söndag 5 juli 2020

Untitled Rant Blog Post

This was intended to be a Twitter thread but I realised quickly it would most likely get too long for that. I woke up this morning feeling absolute shit and I realised that I have not really felt that kind of shit for over a year. Not since I left my former place of employment. I still remember snippets of the dream I had and sure enough, most of them are about that place.

At the same time, I am very happy about my current internship. It fits me like a glove, my coworkers are nice people and I get to do something I happen to know a lot about. Getting that one was a huge boon even if I am convinced it won't lead to employment; it might just send me into that career path instead and I would like that very much. If not, it would be three months spent that is far better than the alternative since my Unemployment Benefits are almost drained.I get another source of income with this internship. If I did not, I honestly do not know what the hell else I would do. I have a depression due to the events I will describe below and with COVID-19, jobs are drying out fast.

But why you may wonder have I still such strong feelings about my former place of employment? Well, part of it is how I came to leave it. I make no secret that I was bullied out of the workplace. Things like nitpicking on everything I did, intentionally keeping me out of the loop regarding my future and disregarding agreements regarding how we approach things was commonplace during my last two months to the point that going to work made me feel very much like I felt this morning.

But let us start from the beginning. I got the job through the Swedish Employment Agency. I had been unemployed for a long time and lived mostly on state support tough if you look at my CV, you will see the period mostly covered with different photography assignments. I did my attempt to support myself as a freelance photographer and I failed. Simple as that. But either way, I got an internship for six months as the receptionist.

The fact that they went that route to get one should been at least a yellow flag but I was happy for it, because they did employ me afterwards. They were just handily bribed to do so. You see, I was employed under a system where the Employment Agency reimburses part of the salary. This is of course set by a max cap but the poor salary and the fact that I worked 75% meant that they could get my entire salary reimbursed.

They also got another grant, a sum you get for extra man hours spent. They routinely wrote down five hours a week on this, getting compensated for this as well despite the fact that - if we are to be generous - probably never rated more then 30 minutes of such time during my first six months of internship and almost none afterwards. But they got money for that for two years; tax payer money. And it gets worse. You see, I thought this meant the Employment Agency could essentially put thumb screws on them and maybe even demand repayments if the did not hold up their side of the bargain. Yet it would turn out the Employment Agency was powerless to do anything about it. There was not any rules save just stop the payments and for that to happen, I would have to quit. There was no rules in place to handle misconduct or when the rules were not being followed by the employer.

So. Now you know the ground rules of my employment there. They essentially got paid to have me around. Quite a good deal and I was content with it. I had a job that was a bit out of my comfort zone but I needed to work on that so I did not mind it. What I should have minded was the little things. While I will get back to the bullying later, my current internship has highlighted how messed up other things were. For example, I was always under direct micromanagement. I have not realised that until now. I could get told to do something in the most generic terms possible.

I went on and do it and then get told I did it wrong. Now, if this happened once with the same task, it would make sense but there was almost always some variation. Even if I asked beforehand, they would just say "do it the way you feel best" or any variation thereof. The only person who did not ask this way but gave me huge leeway was the first vice-manager (manager of me, that is) but he quit the job and got replaced by a person who was even worse in this way than my usual boss. He was quick to take any credit for a job well done but anything that might backfire, he made sure exploded in somebody else's hands. Often in mine. He will be referred to Vice-Manager from this point.

To give you the best example of his management style, let me tell you a story. The organisation motto would be painted in the reception area, meaning my responsibility. Only that nobody told me. That was also common behaviour I might add; people doing stuff in areas I had accountability over and not asking or informing me beforehand. I had all the accountability, none of the responsibility.

So they just bring down a painting and have their (unpaid) artist start working on the thing. When I ask them what they were doing, they say they have permission to do so. Now, this painting was very important to another member as it essentially was a tribute to their work so naturally, she became upset and went to the managers. The managers said I should have checked if the painting had any value to anybody before I removed it. So I was held accountable for a decision I had not made. So I apologized to the person who was surprised and said it was not my fault at all.

So now we had to find another place for the painting and it was important this would be another prominent place. Eventually we settled on a spot where the painting would be accompanied by more artwork. It was also argued that part of the reception would have to be removed to make the artwork more visible tough we had no idea if it impacted or not. So I argued that we get the artwork there first, then see if its necessary to spend 15 000 SEK (1450€) on removing parts of the reception to make it more visible. With my boss gone on vacation, I struggled hard against the decision to spend that much money on something that had little proven value because at this point, I had started to see the pattern. If this was the wrong decision, I would be held accountable.

This was obvious because all his instructions were either generic or vocal. So I pushed back and said that we get the painting and the artwork up first. He refused and essentially told me to find alternatives. So I did and presented the cost of the job and he without blinking set me the task to hire them to do it. Fortunately, my boss returned a few days later and agreed with me. Then the vice manager said that the artist had refused to do the work; most likely because we did not want to pay her for her work. So the painting was then put on display in another room.

There are more stories like them. I was yelled at and threatened by other employees twice. Both were organisation veterans and one case I considered serious enough to report to our safety officer. No action was ever taken. I did not even get an apology, just told to go on with it.

The Vegan Lobby at the office was pretty strong, even tough they were in a small minority. One of them however dated my boss so any "suggestions" they had quickly became orders to me and I had to defend their standpoints because neither my boss or the Vegans had any desire to handle the backlash over the fact that we were to no longer buy milk to the office. Officially, the organisation had a Vegetarian Policy but I was to interpret it as Vegan simply because it lacked the "ovo-lacto" branding and this was controversial, even amongst staff. Yet my name was on on any decision.

