Case 005 - Retail

Female 28, working in the retail sector

It all started with me wanting to further my career within retail - I was offered the dream job, with both the training in the product area I wanted to learn about, and also using my skills in the area I have been trained (specialist area of photography).

The people seemed really nice at first, saying things like "You'll fit in here", we all had a laugh and a joke, but then things started to turn nasty.

It began with the little comments - because I am overweight, I started to notice the little digs at my weight, things like being banned out of the front display window "in case I knocked anything over", being accused of being clumsy, little sly digs about what I should be wearing to show off my figure, what I should be doing with my hair. I could go on. Most of these comments came from one middle-aged woman who worked there two days a week. Unfortunately for me, she was also good friends with the directors of the company, and was so far up their behinds; well you get the picture.

Things got worse, though when the young junior left and a new one started. She was young, pretty, and fitted perfectly into the system, which made me even more the focus of attention. She started to try and humiliate me in front of customers, trying to get me to do menial tasks, when I had plenty of work of my own to do. The assistant manager also fancied her, which made her position stronger, she could say things to me and get away with it.

I started to feel ill, tired, getting colds easily, not sleeping at night, not eating for days at a time, feeling tearful, I thought that I was going mad.

After Christmas 2000, things really started to take a turn for the worse, my timekeeping was being called into question (before I had taken the job, I had made the people aware that, because I can't drive, and I had to catch four buses a day that they would have to be a little flexible with my arrival times at work, and they took me on this premise), the jibes about my weight continued, this time with the manager joining in. Looking back now, I realise that he is a very weak man, and a coward, but at the time, I still thought, foolishly that he was a good man.

Things came to a head when, after realising that the sales training I was promised had been none existent for the eighteen months, and they had broken their promises to me, the area manager was called because I couldn't face speaking to anyone there, because every time I did, I got snide comments and jibes. This, I thought, must get something done about the situation and out came everything. The jibes, the lack of training, the broken promises, the danger to my health, having to work with chemicals in dangerous situations, being given orders by part time people and junior staff when they had no right to do so. He promised to speak to the manager.

He did, the manager spoke to everyone, then me last of all, apologising for the hurt they had caused me. Then I went out back on to the shop floor.

The jibes started half an hour later. What really hurt this time was the one person there who I thought I could rely on there, was now the instigator of the comments.

I'd had enough, and two days later went to the doctor, told him of my problems, and went on sick leave. Two weeks later, I was rushed into hospital, with symptoms partly to do with the bullying at work.

It's been three months now, I know that maybe I will have to face my demons at that place one day, but I will be stronger for it, as I know that I'm worth more than that, that these people can do this to someone just because they happen to be different from them - I put it down to being scared. Oh, and as for being overweight? I've since discovered that, because of a medical condition I've got that it isn't entirely my fault. What was that again about judging a book by its cover?

Update

I went back six months after my first stint there. What a big mistake that was! Initially, things were fine - people were nice to me, nothing was mentioned about my period of sickness (in hindsight, this was their way of sweeping it under the carpet). For a brief period of time, I actually thought things were getting better - I was feeling better in myself, and the bullying seemed to have stopped.

It didn't take long before it all started again - again it was the weight problem which was the main butt of their jokes ( because of my medical condition, I find it very difficult to lose weight, and was seeing a specialist to help with this) - the fact that I had to arrange time off to see the specialist always met with resistance, lunches were hidden, with them saying that I needed to lose weight anyway....the manager humiliating me in front of people because of some financial problems I was having, because of being off work, days off were refused, work piled on me, often menial - their way of saying "You're worthless, and you'll never fit in here" - everything they could do possible to make me resign.

It all came to a head again in March 2002, when the main protagonist on her day off came into the shop.  I was filing some photos away, when she handed the manager some cream cakes to leave in the fridge while she went shopping. As she handed him the cakes, she said to him "Make sure nobody eats them" - whilst looking directly at me. When I brought this up with the manager, I was accused of being paranoid, with the same backside licking middle aged woman agreeing with him. I was then sent home " to think about what I'd said" and to calm down, knowing full well that they'd knew I wouldn't come back (I know this because one of his spies rang me the day after and told me as much)

It's been eighteen months since then. Only now, have I regained the strength to write this down. For the first four months, I cried pretty much constantly. I left my photography course, as it reminded me too much of the things which had happened to me there. I suffer now from panic attacks in new situations, migraines, stomach cramps. As well as the physical symptoms, I'm very nervous around new people. Friends who had been there for me previously have turned on me, accusing me of putting all my symptoms on to avoid work. What they don't realise is, for a long time, the mere thought of work made me physically sick.

The other thing I find problems with is finding work. I've had several interviews, initially being quite interested. As soon as they find out the reasons why I've spent so much time off work - the job offer suddenly dries up. Luckily, I've been able to sign up with New Deal which is a godsend, and am currently on a work trial, where I'm getting glowing reviews, and has the very real possibility of a job at the end of it.

The funniest thing about this is that I'm still officially employed by them! Not once has anyone got in touch with me, apart from when a friend went to collect my personal belongings from the shop, because I couldn't face walking back in there. The day after, I received a letter threatening disciplinary action.

The overwhelming feeling now is of anger. Why I was targeted, I will never know - maybe because they saw me as a threat, because I could do my job much better than they could. If only I could turn back time, I would have done things so differently, but I suppose it's all in the past now.

If there's one piece of advice I could give to people is record everything, fight like hell, communicate with people from the start if possible, and always remember you are not scum, they are bullying you for a reason - and it's usually because there's a quality in you which they could never hope to have, so have to belittle you to make themselves feel important.

I've survived, I hope every other person who is bullied does too - and goes on to have the life we all really deserve.

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