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4 Months and 24 Hours Ago

Originally written by ERC on 4/12/2023

Twenty-four hours ago, a text message was shared with me by a former co-worker who I call a legitimate friend, now more than ever. And because of this text message, I found a few more people I call friends who I will never forget no matter where life takes us.

As I write this, I realize it’s kind of a rare thing if you think about it. Finding real, genuine, legitimate friends out of co-workers you work with, for what’s considered a short time or multiple years. And it’s even more powerful if you find each other within or coming out of a work environment filled with chaos and hurtful things done to some all the time. In my opinion, the former firm I worked at had a pretty unnerving and unhealthy work environment you had to deal with on a daily basis. I will admit, it took me a minute to “heal” from working at a place with people like that for just one year. I am hesitant to go any further about justifying my statements because, in this day and age, you can get sued for any and everything. And that is the last thing that should be the plan of action after reading my piece. No Thank You. You all will just have to trust me. People who work there or have worked there are the only ones who will truly know what I mean when I say these things.

In order to continue reading, here is some context:

The text sender was a lady who worked with me on my team for an entire year (me = manager, her = direct team member). We regularly spoke throughout the week and had an open line of communication, even a standing meeting set up each week. From my recollection as a co-worker and a manager, we had a good working relationship. When I told her I resigned from the firm, she genuinely seemed DEVASTATED, to my face. Or over the phone, I should say, we worked remotely.

The text recipient was a lady who is a former firm employee and co-worker who left the firm even before I did. I departed in December 2022. We worked well together and got along, as she was very easy to talk to. This recipient receiving a message like this four months later was very odd, to say the least.

Four months after my departure from the firm on 4/11/23, an employee sent a {insert negative word of choice here} text message about me, her former manager, aka “EC” (my nickname). I didn’t post the actual text message here because that would have been too easy and it’s not the point. A short and sweet summary (even though the text was LONG) would be: a crazy rant about me, personally and as a manager, I stalled on decisions and she is better off in her role there now. My friend replied back with class and respect. The short and sweet summary of that was: This is weird and not kind. Don’t throw toxicity my way. On the contrary, Erika rules. Resolve this stuff directly with the person (if you care). It was an excellent response, to say the least.

After I read this entire exchange, picture me as Smokey (Chris Tucker) from the movie Friday sitting on his porch chair leaning to the side saying “Daaaaaaaammmmmmmnnnnn.” Or, you can picture me as the other character standing in the scene, Red. If this text hit me in the face, that would be what my black eye looked like. Those who know me, know I love that movie and still quote it to this day.

Multiple shots were fired. I thought 4, but who’s counting? The text is out there somewhere. I’m left wondering…What?! Why would she write these things?! And now?! I felt horrible after reading it, of course, who wouldn’t? Was I that blind and deaf to the text sender’s feelings that whole year? After all those check-in Zoom meetings or hello calls, chat messages, etc. I was so open, honest, welcoming, and communicative with her, from my recollection and perspective. No manager is perfect, but I really tried and gave it my all for them. The only people who can truly answer what my leadership was like were those directly on my team. OR, was this on the text sender to check herself? Did she fail to truly share how she felt to me when she could? Is this something that spewed out of her 4 months later, after I left? Wow.

Obviously hurt and confused at this, my next step was to reach out to a couple of former firm co-workers (who knew her) and bounce it off them. As in, sending them the text message to read and to hopefully help me better myself or put it in perspective for me at least. Especially because I was pretty much like wtf, huh? These are people who have kind hearts and have paid attention to me since my departure to check in with a hello every now and then. I re-read their reply texts to me and wanted to highlight them.

Responder #1 writing back to me: “Dude what the hell. I swear that firm is a cult. You either drink the Kool-aid or you don’t fit in. They’re constantly putting people down and trash-talking everyone else in the industry.”

Responder #2 writing back to me: “If XXXX cared about their reputation, they would shut this down. You don’t deserve to be going through this. It’s really unfair.”

Responder #3 writing back to me: “Damn! Good for XXX [text recipient], I’m not so sure I’d be as nice. The audacity.”

Responder #4 writing back to me:

“That’s actually ridiculous, totally random, and completely unnecessary. That’s the kind of culture they are creating, it’s very toxic.”

