I was feeling mildly anxious about starting that new full-time job in an environment that was neither too corporate, nor academic, nor creatively arty-farty. It certainly was a move towards better pay and higher stability—or so I thought. The interview with Grant, the Production Manager, had been very successful and he had offered me the job on the spot. The company needed a creative graphic designer with experience in the field of advertising, and I ticked all the boxes. However, it would be a challenge for me to work in a technologically backward environment—a return to the nineteen-nineties on steroids.
‘Oh well, you can’t have everything, Dinah …’ I thought to myself. ‘At least there are computers …’
Little would I have imagined that the following months after my first Monday morning in the company I would also be regarded first with genuine curiosity, then with suspicion and later in the piece I would end up being left aside, shunned and surreptitiously mobbed by the poster girls of backstabbing. It’s time to introduce you to ‘The Clique’.
It is still a mystery to me why these cliques come in ‘packs’ of three, even though their own inner dealings can be compared to life in a minefield. I was only mildly surprised by their hail-fellow-well-met chirpy nature, but I should have been really cautious when I saw how chilled their relationship with Lauren—the other in-house designer—appeared to be. She was five months pregnant—a fact that Grant had kept mum about during the interview. That very omission in itself should have spoken volumes about him, but more to the point about the company. In any case, Grant was a law unto himself, and so was Dazza, the company director.
The ‘Clique Chix’ were known as Shorty, Hughie and Emmie. Their type is easily recognisable and bad for your health and happiness. Shorty had long, curly hair. She flip-flopped around in thongs even in the middle of winter, and wore miniskirts that showed her short, plump legs. Hughie was the oldest of them. She fessed she was thirty-nine, but I had my doubts … Emotionally she was not a day older than fifteen. Muffin-topped and endowed with a shrill voice, she behaved as though she were the Schoolyard Queen. Emmie was a younger Hughie, but while Hughie had flaxen locks and marble-blue eyes, Emmie had chestnut-coloured hair and eyes, and a somewhat better toned muffin top. In her case, acting like a schoolgirl made a lot more sense … because she was a schoolgirl.
The first days were good enough; perhaps they just thought I was another ‘cliqueable chick’. I could sense how Lauren endured their antics, their gossiping and their superficial blabbering. Later, The Clique told me that Lauren was not to be trusted. Looking back, they never gave me any valid reasons. Again and again they would harp on the fact that Lauren was good friends with a former supervisor who had been fired on account of her ‘bitchiness’ (Read: different personality, or some kind of personality disorder; probably someone who did not quite abide by Grant’s lack of people skills or The Clique’s unwritten Rules of Engagement).
Grant was seldom in, except when he needed to ‘enforce’ rules such as meeting deadlines. Nevertheless, Shorty never quite stuck to deadlines.
‘Ever since I started working in the publishing industry, deadlines don’t matter. What the …?’ I mumbled to myself as I shook my head in disbelief.
Part of Grant’s duties included IT management, as well as giving training sessions in which the sales reps went to sleep without much effort, as if they were part of an experiment in collective hypnosis. His routine also included dealing with Dazza’s stinginess when it came to investing in new tech stuff, and doing his Farmville on Facebook. It was Lauren who was left in charge of explaining to me what my duties were, in order to do a job I knew backwards standing on my head with my hands tied to my back … but not using the company’s antediluvian technology.
As I was driving back home one day, I thought, ‘Poor Lauren, I feel for you: pregnant and surrounded by the hounds of hell. I suspect you must be quite embarrassed by the technological time warp that the company lives in, but more specifically our area.’
In the meantime, what did The Clique do? They spent most of the day gossiping endlessly about / against others. Without a doubt, they were gossiping about me behind my back and distorting facts ad nauseam. They also had ‘smoko breaks’ at the rate of five a day at least, went to the supermarket for a good half hour at least three times a week, grazed on dips and cheese crackers all the time, played network games, and went on dates in the middle of the day when they should have been doing their work. A favourite hobby was ‘cyber-snooping’, that is, looking at friends of friends on social networks in order to criticise their clothes, their fiancés and their haircuts, among other banalities of life. I made the very early mistake of befriending The Clique Chix on Facebook, and even though my ‘if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them’ strategy ended up being a gross mistake, it eventually bought me time.
