“Get out of my office! And you, Yvonne, don’t EVER speak to me about a raise again.”
With those words ringing in our ears, the Controller and I walked out of the office of my employer of four years, closed the door, and looked at each other in disbelief. We said nothing and then went into our own offices.
What could have prompted someone to speak to two of his top employees in this manner? What could cause the CEO of a company who had a thriving high-end office furniture manufacturing company in the United States and an office in South America to shout at us with such venom? It was almost scary to see the transformation in his face and attitude.
Both of us had deigned to disagree with him on how to handle a matter that could end up costing the company a lot of money. And I had just calmly told him that I would not compromise my values to do what he was asking us to do. By the way, a few days earlier he had told me he was giving me a raise.
Four years earlier, I was hired on a Temp to Perm basis for three months. Within that time, the owner recognized my value and the diverse skills I brought to the company. I became his employee in less than three months and was hired as the Office Manager/Executive Assistant to the CEO.
I learned a lot in this diverse position as it required that I become familiar with HR Laws in the United States (my previous HR experience was in Jamaica). I also learned about ad placements in high-end office furniture magazines, editorials, and more. Since this company participated in the Furniture Expo in Chicago each year, that process became a part of my learning, even though another employee was responsible for putting it together. I also learned how to fix the huge copier (most times) because I watched the servicemen when they came in to do repairs. So, I would be on the floor many days fixing the problem and saving the company downtime and actual repair costs.
Studying OSHA Rules and regulations fascinated me so that I initiated an internal Safety Plan in the factory and eventually wrote the Company’s Safety Manual.
What I never understood was the mercurial personality of my employer. Did he have an emotional disorder, or was it just me? I had an amazing mentor in my workplace in Jamaica who taught me many years ago to always know beforehand what I was bringing to the table in any discussion. Be prepared with pros and cons. That advice served me through the years.
So, on a Monday, for example, I would go into my employer‘s office and we’d discuss the pros and cons of a particular subject. We’d come to an agreement and, where necessary, I’d start to implement.
On Tuesday morning, he’d walk into the office with his head down, and instead of a greeting I’d hear, “I need to see you in my office.” Everything we discussed the day before would be thrown out the window and revisions made! This went on for years.
These mood swings became so bad that as I got closer to work each morning, I found that I was concerned about what type of mood he would be in that day? That was not healthy for me.
When I’d wonder if it was a personality clash, I knew that could only be a part of it because there was another employee who had been with the company for 14 years, whom he treated even worse. You see, despite everything, he had never spoken to me the way he did that day before. He did it to her repeatedly. I could not understand why she put up with it! She’d smile with her lips and continue working, but it was literally killing her. How do I know?
In one of his tirades against her, he told her to get out! We were shocked when she came back the next day, but she left at the end of the week after clearing her office. Three months later I saw her, and I was in shock again. She was barely recognizable. She was in her 50s and those lines that had carved grooves on her forehead were gone. The lines around her mouth had disappeared. She had a glow, and she exuded a warmer personality. I jokingly asked her if she’d had a facelift, which she had not. The stress from that job of 14 years had been lifted from her. She was in a new job that she loved, with people who respected and valued her knowledge and expertise. She looked about 10 years younger.
Dignity and self-respect are two things that were drilled into me by my parents, and my mother in particular. I would not, could not allow myself to have a repeat experience.
That night I wrote my letter of resignation. These words are embedded in my brain:
“I’ve shown you the utmost respect as my employer, and I expect the same from you as your employee. It’s clear, by your behavior yesterday, that you have no respect for me or you would never have spoken to me the way you did. I cannot work in an environment where there is no mutual respect.
Under these circumstances, I can no longer continue to work for you. Please accept my
two-week resignation with effect from today.”
My employer apologized for his behavior and asked me to re-consider, but I never did. I knew it was only a matter of time before it happened again.
My family was concerned because I did not have another job lined up. My faith and trust in God were stronger than worrying about my next paycheck. Within two weeks, I was hired by another company. What a difference!
I share this story for different reasons. For one thing, in our writers’ group call this week, Mark O’Brien reminded us that very early in our time together I had mentioned that it was important for us to share our stories. I had not shared a story in a while.
Second, it pains my heart when I hear or read of stories where employers or managers treat their employees (internal customers) horribly, yet expect them to deliver superior customer service and create memorable experiences for their external customers.
Third, no matter what circumstance you’re in, you do not have to accept that the existing situation is all there is. Do not become ‘addicted to certainty’, as Maribel Cardez eloquently put it. ‘There are people who want to help you if you’re willing to ask for help’, shared by Frank Zaccari, our visitor for the day. Forget about the ceiling or restraints that are there. “Build a new house rather than break the ceiling of a building someone else built,” is profound knowledge and reminder from Laura Staley.
I had no idea what I was going to do when I left that job. Tom Dietzler agreed with Frank Zaccari that we should not worry so much about the How.
Focus on the WHO. Your WHO is waiting to be asked to support you. You can’t do it alone. I am willing to be your WHO if you need me to be.