Tuesday, June 4, 2013
My Story Continued: Tranquility Ends; The Storm Begins
Even though there were red flags. Even though my supervisor treated me noticeably different than my co-workers, things were more or less okay.
Until a co-worker was diagnosed with cancer and needed to take a couple of months off for surgery and recovery. My supervisor decided that I could take over half of this co-worker's job. The complicated half. The half that took time to problem solve. The half I had no knowledge of and would have to learn from scratch. As they say, the learning curve went straight up.
In addition, she hired a former high school co-op student to handle the other half. Inputting orders. The mundane things. I had my reservations as that student really had not been up to the challenges of the job when she was a co-op and working under supervision and mentorship. How was she going to handle this on her own?
And how was I going to handle the overload when my own job took up my full eight hour shift and nothing was being taken away from my load?
As a customer service representative, I liaised with district managers, sales reps, third party warehouses and major accounts in Western Canada. I inputted orders, handled returns, inputted sample orders for sales reps, even tracked product travelling across the country (a by-product from my co-op term), filed. You name it, I probably did it. I even took over ordering the office supplies.
My job had always been stressful. Always one too many irons in the fire with one more just a phone call - or a fax - or an email - away.
I thrived on it, though. Being a product of the post WWII baby boom, I took pride in a job well done. I threw everything I had into (a) doing the job and (b) doing the job well. I had learned good customer service skills from an eight year stint in a call centre which closed in 2002, and I cultivated good working relationships with the sales team, the district managers, their administrative assistants and the major customers. I became known as someone they could go to when they needed help with the system, etc. They learned that I was honest and that while I might not be able to address their issue immediately, I would get to it as soon as possible.
All of that was soon to be tested - severely.
My training consisted of three days divided with the former co-op. As she was the needier, she got the most attention.
The week after the other employee left for her surgery. The week I was alone on the job with inadequate training. The week I started working nine, ten and sometimes twelve hour days to get the job done. I would start the day with my co-worker's responsibilities. It wasn't unusual for it to be well after noon when I would finally be able to get to my own responsibilities.
Just when I thought I had a handle on things, that I could do this despite the inadequate training, despite the overload, despite the lack of mentoring from my supervisor, and just when I thought I was done with my co-worker's responsibilities for that particular working day, the warehouse on the floor below me lost an order.
In my regular position, this was not an issue. Or at least not an issue for me, as the third-party warehouses I liaised with were not on WHMS (Warehouse Management System). Any issues and I would call my liaison in the third-party warehouse out west and they would handle the issue. With the added responsibilities which now included our warehouse downstairs, I had had to learn WHMS which was a challenge in and of itself. Add to this that I had only been taught the bare basics and I think you have an idea where this might be going.
The person "down below" who would normally have handled this problem was out of the office for a few days. Remember how I mentioned one of the "red flags about people's personalities and rough edges? Well, I was about to come face to face with one. One I didn't expect.
Running downstairs to place what I thought would be my last task of the day, the man handling the responsibilities that week, a crusty old-timer who had been with the company "forever" (well, almost, or it seemed like it) called me into his cubicle and raked me over the coals demanding that I locate the missing order.
I had no idea how to find it. How to problem solve it. What to do. And I was confused. Why was it my issue? I knew I had placed it. Wasn't it up to the warehouse to find it?
I went back up the stairs meeting a co-worker on the way. It was only the two of us and I unexpectedly came out with: "I can't do anything f----ing right." Strong language. Unusual language for me too. I continued my way upstairs to try to figure out how in heaven's name I was going to find this order. I asked the only other person in the office who knew WHMS. He showed me how to look up past orders and we discovered that I had indeed inputted it. It was at that point where my supervisor came storming into the office. Angry at me. For being loud. For using profanity when it was an everyday occurrence? For being human? I don't know for sure what made her so angry, but she was and she let me know in no uncertain terms that my behaviour was "unprofessional" and unacceptable.
Her method of handling the crisis? Write an email to the person who was off asking him to find it.
Problem was. Three days later after that employee returned, it was still missing. No one had bothered to read the email and look for the product. It was dumped back on my lap again.
Eventually, the missing order was found. Tucked away in some corner of the warehouse.
Finding it was not, and never had been, my responsibility. There was no way I would have known what the warehouse staff would have done with it once it was filled. But I learned from that experience. I learned more about WHMS. How to track things. How to ensure that this didn't happen again.
But none of that was good enough for my supervisor. From that day on, life in the workplace became more and more difficult.
I discovered later that the employee who called me into his cubicle and raked me over the coals that day had a pattern of doing that. Picking out a new employee or one who was new to that particular job and giving them a very hard time. Especially if they were a woman.
Tomorrow, when we pick up the narrative, I will focus on the supervisor. Her demands. Her perspective. What she wanted. What she didn't want. There is where we enter into the phase of workplace abuse. A phase which lasted for approximately the next four months. A phase which ended when my contract did and I was worked out the day before it officially ended. A phase which hurled me and my emotions into a world of hurt.
Until then I leave you with this visual image of waves crashing into the shoreline. A visual image of the emotional turbulence I experienced during the last months of this abusive workplace experience.