your brief email to the CEO in December 2015, when you wrote that my situation was “one for the team” was too late. You may not have known at the time, but the “team” was already involved and part of my turmoil. PBP ND was in the first informal meeting in May 2015 when I approached HR to make suggestions on how to support the bereaved. I went through five months of late shifts up until then, not being able to see my friends during dark bereavement. I was in shock and on autopilot. My line manager GosM at the time refused to give me rotating shifts, bringing me to seek a transferal that would throw me into a series of events I still suffer from today.
I learned of the death of my brother very traumatically via an email, learning that he was already dead five weeks before I found out. This one brutal email also informed me that he was already cremated, amongst other things I couldn’t fathom. After flying back and forth spending all my savings on flights, costs and bills, I had no option but to keep working. In reality I should have taken off a minimum six months to a year. But I had no option, I couldn’t afford to take unpaid sick leave or a sabbatical. I tried later, but then went on a grievance marathon after being bullied, and as the Head of HR later said that I “exhausted the HR department”. Sorry about that, but I made the mistake to try too much and for too long internally via grievances, that often weren’t impartial, including against the PBP, to overcome what happened at work. I should have gone to the tribunal early on while I had the strength and the mental capacity. And this would be my advise to anyone, don’t struggle too long internally, get help from outside sooner rather than later.
I realized only later that a lot of the targeting was done via emails, emails from my line manager WGar who would repeatedly rebuke me openly in group emails; the group manager who started everything asking managers to write their perception of me into emails to her to collect written “evidence”. One GM emailing her “perception” called me a “drama queen” after I told her about my loss, because she kept threatening me and other leaders with our job security for no reason; the huge file I received later where I saw all the emails between HR and managers about me; and ultimately the one email that brought me the news of my brother.
Email incidences that later started a never ending email “mass shooting spree” for which I am incredibly sorry, and please believe me how hard I tried to stop. But all of this was topped when the development manager LW was used to give me the disciplinary because of her similar loss with her brother, but then entering into unallowed contact and abandoned me later when HR started investigating. This was the meanest thing you all did, whoever came up with this. I was fooled where initially I had such hope that there was someone with similar loss, and this also was taken from me and I went on my final “email shooting spree” again and got fired just shortly after my dad came out of his coma. I asked this in another open letter, what else is Pret capable of?!
But early on, it became clear very quickly that my manager, as later most managers, was not equipped or skilled in how to deal with my unprecedented trauma. And that is why I tried to help and bring solutions and ideas since May 2015 with this one for example. I made the mistake to always try and put myself in your shoes. Manager after manager I tried helping to help me. I tried to help HR. I approached HR time and time again. I approached managers again and again. But I was not only sent away, I was bullied. Part of that was their fear and insecurity on what to do with me. But in other parts some of you just plainly did not want to bother.
Little did I know what events would unfold after I so naively approached HR. Prince William, who together with his wife and brother started Heads Together a mental health initiative, mentioned that only 2% of employees approach HR regarding mental health at work. I don’t like being a statistic, but I am both alarmed and proud to be part of this 2%. And yet, it has catapulted me into the most scary, painful and confusing time I never experienced nor dreamed I would have at a workplace.
I felt guilty, I felt like a burden, and all I needed was for someone to put themselves into my shoes and help me. After almost 12 months of struggle I contacted Clive. Only then did some support start, but it felt pretentious and I was continuously being put under management who rather suppressed me. I couldn’t heal or thrive and was shouted at or held low. I was numb, emotionally paralyzed and ill. I tortured myself with work and went out-of-sync, partly blaming myself for having let my brother down. It was a messed up mix of grief, trauma and work-related stress. You know the story.
You were there in October 2017 when the CEO introduced me to you, pointing at me saying, “This is my late night girl”. You nodded as you immediately understood what he meant, that I was the one who sent all these crazy emails to people late at night. He might have meant it well, trying to ease the situation. But making light of it meant, I felt in my illness that my emailing was not that serious, even though I tried so hard to stop this craziness. I felt patronized and like a complete idiot. The disciplinary I received for it was also made light of when the hearing manager LiWa entered into personal communication, solely “electronic” communication for which I was sanctioned! But you know all that.
I often wonder how everyone involved can sleep at nights. I know I am very outspoken, and I did it a lot in the wrong way. I am now in anxiety, depression, new bereavement, but I haven’t lost my determination to speak up and bring suggestions and ask for change. You rightful state in your Twitter intro that Pret is always looking for hard working people, but a “fun” environment? If you mean the loud music in the kitchen as fun, it isn’t, it is just loud and fast to keep a certain work pace. I have a roaring tinnitus now, which comes from stress as well as noise.
