Bullying in Corporate America
Are you the "target" of workplace bullying? Should there be laws to ban an act which is clearly an act of discrimination?
Terror in Tech Support by Nikita from South Dakota
It all began back in the summer of 2001. I had taken the morning off from my temporary job so that I could interview for a job as a Help Desk Analyst. There I was, in the center of the room with three stern-looking managers. I was nervous. My heart was pounding, I felt myself sweat and I was preparing mentally for any questions they might be thinking of asking me during the interview. The assistant manager of technical support looked at my resume with a smirk on his face and decided to comment: "A year or two here and a year or two there. Can you explain yourself?" I wanted to say: "If it bothers you, then why are you interviewing me in the first place?" I took a deep breath and a moment to organize my thoughts before I made a reply. Then, I looked him squarely in the eyes: "I am currently going to school and taking classes. Sometimes the schedules do not mesh well. Do you know what I mean? Also, doesn't it take time to find one's way? I have worked hard at every single job I've held and that is good enough for me." He had nothing to say in response.
Surprisingly, none of the technical support managers asked any job-related questions. "We are looking for someone with good customer service skills. They need to take care of our customers. The last person, some young girl, really did not do a good job. All she did was route the calls to someone else..." Later, I would learn that the person who had my job previously was another one of the managers in the area (it was a man, not a young girl). They also informed me that they were hiring two help-desk analysts. The second person would help me to handle the call coverage. "We are going to be doing some cross-call coverage between Des Moines and Chicago." At least that was one thing that they told me the truth about in the interview. However, I became the "two" people that they were going to hire for the position of Help Desk Analyst.
What really shocked me some time later was the private meeting that I had that day with this scary looking man who was the manager of the entire technical support department. He actually had the nerve to ask me why I did not have any children since I was married! I thought back then that this question was illegal. Why did I not act on it?
At the end of the day (while I was still at work), I received a call from the human resources department at the large insurance company I interviewed with earlier that day. This lady acted like she was happy to hear my voice and proceeded to give me a job offer. I asked her a few questions, which would help me in making a decision: "Is there any training provided?" Her response was rather vague: "Yes, there is training for the position." I let her know that I needed time to think about it and that I would call her back in the morning. In my mind, I wondered why she was offering me the job so quickly. Later on, I would learn that they were in a hurry to fill a position which had been open numerous times in the past few years.
During my first day at work, a PC technician took some time to introduce me to the others. She also showed me around the building, where I learned where the different departments were located. In the afternoon, we sat in my cubicle and prepared my desk for work. She took a few calls and I listened in on them. After a while, I took some calls and she told me that I would do fine. "Just let me know if you need anything. We are here to help." That really made me feel good. But what made me feel even better was the fact that I would be helping people!
I seemed to make friends quickly. It did not surprise me that most of my customers became my best friends. "Thank you so much for your help. It's good to know that we finally have someone who cares and who will take care of us!" I did not always have the answer. But I worked hard to learn more. Outside of taking classes at a local technical school, I studied about computer-related issues on the internet and asked questions of my colleagues. What quickly became apparent was that this assistant manager in technical support made his workers nervous. He was always around screaming and yelling at people. I hardly ever had a chance to ask anyone for help. I also got involved in some unexpected surprise meetings.
One day, the PC technician next to me and myself got called into a meeting with both managers. We were accused of not doing anything about a problem with the internet. So, we explained ourselves to the best of our abilities. "If you have checked the logs, you would see that we are working on the issue. We have been in contact with the representatives in Chicago about the problem. And I'm going to call them today if they don't call back." "That's right. We have been communicating openly the entire time about this issue. But you keep on telling us to figure it out ourselves!" The managers finally let us go back to our desks. The guy next to me gave me the thumbs up and he made a phone call to Chicago. I thanked him for his support. "Boy, they made me so nervous!" "Me, too." We were not lying about anything. But our managers were unwilling to take the blame for doing nothing themselves after being told about it! And they were unwilling to treat us with a shred of dignity for all of our efforts.
