Friday, November 7, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: The next chapter in my saga about how I became the workplace target - the beginnings


The picture above was taken from the Observation platform of the Parry Sound (Ontario) observation tower overlooking the town of Parry Sound, the harbour and a piece of Georgian Bay.  Gorgeous, eh?

It is so much easier to see the overview, to place pieces in context, when one is looking at things from a distance.  You see things from this vantage point that you would never see on ground level, up close and personal.

So it is with my experience in the workplace with bullying.  From a distance, it is so much easier to see and analyse things.  For me that distance is the three plus years I've been out of the workplace working diligently on recovery.

The distance - and recovery, partial that it appears to be - also afford me the ability to look back at my experience without many of the feelings I experienced when going through it:  the confusion, the anger, etc.

The distance allows me the opportunity to look at things more objectively and say this is what happened to me in as factual and logical way as possible.

*******

I started yesterday's blog with the intention of talking about the type of workplace bullying called "mobbing", but as my fingers filtered through the thoughts in my head on the keyboard, I realized that going straight to the type of bullying called "mobbing" is like putting the cart before the horse.

Bullying starts small.  Usually with only one person.  However, like a little snowball which when rolled around and around enough on moist, wet, packing snow becomes larger and larger until at some point it is so large, heavy and unwieldy that it cannot be moved, unchecked bullying has the potential to become something much larger than its individual, component parts.

And that is why it goes unnoticed in its earliest stages.  The very beginnings of the snowball called bullying are often completely undetectable - by anyone - even the person selected for bullying.

I truly believe that my situation in the workplace began with two separate people, unfortunately at the same time in the same place (our workplace), who had their own issues.  Their own problems.  Their own hopes and desires.  I just happened to intersect with both of them separately in negative ways.  And they both happened to intersect with each other and draw others into the snowball.

Both, I believe were serial bullies in the past.  Moving from one "victim" to another.

I believe from the first co-worker's own words, plus observation, that she had a pattern of bullying people long before I ever crossed her path.

In fact, the Union president who worked in our office during that time, at one point said that this person had problems "getting along with people".  That was before.  Before the Union president became privy to whatever my co-workers were saying about me and joined forces with them.

Today, we go into the second co-worker who I also believe, although I cannot prove it, was a serial bully.

I'd been having problems with the co-worker who worked the shift immediately before mine.  She often left two to four hours of work from her shift for me to finish.  I often felt like I was like a race horse rushing as fast as people out of the starting gate.  Day after day.  As we were a 24/7 operation in the transportation industry, I had no choice but to finish the work she'd not done.  If I didn't complete what she didn't, the product would not go out.

In addition, this person would isolate and pick on little things.  Constantly.  I was the target of petty emails on a constant basis.  I was the target of misinformation.  I can't recall at this time all the little things this person did because they were little.  They were petty.  But they were constant.  Undermining.

I discovered later, much later when the bullying in the workplace was full-blown and I started researching it, that this behaviour of picking on the little things with the intent of undermining a well-established employee also comes under the definition of bullying.

As time progressed and the situation continued, I decided it was time for a "divorce" so to speak from this person.  An opportunity came up to take a mat leave position which, while remaining in the same office, would effectively remove me from direct interaction with that person.  It would also entail learning new skills.  Working different shifts.

I jumped at it.

What is that saying about going from the frying pan to the fire?

Moving to the new position involved training someone to temporarily take my existing position and then going into a long period of training myself.  And that is where I made a crucial mistake.

I figured the person coming in knew - and accepted - the fact that this was a temporary position.  That I "owned" the job she was taking over and that I had every intent of going back to that job when the mat leave was finished.

Oops!

I had difficulty with this person from the very beginning.  Although to be fair, I have to admit that she came in at a difficult time.  I was supposed to train her - and another person - at the same time (which is an impossible task at the best of times, I think) AND catch up on all the leftover work at the same time.  I couldn't really begin training this person until I got caught up.  Simply because it takes extra time for untrained people to catch on.

Also, the person in question had come from another part of our large plant, the production part, which was a separate entity entirely.  There was no certainty that if this didn't work out for her long term that she would be able to get her old position back.  So it was a risky enterprise for her.  One I only recognized too late.

Also, concurrently, the supervisor who had hired me for the mat leave and hired this person to replace me and who had created the scenario of me training two people at the same time, left suddenly.  As in he was there one day and gone the next.  Walked out.

Oops again!

Fortunately, we had a management trainee on board who had been destined to take over the responsibility for our supervision so she took over that supervisory role - just much sooner than she had thought.  Without the transition period she had expected.

Does anyone else see this as a recipe for disaster?  At least in hindsight?

An overworked employee who is expected to play catch up on a daily basis, train two people at once combined with a new, inexperienced supervisor?  Not to mention, the co-worker I was trying to get a "divorce" from who was still in her position and still very capable of undermining me?


*******

... If I knew then what I know now.

If I knew how all these various forces in and of themselves, not even factoring in the individual in the other office I've identified as a possible serial bully, perhaps, just perhaps, I would have realized that I was at the very beginning of an exercise in futility and cut my losses and run.

But leaving, quitting, is not in my personality.  It is not something I do.

So I continued on.  


The picture above is taken from the exact same location, the Observation Tower, in Parry Sound, overlooking the same piece of scenery, from the same angle.  The only difference is that for this picture, I used my zoom lens.  Zooming in on one particular aspect, in this case a boat which fascinated me, of the scenery below.

In a sense, this is what I'm doing with this blog posting.  Zooming in, focussing, on one particular experience in a long series of experiences that comprised my experience with bullying in the workplace.

Until Monday ... I hope you have a good weekend.

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