Or do you mean the shop floor? Where you do between 300 – 500 transactions a day depending how many hours you work, in a pace and stress that you just enter into “numb”-mode to protect your mind? Where a customer comes whining like a child because their coffee isn’t hot enough, a cup of coffee that flew out in under a minute next to around 10 other coffees that flew out in under a minute to cater to the Mystery Shopper (I re-christened to “Misery Shopper”) and to bust the long queues while you are understaffed, with the manager in the office before coming out to rebuke you why the queues are so long?!
And that customer, whose day you just ruined because his precious paper cup of coffee is of less quality than expected, granted, they pay a lot for it. But he rebukes you for about another minute or two in front of a moody queue of customers, who are spoiled and blame you for them being late for work. And you just stand there apologizing, reassuring him or her with a forced smile that we’ll just make them a new one, and if they would like something on the house, because we are drilled to sweet talk them so they come back for another whining coffee morning. And you pass the coffee to them for which they don’t say thank you, and you hold back the tears, and you bite your tongue because two days before you put the urn with the ashes of your brother into the ground. And you gather all you have within you, to console the customer whose day got ruined because of a luke-warm coffee the poor barista had no time to attend to properly.
Or do you mean the tactic of your managers, who summon you in the office showing you a customer complaint, an email, or worse a Twitter the customer sent to HQ because you didn’t smile enough? And your boss immediately believes the customer, but neither asks your side of things, nor asks you how you are. Customers who Twitter and call shops the “C” Word because the avocado in their sandwich was too hard and Pret goes out of their way apologizing to that customer with the offensively rude and fowl language.
And these two “complaints” are just from 1 day!
So, we created a culture of complainers who abuse hard working staff who get burned out in this unforgiving environment that you call “fun”. Once they are burned out, they are exchangeable, enough fresh blood is just lining up for a job.
This fun environment that you mention I describe in a different way, that Pret figuratively speaking is binding the feet of their staff with a robe and then tell them to run.
Your Head of HR wanted me to resign since 2016. How easy it would have been for the Head of HR and Recruitment to put me in a different place within Pret, away from the stressful shop floor until I recuperated. You know how it feels when you are in traumatic bereavement, being bullied during this nightmare time, trying to bring suggestions and solutions to HR, and all HR wants is for you to leave, no matter how well you do your job? Do you know how this feels to be disregarded and devalued because you seem an inconvenience to the business that you helped thrive?
I have panic attacks sometimes, but I am learning to look at it in this way, that I have a beating heart that sometimes goes on overdrive. And as long as I have a beating heart I have a voice, and a pen and paper.
I am inspired by people like Edward Snowden who carries an unbelievable burden.
I am inspired by the McLibel people Helen Steel and Dave Morris who didn’t just half win their defense against McDonald’s, but went further to the European Court achieving results for people like me.
I am inspired by artists like Joan Baez who doesn’t just sing sweet little songs, but would go onto the streets standing up against racism, injustice, wars. She would be put into jail for a few nights, get released, go home to clean up, and get back on the streets… “I went to jail for 11 days for disturbing the peace; I was trying to disturb the war. Joan Baez, 1967”
I am inspired by people like J K Rowling, who as a single mother on benefits wrote her first Harry Potter classic.
I am inspired by people like Mrs. S. Wheeley who had the strength to see through to court and win.
I am inspired by Employment Solicitor Jodie Hill, who tirelessly campaigns for the law to change, making Mental Health First Aid mandatory in every workplace. And you know, I didn’t realize that I was already a Mental Health First Aider without knowing it when I was often concerned for a team member and inquired how they are and if they needed anything. So yes, I signed this Petition, and will pass this on until Ms. Hill succeeded, not with getting a 1500 signatures, she is close to it now, but getting this through to government sealing it by law.
I am inspired by an HR Manager and the entire staff of a factory, mobilizing them to donate overtime, resulting in over 3000 hours worked for free by over 650 employees (around 5 hours overtime each), for a colleague who lost his ex-wife shortly before his young son became ill with leukemia. The entire workforce of this company pulled together so that this single dad didn’t need to quit his job, and could take off work for a year to be by the side of his son.
I am inspired by the Royals, who openly speak about mental health issues giving “small” people like me hope that things can change.
I am inspired by everyone who doesn’t bow to any system that hurts people.
I am inspired by people who look deeper and go further and climb higher, to not just make their immediate area of influence a little bit more bearable, but who speak up, that to live and to thrive is for everyone, not just the few who take advantage of the many.
Unfortunately after working for 10 years in Pret, with my last 3 years almost ending my life, I am not inspired.
Thank you for reading.
Pret CEO Clive Schlee’s Late Night Girl