At school, I was a total teachers pet. I did all the extra reading, I turned my papers in before they were due and I absorbed every last bit of information, like a sponge, lusting for advice on how to learn more and be better.so much so that my A level English teacher took my (then) new boyfriend aside at our leavers ball and told him that he had better treat me well or she would hunt him down. Ouch. There went any semblance of what cool I might have. But anyway…
A few years ago, I worked in a company with a girl who became a very close friend of mine. We worked to some strict lettings targets, and were targeted 10 lets per month (we worked in rentals) which was easy if the houses were on the books, but when you had 6 houses between three of you and all needing to make the targets, it became difficult. This particular girl was really good at her job, but you cant let what you don’t have. So when she told them in an appraisal that she may have to look for a new job if the properties weren’t there, as without the commission she simply wasn’t making the money, she expected a solution.
She didn’t expect to be fired for gross misconduct.
I was proud of how brave she was, coming into work each day while taking it through a tribunal and smiling at the senior manager, a man who in his thirties wouldn’t even make eye contact with her, let alone conduct himself in a professional manner. I was horrified, as, working in the other office, I heard lots of things that I shouldn’t, and was taken aside at one point and told to not repeat anything I had heard, or make it known to anyone that I was friends with her. I couldn’t believe the blatant unprofessionalism of such a large corporation, and eventually found another job. I was so pleased to hand in my notice.
And then, two years later, it happened to me.
I’m not going to go into details of when it was or who I worked for; I feel comfortable enough to tell this story now but still slightly unnerved, for no discernible reason. I work in a fantastic company now who are the most supportive and understanding, but a little part of me still feels like I should remain quiet, which is I guess what people in these kind of situations want you to do.
I was off sick, and the following week I went back and was called into a meeting, where I was told they didn’t believe I had been ill; I think they thought I had been to a job interview or something, as when they had tried to call I had been sleeping it off, and they couldn’t get through. I left the meeting in tears, but wasn’t told it was a verbal warning or anything that you would expect from that kind of meeting. I went back to my desk, and was told that would be the end of it.
I knew a friend within the company was unhappy, but on the Friday when she emailed me to see if I was going out for lunch and if she could come, I agreed. That wasn’t unusual and as the supermarket was a drive away from the office, we regularly tag teamed and shared a car. When we were there she told me she had handed in her notice, and was trying to negotiate a leaving date. No problems. I went back to work, and that afternoon was told the company was trying a new working from home policy, and did I want to do that. I remember commenting that I had a lot that needed doing with the printer and the screens, and the CEO ‘jokingly’ saying that if I didn’t take the opportunity then I would be escorted from the building. Hahah, very funny. One of those jokes that makes you feel a bit sick, but you don’t know why.
On the Sunday night I received a really blasé call from my direct manager, telling me to work from home on the Monday, as he was out of the office. On the Monday night when I received another message I emailed both my manager and the CEO, stating that it wasn’t productive me working from home, I was unsure as to why, and to state my position on the meeting we had where I had been accused of not being ill.
The response I got was pretty definite. I was told that due to my blatant gross misconduct, I wasn’t trusted to be in the office while senior management weren’t there, and it was suggested I should work from home and work hard to redeem myself. From a person who has rarely got into trouble for anything, I felt sick. Luckily, I know a lot of people in HR, as well as having the luck to be very good friends with a lawyer. I drafted a letter stating the implications of gross misconduct (accessing porn at work, being drunk on the job) and asked to be informed of which I had committed. I stated the events as I had seen them, and asked for a definition of my actions, and why,if I was being investigated for gross misconduct, I had not been dismissed temporarily. I was still doing 8 hours a day at home. The response was clear. I was, from that minute, on leave for the investigation of gross misconduct, pending a review the following week. I spent the rest of the day in tears, wondering where I had gone wrong. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I was a mess of nerves, mainly because I couldn’t put my finger on what had occurred. I felt so let down by the people I thought I had forged relationships with, until my lawyer friend informed me, with no tact or subtlety, that I was replaceable, it was business, and I needed to toughen the fuck up. I cried a bit more.
The following day, I sent an email to my CEO, returning some documents he had asked for. I sent the email from my personal address, which has my blog address at the bottom and forgot to remove it. I got a call that evening, inviting me for an informal chat the next day. Apparently, my blog had led through to my Twitter account, and there was a tweet on the day I had called in sick, in the evening, asking anyone if they had any migraine tips as the tablets weren’t working. Apparently, this ‘saved my skin’ not my words. Honestly, I didn’t want to go for the chat. I didn’t want to go back into the office having been accused of something I wasn’t sure about. The chat was interested. Apparently, because I went for lunch (which I don’t get paid for, and is therefore my own time) with a friend who had handed in her notice, I was “a bad seed” and it was vitally important that I was removed from an office where I could poison anyone else. It was inferred that it was me who had persuaded the girl to give her notice, as she had left the meeting saying she would think about staying, but after speaking with her boyfriend at lunch and being told to stand her ground, she had gone back in in the afternoon and said she was definitely taking the new job. My influence.
After this chat, I was told I could return to the office and resume my position. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go back, but having a job is better than no job, so I did.I felt that had I stood my ground I would have come out on top, but despite being urged not to from my loved ones, it was something I felt I couldn’t do. I spent the following months losing weight at a rate of knots, second guessing what everyone was saying behind my back and dreading going into work every morning. I had bags under my eyes and was a shadow of my former self. I had fallen into a rut of wanting to leave but not valuing my worth enough, and just sticking.
What a difference a day makes, as they say. I look back at the person I was then and I simply can’t believe that I stayed in that environment for so long. Now, I work somewhere that I look forward to going in. I work hard, and people appreciate it. There are jobs where you will be happy and feel fulfilled, so go out there and find them, and don’t let anyone keep you down. Playground bullies should remain in their rightful place, the playground.
As Eleanor Roosevelt so wisely said “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water”.