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."

Saturday, 25 February 2012

WEEK 215 The Apprentice

People are often surprised that I’m a fan of the BBC business competition, The Apprentice. But as far as I can see, it’s a pretty accurate reflection of how British business operates. 

The Apprentice is classic for illustrating what happens to corporate ego-maniacs when the pressure is on. They lose it. They bully others or go into meltdown. Post show, on Apprentice: Your Fired they wince at clips of themselves and agree that family and friends wouldn’t recognise them for the selfish, aggressive and often toxic way they behaved towards their fellow contestants. 

There are a few exceptions. Tom Pellereau (last year’s winner), for example, is a nice guy, but rather than being given a job, Sir Alan gave him a £250,000 cash injection to start his own company. It was the first time Sir Alan altered the usual format of offering a role in his company.

The year before, Stella English’s ruthless determination had me back her as the winner from the start. She pulled out all the stops for a chance to work for notoriously bullish, Sir Alan. Impressed by Stella’s clinical determination to finish first, Sir Alan was happy to announce her his winner.

Fast forward a couple of years and Stella is taking Sir Alan to the Employment Tribunal.

It’s textbook old-school business. People at the top are hired for their ruthless ambition until chaffs someone else’s ruthless ambition – and war is declared. Before you know it, it’s hit the papers. 

What I worry about, of course, are the support staff working in the Sir Alan and Stella environment. Can you imagine their day to day? Their stories aren’t going to make the papers. It’s these apprentices I think about; those exposed daily to temper tantrums and hostility, who must eventually believe this is how business operates. And, hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

It’s telling that Sir Alan’s assistant on the show, Karen Brady, reprimanded a number of the female contestants on Stella’s series because of their appalling infighting. The candidates behaviour was so bad, it prompting a number of British CEOs, including an ex-Tesco boss, to claim that this wasn’t a true reflection of UK business. I’d argue that it is and becoming more so. That’s why I watch it. There’s no PR or spin other than what laughable ego-driven self-promotion the contestants provide for themselves. It’s warts and all city ambition.

But Stella’s story also reveals something else about the nature of this kind of business. Winning your dream job may be difficult, but that’s just getting a foot in the door. Once it’s yours, the real battle might just be beginning. 

The Apprentice shows us that working together to achieve success is often at odds with the traditional UK business model. I don’t know about you, but I think maybe it’s time we give it a try.

Very best
BBTB

Sunday, 19 February 2012

WEEK 214 Court of Protection

As my workplace bullying book launch approaches, I can't help wondering what the consequences will be if my current employer finds out. I'm therefore doing everything in my power to make sure they don’t.

Each morning, I switch on my PC and knuckle down to a day of typing. The trainees tease me that the reason I rush home at 5pm is to catch the tail end of daytime TV. Joking, they click imaginary remote controls as I breeze past, buttoning my coat as I go. They quip about my not wanting to miss Jeremy Kyle or Loose Women.

Behind the scenes, of course, launch plans are under way. A large box of pre-prepared goody-bags for volunteers and those who might buy a book on the day sits expectantly in my studio-flat. During lunch, I Google organisations that might be interested in supporting me, together with local journalists and MPs. I keep up with my fellow anti-bullying friends on Twitter.

Post work, I return to my launch plans. There are meetings about a viral. A director has kindly offered to film a short ad for the book and promptly found an actor to play Howard. His monologue has been written and the location scouted. You can imagine how surreal it is for Howard to be brought to life on film for the purposes of raising awareness and promoting ‘Bullied by the Boss’.

Obviously, this involves my telling a lot of porkies. Does being legally obliged to lie to my employer make it any more excusable? 

Adhering to the confidentiality clause has covered thousands of hours (and a chunk of my former firm’s settlement money) devoted to raising awareness. Whilst I seem to be in my comfort zone on the subject of workplace bullying, I wonder how I could ever explain to my present employer quite how I ended up in this position: the extent of the bullying at my former firm, the blog, the book and the approaching book launch/promotion. 

I may just be trying to explain the unexplainable!

Very best
BBTB

Saturday, 11 February 2012

WEEK 213 Caffeine Fix

On Monday, a friend from work forwarded me a flyer for a new independent coffee shop with a suggestion that we try it out before work on Thursday. The coffee house was running a 2 for 1 offer and, if the forecast snow came to nothing, we could have a caffeinated catch-up.

The flyer showed a promising funky montage of coffee snaps with a retro feel. My friend wasn't exactly sure which street it was on and asked me to find out.

I knew exactly where it was. 

I emailed back to say it was on the site of the first law firm I'd worked for; the start of my secretarial career. 

They'd torn the old building down a couple of years ago and sold the plot. It had been a crumbling wreck, leaning on the building next door for support – a place where you froze in the winter, boiled in summer and which had a relentless stubborn smell of damp or bad drains. 

The fee earners had comprised of a small team of socially motivated lawyers, passionate about immigration, mental health and housing. The workload was weighty and the pay was rock bottom, but they made up for it in camaraderie. It was a little legal family living on borrowed time in a ramshackle house, knowing the changing face of Legal Aid and the various commitments to pro-bono were going to wipe us out.

Having worked for Howard, and then for corporate lawyers, I'd quite forgotten my humble beginnings. 

Of course, there's such a thing as being 'too nice' in business, but surely what employers should aim for is a company that turns a profit as well as maintaining the sort of culture where ex-staff will talk of it fondly, years later, over a cup of coffee.

The best of both worlds!

Very best

BBTB

Saturday, 4 February 2012

WEEK 212 Open Doors


What an emotional week I’ve had! My book, Bullied by the Boss, is now available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. 

I’ve done it! I started out with a crazy idea and somehow, despite the odds and obstacles, I got there in the end.

And I find myself recalling my journey; the hours on the book, my desperation before signing the compromise agreement, the day I walked out of my former firm. The flashbacks continue of their own accord; Howard following me around, my sobbing down the side of the office, and then finally back to that first day.

The day Howard arrived.

Here’s something you probably won’t know... 

I let him in. 

My former firm had one of those doors where you buzzed people in via a wall mounted telephone. However, a glitch meant people rarely heard the faint click of the released door and therefore stood there ignorant that they simply had to pull to enter. Someone was often required to jog down and let the visitor in.

Neither one of us noticed the other as I held the door open for him. He would, no doubt, have been preoccupied with his impending interview. I showed him to a meeting room and informed Philip. It was only then that a secretary pounced on me and asked what he looked like. I frowned – then shrugged diplomatically. She liked rugby players. 

Isn’t it funny how one person’s arrival can change everything?

And I suppose that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since. I’ve been trying to throw the doors open on workplace bullying. At first, I struggled to get people’s attention, but I kept at it and over the years I’ve surrounded myself with friends. Now there are so many likeminded people, Howard has been quite lost in the crowd. 

So if there’s anything to be learned from all this, maybe it’s that when you’re being bullied you must go against the urge to shut down. Do the exact opposite. Throw the doors open. 

Sometimes we’re going to be exposed to people who are toxic and destructive and, when we are, we should go to great lengths to expose ourselves friends and supporters.

Then anything is possible. 

Very best
BBTB
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