You’re The Best In The Company But …..

Mel O'Sullivan - July 1, 2020

I knew I was going to be sacked that morning.

The previous day I had walked out on the new Manager mid conversation. Just switched off the workstation, picked up my handbag and walked out. Cried the entire 45 minute drive home. Sat next to my husband and cried some more.

Messaged the manager to say I  would be back in to work the next morning. Hardly slept that night. Dragged myself back into the office with a good idea how it was going to go.

I had been working as a Production/Purchasing/Payroll worker in the Concrete Manufacturing plant office for about 8 years. This was manager number 8, only just started, just finding his feet and claiming ownership.

My job was minimum wage office worker. My job description included a lot of "assist with" and no "responsible for". I was mainly only technically responsible for data entry of production reporting, purchasing, payroll time sheets and inventory management data entry. I took the job because it was in my home town and I hoped (maybe) if I showed myself capable opportunities for advancement might eventuate. The office was open plan and open access - anyone could walk in at any time and ask me to do things.

In true veteran fashion, when I saw that a job needed doing I simply stepped in and took care of it. Through the various rotations of management the mission creep had definitely crept. It had become normal for the workers to check with me to solve problems before they "bothered management". When we had no manager I stepped in and ran the Office side of things, solving HR problems, handling component resupply, maintenance budgeting and management, OH&S. Everything that wasn't hiring, firing and manufacture. It was normal for four or five people to be lined up at my desk waiting for me to make time for them. Of course I never said "no" - we veterans are trained not to say that.

At one point I would drive in the gate and start to shake. I did not realise at the time but during some periods anxiety attacks were occurring almost daily. My anxiety presents as aggression - that is when I'm not crying uncontrollably. Relationships  with managers were regularly combative - I am definitely more "fight" than "flight". Having admitted that - I was not necessarily the reason for the high turnover. Regional plants can be seen as stepping stones to better things - a way station to learn the trade while you wait for the opportunity in the Brisbane or Sydney headquarters. The high turnover is normal in all regional locations - regardless of industry or company.

I had this idea that someone would eventually notice and maybe offer me a pay rise, better position or some sort of reward. One day I put the case together for a pay rise and was denied. I should have walked right?

It's not that simple to find a regular living wage paying job in a country town. I was undervalued (by myself most of all), underappreciated and mostly tolerated in my workplace because I was damned good at my job. I was probably doing half of everybody else's job as well. I got things done right the first time, on time, every time. No mean feat in a country plant. So I got a little snappy at times? So what if I had warnings on my file for unacceptable behaviour? They would just have to man up and grow a pair right? I was constantly in a time crunch and people were constantly making further demands on my time. A sort of really crappy, miserable "Groundhog Day".

I loved my home life, and I thought this was about the best I could expect. Plenty of people make good lives with boring jobs - just make the best of it. We made a lot of really cool stuff and I was a part of some building projects I will always be very proud of. I told myself to count my blessings (I have many) and get on with it.

Back to "that morning".

Remember - I'd gotten used to managers just yelling at me to calm down, or control myself, people only talking to me if they needed something from me.

The manager sat me down in a quiet spot and asked me why I walked out. I said "I had three choices - I could scream at you, clock you one, or walk out. I chose the lesser of the three evils".

Looking understandably stunned, he thought for a moment and then said three things:

"You're the best in the company at what you do and everyone knows it."

"But nobody likes you and the men are afraid to approach you"

No surprises there, but he floored me with the third one:

"How can I help?"

I was moved into a quiet, private office where I could lock the door - which had the incidental advantage of making the men take their problems to the team leaders who should have been dealing with them. I learned and practiced polite,socially acceptable alternatives to "F*** off - I don't have time to deal with your s**t"(it's called setting boundaries).  I was allowed time off work to attend counselling, and was allowed the use of work facilities to complete my Data Analysis course.

The manager and I never managed a truly easy relationship - but he did the best he could by me. He gave me room to work out what I wanted and helped me move on. I made sure he always knew how grateful to him I was for having the courage to have that difficult conversation - and delivering on it.

Personal growth and understanding almost never comes from a single incident. I had only recently made it known in my workplace that I was a Veteran. I lucked out with a manager that had previous exposure to veterans. I had recently started reconnecting with old Army mates and finding out about available support services. Social Media was a game changer. I think I had registered for my first WithYouWithMe course but had not started. I learned what "underemployed" meant and that I was a poster child. It was also about the same time as the Invictus games. An old friend suggested I contact Open Arms and access counselling (resulting in the Anxiety diagnosis).

Everything started to change for the better when a few people reached out to me, and I finally had the good sense to accept help.

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