So then...

About Me

Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

WEEK 58 The More Things Change...

That temp agency I wandered into the day I left my job was founded by a woman who successfully sued after being bullied in work.

I had no idea of this when I walked in clutching my resignation letter. She’d used her settlement to start her recruitment business over a decade ago and the solicitor she phoned on my behalf was the very same who’d originally won her case.

When she read my resignation letter she’d wanted to kill HOWARD and was determined to get me back on my feet and employed again.

I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t want to be a secretary again. I quelled my panic by telling myself the jobs market hadn’t picked up. However, I’d overlooked my new friend’s ability to pull some strings and champion my cause.

The interview I went to yesterday for an employment secretary was sprung on me by the recruitment agency at short notice. The manager of the agency told me to call in and see her first, where she promptly read me the riot act. I was not to let HOWARD ruin almost a decade of experience. I was not to let him win. I was to go and put on a brave face and get the job. She told me exactly what to say if they asked about my previous employment and she gave me a reference.

I almost fell over when they offered me the job half hour after the interview ended.

I cannot believe I’m going to be working as a secretary again after all I’ve been through. I can’t believe I’m going to have to put on a brave face and pretend I’m alright. I’m reminding myself I’m in this position because of someone’s kindness and that’s the main thing.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ll keep you posted

Eva x

Sunday, 25 April 2010

WEEK 57 With a Little Help from my Friends

A year ago a good friend, tired of my moaning, gave me the idea of blogging about the workplace bullying I was experiencing. I had no idea if it would interest anyone, but realised it would give me a voice. It would also force me to resolve the situation. Cyberspace friends wouldn’t support endless moaning about how I was a ‘victim’ any more than my other friends would.

So where am I today? I once wrote of the difficulty keeping faith that everything will be alright in the end and used the phrase, ‘Leap and the Net will Appear’. A few weeks ago when I couldn’t take any more from HOWARD, I walked out. Thankfully, the net was there to catch me. I understand now the net refers to friends, Leap and the Friends will Appear. Most of my cyberspace friends are Australian and I owe them a special mention!

Then Ann Lewis, a leadership and workplace coach, kindly sent me her book ‘Recover your Balance: How to Bounce Back from Bad Times at Work.” Her book arrived just as the emotional fallout of working for HOWARD so long really hit me for six. My self esteem and my sanity imploded.

I’m still taking things one day at a time, but Ann’s book has been invaluable. There aren’t enough books on how to get through these situations. The most important chapters for me involved what to do next. I’ve gained a little perspective and realise I’m not really suited to secretarial work. Whilst my organisations skills are good, my creativity and literary ambition go against me.

I’ve always had a desire to teach secondary school, but never had the money to retrain and sit the PGCE. If I am awarded anything from a Tribunal, the money will go towards this. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about the future.

At the same time I’ll continue blogging and researching workplace bullying. Once the Tribunal action is over, I aim to write a book and/or consider how to reach businesses, employers or targets of bullying on a more personal level to pass on what I’ve learnt.

I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I know I got by with a little help from my friends.

In the meantime, of course, I'll still be here. I hope you are too.

Lots of love and thank you from the bottom of my heart,

Bullied by the Boss.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner II

You’d have thought being away from HOWARD would have a positive effect. The opposite happened. He is still very much in my head telling me what an ugly, fat little loser I am. I’ve been shuffling round in my pyjamas crying, eating Betty Crocker pancakes and believing HOWARD voiced what the world is thinking anyway.

It was getting out of hand. I tried to claw my way out of a sinking depression, but I was lost. Things were black. I was consumed with thoughts of ending it again. Although I reminded myself I’d written for the Guardian on workplace bullying, and been on their panel of experts, it made no difference. Life had no purpose and no hope.

Then I read through my old blogs, telling myself how far I’d come; telling myself I couldn’t give up. When I got to The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner I was reminded of my team mates’ arrogance before and during the race. They were going to beat me. They were men. They were my superiors. They were faster and taller. They’d trained for it.

They told me there was no way I could win. I was a fat, ugly little loser without their training, without their physical strength and experience. As if a secretary could ever win a race against senior solicitors with only three days notice.

But then, of course, I did win.

The more I thought about it, the more hope it gave me. Here we were again, the same old characters – Eva James v HOWARD and the Senior Solicitor. The only difference was this time it isn’t a race, it's a tribunal.

I called my mother and told her I was coming over for a visit. Whilst there, I dug out my “Memories Box” from the attic. I found my old race T-shirt, with my number still on the front. I turned it round and there they were; messages of support from the secretaries who’d wanted me to prove our arrogant bosses wrong.

And there was my favourite message of all; the message HOWARD’S first secretary had black-marker penned across the back.

“EAT MY DUST, HOWARD”

Its 8.10 am and I’m just back from the gym. Slow and stiff, I plodded away on the treadmill. I’ll go again tomorrow and I’ll get better. After all, if I’m going to win again I need to be in far better shape.

