I have been wanting to write a post on my blog about the company I work for in a long time. However I am not sure what I want to say or from where to start. My employer and I have a very complicated relationship.
It started wonderfully well: I was enthusiastic and gave my best since the start; they were very happy to have hired me and already gave me a promotion with a small increase of salary only 3 months after I joined. In the first year I worked there, I was full of hopes so I remained understanding at first with all the unkept promises of a manager position for me soon available and with the full exploitation of my abilities and my dedication to work towards a goal which (I always suspected deep down) was never really there to be reached.
Little by little I started realising (probably like every big company) how much they were systematically misleading their employees, not only me, to get them to work hard, even when they knew they could not keep their word. How many deluded people were leaving for disappointment and how high was the turn over in the admin team as very little scope for career progression was available, even to the best members of staff.
Then things got badly out of hand and I saw the worst of the people that were managing at the highest levels.
Now after 7 years I am left full of bad memories, resentments and a chip on a shoulder attitude every time something goes wrong for me. Therefore I am convinced that my employer sees me as a pain in the neck and would easily want to get rid of me if it was possible (even if I don’t have the proof of it so I may be wrong).
Reason number 1 – I am hugely overpaid. About 4 years ago (when I mentioned things got badly out of hand) I got a promotion to lead an extremely underperforming team, I was not a manager so I had no authority on them, just a figure in between them and our manager. The situation got out of control as they started bullying me when management did not support me whilst I was only trying to lead by example to get them to higher standards. I wanted to stay to resolve the issues but they moved me to a different branch on a very basic role to ‘protect’ me – they could not do anything to my increase of salary as I had done nothing wrong. Nine months later the unhoped for happened: they sacked the whole team for gross misconduct, proving I was only trying to do the job they had given me a promotion for in the first place. Even the CEO of the time told me in an unofficial way that I was right and they had not understood how badly the team was behaving.
Reason number 2 – I am too blunt now to stop saying in a polite way ‘bullshit’ when management (even up to the highest levels) cannot be coherent with what they are saying or is covering up something. At the time of the bullying incident my COO promised me face to face he would move me to an inconvenient branch to me respecting my requested condition: stating clearly to the whole company I had done nothing wrong. Instead he did nothing of what he had assured me in person, also putting me into a delicate position to start in the new branch.
Three years ago my HR manager replied 2 hours later to an email I sent her requesting if they could consider paying a few more weeks of my second maternity pay. As I said I work for a big company which however still offers only the basic 6 weeks pay and everyone complains about that, I was hoping to open a precedent considering I had been a long term employee. The fact that she replied a very simple ‘no’ only after 2 hours, clearly meant she did not even consider my request for a second. If she had been smart enough, she would have emailed me back something along the line ‘I understand how you may feel jeopardise financially… Let me bring it up to the next budget meeting and see what I can do but I cannot promise any results’. Than 2 weeks later reply how sorry she was that it had not be possible to find funds for it – even if management may have decided for a no straight away.
Both times I told them to their faces in a polite but very direct way they should stop taking the mickey out of employees like that. I just could not help it, after so long working so hard for them! Just because you are my employer, do you have the right to treat me with no respect whatsoever? I don’t think so. My CEO was even able once to agree with me by e-mail to extend my time from 2 to 4 weeks to appeal to his declining decision on my request of flexible working and when I replied 3 weeks later he told me I was out of time to appeal: no shame whatsoever not to keep his word even after giving me written proof!
Reason n 3 – Being a long term employee (over 7 years now) I have a lot of benefits such as one extra week of paid annual leave and sick leave and finally a job share position at 0.6 at a very good salary rate which no one else has obtain in the admin team (apart from my HR manager which says it all really: above they can obtain what they want but don’t discuss it below – what kind of message and example are they giving there?!).
But what I have been finding most relevant in the past year or so is this unhealthy approach to feelings. Literally the emotional police patrols at work: you have no right to go through a difficult time in your private life if this reflects at all on you (showing you are depressed or having a grief); you have to be always 100% in shape (even if you had no sleep repetitively and your kids make you run around all day long or bring germs and sickness home regularly – beware my absence rate is still below my paid allowance); and certainly you cannot show any disagreement or point out any issues in your team or in the work procedures you carry out. Like one of my colleague who has just resigned (despite being offered a promotion as manager) was commenting the other day: if you don’t comply to everything they say, their reaction is ‘Why do you even work here? Just go!’ which also brought her to the decision to leave despite the career progression opportunity just obtained from them.
It is obvious to everyone that some employees may be very demanding and I know that I have come across like that at times (after the initial honeymoon period as I was not showing any objections or needs at first) and I also guess being too direct in the past few years does not help me, so now they surely have a pre concept of where I may be coming from when I outline a concern of mine.
It is also true that in a capitalistic society like ours, companies have to make sure employees meet the demands of their leaders otherwise according to their business plan they will go out of business.
However things are never black and white and if a team member feels there is something going wrong, it cannot just be them, there must be a part of truth in it as well: no point to blame the issue back only at the person who talked about it in the first place. Having worked for them for such a long period and being now on a high salary for my role, they keep on forgetting that I was not perceived like a pain in the neck at first when I was working hard towards unkept promises. So why management can never take feedback on? That’s the difference between a good boss and a bad boss I suppose. Finding a common ground with someone who started well and you know they can clearly highly perform in the right conditions, is the secret to keep long lasting relationships (like for marriages it’s a tool to little staff turn over all the same). They expect from all their staff continuous growth but do not provide the admin members with any scope for personal progression and are not even willing to take criticism on board to get better at their relationship with their admin staff (clinicians seem to have a different treatment and when they leave they usually just move on to a different position altogether or abroad for personal experience).
