So then...

About Me

Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."

Saturday, 30 June 2012

WEEK 233 Cry for Help

A big thank you to @Evil_Scot on Twitter who forwarded me the unusually titled Worchester News article:

“Man blames work stress after stealing condoms and octopus”.

As well as the condoms and a tin of octopus, Mark Brookes’ also stole a magazine, an ordinance survey map, a compass, light sticks, black bags and a shoe brush.

He admitted the thefts, of course, and agreed that he had been drinking after struggling to cope under the pressures of his job. It was, the defence asserted, out of character for a normally law abiding and hard working man.

I don’t know about you, but my first instinct was to grin. Not at Mr Brookes, of course, and I’m the first to admit that stealing isn’t a laughing matter. It’s the surreal nature of the crime. Why the tin of octopus? Why the ordinance survey map?

It was the same with my Betty Crocker pancake addiction. My family and I still laugh about it now – especially on Shrove Tuesday. They still laugh at the memory of all those pancake mixes monopolising the space in my sister’s car boot after a trip to the supermarket. You can’t get a more disconnected reaction to workplace bullying.

So the article got me thinking. There’s a fine line between laughing and crying. At the less extreme of the spectrum, when we’re stressed to the point of acting wildly out of character and our actions are a little surreal, does a cry for help often turn into a laugh for help?

I’m sure Mr Brookes is now getting the help he needs, but you can imagine his friends and family will never forget it. At some point, it would be nice to think Mr Brookes will, with hindsight, view his moment of madness with a touch of humour as I do.

We don’t talk about this enough. So I want to hear about your 'cry for help/laugh for help' experiences. Have your family or friends wiped away tears of laughter whilst performing an intervention? Have you ever reacted to work stress in an unconventional and inexplicable way?

Do let me know either here or on Twitter.

This should be interesting!

Very best

Saturday, 23 June 2012

WEEK 232 One-Off Pay-Off? **** Off!

I’m sure many will agree when I say there is something particularly sinister about workplace bullies who pretend they’re bullying you for your own good.

Howard was a master of this. This was the boss, after all, who once explained in an email that his calling me a lesbian was not meant to cause offence, but was “more constructive criticism”.

So I find it particularly shocking that the most recent Government employment law reform proposal adopts the same technique.

Ministers are suggesting a reform to enable bosses to sack staff with an instant one-off pay-off as part of their Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. If the money is accepted then employees lose any right to bring an unfair dismissal claim in the Employment Tribunal. This sounds suspiciously like asking staff to sign their legal rights away at a time when they’re going to be most worried about money. Bad enough. But here’s the worst bit:

It’s all packaged up as a reform designed to allow employees to leave a firm with dignity.

Yes. Apparently such an exit package allows that when an employee is sacked, handed their P45, a confidentiality clause, a cheque (comprising probably one month’s wages) and a legal disclaimer saying they’ve signed their rights away to bring legal action at Tribunal, they will feel pretty good about themselves. They’ll be able to hold their heads high, knowing they’ve struck a bit of a savvy bargain. 

Who needs lawyers or legal rights when you're making stressful, spur of the moment life changing decisions?

And what if an employee’s sacking is the end result of a campaign of bullying? We know how often this happens. Can you imagine how bullied employees will feel being offered this one-off pay-off from the people supposedly protecting them from bullying at work?

The Government is really just proposing a generic, employer-led Compromise Agreement. It’s just one more hurdle between you and justice if you find yourself out on the scrap-heap.

And the fact that they’re telling us it’s all for our own good? It makes me angry. Like I said, I’ve heard it all before. I’m not usually one for swearing but:

One-off pay-off? **** Off!

So much for inspiring dignity!

Very best

Saturday, 16 June 2012

WEEK 231 Yesterday's News

If you’ve seen the BBC news this week, you’ll know about Nicola Brookes who won a landmark case ordering Facebook to reveal the identity of her on-line bullies.

Speaking to breakfast news on Thursday, Ms Brookes explained how she’d been labelled a paedophile and a drug dealer, as well has having multiple bogus Facebook accounts created in her name. Her solicitors were also targeted by cyber-bullies.

