“I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.”
A sentence a line manager at Pret A Manger said to me in December 2015, when I was transferred to his shop after I was openly bullied in another shop, while I was in my darkest time having lost my brother. Grievances were raised and I was in the middle of stressful grievance and appeals hearings. He meant he didn’t want his management colleagues of the area to feel sorry for him because I was “thrust” into his shop from the other shop, and after reaching out to HR for almost a year I finally contacted the CEO. I was traumatized and constantly assumed that management was out to find the smallest mistakes I made, as I just came from a shop where I was targeted and penalized for absolutely nothing.
Pret, as any business, has shops placed within areas of around 10 – 15 shops each area, with his area having had 10 shops and regular managers meetings, and as my story went around like wildfire, they had a laugh about my “poor” boss because I was there.
My grief and mental state deteriorated, and even though I always understood their helplessness, they just had a laugh. I still did my job well, on autopilot, functioning extremely well under the circumstances, although I was in a lot of physical and mental pain. I developed a roaring tinnitus, my head literally felt like breaking apart, but I tortured myself after my brother’s death and entered into what they call “Sibling Survivor Guilt”. But this does not give anyone the right or a free ticket to bully and take advantage of someone in an extreme vulnerable state!
I can understand that everyone who didn’t know me was confused, because here I was with this mix of completely out of sync, starting to write countless of emails out of trauma, at times under the influence trying to cope. And on the other side I was this very strong person who had very clear standards and work ethics who, during work was highly professional! I cared for my team passionately as well as for the job and changed the atmosphere where the team were not shouted at anymore, but rather encouraged, and it showed in the numbers and success of the shop. I was off the rails, and that I even have to explain myself, even now, is just another upset that I was an easy target to be gaslighted throughout my ordeal.
I will never stop saying that discrimination is only possible because leadership has no concern, nor a strong zero tolerance policy in place to protect people who are in bereavement, mentally ill or traumatized, be it physically or mentally.
My story is spread throughout this website in different articles, blog entries and open letters to Pret A Manger, which eventually will form into one chronological book or story online. At the moment the reader has to sieve through this blog unfortunately. If you are stumbling through my website, I sincerely thank you for your time. I am not taking anyone’s time lightly!
I was transferred to a shop with the above manager, I call him “Mr. Eagle” here, as the building of that shop has this name. Mr. Eagle was not happy at all that I was dropped onto his lap as another team leader, adding to his payroll expenses. The look on his face, his body language when I entered his store the day before I was to start there, to introduce myself, “a picture speaks a thousand words”. His face was like saying, “Who on earth are you? What are you doing here? Why are they sending you to my shop?!”
This was the beginning of an almost two year discriminating working relationship. And again you as the reader may ask, ‘Why did you stay so long there?’ as a friend once said to me “You need to get the hell out of there!” But I was traumatized, lost in a cloud of grief, paralyzed in my heart, my savings wiped out after the expenses surrounding my brother’s death. I blamed myself for everything. I felt like a burden to everyone. I couldn’t sell myself in a new job, even a trial day where I worked didn’t help, whereas before I always found a job!
I felt abandoned, with my back to the wall. I lost 35kg, 25 of it within 6+ months as I couldn’t eat. I had no confidence with new opportunities. And I was not able to know who to trust, as all the grievance hearings were a joke, the way they were conducted. I raised grievance after grievance after grievance, trying to deal with discrimination internally, so much so that the Head of HR later said that I “exhausted the HR department”. Well, I wouldn’t have done so in my trauma if there would have been a clear zero tolerance of bullying in Pret, especially towards the bereaved.
I was like in a Twilight Zone, felt like a person going through a country full of aliens where I tried to figure out who is the human and who is the “zombie” about to devour me! To the reader, this may seem like complete stupidity to you, but for me the emotional roller-coaster was unbearable and very real. Only a traumatized person will understand what I am sharing here. And no, don’t make it too easy on yourself by looking down on my situation and dismissing my turmoil as just another “basket case” whose fault it is to let others treat them like this. Nope, not that easy, and bear with me as I keep ranting this injustice away.
