Work - An Occupational Health Hazard (Part 1)

Dream - Meeting my manager. I’m sitting in a coffee shop waiting for him to arrive. I can see him through the frosted glass coffee shop window, walking towards me, but he does not seem to see me. He is wearing sunglasses. Suddenly, a few people appear and speak to him; it looks as if he knows them and happily engages in conversation. I think he is distracted and easily waylaid, as he walks away with them, our meeting forgotten. I feel exasperated and angry. In the second part of the dream, my manager relays a few muffled words to me, but gives no eye contact, and then disappears.

So you’re thrilled – you’ve got a new job and are looking forward to developing your career, and making new friendships. During the first few weeks, your friendly, approachable, and work hard to impress your manager and fellow colleagues, but by week three, you sense that something is not quite right. Your manager has rarely spent any 1-1 time with you, to define your role or discuss key work objectives. When you ask direct questions he looks at you with an elusive gaze. This is not the same buoyant gentlemen on the interview panel who offered you the job (??). Now he appears quite nervy and somewhat distant. Despite building reservations, you try to remain optimistic, and give your manager the benefit of the doubt, because this is by his definition the ‘induction period’.

As weeks pass, you notice that staff appear unmotivated, and only seem animated, when relaying tales of last Friday night’s drunken escapades, when they all had one glass of wine too many. You weren’t invited, but getting to know new staff, can be a rather slow process, and you don’t take it personally. However on one occasion whilst looking through a list of the team, you notice there is one member you have not met, and ask a colleague about them. She replies ‘Oh Mr Y, didn’t fit in, we’ve not seen him for months. I don’t think he’ll be coming back’.

After six weeks your initial impression of your ‘charming’ manager is beginning to set off ‘alarm bells ringing’ as he has not given you any relevant contacts, links to services or any direction on how your role is to expand. The staff appear to have no idea, regarding the purpose of your appointment, and therefore expect you to assist them with basic administrative tasks, which you find soul destroying and demeaning. To your surprise the manager moans regularly to staff about the unrealistic targets set by senior management. However he does not remonstrate their lack of effort, but continues to complain with them, and they respond sympathetically. It is then that you realise that the manger prefers to be ‘one of the gang’ rather than demonstrate responsible, leadership qualities.

Whilst your dilemmas at work are increasing your personal health is deteriorating, due to escalating headaches, viral infections, anxiety and lack of sleep. You begin to self-doubt your abilities, and become increasingly frustrated and isolated. You discuss your dilemma with supportive friends, by phone, who suggest you arrange a 1 -1 meeting with your manager in a local café, but wonder how that will be possible, as he is constantly busy and rarely makes himself available. Your friends want to see you, but due to inner disappointment you refuse; your social life has come to a standstill.

It’s been almost two months since you started, you’ve had very few referrals from the team, most of which have been inappropriate. The supervision you’ve received (which you expect to be arranged at a specific time and documented) is ad hoc and although it provides some training is conducted in front of staff, so when he asked ‘how are you settling in?’ you refuse to relay your true thoughts, after all, this is not a confidential environment. The next day you come into work, aware of the ‘hot desking’ situation, but there is a rota. Some of the staff we’re meant to be in another office that day, but you assume that this was ‘overlooked ‘by the manager. It is not until lunch time, that you have a desk and a computer to use. When you express your annoyance to your manger, he completely ignores you and seems embroiled in his own IT problems.

After another weekend wasted, worrying about work, you start Monday morning feeling a sense of dread. As usual, no one asks you how your weekend was. There have been a few occasions when some members of staff have voluntarily asked ‘how are you?’ but it sounds more intrusive than of genuine interest. Somehow this Monday morning appears different. As staff banter in the office about their weekend, the manager walks in and asked ‘Did you all get home, on Saturday night ok?’ At this point, you rem ember that one staff member, had invited the entire team (except you) to a social occasion last Saturday. His question ignites an exuberant conversation, which you are totally excluded from. You’re struck by the manager’s insensitivity, and begin to ask yourself ‘Am I invisible?’

Although this scenario seems extreme, unfortunately it is not a piece of fiction, but a study of subtle intimidation at work. This employee was subjected to neglect, indirect verbal and non – verbal abuse, on a regular basis, which resulted in them feeling vulnerable, humiliated, undermined and unable to deal with increasing stress. How did this situation develop and how can the support of a Careers Counsellor help? In my second article, I will explore the impact that a negative working environment can have on mental and physical health, and the options and strategies towards a positive long term solution.

Dream key words interpretation -  A sense of abandonment, overlooked, unseen, forgotten, invisible, dis-remembered, insecurity, disrespected, powerlessness,  unsupported by a patriarchal figure.

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