“It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid”
The mighty Band-Aid, the force for doing good in the music world, their words suddenly resonating with me. Why? Yes, indeed it was Christmas time, but I was afraid. I was terrified, I was anxious, and my mind was not focused on Christmas, home, it was only focused on one thing, work.
I’m not sure if it was Christmas that I first became acutely aware that I was being bullied, targeted, singled out, call it what you will, at work but certainly the opening lyrics to ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ made me realise I was afraid. I was afraid of returning to work after the Christmas break. I didn’t want to go back.
I’d always counted myself as fortunate, I’d always loved what I did, from a trainee condition surveyor to Senior Surveyor, I’d always been happy, contented and fulfilled within my work. I always held aspirations to further my career and to be the best surveyor, mentor, employee I could be. To suddenly be thrust upon these feelings of anxiety, of hopelessness and failure broke me, it broke my spirit, my confidence and my ambition. Looking back now, with a rejuvenated pair of eyes, with confidence being gradually rebuilt, I can quite categorically say I was the target, victim of work place bullying.
2017 was a year I had to take a leap of faith, like many employers, the one I worked for had to save money, my job was being combined with two others and reduced to a lower grade. I didn’t get my own job and so needed to get another. I was fortunate (or so I thought) to be able to do that with no break in employment. I finished my one job on the Friday and started my new job on the Monday.
Working life initially seemed good, although I got perhaps a taste for the dismissive approach to staff on day one, once my corporate induction was done, the manager who was supposed to give me a sectional induction left me sat on my own for several hours, waiting. I put this down to a busy business model but looking back now, staff should be an organisations greatest asset, treating them badly from the outset is never going to make a success of a business. To set the scene, I was the first female supervisor in a male environment, no issue there for me, unfortunately, not the case the other way around.
As time went on and I became accustomed to my new role, I could see there were some flaws. CDM didn’t seem to appear on their radar with various excuses made for the business being ‘exempt’ from compliance. I was concerned and voiced my concerns, I was shot down in flames where my gender was brought in to suggest I knew ‘nothing’. My lack of practical building works experience was brought in as ‘she doesn’t understand what it is like to be on the tools’, whilst true, I don’t know what it is like to be on the tools, I do understand the practical and the theory, I also know when corners are being cut, when risks are being taken for the sake of cost cutting. After voicing my opinions and concerns for several weeks, the tide turned.
Work was busy, it was unusually busy. My admin support was deployed elsewhere and heck, there was a lot of admin. Was it a ploy to set me up to fail? Possibly. Work increased tenfold, I was on my own, I had no support. I was responsible from the start to post completion, a process that could take anything up to 6 months and there wasn’t just one of them, there was sometimes 20-35 of them. One person. One woman. Me. Could I cope? No. Did I have support? No. Did I get reprimanded, berated, shouted at, criticised, discriminated against? Yes. Every single day and I mean, every day. No weekend respite, no holiday respite, no sick leave respite. Weekends were made up of critical texts and emails asking why such and such wasn’t done, why was I failing the business. It was down to me if this area of the business failed.
The terse comments, the snide remarks became almost every other word that was uttered in my direction. There was no technical understanding of delays caused by the removal of notifiable asbestos, things that were well beyond my control were deemed a failure on my part. Gender was brought into the equation so many times. I asked for help, it was refused as unnecessary, another manager asked for help, they got it. They were male. I was drowning under a workload nobody in the business was prepared to help me with. Nobody with overriding responsibility was prepared to exercise that. Shouting, degrading, undermining, that was exercised freely. I had never understood the meaning of soul destroying until that point at Christmas where I got a text on Christmas Day asking for a run down of what had happened that week at work. I was afraid, and the reality was there shouldn’t have needed to be afraid. Working life was not worth that.
Returning to work after Christmas and the workplace became a very hostile place for me. I tried to work from home wherever possible, I certainly got more done in my own solitude without the risk of snide and bullish remarks. That was criticised too, I wasn’t working hard enough surely? They paid me to be in the office, didn’t they? Actually, no they didn’t, there was a flexible working policy in place, they paid me to do my work, which I was doing.
