Bullied Blogger: Looking for allies

February 17, 2009

9 February: I come into work to find no response to the email I sent to Helen and Marcus. We have the divisional meeting and I put “transparency” as an agenda item. The team meeting is next Wednesday.

However there is a formal email from Marcia Smith:

“We are interested in undertaking some project work with you. Is there any chance you could contact a ‘link’ in psychology at your university, Professor Brenda Goodie? She has been involved in women’s issues (research), specifically around diet and health outcomes. We would be interested in you and Brenda combining to formulate a proposal for a project in relation to counselling women and health outcomes…”

I have a sudden surge of euphoria – at last, a possible way out and a link in the university to provide some sanity. This is wonderful news. I have a twinge of anxiety about the team meeting agenda and “transparency” – I think I can make something of this and find a way to sidestep Marcus.

This is just the luck I need. I go off to teaching with a sunny feeling. It goes well – I even get some applause! Funny, the ups and downs of life. But I have always been very, very lucky. I leave work at 4pm, just stopping to check my emails. Nothing. I think I’ve got Marcus and Helen on the run! That night, we go to bed early, but there’s not much sleeping. It’s happy families again.

10 February: I’m working from home and check my emails. There are two that catch my eye. First, there’s an email from Brenda Goodie: “I have heard a great things about you, I would love to meet and share ideas – this week?” I dispatch an email suggesting this Thursday, and get an immediate response back from Brenda agreeing. However, the second email is from Marcus with Helen Murr copied in, requesting more information about my agenda item. I am feeling on a roll and suggest “Come to the meeting and find out…” Ha! Let’s see how he feels about that. However, 10 minutes later comes another email:

“I must ask you not to attend the meeting next week and suggest that your agenda item should not be considered as something to take to the team. I have to emphasise that after our 3-way meeting I do not consider your attitude to be positive. I would like to suggest that you, I and Helen meet and discuss how we can work together for better outcomes. Should you decide to attend I will have no option but to cancel this meeting – which would be unfortunate.”

My newfound enthusiasm is suddenly lost. I decide to contact the union. I hit the website and then phone the regional office in hope and desperation. I am greeted with a brick wall.

“Why are you phoning the regional office?”

“Because I have a problem. I need to talk to the regional rep.”

“I’m afraid that is not possible. You need to contact a nominated rep in your own division. Please do not contact the regional office again.”

I’m given the name of Colin Horrocks in marketing. I phone him and leave a message on his answerphone. I get a call from Colin two hours later. He seems supportive and wants to listen. Suggests that if I have not done so already, I should document everything. He is willing to see me at 8.30am in my office tomorrow.

I spend the next few hours making copies of all my emails and I also dispatch a reply to Helen Murr and copy in Marcus, explaining that I will not attend the team meeting. So they want a fight? OK, they will get one.

11 February: I arrive at work at 8.30am and notice Marcus is in. I hope Colin is on time because if Marcus starts with his games I have no idea how I’ll respond. Colin is a few minutes late. He is older and less PC than I expected from my impression of what union reps look like.

It’s daft, I know, but he sits down and I make us both a drink. I start from the beginning. I explain that everything was fine until Marcus started. I provide him with all the information about what has happened. He looks shocked and suggests I have enough here for a grievance.

He is interrupted by Marcus who knocks at the door. I invite him in. At first he is not aware of Colin, whose presence is obscured by where he is seated. Marcus is immediately put off when he spots him. I introduce him and ask Marcus if I can help him. He looks defensive and says it can wait.

Colin suggests that I need to think about what I want to do. He explains that there is the option of mediation and he provides me with all the information I need. He then leaves.

So what should I do – mediation, grievance? It feels like a hard choice. I will think on it.

Names and other details have been changed.

Are you experiencing problems at work?

Whether it’s money worries, issues with colleagues or emotional difficulties, the College and University Support Network (CUSN) can help. CUSN provides free, confidential support services, 24/7, specifically for all staff working in adult, further and higher education. Established by Teacher Support Network and supported by the University and College Union, CUSN offers information and advice, telephone counselling, online and telephone coaching and financial assistance. All CUSN services are delivered by professional advisers, counsellors and coaches.

You can contact CUSN for free on 08000 32 99 52 or visit www.cusn.info, where you can also sign up for the free monthly newsletter.

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