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**WARNING**Possibly triggering material (abuse/sexual assault)**WARNING**

A gentleman I know recently wrote an Opinion piece in the local newspaper back home in Huntington, WV. The column is entitled Is Cosby a Victim of Questionable Accusations?

I was stunned and hurt by what he wrote. I have blogged about my own struggles with sexual assault and how abuse in general results in psychological issues that can wreak havoc on a person’s life. Individuals who are truly informed about sexual abuse can be empathetic, yet it is distant to the understanding from someone who has survived it.

Just imagine….

Someone in the mall looks a little too similar for your comfort, so you avoid going into the store to buy those shoes you need.

Your boss says something to you, and your skin prickles, heart races, breath shallow, palms sweaty. You just need to get away as soon as possible.

A co-worker makes an inappropriate joke, and suddenly you feel that phantom hand caressing you there

A stranger compliments your appearance, and your defenses go up, waiting for when he will make his move.

Your lover touches you a certain way, and you cry and push to get away.

These things are similar to what survivors experience for years after the abuse; many times they experience it for the rest of their lives.

Yet we should expect them to report it right away? Sometimes it feels safer to hide from it as much as possible. When your subconscious forces you to relive feelings and responses in the most mundane activities in life, it becomes a blessing not to have to consciously think or talk about it. Survivors who report the abuse – regardless if it’s right after or years after – demonstrate a level of mental courage that many people cannot fathom. Hell, it takes an insurmountable amount of strength to live with this on a daily basis, regardless of whether the crime is reported (RAINN statistics suggest that more than 50% of survivors never report the abuse).

For Cosby, it’s unlikely that any criminal proceedings will occur because of the statute of limitations. To me, it’s an error in awareness to think that his accusers have suddenly come out of the woodwork. Cosby settled on similar allegations in 2006. They didn’t just come out of the woodwork – the murmurings of such despicable behavior have been around for years.

I was stunned and hurt by what he wrote. Unfortunately, I wasn’t stunned that someone would have these views. The knee-jerk reaction to distrust the accusers is an internalized by-product of the rape culture, even by people who are meaning to do well (“because Bill Cosby, in my wildest imagination, would never have had any reason to behave so irresponsibly and criminally”).

I was stunned because it came from someone that I thought cared about me and my experience. Given his responses to the comments people have made, I have to question just how aware that caring is.

Bless the survivors – those who report, and those who don’t.

If you’re a survivor or someone who wants to learn more to support the survivors in your life, you can find a wealth of information and resources at RAINN: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.


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*I wrote this post in June to process the struggles I was having with my employer at the time, Amazon. In truth, this post should be a cautionary tale to anyone about the dangers losing yourself to corporate culture. I realize now that many of these happened because I allowed it, because I didn’t question whether it was okay for a company to treat a person like this, and a corporate behemoth took advantage.

When I joined Amazon in 2002, I fully intended it to be a paycheck job. I had just been laid off from a job as an HR professional, and HR job prospects in my hometown were lacking. To keep from being on unemployment, I took a customer service job at Amazon.

I fell in love with the company. The company’s approach to customers, how the leadership principles were integrated into all facets of the business, and more than anything, the inspiration that was hearing Jeff Bezos talk about his passion.

I took a lot of pride working at Amazon. At least for the first six years. As the company expanded exponentially, new leaders were hired, different approaches were tried, and the employees who had been there for years began struggling more and more.

Amazon never lost sight of doing what’s best for customers. Unfortunately, one could say that leaders at the company did this at the expense of their loyal employees. At least this is the perception that I have developed after experiencing what I can only describe as a professional betrayal.

First, I am a qualified person. I have a college degree, with HR and instructor experience. At six years with Amazon, I had taken on a special project to open a new customer service center – a project that had me living in a foreign country for six months. It was a life changing experience, and I was reviewed highly for my work. I then moved into a quality and training specialist position which allowed me to develop leadership coursework, an internal tool to help develop employees on their chosen career path and gained me the respect as one of the best trainers in the customer service network.

During this time I made three attempts to advance into the position of team manager. Unfortunately, on each occasion I was given a rather bland reasoning as to why I didn’t get the position. I didn’t buy the feedback I was given because on four different occasions, the local leadership had asked me to fill in as a team manager in a temporary capacity. One time, an operations manager even asked for me specifically.

Yet, every time a permanent position came open, I was suddenly not good enough. The final time I applied for a manager position, the feedback I received was that they weren’t confident that I could develop team leads. This was stated at the same time I was asked to develop coursework that would do just that – help employees go the next step in their careers, from team lead to manager.

