Open Letter to the CEO of Pret

Dear Sir,

as you read the below occurrences on how each leader stumbled their way through the events of just ONE person, most of these leaders completely at a loss on what to do, is there really no concern to have a policy in place that would equip your leaders on how to deal with and protect a person, who is thrust into grief, trauma and mental health issues?

Something I was suggesting and bringing ideas forward to HR since May 2015 when I stood at the beginning of my long and dark bereavement. The ACAS Guide on managing bereavement in the workplace I’ve sent time and time again to HR and OPs managers, and I think to you as well.

A clear stand, a clear policy like you have in place, where you protect people of other cultures and race, people of their own sexual orientation, people like women who are pregnant protected by law, mothers and fathers with the right for flexible working hours, physically disabled people etc. But that protection is mandatory, because there are laws for the protection against discrimination of the above people and groups, correct? A bereaved person has no laws to protect them, therefor why should you be concerned.

Yes, you dropped by my shop after I emailed you for help after my almost 12 month struggle with HR and managers. Remember when you came by with PChr? We briefly spoke, I had tears in my eyes while thanking you, remember that? And you saw that there were 2 or 3 people queuing up by the tills, and you sent me back to the till while I had tears in my eyes. I did go back like the good and obedient employee that I was, wiped my tears away and continued on autopilot, further injuring myself and slipping deeper into mental illness. Was your visit to my shop to protect yourself for any potential tribunal case? Please tell me your visit was because you cared, not as is usual in Pret, out of fear for legal consequences.

And yet, for me it was not important if you dropped by my shop or if the Head of HR sat down with me, for me it was always important that my line manager in the day-to-day business was comfortable, equipped and without fear to work with me and be normal as well as respectful. The Head of HR could not understand when he met with me the second time, why I was upset having to meet with him. I was upset because I was avoided or mistreated by my line managers. I needed my line managers, with whom I worked every single day, to be normal and relaxed with me. You dropping by my shop was kind, and I thank you for it. The Head of HR sitting down with me, I appreciated. But I needed my line managers to be confident and not stumble around in this mess and me trying to figure out how to help them, while I needed help and was lost in deep darkness. Do you know how many line managers and HR people I approached before contacting you?

I remember an email you sent to the shops straight after Brexit happened and some customers came into the shops making racial remarks, openly, and with their perception of Brexit strengthening their backs offending team members from other countries. You made it very very clear that shops were allowed to ask a person like this to leave the shop! That was noble, the right thing to do and I as a non-British person at least felt backed up by you as the head of this company. Thank you for that stand and backing us up.

And yet I also felt betrayed, because as a bereaved employee I can be offended time and time again and I will have no protection whatsoever, no clear zero tolerance policy in place, and I am completely left out on the front lines so-to-speak, like sheep up for slaughter.

Yes, Pret paid counseling for me after I wrote to you, literally asking for help to step in after what I went through from my line managers and HR. But the counseling sessions were like a plaster that got ripped off again when on the shop floor.

It was like in a metaphor where a battered wife who is being beaten by her husband, and her husband then giving her money to go to the pharmacy to get bandage and medication. The husband paying for the recovery, and when the wife returns home, he beats her again, then gives her more money to go and get fixed up, and then he beats her again… and if these injuries and humiliations weren’t enough, he tells her how much he cares for her by paying for her health treatment!

I went to counseling for my grief and what happened at work, returned to my shops, and got shouted at by my line manager, or I got held low in my position where I could not grow and thrive, or I was avoided and excluded in team meetings and even Christmas dinners, even up to before I got dismissed for my emailing. You know what the line manager HR transferred me to and in which shop you visited me said to me early on when I started in his branch? I was in the middle of still coming to terms about my brother’s unclear cause of death and on top a stressful grievance hearing against the former line manager who shouted at me and sent me out to the tills while I was having a breakdown and was sobbing. In grief and traumatized already, I was irrational and in fear, and he said to me in his subtle and quiet way he does alone in the office where no one witnessed anything, he said that he “doesn’t want the area to feel sorry” for him anymore. He didn’t want the GMs from his area to feel sorry for him because I, as this crazy person, was there. He said that in the beginning of my shop move there, not in the end. He and I started off very bad with him discriminating me, always cleverly when we were alone, so no one could hear anything, and I won’t have evidence or witnesses. Shock after shock like this is, very common in Pret.

