Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Leaving a Job and Being Human

1944 Packer poster

The second reason why I haven't been writing weekly is because I gained a long-term, temporary position in a production facility's warehouse about a month ago. When I accepted the position I knew that I wasn't going to be hired on, that competition for "plum" tasks and line lead positions would be fierce, and I knew that some of my co-workers would be crueler than others. In an environment where over ninety percent of the workforce (including line leads) is temporary employees, the desire to be differentiated in order to be perceived as less expendable by "the powers that be" can override some people's ethics, moral belief systems, and basic common sense. However, I wasn't fully prepared for what I encountered because, despite my age and what I've learned from life experience, I'm an idealist.

Is Honesty the Best Policy?

I was very honest about my intentions: I wanted to work as a temporary employee until I graduated from college, I certainly didn't want to become a line lead, and I was there to earn a paycheck. Most of my co-workers didn't know what to make of me because, despite my education, I had no interest in being a line lead; I would gladly go home early to give another co-worker who was in financial need the opportunity to earn a full night's pay, I applied myself conscientiously to every task I was given, I would cheerfully assist co-workers with sore hands and muscles with their tasks without complaint, and I didn't engage in the backbiting and gossiping that is standard in these types of work environments. Since being assigned the more arduous and repetitive tasks seemed to be an unofficial way of determining who would remain and who would walk out, I took on these tasks enthusiastically to demonstrate my work ethic and willingness to be a team player. I started gaining a reputation amongst the other line leads and co-workers for my willingness to work and help, for my dry sense of humor, and my timing in delivering jokes.
Leeds Town Hall
"Honesty is the best policy" by Rick Harrison CC By-NC-SA 2.0

Despite my best efforts, my line lead seemed to grow increasingly unhappy with me. She assigned even more physically demanding tasks without rotating me out of them from day-to-day like she did with my other teammates. Her demeanor and tone of voice was condescending or indicated that I was doing something wrong; however, when I asked her what I was doing wrong, she would indicate that I was performing my tasks correctly. Over the course of a couple of weeks my teammates began distancing themselves from me when we were working to avoid her displeasure, and a few of them voiced concerns about the tasks she was asking me to perform and how her behavior towards me was escalating. I responded by assuring them that, other than a few bruises and overworked muscles, that I was physically fine and that the problem stemmed from a conflict of personalities that would work itself out with time.

What I said was not how I felt about the situation. I noticed that I was becoming more isolated from my co-workers, I was keeping quiet while I was working to avoid attracting her attention, I was in constant pain while I worked on her team because she didn't rotate me to other tasks, I had noticed that her unpleasant behavior towards me was escalating, and I realized that she wasn't "testing" me anymore. She had made a decision about me, and it wasn't good.

On Wednesday of last week I went to floor manager and asked to be assigned to another team because I wasn't a "good fit." He inquired what events lead me to come to that conclusion, and I cited several incidents in which she had demonstrated inappropriate behavior. He told me that he would reassign me as soon as possible. Unfortunately, "as soon as possible" wasn't soon enough.

Too Little, Too Late

The next day I went to work hoping that I would be assigned to another team; however, several temporary workers did not return, and I was told that I needed to remain on my current team for "a little while longer." My line lead assigned me to the same task that I had been performing for the past three days; a physically demanding, fast-paced task. My line lead told me in a condescending tone that I would receive help, and then assigned my "helper" to another task. Approximately an hour after I began my assigned task, I was sweating so profusely that a steady stream of sweat was pouring into my eyes and one of the people who had been temporarily assigned to my team began helping me with my task. I took the opportunity to drink some water and, upon my return from the water cooler, my line lead told the person who was helping me that I didn't need help. My co-worker resisted the idea, but my line lead overrode my co-worker's objections and I was on my own again.

Half hour later I stopped sweating and I kept tripping over my own feet. I started to become confused about what I was doing, whether or not my line lead had checked the product on the line, and which product needed to go where. My line lead stopped me long enough to advise me that she hadn't checked the product on the line (I thought she had), and returned to her position on the line while proclaiming loudly, "She is just trying to get sympathy because she doesn't want to do that job again." At the time I remember thinking that if I wasn't so tired, I'd go puke on her steel toes and offer some suggestions on where she could go and how to get there.

The next hour is a blur, but I do know that the co-worker who tried to help me earlier grabbed me by the arms, shook me, told me it was break time, and I burst into tears. I don't really know why I was crying, all I know is that I couldn't stop. I remembered that the line lead supervisor told us in orientation that we could leave on good terms if we came and told him that we were unsuited for the job, so I went to him to be released on good terms. I don't remember what I said to him... I do remember him saying that I was a good worker, asking if he could do anything to keep me on, and offering to provide a good reference for me at the staffing agency. I remember calling my brother-in-law to come get me from work, I recall that I felt cold when I went outside (it was 90 degrees), and I also remember that one of the forklift drivers was offering assistance when my line lead (who was also outside on break) reiterated that I was trying to "get sympathy." I really wanted to say something nasty (or puke on her steel toes), but I was too dizzy and nauseated to think of something appropriately nasty to say. Fortunately, break ended and I was left to my own devices until my brother-in-law came by to take me home.

