Monday, June 10, 2013

Workplace Abuse - the Journey into Darkness Continues

Wednesday we ended with a picture of this derelict canoe I found alongside Georgian Bay a few years back.  This picture shows even more graphically the extent of the damage.  How unseaworthy it is.  By the end of my last contract in this workplace, there was definitely more than a little resemblance between this canoe and my emotional state. Unlike this photograph, though, there was nothing picturesque about my situation at the workplace.

As I look back at that time, my visual imagery sees things in blacks and greys.  No colours.  No bright spots.  Even though Christmas was approaching, there was no Christmas, no joy, in my soul.  Only a dread as the days counted relentlessly day to the end of the year.  The last day of the year, the last day of my contract.  Still no word.  Still a constant barrage of confusion.  Mixed messages.

It was a time of intense emotion.  Intense frustration.

A time experienced more in emotions, in feelings, than in words.  Therefore, it is difficult to describe this emotionally charged time in words that can adequately convey both the context and the extent of the damage while it was happening.  Also the uncertainty.  Which in and of itself was intense.

I have to force myself to go back to that upper room.  That room of darkness.

Looking back, my manager had her own unique managerial style which was to sit back do nothing.  Let the office run itself.  I once heard her tell someone over the phone once that her new supervisory position wasn't hard as the office ran itself.  This style may work in the short-term as one steps into a management position with a well-oiled team, but it tends to break down over time as new circumstances occur and need attention.  This was such a time in our office with two people (the one I was covering for) being off long-term due to a life-threatening condition and the other, the one I was also covering for, recovering from surgery for cancer.  (Note:  to clarify, we were actually two people down, not one.  The first one had an aneurysm earlier that year, and I was filling in full-time for her until she either came back or went on long-term disability; the second was the one who was having surgery for cancer, was off for about two months and whom I was covering half of her job).  With two people, myself and the former co-op, covering positions we weren't trained for, we were no longer that well-oiled team we had once been.  We needed supervisory input and guidance.  Input and guidance we weren't getting. Input and guidance we were negatively judged for if we did ask.

I would ask for instructions and guidelines, but get none.  I was told I had to learn to make decisions.  I thought that odd because I made decisions on a daily basis which my supervisor knew nothing about.  What kind of decisions was she talking about?  I asked for guidelines but was given none.  Furthermore, I was told to just make the decisions and that she would know if I made the wrong one.     It not only didn't help me, but it didn't sound right.

It didn't make sense because we were a manufacturing, and therefore a shipping, business.  Was she telling me that I could make a decision to ship cases of a certain product to a company all the way out to BC without managerial oversight?  Do you have any idea what the costs of such a decision might be?  Did she?  Did she want me making that kind of decision?

As time went on, since I was not getting needed guidance from her, I liaised more and more with others in that upper room who could give me the guidance and mentoring I needed.  Especially in the shipping realm.  And they, in turn, relied more and more on my expertise in certain areas.

No direction.  No guidelines.  Constant criticism.  All the while busting my gut to get the work done, to do better, to gain approval.  Approval which never came.  At least, it never came from my supervisor - or her supervisor. 

It did come from other sources, though, which added to my sense of confusion.

As mentioned earlier, I was well-liked by my co-workers in that office.  As well, I had a good reputation among the office staff in the front of the building.  I was told on more than one occasion that when they wanted an answer, I was the first one they would go to as I was the one who either would know the answer or figure out a way to find out.

I also had a good reputation with the major accounts I liaised with.  I think I mentioned earlier that we had one account which had been problematic for years.  Long before my time.  As I liaised with this account over the course of months, they liked my style.  I dealt with them with honesty.  Not with the answers they wanted to hear but with facts.  When the product was going to be produced.  Whether it could make it on time for their ad or not.  An approximate ETA for it, etc.  During one time of crisis in our upper office (and there was always some crisis to be dealt with as production lines might be taken off line at critical production times therefore causing shortages of product on ad somewhere), the rail company we dealt with went on strike - and our product was stranded.  It made its way to our furthest terminal in British Columbia.  Eventually, trucks lined up at the rail yard's gates to have a trailer loaded on and trucked away to its destination.  It was during this time, that this company and I forged a solid working relationship.  One that never ended - until, of course, I ended.  Instead of giving them a glib answer, I described the situation with the trucks lined up at the gates and moving product.  However, I added that there was no way of knowing which trailer was going to be loaded onto the back of the tractor and thereby make it's way out to our warehouse.  My contact was impressed with my truthfulness as he said that many people would just tell him whatever.

It was with this contact that I made a "fatal" mistake in my manager's eyes in mid-December.  I was dealing with something with this customer and he mentioned that their relationship with my company had never been better and that he was looking forward to dealing with me in the new year.

At that point, I did another unpardonable sin in my manager's eyes.  I explained that I was on contract, filling in for another person, and that my contract was up at the end of the year and that I did not know if it would be continued or not.  He wanted to voice his opinion with management as to my value and asked for contact information.  He was as good as his word.  Apparently, his recommendation went past my managers and up into the executive of the company.


My manager and her manager were not impressed.  In fact, the word my manager used was "livid".  My 2-up, who didn't even know me except by whatever my reputation was - and that depended on who was telling her, was "livid" about the glowing recommendation.

I was called back into a private office and given a tongue-lashing.  Again, I was unprofessional for having said I was on contact.  Again, I was told that my performance was amazing BUT....  The BUT being the important part, not the amazing.

I was offered a three month contract until the end of March.

I took it.

It was the worst decision of my life.  And I lived to regret it.

This narrative is going slowly.  Very slowly.  Slower, in fact, than I think I originally intended.

But, as with most of us who have been damaged by workplace abuse, I went through it with feelings, emotions, confusion, frustration which I could not sort out at the time.  I couldn't process it.  And no one who was with me, could help me either.  Unless you've been in a situation of workplace abuse or have walked with someone who has and can recognize it for what it is when it's happening, the target is at a definite disadvantage.

I think most of us who have been abused in the workplace have, or if you're still in that situation, are dealing with things you have no clue as to how to deal with.  You're vaguely aware that something is wrong, but not what.  You want to fix it.  You want things to get better.

You're made to think that you're the problem.

And here is where I stop for today.  I'm still a derelict boat in the process of becoming more derelict, acquiring more damage, in the process.  Barely seaworthy.

See you tomorrow.

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