Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Healthy Dose of Paranoia Never Hurt Anyone

I've been on and off short term disability for roughly four months of this less than happy year. Not of my own accord, but because Corporate America does not believe in the employee. Which leads me to my conspiracy theory about this employers market that is currently happening in the good old U. S. of A.

My employer does engagement surveys to improve their employees experience in the workplace. I've filled out this engagement survey twice. Last years survey was very positive. I was more than satisfied with my job, I needed improvement but trusted my company to provide me with the opportunity and tools to improve. I trusted my boss, my bosses boss, my bosses bosses boss, and HR to provide me with fair treatment and a due process if anything happened to go awry. Unfortunately, everything went awry. My new boss had a degree that made me trust her with my very individual set of mental illness difficulties. I was presented with a series of "opportunities" packaged to make me feel good about the direction I was moving in the company. There were accusations made on my abilities as a scientist, and my ability to perform my job satisfactorily was systematically demolished by a boss that was unable to communicate with me. There was no help given to my boss, except to continue feeding them corporate double-speak that worked less every time we tried to make sense of each other. In the end my schedule was changed in a way that was impossible for me to accommodate with my medications and my illness. I was deprived of the ability to help my coworkers, the one thing that really brings me joy at work.

I love doing a great job, I love being phenomenal at what I do, being indispensable. Most of all, I love being helpful. Knowing enough about my job to step in where I'm needed, taking some of the blood, sweat and tears away from coworkers that don't have as much of a desire to throw their lives into their work. I want nothing more than to give my employer everything they want, and do a better job for them then they could ever dream. In return I ask for respect, the ability to have flexibility in my schedule to accommodate my insane need to fill my life with more than most would dare with school. I also ask for understanding for my strange schedule habits just in general. My particular breed of crazy sometimes doesn't let me do my job all at once if it's not necessary. Sometimes I need to take longer breaks than most, sometimes I work better in the middle of the night. If I'm needed for something there is a guarantee I will be there for the entire time I'm needed, but if I'm not I work better with an accommodation of extreme flexibility. I'm not alone. I read a memoir of a lawyer who used to sleep under her desk for that very reason. People like she and I don't fit into Corporate America's rules and regulations. If the company is willing to look the other way, or make special contracts to allow for our strange work habits we will be the best employee you will ever have.

America right now is an employer's market. They don't have to put up with such nonsense, and no one cares if employees are good as long as they don't cost very much. Unfortunately for people like the memoir writer and myself, we are very costly. Each of the first two years I worked for my company I was hospitalized for a week, and out for two more after that to determine the correct amount of medication. Six weeks of unworked time paid for by the short term insurance company. Six weeks the company had to hold my job for me without the ability to bring someone else in and fill the void. It was two terms of three weeks, nearly a year apart, but when it becomes an employers market they remember those things. In the year since I filled out that first employee engagement survey I have been pushed and pulled into stress that resulted in four months out in one year. Every time I make enough personal headway to return to work the rules change. Last time the rules were completely thrown out the window and I didn't even recognize the game that was being played.

It would be very easy to point at my company and say it's their fault. That's false. I'm not usually one for political statements, but what I've heard of the "We are the 99%" movement, it is the same principle at work. Our large businesses run exactly the way congress works. Everything is based on money. In an employees market, when companies are struggling to fill jobs I am worth the risk and the cost because I am an amazing employee. When employees are struggling to find work because the unemployment rate is so high I'm not worth the cost. Quality is sacrificed for the sake of the bottom line. Power and control lie with the company and when the power falls elsewhere the company uses any means necessary to get it back. It's lame and I've seen and heard many large companies doing this recently in the U.S. The 99% don't have money, therefore they don't have power. This means that the corporations, which behave like our government, are going to run our lives until there is an economic shift.

I don't know how to fix the underlying problem without an overhaul of the government, but I do know that we need to educate the public about their rights regarding illnesses and disorders. There are laws that require companies to behave a certain way when there is a legitimate medical reason for an accommodation. Students use this all the time in the form of test readers, note takers, extra time provided for tests, and quiet environments provided for tests, among other accommodations. These laws do extend to Corporate America and an adult life. It is unreasonable to expect someone that needs extra accommodations at school won't need them in their professional life. The ADA may be a good place to look for help, but there are two professions that are the most stable in these economic circumstances: law enforcement and lawyers. Many lawyers provide free consultations. They will be able to tell you if your employer is behaving in a legal manner. Not all unsavory behavior is illegal, in spite of being unethical. A lawyer can help sort that out for you.

One year ago I believed that large corporations would be able to self-regulate against unethical behavior. I now know better. I don't believe that unions are the answer to regulating unethical behavior, but employee knowledge of the line between unethical and illegal will be a huge step forward. Don't let an employer take advantage for as long as I did. Find answers, find help, learn the laws that pertain to your circumstances and don't be afraid to take a stand. The more people do this, the more companies will realize people value fair treatment and ethical employers. And please, don't forget being the 99% five, ten, twenty years from now when the market turns and yet again favors employees more than corporations. That is when we will have power and can make a real change in Corporate America.

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