I kept asking his boss, the OPs TB for an appointment to speak about this treatment, but TB never responded. And I kept going back writing to HR and you, becoming more and more irrational. I told this to the head of HR and with an embarrassed look on his face he responded: “Did he say that?”. Yes, sir, he did! In fact the line manager and TB laughed about my emailing. Pret leaders, hey?

People may ask why on earth I didn’t leave. It’s more complicated than that. I tried to leave, I couldn’t sell myself in a new employment, I even had a trial day, and maybe I overworked and tried to over deliver, I probably wasn’t natural as I usually am. It is also because with Pret I knew the “devil” compared to a new devil at a new employment. And frankly, I still “loved” Pret, having given almost 10 years with no returns but pain and grief. I deserved to be treated with respect and dignity after having given my sweat, blood and tears, in vain. But even working only one day somewhere, everyone deserves the basics of respect. In my trauma I felt like my back was against the wall, no where to turn, and how my situation was handled is horrendous.

In 2016 before I received a disciplinary, before even the Note of Concern, I said to this line manager twice that I am writing all these crazy emails to people I shouldn’t be writing to (you, HR, leaders etc.) and the first time, you know what he said? He said “Yeah, but I don’t judge you.” and he just walked off. The second time a few weeks later, again I said I’m writing all these crazy emails, I was crying out for help, and again he just said, “Yeah, but I don’t want to put my nose in it” and turned his back on me in the office. Typical body language. I was crying out for help. In counseling I asked what this is I am doing, no one could diagnose me, as they are no Psychiatrists. And after three years of my odyssey through the mental health system I finally found out why the NHS is so reluctant to get me to a Psychiatrist for a diagnosis. As usual it’s all about money. A legal advisor spilled the beans that it costs around £3000 to do a diagnosis! So they just send you back to regular counselors or to the local community health services spinning in circles. My journey with the NHS is a book in itself.

I said to the line manager later that if I had a team member, especially a leader who is doing such a good job, but doing crazy things with the emailing out of their trauma, I would sit them down and try to find out what can be done. I would even give my personal email and tell them to just flood my inbox, if that would help to not write to the leadership team. He did not care one bit, he even had a laugh. How ashamed and broken I was, and a miracle I am still alive.

I was extremely vulnerable, traumatized, and you all watched me become mentally ill. Not only that, but are part of it, even laughing about me. Apart from freezing in shock after what the line manager said, I knew the way I work that his area will be jealous of him some day. And it didn’t take long for the shop to climb up even to #1 and a till had to be added etc. etc.

All this time in that shop, while still working extremely well, I always felt paralyzed inside. And I only thought that when the time comes where I get some strength and sanity back, I will kick the butt of that line manager! And I raised a grievance and even after the grievance, when I went on the Opportunity Network and pleaded with the OPs SN for me to leave his shop, even after the grievance I raised against him he would not let me go! Never giving me a pay rise, having a laugh about me, holding me low… I was fair game for “leaders” like this. He just sucked all my energy, gifts and labour out of me and figuratively speaking spitted me out on the shop floor again.

These are just few of the countless mistreatment I experienced.

I got fired shortly after my father woke up from his coma, still in intensive care at the time.

In my traumatic vulnerability I kept going back to counselling and returned to work getting “beaten” up again with harshness or avoidance… And in the end you call me your “late night girl” because out of my mental illness emailing late at night to everybody, after everything I went through and tried single-handed to help change the conditions at work. You minimized the seriousness of my emailing and the subsequent disciplinary I received for it. A disciplinary that became not valid for me because the person who gave it to me for my emailing then went into personal contact with me, and get this: solely via electronic means (text messages and emails), never speaking on the phone and not face to face! No wonder your employees are clueless on what to do, or get frustrated, or have a laugh, when you are not taking this serious.

