Sunday, 11 March 2012

Caution: Indignitaries At Work

I am now in line to be kicked out of my job.  It is not on the grounds that I have stolen money or harrassed anyone or even was incompetent, it is simply that my manager dislikes me.  She somehow sees my very person let alone my manner, offensive.  She complains I repeat myself and write too long emails and yet goes on at length repeatedly around the office whining the same stories to everyone about her washing machine.  She complains I do not meet the 'high standards' of the department, primarily on the basis that I lack 'team spirit' a very ill-defined criterion which basically comes down to whatever she thinks it should be.  It has nothing to do with being a colleague as I have worked successfully with the other seven people in my office and tens of others across the company.  What is alarming is how a single manager has so much power, how she can set different rules for me to my colleagues.  I am supposed to eat elsewhere, I am supposed to knock more loudly on her door than my colleagues, I have to notify her in a particular way if I have to go to the doctor, something my colleagues do not have to do.  She complains that I am too outspoken but also that I defer to her too much.  There are no objective measures of her criteria which allows her to say such contradictory things at one time.  She spends so much time socialising with senior staff, taking up a large part of the working day, that they take her views without question.  I have tried to talk to her manager and simply have been told he cannot discuss the case.  There is no-one I can turn to bar the union representative and I have no idea what you do in such situations if you are not in a union.

For me the severity of this step is great.  I am liable to be kicked out with no pay and so will immediately default on the mortgage payments on my house meaning that my fears of having it repossessed have only been delayed by a year.  It seems unlikely that I will work again as I will be unable to get anything but a highly biased reference from my manager.  I have explored the problems with this particular manager before:

Looking back I wonder if I could have done anything different to forestall this problem and the answer seems to be no.  The case against me has been built on such insubstantial complaints that if it had not been these then it would have been something else.  Basically the difficulties were two emails which apparently were critical of how my unit worked, though you would struggle to find that meaning in what I wrote.  I suppose that I should not have said that I had no ability to control scheduling, the thing that the correspondent was making a mild complaint against.  Apparently I was supposed to accept blame for things I cannot control.  I was told I should not have said a colleague was off sick, even though that is completely the reverse approach to the previous place I worked.  There they felt if you did not reveal the cause of the shortage of staff as something legitimate like illness then you were effectively criticising the company for not looking ahead sensibly to recruit sufficient staff.  A more established in my office made the identical error some weeks later and while he has been chastised for it he is not being kicked out.  I also said that my job did not involve cleaning up, which is a statement of fact.  However, in a twisted way, this has been portrayed as being an unacceptable statement, on the grounds that it is both disparaging to cleaners who do a wonderful job; makes me appear as arrogant due to my qualifications and experience and yet also is said to show I have no pride in myself and thus, by implication no pride in my colleagues, thus violating the team spirit requirement.  This statement was apparently so offensive that it led to a complaint being telephoned in by a visitor.

The last damning charge is that I did not inform my manager correctly before going to a hospital appointment despite it being in the Outlook system she can access for weeks and me talking about it with her for 10 minutes precisely a day before I went.  Apparently it is fine that she forgot the conversation and she argues that she cannot afford the few seconds it takes to check the Outlook calendar.  It is also apparently acceptable for her to stamp around the office demanding where I am, when just asking one of the colleagues could have revealed that.  My behaviour is portrayed as 'discourteous' whereas hers is apparently beyond reproach though to most readers I would assume it would appear at best childish at worst idiotic, but maybe I am wrong in modern British society.

This is the key factor: indignation.   In our powerless society, it seems that no-one can be anyone  I am the first to admit that I make mistakes, but I learn from them.  In addition, I have never done anything that is so severe it should lose you your job.  Is it fair that individual words, assuming they are not racist, sexist or otherwise insulting should be enough to bring down your career?  Maybe in this era of unemployment it is sufficient and we should all look at every single word we use thinking how it might be turned against us. 

