I decide to get a courier service to collect my things from the university. 17 boxes. They are all delivered in NICEDAY packaging. “Have a nice day,” says the courier. “I will, thank you,” I reply.
I open all the boxes and unpack my seven years. As I am doing this, the post arrives. It’s my P45 from the university. Is that the last gesture of the victorious or just a coincidence? I have never had a P45 under such circumstances. I burst into tears and need some time to recover.
How did it get to this? I cannot feel anything other than the burden of bitterness and hopeless despair. I have signed an agreement and received a small, relatively token payment from the university, but I feel there has been an overwhelming injustice. I loved my job, I miss my work, and I fear I may never get into teaching again.
I constantly go over the experiences and come back to the same realisation: that I should not have taken out a grievance. It’s easy to say this; it’s retrospective and does not accept the emotions of those moments when the experience could be endured no longer. It is, however, my advice to anyone contemplating this action. You will encounter systems of power and complacency way beyond anything you would have experienced before. You will not feel in control; you will, at times, wonder whether you are going crazy and whether black is white and 1 + 1 = 10.
This is how it is in the scheme of things when you take on power and those higher up the university hierarchy who fear for their own careers. When the adjudicator ignores your key points and they are not prominent in the grievance report, when they constantly chase after you with the ulterior motive of wearing you out, when you have nightmares and wake up sweating and trying to catch your breath, it’s these times when you know you should have kept quiet and just discreetly moved on to another challenge… with a nice leaving do, an acceptable present and leaving card with fitting sentiments: “we’ll miss you”; “keep in touch”; “remember us”; “you are so passionate about your subject”… You take these things and walk the walk, shake hands, say “Thanks, Marcus, it was good knowing you” and “Helen, I want to say…”
It’s all rosy, the sun is setting and coming up at a new university, more challenges ahead… and so it could have gone – if I had played the game.
Don’t be fooled by the procedures, the equalities unit, the mission statements that are supposedly there to look after you – it’s all fool’s gold, deceptions, absolute rubbish. The reality of taking out a grievance? Well, first of all your colleagues run for cover and discover how to be elective mutes. Second, your grievance will soon boomerang back at you with a wall of defiant and malicious venom of the like you will never have witnessed before. You feel the wheels of power slowly moving around you, and it’s not possible to influence or direct them. Your local union rep will be sympathetic and helpful, but the regional office will “field” you like some unwelcome interloper: “What is it you want exactly?” So in the end you’re on your own: you, your family… and not much else.
The immensity of the power structures creates a mindset whereby you panic, sometimes disbelieving your own evidence. It seeps into your energy to corrupt your self-validation and own experience. And in the end? You sit down with 17 boxes and a P45. So did they win? Did I lose? I know I feel that I have lost, and I sense that I will not get another post in academia. At the moment I am in recovery, fragile, uncertain about where my future will emerge, unclear about the choice I made.
And what of Marcus and Helen? Are they similarly beset with misgivings? I doubt it very much. The thing about having power is never having to say sorry, never feeling you may have been to blame, or implicated in the destruction of another human being. I cannot imagine that their careers will be jeopardised or hindered, and they will not open a bank statement and become very anxious about diminishing reserves of money. I am angry, upset and devastated. I have also been very foolish to think that I could have won… been invited back, given an apology…
So reader, if you want to learn something from this blog, heed these words and think very seriously about the next step you take. Don’t be taken in by those fine words and sentiments from your HR department – play the game, or get out with a sense of quiet dignity, smiling faces and total hypocrisy.
A job interview awaits me. Is there something I want to tell the interview panel? Do they know already? Are the dice loaded? We’ll see next week.
Are you experiencing problems at work?
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