Thursday, October 29, 2009

When Bullies Grow Up.

My spirit is bruised and bleeding today, and my soul is so heavy it's hard to keep going. Why? Because I am a victim of workplace bullying and have been for the last 5 years. I used to have an exciting and worthwhile job working with Texas landowners. I made a difference.

But then I got a new boss. At first I was excited. She was the first woman to head up the Private Lands and Public Hunting program--the agency's flagship program. There were the usual tensions, but I attributed them to the usual adjustments people must make to having a new job, and of having a new boss. But I was wrong. It only got worse. And worse, and worse.

I suddenly couldn't do anything right. Or I would do something I'd been doing for years only to find out she'd already done the task without telling me. As I did my best to communicate my concerns, I was repeatedly told the problem was with me--she was the boss and I needed to adjust. But she was also very quick to blame everyone else when she did get things wrong. Worse, it was her word against ours, and we always lost.

She doesn't have managerial skills, and sadly doesn't seem overly interested in acquiring them. She doesn't understand the role of authority and responsibility. If you give someone a responsibility, you must also give them the authority to get the task done. She doesn't understand the connection. Nor does she understand the difference between delegating and "dumping." She tries to do everything. When it turns out to be impossible she will then dump the task on us. Then, when it doesn't turn out properly WE end of taking the fall for it.

I went the division director--who had been one of my former bosses--and tried to explain what was happening. Essentially I was called a liar. Again, I was told it was my job to adjust. Now, I'm smart enough to know that this is not the whole story. At some point, as a good supervisor, she has a responsibility to utilize the skills of her staff and maximize their potential.

No, I'm not the type to just quietly roll over. I went to HR and begged them for help. HA! Their suggestion? Quit. Yeah, that's right--maybe I should just quit the job. Now what sort of job retention program is that? While the agency claims to have a grievance process, the truth is that it is a sick joke. Unless the complaint is one that concerns an EEO violation, or an illegal activity, you're just out of luck.

So what does workplace bullying have in common with other types of violence? Actually, quite a bit. It is psychological violence and the trauma is as physically damaging to the victims as if it were physical. With it comes the same feelings of shame, humiliation, sense of despair, a very real fear of retaliation and reprisals.

Each time I tried to assert myself and explain how her actions were affecting me, the program, and sometimes the landowners of Texas--I lost another part of my job as she "showed me who was boss." I have had nearly all my job duties taken away from me, one by one. For some issues there was simply no other way--I did what I ethically had to do. I am sorry about the consequences that have come about because of it, but I'm not sorry I did what I did. It was necessary.

I do no meaningful work. Many of my work assignments are totally inappropriate because they require skills I'm not required to have--like building an Access database for the wildlife division's publications. I'm not a programmer, and my job description doesn't require me to do any programming. So I'm caught between refusing and being insubordinate, or accepting the assignment and being penalized for failing.

But to everyone's surprise, I DID create the database. And I did a really kick-butt job of it. It has all sorts of fancy bells and whistles, utilizes gorgeous agency artwork--the whole bit. Of course come time for performance review, I wasn't allowed to use the aquisition of this new skill as professional development.

This past year I was also set up to fail and this time I did. I was assigned to do archeological reviews for our wildlife management areas. No, this isn't something I'm supposed to have to know how to do either, but that was the point. However, this time I at least got documentation saying that I was never provided with what I needed to do the job, and it therefore should not be held against me. I'm sure she didn't like that, but it worked.

I am isolated. I am not allowed to have any contact with anyone outside my program without prior permission. Email, phone calls, you name it--unless I get prior approval it's not allowed. All of which makes it extra difficult to do any of the stupid little jobs I've been assigned to do.

I have been denied the equity pay adjustment I was entitled to allegedly because of my poor performance THIS year. But she has not followed agency policies by providing me with the required improvement plans for last year; she has not provided justification for lowering my performance review score from satisfactory to unsatisfactory, and she has denied me dur process THIS year by counselling my about my "poor" performance and what I must do to improve. And above all, the pay adjustments were not supposed to be tied to performance!

Did I protest? Of course. But all I have been told is that it is her perogative. I know that already. My question--that still remains unanswered--is a)when does SHE have to follow agency policies and procedures, and b) WHO is supervising her? It's not MY job to supervise her!