Of course, it is impossible to see through someone else's eyes, so what to us might be anondyne, apparently can be highly inappropriate to someone else.  I have neither violated what society would deem acceptable nor what my company does, just what my manager 'feels' is unacceptable.  That is not even direct criticism, but apparently something that seems to her as being insufficiently ardent in singing the praises of the unit she runs.  From my historical knowledge such mentality seems very much like a personality cult and I am someone like those who stopped clapping some seconds before the rest of the people having heard one of Stalin's or Mao's speeches.  Of course, I will not be killed but at the age of 44, my career is over and I have effectively become unemployable for the rest of my life.

As I have noted before, it is no longer sufficient in the UK to complain about something, you have to stamp and shout at your loudest.  Neither is it sufficient to be irritated, annoyed or put out, you must be utterly appalled, completely indignant, generally way out of proportion to what has happened:  I suppose given the prevalence of this trend in society we should not be surprised to find it in the workplace.  It is exacerbated by procedures like performance reviews, appraisals, probation periods, fixed-term contracts which put immense power into the hands of often poorly trained managers certainly without an ability to detach personal prejudice from their judgements of work effectiveness.  It is a kind of focused discrimination, not on race, age or gender, but simply on who they like or dislike.  Staff of all levels will not discuss or debate or really just complain they become indignant as if even the most minor misunderstanding has been concocted with malicious intent, both offensive in itself and aimed at bringing the company into disrepute.  Of course, none of these things is done that way.  However, not being indignant gives away the few grams of power they feel they have snatched and, horror of horrors, they might be forced to admit that they are sometimes wrong, something my manager seems incapable of acknowledging.  Thus, by being so offended, she can play, 'it is so terrible I cannot even talk about it' card, shutting down any reasonable rational debate.

As I have noted before, the clamping down on discussion let alone the suggestion of different approaches or Heaven forbid, even mild criticism, is damaging to British business:  I have no idea when I might work again and it seems unlikely that it will ever be for a large company.  I am naturally bitter that years of study and hard work can be trashed by the prejudice of a single individual, but I imagine it is a common occurrence.  There was nothing I could have done once I got the job.  If I kept quiet I was being rude and not taking sufficient initiative, if I spoke I was being rude and arrogant.  There was never a way of winning and never any redemption for my 'offences'.  I just post this as a warning for people who might be in similar positions, I do pity you, yet I fear this approach in the workplace will become even more common as incompetent people remain in position and unemployment rises higher.


Yammerhant said...

I would suggest you secure the services of a lawyer specialising in employment law. I am, as ever, no expert, but it seems to me that an action for constructive dismissal would not be outwith the realms of possibility, given the vague memories I have of hearing about similar cases re people working under hostile/unstable managers.

I haven't worked in the same sort of office environments but I often deal with remarkably clueless individuals who are quite highly placed in company organisations, so I can sympathise with your views on the shoddy state of British management.

PS: No need to post this comment if you wish not to.

Rooksmoor said...

Yammerhant, no worries. Yes, even the human resources department of the company advised me to speak to the union, I am so glad I kept up the fees, though it is rather concerning that there is no recourse except to bring in the union.

Anyway the union's legal representative said that not only did I have one basis on which to make a grievance but two others and to the extent that they would fund me to take the company to court if I chose.

It is clear I cannot remain working in the company and so I need money to pay the mortgage while I look for other work. However, I hope it is a bit of an alarm call to the company that at least one manager has been free to behave in such a way, unchecked and that simply because she is friends with people in high places in the company does not mean she is any good at her job; in fact it feeds her ego so she feels she does not have to take account of the impact of actions. Thus, for the sake of other workers and whoever succeeds me I hope she and the company will learn a lesson.

I know employees' rights are being eroded and there are attacks on equal opportunities legislation so we need to make sure as far as we can that we challenge unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. High unemployment should not allow managers to feel they can simply rule their offices on the basis of their own prejudices.