Updated: Nov 19, 2018
Corporate giants are great at "appearing" to support people with Mental Health conditions and health conditions in general. The reality is there is no training for young or existing leaders that can stop the momentum of bullying in the workplace.
I have worked for a number of large corporations, they all on the outset say the same thing. We support you, we understand and are equipped to deal with people struggling with Mental Health - WRONG.
One day in my Doctors office, between looking for work, we had a discussion about what I would tell my prospective employer about my Therapy appointment on a Tuesday afternoon. To give some context I have been seeing the same Doctor for 7 years, at one point twice a week and in my previous role was lucky enough to have had supportive leaders who didn't make a big deal about it because of my work ethic and achievements, I had proven myself. So back to my Doctors visit, he insisted there is no shame in being honest about the appointment I have. I was trepidatious about it because I knew, far better than he did, that being "honest" about certain things in the Corporate world could only bring issues.
I decided it was best to do so, be honest about it and not make a big deal, got it. So the time came where I was going back to work, but this time I made sure of one thing. Before accepting the role, I made it 100% clear that I had a long standing appointment on Tuesday's at 5pm and could only accept the offer if this would be accommodated. The recruitment lady came back to me saying this would be fine. I was relieved because it meant I could start a new role without having to ask on the first day if my appointment would be ok.
I started the job the following Monday. Very soon after arriving, I realised straight away that none of the things I had discussed with the recruitment woman had been advised before I commenced employment. I decided to address it straight away with my leader. Now I don't disrespect leaders who are younger than me, but this is a perfect example of a young (pretty dumb) girl, fumbling her way through leadership. I told her the situation and of course this is where everything changed.
"What is the appointment?" - Now I could have and should have told her it was not her concern but that I could get a note from the Doctor confirming the appointment. But it's extremely hard when you are on the spot and nervous to come up with the right answer. So I was honest, I said it was a Psychiatrist appointment, but that I was absolutely fine ( I totally wasn't) and all I was asking was to finish work in time to make the appointment. Audrey ( the brainless leader) nodded and said "oh of course that will be fine don't even worry about it".
This isn't my first rodeo, so I should have known better, but to be honest at the time, my mental health was suffering quite badly. I was struggling immensely just to get out of bed and try and get going to work. My anxiety was through the roof, so every day was an enormous battle.
I arrived at work the next day to an email invitation to a meeting with Audrey and her extremely unpleasant HR offsider Nicole. Here we go, I am not even at the end of week 1 and I have a HR meeting already. It was for that afternoon, so I patiently waited and then went to the room where the meeting was. I was greeted by Audrey and Nicole sitting on one side of the table and me on the other. I was advised this was a formal meeting to discuss the information I had given Audrey the previous day. Ummmmmm wtf??? I was confused, because as far as we left it she had said everything would be fine. Apparently not.
Under the guise of being concerned about me, Nicole probed further for why I was seeing a Psychiatrist. At this point I knew the ballgame. I told her the truth, it was to ensure I was looking after my mental health the same as I would my physical health. I was asked why I only told Audrey on my first day, even though I had already explained and actually showed the email conversation between myself and recruitment.
I was not at my best, otherwise I would have handled the situation much differently, but I was vulnerable, needed a job and was already struggling in general. Nicole advised they would need my permission to write to my Doctor to better understand my condition and whether I am capable of doing the job.
Ok context time - The job I was doing was a role that in my previous career with the SAME company I both trained and led teams performing in a similar, but far more complex role. I politely reminded them of my 7 year tenure with the company, which apparently had also not been communicated to anyone. Despite my better judgement, I felt pressured into signing the permission to contact my doctor.
From that day on, my life became a complete and utter nightmare, to the point where I eventually ended up in hospital.
My Doctor had never seen anything like it, there were 17 questions on the form, including what is my diagnoses, what caused it, what medication I am on and whether I am fit to travel to and from work. It was beyond insulting and invasive and triggered a huge response in me that I was going to lose my job.