 Recourse! (Not Really)

Albert V. Bryan Courthouse statue of "Justice"
"Justice sends mixed messages" by Dan4th Nicholas
CC By 2.0
I spoke to the staffing agency's representative at the facility the next day. I explained to her what happened and she found the line lead's behavior "concerning." The representative apologized for my bad experience with the client, and made a note on my account that I left the client on good terms so the staffing agency will try to find a job and work environment that is better suited for me. I was told that the representative would speak to the line lead, and that the matter will be resolved.

Normally I would take the high ground and say that I hope that the line leader's inexperience with employee relations doesn't cost her the job. Usually I take this opportunity to apply what knowledge I've learned from college and past work experience to discuss how I would handle this situation if I was in the other person's position. I would normally analyze my behavior to determine how I might have contributed to the situation and share how I could have alleviated the situation. Usually I try to find some way to be objective and fair in a situation, maybe by saying that my line lead was merely inexperienced and ignorant about employee relations... which could be the case here.

I'm sorry; I can't do all of those things right now. The title of this blog is "HR is Only Human," and I just wanted to share some of my unprofessional, subjective, uninformed, and insanely human thoughts on my experience. I think her actions were malicious and stupid, and I hope that the staffing agency and/or the client have the presence of mind to fire this malicious and stupid line lead before she seriously injures or kills someone.

There... I've said my piece. Maybe I'll be able to discuss this calmly and objectively in my next article.

Title image courtesy of: U.S. Library of Congress   

6 comments :

  1. So sorry it didn't work out, Charity. Thank you for sharing your experience, sad though it was. Unfortunately our world is somewhat primitive and although we may be "above it", it still hurts and can disrupt our life.

    Very best wishes - keep strong!

    Ian

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    1. Thank you for reading, Ian. I am grateful to you for allowing me to share my journey with you, despite its ups and downs.

      I guess I'm never really going to have a true understanding of the situation.... We were all working there because, for one reason or another, it was necessary to do so. Why not try to make the best of it for everyone involved?

      It does trouble me because more companies are using contingent workers as an inexpensive means to fill positions and boost productivity. Temp workers do have it pretty tough; they have the same basic rights that permanent employees do, but it's difficult for temps to exercise those rights in an "every man for himself" work environment; especially if exercising those rights will undoubtedly result in being black-balled by every staffing agency in the area. I'm pretty sure that I'm not the first temp to encounter this treatment, and I doubt that I will be the last. Hopefully my experience will become the exception rather than the rule.

      Having said that, I'll save this discussion for another time and another article... See? I'm already analyzing this experience for future reference. :-)

      Thanks, Ian for your support. I hope all is well with you and yours.

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  2. My first reaction is "WOW, she should be fired!" The next was "she should be punished or removed from line lead, at least." I commend your restraint, for whatever reason(s). My only suggestion here is....perhaps it might be worth revisiting - once your emotions are in check by the appropriate distance of time - the subject. Maybe reach out to the recruiter again? Why? What if this person REALLY didn't realize that her actions were inappropriate? I doubt it to be so but it is a possibility. Also, the fact that others attempted to intervene and were not allowed is cause for concern. Bullying should not be tolerated and, if she did it with malice, she needs to get help.

    Sorry, I don't normally give such opinions but couldn't resist.

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  3. Thanks for stopping by, Kyle!

    After writing this post, I was concerned that the line lead in question didn't understand how inappropriate her actions were, or the fact that the consequences of those actions could have impacted the staffing agency and the client. I also realized that the line lead's intent may not have been malicious; however, I still think that there were some negative feelings towards me involved.

    In light of this realization, I called the staffing agency to follow up and was told that someone had filed a complaint against the line lead on my behalf. I don't know much, but what I do know is this: the person knew that I had asked to be reassigned to a different team, the person knew the potential severity of my condition, the person knew why I requested that I be allowed to leave the assignment on good terms, and I was told that the matter is currently under investigation. I don't know who filed the complaint on my behalf; however, I am grateful to that person for doing what s/he felt was right.

    I appreciate the opinions, Kyle. I just needed to work through my feelings about the situation in order to look at it from a different perspective. I am looking forward to continuing this conversation in my next post... which I will publish today or tomorrow.

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  4. Good for you. It is encouraging that another person saw the incident and filed on your behalf. That should be reassuring to you.

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    1. In a work environment in which it seems that every person is looking after her/his own best interests, it is reassuring to know that someone spoke up on my behalf.

      I'm pretty sure I know who reported the incident, and it is a shame that I was unable to work with that person. I think that my experience with the client would have been drastically different if I had worked with her/him.

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