Author’s comment: This is a true story. For legal reasons, all names have been changed to protect the identity of the people and the company involved. I would have taken great pleasure in naming the company, but am unable to do so. Sorry, guys 🙁
“Are you sure these rumours aren’t true?” “Are you really sure?” “Really?”
I couldn’t believe it. I had been ‘dragged’ into a side room by Eve, my manager, and a supervisor from another department to ‘help’ me with my bullying issues.
Here I was, made to feel as though I was the culprit.
And, I hadn’t even wanted to report the bullying. After telling my friend in confidence what had happened, she’d decided to involve our manager. I know she’d meant well. But, I felt like strangling her now.
Three weeks ago, I had been so happy to land this part-time job, covering my petrol and partying costs until my A-levels were over this summer. It paid so well, nearly double of what I had earned as a waitress in our local Indian restaurant. I left there because I wasn’t earning enough. The people at the Indian restaurant had been so lovely; like one big family, from owners down to kitchen hands. Now, I felt the old saying “money isn’t everything” wagging its judgmental finger at me.
The interview process to get this new job had been daunting. Applicants have to go through three stages of ‘tests’ before they meet with one of the big bosses for a ‘chat’. I guess they think if you haven’t fled in overwhelmed intimidation by then, you’ve earned your place in their ‘elite team’. Well, I’m not easily scared off. So, off I went on my first day, in my brand-spanking-new uniform, ready to proudly join the hoards of fearless warriors who had made it through.
My best friend Beth was already working there, and the other starters were great too. I had always been a confident and popular socialiser so that nothing could go wrong. Or, could it?
The first ‘mistake’ I made was to chat with a girl called Josie. She was to train me on the till operation. To make conversation and get to know her a bit, I asked her: “Do you enjoy working here? Are you having any plans for the future?” I can see now that that was really stupid. I had forgotten that I had just swanned in for a short time to move on then and start my future career. In hindsight, my innocent question must have been a red flag to somebody who had no plans, who had to work in the place because they had no choice. I was sorry that I had probably offended somebody.
Then it started. Josie began telling people how ‘thick’ I was as I had asked so many questions about working the till. Her clique immediately joined ranks. Suddenly, most of the people around me hardly talked to me, or they gave me funny looks.
The only friendly face was a guy called Ethan. He started helping me with figuring out the way I had to work. The extensive staff training promised to me on starting had never materialised. I was mainly left to my own devices. Ethan had taken pity on me.
The rumours started almost straight away: “She’s sleeping with Ethan!” “I’ve seen them kissing in the changing rooms.” “And, he’s having a baby on the way.” “What a bitch to seduce him!”
I ignored this nonsense, even laughed about it.
Then, my manager Eve decided to get in on the action. She joined in by spreading these rumours and by talking behind my back with the other workers. Eventually, her manager, Karl, took me aside to ask what was going on. Well, his exact words were: “ I’ve heard that you are having an affair with a colleague. I don’t believe it. But, you should know that people are talking.” I could’ve pulled my hair out. What was wrong with these people? I thought we were here to work. Didn’t they have better things to do than picking on an 18-year old girl? What a bunch of idiots!
I continued to ignore them and just got on with my job. I avoided Ethan as much as I could even though I felt that this was wrong. Then, Ethan messaged me on Snapchat: “Just heard Josie and Alan talking about you. They don’t want you to pass your six-month probation. They’re saying you’re thick, you’re always on your phone. I just thought you should know.”
I told my parents about it then. I was scared that these idiots would do something to make me lose my job. My mum was furious, all set to storm into the HR office of the company. I calmed her down and promised I was going to deal with it.
On my next shift, I had planned to have a word with Josie and her best buddy Alan. But, before I could track them down, one of the other newcomers took me aside. She said: “Ruby has told a group of us today that we should no longer talk to you. That you are not doing the job, just standing around constantly looking at your phone.” Ruby is one of the older workers and had been nice to me. I was shocked that she had joined in too. I thought: “They’re really trying to compromise my job. They don’t want me to pass my probation.” I’d had enough. I broke down in tears. I cried out of anger. I had struggled to learn the job as nobody apart from Ethan had tried to help me. I thought that despite all the obstacles thrown into my way, I had done a good job. My manager had joined in with the pack of hyenas when she should have protected me from them. And, I had done nothing wrong!