By the time April came, I was soul destroyed. I was exhausted. My confidence, my own confidence in my technical ability had waned to such a degree I considered leaving the profession altogether. That is the first and thankfully only time I have ever felt like that. My soul, my personality, my happiness was gone. Everything looked very grey and bleak indeed. I couldn’t see how I could get out, surely leaving a job before you’d ‘given it a chance’ would be looked upon unfavourably by other employers, certainly the manager said it would. Nobody would want to hire me though, I couldn’t cope with the demands of this work place and it was sure better than a more commercial business added the manager. He was right. I couldn’t cope with the unrealistic and downright unnecessary demands placed on me.
I had surgery in April and it didn’t go to plan. Even that time wasn’t enough to be left alone, the day of the op I was getting telephone calls, the manager telephoned my ward after the surgery and texted me to say he had heard the op had gone well. At that point I decided that I needed out. I worked on my CV and completed online CPD, I did anything to improve my skillset, to increase my shattered confidence. No jobs came up by the time I had to return to work. I thank my surgeon for choosing to do my operation at this point, whist not successful, it gave me the break I needed to take back control.
After returning, the atmosphere became even more hostile, I was on a phased return that was criticised every which way I turned. I couldn’t drive, that was criticised, I was on crutches, that was criticised. I was berated for things that had happened whilst I was on sick leave and I had no knowledge about but somehow, I would know where I failed with that issue. The demands became greater, the remarks, the outright, outward bullying by this time became more frequent but my strength was simmering.
I saw a job, the job I now do, advertised, by complete chance of checking a website I wouldn’t normally check. The closing date was the next day and I had to apply. Then, the same day I was told I needed a further operation on my knee. That went down like a lead balloon with my employer, but I was past caring what they thought, I needed to put myself first. I needed the operation to stand me in the best stead possible to get the job I wanted.
I had the operation and the next day had an interview for the job. I felt comfortable and happy whilst in my interview. I knew if I didn’t get the job then I would obviously be disappointed, but I knew I could go to an interview with my head held high and have confidence in what I could bring to an organisation. I got the job and I love doing that job to this day.
Returning to work after my knee operation, there were questions about whether I could still do my job, should I be transferred to an admin job? Should I be made to go part time. I answered the question with the information of my new job, my notice period was settled (then cut short). The end was in sight.
It wasn’t plain sailing, but I felt more able to cope knowing that this would soon be over. I gave my opinion at my exit interview, refusing to have it with my manager and instead advising HR. Whether that did any good I don’t know, I hope it has but I doubt it had any effect.
Starting my new job, my confidence was still shattered, and I still felt ever so slightly institutionalised, but it is good. The people are fabulous, we work in a cohesive and joined up ethos. We look out for each other, we praise each other, we laugh with and at each other. We have fun, we work hard, we’re challenged. More than anything we respect each other.
I put the past behind me until a few weeks ago when it came back at me. I had a telephone call during a training session. Knowing the number, I ignore it. Then came a demanding text. I answered it stating I was in training. It made me angry, what right did this person have or indeed need to be contacting me for. I decided to call back on my lunch and find out why such demands were being expected from me and established that it was in connection to a third party investigation relating to one of my projects. I politely said that perhaps it would be better to give me number to the investigators and they could contact me directly and really there was no need to contact me any further, I wouldn’t entertain the matter and there was nothing more I wished to say. I told them I didn’t want to hear from them anymore. I hung up. I never heard from the investigator – I am sure this was a power trip of sorts, trying and failing to exert control over me. It failed, I gained a lot by that simple action of hanging up. I had moved on, they hadn’t. I was asked by #SurveyingSisterhood to write this blog, It may resonate with you now, it may resonate with your past or your future. Have the strength to change, to confront, to be mindful for the future; most of all I hope you can be happy in your working life, you spend a lot of time at work and you need to be happy, you need to be fulfilled and you deserve to be respected, you must always be you.
May 2019 bring you everything you hope for and more, here’s to more success, more #LoveSurveying and more #SurveyingSisterhood .
This blog post was provided by a Surveyor who was keen to share their story so that others might find the strength to speak up, or stand up for others within the industry. Speaking with other surveyors, this example is by no means isolated. Bullying of any sort, discrimination, isolation, or any persecution is unacceptable, and we must all do what we can to stamp this out.
We are stronger together. #SurveyingSisterhood