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Cinderella in the Workplace
Once upon a time....
There was an earnest young woman named Cindy [not to be confused with our very own Cindyvine]. This Cindy was booksmart, but in many ways naïve to the ways of the world. She loved the "work" part of work, but had a hard time dealing with the politics inherent in the workplace. As a result, she often found herself abused by those so inclined.
In the year 1996 Cindy was recruited for a job with a public relations firm. A respected friend worked at this firm, so she assumed it was a good environment.
She could not have been more wrong. It was a bad place. A very bad place. In fact, Cindy refers to that PR agency and her time there as "The Bad Place."
The husband and wife who owned the agency courted Cindy. They made her feel very special, luring her in with bright promises. They made their agency sound like a tight-knit family. On the surface, they seemed so normal ... and nice!
Things started out reasonably enough. But Cindy soon noticed a disturbing trend. At any given time, Evil Bosslady singled out two staff members. One was the golden child, and the other was her scapegoat. Assignment of these roles was seemingly random. The only thing certain was that once you became the scapegoat, your time was limited.
All told, the average tenure of staff was 8 to 9 months. This is notoriously fast turnover, even for a high-turnover industry.
Waterboarding would have been preferable
Although Cindy was not a trained psychologist, she recognized passive-aggressive behavior and borderline personality when she saw them. Evil Bosslady suffered from/indulged in both. Her husband, Mr. Tippler, was affable enough, but seemed a bit too eager to push "happy hour" on the staff every day at 4pm. He also had a habit of taking a nap every day in his office.
Cindy was initially hired to manage the staff. She did her best to bring order to agency processes and to improve morale. But she soon saw the futility of her efforts. Her main function was to comfort.Someone was always in tears. Besides handing out tissues and offering her shoulder, there was nothing else she could do. It's not like she could bring any of her staff's complaints to the owners -- because the owners were the cause of the complaints!
* Snarky voice mails left in the middle of the night berating staff members for ... anything or nothing
* Similar handwritten notes -- lengthy and abrasive, would greet staff in their inboxes as they arrived in the morning
* One staffer was dressed down (no pun intended) in a performance review for not wearing enough color. Bear in mind, this was a junior staffer whose job did not involve client contact.
* Any and every chance to compare staffers was taken. If one could be put on a pedestal and praised to the hilt, another would be publicly chastised. Basically, for every Marsha Brady, the owners created two Jans...
Cinderella -- have you finished all your chores?
Inevitably, Cindy's turn in the hot seat came. The first thing the Evil Bosslady did was strip Cindy of her management title -- and needless to say, her management salary. They "demoted" her back to a regular PR account executive.
Of course, now that she was no longer top dog, she did not need the big dog office. So they made her move into a smaller one, right next to her old one. The real estate downsize hurt as much or more than anything else.
About this time the owners discovered that Cindy had a unique talent they could exploit. No, it wasn' sweeping the ashes out of the fireplace or fetching water from the well. It was writing proposals. So they put Cindy on proposal duty -- sort of like KP duty in the army.
But she still had direct client responsibilities.
Oh, no, Cinderella. You can't go to the ball.
One day, the agency was going to pitch a new piece of business to one of Cindy's clients. Cindy had slaved for days on the written proposal. She was excited, as she liked this client and this client liked her. She felt confident the client would buy off on the projects in her proposal.
When it came time to pack up the proposal and the visual aids and drive over to Napa Valley for the big presentation, Cindy stood up from her chair, but was quickly put in her place.
"Oh no, Cindy. You're not coming with us!" snapped Evil Bosslady. Instead, she took Cindy's protégé. It was the same junior staffer who had been accused of dressing too drably..
Where are you, Fairy Bossmother?
Cindy cried and cried. She looked around for some singing mice and birds like in the movie, but all she could find were the stupid stuffed teddy bears the Evils decorated the damned office with.
"I've got to get out of here," she reasoned. But the Evils pretty much kept her under lock and key. And little did she know, the Evils weren't her only foes. An Evil Coworker had been bribed to spy on her and rat her out. The badness of this place was that insidious!!
Just then, Cindy's Fairy Bossmother appeared. "Do not worry, my child," she said. "Things have a way of working out the way they are supposed to!"
Cindy had no idea what this chick was talking about, but she did remember something that made her feel better: "When the going gets tough, the tough go to ..... Europe."
And that's exactly what Cindy did. She took her accrued vacation time and cavorted on the Continent for two blissful weeks.
On the way home she even bought a box of Belgian chocolates in the duty free store for the staff.
Cindy was definitely not drab
Where's my glass slipper... er, raincoat?
Cindy returned to the US rejuvenated. She felt ready to face the Evils with renewed endurance.
The minute she got home she called the office to retrieve her voice mail messages. Hmmm. this was weird. She could not access her mailbox. Well, maybe they'd had a blackout or something.
Next, she went to pick up her snail mail. There was a note from her apartment manager advising her to come to the office. Hmmm again. "What's that about?" she wondered.
Cindy walked over to the apartment complex office. There, she found a large cardboard box -- about 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft. She opened the top and found inside a letter from the agency.
She could not believe it! She was being terminated. Fired. Canned. Just like that! Not for cause, mind you -- they were just exercising their rights as employers. Cindy was not represented by a union. She was an employee at will. And in this case, where there's a will, there's a won't. As in, "You won't be working here anymore, Cindy, so you can keep your ridiculous box of chocolates and stay the hell out of here. No more Bad Place for you."
The rest of the box contained Cindy's personal effects. It was a bit disturbing to think that someone had gone through her desk without her permission. More disturbing was her missing raincoat. It had been hung on the office coat tree when she left, she was certain. She tried several times -- unsuccessfully -- to track it down (through her sympathetic, no, shocked staffers). No luck.
The symbolism was not lost on Cindy. As I said, she was booksmart, and used to finding literary themes and meanings in plots. By losing her raincoat she'd been left naked and unprotected from the harsh elements. Yep, that pretty much summed up how she felt.
Happily ever after?
This being only 1997, it's hardly the end of Cindy's workplace adventures. But the chapter does have a happy ending.
Cindy realized that she'd worked at The Bad Place exactly one year. Their letter of - whatever the opposite of resignation is -- was dated exactly one year from her first day on the job.
She was let go at the end of November 1997. Instead of panicking, Cindy bucked he odds that no one hires during the Christmas holidays. She found a great new job within three weeks, making more than she had (originally) at The Bad Place.
Imagine the good impression Cindy made on her first day when she brought her new boss a box of Belgian chocolates!*
*Okay, I admit it. That last part didn't really happen. Those chocolates were gone the same day Cindy got fired, are you kidding me!???
Resources for Employees
- Workers, Employee, Employment and Job Rights - Workplace Fairness
A nonprofit organization that provides information and advocacy about job rights and employment issues to help people understand, protect, and strengthen workers' rights.
- Employee Rights in Plain English - Employers & Employees
Employee rights in plain English. Employee rights topics: wrongful termination, overtime, minimum wage, sexual harassment, discrimination, defamation, drug testing, whistleblowing, background checks and more.
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