What I found strange about the story was that the item didn’t actually feature a discussion about bullying. In a case of extreme on-line mobbing, the presenters restricted themselves to social networking right to privacy issues.

Is it just me or is Ms Brookes’ case not just a story about people’s right to privacy? It’s not simply a debate about the legalities of defamation claims. It’s not solely an interesting discussion about whether website operators are liable for libellous content.

It’s a story about how widespread bullying is. It’s a story about how a random and benign act can bring you to the attention of bullies and how there are people out there who will stop at nothing to destroy your life on a whim.  It’s a story about how a terrible case of bullying isn’t going to make the national news unless it’s has some other exciting newsworthy angle, such as setting legal precedent or, forgive me if I sound cynical, it’s happening to a celebrity.

And I strongly suspect it’s a story about how the media are reluctant to overtly criticise or condemn cyber-bullies. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Lulz Security took over the website of News Corp. A different case with a different agenda, perhaps, but the power these anonymous IT savvy people have must be the media industry’s worst nightmare.

That’s the saddest story of bullying – people are often reluctant to criticise bullies too harshly, lest they’re targeted themselves.

So I’m behind Ms Brookes 100%. As I often remind people on Twitter, it may happen to many, but when it does, you’re made to feel entirely on your own.

Very best

Saturday, 9 June 2012

WEEK 230 No Comment

Something amazing is happening in Australia and I don’t mean the booming economy, although that’s great news. I mean that the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Australian Employment Minister have appointed a committee to address workplace bullying.

Ms Gillard, joined by the parents of Brodie Panlock who tragically committed suicide due to bullying at work in 2006, explained that the committee would consider the personal experiences of victims and their families. The exercise could result in Brodie’s Law (currently Victoria jurisdiction) being taken up nationally.

The report is due by the end of November.

What is immediately apparent is that the personal cost of bullying to employees is as much a consideration as the financial cost to businesses. Workers are invited to share their stories with the House of Representatives committee. Families touched by tragedy, such as the Panlocks, are being approached and listened to.

Contrast this with the UK. Over a month ago, I sent my book, Bullied by the Boss, part memoir/part survival guide, to Vince Cable’s department. My attempt to shed light on a disgusting record of workplace bullying, is an eye opener. Sure, I didn’t expect much by way of response, but I expected an acknowledgement at least. You know what I mean, one of those standard letters with a photocopied signature or a one-line email explaining Mr Cable can’t respond to everyone who writes in, but thanks me for taking the time.

There’s been nothing.

I can’t remember who first said that no comment is a comment itself, but in light of the Australian commitment to listening to bullied employees, Vince Cable’s lack of basic acknowledgement speaks volumes.  

Very best

Saturday, 2 June 2012

WEEK 229 Labour of Love

Temporary work has dried up.

I’ve contacted the agency and they say it’s one of those things. They say it'll change.

There are some, I’m sure, who’d tell me I’m lucky not to be working at the moment. I should count my blessings. True, I’m spending quality time with loved ones - a rare treat. My PGCE is on the horizon and the weather is divine.

Nevertheless, those who say I’m lucky to be in this position are probably the same people who’d flippantly advise any employee candid enough to admit to being bullied in work that they should just quit or sign on until they get a better job.

The reality is tougher. I defy anyone to be unemployed for a spell and not feel excluded. I’m confused by my enforced holiday. I give myself pep talks. I tell myself I’m a good secretary and the lack of temporary work is a blip. It’s only been a matter of weeks, but my self-esteem is already taking a nose dive. I’m worried about finances.  I wonder why, with all my willingness to join in and contribute, I’m often sidelined.

What would I do without my blog and Twitter? As was the case when I worked for Howard, they prove that my contribution can be worthwhile and reciprocated.   

The fear of unemployment is, naturally, what workplace bullies capitalise on. Of course they do. It’s the worst case scenario. Unemployment is the ultimate marginalisation.

So if you’re being bullied and someone says: ‘Just walk out’, then stop listening right there. They’ve obviously never been bullied at their firm and/or had a spell out of work. Your unemployment will likely satisfy your bully. You need to find another job. This isn't easy in a recession, granted, but you must make it a labour of love to find a job where you’re wholly appreciated.

I won’t give up if you don’t.

Very best
Bottom Swirl