See you soon,

Eva x

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Crepe Crusader

There can’t be many women forced out of a job because their boss was so offended by their ugliness. Imagine feeling hideously ugly, divorced, living in one room, and unemployed. I’ve lost hope, I’m living from day to day and I’m crying all the time.

OLLIE’S ex-secretary met up with me and we discussed the stress of clinging to such an awful job and the effects of eventually walking out. She confessed after she left she’d begun obsessively cleaning and had begun hoarding anti-bacterial wipes. I nodded.

I have my own confession. Two or three months ago I started obsessively buying pancake mixes. It doesn’t matter which brand (although Betty Crocker is my favourite). The funny thing is, as I’ve mentioned, my flat is tiny. When I ran out of room in my cupboards I arranged the batter mix on top of the units. My mum was concerned for my mental health and ordered me to stop buying them. I couldn’t. The stockpile grew. I worried about what would happen if I ran out. I told my mum the pancakes weren’t hurting anyone.

Even depressed, I can see the funny side. Wherever you sit in my flat you can’t escape the Betty Crocker boxes above the kitchen units.
I guess it’s no co-incidence that the strap line reads “Betty Crocker – Stir in the Smiles.”

I wish.

See you soon

Eva x

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

WEEK 54 The End

I’m in shock.

There had been whispers for months, but no-one believed it would happen. Yesterday it did. The PM handed out our Contracts of Employment. I stared at my skinny envelope in surprise.

There was no mention of the legal assistant/paralegal work I was doing. The Contract confirmed I was a legal secretary. It was also thousands lower than they’d told me. I calculated the per annum figure from my wage slip. I was earning a higher figure than on the Contract, but was still much less than agreed.

I went cold.

I felt sick to the pit of my stomach.

I figured there had to be some mistake.

I didn’t have time to ask because we were called into a department meeting. I tried to concentrate on what PHILIP was saying about aggressive marketing. When he spoke of an advert in The Law Gazette I assumed this was another aspect of raising our profile. However, when he unfolded the proposed advert and slid it towards HOWARD I realised I was wrong.

It was an advert for my job.

I stared at HOWARD. He read the advert and smiled at PHILIP.

No one had told me. I couldn't believe nobody look ashamed. I felt invisible.

Once the meeting was over I asked to speak to HOWARD about the advert. Amused, he told me he had no idea I wanted to progress, but that I was getting above myself if I thought I’d ever make a fee earner.

I can’t tell you how bad I felt. The penny dropped. It felt like one big set up. HOWARD hates me. He’ll stop at nothing. I’d believed him about the paralegal job. I’d believed him because I’d wanted to.

It was nothing but another joke.

Last night I wrote out my resignation. I outlined the horrible things HOWARD had done to me and how these things should never happen to a secretary. I said I couldn’t take anymore.

I can’t tell you how sick and scared I was giving my letter to the Senior Solicitor this morning. I left the office crying for the last time. I walked aimlessly - ending up at a local river. I froze after sitting on a bench too long as my mobile phone filled up with voicemail messages from the PM and HOWARD. They sounded worried I would kill myself or something.

A couple of hours later I still didn’t know what to do with myself. I headed for a temp agency, telling them I needed work. I’ll leave you imagine the state I was in. The manager asked me what happened, but I couldn't speak so I handed her a copy of my resignation letter. She took it from me but halfway through said, “I can’t read anymore.” She picked up the phone and spoke to a top firm of solicitors.

“I’m sending her over to you now,” she said. “This is the worst case of bullying and harassment I’ve ever seen.”

I was told to go straight to the solicitors and then come back. She promised she’d find me another job.

The solicitors’ office was very different from the one I worked in. It’s a coincidence, but a friend on twitter recently told me the first half hour is often free. They're right. The Employment Solicitor showed me into a meeting room and ordered tea and biscuits as he read my resignation letter.

“I’ve been an Employment Solicitor for a long time” he said. “But this is the worst case of bulling and harassment I’ve seen in my life. It’s incredible that it’s happening in a solicitors’ firm. The crucial thing is, of course, can you prove it?”

“Every word,” I said. “I can prove every word.”

When I returned this afternoon with my folders of evidence, his jaw hit the floor.

I would have made a great paralegal...If I’d had the chance.

Eva x

Monday, 12 April 2010

WEEK 53 Collection Point

Today was my first day back after my operation. I braced myself when the barrage of insults started from HOWARD. I aimed to write down every one. Sometimes there are so many I can’t remember them all.

At least my colleagues like me enough to send flowers and chocolates, I thought.

Last Friday a huge bouquet of flowers arrived from the office - my favourites - pink roses and Stargazer lilies.

“Been anywhere nice then?” HOWARD asked, taking off his coat.