My mother wrote back to me: “ don’t want to waste your energy on lies and falsehoods. This could all be a fabrication to hide behind the shortcomings of a person who is trying to make it at work and also to get attention.”

Twenty-four hours later, my takeaways from this experience are these:

  • It seems like I did beat the odds and made a couple of “friends” along the (professional) way. This post is written in appreciation and with love for those quoted. You know who you are, miss you. Thank you for your support then, now, and in the future.

  • Maybe being a manager and/or a management member isn’t for me after all. Just like being a mom, sometimes, it truly is a thankless job. Your “reports” or team members most of the time don’t know what your world is like on a larger organizational scale, what you are really responsible for, being held accountable for, or that some managers don't have 100% decision-making power (my situation). You shield them from this stuff to make sure they have what they need each day to succeed, be productive, and feel good. You attempt to try and minimize the unnecessary drama that ripples through each department back to them. They sometimes don’t know the blocking and tackling you do or did for them. And I bet she didn't think that those seeds were planted by me because most likely, they were. This experience was especially hurtful because I did respectfully cover for the text sender and her workload multiple times during the year when she took PTO. Or covered her for days during an unexpected family occurrence or what the work world calls an "emergency". But that’s the stuff that isn’t remembered or respected much about me or a manager in general. So, this text pops up for me now. Ouch. I think I would rather be a minion than a manager just to avoid being sliced and diced like this in the future.

  • Neither my 17-year-old son nor I am on social media (his choice). Well, except for LinkedIn and Pinterest, I’m talking about the big dogs. I have zero experience with any of those platforms personally and fortunately as a parent. And ignorance has been bliss in this case. Is this considered cyberbullying of some kind? I’m half kidding and half serious when I ask this.

  • Pay attention to those who (genuinely) pay attention to you. Anyone or anything else is noise and should not get through your bad bulletproof self. If they do, lean on your friends and keep those around you who spew positivity your way instead.

  • To the team managers out there…you can’t win them all. All you can do is play to the best of your ability. But…it’s either: Are You In? or Are You Out? You work for your direct team members and what they need, not the other way around. So if you are in, be all in.

  • To the leaders of said firm…this is the only closure I will get after working at your organization. What I dealt with and witnessed is something I hope others after me won’t have to do. I always believed in the term “It starts from the top.” I have had conversations with everyone who resigned or was let go in the last year or so (not a good number). These were genuine “How are you doing?” check-ins which led to more in-depth conversations. We have all had traumatic experiences while working there, which stemmed from the real leadership or lack thereof (in my opinion). I call this a trend. A horrible, negative trend that has trailing effects. I don’t think the right thing to do is deem these people as “disgruntled” former employees or “bad fits”. Which most likely will be a message of some sort. My final written interview has a fraction of what I am talking about. I hope the real decision-makers at the firm are NOT OK with the contents of it. And it is NOT OK that former employees have been deeply & hurtfully affected in some way or another by working at your place of business. And it is NOT OK that current employees send out negative, written things about former employees who are trying to move on with their lives. I highly doubt any change will come from this 1 little post because it would mean changing the entire leadership structure, but worth a try. The only power I have right now is my voice. And our voices, if you care. Truly absorbing what it takes and then exhibiting what it takes are what will make the difference in reading a post like this one or seeing your company name on the Top Employer/Company List.

  • To the text sender, this is not a good look for you or the firm. If this was indeed for some kind of attention…you got it. Don’t worry about me now that I saw the message. Stand by your words. Time will heal me as it always does. Good Luck and Good Bye, please.

  • I think I might have just created a ripple…

I re-read a text message of my own that I replied back to a friend with when thinking about this piece. I wanted to include it here in conclusion:

Me writing my friend back:

“I just can’t explain why I am so compelled to do this. I freaking hate social media and have never been on it. I’m a hermit and a dork. But I’ve decided this is important enough to break out of that as much as I don’t want to deal with any of the blowback. I will because everything I say in there is controversial. Everyone should understand the “NOT OKs” I speak of. People experience that stuff every day at work and it’s unfortunate. I have to shine a light on it at least.”

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