I tried my best to navigate the situation, but it became untenable to do so. I was moved so that I was sitting way away from everyone on my own. My team were all remote home workers so I had to rely on their support for any questions I had. It was utterly isolating and slowly it chipped away at me. I was in HR meeting one after the other. I would then come out to an email summarising the meeting, which would be full on inaccuracies that I would have to challenge. Seeing as though Audrey and Nicole were best friends, it occured to me straight away that they could quite literally say anything and I would have nothing to back myself up.
I then got yet another meeting invite after they had received the letter from my Doctor. He had advised that I had an assistance dog and that working from home was the healthiest option, however it if this couldn't be the case, I was more than able to perform the role. Now before I tell you of their responses, bear this in mind. I worked smack bang in the middle of the city, not near any parks or any gardens at all, in a 20 story building that took ten minutes to get to level 18. I had also said in one of our previous meetings that it was not an option to bring Harvey to work because I would have nowhere to take him to toilet, nor was he ready training wise. So with all of this knowledge, they offered that I could bring in Harvey once or twice a week. I responded that I had already made it clear this was not an option.
At the very end of the meeting, Audrey advised me that we would be having another meeting to discuss "performance concerns". Of course I immediately asked what those concerns were. I was told that it would not be discussed here and would be addressed in a separate meeting, but that I had nothing to worry about, it was all perfectly normal.
So after having my mental health completely exposed to them, advised there was performance concerns but I couldn't know what they were, I basically started to fall apart. I walked in every day with a fake smile and did the job with ease, that wasn't the issue. At this point, my fearless leader decided to just completely ignore me and only communicate with me via email.
Once again I arrived at work to an email invitation to my "performance review" and that I could bring a support person if I needed to. I immediately went to Audrey and asked if we could talk, to which she responded no. I insisted and she eventually gave in and went into a room with me. I asked her if this was just a normal performance review, then why would I need to bring a "support" person? It was pathetic to watch her stumbling around for an answer, so I asked directly, " am I in jeopardy of being fired?". Her response " Oh no of course not this is all perfectly normal for someone "new" and we just want you to have support.
Being a leader in the same organisation previously, I knew full well that you don't get to invite a "support" person to an informal meeting, there is no logical reason to do so.
Now logic also tells you that if your leader advises there are performance concerns. but point blank refuses to discuss what they are, it doesn't exactly leave you with a positive mind set when doing the job. Was I doing something that I didn't even realise? I have always had exceptional results with my work, so understandably I was extremely concerned if I was doing something badly or not doing something I should be.
Once again I reached out to ask if the meeting could be held as soon as possible so that I could immediately address whatever these "concerns" were. Instead, she moved the meeting to almost 2 weeks away. So essentially they expected me to sit their performing a role with no possible idea of what the concerns regarding my performance was.
The meeting finally arrived and I was able to bring a wonderful person in as a support person to take notes. I am so thankful that she was in the meeting otherwise no one would have ever believed what they did. My meeting went from just Audrey, my support person and myself, to including the Operations Manager, Christine as well.
As soon as the meeting started, I knew exactly what was happening. There is a particular metric where you go into a phone state that stops calls coming through so you can work on what you have just been doing. Its something that I have had experience both using and managing over my entire career with the company. I was handed a massive wad of paper and another piece of paper detailing what Audrey was about to go through. The first question was "On Monday the 26th, you were unavailable for 2 mins and 36 seconds, can you explain what you were doing and why?". Now this just happened to be my first day taking calls, so I answered that I could not recall the exact circumstances but that I would have been either asking a question, or working on something.
Now I won't bore you with the rest of the details, but it came to the point where I was just answering the same thing to every question as to what I was doing for 4 mins. One question was about me being unavailable for 9 whole minutes, to which I responded that I was in the bathroom. I repeatedly asked whether my results showed that I was performing well, to which I was advised that this meeting was not about the fact that I was performing the job well. In fact, I was performing better than people who had been there for a long time.