My professional reputation is pretty well shot because she doesn't do this with men, only mature, competent, women. I'm not the only one she does this to--I'm just the loudest. I am on anti-depressants, I have stomach problems, borderline high blood pressure. I clench and grind my teeth, and I pull at my fingernails. I cry frequently. It is all I can do some mornings to push myself out the door to go to work.

Twice now I have found myself at my desk dealing with her latest abuse, trying to remain calm and professional and playing with my pair of scissors. I am horrified to look down and see that I have been cutting on myself and that my hands are now bleeding. I didn't even realize I was doing it, but in a way it felt "good" because it was a pain I could see and focus on. Yes, I have thought about suicide. I won't do it because I understand why I am feeling this way, but yes--I do understand why people would want to kill themselves. It makes the hurt go away.

While most bullies are men, the victims of a female bully 70% of the time are other women. Bullying in the workplace is every bit as damaging as any other type of abuse, but with a major difference. The sad part of this is that bullying in the workplace is not illegal. HR departments do not exist to help employees--be clear on that. They exist to keep employers out of trouble. They will side with the supervisor each and every time. They are not your friends that you can count on to help you.

Will I quit this job? Hell no! I'm sure that's the ultimate goal of hers, but I refuse to throw away my financial future just because of her. I can retire on March 17, 2011, and when that time comes....well, let's just say I'll go out in style! Don't know how yet, but I will.

If you want to learn more about this legal form of psychological violence and the trauma it causes, start here at As is true about educating yourself about other forms of violence, this is not bedtime reading.

And now, back under my desk to hide from the consequences of once again being correct...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Please Don't Let This Happen to Us!

Since I really don't have photos to post this week, I thought I'd post an email I received from one of my cowbird trappers:


This is such a beautiful story of a bagpiper who was late for a funeral.

As a bagpiper, I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man who had no family or friends. The funeral was to be held at a cemetery in the remote countryside and this man would be the first to be laid to rest there.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods area, I became lost and being a typical man, did not stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late. I saw the backhoe and the crew who were eating lunch but the hearse was nowhere in sight.

I apologized to the workers for my tardiness and stepped to the side of the open grave where I saw the vault lid already in place.

I assured the workers I would not hold them up for long but this was the proper thing to do. The workers gathered around, still eating their lunch. I played out my heart and soul.

As I played the workers began to weep. I played and I played like I'd never played before, from Going Home and The Lord is My Shepherd to Flowers of the Forest. I closed the lengthy session with Amazing Grace and walked to my car.

As I was opening the door and taking off my coat, I overheard one of the workers saying to another, Sweet Jeezuz, Mary 'n Joseph, I have never seen nothin' like that before and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.

I sure hope this isn't going to happen to us when we finally reach the point that we're ready to put in a septic tank for the Brendle house!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Let's Have a Halloween Sale!

I'm no different from most of us--I get sucked into the holiday "oh I've gotta have this" just as much as the next person. What's different? It's different because I'm supposed to be making things to sell with these cool "gotta haves." Now that I've got them, the holiday for which they were made is fast approaching; and once it's over there is no more demand for these things until next year. Of course by then I'll have found more "oh I've gotta have this" items. SO....let's have a sale! What all is on sale? Well, let's see....

How about some decorations that you can just hand on your door handle for some quick and easy decorating? These are PERFECT for offices--fun but not overdone.

Remember when we used to use paper grocery bags when we went trick or treating? Those fancy containers that kids have nowadays just didn't exist. And if you were really lucky your mother might actually let you use an old pillowcase! Those were our favorites because you didn't have to worry about them tearing from the weight of all the candy the way paper bags did. But of course, the chances of actually being allowed to use one was pretty slim. Today's kids would rather die than be seen tricking or treating with an old pillowcase!

Halloween pillowcases on the other hand are a fun treat to have! Sure, you could use them for trick or treating, but they're even more fun to sleep on! They're 100% cotton, practical, cute, and something totally different. They come in sets of two, and with lots of choices you're sure to find something your little ghost or goblin will shreek in delight over.

I like decorating for holidays in the less "traditional" places. Doorknobs are one of those places of course, but so are bathrooms. This cheerful hand towel and face cloth wouldn't scare anyone, but it sure is cute!