I have approached HR and managers informally since May 2015 making suggestions for improvement on dealing with bereaved employees and then I was “chased” like a rabbit in a fox hunt and almost lost my life!

My aim to go to someone who is over you, tribunal, was stopped by me because my mental health cannot cope with this stress and my dad just died and me having been at his side continuously seeing him deteriorate, has taking its toll on me. I begged at the dismissal hearing not to get fired, as losing my job and finances in the long run would also mean I wouldn’t be able to care for my dad as well as my mother who had a serious operation in September as you know. It was the first and last time I begged for a job and humiliating myself after having been treated so terribly. And you want to laugh about my becoming so ill? Ok, I laugh with you and I take the nickname you gave me weeks before I was dismissed with my dad being in intensive care. And this is now my new “job title”. Late night girls write a lot during long nights.

And this would be my last aim to address you directly, yet indirectly via this website without emailing you again, as I am not allowed and not interested to directly have contact with Pret. You know to block me was my idea back in August 2017 when I asked LW to please block me. I had to again come up with solutions and ideas. What I have experienced in the time of dark and traumatic bereavement I will never ever forget, and it has become my life’s work in whatever capacity to raise awareness of bereavement at work, mental health at work, and proving that treating people with true kindness, integrity, dignity and respect will result in as much, if not more, success of a company.

You know my track record on how I work, you’ve seen it, you’ve heard it. I have been a part of bringing more success to Pret in my almost 10 years in the company. But I have received nothing but grief and pain in return. You are happy with leaders, with employees who play games. If you are happy with that, that is your prerogative. I don’t play games, I am just old school. I work hard, do an honest job and I expect a good return for it, and that also means respect, value, and quality of life. And I’ve written it before to HR and OPs managers that as a Team Leader whose job description included “Health & Safety”, I take, or now rather took that very serious, to the point that I went a step further to “Mental Health & Safety”. That means I treat my team with respect and support. I don’t bully my team into working harder, I encourage them. I say “please” and “thank you”. I inquire about their well-being not as a greeting but as a question. I really want to know “how are you?” I step in when they are being unfairly treated by the boss, put in a word for them when I see them doing well or struggling.

I expect everyone to do their job, but I am there to help and support them. And the greatest compliment and feedback on my leadership my teams gave me, was when they came to me for advise or help in whatever form. You can’t buy trust with money or bullying. And I work harder for them, then they for me. I wasn’t your “average” Pret leader, and you know that. I cared too much, and sometimes when you care too much people hate your gut, because a mirror is held up against their misconduct and lack of care.

At the end of my employment, I was so crying out for Pret to be part of my recovery, instead of dismissing me while my father was in intensive care just out of a coma. I begged to just be send on a sabbatical, but I was fired into a new grief losing my father in the process. What else is Pret capable of? You chose not to be part of my recovery, after having been part in making me ill. And this has only started a determination to never be silent again or fight on my own, but to raise my voice outside of Pret, in the open, in the light for everyone to truly care for those who are vulnerable, not for show or good PR.

I was not dismissed by an OPs manger, I was dismissed by HR who wanted me to resign since 2016. I approached HR since May 2015 to bring suggestions on how to support people in grief or any kind of tragedy as I had no support but gotten a hard time from the beginning.

Little did I know what would unfold in the months and years to come, courtesy of HR who claim to do “the right thing naturally”. If I wouldn’t have all this in writing, I wouldn’t believe it myself.

I draw strength and encouragement from people like Mrs. S. Wheeley who did crazy emailing like I did. And also from professionals like this employment solicitor. But in Pret “Mental Health First Aid” could never be implemented, as the foundation for your success is pressuring people to breaking point. What I didn’t realize but am now proud of, is that I was already a Mental Health First Aider without knowing it! I may be ill now, and “first aid” is too late for me, but I am still a person who grieves, hurts, lives and tells her story and if others find help through my story, I didn’t suffer in vain.

Thank you for reading.

Kind regards.

Your Late Night Girl

Late Night Girl2

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