The Cost of Systemic Workplace Bullying

There are always numbers floating around in the news on the economical costs for work-related illnesses caused by stress and bullying. Those numbers go into the millions and billions each year, but I want to stay away from quoting any numbers as I don’t know for sure how high the financial cost for this is or where the media gets these statistics from. And handling abstract numbers like this doesn’t really magnify the cause and true human cost behind it. I can speak only from my experience first hand and also from my observation on how colleagues were treated. The cost I am concentrating on, apart from mental illness and personal financial loss, is the cost of life itself. Workplace bullying costs lives, and on that no amount or number is adequate enough to cover the costs as a life lost cannot be recovered. Once life is gone, it is gone. Health can be regained, financial loss can be won again, but once life is gone, that’s it, point of no return. Keep your numbers, keep counting your money, and keep hiding the consequences of workplace bullying under the carpet.

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My aim is not just to raise awareness of workplace bullying, as so many do already, and to find ways to stop it as best as I can in my sphere of influence, and make companies rethink their approach and value their employees and understand true leadership. My aim is to really take a closer look at a system in this day and age that is epidemic worldwide in this globalization we find ourselves in where huge companies imitate and apply what made other companies rich or what is so commonly called “successful”.

If I look at the conflicts in the world, the big ones and the small ones, wars, unrest, uprisings, legal battles, cyber attacks, workplace inequality etc. etc. It all has a common thread running through its core: class war and the struggle for dominance. Ian Hodson, a person who represents true leadership, points this out in one of his speeches. And to me, having worked with too many poor “leaders” that I don’t even want to call leaders and just put them in “quotation marks” for the poor management they display, the problem with greed is that it is never satisfied as it is a bottomless pit where no amount is ever enough, like Mahatma Gandhi so poetically and poignantly said that “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” And paradoxically or amazingly, whichever way you want to look at it, he “landed” not only on stamps but on money as well! I wonder how many top executives, bankers, CEOs and anyone who makes their wealth on the backs of regular working people while being responsible for the misery of many an employee, will have their image imprinted on money or a stamp! Hardly any to none.

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The majority of people just want to live a normal, content life, work hard, pay their bills, raise their kids and see them thrive. They don’t cause any trouble, are reliable at work, care about their surroundings, but they find themselves in situations like I have found myself in and have collected here, unnecessary bulls**t that regular hard working, decent people with integrity have to deal with on a daily basis. Lives that are hurt and even destroyed by incompetence and carelessness of the top. I just about survived having come out on the other side bruised and damaged internally to speak about it. And if this happened to me even during the darkest time of my life, how many people have a similar story happen to them, but they crumbled under the mental strain and aren’t so lucky to happen to have a passion in writing and speaking out.

Because people everywhere and throughout history selfishly tend to just think from 12 to noon, not looking at the long-term effects and only in the long-run seeing the costs and consequences of bullying, but by then being way over the hill far away and gone from the consequences of their deeds. They pressure the very people who make this greedy wealth happen for them, they prefer to turn the blind eye repeatedly until they indeed become blinded to the difference of right and wrong. They twist and turn, cheat and lie so much they start to believe their own lies. They will by then have become so skilled in selling this lie to the next generation of “leaders”, who don’t have a clue what leadership means, even at its simple base of the definition. They mistake leadership with tyranny and loading it over the very workforce they should be taking care of by valuing and furthering them, if they don’t want these employees to one day turn around and bite them back in the butt! Fear management, prolonged fear in general leads to anger, and repeated mistreatment will not go “unpunished” in the long-run.

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The next generation of “leaders” will have taken up on the corrupt ways they learned and were subjected under, they continue to move in and even grow this toxic culture in the workplace and everywhere at that. It is a swim or drown situation of deciding to either become this kind of “leadership” to escape being at the receiving end of unjust treatment or stay under oppression and when the time comes, leave. Survival of the fittest at its best. This is of course in politics, schools, at home, everywhere, the struggle to dominate to not be dominated, but this is especially rampant in today’s multi-national companies that elbow their way through the high-streets with a smile and good PR.
That is why it is such big and much needed refreshing news when one HR boss by the name of Pia Meier mobilized the whole workforce of over 650 employees of a German factory within 2 weeks (!), to donate overtime to ONE colleague who’s son became ill with Leukemia and had no option to either get dismissed or resign to care for his son. 3000 overtime hours later, his colleagues made it happen (on average 5 hours each employee only worked) that he was able to take off for more than a year to be with his son, who also shortly before becoming ill has lost his mother who died of a heart disease. They pulled together under the amazing and true leadership of their HR department’s boss, Pia Meier, so that this man would not lose his job while giving priority to his sick son. If I live long enough I am looking forward to Julius’ having grown up, hopefully without any more cancer coming, and speak or write about in his own words, what his dad’s company has done for him and his dad.