Work procedures were unnecessarily convoluted because of Sheena, the Sales Manager from hell. A true blue office psychopath, she ended up ‘resigning’ to everybody’s relief. Rumour had it that she was given time for a handover and Dazza started cracking the whip over the sales force’s heads (or lack thereof). I collapsed under the strain of operating in a chaotic environment and experienced major depression, a sad fact that meant that I had to discuss my mental health reality with Grant & The Clique. They appeared to be compassionate and understanding, but up to what point they used this piece of confidential information against me is anyone’s guess. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I want to think of myself as an agent of change. Being bipolar is nothing to be ashamed of. I have learned to manage it, and it’s only a chaotic, unpredictable environment full of hidden agendas that can tip me over the edge. After disclosing my condition, I felt at ease with myself and thought that I had reached a breakthrough in my work environment and conditions. Of course sometimes I should be more suspicious about other people’s motives … an awful lot more suspicious … but I was desperately trying to keep the peace, as well as my income.
When Lauren went on maternity leave, Grant decided to recruit Lucy—a.k.a. Tempzilla—to help out in the madhouse … Sorry, I mean the Production Vipers’ Nest.
Morbidly obese, racist and prone to snappy answers, she certainly reached peak unpopularity for her opinionated comments and her reluctant participation in productive activities. Tempzilla even had the nerve of telling Shorty that she was a ‘bottomless pit’ for her continuous cheese cracker munching, and took to sleeping legendary siestas at midday. As a consequence of her racist comments, I spoke to Grant, who took the matter into his own hands so wonderfully, with such communicative skill, that Tempzilla immediately gathered that I had ‘dobbed her in’.
By then I would have preferred to be mugged in the street every week rather than go to work. However, I performed my duties as well as I could and received praise from other departments and even from ruthless Dazza. Around my tenth month at that House of Horrors, I noticed that the Global Financial Crisis had taken its toll on the sale of advertising space. Dazza did what many other businesses tried to avoid at all costs: he took to the age-old practice of culling personnel in the most unrelenting way, without any ethical or legal considerations. We all feared and hoped, but mostly feared. Week in, week out, there would be upfront speculation on who would be next.
Life at work had become far worse than having a holiday in jail. In a very subtle and yet perceptible way, The Clique started piling up new duties upon me. Hughie was in poor health, a fact I never questioned, but still she managed to upset my already frayed nerves by cherry-picking jobs and shoving all the stressful stuff in my direction. Emmie had the fantastic idea of telling Grant that I had taken a longer lunch break when she needed a couple of ads fixed, and pumped up the facts out of all proportion. Nevertheless, the greatest and mightiest stress mess came from Shorty and Grant. In a Machiavellian fashion, they started fixing up my work, and then re-saved my files in different folders. So when I was asked to make further changes, I would open my original files, thinking that all the changes would have been saved onto them, and to my dismay I would find that they were exactly as I had left them. Where were the changes??
Needless to say, I spoke to Grant and Shorty about this anomaly. He looked the other way, whereas she chose to email me a ‘masterpiece’.
Im unsure as to why ur so upset with me thismorning over (such and such a job). I kno you are in charge of the adds, which is you’re position. As supervisor I look after (blah blah blah) from beginning to end, & as u kno Dinah that may meen making many changes many times 2 many things (…)
I understand the talk u had yesterday between Grant and hughie However dont confuse me for being a part of that conversation. I am the Supervisor& it is necessary for me too make changes, every kind of change infact & I donot need your permmision. Infact, I feel you have a problem with me thismorning regarding this issue. I amnot sure if this builtup stress – personal work or both. But I’m happy to have a meeting with grant if this is the case.
Above all Dinar, I’m you’re friend.
