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awful experience at work

(112 Posts)
springymater Fri 17-May-13 14:25:59

Took part in a volunteer's 'reflective practise' yesterday and two colleagues tore me to shreds. Along the lines of: you are up yourself, think you're wonderful, who do you think you are; that I talk down to people, am lazy, don't do any work, wander about. Those are the accusations I remember, anyway. I don't recognise any of it - I work hard, got my eye on the ball, am generally friendly and chatty in a non-obtrusive way. Ordinary, basically.

This came out of the blue. We work with the homeless and a lot - though not all - of my colleagues are ex-homeless/ex-offenders/recovering addicts etc and the two who laid into me come into these categories.

I have been working with these two men in a reception capacity and relationships were becoming very frosty - not on my part, but theirs. It was becoming increasingly awkward to work with them as I appeared to be frozen out of working practise, let alone conversation. But I didn't particularly notice iyswim! We are very busy and I suppose I assumed in that vague way that people are stressed, tired, whatever. I have a generally good professional sense and have good experience of the professional environment - though this environment is more relaxed in one sense (though more boundaried in others). it is generally a 'friendly' environment - it has to be because of the dire straits/vulnerability of the clients.

The discussion with my colleagues was initiated because I was trying to flag up that I was being left out of working practise - I addressed this by suggesting the issue of team work, are we working as a team. I didn't directly confront but kept it general. A lot of ex-homeless etc find it very difficult to engage with teamwork eg and I wasn't about to be pointing fingers.

I was thoroughly attacked - a character assassination; shouted at (red face/neck, bulging veins), accused of being 'fucking patronising' etc etc. It went on and on - about half an hour. I began to shake (I wish I'd got out then) but kept professional, asked them to clarify, give examples. The examples were bizarre and there was no way I could respond, though I tried. I don't know what has happened to cause this but I do think I've had the 'white, middle-class do-gooder' tag put on me (when, as it happens, the only one of those I am is white - I am, for instance, in recovery). I eventually left as the unremitting assault wasn't abating at all. The situation wasn't resolved, my presence only encouraged them to continue.

the whole experience was horrifying and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I went into shock and burst into floods of tears in a cafe about half an hour later, completely unable to control it. I had a very bad night and cried and cried. I feel beaten up.

I have a bit of clarity today - though still tearful. I spoke to my line manager, saying I wouldn't be working in that capacity again because of a very bad experience in reflective practise. He said reflective practise is confidential and he can't know anything about it, so there is no support there.

So where does that leave me? Is it ok to tear a colleague to shreds under the auspices of 'reflective practise'? The psychotherapist who ran the group basically allowed the thing to continue. She was reluctant to 'let' me leave (though we are all of course free to leave when we want). I felt like a lamb led to the slaughter.

Sorry long sad. Any advice (hand-holding, hugs!) etc gratefully received. I realise the people I work with can have very significant issues - I have a fair few of my own tbf - but I don't accept I can be torn to shreds in this way.

So is this voluntary?

I cannot believe that you have been treated in this way. I would be tempted to have a private word with the individuals involved. Just what was the purpose?

gail734 Fri 17-May-13 23:10:30

springy I have one word to describe the two men in your work, and that word is jealous.
They don't sense the "broken bird" thing - quite the opposite. They see you as someone who has no problems coping and who therefore probably looks down on them. It's totally their paranoia. Easier said than done, but you should try to forget it. I recognise a number of the phrases you quoted. I was at a wedding reception and a young woman, the 20-something daughter of a neighbour (so ten years younger than me) who was a bit drunk, leant over and said, "Look at you, you think you're great. Always looking down your nose at everyone..." Completely unprovoked! Well, I'd obviously been annoying her for years, but not intentionally! Get yourself out of their toxic company and forget it.

StillSeekingSpike Sat 18-May-13 08:44:40

I was also about to say that these two men sound jealous and possibly quite threatened by you.

I worked for various charities over a period of about 2o years and would NEVER EVER work for one again. They are the absolute workplaces for bullying, unprofessionalism, weak management and poor staff support.
DON'T be tempted to go back. This organisation sounds as if it is sick at the core- the trouble with such places is that the people with the biggest issues and problems are not the clients, but the fking staff angry

Jux Sat 18-May-13 09:19:58

I agree that the men were jealous, and their view fuelled by their own inadequacies and paranoia. That's no excuse for the psychotherapist though, who either had no idea how to keep hold of the reins or was simply incompetent. Either is dangerous.

springymater Sat 18-May-13 10:17:46

I wonder if the psychotherapist is in cahouts (sp) with the counsellor - the one who seems to think its her job to ''put me in my place' - bizarrely.