So when around 7 months ago they complained I was not smiling enough at work (thought it’s not written anywhere in my contract when I first joined that I have to smile 8 hours out of an 8 hours shift and I still carry out all the task expected from me through my working day at the highest standard), they stated it was a concern for the customer service experience. However no formal complain had been made of course, not by the patients I see and serve every day who know me very well, nor by clinicians I help with my receptionist position who appreciate my support. I was not upset with them so why would I be unfriendly? I had personal issues but also I was not happy about my manager not taking action towards issues we had in the team. So you would wonder: is it just an inability of my employer to deal with problems when they arise? Or is this a case of attempted constructive dismissal?
I took the feedback on board as I knew a bit was true, in the sense that I was unleashing at times my internal turmoil since I was totally unheard, but also I did not feel I had any choice: they are the ones who pay me so I should do what they ask me to (even if by law as I said it was not officially requested to smile in my contract – to be polite and helpful of course but that could not be denied of me). The message was: when you walk through those doors whatever happens in our life does not matter to us, put a smile on your face as we do not want to hear anything else about you as a person, only cheerful small talk about the weather, how do you like your tea and what did you do over the weekend, provided it’s positive. Don’t be too silent either otherwise you come across as cold to your colleagues when we are aiming for a fun environment for patients as well at all times (Sadness is basically banned a bit like at the beginning of the cartoon Inside Out).
So after being in the company for so long, after an entire recent year of positive 1to1s up to then and no recent issues with management at all, not once they approached me with a touch of compassion to start with: How are you C? You don’t seem yourself lately, it also as an impact on how you come across sometimes… Is there anything we could help you with to go through this difficult period or support you so not to affect your performance too much?’
Wouldn’t this have been a much more constructive and successful way to tackle the problem they felt that had with me, rather than stigmatising me for how I was behaving in their opinion (not smiling enough and seeming unhappy) when in reality it was about how I was feeling ?
One of the reasons I was not happy was that not every team member was working at the same standard as the others so they left more work to do for the rest of the team. But my line manager perceived this comment as a direct bad reflection on her and she is also not someone who likes confronting people in general, so she found easier to put all blame on me and my inability to ask for help and be open and honest (which was in part true). At any time she welcomed me to check in with her if, once I tried those things out, even if helpful techniques, the problem with my lazy colleague was persisting (which it was as tell me which lazy person really cares when the colleague who can do part of your load and does not even decide if you keep your job is gently asking you to pull your way?).
What I could not really talk about with my employer in that same period was the fact that a few weeks before I had repressed memories coming back to me about some sexual abuse I had been victim of at a very young age, and this was giving me nightmares every over night and a feeling of deep depression due to the shame which was coming to the surface locked within me for the past 30 years…
I could not tell them neither that my husband and I had a very difficult conversation on our wedding anniversary and we were working hard to keep our marriage together, with compassion and understanding and hard work on analysing the personal pain that had brought us to that point of conflict…
All I could say to justify my very low mood was the only other reason (the 3rd and last from my personal life) I had felt so lost and desperate in private for which I was crying and holding it on at work (pretty well actually considering all I was going through at that time): the political atmosphere that Brexit was opening on all Europe, USA and the entire world. Even around that topic my manager showed very little empathy, snapping back ‘if you are concerned about hate crime, my husband is black so he gets it all the time, just get over it, nothing is going to happen to you, you have lived here for a long time’.
I am not surprised thought this is the employment I choose for myself over 7 years ago. I had not started my personal healing journey yet and chose an authority model that just represented so well the one I grown up with and known all my life: the one my parents had been for me. The shocking bit is that whilst I was suffering for little compassion shown from management towards my difficulties, I could hear myself treating my kids exactly the same way I was being treated! For instance telling my son not to focus on his sister’s behaviour, that her misbehaving was not giving him more rights to misbehave as well, that he had to keep on giving her a good example as older and that I did not want to hear anything about what they were fighting for, I just wanted it to stop at once. When I caught myself saying those exact same words I heard myself about my lazy work colleague I was in shock and realised I needed to be the change I wanted to see in others. If I was more compassionate towards my kids as an authority figure but also towards my colleague’s motive to be lazy with the rest of the team or my manager’s fear which kept her unable to take action towards a difficult member of staff, I was more likely to receive compassion back in response, or at least feel more patient towards what I did not like about others there and then.
The situation is a bit steadier at the moment, it could go anyway from here. It could worsen if they really want me out of there and I would fight to defend myself but also accept if it’s time to move on (I want to change career in the next 2 years anyway, when both my kids will be in primary school 5 days a week). Money will be a bit tight for a while but we should be able to make ends meet with my husband’s support. But it could also flourish in an extended moment of peace, depending if I am capable of reacting with love to my managers’ limits and faults (I feel stronger and stronger with the tools I am getting from daily meditations) and if it is really just a communication issue without an hidden agenda behind it. Who will live will see, whatever happens with my current job, it was in my higher power’s plans anyway from a long time ago…