I made another good friend in the Commissions department and she wanted to know if their department could get some software reinstalled. I let her know that I would have to check with the managers. The assistant tech support manager told me to order the updated software and to "knock myself out" trying to figure out what I was doing. At first, I thought it was a funny joke. But as time went on, my manager found out about it. He was upset with the assistant manager for not telling me how the process worked. "It isn't her fault. You know that I should have been told about this. In the future, please let her know what to expect. The person in commissions knows that she is supposed to fill out a purchase requisition and that you are supposed to approve it or run it by me." The email was not addressed to me. But it was sent with the header of FYI, like many of my managers' messages were.
Communication was a constant problem within the technical support department. Despite the fact that I strived to prioritize calls, to resolve issues myself when possible and that I kept others informed of what was going on, nothing was ever good enough. I also felt like I was running a race that kept on speeding up. The call volumes increased dramatically and even the PC and Mainframe technicians were struggling to keep up. I did bring my concerns to my manager. He merely waved me away and said, "You are taking care of the customers. You are doing fine. Thank you." I could never get any constructive criticism from him. And I really needed it in order to do my job better. Later on, I learned that he did not care to interact with people face-to-face. After my first six months of employment, I received my review and a raise. Here was my communications from a manager who did not care if I sank or swum........
At the end of the day during another hectic week, I received a phone call from Chicago. My manager was upset because he could not dial in to the internet. He did not ask for my help. Instead, he asked a rather strange question: "Could you please go get one of the boys to help me?" I did not know what he meant. But I politely put him on hold and asked this young female PC Support tech to help out. After she had hung up, she looked like someone had really pissed her off. However, she did appear to be angry with me. "I'm really sorry. I should have told you about him. He doesn't like female employees. But know you know. He wanted "one of the boys." It's not your fault. My first week here, he made me cry. I was in his office fixing his computer and he came in and screamed at me. I ran out of the room and cried in the bathroom for over an hour!" I reassured her and told her that I would keep what she said in mind the next time. I really felt badly for her. However, I did not realize that I was to receive the worst treatment as time went on.
On another occasion, I was in the middle of assisting a customer with a computer-related problem when I heard a loud voice in front of me. It was the assistant manager of technical support. "I really need to talk to you now!........." And on and on he ranted. I asked the customer politely if I could place them on a brief hold. I found out that I had made a small mistake. But this manager really blew it out of proportion! I had merely found a different way to make more space for customer emails in Outlook. Instead of commenting on my learning how to do something on my own, he criticised me in front of everyone and rather loudly as well. "We don't create personal folders here. That could result in disaster!" So, I asked him to explain what could happen and he just rambled on about server problems and stuff like that. Then, I asked him politely not to interrupt me in the middle of a phone call. "Could you please send me an email message or talk to me when I'm done with a phone call? I'd really appreciate it." After several more of these interruptions, I think he got the point.
One morning I was greeted with a rather nasty email and a false accusation from the assistant manager in technical support. In the message, he accused me of making the Vice President in our New Business department crawl underneath his desk to check his network wire. The part that irritated me was that his message stated that "we don't treat managers and higher ups in this manner in our company." What about the people who do their work underneath them? Why are they not important? But what angered me more was that this whole accusation was false. The previous day, the VP called me and told me that he could not get connected to the internet or get to his email. I merely asked him to tilt his tower (backside facing him) towards himself and to locate the blue/white wire. We were looking for a flashing light. As he could not spot one, I asked him to disconnect and reconnect the phone wire to the tower. It took less than 2 minutes and he thanked me profusely for my help. So, I tried to explain this in my reply to the assistant manager in tech support. He stormed over to my desk, undid my monitor cable and started screaming at me! I could not believe that he would act in such an unprofessional manner. "I'm really sorry, but I thought I did my job in helping him. I didn't have to make him wait for me to get to his desk and he never left his chair or crawled underneath his desk. Why are you distorting the facts?" Later on that day, I visited the VP who told me that he was really sorry about what happened. "You did a great job helping me yesterday. I told him that he was wrong for treating you that way! And, yes, he was not telling you the truth in that email. We all deserve respect here." I paid the assistant manager in tech support a visit the next day and calmly told him what the VP told me. He just glared at me.
