Reflecting on a workplace bully.

Inspired by Susan Fowler and a tweet by Amélie Lamont, I want to write my own account of how hard it is to complain about staff members in large organisations.

In 2012, I was hired on as a contractor at Specsavers, Europe's largest optical group (Americans: It’s like Lenscrafters but independent from Luxottica and only selling it’s own frames). I was hired on to help them support a new version of their in-store point of sale and dispensing software. Prior to this, I was working a night shift for a web hosting company which was sold off to an American company and was made redundant.

Forum Six, One of Specsavers many operations offices around the world. (Source — Spaceway)

It was a great job to begin with, I was in my element, I was providing great support to many stores who were going through a stressful change in their working method. I’d have store Directors (Most stores are franchise owned) giving compliments on how I handled mission critical issues correctly and with understanding. I would be getting praise from managers for my ability to work in a more technical manner than was expected at my level. I attempted to show initiative wherever I could.

However, there were people who were not happy about this. Some days i’d have several people swarming around my desk asking for help with issues that the management were not able to assist with. I was told I was making people's jobs harder by doing more to help those I was tasked with helping. This stuck in the craw of one of the team leaders on the desk. At first it was small things like making comments about how no one usually does what i did. I kind of brushed it off because in my eyes, I was helping stores on a massive scale and faster results should outweigh “doing things the way they’ve always been” (To note, nothing i did was too far out, Things like resetting machine services when they had clearly gone down or helping with things like troubleshooting printer issues using basic troubleshooting techniques rather than passing them up to someone higher up the chain to get to weeks later).

Nice modern looking offices, The room to the left is where I was stationed. (Source — Specsavers page on Glassdoor)

Then came the first blow. I was a few hours late to work on several occasions despite noting down the times my shift started. Initially I was told that i could have just made a mistake and to make sure it doesn’t happen again, Then when making far more effort than usual, I was 4 hours late to one shift. The previous day however, I had printed off a copy of the schedule and the time i was due to start was correct. Something was happening to the schedule (A google document). When I raised issue with the team leaders, They told me I must have printed off an old version (Impossible as it’s a google document). With no luck, I spoke to a team leader in another department I was friends with who had the ability to view edits. Low and behold, The team leader in question edited the google document from home the night before from his home computer so that I would be late.

I made a complaint about this to the department head and to HR. No action was taken.

I was then invited on a store visit. An opportunity for us to work in a store to install new hardware and provide support to the staff on a one to one basis should any issues arise. The contract arrangement stated i’d be paid for time travelling to and from the store (A 2.5 hour train journey each way), Accommodation (Fortunately paid for directly by the company) and food. However the manager responsible for sending the expenses over to the right department (surprise surprise) was the one I was having issues with. He delayed compensation for this until it was too late for me to claim it back.

I’m writing this at a state where i know what was going on but at the time, i was made to feel i had done something wrong and it was my fault i wouldn’t get compensated.

Third incident. I’m quite a large guy, not very fit, kind of the stereotype of an IT worker. One sunday shift where said manager was the only one in supervising the desk, I was taken off the phones to move boxes from the system store to the service desk, unpack them and take all the boxes to the recycling downstairs. Here is the kicker, The manager hid the cart so i had to carry each box by hand (Fairly heavy boxes with monitors and computer towers) from the store to the desk and the empty boxes downstairs to the recycling. I thought this must be an IT job because it was fitting new screens but I later discovered it was not my responsibility. At a team night out, after said manager had drunk a few alcoholic beverages, He delighted in telling the guys that “Ben really pissed me off so I tried to make him lose a bit of weight” right in front of me.

Then came 12 months in. I had struggled through the daily torment from a manager who hated me and was doing everything he could to make my work life hell and an upper management who were convinced I wasn’t doing very well as a result. There were a number of openings for permanent jobs which meant the world to me, I could have a permanent job and (in my mind) the ability to complain if i was mistreated so he would leave me alone. I got selected for an interview but a few days before, I came down with the norovirus. I called in to let the management team know and to request a rescheduled interview. Guess who the call went to? When i returned from sickness, I had 3 emails from the manager asking where I was, A second asking me to contact him to reschedule and a third saying that the interview round was closed and that there was no open role available for me to move into.

Then came what contractors call “ghosting”. Typically contracts are done on a month by month basis, your contract gets renewed and you are safe for another month. I was initially hired for 3 months but ended up staying for 13. However at this point I did not get a new contract and my time there was due to be terminated, I was the only one that month to not get renewed and I was curious why. I spoke to my manager who said that the company didn’t have to renew it (he was right but it didn’t explain anything). The department head told me “Tell me what you’ve done to deserve another month here?”, I argued my case but it fell on deaf ears. I then spoke to HR who practically said “No one has to give you a reason” even after detailing why it made no sense.

This was the point psychiatrists point out that I clearly started suffering from depression. I moved into another contract pretty quickly and I was told by members of my new team and managers, despite doing a great job as they said on multiple occasions, I was getting upset and apologising a lot for things that weren’t issues but more related to the learning curve of being in a new job. I started to have nightmares and thoughts about not being good enough. Doctors put me on basic antidepressants to try and help but all that happened after that is I started having panic attacks in the office, blacking out and sick days. After 5 months, I was let go from the new job as I was off sick more than i was in the office, An understandable reaction as I was only a contractor.

Me (Center) discussing online fundraising at Playlist Live in Florida. (Source — Playlist Live/AKT)

Since this experience, i’ve not worked in another office. I’ve taken to doing freelance work when I can get it. I also worked on a fundraising event called Stickaid which was giving me some sense of importance and accomplishment. I was asked to do public speaking at events all over the world and work with brands on social media as a result of that. It’s not steady work and pay but it’s good enough for now. I’d like to work somewhere full time soon but alas, My last job on my CV shows as more than 3 years ago. No one is gonna hire me.

Working in a workplace with a bully has ruined my life. The manager from my story still works there. All attempts at bringing what happened to their attention fell on deaf ears. I now have to take daily medication and see a psychiatrist as a result of what happened there and I fear there are more like me out there. Writing this has been really difficult but after seeing how outraged people are on social media about what happens in these massive companies, I wanted to share my experience in the hope that it’ll make people aware of the signs of bullying and that someone from Specsavers takes the time to look into how they can stop bullying.

Speak up if you’re being bullied, Take your issue as high in the company as you can if you are not happy with how you are being treated. HR exists to protect the company and aren’t there to make your life easier. If they don’t treat you right, Try finding a contact at the executive level to listen to you. If all that fails, Social Media is the one place any brand values their public perception, it’s a major move but maybe by then someone will start listening to you.

I’m sorry if this has been difficult to read at any point, I do suffer from dyslexia and whilst i’ve put a lot of effort into writing this, some grammatical and spelling errors may remain. Corrections are very much appreciated.

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