I felt like I was being used by the local leadership. I became depressed. It felt much like the ending of an intimate relationship – like a time when you love the other person, but you know you can’t be with him because it’s an unhealthy, one-sided affair. The nail in the mental coffin was when right after I was turned down for manager, I was told that local leadership had hired two new managers from the outside. Two young people (both men) who had recently graduated from MBA programs, but had no management experience. This episode began my realization that instead of investing in their own employees, the decision makers would rather hire people with certain credentials, even if they had no practical experience in the roles they were filling – and especially if they were men (institutionalized sexism is real).

I drifted. I became severely depressed. I dreaded going into the office. When I was in the office, I didn’t want to be there. I lacked any motivation to contribute to anything. I knew that if I stayed there, I would either walk out one day, or get fired for saying the “wrong” thing to the wrong person.

To improve my situation, I did the only thing I knew to do. I applied for and was accepted into an instructional designer position that required a transfer to the corporate offices in Seattle, WA. Unfortunately I wasn’t as savvy as I should have been and accepted minimal pay when I would be living in an area that has a cost of living 42% higher than the national average.[1] If I were single, I would have had no issues. But since the decision meant moving my husband and daughter to the West coast, we struggled more than I would have realized. But, I was happier with my new team, for a while. And I was determined to work my way up into a higher position with more money.

When I started with the new team, my main goal was to prove myself and show how valuable my skills were. At the time, the team was so small that we had to do a lot more than our roles required. Instead of just doing instructional design, I also helped out with content development and process improvement. I was also tasked with coordinating the first leadership summit for our team. In addition to these extra duties, I built the department’s new hire training program within three months. All of this activity meant that I was working six, sometimes seven days a week. Even when I only worked a normal work week, I still continued to do some tasks in the evening when I should have been spending the time with my family.

The result? I did have an awesome annual review. I also ended up in the ER one night with atrial fibrillation – irregular, rapid heart rate causing poor blood flow to the body and increased the risk of stroke. As I lay on the gurney that night, the doctors tried injecting me with different levels of drugs to get my heart back into rhythm. They said the one thing that scared me the most, “If this higher dose doesn’t work, we’re going to have to use electric shock on your heart to get it back into rhythm.” I was terrified. Thankfully, the higher dose did work, my heart calmed down, and I was able to go home.

When I followed up with a cardiologist, I learned how stress impacted my condition. Although stress doesn’t cause atrial fibrillation, it is a trigger. As I focused on treating my condition, I made the decision to re-prioritize my life. The worst thing I could imagine is my daughter having to live without her mother. I needed to take care of myself so that I could be there for her.

So I started pushing back. I stopped agreeing to aggressive deadlines. I said “no” more often. When I was at home that was personal time, not office time. When I was at office, I continued to work hard, even if it wasn’t at the level I did the year before.

There were still lots of work to do because our team had integrated with another team. I finally got another instructional designer to work with on projects. The challenge for me was that he was not experienced with designing eLearning courses, and I was. So I spent time trying to help him develop this skill, all while knowing that he was a leadership (meaning also pay) level higher than me. Thankfully my boss pushed the issue, and I was promoted a level with increased pay.

Although grateful for the professional bump, the emotional stress from the stressful work continued to have a physical impact. I began grinding my teeth in my sleep. This condition was directly related to and caused by stress. I had never had an issue with grinding my teeth before and had no recent dental issues that would cause it. Yet I continued to subconsciously and unconsciously do it to the point of TMJ disorder and severe headaches so bad that I would spend hours vomiting. I ended up spending $500 out of pocket (because Amazon insurance didn’t cover it) to help the grinding at night with a custom-made mouth guard. This helped with the bad headaches, but I still suffer from jaw pain and regular muscle tightening and spasms on the left side of my face.

Another medical anomaly occurred. I developed an issue with my blood that has still gone unexplained. My white blood count stays abnormally high, anywhere from 13 – 22, with no other indications of infection except daily low-grade fevers. I’ve been tested for everything from cancer to minor blood diseases to tuberculosis. Still, there are no answers.

I continued to work as leisurely as I could manage without getting directly reprimanded. Still, although I always made my boss aware of my medical status because of multiple doctors’ appointments, my decreased work activity was noted on my annual performance review (March 2014). I received a lower review rating and was told that they wanted to see me do “bigger things.” And to thank me for the work I had done, I receive an extra $80 on my paycheck, after taxes.

I pushed back because of the impact stress was having on my medical conditions. Now I was being told that I needed to do more if I wanted a better review and more money. This after eleven and a half years of putting Amazon first.