Beginning to see this a bit more clearly now (takes a bloody while when a bomb has gone off angry ). Here is what I think is the crux of it all (please bear with the autopsy!):

I have made some clear observations about the way the volunteers are treated by staff and a lot of my suggestions have been implemented. There is one particular sticking point I have dug in my heels about = staff coming into the kitchen (badly equipped btw). It is a working kitchen, catering for approx 40+ lunches - and the staff wander in as and when. It is a clear h&s risk and I have been incensed at the lack of respect and boundaries the staff display towards the work of the volunteers. One member of staff regularly asks me to cook her teeny quorn dinner in the vast oven for 40 minutes (she won't use the microwave) and has a strop when I say it's not possible. They have their own fully-equipped kitchen.

So, this has been my sticking point and it has become known amongst the staff (though not as known as I would like) that I won't allow staff into the kitchen while lunch is being prepared/cooked. They sent me on a h&s course ffs. I think they are incensed that I have, or am using, the power to 'allow' or 'disallow' staff in the kitchen. Which in turn gets my goat: if you have volunteers, give them equal respect for the work they do - and what particularly gets my goat is that so many of the volunteers have routinely been treated with zero respect in their lives, their boundaries entirely ignored/violated. imo the centre is doing precisely this to the volunteers.

imo this is why the counsellor has taken it upon herself to pull me down a peg, ridicule me, harass me, shout at me, treat me like a dog (I kid you not). It seems there is a deep-seated resistance to giving volunteers (rightful) power - and by this I include volunteers who are in a rehab programme, and volunteering at the centre is a significant part of that.

yy addicts - recovering or otherwise - are/can be slippery and unreliable and liars etc etc - but imo that doesnt give the centre the right to ignore/ride toughshod over personal and professional boundaries. If they choose to give ex-members voluntary jobs, then treat them with the respect they deserve.

PERHAPS the [rehab] volunteers cherish their centre and dont want the status quo disrupted. Perhaps thats why I got it in the neck.

Not that that is an excuse for what happened yesterday! angry

springymater Sat 18-May-13 10:19:12

ps I am the chef so it is my 'right' to allow or disallow iyswim. I am in charge of the kitchen.

eminemmerdale Sat 18-May-13 10:24:57

Is there a volunteer policy? If not, there should be, if so demand to see it. Have you signed a volunteer agreement? There are legal issues at play here as well.

springymater Sat 18-May-13 10:28:33

They are the absolute workplaces for bullying, unprofessionalism, weak management and poor staff support

yyy Spike! I spoke to one staff member who is not renewing his contract - would rather be on the dole - because of the above.

Jux Sat 18-May-13 10:31:53

Yes, and if something happened in the kitchen the buck would firmly stop with you. So you are right to enforce h&s there.

I think the counsellor is utterly unprofessional. Whether you decide to continue working at this place or not, the powers that be - trustees or headoffice or whatever - need to be made aware of how badly it is aftually being run.

eminemmerdale Sat 18-May-13 10:33:45

So many people, in my experience, who take jobs in the homeless sector are completey fucked up! <wonder if I was> grin I was actually bullied horrifically by someone in authority who was backed up by the trustees.. It was hidoues

eminemmerdale Sat 18-May-13 10:34:23


springymater Sat 18-May-13 10:39:30

HAHA - yes, I am completely fucked up at the moment em grin

I adore working with the homeless. of course I have looked at that, why that should be so (what that says about me). a lot of the staff are ex-addicts/offenders etc.

I think I have been naive in how I have waded in. I said above that I was 'incensed' and that came across at times - particularly when I was up to my neck, lunch just about to be served, and some fuckwit MofS wanders into the kitchen angry . I keep professional but it is clear I am not best pleased.

stowsettler Sat 18-May-13 12:57:42

springy I've just read the whole of this thread and I'm glad to see that you seem to be slowly recovering from what sounds like a really terrible experience. However I can only echo what lots of others have already said - you really must complain about the incident, if not for yourself then so it doesn't happen to some other poor sod who's also led to the slaughter.

IMO just because you work with the homeless / addicts / whatever, that doesn't mean that your rights at work should in any way be compromised and those rights include the right not to be bullied (by the counsellor) or verbally attacked (in your reflective practise). Also as a volunteer you should be afforded exactly the same rights as paid employees.

This psychotherapist is responsible for the wellbeing of a number of vulnerable people and it frightens me that she is practising in such an environment. You really must complaint about her at the very least. I am more than happy to help you word any such complaint (I know a little bit about wording such things because I was falsely accused of bullying recently and wrote a statement in response, which resulted in the accusation being dropped, and my receiving a letter of apology and support from my bosses).

I live in Wales and we have the WCVA as a sort of umbrella body for all voluntary organisations - presumably there is similar in England? Get in touch with them. It is their responsibility to look after fine people like you who give up their time to help vulnerable people.

If you get no joy from complaining to your organisation (who must be your first port of call), then you should take it further and to other organisations.

eminemmerdale Sat 18-May-13 13:10:11

It's CVS here - each town has its own.