Although I finished my shift with red and swollen eyes, I was now also more determined than ever to show these bastards what I was made of.
I was glad to have the support of my parents who still promised to wage war on the company if and when I gave them the go ahead. But, no, I wanted to sort this out my way. I had to learn to deal with difficult situations myself. It was time for me to let go of the apron strings.
During my next shift, I found Alan. Josie was nowhere to be seen. I was nervous. My heart was pounding, but I said: “Could I have a word with you please?” He was quite shocked, but he followed me to a quiet corner. I told him what I had heard and asked him: “Did you say these things about me?” “I, erm, I was told that you don’t do your job. And, that’s not good, erm,” he stammered. He quickly dropped in his mate Josie as the culprit and said that he was sorry. I later received a text message from him: “Nobody should be made to feel like this.” I think he was impressed that I had confronted him. But, he was just a ‘follower’ anyway. Facing Josie, I felt, would be more of a challenge. She was next on my list.
And that’s where my friend Beth put the spanner in the works. Without discussing it with me first, she had gone to see Eve. So, here I was, pulled into the side room in full view of the rest of the pack. Eve and the other woman, Laura (who I knew had also been gossiping about me), stood in front of me with their arms folded across their chests. My immediate thought was: “Great, two against one.”
“Are you sure these rumours about you and Ethan aren’t true?” “Are you really sure?” “Really?” Eve seemed extremely reluctant to let go of such a juicy piece of gossip. Laura piped up: “Well, it wouldn’t be right, would it? With him becoming a father and all.” What was going on here? They should’ve helped me. And, here I was, feeling I was being prepared for a lynch mob.
After I told them that there was really, really, really nothing going on between Ethan and me, they grudgingly let go of this part of our ‘chat’. But, not without giving me a warning that I shouldn’t put anything on social media about this. I would be sacked otherwise. And, oh, by the way, had I received any threats on social media? No? Well, that was great. It would’ve complicated the issue if I had (nervous laughter from both women).
They moved on to my ‘bad’ performance at work. With grave faces, they reminded me that this could affect my employment with the company. Eve said: “I’ve spoken to HR. They’ve got their eye on you now.” What? Wait a minute. I had done nothing wrong. I had not been trained as I should have been. If I stood around anywhere (which I didn’t), then it was through lack of direction and guidance. I started to feel dizzy with anger and frustration. And, unfortunately, I cried at that point. I couldn’t do anything else in the face of such plain injustice. I was shaking with anger through my sobs. Both women looked stunned. Eve stammered: “I feel as though I’ve failed you.” No kidding.
I was released back into the jungle. The first person I met was Josie, with a big satisfied grin on her face.
This happened a few days ago. I haven’t had the chance to confront Josie yet. And, I’m not sure if I still should do so. Sometimes, it’s better to move on. I’ve hardly seen her, and Alan has no doubt reported back to her.
Things have improved slightly since then. Beth and the other newcomers plus some of the ‘old’ staff have rallied around me. One woman, who has worked there for many years said: “It will pass. They’ve tried it on with me when I started, and I’ve seen them do it to others.” My manager’s boss, Karl, who had been on holiday when Eve and Laura decided to interrogate me is also supportive. He sent me a message to reassure me that I was doing a great job.
The feeling that I was not alone and that others had gone through this before me, has helped me. I have lost my enthusiasm for the job, but it has also shown me that I want to move forward in my life. I don’t want to get stuck in a dead end where the only excitement is gossiping about people and trying to bring others down who are different.
But, I couldn’t have gone through this without talking to people about what was happening to me. If you are bullied in your job, at school or anywhere else, please don’t keep it to yourself!
The people who care about you or others who have gone through the same thing will help you.
Speak to them.
Caren is a UK-based B2B and B2C professional freelance writer. Using her expert knowledge, skills and personal experience in corporate and small business development, personal improvement and autism, she crafts content that makes people take action. Her work is found in retail publications, professional websites, on her writer’s platform StoryBlog and more. When she isn’t typing away on her keyboard, you can see her having her nose buried in a book or hiking up and down the steep hills of the Yorkshire countryside with her husband, son and daughter.
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