I knew that I had to make another change. I began looking at internal and external job postings. As I found a couple of internal positions that interested me, my department reorganized, meaning that I got a new boss who had a reputation of not playing well with others. And because of the reorg, it was abundantly clear than any progress I could have made with the department would never be a reality.

I began to panic. I knew I couldn’t stay, but didn’t know exactly where I would go. I applied for two different internal positions and crossed my fingers that I would be able to leave my team soon. I continued to hold onto any hope I had.

In the midst of team changes, dealing with a nefarious new boss and trying to find a new position, I had another “episode.” When meeting with my new boss, I started sweating a lot. I was used to sweating when my daily temperature spikes would break, but this was different. I was sweating so much that my top was damp. I even asked my boss if she thought it was hot in the office. I didn’t think much more of it than that. Until I got back to my desk.

The next part of my day was on a conference call. As we were discussing training plans, I started tingling all over and feeling like I was going to lose consciousness. My vision started darkening, and I felt like I was hearing everything under water. I put my phone on mute and ate some granola and drank some water. The tingling stopped, but I had a tightness in my chest and a general weird feeling. After taking some deep breaths, I was able to walk across the street to the clinic. I told them I didn’t know what was happening, but I may need an ambulance. After noting my symptoms, the clinic called an ambulance to take me to an ER to rule out a heart attack.

The ER doctors were able to confirm that it wasn’t a heart attack. The only conclusion that they could come to at the time was that I had a severe panic attack, something which is also triggered by stress. I wasn’t completely convinced with this diagnosis because my blood sugar levels were high although I hadn’t eaten in hours except for a bit of granola. Because of this, my doctor tested me and confirmed that I am diabetic. My doctor didn’t rule out a panic attack, but the blood sugar issue did play a part in the episode.

I’m knowledgeable enough to know that emotional stress doesn’t cause diabetes. I have a genetic history of the disease and knew that it would only be a matter of time. However, stress does severely impact diabetics. Stress can affect blood sugar levels beyond what the disease does, causing further complications. This one episode was a perfect example of how medical conditions and stress can severely impact a person’s well being.

As of today, I’m managing my diabetes as well as possible. I’m struggling because for whatever reason, although I’m taking medication and stopped carbohydrate intake, my blood sugar levels are still slightly high. I’m also still trying to manage my stress, although I have a constant feeling of doom, and I want to run away from my job at the first chance I get.

Yet, just like I was told on my review, they want me to do “bigger” things. What that message says to me is that I have to be willing to sacrifice my health to be considered a high performing employee, even after more than a decade of loyalty. How could I not wonder if Amazon is trying to kill me?

1 According to Sperlings Best Places to Live.

**Update: It has been almost six months since I have written this. Things at work go exponentially worse until I made the decision to quit. I’m currently unemployed, but much healthier. My blood pressure is normal, and my blood sugar is almost normal. My white cell count is not as high as it used to be, but still high (the blood issue I mentioned). My bruxism (grinding, clenching) go so bad, even with the mouth guard, that damage has been done to my jaw. My bit is lopsided to the point that when I close my mouth, most of my teeth do not touch. I still have more work to do with the doctors, but things are looking up health wise.

 

Thanks for All


Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate.

I’m thankful for you. You matter. Even if we don’t know each other personally, you still matter and deserve the best.


Amazon

Image taken from the “Amazon vs. Warner Bros. – Customers Lose” post by Josh Zyber, “The Bonus View,” June 11, 2014. http://www.highdefdigest.com/blog/amazon-warner-dispute-2014/

The final question from my exit interview with Amazon.

If you were the CEO, what 3 things would you change about the company?

  1. Bring back customer centricism for both external AND internal customers.
  2. Set higher ethical standards for how leadership treats/interacts with employees. If a manager ignores the premise of any basic leadership 101 book, that person has no business being a people manager.
  3. Start hiring people who are a right fit for the company. We have gotten to the point – particularly with middle-management decision makers – of hiring people based on their degrees and certifications, not ultimately on whether they will easily internalize being an Amazonian. We wouldn’t have to have Amazon “boot camps” if we did better hiring.

Another question Amazon asked me when I left the company.

If you could change one thing about your department or the company in general, what would it be?

Unfortunately the change in Amazon has meant that the company is more willing to pay the price for attrition than to develop long-term employees. The longer you stay here, the more you get screwed. The interesting latent effect on the company is that Amazon saves money on all of the unvested stock units when veteran employees leave. Employees are expendable. Through the smoke and mirror of investing in customers by being frugal, including in how much we pay workers, Amazon doesn’t care when employees leave. Actually, the common thought is that if someone wants to leave, let them, because if they don’t want to be here, we don’t want them. Makes one wonder how many talented individuals have been lost because of these practices.

