Friday, June 21, 2013

Workplace Abuse - The Ends Comes Ever Closer

 The sun comes up slowly emerging from the darkness.  First just a glow on the horizon.  Then slowly rising, slowly emerging from its sleep.  Bringing forth light where once darkness reigned.  However, before the sun rises in the morning, it must set at night slowly plunging the earth into darkness.  But not complete darkness.  There are always the stars, the moon to provide pinpoints of light to guide us through the darkness.

With the signing of that last contract, I descended into a dark time in my life.  As I've written before, that time is imprinted in my mind in shadows in shades of grey.

Exhaustion.  Caused partly by overwork but also but chronically disrupted sleep patterns.  Anxiety.  Stress.  Trembling.  A feeling of doom.  I kept looking up expecting to find the Sword of Damocles hovering over me by a thin string.  The sword being the end of the contract.  The thin string my increasingly tenuous tenure in the workplace.  Seeing the worst happen.  Still naively hoping for a good outcome, despite all odds.

When my supervisor (I now realize) grudgingly offered that last contract, I was naive enough to think that there was still hope.  That I could still gain her approval and acceptance.  That I had a reprieve of three months to show how good I was.

Looking back, hindsight being 20-20, I realize that that contact was only offered because they felt compelled to.  The highly complementary letter from that major account had gone all the way up into the Executive and my guess is that my supervisor and her 2-up realized that not renewing my contract was not in their best interests at that point.  I thought I was buying time.  I realize in hindsight (and I think I partially realized it then) that in reality they were buying themselves time.  Time for the Executive to forget the person on the West Order Desk in the back of the building.  Time to ensure that this time their plans went ... well ... according to plan.

Their first strategy was to ensure that I knew that my action in advising that major account that I was on account was (in their estimation) highly unprofessional and putting in place a new rule - just for me.  I was not to advise anyone - inside or outside the office - that I was on contract.

That meant that all the sales reps I worked with, all the DM's and their administrative assistants, all the major accounts and all my co-workers were not to know that my status in the workplace was tenuous at best.  I had worked there so long (25 months - six contracts plus the original co-op experience) that most people including my co-workers thought I was a permanent employee.

During this time, I felt like I was swimming in the lake of work alone like this Common Merganser.  Friendless.  Alone.  Mergansers seem to like to travel together - diving, swimming, feeding, whatever.  In a loose pack.  Like humans.  Like the Mergansers, we're not meant to travel alone through the waters of life - or the workplace - either.

I felt isolated from my co-workers.  They were permanent, I was not.  They were allowed to operate on a different, less stringent set of rules.  I was the different one.  The odd man out.  But I was not allowed to express that, OR ELSE....

The co-worker who I was partially covering for came back in the middle of January.  The former co-op who was covering half her job left.  My workload came back to manageable levels.  My blood pressure did not.  The environment with my supervisor did not.  If anything, she became more distant, more unapproachable.  In that last three months, I think I can count on both hands ... OK, I might have to include one foot ... the number of times my supervisor talked to me.  The times she did were to criticize or because she absolutely had to.

I was also told at the time the last contract was offered that my status would not be decided until the end - and I was not to ask.  Another rule.

My supervisor went into detail about the terms of the contract - with one major exception.  Pay.  In my last contract, a bonus had been included to signify a pay raise.  That bonus, that pay raise, magically disappeared in the last contract.

We were supposed to have a meeting regarding things in the New Year - just after the holidays.  It never happened.  Well, yes, I suppose you can say it happened - was it late January or February?  Also, it happened suddenly.  One of those surprise meetings the research I've since uncovered talks about.  Leaving me at a disadvantage.  However, I did plough on through all of her concerns raised just before Christmas only to find that they too, like my raise, had magically disappeared - only to replaced by other concerns.  Concerns more or less along the same lines as before, but different issues, different incidents.  Incidents I had no knowledge about - at least from her point of view.  A whole different bag of garbage opened and left smelling at my feet.  I didn't know how to deal with this.  Non-confrontative by nature, I was at a distinct disadvantage.  My personality also worked against me, as I need time to sort things through, to process them.  Give me two or three days - or sometimes even longer - and we can have a real, meaningful discussion.  But throw things at me on the fly  like that and I'm lost.

Did I say meaningful discussion?  The problem was that I appear to have been the only one of the two of us who wanted a meaningful discussion.  Two people conversing with one another towards the end of reaching a mutual understanding based on mutual respect and value.  I realize now that this term, meaningful discussion, did not appear to be in my supervisor's vocabulary, at least not in my experience.  Our conversations, our meetings appeared to be more along the lines of an emotional "hit and run" leaving me confused and devastated in its wake.  Unfortunately, I was not able to recognize that dynamic at the time, I was so invested in having a meaningful dialogue with my supervisor that I did not realize that it was merely a pipe dream on my part.  Something that just was not going to happen.

And so it was.  The dynamic set.  The steamroller in the office flattening me on a daily basis.  The steamroller no was else was aware of.  The steamroller even I was barely able to discern.  Because it didn't appear like a steamroller.  It had the form of a rather nice-looking woman who appeared pleasant to everyone else in the office.  Aside:  steamrollers i.e. bullies in the workplace, are very deceptive.  They rarely look like what they are.

I know this may be a bit on the abrupt side, but its time to stop the narrative for today.  To be resumed on the other side of the weekend.  See you Monday.

This is a familiar sign to those who canoe camp in Ontario's provincial parks.  It is a sign alerting canoeists of a portage.  A trail, sometimes long, sometimes short, sometimes easy, sometimes hard, between two lakes.  An exit - or entrance, if you will - from one lake to another.  A portal to a new adventure waiting on the other side.

In this blog series, I am approaching such a portage in my life.  Not there quite yet, but approaching it.  An exit from one work experience to another.  Unfortunately, like the portage where the canoeist(s) have to carry all their worldly goods, including canoe, over to the other side, I had a lot of baggage to carry with me. 

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