When an ex-employee phones you out of the blue, it’s usually for a reference or because they want to seek advice and pick your brain about career advancement options. I’ve given countless references over the years and am always happy to help someone out when they are on the hunt to make their next career move. Sadly, yesterday I received a phone call which had much more sinister intentions.
I had just finished work and arrived home to start my Christmas break. I was feeling festive and relaxed, pottering around in the kitchen and chatting with my family. When my phone rang, my holiday bliss was disturbed. Displayed on my phone was an ex-employee’s name, who I had last seen in person, when I was in the unfortunate position of collecting her company belongings, after terminating her employment. This particular name did not bring back nostalgic feelings about the ‘good old days’ of working together; it made me hold my breath for a second and let out a long, exacerbated sigh.
Several years before, I had the difficult experience of having to issue her with a final warning letter. Subsequently, I had to performance manage her to the point of termination, as she had failed to lift her game. She had made some unethical (bordering on illegal) choices in her role and this had led to severe disciplinary repercussions, which she seemingly, still refuses to be accountable for. It wasn’t a nice experience for anyone involved and it’s something I really would have loved to avoid. However, it’s one of the warts and people management it’s a ‘warts and all’ gig.
Hesitating, I decided to let the call go to voicemail, as it was around dinner time and I was busy cooking for Christmas dinner guests. Ironically, the dinner guests were other previous employees, who had since become become good friends after I left the organisation. No message was left, so I assumed she had phoned in error. The phone rang again a minute later, so I decided to take the call in case it was something important. Deep down I knew this wasn’t going to be good, but curiosity got the better of me, as I hadn’t heard from her in over 2 years.
What I received on the other end of the line was a drunken, word slurring, vindictive mess, hurling abuse at me from a place of ignorant contempt. The coherency level was akin to the infamous speech that Anna Nicole Smith gave at the Billboard awards in 2004. However, instead of spreading love and laughter, she was spitting toxic, poisonous venom. Rest in peace Anna.
I imagine that she had been celebrating (a little too hard) with her bitter, old work buddies and they decided to top off their Christmas lunch with a good old ‘bitching’ session. I suspect the main topic of conversation was surrounding how unfathomable and inconceivable it was for them to have to report to a young, female manager, who expected them to perform at a high standard and in a professional manner…..at all times! What a bitch! They would have bonded over copious amounts of cheap wine and Christmas delights, which unfortunately could not drown out the bitter taste of career regret, jealousy and broken dreams, which was the true source of their hatred.
Instead of owning her errors in judgement and honourably accepting the consequences of her previous dishonest workplace behaviour, she decided to blame me for essentially doing my job and holding her accountable for her decisions. Instead of furthering her education and taking charge of her increasingly outdated skill set, she decided it was easier and more appealing to her fragile ego, to call up me up in a drunken stupor and try to make me feel as miserable as her; at Christmas time nonetheless. Instead of taking a good, hard look in the mirror and wrestling with the demons she saw on her shoulders, she decided to stew for the best part of 2 years and make me into the monster. This was the easier option for her and although I don’t agree with the small mindedness, I understand that she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was easier for her to phone me and spew out all sorts of obscenities, than to peek inside her own subconscious, for the true source of her pain and self-loathing. Trying to hurt me was her ‘quick fix’; her analgesic if you will, to mask her self-directed pain, even if just for a short while.
Unfortunately, in my experience, the high school ‘mean girl’ mentality sometimes graduates to the workplace. On occasion, I’ve worn the brunt of this, when I made the transition to management and I can assure you, it hurts just as much as it did in high school. What’s worse than a group of nasty teenage girls you ask? A gaggle of middle aged, damaged and disgruntled women, who are under-skilled (often over paid), with an over-inflated sense of self……that’s far, far worse! These are much more dangerous beasts than their high school counterparts, as their bullying is no longer reserved for the school gates and shopping malls. It slithers into your professional life, your family life and the sense of self-worth, which you worked so hard to salvage after your teen years.
As I listened to her tirade of verbal abuse, my lip began to quiver and my hands began to shake. For a brief moment I reverted back to that quiet, timid girl who used to walk around the long way to avoid the ‘mean girls’, their taunts and their soul crushing nastiness. But this time I wasn’t that fragile, teen girl anymore. I was now a strong, saavy and (more) confident full gown woman, who believes in fighting for the underdog, has good morals and now knows what she stand for.
Instead of succumbing to her demand for drama, I decided to take away her power over me, by not uttering a single word in response. Nothing. I simply listened for a while, remaining silent (apart from my initial cheery ‘hello’ when I answered), before hanging up the call. She called back 6 more times and left a slurred, desperate voicemail during one of her attempts to get me to engage. I subsequently blocked her number on my phone. It was empowering for the timid teenage girl in me, knowing that she tried in vain to get me to engage in combat, but I refused to crawl into her trap. This would have been extremely frustrating and confusing for her drunken alter-ego and my lack of response left her outraged. She wanted to lure me in for a ‘bitch’ brawl and I wasn’t handing over my power.
As I write this, I’m still a little ticked off that she tried to create disharmony in my home on my Christmas break. However, I am proud of the woman I have become and I’m pleased that I ‘managed’ myself appropriately. Getting loaded on liquid courage and drunk dialling your old boss to tell them that they “are the lowest piece of shit you’ve ever come across,” is not all that becoming. When irrationality comes forth, verbal abuse spews out and vindictiveness reigns, there are no winners. Yes, it’s far easier to let insecurity and fear take over, than use one’s emotional intelligence to look within and at the harsh reality of the situation. That takes guts.
I know that the abuse she directed at me, isn’t a patch on the abuse her inner ‘mean girl’ directs at her every day; for this I feel deep empathy for her. Unfortunately, she hasn’t yet learned how to hang up the phone on her inner ‘mean girl’, who constantly tells her that she’s not enough. That she’s nothing. The saddest part of this story, is that perhaps she never will.
So to my disgruntled ex-employee, I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with love, healing and light. We all make mistakes sometimes and these mistakes can be really embarrassing, especially when alcohol is involved. Hey….I’ve been there too, feeling the morning after regret of acting like a dickhead when intoxicated. But I’ve never abused someone – I know that hurting others won’t make me feel better about myself.
I just hope that in time, you find some inner peace and the clarity to see that the way out of this, is as simple as hanging up the phone.
PS) I hope the hangover isn’t too brutal today, although I think it might be based on your level of speech slurring.