Be more ethical in the way you treat employees. Just because it’s not against company policy, doesn’t mean it’s right. Stop being a company that puts external customers first at the expense of employees. Remember, we are quite possibly external customers, too. The fact that when the Fire Phone came out, as an Amazon employee, I couldn’t afford it…yeah, that says a lot right there, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Amazon

Image taken from the “Amazon vs. Warner Bros. – Customers Lose” post by Josh Zyber, “The Bonus View,” June 11, 2014. http://www.highdefdigest.com/blog/amazon-warner-dispute-2014/

The Evil Empire


The company I have been discussing in previous posts, my soon-to-be-former employer, is the eCommerce juggernaut Amazon.

I used to love this company. I fully bought into and accepted the vision of what we were continuing to create 12 years ago. Like I’ve stated previously, I began having concerns in the past 6 years, specifically in how employees are treated. We expanded so quickly that we quickly hired many managers and decision makers who never fully internalized the vision in terms of employee relations.

Not long after I started with the company in the Huntington office, Jeff visited and spoke to all of us. One of the things he said that had always stuck out in my mind was that retailers were missing that mom-and-pop store feel. It’s something that he, that we, wanted to perpetuate in how we treated customers. And at that time, customers meant both external and internal. Things have changed.

I’ve seen a lot, I’ve heard a lot. Hell, as a cog in the machine, I’ve been a part of some things that I didn’t entirely agree with at the time. I’ll have to live with that. I was in denial. I would think, “Surely this is not what it looks like. There has to be more to the story than what I know. Anyone who has read a leadership 101 book knows that you will never be successful if you treat people this way. Employees are not loyal to a company, they’re loyal to their direct managers – and if the manager mistreats the staff, things begin to fall apart.” Well, that is what has been happening because although any good manager knows these things, there’s no place for it in the current Amazon climate. As I’ve stated before, the current leadership style is that it’s acceptable to be an asshole to your employees.

These things had to hit me square in the face for me to realize it. The first nudge was a couple of years ago.

Those of you who have followed my book, 80% of the proceeds of “The Source” go to Megan, a child who has survived leukemia twice. What I haven’t broadcast (except on my radio interview on The Rudebuoyz on WMUL) is that Megan is my niece. Her mother, my sister, used to also work for this eCommerce juggernaut as a manager. Her career with the company came to an end, involuntarily, when she over-extended her FMLA because she was taking care of her 8-year-old child who was being treated for cancer. What kind of company does that? Sure, it may be legal. Sure, it’s not against company policy. But is it an ethical or moral practice? In my opinion, abso-freaking-lutely NOT.

I had an emotional crisis at that point. This ugliness happened to my family. I wanted to rage against the machine then. Yet, I had convinced myself that I needed to trudge on, for the benefit of my own daughter, so I could provide the best I could for her – and ultimately use some of my income to help pay for Megan’s medical bills. Well, I’ve already discussed how non-competitive my pay was in the Seattle market. I’m sad to say that I’ve only been able to send $300 to help, along with the meager royalties from book sales. Still, $300 is better than nothing, right?

Then I was hit with it directly, as described in What Did You Like Least About Your Job. It took me getting broken to accept the fact that this company that I have loved for so many years actually views me and other employees as expendable.

I get it now. Message received. The Universe knows that sometimes I need to be hit between the eyes with a 2 x 4 before I clearly see things for what they are. My Third Eye is bruised, and I’m tired of being treated as less than what I AM. I’m also tired of others being treated the same way. If you are reading this, know that you are worth so much more than you realize – don’t let anyone ever try to convince you otherwise.

Still, I was broken. The great thing about this is that I now get to take the pieces and re-create them in the image I want, not the image someone else tells me to accept.

“Rise. Rebel. Resist.”


This is also taken from my exit interview. Again, this is solely my opinion based on my experience with the company for the past 12 years.

Would you recommend employment at the company to a friend?

Not only would I NOT recommend the company to a friend, I have some advice to current employees. Quit. You deserve better than this. And if you have a life situation where you can’t quit, UNIONIZE.

Sally Field in "Norma Rae" - Twentieth Century Fox Corporation, 1979, directed by Marin Ritt.

Still of Sally Field in “Norma Rae” – Twentieth Century Fox Corporation, 1979, directed by Martin Ritt.

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