October 8th, 2014
Let’s Talk with Kalola: Life After Bullying – Recovery
I worked in the same grocery store for ten years total, taking a couple years off while I was in college. My first manager wasn’t exactly easy to get along with, mainly because of his short temper that mellowed out over the years, but I wouldn’t consider him a bully. But in October 2011 a new night manager was forced on our store who was friends with one of the corporate managers. The new night manager was given the manager’s position in March 2012, forcing the previous manager to step down to work the produce department before retiring.
The new manager based his entire style on threats and intimidation. In some cases our longest-standing workers were fired for thefts that never actually happened while one worker that I had turned in for stealing was promoted to assistant manager. In the two years that I suffered under this man’s reign of terror we went through three night managers. Some of the women told me that they were sexually harassed, but they were too scared to report anything to the corporate office. Every idea that I came up with for improvement in the store was stupid, unless someone else came up with the same idea later. The manager even went so far as to harass the customers with false accusations of stealing. I used to joke with employees to keep their receipts tattooed to their arms. During the first year under this manager our sales dropped 27%.
During my time as department head of health and beauty aids, I had several responsibilities to my department that I was unable to fulfill for being pulled away from my duties to work other departments. Now, I did not mind covering other work when I could in emergency situations. However, the new manager took advantage of my reliability to the point of abuse, often scheduling the cashiers or grocery clerks short so that I had to pick up the slack and often my own department suffered. I felt that I was being deliberately set up for failure. In the first extreme incident, I was not allowed to even touch my own department until the grocery stock was completed, thus putting me behind in my own stock and reordering. That was resolved after I spoke to the corporate supervisor of my department who worked out a solution so that I could work my department three days a week. The solution lasted for only a few months.
The most recent incident that precipitated my separation was another case of setting me up for failure, followed by retaliation when I reported the problem. In the week of Thanksgiving 2013, I received a load that normally would take me about three days to stock before I knew what I needed to order for the next week. My department only received a load once a week, on Tuesday, and my order was to be made before 9:00 p.m. on Thursday to be delivered the following Tuesday. Because I was off on Thanksgiving Day with holiday pay, I was already short one day to complete my stock and write my new order for the next week. On Wednesday, November 27, I was scheduled to run the cash register for my entire shift, leaving me no time to complete my stock, and therefore, I could not write an order for the following week. The following week, on December 5, the company vice-president questioned me about why I failed to have an order ready. I explained to him the schedule that the manager put me on for Thanksgiving. He contacted the HBA supervisor, who in turn contacted my manager for an explanation of his actions. After that incident, the manager began harassing me in retaliation for reporting his scheduling decisions, making a series of accusations against me, with his assistant manager as his witness. Some of the accusations were petty issues that had never been a problem before, such as practicing my martial arts on my lunch break. Others were completely false, but I could not defend myself. It was only his word against mine. He threatened to ban my dad from shopping, claiming that I stopped my work to hang out on the clock, which was a bold-faced lie! Other complaints that should have had no place in the reprimand included me giving the corporate phone number to women at work who confided in me that they had been sexually harassed. On Saturday, December 14, the night manager joined in the harassment, attempting to issue a formal reprimand for failing to complete an assigned task, but in that case I was able to successfully prove his accusation false. The stress and anxiety was more than I could bear, to the point that I was experiencing panic attacks and prescribed anxiety medications, so I quit on Monday, December 16. On December 19 I picked up my final paycheck and was informed that I was not allowed to cash the check because I quit, even though check cashing is a service available to the public and to employees picking up their checks.
My work ethic is above anyone else’s that I’ve known in my workplace. Many customers have requested me by name to assist them in finding products or carrying out groceries to their vehicle. Others have asked me if I was the only person working in the store. I am very sorry that these customers will no longer benefit from my employment.
Since I have left my old job I have been working on putting my life back together. I was out of work for about ten weeks before I landed my next job. I no longer take my anxiety medications, and I am now working two part-time jobs, one at a home improvement retailer, and the other at a public library. Both jobs have been a wonderful experience thus far where I’m treated with a level of respect that I didn’t believe even existed. I especially love my job at the library. Recently I proposed some improvements in design to a stats sheet that the library uses to keep track of how quickly our pages are reshelving our books, and my ideas were met with an incredible enthusiasm from all my supervisors.
Thank you for writing in to “Let’s Talk” and sharing what happened to you in the workplace and how you chose to deal with your situation.
You worked for a grocery store for 10 years. You were the target of a bully manager for the last two years of employment. The anxiety and stress became too much for you to bear and you quit your job. To preserve your health and well being, you did what was best for you.
A WBI National Survey found that 56 percent of bullying was from the top down, 33 percent from co-workers, and 11 percent from the bottom up. Your bully was your manager or work supervisor. Survey results indicated that 77 percent of cases involved a single perpetrator while 23 percent reported that there were multiple perpetrators. In your case, the manager’s assistant manager served as a witness for the bully manager, and the night manager joined in on bullying you. Three against one was not a level playing field.
The manager used the following bullying tactics: threats and intimidation, work overload, destructive criticism, false accusations, discounted your suggestions or ideas, etc. After you reported what the manager was doing, he retaliated. These actions undercut your morale as well as job satisfaction. Yes, there may be consequences for speaking up but at the same time there are consequences for not speaking up.
Under the circumstances that presented itself, you had the wherewithal to do what was right for you. You stood your ground and attempted to fight back until you began to experience health harm. You realized that the manager was setting you up for failure. The stress and anxiety was more than you could bear, and you resigned your position. Today, you are in a job where you are being treated with respect.
Were you a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union? Many grocery store workers as well as other workers in related industries are members of this union. If a union worker is being reprimanded by their manager or work supervisor, the worker should go to the union for representation. Often times, workers don’t go soon enough to the union when the union can be most effective. If you are a dues paying, card-carrying union member go to your union for representation at the first signs of trouble.
When a worker is reprimanded and written up, the worker has an opportunity to write a response to the allegation. That response will go in the worker’s personnel file along with the write up. I strongly encourage workers to write a response or rebuttal rather than be silent. The individuals who have access to your personnel file will see that you took time to respond and when there is no response to a reprimand might wonder why. It is the worker’s opportunity to tell their side of the story. Don’t sign anything from HR or from management until you have had an opportunity to read the document presented to you.
Going up against a bully or bullies can be quite a challenge. That is why it is important for a worker to take a good hard look at the job, their health and well being, and ask themselves the question, “is this job worth it?” By the time a worker is looking up workplace bullying, job abuse, job harassment, etc., on the internet and finds the anti-bullying Workplace Bullying Institute website the bullying has probably gone on for some time. The bully’s goal is to make the target’s life miserable. The bully isn’t likely to let up even if the worker tries to ignore what is happening to them.
I realize it is not easy to move on after being bullied in the workplace. It will take time to recover. Some workers are more resilient than others. At some point in time, I hope that those workers who have suffered so are able to move on from what happened to them. To some extent, the residue of what happened to the bullied worker will stay with that worker. It is not easy to forget what happened.
I want each of you to be confident in who you are. That bad work experience does not define who you are. It is often the worker who excels at their job and what they do that is singled out by the bully.
While on vacation, I came across a postcard inserted into a purchase that I had made. On the postcard, the meaning of the Hawaiian term, “kina ‘ole”, was described as: “Doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, for the right reason, with the right feeling … the first time!”
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