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Mismanaging Employee Mental Health

, , , , , , | Working | July 28, 2020

I used to work for a mental health charity. My first location was amazing, but after moving home, I had to move to a store closer. Unfortunately, the manager there and her way of managing the store made my life h***, along with the customers and the lack of volunteers. Here’s just a few of the choicest things said to me during my almost-year working with her. 

After telling her I needed a Wellness Action Plan with regards to how to deal with my mental health at work, she said, “What’s that?” All managers are trained to know what a WAP is. Then, every time I brought it up, she would brush it off as she was “too busy” and say that we’d do it the next time we worked together. 

I usually wear dark, comfy clothing. When I told her I wasn’t feeling mentally great, she said, “Maybe if you wore brighter colours you’d feel better?”

She also later said something similar: “If you smile, you won’t be so depressed.”

She and her favourite volunteer — who didn’t like me very much — made constant comments about my weight and appearance, and it got so bad I would actually fake being sick on days that I worked with her so I could go home early because I simply couldn’t face working with her. 

However, I mostly worked alone. I would still have panic attacks on my way to work, though. Working alone, with a skeleton crew of volunteers, some of whom couldn’t operate the till, I had to start making the choice to close the shop for lunch or not take my break at all. After a week of this, I decided for my mental and physical wellbeing I simply could not go without my break anymore and would close for exactly one hour. People made complaints about me closing the shop; one customer, referring to my short hair and rather butch attire, called me a “ladyboy”. 

Working alone also meant that I couldn’t follow health and safety procedures as much as we were supposed to. Policy clearly stated that a person must stay on the shop floor at all times. However, when donations kept coming in, I would have to make the choice between working in the back and getting them sorted — risking shoplifters and customers’ ire — or staying on the till and letting the piles of bags get to dangerous standards.

For one day only, I made the executive decision to stop donations coming through the door at around three in the afternoon, after I faced a pile of them almost as tall as myself. It got so bad that I would almost start crying with stress every time the door opened, just in case it was someone with more donations. Of course, we all know what customers are like, and several people complained about refusing donations. Of course, charity shops rely on donations, but when it came to a fire and/or trip hazard, I felt I made the right call. 

That’s when things got even worse if you can believe it.

I was summoned, very unexpectedly, to a hearing. Put against me were accusations of closing the shop and refusing donations. I was so panicked that I didn’t make a very good defense for myself, and I spent almost three months in a state of high-strung anxiety where I was afraid I would be fired. I even contemplated suicide. I would like to remind you that this was a mental health charity shop. 

My manager, who had brought this concerns against me to the regional manager, kept acting in a sickly sweet manner, and one friend who volunteered there on a day I wasn’t in told me she overheard the manager’s favourite volunteer say, “I’d run [My Name] over if I could get her job.” 


Eventually, the second hearing came around, a friend coming with me for support. This time, I had time to prepare, and I explained my side of things: that I was working in unsafe conditions and my mental and physical health suffered when I was unable to take my break. Legally, we’re allowed twenty minutes of uninterrupted break if we work for more than six hours, and by working through my break, not only was there some sort of legal problem involved, but I also wasn’t getting paid for it. I guess they realised they could get in some trouble if they fired me on such a basis? Either way, I was given a final warning. 

However, despite a Wellness Action Plan being devised for me, my manager and her favourite volunteer — who was then hired as a Sunday manager, and was incredibly incompetent, but that’s another story! — kept making remarks about my brush with being fired.

Eventually, in November, I handed in my resignation.

I still get petty glee over leaving that job just before Christmas; my manager had planned to take holiday from mid-December until mid-January. This left the incompetent manager in charge of the shop over Christmas. “You’ve really left us in a bit of trouble here; it’s not really fair,” he said. All I said was, “Yup,” and I got back to work.

The day I left, I headed straight to the pub with friends and, even with the current health crisis making it hard to find a new job, I really, really, really, don’t regret leaving. I made some great friends from my first location and a great friend with the same mental health problem that I have at the second, and it’s also taught me that, in the future, I will not take any s*** anymore!

Question of the Week

What is the most stupid reason a customer has asked to see your manager?

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