5 lessons I learned in a hostile work environment

Your boss hates you.

But he needs you.

But he hates you.

If it’s not your boss, then it’s someone else in senior leadership.

In my case it was the VP, the second in command.

TBH, the day I was called for a second interview I felt something was a bit “off” with him. He was….I dunno. Almost too nice, if that’s possible? His smile was too ….toothy?

Whatever. My gut was reacting and it wasn’t to the two egg parata sandwiches I’d had for breakfast.

They needed me and I wanted to work for them. It’s a personal policy to NEVER need an employer. The upsell in the initial interview with the head honcho had been awe – inspiring!

Despite these misgivings I accepted the middle management position and l started work not too long after.

Initially everything was ok. I loved my new colleagues, I managed my time well, I went above and beyond the call of duty. I arrived early and left late. I managed the tough schedule by getting reports done after hours and getting projects and other staff related issues done early in the morning, before anyone else had arrived.

Soon, however, it became apparent that despite my dedication to my work, I’d have to work weekends as well. Problems arose with hubby and girl spawn. They needed me too.

My employer needed to reach international accreditation and had a couple of inspections coming up. The time frame to reach standard was unrealistic to begin with, but, as I mentioned before, I loved my colleagues and they proved hard working and willing to go the extra mile. So the problem didn’t seem insurmountable.

The second member of the Senior Leadership team, was brand new to the ME and hadn’t benefitted from any cultural sensitivity training or orientation. She often used her very British humour in off -the -cuff remarks. Suffice to say I managed more complaints about perceived slights or misunderstood innuendo than I cared to.

Her propensity for bright red hair, talon like false nails and garish garb and makeup, also did not sit well with the Arab women who were mostly covered in hijab or black abayas. But she was my senior and, for the most part, supportive.

As we drew closer to deadline, the true nature of the beast became apparent. People were shamed on the public Whatsapp group, shouty CAPITALIZED emails were often sent as a reprimand for something or other, and warning letters ( or Staff Expectation Letters) became somewhat of a joke with their regularity. In fact, staff had a running tally on who was in the lead with those! Meetings were called just to tell people off in public, and so that the VP could let everyone know how upset he was at a trangression BUT that he was not going to “mention any names”. Transgressions could be anything: from leaving an untidy workstation to failing to turn off your computer at the end of the day.

Deadlines became impossible to meet and workload increased exponentially.

Let me pause here.

I am unusually combative and defy authority with alarming regularity.

I have been fired for being too free with my opinions and for not paying my respects to the authority figure.

I dislike toadying. I despise obsequious ass- kissing.

I know my worth and what I bring to a company. I do not intend to be a professional brown noser in order to get ahead.

Unfortunately, in the ME, this is almost a requirement for job security.

And mr. VP, with his decidedly Bonaparte-esque attitude and let’s be honest, physical dimensions, wanted 100% of that.

I think it might have been the scathing email I’d sent correcting faulty grammar and prose ( he’s a second or third language speaker)in response to another long-winded shouty email he’d sent to me, that sealed my fate! In all fairness, the VP of a British company should know the correct and proper use of English before composing an email to an employee, dontcha think?

Thankfully, the inspection came and went, followed by a two week winter break. I figured that things would surely settle down once we returned to work.

Boy, was I wrong.

The little dictator turned things up!

Schedules became manic. Workload often reduced collegues to tears. My inbox and desk was insane, but fortunately I’d set up a great system before the holidays, so the madness didn’t really affect me as much.

Then things got personal. Complaints were made alleging a personal and culturally inappropriate remark I’d made. I laughed them off. They couldn’t possibly be serious?! They were.

An investigation followed a hearing. I cleared my name by successfully providing corroborating witnesses. I defended myself loudly and with many, many emails to the Head outlining the absurdity of the accusations.

FYI: Always leave a paper trail.

CYA: Cover Your Ass. Another requirement for working in the ME!

Things calmed down again, but there was distinct smell of shit in the air. It clashed with my Chanel EDP.

It could not be borne. I resigned – effective month end.

The rest of the month provided the clarity I needed to see things for what they were: I had been working in a hostile work environment. I took some time to get introspective about WTH the universe was trying to teach me.

I concluded:

  1. Listen to your gut. It always knows what’s up before you do.
  2. Have a plan B. My exit strategy allowed me to skip my leaving ceremony, hosted by Short Shit ( VP ) and Spineless ( Head), in favour of a phone call with my new boss.
  3. Thank the people who made your job easier. They will remember you fondly and will always have something good to say about you, regardless of the negative shit your ex – employer might put out there.
  4. Make sure you clear your personal stuff from your desk and organize your files before you leave. Short Shit tried to make a big production out of getting my clearances done. The look on his face when I told him I had nothing personal to clear since I’d cleared it weeks ago, was priceless. I told him my filing system was so simple a child could manage it. He looked tempted to ask, but didn’t.
  5. Get off the work communications. I removed myself from company chat groups, emails and so on, before they could remove me.It made me feel so good doing that!

In the end, the job took a toll on my health and mental well-being. I was suffering from headaches due to the long hours in front of the computer. I lost weight( not always a bad thing!) because I just didn’t have time to eat. I was nervous and anxious all the time. I was not myself.

In the end YOU decide what you’ll put up with. Know your worth, what your strengths are, what value you bring to an employer. It’s got to be more than just a pay check. You spend up to 8 hours a day there. No-one deserves that much of you for just money!

I’m happier, and unsolicited feedback from former colleagues ( 2 more have resigned and the others regret my departure every day) convince me I did the right thing.

What will it take for you to give up a job? Have you ever worked in a hostile work environment? How did you cope?

Let me know in the comments.

Until next I blog,












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