It was nice to have some visitors from the Chicago site. They came to help us with network security on the mainframe system. Guess who received a flood of calls? I did! I asked a lot of questions and was never afraid to learn more about what changes our system was undergoing. One morning, a programmer came to my desk and told me that she could not log into the network. I told her that I would give the message to an administrator. Immediately after she left, I called my friend in accounting who was responsible for helping us with logon problems. They did not give me the permissions to do this. So, I had no choice but to call for help. She told me that she would take care of the problem. A few hours later, the assistant tech support manager (we'll refer to him as the ATS, although he really is an ASS!) stormed into my office. "Why did you make this person wait for three hours? She could not do any work!" I calmly explained the situation and then the young female PC technician tried to deny it. I could hardly believe that she was sticking by the bully! She was not even there when I made the call! I realize that we all make mistakes, but I won't take credit for the ones that I did not make! But I also realize that mistakes are a part of learning. But the ATS treated me like I was a criminal if I even made one mistake!!!!!
There were several instances in which I was given short-notice on projects and no explanations were given. "I have to go to Chicago for the next few days. Could you have these reports done by the end of today?" There was only a half hour left of work! I didn't mind staying an hour late. But he was not willing to answer questions, despite his statement "ask me questions if you need to." So, I had some problems with the MS Access Database. I decided to print out the results and look at them. Then, I showed them to the ATS. He just laughed and said, "It doesn't look right, does it?" I agreed by nodding my head. So, I asked him if he had any suggestions and let him know what I had already tried. He responded with an angry look and left for the day. I decided not to let it get me down. I searched the help database for some more suggestions. In addition, I tried a few other tricks that I had learned while taking some MS Office classes at school. I knew that I could figure it out! Eventually, I had the report done. I made a copy for him, placed one in my file drawer and saved the original on disk. It was time to go home!
As time went on, things got worse. We were sent in groups to some so-called "respect in the workplace" training. I decided to pair up with the ATS to learn more about him. Maybe there was something I was missing when I interacted with him at work. He opened up to me somewhat and told me that his childhood wasn't so happy. I told him that I was sorry to hear about that. He went on further and told me that his father constantly criticized him. "I know a lot of people like that. I'm sorry to hear that." I tried to listen and to reassure him that I understood him. As we went on, he told me that some people just were not "cut out" for certain jobs. He asked me why I was bothering to stay in my position. I could hardly believe my ears! In my first year, I had received no training, took classes at a technical school on my own, learned by asking questions, researched the internet and received two raises!
After my six month review came to my attention in the form of a written report, I asked my manager if he could help me or make some suggestions. He waved me away once again. "You can always ask the ATS or my other manager." I realized that he did not want to coach me and he was not really interested in my progress. However, after the "respect in the workplace" training, he made it clear that he was going to coach me. But he did it in a strange way. One day I was doing call-backs and he came into my cubicle area and just sat down. He stared at me and made no comments. When I got to a stopping point, I asked him if there was something he wanted to talk about. He just stormed out of the area. I did not know what brought on that reaction.
My friend Basia and I were outside of the breakroom one morning. We had just started our break and were interrupted by the sounds of a hysterical secretary. "Oh, Nikita! Please help me! I cannot get to the pictures I want for a project. Could you please finish your break later on?" I felt obliged and let Basia know that I would see her later on. We discovered that the secretary was missing some files. I did not know where they were located on the network. The ATS made sure that I did not know where to find information several times. But I did not allow that to stop me. I went upstairs and tracked down that young, female PC technician (we will refer to her as Mer). Mer showed me where they were on the network. She called the secretary and put her on speakerphone mode. My manager started yelling at me. "Didn't you fix her problem yet? She asked me a few minutes ago for help. I told her to call you." I explained to him that we were working on fixing the problem. A few moments later, he glared at me and turned to Mer. "Thank you for fixing that problem, Mer." I felt like my efforts were wasted. He did not even acknowledge the fact that Mer and I as a team worked to solve a problem!