He was merciless; how much weight I’d put on after the op; how the sling was unnecessary attention seeking; how I probably didn’t know the difference between masterbating and physiotherapy; how disappointed he was to sign a card he believed to be bereavement, only to find it was ‘Get Well Soon’. He picked up a long ruler and asked what I’d do if he hit my bandages with it. I didn’t take the bait. I comforted myself that it would all be collected in my diary.

I was in constant pain, queasy from the anaesthetic, but I was determined he was not going to get to me.

“Did you get the flowers?” HOWARD asked.

I’d already sent a firm-wide e-mail saying thank you. I said how beautiful they were; how my home smells like Stargazer lilies.

HOWARD frowned and said I shouldn’t look so pleased. He said they’d tried to get a collection together, but no-one wanted to give. He said it was awkward. He hadn’t realised how much I was disliked.

“Actually,” he continued, “it was so fucking embarrassing the PM ended up buying the flowers out of nominal office account.”

I looked at the PM, who quietly told HOWARD not to be so nasty. HOWARD, satisfied, sat back down.

An hour ago the PM drove me home. I was too exhausted to work till 5pm. When I opened the door and saw the bouquet of Stargazer lilies I burst into tears. “Don’t think about it,” I told myself. “Don’t think about it or he’ll ruin them. It’s probably not true.”

But it doesn’t matter. I’ve got my own collection that HOWARD has been generously contributing to for some time. I don’t plan to use it, but it’s my insurance in case HOWARD tries to sack me.

It’s evidence of HOWARD’S bullying; his insulting e-mails and offensive amendments. More than once he has accidentally recorded himself on Dictaphone. There is also my diary.

I don’t imagine there’ll be much of a leaving collection for HOWARD if it all comes out.

See you soon

Eva x

Thursday, 8 April 2010

WEEK 52 Wish You Were Here

Apologies if I’m all over the place. The general anaesthetic is still affecting me so I’ll keep it short.

I’d agreed some time ago with HOWARD and the PM that, when the operation came up to remove the metalwork in my shoulder, I would take annual leave rather than time on the sick. I didn’t have much choice. Due to our ‘rolling’ sick policy if you take over 10 days then you’re on statutory. Take statutory and PHILIP wants to sack you. I can’t risk not being paid in the future if I become ill, let alone losing my job.

The PM reiterated last week, while booking her holiday in South Africa, that it would be one thing off my mind if I used my annual leave. HOWARD smiled, commenting that he is going skiing in Andora.

Sunday, I woke to find the old scar had opened up. When I looked in the bathroom mirror, the wire beneath was visible. Terrified, in pain and disgusted in equal measure, I raced to my GP and then phoned work to say I’d been sent to Accident and Emergency.

Yesterday, after two days of staring at a wall in the Trauma Clinic, they wheeled me to theatre to operate.

“Where would you most love to go on holiday?" the anesthetist asked.

Holiday? I groaned and lost consciousness.

When I came round I wanted to get home. I didn’t want to spend any more time than necessary on a ward with seven elderly and incoherent women. My mother came to collect me. We passed through the concourse on the way out.

“This is nice,” my mum said. “Look, they have Costa coffee, and WH Smiths and Boots. Ooh, and there’s a jewellery shop and a Post Office.”

Shuffling past the Post Office, I thought of buying a postcard to send to HOWARD and the PM. A bout of nausea stopped me, but I did manage a weak smile at the thought of them receiving my holiday regards.

“Dear PM and HOWARD, Wish you were here!”

See you soon Eva x

Friday, 2 April 2010

WEEK 51 Some Comfort

I’m feeling better about myself of late, but I must be nervous in a different way because I can’t stop eating. While I’m waiting for my operation I’m restricted in terms of exercise. HOWARD noticed I’d put on a few pounds.

“It’s all going back on,” he said. “Yesterday I heard some of the girls saying, D’you remember when Eva was thin? The stitching on your clothes won’t hold if you get massive again. None of us wants to see that. Yuk!”

Fortunately there was a temporary distraction. One of the ladies brought her granddaughter in to see us. She toddled around the desks exploring as we cooed and waved.

“No point you looking,” HOWARD pointed out. “You’d have to find a man first before you can get one of them and that’s hardly likely. I once thought you were wearing maternity clothes till I realised you were just massive!”

I told HOWARD I’d get happily get pregnant for the maternity leave away from him.

“I think you’re out of time. I’m guessing you’re in early menopause. That’ll put pay to it.”

A paralegal who sits a couple of desks over has been trying for a baby for some time. She looked annoyed at HOWARD, but smiled as the little girl tumbled onto all fours, laughing.

HOWARD laughed too and held up two Vicks nasal decongestant inhalers. I won't tell you what he compared them with and what he said. I'll just say he finishing with a disgusting impression.

I opened a packet of nuts and raisins at the same time as the paralegal opened a packet of carrot sticks. I hope she’s eating for two. As for me, I’m only human.

Wouldn’t you comfort eat?

See you soon

Eva x
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