There’s an anecdote about frogs being boiled alive in a pot of water because they can never decide when it’s too hot and that they need to jump out. Or rather, they waste so much energy adapting to the increasing temperature that, by the time it’s finally too hot, they have no energy left to jump out and boil alive.
That basically sums up me and my job, if you also factor in that one of the frogs is crazy and keeps trying to drown the rest of us in the rapidly boiling water to keep themselves afloat.
Eve* came to us from lower management in a big company and had a sparkling resume. Sure, within the first year she moved three times, changed religion twice and spent a ridiculous amount of money on just about everything, but we tried not to judge. Perhaps that was just how she was.
Maybe she came from a rich family who were funding her moving habit. Maybe she was trying to find herself. We didn’t really know much about her, apart from the fact that there always seemed to be some kind of drama going on, and she was always the one being wronged.
But we didn’t really know her so we took what she said at face value. After all, we had no reason not to believe her, and wanted her to feel welcome in her new job.
Within a few months, Eve was soon firm friends with one of the managers. Whether it was through their sympathy for her, mutual hatred of one of the other managers, or Eve's bizarre manipulation skills, we were never sure. But either way, she had a friend in high places that would soon prove to ensure her job security, no matter what she did.
Around the time we started to notice their friendship, we also started to notice that all wasn’t well with Eve. The Eve we met at first started to look like more and more like an act that she drifted in and out of when she wanted, a mask that she allowed to slip once she settled in.
Soon she seemed agitated or depressed or irrationally angry ALL the time.
She was never the life and soul of the party, but at least on the odd occasion she would join in on a joke or discussion. Now she was withdrawn, snappish and angry, almost permanently distracted. Our attempts to reach out to her were brushed away, and soon we got sick of getting snarked at and stopped trying.
Then one day, one by one, we were questioned. Money was going missing, a little at a time, week by week. A couple of thousand dollars in cash had disappeared. Because of the ancient cash register system we used, there was no way to prove when the money was taken, so there was no way to prove who had taken it either, meaning that we were all under suspicion.
One option, we’d all been told at the weekly staff meeting in attempt to persuade the thief to come forward, was to fire us all and start from scratch. Eve sat straight-faced and silent. We were shocked at the idea of such a drastic measure being taken.
But no one stepped up, during the meeting or the couple of weeks that followed. Money was still going missing, though in smaller amounts, and it began to look like we would all be fired.
If we hadn’t received a call from a couple of debt collectors looking for Eve on her day off, goodness knows what would have happened. Faced with the evidence, she held fast to her story of not knowing anything about it for a while, but eventually cracked and confessed.
She was massively in debt, and had been taking money to keep the bailiffs at bay. We were all furious. We could have all lost our jobs because of her lying and stealing. Eve was suspended without pay whilst a decision was made on how to handle the situation.
On the day we found out, we were promised that she would be fired, Imagine our surprise then when, the next day, we were told that Eve had dodged the bullet and would be staying.
Somehow, she had managed to persuade management that she was truly sorry, she would sort out her problems, there would be no more calls at work, and she would pay the business back through wage deductions as soon as she could.
She also had her buddy in management, promising that they would take the wrap and say that they had given her permission to borrow the money if anyone tried to fire her. There was no way she was leaving.
I guess that’s the problem of working in a close-knit team. Sometimes people are too close, and emotions come into it.
Once the employer/employee relationship becomes more of a parent/child or even a friendship, any kind of discipline is gone, and along with it any kind of fairness to other employees.
I know you are probably all sat reading that and thinking “WHY are you still there? Why didn’t you get out when you could?!”
To be honest, I wish I had gotten out after that first incident. I truly do. Because it certainly didn’t get any better from there. But I have a family situation that means a regular 9-5 job would be impossible for me and even a job with rolling shifts would cause major issues with my commitments to those who need me.
So I stayed. Things would get terribly bad, something extra screwed-up would happen, and I would start looking for a new job. Then slowly things would improve, I'd get better hours, or a pay raise...just enough that I wasn’t quite as downhearted with the situation as I had been, and the search would tail off again.
Eve had a small number of family members overseas who she didn’t get to see very often. She took a couple of holidays to visit them and was always buying them gifts and mailing them off, even during her debt troubles.
It was probably because of that we didn’t think anything odd when she announced that she had to go over and see them as a matter of urgency. A family member had been taken ill, a cousin who was a single father, and she had to go and take care of his children whilst he was in hospital as no one else was available.