As I am writing this, I have about 9 months of hindsight and distance to Pret where my mind is clearing up and seeing things more rational on what actually happened to me.
On the subject of Discrimination:
If I would have had a physical disability, I may just be a little slower than others, but other than that I am fine. If Mr. Eagle or any line manager, would have told me that because of my physical condition that he doesn’t “want the area to feel sorry for him anymore”, we all know what a clear discrimination this would have been and how quickly he would have gotten into trouble. My disability was a mental disability after the combination of grief and trauma + bullying = mental illness.
I even mentioned this to the Head of HR shortly after the line manager told me his “sorry story”, and the Head of HR with an embarrassed look on his face only replied, “Did he say that?” Yes sir, he did. And that was all. HR may have spoken with Mr. Eagle then, but no sanction. Mr. Eagle went on to discriminate in very subtle ways from then on.
Bullying has many faces, and much of it is hard to prove when it is done behind closed doors, in very subtle ways where a person is held low, or not being given information they need, to do their job, or they are not invited in meetings and even Christmas dinners. This kind of bullying is actually very common. It is epidemic to be frank, because it goes under the radar, hard to prove without clear evidence and witnesses. Most people don’t even know or understand that they are being bullied, they just feel off, they feel like something “yuk” is being attached to them, but they cannot put the finger on it until often much later when it is too late to raise the issue.
My experience in being bullied was more clear, but still hard to prove as Mr. Eagle always said these things in the office without any witnesses, very clever and calculated. And he had a ride with me when I was irrational, hysterical and emotional. He loved it. I left his shop raising a grievance against him, but the investigation was not done properly and witnesses that I named were not interviewed. I gave up then, didn’t even appeal anymore because the HR department would again not have an impartial hearing as so many times before.
My father was found in his flat on the floor, was submitted to hospital, induced into a coma and I had another round of my ill emailing, which was re-started again after the development manager giving me a disciplinary for my ill emailing (which I understand only since recently was “gaslighting”), played her game as well. She entered into solely electronic communication with me because she was used to discipline me as she (supposedly) lost her brother very similarly to mine. Yep, sounds really messed up, like a cheap Hollywood script gone bonkers! Written prove upon request! So, she sanctioned me for electronic communication and yet she entered into electronic communication gaslighting me. This confusion kick-started another level of ill emailing again, and I got dismissed, three days after Christmas while my dad was in intensive care, just out of his coma. I share this in these pages in more detail.
I can only say that if you are mistreating a person who is vulnerable in bereavement, illness or any kind of disability that makes them vulnerable, the time will come when this will get back to you. If I would have been treated with respect, empathy (not pity!) and had the time and space to grow and heal, I would be writing a completely different blog and would go out of my way to brag about Pret, instead of writing a painful story at times in tears.
If Mr. Eagle would have said to a pregnant woman who was slowing down due to her getting along in the pregnancy, “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.” …
or if a person of their own sexual orientation working for Mr. Eagle and him saying to that person, “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.” …..
or a person of another skin tone, culture or religious belief, “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.” ………
or a person who had an accident, losing a finger which may slow him down a bit, or he would be able to do certain work needing to be placed in another area of the business… “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore.” …………..
it would be a clear case of discrimination and people would heed quickly, as everyone knows that there are laws to protect people against this kind of discrimination. I wrote this somewhere else already, but the only way to describe my ordeal is, that I was like a sheep up for slaughter on the shop floor. And I was fair game for “leaders” like this!
I may have no mental capacity to go to court, even though the preliminary hearing judge allowed me to raise a second tribunal claim after I closed the first claim due to stress, my father dying, still coming to terms of what happened to my brother…
I still have a voice, a pen and a paper, and social media accounts to say to Clive Schlee, CEO of Pret A Manger, that calling me his “late night girl” was not just disrespectful, stepping on my dignity again, but Pret better live up to the slogans that fool the public! I gave Pret the benefit of the doubt one too many times, those benefits went unaccounted for now.
I worked at Pret A Manger and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather starve and speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
I tell my story for the first time verbally in below audio player interview on a podcast by The Adam Paradox, and wrote an article in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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