Then of course, there's clothing. I hate to dress up for Halloween in a costume. YUK! I do like to dress for the season and for the occasion! So I love holiday-themed clothes! Shirts are one of my favorites. This is a long-sleeve deep burgundy red T-shirt that has been embroidered with an autumn faerie. This design has close to 90,000 stitches in it, and took nearly 7 hours to complete. My other favorite holiday item is socks! Yes, I DO love socks! These two pairs of socks don't actually have to be confined to Halloween, but since they were knit with Halloween in mind, it's only fair to include them in the sale.

So there you have it. From now until October 20th, everything in the Halloween category is 15% off. Everything! Use the code TRICKORTREAT when you check out to see your 15% discount. After that it's going to my booth at the Oct. 24th craft show. From there, whatever doesn't sell goes to my office-mates, daughter, and the grandkids. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gotta Brag...Just a Little

Last Thursday, Oct. 8, Mike was honored by the Texas Section of the Society for Range Management with their highest award--Outstanding Contribution to Range Management. Finally! Plenty of other awards were given for "Best This, That or the Other Thing", but this is an overall award--for someone who is generally recognized statewide as constantly and continually working to improve range management.

The evening was made even more special when Joseph Fitzsimons, TPWD's former Commission Chairman, family friend, and owner of the San Pedro Ranch down in Dimmit County showed up to speak. Mike was the ranch manager at the San Pedro for 14 years before going to work at the Texas Department of Agriculture. Mike is still indirectly involved with ranch wildlife management on the San Pedro, and the ranch will always hold a special place in his heart.

The best part for Mike was when Joseph brought in his surprise guest--his father, Hugh Fitzsimons. Mr. Hugh was the person who hired Mike originally. Joseph and his father had been on "the outs" for a number of years, so it was gratifying to see the two of them together. There in the middle of all the recognition for Mike was Mike still looking out for the best interests of others! But that's the way Mike is.

Mike isn't the kind of person who stands up and shouts "Look at me! Look what I did!" Mike's great talent is in bringing the right people together. Mention any resource related topic and Mike will more than likely say "The person you need to talk to is..., because they've been doing...." Mike brings diverse interests together and helps them see what they have in common, facilitates win-win solutions, and really doesn't seek credit for anything. As long as the work gets done Mike doesn't care who gets the credit for doing it. I guess that's why it's SO nice to see him finally getting the long-overdue recognition he richly deserves. All of us who work in the natural resources arena would like to think we're making a difference. We'd like to think that the resource and the habitat is better off because of us. Few of us however, can really say it is. Mike can say it, but of course he won't.

Gotta share a quote from Joseph's sister, Pam:

From: Pamela Howard
Sent: Thursday, October 08, 2009 6:35 PM
To: Nelle, Steve - San Angelo, TX
Subject: Thoughts...Mike McM

Steve, If it isn’t too late, I will add a short tribute to Mike. It is wonderful for you to honor him with this award ! I can only supplement the many ( some humorous, I am sure) reflections about Mike by saying that he was, is, and always shall be, foremost a teacher. His knowledge about wildlife, range management, biology, and rural life is prodigious , but it is his gift of sharing that defines him. Although he could be content as the expert in all these fields, he chooses instead to unselfishly share ANYTHING he knows with anyone sincerely interested in the topic. He wants you to be as excited as he is to see the rare flycatcher or know the tick’s natural predators. How many times have we all heard him begin a sentence with, “Did you know….” then go onto describe a little known fact of wildlife biology. He is a gift – honestly- and the whole natural world will be clapping along with us. Take care, have a wonderful time, and I wish I could be there.

Best to all,
Pam Howard

Yup, that's my Mike! I love him and I'm proud of him.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Amazing What a Little Rain Will Do!

Rain...finally! I'm trying hard to think of the last time I've been able to watch it rain on and off for three days. Let's just say it's been awhile.

There is something soothing about being able to sit on the front porch and knit while watching it rain, and rain, and rain.

Rocky Creek has been more rocky than it's been a creek for the past two years. Any rain has only been enough to fill the deeper holes, and not enough to really run any water. This time however, it did happen! This time water was about 4 feet deep running over the road. By the time I was able to take pictures on Sunday, it was only about ankle deep on the road, but you could still see the debris line from the previous night. Pretty awesome, huh?