ElizaDoLots Sat 18-May-13 13:38:23

Sorry, I haven't read the thread in its entirety, but can I suggest you write everything down that you remember so that you have accurate notes to refer to. It sounds awful sad

BerylStreep Sat 18-May-13 14:03:16

Good draft letter fool.

Springy - sorry you went through this - it was horrid and handled badly by the person supervising the session. I second the suggestion of asking for a one to one de-brief session to help you process it, perhaps facilitated by someone else.

Lemonies Sat 18-May-13 14:10:24

No constructive advice but my sincere sympathy.
It sounds awful you were very strong to stay and listen for as long as you did.

Feel better soon x

Grinkly Sat 18-May-13 19:19:57

I think it's all to do with the self-esteem of the horrible critics and the staff.

They have ishoos and decided to take it out on you. Staff, with ishoos about their skills and ability (or perhaps they would be working somewhere happy and supportive) and colleagues with many unresolved issues, perhaps with a bit of encouragement from their therapists, taking out their disappointment and failures in life, on you.

I actually recognise doing something similar myself many years ago with a boss, completely lost the rag but really I was out of my depth in my work and couldn't face that fact (but only realised this with hindsight).

Can you go back? Would imagine that the 'colleagues' will be either sheepish over their nasty behaviour (unlikely) or brazen, pretending they were justified. Either way I don't think it will happen again. But it is worth lodging a complaint about the useless therapist.

springymater Sun 19-May-13 13:40:32

Thanks stow. I'll give them (or local org?) a call.

I don't think I was strong tbh Lemonies. They opened the door and I walked in. I was in shock and didn't recognise to protect myself. The bullying from the counsellor - and the subsequent, shall we say, lack of engagement about it from my line management - has put me on the back foot. I have felt grumpy and beleaguered, wary of making the complaint.

I need to (wo)man up I think.

foolonthehill Sun 19-May-13 18:42:36

You only need to (wo) man up if you want to, if it will help you to walk away and feel GOOD about yourself.

it is not your job to "save" this organisation.

I am all for complaining and raising hell. but never at the expense of your self.

Lavenderhoney Sun 19-May-13 20:10:32

As head chef you have to be in control of the kitchen. It doesn't matter whether you are at a michelin* or little chef, h&s come first plus getting food out to the best of the kitchens ability. You can't do that with people wandering round the kitchen distracting staff and getting in the way.

Anyone in F&B would be horrified at what has happened to you. I'm not, and I can still see how awful it was and how anyone in any role in any job should not be treated like this.

If you don't go back, and I don't see why you would tbh, what about working at a catering school that gives help to people wanting to be chefs, or applying to help at one of Jamie Oliver's places, the ones that support young people looking to become chefs and from homeless/ disadvantaged backgrounds.

springymater Sun 19-May-13 23:12:10

thank you. I am struggling a lot today. I've actually been getting flashbacks which have become intrusive. I hope this passes! One of the things that happened during the battering was that I said I felt frightened, and one of them jeered that I was a drama queen and manipulative. I'm battling with feelings of powerlessness about making a complaint/observation. I truly was thoroughly beaten up. I do think I need to say something, to give me a sense of control/power over this, as cogito says.

I have until wednesday to make a decision about what I'm going to do. I've remembered that a lot of my colleagues got up and left the meeting (I didn't even notice at the time, which is not like me to not notice!) - at least half. I was talking to a couple of friends about it and they reckon the others left because they didn't agree with what was happening - left in protest type of thing. I hadn't thought of that. I have been feeling that the whole horrible thing has destroyed my reputation there.

great idea about working with eg Jamie Oliver-type org. I'm only cooking there because I'm used to cooking for large groups, I don't have any training (unless you count years of cooking at home!).

Planning to print this thread and try to tackle my options tomorrow. Really valuable input, thanks so much.

wordyBird Mon 20-May-13 00:56:24

Springy, I don't know what to say, except that I'm so sorry you've been put through this vindictive exercise and that you're getting flashbacks. That shows just how abusive it was.

Hope you feel stronger in the morning. Whatever you decide to do. (I think foolonthehill has expressed much wisdom about the options.)

Take care and hope you sleep springy brew

springymater Mon 20-May-13 01:06:31

'beaten up' sounds dramatic doesn't it? oh fuck it, I can't concentrate at the mo, there should be a 'verbally' in there - sincere apols if that has offended anyone who has actually been beaten up.

AgentFelix Mon 20-May-13 01:21:06

Bless you springy.

I've been beaten up and I didn't feel anywhere near offended by your post.

Isn't there such a thing as verbal assault?, coming under the umbrella term of assault? Am I imagining such things?

I'm too tired to make much sense but didn't want you to worry that you'd spoken out of turn; I'm sure you haven't.

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