Case 051 - Utility Company

Three stress breakdowns in one little office, and what has management done about it? I was angry then and I find I am still angry. Perhaps this is the time to put our office's case history on the record.

I worked for almost 20 years for a large utility in a technical capacity. Our section had 15 staff, many of whom had worked together for decades. We had much good will among workers and not very many layers of management. I was and am still proud of the company, which is extraordinarily efficient and usually tries to be humane.

But the company, like so many others, fell prey to the management mania - efficiency! seminars! slogans! In spite of this nonsense, we took up the slack when new practices and software were imposed on us. Slowly, the pressure increased, with experienced staff retiring but not being replaced. When we asked about raises or promotions, we got laughter in response. (Really.) We carried on for several years, becoming more cynical, and learning that management never meant what they said, no matter how pretty it sounded. Morale took a dive.

One day our section head and department head decided to hire a guy to do the front-end planning for our jobs. A great idea. But they screwed it up- they did not hire one of the three or four sensible choices for this job - they hired "Gulo".

They knew what they were getting. For 30 years, Gulo's management style had never varied: Trample and smear subordinates, suck up to superiors. He was a very loud man with an abrupt manner, and no people skills. Faced with complaints, his superiors would always excuse him, saying he had learned his behavior in the armed forces. We often wondered who he might be blackmailing to keep his job.

Two women who had worked for him had taken a lateral move to my section just to evade him. These gals were both very proud of their work, and identified strongly with their jobs.

Once hired, his original job description was abandoned. Instead of planning our projects to make our work easier, Gulo was put in charge of micro-managing us and doing our evaluations. He took over all liaison functions, breaking our ties to people in other departments, and telling them it was our fault when there were mistakes or late deliveries, painting us as stupid and lazy.

Disaster came within two years. For many months, we made frequent complaints to our superiors, ranging from fury to tears to cold detailing of Gulo's socially destructive behavior. These complaints were all ignored. Then, in the space of a few months, three staff members, one man and the two women, suffered stress breakdowns so severe that they are still under medication, almost three years later. One of them collapsed at my feet, in the office. When the ambulance arrived, I rode with her to the hospital.

I was whistleblower and spokesman - if I hadn't sent a letter detailing the breakdowns and abuse to several layers of management, the union, and HR, I suppose nothing would have been done. Finally management took action, if you want to call it that. They hired a mediator to sort it out, and then on her recommendation, put the three on sick leave, forced them and Gulo to retire, and gave me a small buyout package in return for my silence. They did nothing else, did not apologize, and give the impression that it was just an unfortunate personality conflict.

I have been out of the office two years, and I'm still angry. The men who heard all our complaints have been promoted. The corporation probably spent, in buyouts and lost time and mediator fees, several hundred thousand dollars on this "unfortunate personality conflict". The remaining staff, some still my friends, have lost any ambition or enthusiasm and are just marking time.

I know there must be good managers in the world, but I only remember the men who cut three work lives short, with terrible emotional pain and suffering. Yet the pain inflicted and money wasted has been buried, hidden, rationalized away. Shame!

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