Did I ever talk to human resources? Yes. After the first six months of working there, I talked to a woman who seemed to take my concerns seriously. I will refer to her as Lily. Lily told me a lot of information in private: "There has been such high turnover in that department for the past several years. We would really like to know what is going on." I told her that there was a guy who had my job before me and that he was now a manager. People had told me that he was never at his desk to take the help desk calls. I didn't really believe it until I heard the same thing from several people, including Lily. "Yes, you are really a breath of fresh air. It's nice to have someone who had good people skills and who can solve quite a few computer problems. You are doing a great job. I'm so sorry to see you so unhappy." When I told her about the ATS, she made a few remarks. "He does come off that way. I've told him that he needs to understand that there are four different personality types. We emphasize that in our respect in the workplace training sessions. He is hard to figure out." She had encouraged me to set up a meeting with the ATS and talk to him. After the meeting with the ATS, I told her what had gone on. "There are many times when he should have called me into an office and closed the door. He yelled at me and criticised me in front of everyone!" She eventually talked to her manager, the VP of Human Resources. That was the problem. He backed the managers in my department and denied that they were doing anything wrong! He stated that "some people just do not fit into these types of companies." I told him firmly that they should be careful of discrimination in the workplace and that diversity is something to value, not stamp out!
Does extra work hurt anyone? It depends on your work environment. I really had nothing against Rob. He was the previous help desk analyst and I'm sure he was glad to be a manager now. For the first four months, I was taking care of printer hardware and printer software problems. This was in addition the myriad of other types of calls that I took: forwarded messages from the ATS to help people who sent messages to him, internal customers who could not log into the network, agents travelling on the road who were trying to login to the network, etc..... One day, I got back to my desk after working with a customer on a printer that needed some work. I decided that we needed approval before making the service call. However, I was interrupted by my manager. "Where have you been?" I explained to him that I had to leave my desk to take a look at a printer hardware issue. And then I asked him if I could place the call for a service technician to come and fix it. He consented to my request. However, the conversation, which took place in the open in front of my peers, was not over. "Why are you doing this? Rob is supposed to take these calls?" I responded calmly, but evenly to his questions. "No one ever told me any different. The PC technicians told me to take care of these calls." The other manager (not the ATS) explained the issue to me and told me that Rob would take care of the calls in the future. He apologized for the four months that I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I really did feel like that!
After one and half years of working in tech support, I was burned out. I loved my job. Why? I felt a fire burn within me as I desired to learn more about computers. I loved to help others, too. The friends that I had in other departments were the best friends a person could ask for. However, they felt helpless. What could they do about it? They were sorry to see me go. I was even making enough money to pay the bills. But what about all of the mornings when my stomache hurt before I even got to work? What about all of the screaming I had to listen to from the ATS and my manager? What about my coming home hurt, angry and frustrated almost every evening? I even threatened to divorce my husband because I couldn't handle the stress anymore. I made a record number of doctor visits because my health declined. I didn't want to go. But one night I felt like there were knives stabbing my chest and my stomach. I called the nurse and she told me to go the ER. So, I found out after more episodes that I was developing an ulcer from the stress. I also had problems with letting the stress go. Sometimes I would just sleep on the weekends. I did not even have energy to go out and have fun with friends and relatives. Something was happening to me. I was really scared.
My doctor told me to plan out my finances and look for another job. She said that my story was so common. Many of her other patients were suffering from health problems due to job stress. So, I took a few months to cut back on spending. Did I really need another pair of Tommy Jeans? I even consolidated my college loans. With some discipline, I put money into my savings account each pay period. After 1.7 years in this high-stress place, I gave my two-weeks notice. Luckily, I had a job lined up. And guess what? I'm treated with respect. My efforts as a teacher are greatly appreciated. I still have my ups and downs, but now I have energy left to enjoy life. What about those doctor visits? I only had to see the doctor once this past year due to a sinus infection. Life is great!
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