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  • Corporate Gaslighting

When They Change The Rules, They're Saying They Want You To Become Compliant Or They Want You Gone.

I used to work for a major national museum, a leader in the field.


Over time, however, a series of blockbuster exhibitions that failed to generate numbers and delayed plant maintenance meant that costs skyrocketed and, with the arrival of a new CEO, a massive organizational restructure commenced. 


My department was immediately targeted as one that could be outsourced, the problem, however, was that most of the staff were long term employees on historic union negotiated contracts, with costly redundancy clauses. 


So they hired in a contract manager at the top of my department, and immediately the bullying began.


On her first day, she asked me if I knew why she was there, and I said yes, we both knew she was there to get rid of people. “so keep your head down”, she replied. 


I had always worked flexible hours, it was an arrangement with my manager that had stood for 5 years, an acknowledgment that the role required flexible hours, and in return for working some late nights, weekends, etc, without charging overtime, as long as I delivered, I could work as required.


So, that first weekend under new management, I went in on the Sunday to prep for the week ahead. Monday morning I was served with my first written warning, for 'working overtime without prior permission'. Note, that I had never had a warning in my 15 years there, nor was I charging for the overtime. So, I lawyered up and fought it. They responded by saying that I wasn't allowed in the building outside of 9-5 hours without written permission. Despite it not being a 9-5 kind of job. Sometimes artworks would arrive from overseas at 2am, and I would have to be there, but now I was barred from entering the building, and getting permission was impossible, as the new manager refused to respond to emails. 


Inevitably, work that normally would be done began to be impossible, because it had to happen while the museum was closed to the public, but I couldn't get permission to be there.


That became reframed as a performance issue, and the warnings for myself and the rest of the team were coming every other week. Meanwhile, HR refused to meet with my lawyers, or, they would agree to meet and then leave us waiting, and then claim that we hadn't notified them with 24 hours notice, or booked a meeting room (which they wouldn't allow the lawyer to do anyway, because they “couldn't book museum resources for non-museum purposes”).


They were tracking my electronic swipe card, and they would present me with a printout each week, asking why I was in this or that room, why so long? It got so that everytime the manager walked in the room, I would start to shake.


I couldn't sleep, I couldn't think about much other than what they were going to try to pin on me. I went to the doctor, he diagnosed me with chronic anxiety and depression, gave me pills and recommended that I quit and wrote a note saying that as long as the restructuring was ongoing, he was putting me on indefinite sick leave.


The museum responded by saying that it would have to be unpaid leave. So I kept going to work. 


Part of my job required high level meetings with other external institutions. Now, my manager insisted on sitting in on these, she would contradict things that I said and even make rude jokes at my expense in front of these colleagues,  sometimes so blatantly that they would speak up in my defense when I was obviously too afraid to. 


One by one, I watched the others on my team either get fired for misconduct or quit, until there were only three of us left, from a team of more than 10. Of course the workload didn't lessen, but our ability to manage the increase for each person suffered, and was used as a performance management issue ...


Eventually, the restructuring process was completed, and the remnants of our team was combined with another department, and the contract manager disappeared, her job done. I survived, barely. But it took years to recover my confidence and my abilities, and when I did regain my inner strength, despite being offered a great promotion and a much better payscale, I quit and took my skills and my institutional knowledge elsewhere. 


This was 8 years ago now, and yet, it still affects me.