After the meeting, I knew 100% they were going to get rid of me. There was no other reason they would have asked such incredulous questions if the plan was not to ultimately fire me. This was demonstrated by the fact that after this meeting, I was completely ignored and actually refused to be spoken to by Audrey or Christine. I was emailed to advise that the outcome of the meeting would be scheduled for over a week later.
It was at this time I utterly fell to pieces. The pressure of having gone through all of these formal meetings, being isolated and ignored had gotten too much. I was so terrified and convinced I was going to lose my job that I just couldn't handle it all on my own.
In a moment of utter distress, I self harmed and took an overdose and was taken to hospital. Even on the discharge summary it said I repeatedly stated I was so stressed about losing my job I just couldn't handle the distress.
After I came home, I messaged Audrie and basically pleaded with her to have the meeting the following day. I sent her the discharge summary from the hospital so she could see what had happened in the hope of appealing to her to hold the meeting sooner. Instead, she replied saying she had actually pushed back the meeting by a further two days.
She made no mention of the fact I had been in hospital, only to tell me to make sure I submitted by sick leave.
I decided then and there that this was too much, I would have to look at what I was going to do after being fired. Unfortunately my only option was going to be to lose my apartment in Sydney and move home to my parents place in the country.
So the meeting finally arrived, I was told I needed to bring a Doctors certificate to state I was able to attend the meeting. Knowing this was something to cover themselves I refused. Instead I replied and said my Doctor would not do that as he was absolutely furious about how I had been treated.
I walked into the meeting knowing with certainty I was going to be fired. I decided the one thing I was not going to do was show weakness to them after all they had done. The meeting started and Audrey advised that I was being terminated as they found my responses in the previous meeting to be lies. As soon as she said the word "lies" I asked her to stop speaking immediately. I requested to Nicole that I wanted the termination letter straight away and would not be answering or discussing anything further with them. I told them point blank that they had bullied and discriminated against me since day one.
So I took the letter, got up and walked out.
I sought advice straight away from legal aid as I had copies of every single email and all the evidence I could get. The woman was amazing at legal aid, she was kind, compassionate and caring, something that was unfamiliar to me at the time. She had been through everything I had sent and told me that I absolutely had a case against them. She even went so far as to say her heart broke reading everything that I had been through. She was honest and said if I go up against them it would be an incredibly tough battle.
I made the decision to look after myself, I simply didn't have the strength to fight anymore.
For a company I had given so much to over the years, it was still a devastating blow. Unfortunately I am not alone in this situation. Being targeted and bullied so harshly to the point where I harmed myself was just too much.
Why write this you may think? Is it to shame the cruel people that I had to deal with? No. The point of this blog is to lift the veil on supposed "healthy workplaces". There is no training for leaders in these organisations in how to deal with someone who is facing Mental Health issues, rather the opposite, the person is seen as a liability and incapable of doing their job.
The relentless attacks on people is something I have witnessed all too much over the years. I have heard senior leaders refer to someone as Bipolar simply because the person was in a mood that day.
Like all Mental Health stigmas, this is something that needs to be talked about. Companies hide behind their ability to fire someone on ridiculous grounds simply because they are not equipped to show compassion and actually try and help someone.
So to Audrey, Christine and Nicole from American Express, you should be utterly ashamed at yourselves, your representation of the company and the values you pretend to support. You are bullies, plain and simple, and it's time to expose this sort of behaviour in the workplace.
People's lives are at risk, like any bullying the toll it takes on someone is so substantial that it can lead to potential suicide. This is not ok and not something that should be brushed under the carpet as it is in our society at the moment. Hopefully, with people speaking up and standing up to these bullies things may start to change.
#mentalwellness #mentalhealthrecovery #anxietyrecovery #depressionawareness #selfharmawareness #yourstoryisntoveryet #ptsd #suicideawareness #breakthesilence #stigmafighter #majordepression #endthestigma #breakthestigma #stopthestigma #mentalillnessawareness