I still tear up every time I read this or think about this example as my experience was the complete opposite with HR. It is sad that these news are so rare, or maybe not even shared so much, as I believe there are much much more good people in the world than those people who spread a toxic culture and thrive in it. The toxic culture just creates better news, again for profit unfortunately. That’s why I aim to grow my “Hero Section” in hopes it will become larger than my outcry regarding Pret A Manger, as I am still coming to terms.

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From left to right: Kai Deuker Assistant HR boss, Andreas Graf with his son Julius, HeRo boss Pia Meier and Dr. Andreas Ritzenhoff, CEO of Seidel GmbH & Co KG.

I am sure that the HR department of Seidel company does not have the slogan like Pret has for their HR department that says, “Doing the Right thing Naturally”. The Seidel company’s HR department doesn’t need slogans like this because they are too busy doing the right thing naturally to be talking about it, or slapping a P(oo)R slogan like this on their department.

And yes, I have received some support after almost a year of approaching the HR dept. being sent to into all directions and the support I then received came only after I contacted Pret’s CEO. A lot of the “support” was also for Pret-ense, but the core problem remained: suppressive leadership, bullying, exclusion, being shouted at, threats of job loss, tricked and trapped, not being given vital information needed to do the job, even weeks before I was dismissed with my dad in intensive care my last line manager did not invite me to the leadership Christmas dinner, it never ended. And then ultimately having been tricked and trapped again being dismissed while my dad just came out of a coma! This is Pret “doing the right thing naturally“.

It is so common with slogans like this that when an organization advertises something like this, it is a dead giveaway that it is the opposite. I had a complacent line manager once telling me what a hard worker he is, I laughed to myself thinking that, oh well, if he was such a hard worker he would be too busy working hard bringing the results than speaking about it!

So, what is the cost of workplace bullying? I survived to say that it has almost cost my life! And this is taking lives of many people everywhere in the world who didn’t have the strength to come full circle to talk about it. For anyone who survived or went through or even didn’t survive workplace bullying and unfair dismissals, and for their loved ones I speak out.

What to me is very disheartening but does not come as a surprise is, that Pret’s leadership hasn’t even gotten the courage to respond to my public outcry yet. They have the “courage” to stress, suppress and mistreat staff, even while going through bereavement! But they can’t stand up to my public outcry. When they are contacted by customers about my blog, they sweet talk their way out of it as usual. Sure, they were probably instructed by their legal team to remain silent and let me rant and rave, and hopefully make mistakes which they can then use against me. Go ahead, I’m not going anywhere.

And it certainly is difficult and a sheer embarrassment for them as the top leadership has gotten involved. In Pret the common tactic to “motivate” their managers and shop teams to do better when they fail, is to name and shame them in front of the whole company. When a shop fails in a certain way like Health & Safety check-ups for example, all the shops are emailed with the poor results of that shop and where they failed, really shaming the manager. It’s a simple tactic to scare all shops to overwork for good results so Pret can show-off what a wonderful company they are. Of course they also brag on shops that bring amazing numbers and results, but it is also a tactic to make shops jealous so-to-speak, again to work even harder in this stressful environment. But I prefer a hidden agenda in praise anytime, to naming those who fail. And yet, here is Pret’s leadership being caught out failing their staff, and this is my turn to name their failings in the hopes they will improve in how they treat their staff, as this has almost cost my life and is hurting people who make Pret’s growth happen. What a shame:

  • The CEO belittling me as his “late night girl” in front of the Director of HR due to my ill late night emails which I extensively explain in my blog what happened to me; him minimizing my conduct that I tried so hard to overcome, and which to my surprise didn’t only happen to me in a workplace!
  • The Head of HR & Recruitment wanting me to stroke his ego by telling him on a scale of 1 to 10 how it was for me meeting with him, while I really needed to meet with my line managers who were at a loss… Uhm, sorry I still can’t answered that weird and self-serving question. The Head of HR missed my almost year long effort to bring suggestions on how to improve and support bereaved employees before I then finally contacted the CEO for help (stupid mistake as they were just having a laugh!)
  • Most managers who were out of their league in how to deal with me while I always gave them help and suggestions what would help me, but their refusal just made this mess worse.
  • OPs managers who were like a flag in the wind back and forth, stuck and stumbling between pleasing HR and having gotten to know me, not as this crazy person everyone was told about, but as someone who actually has a lot to share and bring to the table, even while being lost in grief and trauma… Well, they snooze, they lose!
  • A Development Manager having been used to give me a disciplinary for my emailing because she supposedly lost her brother very similarly to how I lost mine. But then her unallowed entering into solely electronic communication with me which with all the other emails gotten me dismissed while my dad was in intensive care, just out of a coma! Using her and her allowing for her tragedy to be used like this was a clever plan but the most disrespectful thing they have done, hoping to get to me via this “friendly fire” by stepping on bereaved people’s dignity like this. But this crossed a line and it only backfired.