I felt as if I were in no man’s land, and thought that spending a night in a torture chamber, having my nails pulled out, would have been highly relaxing. In any case, the worst was yet to come. I don’t want to leave out some of The Clique’s inside, cloak-and-dagger dealings. Hughie fell out of favour for her continuous absences due to a nasty stomach ulcer, her short separation from her ockerish partner and her romantic dates in the middle of the day. Shorty had given Hughie ‘political asylum’ at her place, where things were apparently not to Hughie’s liking—to such an extent that she decided to go back to her abusive better half. Better the Devil you know … or perhaps Shorty insisted on bossing her around. All of a sudden, I found myself acting as their confidant at different times.
Emmie was also sore and vented against Hughie to Shorty, Tempzilla and me. Shorty whispered to all of us that Tempzilla’s days in the company were numbered. In the meantime, she met someone on Facebook and decided to have a hot date with him in the middle of a weekday. Her excuse to Grant was that she had to take a few hours off to discuss a family matter … and he swallowed it! Shorty was wearing her very best: for once she did not have her thongs on, but all the same she was wearing a miniskirt so minimal that not even the dumbest of the dumb would have believed she was going to catch up with her family … I went on working hard and meeting my deadlines. All the same, I found myself more and more isolated and left out.
Employee terminations started in earnest and it was Tempzilla’s turn on a Friday afternoon. The following Monday I received an email from her which surprised me. She said that she would have expected a longer notice period, not just ‘five minutes’. I didn’t know what to say; I felt a twinge of regret and some embarrassment because I had known all the time that her days were numbered, but what was there for me to do? I couldn’t possibly ‘fess up’ that I knew her head would roll, figuratively speaking. One of the web designers was given the boot for bogus ‘legal reasons’ and later that week it was my turn to get the sack. The Clique was ‘awfully sorry’ and sent me messages on Facebook.
I couldnt believe it when i heard it. We’ll miss ya. You taught me so much. I love you!!
I’m SO sorry, and I fear I’ll be next. Shorty won’t defend me if there’s trouble. I never got slips for my overtime. Emmie never does anything; the only one who really helped me was you…
Before I blocked the whole lot of them, Grant’s status on Facebook read like this:
Grant Cattle is sad and depressed for circumstances beyond his control.
One of his friends commented:
You…broke a nail again?
To which Grant replied:
Not really… Work issues.
Another friend added:
Sounds like your typical psycho day-by-day work atmosphere.
When I sent an email to let Tempzilla know about my dismissal, her reply was unsympathetic and full of revelations.
Sorry to hear about your dismissal but I thought you have gone before me because of what Shorty used to say one day I bumped into her at the ladies that she had met Grant for coffee and he asked her how to get rid of you and she told me that she replied you hired her its your problem… Shorty said on a number of times that you’d be kicked out. She is suppose to be supervisor and not discuss anything with other staff… Hahaha… She was always talking about what was going on with Emmie and Hughie they knew everything that was going on even though they played dum.
I could write a novel about what happened after I was dismissed from that company. In any case, I have learned plenty from that experience, and reached higher levels of self-awareness. The legal case against Dazza did not go financially as expected, but the judge gave Dazza a good serve. Morally at least, I made my point.
In ten years’ time, you can bet your bottom dollar that you will still see Shorty, Hughie and Emmie pacing up and down the street during their smoko breaks. They will still squeal with delight when they see a good-looking tradie and will continue to rip the company off with their sickies, their romantic dates in the middle of the day and their half hour shopping trips to the supermarket. Dazza will have probably ‘abdicated’ in favour of his spoilt son, and more than likely Grant will continue to play dumb while he fixes the still prehistoric, still inefficient computer system. Hopefully, Lauren will have left that vipers’ nest and so will many of the good ones.
Human beings will still be subjected to psychological injury in the workplace, even though there is greater awareness and legal safeguards. Many, perhaps too many nice people like you will fear losing their jobs if they speak up, and some will dig their heels and stand for their rights the way I did at the very end. As far as I am concerned, I have moved well and truly on. Needless to say, my sense of ethics is far more unshakeable than that of many whip-cracking bosses … as well as that of The Clique.