Looking back now I think “Why would we fall for that? Why wasn’t someone else available on the same continent to take care of the kids? Why would they invite someone they barely saw to care for two young children?” but at the time it was just taken at face value.
You look pretty heartless questioning someone who's going to care for family, so off she went for a couple of weeks. Soon however, we began to suspect something was amiss.
I’d been keeping in occasional contact, seeing how things were going and reminding her to not run herself ragged and make sure she took care of herself as well as the boys. I got replies back about parenting two under-fives, even a photograph of a pencil scribble of a person one of them had drawn for her to send home.
So when someone suggested to me that things weren’t as we had been led to believe, I took a little convincing. Soon however, the evidence grew.
On one occasion, she called to see if she had been paid and commented on the terrible weather there making the situation even worse, when webcams on the city’s tourist board site showed glorious sunshine.
Eventually a co-worker raised his suspicions with senior management. They admitted that no, she wasn’t where she said she was. She had confessed all to them as soon as she got off the plane (far enough away that she couldn’t be prevented from going), that she was not in a foreign country, but California.
Instead of looking after two little boys who’s only parent was desperately ill in hospital, she was with family and friends, living it up at Disneyland. The drawing I was sent done by a friend’s daughter.
There was no sick relative, it was all a lie to cover up the fact that she was getting some sun, whilst pleading poverty to her creditors.
Once again, we were all furious. Eve managed to weasel her way out of a situation anyone else would have lost their job over. More sob stories about how awful her situation was, how she needed a break from it all, that she was truly sorry, somehow the lies that we could all see through were lapped up by management and we were the cruel ones for criticizing her.
As rifts opened up in the team, things got more uncomfortable. Never more so than when someone else's job was on the line.
The first time, I was prepared to believe that Eve honestly hadn't considered that someone else would be fired because of her stealing. She never thought of anyone else but herself, why would that have crossed her mind?
The second time, who knows why, Samantha* was the target of her self-centered madness. An expensive item of electrical stock had been damaged, and Eve had discovered it one morning. The shift manager was greeted that morning with the whole story. Eve had figured out exactly when it was broken and by whom.
Sam had been using that item the day before for a demo, she must have damaged it and put it back hoping that no one would notice, Eve explained. She was determined that Sam HAD to have caused the damage, must be punished for it, and the issue had to be dealt with that day.
Where Eve worked previously these things were a firing offence, she delighted in telling everyone, just loudly enough for Sam to hear. Sam was called to the office and quizzed about the damaged item. She denied any knowledge of any damage, and went back to work, but Eve just wouldn't let it go. It was as if she couldn't rest until the culprit was brought to justice.
She constantly returned to the topic despite our attempts to move on, but we soon realised that she was also using the exact same repetitive phrases, as if she was repeating well-rehearsed lines.
"I can't believe Sam did that, can you? You do think she did it, don't you? Now she's lying to cover her tracks. Don't you think?" as if she was fishing for reassurance that everyone believed the story. If she'd just mentioned it once or twice, we might have done. The seemingly desperate need to be believed made us look a little closer.
I'd closed the night before and left after Sam, sweeping up as always before I did. I'd swept the spot where the item was found, and not found any glass or bits of screen.
"She obviously cleaned up after herself, to cover her tracks..." was Eve's explanation. Then our shift manager moved a display. There were a couple of shards of glass underneath it, yet I knew that when I'd moved it the night before there was nothing there.
"You must've missed it," Eve retorted, but she wasn't looking well.
Sure enough, she left to go to the bathroom when the shift manager left that afternoon, and returned looking teary-eyed. She'd been looking at the item and dropped it, smashing the screen and, because that was the way it worked at her old job, presumed she'd be fired for it.
So of course, the only logical thing to do is to blame a colleague and try and get them fired. Not to own up and apologise, not even to blame a customer or say you found it and it was already like that, (which would have worked, tbh)...But to actually single an innocent person out and blame them for something, to the point of wanting them to lose their job.
Someone with a partner, and bills, someone she greeted and spent time with almost every day. That time, the "punishment" was paying for the item (i.e., adding it on to the payments she was already making to replace the stolen cash), and a written and public apology to Samantha which, given that it was forced, meant nothing.
Soon after that Sam left, having not spoken to Eve since her apology.
I'd love nothing more than to end this by saying that eventually Eve got a) her comeuppance and/or b) the medical/mental help she clearly needs, but sadly not. She also never got fired. She's still there, and so am I.
Whist she will clearly never leave a job where she rules the roost, I'm just waiting for the opportunity to hop out of the pot.
*Names have been changed.
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