Chapter 5: HR "Help"

 

I soon had to meet with HR as an official investigation was now under way about the “sexual harassment” - that I didn’t know was sexual harassment – that my mentor reported, not me.

It felt like an interrogation.

And I knew my reputation was going to be destroyed. I knew everything that I had worked so hard for was about to be destroyed, including my life’s purpose – the Y concept.

I soon got a phone call from my manager after my HR meeting – you know, the guy who had asked me if I was getting any lately.

“Hey!! Listen, HR is calling around about something, do you know anything? FFFFF said that usually when they do this somebody has reported something. Do you know what’s going on? I’ve talked to AAAAA, BBBBB, CCCCC, and DDDDD from our team – but they haven’t been called yet. They still don’t know anything. Has anybody told you anything? I have no idea what’s going on.”

What was I supposed to say?

I felt awful.

And I lied to him and said, “I don’t know.”

And it hurt me that I lied to him.

And then I hung up and bawled my eyes out.

Everyone was already talking.

Later on, I found out Mark hadn’t dealt with it delicately, as he promised me he would.

Mark called me into his office and asked how my conversation with HR went, even though HR strictly told me not to talk about it to anyone. But, what was I supposed to do? Not talk to my “mentor”?

It was all so confusing.

I told him it was terrible. I explained to him that my manager had called me asking what was happening and now everyone “knew” about it but didn’t know about it - and it was ruining my reputation.

And that’s when Mark shared with me that when he met with HR – not only did he only meet with the HR team, but he also invited and presented “the case” before some other general managers on campus.

And this is the moment I knew he had lied to me.

He promised he’d be discreet.

He made this thing a huge freaking deal. And it never was to me.

My own mentor had completely betrayed me.

A few former colleagues have speculated as to why Mark went to HR – one theory is that all along, it was for his own good.

Apparently, there were some horrific rumors coming from that same office about him and he used what happened to me to get back at them to “paint a bigger picture” of the “dysfunction of the team.”

I was his pawn.

I’ve also been advised since then, that if someone is involved in a “case like this” they’d never be let go during layoffs, as that could be potential grounds to sue XXXXXX. Many people at work knew there was a mass layoff about to happen – including Mark.

I

- on the other hand -

had no idea

After my meeting with HR and Mark, more awful things were happening at work.

I was still reporting to my now extremely patronizing manager and my colleagues stopped talking to me entirely.

I was alone and it was brutal.

But at least my life’s purpose was still gaining traction - it was the only thing keeping me going…

And, the good guys always win right? This will blow over…right?

It was around this time the Y asked me to attend a conference in Florida – my GM approved the trip for me after some initial push-back from others.

I found myself in a meeting where more than 300 YMCA sports directors gathered – the organizer of the event said I could get 15 minutes on stage at the end of that session to introduce myself. I went up there and said, “Hi everyone, thanks for having me! I’m trying to create something special for the Y with XXXXXX and I’m trying to learn more while I’m here. Could you please raise your hand if you’d be interested in XXXXXXXX for your uniforms?”

A ton of hands went up in the air.

Like, all of them.

#timesup

I asked again, but this time the opposite way so I could see who wasn’t on board.

“Y’all are flattering me! Would you mind doing me a favor and raise your hand if you’re not interested in XXXXXXXX uniforms?”

Not one hand went up.

Not one.

I basically had all of the most influential buyers in the entire nation raise their hands wanting XXXXXXXX product. I mentioned that I’d be around for the remainder of the event and to please come up and talk with me so I can get a better picture of how to help.

It was the best meeting I’ve ever had – to this day.

It was phenomenal for a few reasons.

It felt like business could be a true collaboration.

And what an amazing opportunity to have this meeting during the infancy stage – to gather ideas directly from the actual source to help shape it into a more well-rounded, more informed, idea.

And, it was also a wonderful feeling seeing someone else “light up” about an idea that you’ve created because they see the enormous value it could bring.

So, I've got to tell ya - it was a pretty damn cool feeling to see an entire room light up.

I learned so much in those few days and made some wonderful friends from that time, who I still cherish today.

___

It’s amazing what can happen

when you simply have the

intention of helping

and are

open to listening

___

Fast forward a couple of months and now I have to go back down to LA for an upcoming meeting.

“I don’t want to go down there,” I said to HR over a phone call.

“Well, if you don’t go – you’re not doing your job,” she quipped.

“But, it’s going to be miserable – everyone hates me.”

“Well, we can offer some ways to help you ‘get along with your own team’ while you’re down there,” HR said through laughter.

Great, now I need HR “coaching” lessons to help with people retaliating against me? And now even HR is laughing at me?

God, what are you doing to me?

In the meantime, Mark keeps checking in on me to “see how I’m doing” and I keep telling him each day it’s worse and my life is miserable, just like I was telling HR.

And it was around this time that I truly learned the importance of perspective.

I felt like everyone thought they knew what was going on, but no one actually did.

And I wasn't sure which perspective they were listening to - HR, Mark's, or my manager's?

And then I tried envisioning how I would view it if I was friends with any one of them and being told about this?

I imagined how it would feel from the different perspectives.

I put my place in their shoes.

Something I wish they would've done for me.

They weren't wrong in viewing it the way they were, but they were completely wrong when it came to the truth of what was going on.

I didn't agree with the bullying or many of the other childish acts even to this day, but this helped me understand why they were reacting the way they were.

And oddly enough - trying to understand through perspective-taking can be healing.

It brings understanding when you can't understand any longer.

It brings compassion when there seems like there's not any left in you.

It brings fairness when the situation is impossibly unfair.

It brings hope when you're completely hopeless.

It's extending grace when it's hard to give.

It's forgiving the unforgivable.

They just didn't know.

Bless their hearts.

_____

I had to go up to headquarters and talk to the GM about my Y trip and that’s when he shared with me that he talked to the guy that runs the LA office for my upcoming trip – he asked him to look out for me when I was down there.

My GM truly was a class act. But, this encounter made me wonder, how does he now know?

Must be Mark? Maybe HR? Can't be my manager, but maybe? Maybe it was a colleague that told him? Either way, sounds like he's on my side?

“Thanks, and I really appreciate that. I am dreading going down there. What should I say when I see this guy?”

He smiled and said reassuringly, “just tell him that you know we talked and he’ll look out for you.”

Man, was he wrong...

____________________

It was around this time that one of my really smart friends, a lawyer who graduated from Emory, connected me with her friend, an Atlanta entrepreneur and she told me,

Always remember that HR

does not protect the employee,

they protect the company.

God, I wish I would’ve known that sooner.

Jessie Fream