Workopolis for a temporary position in the office as a mat leave, filed my resume and cover letter on-line - and the rest was more or less history.

The company was rumoured to be a good employer in the area.  And it was in many ways:  benefits, perks, an employee market for the goods we produced.  There was also a sense of camaraderie as many of the employees had worked together there for years.  There was a sense of family in a way.

It was a large compound as well including a laundry facility for those who worked in the plant and had to wear uniforms, a boot room for those whose jobs necessitated the wearing of certain footwear like steel-toed boots, a sewing room to repair the uniforms, etc. and even a nurse's office and a doctor on the company payroll.  As well, the company had plumbers, millwrights, electricians etc. on staff to take care of any problems that cropped up on the production line.  You could say it was a community in and of itself.

And it had a union.  Actually two unions:  one for the plant employees and one for the office employees.  I was in the latter.

Being fresh, very fresh, from the bruising, brutal experience in my former workplace, I felt like I was Dorothy who had just landed in the Land of Oz.  I felt that what happened to me in the smaller, previous workplace could not happen to me in this larger one.  I felt that the union would protect me from the sort of behaviour I had experienced in the former workplace.  And it might have - had this experience been top down, i.e. starting with management, as the previous one was.  But it wasn't.  

This experience started with my co-workers, my peers.  It was a grassroots sort of movement which started at the bottom levels i.e. the grassroots and travelled upwards to HR, management and even the union.

It was not the union pitted against an unfair employer - which is what I perceive the union's role to be, but it became one faction of union members pitted against another union member who had been singled out and targeted for bullying.  Talk about conflict of interest.  I learned the hard way that even though the union president said that she was there for both sides, her leanings where definitely not with me.  There is no such thing as "neutrality" on something like this.  

On top of that, as good as I had perceived my employer to be, it did not have a separate bullying policy.  It only had a harassment policy which is based on Human Rights issues such as race, religion, ethnicity, etc.  

As I mentioned earlier, the company was about to experience a major transition.  What was once a family-owned business had already been swallowed up by a larger fish from the U.S. a few years before.  Now, it was in the process of transition of being taken over by an even larger fish:  a multi-million dollar Canadian conglomerate.  A leader, a mover and shaker in the Canadian food industry.

One thing I noticed very early on in my tenure at that workplace was that I seemed to have walked into a place which had a lot of divergent, strong, personalities.  It reminded me a bit of what someone once said about walking barefoot in south Texas; you didn't want to do it because everywhere you went there was a thistle, a thorn or a burr.

This workplace reminded me of that statement in the personalities of the people.  This one didn't like that one.  There was friction here; friction there.  A lot of very strong personalities all within the same space along with people who were related in some way, shape or form to one another by blood or by marriage, like two sisters-in-law one in management and one in the office; a mother/daughter duo also one in management and one as part-time; a husband/wife duo - her in the office, him as a driver; mother/daughter's "significant other" in the same office doing the same job.  The list could go on.  

There were also major trust issues.   If people didn't like what you were doing, they didn't go to you and work things out, they ran to management.

Looking back, there were a lot of "fault" lines criss-crossing the entire department similar to the geological fault lines which exist within the earth and are capable of causing catastrophic earth quakes if the conditions are ripe.

Although we had the illusion of "team", were we really capable of working together as a whole?

I think the workplace held together as well as it did for as long as it did, because there were good, strong people in management positions at the time I started my employment there.  Also because all the components, i.e. workers and managers, were all together in the same building.  However, as the new company took over, it slowly changed the internal dynamics of the workplace as it shuffled people around to different positions and even in one major case, shuffled an entire department to another location, thus giving room in another building on the compound for all the higher managers to be moved to that building.

As older, more established employees changed positions within the company and employees from others area of the compound including the plant came into the office, the dynamics changed considerably over time.

Each new person who came into our division, added a whole new dynamic to the mix.

*******

And this is where I will end the blog for today - and for this week.

Until Monday ... have a good weekend.