Similarly, we had a work roster where everybody did their fair part of the office. Had I been in charge, I would have discarded this because it was more work than it was worth. I would have just assumed everything on the list as part of my duties because I often had far too little to do and the list itself was the source of endless drama as some people had to be repeatedly told to do their share. Others complained that their task took too much time or was too difficult in comparison to others. However, the solution to just abolish the thing was never one presented to me, helping out was supposed to be good for office morale argued my boss and vice-manager.

Yet they themselves ordered me to strike them from the list as "they had too much to do". At this point, I saw exactly the kind of shit show that would go down so when I posted the new roster in the group chat, I added the line "By order of management". People quickly picked up on the changes and for once, I did not have to take the flak for somebody else decision. In the subsequent meeting where I was told this was "insubordinate" but I hinted I would keep doing it so people could address their complaints to the right person. Not the smartest move but I suspect I had become so tired of it all I just did not care any more.

Nor was I the only one. The workplace was incredibly toxic, divided into the people who dedicated their lives to the organisation and the people who just worked for it. The latter was expendable and was expended in quite large numbers too. We had a high rotation on multiple roles and poor management was often cited as the number one reason for dismissal - either people quitting or being fired. There was also a habit in place by managers not to inform project employees if they would get their term extended until the same week as the contract expired whereupon the managers often turned sour that their valued project employees got new jobs.

I still maintain a certain degree of professionalism even tough none was shown towards me so I have to speak in generic terms but openly racist remarks were thrown at one employee by another without any sort of intervention by management, favouritism ran rampant, a disregard for emergency procedures in the office, overtime and overworking being expected of people,  organisation veterans essentially doing what they pleased with some never attached to projects. The list goes on.

To keep this entry short - not that it has been so far - I will start writing about the end. The end started on 15th of March when I left the job due to a panic attack. At this point, other things happened at the workplace. My boss was to transfer for another position in another country and my vice manager would be my primary boss. This was not the desired outcome for me, I wanted to take the responsibility regarding the office infrastructure. The Panic Attack on the 15th was the first one I ever had; I had no idea what was going on until I was halfway home.

On the Monday, I was asked why I had left the office and at this point, while I knew it was a panic attack, I had no desire to discuss this as I thought it would just be regarded as an excuse. I was left with a written warning. About the only useful thing the Union did in all of this was to criticize this warning and it took a external consultant to do so; our Union nominally was a workplace organisation and thus our primary representatives in a conflict was our co-workers. So my union rep would have to argue against her direct superior. Yeah, not an optimal situation. She knew as well as I how her worklife would be if she did. So she did not.

Either way, the Union considered this warning to be invalid as it had not been forwarded to the Union so it could be challenged. In other words, they had something they used against me later but had not allowed me any method of challenging it. The week also got steadily worse. Some would argue that the workplace bullying had started well before this. I do not necessarily agree. I just consider it poor management. But what happened after was undeniably bullying.

Anything I did was met with negative feedback. At one point, I was leaving work five minutes after my shift had ended and my boss - in front of guests - asks why I am leaving. I broke down crying at my workstation at least once. This was regarded as "threatening behaviour" and I was told that I would be sent home if it was repeated.

I was gaslighted about the entire event with HR. HR does to this deny that any of this happened yet my reactions about it are things they tried to use against me in the last talk with the external union rep who shut it all down by pointing out that this was not in any material forwarded to them. Furthermore, in the same meeting HR kept saying that the only reason I did not continue my employment was because I had not accepted their offer of three months, yet at that point I had it in writing that the offer had been withdrawn.

The offer of re-employment is by the way my little treat to anybody interested in HR issues because it has been described by several friends who work in HR or Management as everything from "Incompetence in writing" to "A union slam dunk". Amongst other things, the document demands that I agree to like all tasks provided to me. The document also states that "there is a difference in doing your tasks and respecting them and we expect you to understand this". It also concludes with "It is up to you if you can grow into this role".

I was several times told to keep my mouth shut about it all. At once point, they wanted to send me home for doing so. I refused unless I got a written order as I assumed it otherwise would just be used against me. HR backed down.

One of the agreements put in place and that is probably the only thing that counts towards the five hours per week thing they got paid for was that any news would be delivered to me in person so they could be discussed. They stopped doing this, instead sending mails that kept arriving at three o clock; knowing I would just gotten home at this time. Any meetings was always with several people so I always felt outnumbered.

My status regarding a new contract was purposefully kept from me until the last possible moment when they offered three months extension, knowing I could never accept such a thing. I tried compromising with six or nine month contracts but they absolutely refused to even consider the issue.
My contract was left to run out with precious little in terms of warning.

They tried to control what references I would be getting. I knew requesting references from my managers was a dead end so I tried having co-workers instead. It turned out that they had directed employees that I had to ask my managers permission to have references from co-workers. Thankfully, at least four co-workers ignored this directive; one of them confirming its existence. Others made direct references to it when I asked.

Now, I have left out a lot in this but some of the things cannot be told without explicitly saying where I worked. I mean, its easy to find out either way but this is meant as venting foremost. I need to get it out of me and getting it out in private has not worked. I am not sure this will work either. But maybe it will soothe it for a few weeks at least. To those who I value who still work there. I'm sorry. To those who got out in time. I am happy it worked out for you.