Friday, September 5, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Why leaving an abusive workplace without further injury is difficult - part 2 of the continuing story

The wake of a motor boat going faster than it should in a narrow area threatened to swamp and capsize our little canoe
We ventured out in a canoe onto what is called Nature's Playground:  the 30,000 island area near Parry Sound, Ontario on Georgian Bay.  We made the mistake of putting our little, tipsy canoe into the water on Labour Day, a day when many people are out on the lakes in their pleasure craft enjoying the last holiday of summer.  We also made the mistake of putting in at a narrows where there's only so much space for the wake of a motorized boat to go.  We tried to protect ourselves by paddling into a little cove.  It turned out to be not the best idea we've ever had.  We had rocks in front of us and a rock wall behind.  We had boats coming from three different directions.  Every time one of them passed, the wake from it would come at us and threaten to capsize us.  Trying to get out of this cove turned out to be problematic too.  There was just too much traffic going too fast and not able to see us.  Finally, hubby said "Now!" and we paddled as fast as we could out of that cove and across the open water of the inlet to the far side.  Ever tried to outrace a motor boat when you're paddling a canoe?  Try it sometime.  If you want to get your adrenaline up.

Being caught up in workplace bullying is similar to being stuck in that cove.  It's not a safe place to be.  There are currents which threaten to swamp the target.  And it's a hard place to escape from.


*******

As far as I was concerned, my co-workers had won not just the battle, but the war.

As far as I was concerned:  it was over.  I had failed.  I was giving up in defeat.  Bruised and "bloodied" (emotionally) from the battle.  I'd gone as far as I could, and there was no longer anything left to give.

All I could do now was focus on surviving my psychiatric injuries and figuring out where to go from here.

However, the question arises:  were they i.e. the adversaries aware of that?

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that after I left work that final time not knowing that I was in the beginnings of a second stress breakdown from my trainee's behaviour, not knowing that I would never enter that building - or any building in the compound for that matter - again, there was not any direct - or as for as I know indirect - communication with those who were "on the other side".  The adversaries.  They had no way of knowing anything about the situation I was in, the decisions I was making to leave the workplace.  Nothing.

I did have some decent relationships with some of the other employees, those who chose to stay out of the situation, but I chose not to contact any of those co-workers in what I now realize was a futile attempt to protect myself from the bullies.

After my supervisor inquired about whether or not I wanted to continue with the scheduled meeting, step 1 of the grievance procedure and I responded in the negative, I had no further communication with her or anyone else in management or HR at that company at all.

According to the company's policy on sick leave, the manager was supposed to be in communication with the worker every two weeks, I believe, to see how the worker was progressing and when he/she might be expected to return to work.

That never happened.

However, a union representative called me out of the blue one day shortly after my last communication with the supervisor.  I didn't expect it, yet I welcomed it thinking that finally there was someone there to support me.  To represent me.  As it had become apparent in the journey that the high-ranking union rep in our work area had become aligned with the adversaries.

Assumptions and perceptions on my part.  Or should I say:  misperceptions.

I have to assume that he had to have been told something by someone as since we had never met or had any communication with each other, that was the other way he would have contacted me.  If someone had told him to.  Other than osmosis, of course.  (I'm not a big fan of osmosis.)

I went into my usual pattern of trying to inform him about workplace bullying, what it is, how my story fits into the perception of workplace abuse.

I feel now, in retrospect and in light of further events, that I wasted my breath, my time and my energy.

My psychiatrist had given me six weeks off and then he was going to evaluation me further to see if I needed more time off, more separation, from the workplace in order to recover.  About two weeks before that six seek period was up, the union rep called me and wanted to meet.  I was on my way to the chiropractor's due to some serious pain in my back.  I couldn't drive, so he offered to drive me.  I didn't see any harm in that.  My antennae weren't warning me of any danger, so I accepted the offer.

Beware of union reps who appear out of the blue and offer rides.  They're as much to be aware, and wary, of as HR people - and bullies.

My problem is, I'm naive.  I was naive with management.  I was naive with HR.  I was naive with the union rep.  I thought these people would realize how harmful the situation was and work to resolve it.  To protect me from bullying in the workplace.  Instead, to a man - or woman, as the case may be - each one, in turn, turned on me and went to the "other side" of the equation.

I became the problem.  I became the bully.  I was perceived in a negative light.

I didn't become aware that this union rep might have a hidden agenda until he was driving me home from the chiropractor's officer and "missed" the turn to my street.  I said something about needing to turn here.  He responded that he was taking me out for a coffee.  I still didn't clue in that something was amiss.

The entire conversation up to the point in which we entered the doughnut shop, ordered our coffees and sat down had been with me still trying to get him to understand what workplace bullying was and how the facts, the research, lined up with what I had experienced.

*******
It's time to close for today.  Ironically, the weather outside my window as I type this is stormy matching the storm swirling inside me that day in the doughnut shop.  Thunder booming outside my window.  Lightning.  Rain pouring down.  The lights flickering.  Definitely a situation to be careful of.

I wish human interactions came with such clear warning signs and signals.  But they don't.

Until Monday ....

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