One of my friends asked me to share her story, so here I am.
She represents a woman standing up for herself when feeling weakness finding her power within, and dragging it outside when it seemed impossible, in a process that I am sure another woman can relate to.
Who has not felt small at some point in their career at the workplace, having to deal with a new manager or having to work daily with a difficult co-worker, and creeping up slowly there it is, the experience of a not-so-obvious behaviour on behalf of someone else that construes some feelings we cannot describe clearly yet real feelings that only arise when one faces toxicity?
We all have, and we still have to go to the workplace and find the strength and the motivation that we were lacking at some points in our careers. Toxicity at work is no joke and is not tangible, it is invisible, and leads to confusion: What's it me? It makes you question yourself, your values, and the need to regain clarity desperately.
It all started with a request for time off for dependants, a new project, and a new manager.
Andrea has been in her job for eighteen years, she is well respected and knows her job inside out.
She was about to take a few months off, for time for dependants when her new manager talked to her about a new project that he wanted her to be involved in, upon her return in a few months. He mentioned to her that the project would need more hours than the time she was at the office.
Andrea, following her gut and intuition immediately responded:
" I will happily take on the new project, within my working hours"
A response that made the manager suggested to give her the paperwork anyway, to have a look so she was prepared for when she came back.
The reaction would be a further response reiterating her intentions that during time off for her sons, she would not work.
A further response was received: "Oh well! I will send it to you anyway, there are always moments here and there, while you are off when you can start reading the information so you are all ready when you come back, for the new project"
Andrea responded that upon her return, she would be happy to read the information, but not before that time.
Four months passed and Andrea had her time for dependants completed, so she came back to work.
The new project was going to mean completely different tasks than the ones she was used to, in her job of eighteen years.
Upon arrival on her first day, her manager asked: "Did you read the information I sent you by email?"
Andrea responded: "As I mentioned before I left, I will read the information within my working hours".
The manager called her to her office to have a chat, they talked in person and the manager informed her it was going to be a problem since the project was going to require her to work way outside her normal hours, and indicated that if she refused, it will be an issue and he will take actions.
Andrea's sentence: "You do what you need to do"
The rest is history: Andrea was fired from her eighteen-year job.
Little did she know she was about to embark on a very long journey. One of lost self-esteem, lack of identity at work and somehow guilt, amongst other feelings one encounters when encountering toxicity. That anguish of not being able to explain certain behaviours because they are toxic, not obvious and well disguised.
Andrea started a very long process of trials that she initiated by suing the company, which unfortunately came hand in hand with stress, lack of sleep, lack of appetite and a consequent weight loss, a huge emotional drain along the way, ending up affecting her health, her confidence, her wellbeing, her mental health and yet Andrea never thought for a minute stopping the process, but to carry on.
"When you have nothing inside, no motivation, no health, no strength, no energy, I needed something to carry me to that office, so I put on my best clothes, and my best make up, and that was what carried me on those difficult days"
Andrea won her trials and was admitted back to work.
Yet another journey began, one of not having her old job back, but being put into a different office on her own and not being given any work.
Before she had to return to work at the office, she told me she had nothing. No motivation to go to work, no feeling of being capable any more of doing her job, and the terror of seeing again the same people. She was experiencing shame on everyone having known of her case. She told me she had no physical strength because the trial processes had been affecting her health.
She had no power within herself to confront the workplace, every day.
But Andrea said something that touched my heart. I had never met a case as such, meeting someone who needed clothes so badly as the main tool, as she was lacking any other resource.
"When you have nothing, nothing inside of you to pull you, to hold you, to support you towards moving to the office every day, those clothes and my best makeup, and going often to the hairdresser, THAT was the vessel that carried me every day at work, I needed to communicate strength and as much power as possible. I did not want to show with my body language how difficult it was for me to come back to my job every day"
Andrea carried on that way for a good few months, and things started to shift a little bit. However, realising her health had been at stake for too long, she decided to take time off to recuperate herself, upon the doctor's advice.
Andrea is having her time off right now, with very ups and downs, still building up her confidence and the effects this situation has had on her mental health, as I am making a summary of around two years of her case.
After a very long process, and other people standing up for her and fighting with similar cases, Andrea found out her former manager had been fired.
She is not aware of the entire story behind it, but what she knows is that sometimes, we think we are the main piece in a puzzle, and maybe our situation and pain were only one small part that was needed to complete a much bigger picture than ours, that someone else was trying to build, but that we cannot see or understand at that moment.
I am privileged and happy to support her on this journey of empowerment, fighting for what she believes and stands for. Because to me, that is a hero, through pain to empowerment.