“I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.”
This is a statement a line manager at Pret A Manger said to me in December 2015, when I was transferred to his shop after I was openly bullied in another shop and grievances were raised. He meant that he didn’t want his management colleagues of the area to feel sorry for him as I was traumatized and acted like a “crazy” person in irrational fear. Pret has their shops placed within areas of around 10 – 15 shops each area, with his area having had 10 shops with regular managers meetings. And as my story went around like wildfire, they had a laugh about my “poor” boss because I was there.
Little did everyone know how well I did my job raising the standard, restructuring the team by organizing and encouraging them, and with it also raising the numbers, and the shop climbed up regularly into the top 10 of shops including #2, #1 in the UK and in the area. I didn’t care for this, but I knew that the area will be jealous one day of my boss as I did my job with my eyes closed. This came easy for me where other struggled. My weakness and struggle was my mental state and trauma for which I was discriminated for. And I am the first and last to say that I did a lot wrong, and even though this is not an excuse but an explanation, I was traumatized and ill. But I still had a mind to do my job, often on autopilot, functioning extremely well at work, although I was in a lot of physical and mental pain. I tortured myself after my brother’s death and entered into what they call “Sibling Survivor Guilt”. But this does not give anyone the right or a free ticket to bully me and take advantage of my extreme vulnerable state. That was a mistake!
I can understand that everyone who didn’t know me was confused, because here I was with this mix of a completely mentally ill person who wrote thousands of emails irrationally, at times under the influence trying to cope. And on the other side I was this very strong person who had very clear standards and work ethics and during work was highly professional! I cared for my team passionately as well as for the job and changed the atmosphere where the team were not shouted at anymore, but rather encouraged, and it showed in the numbers and success of the shop. I was just off the rails, and that may be the reason I was able to stay so long, because of my work.
That is why this is so wrong and disappointing that I was never furthered, but rather discriminated against, time and time again. And I will never stop saying that discrimination was only possible because the Pret leadership has no concern nor a strong zero tolerance policy in place protecting people who are in bereavement, mentally ill or traumatized.
My story is spread throughout this website in different articles, blog entries and open letters to Pret, which eventually will form into one chronological book / story online.
I was transferred to a shop with the above manager, I call him “Mr. Eagle” here, as the building of that shop has this name. Mr. Eagle was not happy at all that I was dropped onto his lap as another team leader, adding to his payroll expenses. The look on his face, his body language when I entered his shop the day before I was to start there, to introduce myself, “a picture speaks a thousand words”. His face was like saying, “Who on earth are you? What are you doing here? Why are they sending you to my shop?!”
This was the beginning of an almost two year discriminate working relationship. And again you as the reader may ask, ‘Why did you stay so long there?’ as a friend once said to me “You need to get the hell out of there!” But I was traumatized, lost in a cloud of grief, paralyzed in my heart, my savings wiped out after the expenses surrounding my brother’s death, I blamed myself for everything, felt like a burden which I eventually became. I couldn’t sell myself in a new job, even a trial day didn’t give me a job, whereas before I always got a job! I felt abandoned, with my back towards the wall, I lost 35kg within 6+ months as I couldn’t eat. I had no confidence with new opportunities. And I was not able to know who to trust, as all the grievance hearings were a joke, the way they were conducted. I raised grievance after grievance trying to deal with discrimination internally, so much so that the Head of HR later said that I “exhausted the HR department”. Well, I wouldn’t have done so in my trauma if there would have been a clear zero tolerance of bullying in Pret, especially towards the bereaved.
I was like in a Twilight Zone, felt like a person going through a country full of aliens where I tried to figure out who is the human and who is the “zombie” about to devour me! To the reader, this may seem like complete stupidity, but for me the emotional roller-coaster was very real. Only a traumatized person will understand what I am sharing here. And no, don’t make it too easy on yourself by looking down on my situation and dismissing my turmoil as just another “basket case”, whose fault it is to let others treat them like this. Nope, not that easy, and bear with me as my story unfolds.
As I am writing this, I have about 6 months of hindsight and distance to Pret where my mind is clearing up and seeing things more rational on what actually happened to me.
On the subject of Discrimination:
If I would have had a physical disability, let’s say I had a limb, maybe one leg is shorter then the other, but I can walk and work perfectly fine, I may just be a little slower than others, but other than that I am fine. If Mr. Eagle or any line manager, would have told me that because of my physical condition that he doesn’t “want the area to feel sorry for him anymore”, we all know what a clear discrimination this would have been and how quickly he would have gotten into trouble. But my disability was mental.
I even mentioned this shortly after to the Head of HR what he said, and the Head of HR with an embarrassed look on his face only replied, “Did he say that?” Yes sir, he did. And that was all. HR may have spoken with Mr. Eagle then, but no sanction, and Mr. Eagle went on to discriminate in very subtle ways from then on. Bullying has many faces, and much of it is hard to prove when it is done behind closed doors, in very subtle ways where a person for example is held low, or not being given vital information they need to do their job, or they are not invited in meetings and even Christmas dinners. This kind of bullying is actually very common. It is epidemic to be frank, because it goes under the radar, hard to prove without clear evidence and witnesses. Most people don’t even know or understand that they are being bullied, they just feel off, they feel like something “yuk” is being attached to them, but they cannot put the finger on until often much later when it is too late to raise the issue.
My experience in being bullied was more clear, but still hard to prove as Mr. Eagle always said these things in the office without any witnesses, very clever and calculated. And he had a ride with me when I was irrational, hysterical and emotional. He loved it. Towards the end of working with him and in my emotional vulnerability I just thought to myself, if I survive this and when the time comes where I become stronger again, I will kick his butt! And I left his shop raising a grievance against him, but the investigation was not done properly and witnesses that I named were not interviewed. I gave up then, didn’t even appeal anymore because the HR department would again not have an impartial hearing as so many times before. My father was submitted to hospital, in a coma and I had another round of my ill emailing which was re-started again after the development manager giving me a disciplinary for my ill emailing, played her game as well. She entered into solely electronic communication with me because she was used to discipline me as she (supposedly) lost her brother very similarly to mine. Electronic communication for which I was sanctioned for by her. This confusion kick-started another level of ill emailing again, and I got dismissed while my dad was in intensive care, just out of a coma. I share this in these pages in more detail.
I can only say that if you are mistreating a person who is vulnerable in bereavement, illness or disability, the time will come when this will get back to you. If I would have been treated with respect, empathy (not pity!), if I would have had the time and space to grow and heal, I would be writing a completely different blog and would go out of my way to brag about Pret, instead of writing a painful story at times in tears.
If Mr. Eagle would have said to a pregnant woman who was slowing down due to her getting along in the pregnancy, “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.” …
or if a person of their own sexual orientation working for Mr. Eagle and him saying to that person, “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.” …..
or a person of another skin tone, culture or religious belief, “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.” ………
or a person who had an accident, losing a finger which may slow him down a bit, or he would be able to do certain work needing to be placed in another area of the business… “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.” …………..
it would be a clear case of discrimination and people would heed quickly, as everyone knows that there are laws to protect people against this kind of discrimination. I wrote this somewhere else already, but the only way to describe my ordeal is, that I was like a sheep up for slaughter on the shop floor. And I was fair game for “leaders” like this!
to be continued …