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.

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