This shows how incompetent and careless they are, and I cannot stop concluding how incredibly arrogant the conduct of an elite group is, that are at the top of a company. A company that was made big by regular working people, of which many of them have degrees and education from their home countries, but happen to not speak English as best yet, ending up working in Pret. Professionals with PhD’s whose degrees are not accepted in the UK and who are forced to study further to get the adequate degree as they cannot find work in their home country with what they specialize in. I worked with a colleague who back in his small Brazilian town was the secretary to the town’s mayor! I worked with a lady, also from a small Brazilian town having been a bank manager at the local bank there. I worked with talented IT people and artists, with a lawyer from Spain who has her degree in law etc. etc. These people were often patronized and treated like complete idiots, just because they didn’t speak English very well having the managers assume they can just discriminate highly intelligent and educated people who are forced to make sandwiches and coffee for some of the most snobbiest customers, just because their English isn’t quite there yet.

But back to my ordeal, what Pret did by using the Development Manager, and her allowing this was then the main push for me to go public while licking my wounds and after burying my dad, almost needing to be buried myself.

The heart of Pret gotten involved and messed up bigger than anyone on the shop floor could ever mess up. They have presented themselves as a “leadership” with their conduct and style that is trickled down, and reflected on the shop floor with shop after shop having extremely poor management with countless complaints about this.

Here is a company that is next to nothing when it comes to PR and how they present this nice facade to the public, while people internally are suffering. Yes, there are many good things in place like helping the homeless get back into work (while making other employees homeless by unfair dismissals!), the apprenticeship scheme (young people are cheaper in labour and easily fooled not having had enough experience in life yet, not knowing their rights), giving left over food each night to charities etc. And I don’t want to question the motif behind those schemes while still acknowledging that this makes excellent PR.

But the trouble with PR(et) always is that it is only one-sided. And in time the truth always comes to light. It always takes just one person to kick-start a true view of the company and stand up with the message, that this time they picked on the wrong person and especially at the wrong time! When a company as wealthy, sophisticated and rich in resources like Pret crosses a line by not even stopping to mistreat an employee who has been thrust into bereavement and trauma, and this company trying so hard to get rid of this “inconvenient” employee, even though this employee is still working extremely well under traumatic circumstances, helping the company succeed, it just shows how indifferent and plainly arrogant a company like this is for believing itself invincible.

I have been told by several people that I make them grow, well I hate to be the one making a now multi-billion company grow up!

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So, Pret will continue their PR and will find tricks and traps again in their own way how to get back at me for speaking out. And who knows what leadership changes will come in place after the JAB takeover as some people in HQ have already been made redundant. And silence might just be their tactic in the hopes this will just go away in time. No, it won’t! Important people are picking up on it, and it is time.

And this is the important thing that more and more people have become aware of how it really looks behind the scenes, and hopefully this will help that not more employees become ill and suicidal. My aim is NOT to hurt anyone, but to help that not more people are getting hurt! In the “return-to-work” interview sheet for employees who were off sick and returned to work, there is one question regarding the symptoms of the illness, one question that asks if the employee has anxiety issues related to work. There is a reason why this is asked as the main “motivating” factor in Pret is fear management and pressure resulting in bullying the very people they need to be treating well, but fail to.
I have had countless threats to my job security in my almost 10 years in Pret. I was an extremely good Team Leader and employee, I don’t say this to float my boat, because I am crap in other things, but I know how good I was at my job and received many many compliments from my teams and customers. And yet I was often in sheer fear to lose my job for no valid reason! And when this even intensified during bereavement and trauma where they still continued in this tactic, they crossed a line.

When I have a good moment I write more creatively and with a good pinch of humour and sarcasm I write things like my “IMAGINARY but Honest Interview with Pret A Manger” to highlight the ridiculousness of their efforts to hide the work conditions and staff treatment. It is my way of having a laugh at Pret for a change after them having a laugh about me becoming ill after trauma in bereavement and bullying at work.

What happened to me and all the Staff Complaints I have compiled unto one page just shows how unprofessional and indifferent Pret is. In time more people will come out and tell their stories. I know Pret is working hard in the background on some things. I am sure as they are many and as a huge company they should be able to handle ONE person. I for my part have sent a clear message as direct and also as creative as possible, that has drawn the line where after all I have been through, giving Pret the benefit of the doubt again and again, I have decided for good to not drink anyone’s dirty water no more! The CEO is not following his own advise to deal with issues fast. I’m still waiting, and so are others.

With a Pret A Manger smile!

Strong woman smudge smiley

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