So in all my wisdom I decided that it was time to give my boys their own rooms, what a mess, carnage, The spare room was used by me as an office, so you can imagine the paperwork and the usual “I’ll just keep this useless piece of information here and deal with it later, pile” that had amassed over a few years.
On sorting through it I found an old letter from a previous employer inviting me to a disciplinary sort of meeting, a few years on I can now laugh at the sorry episode that resulted in this meeting, I kid you not, when I tell you that it was easily the most ridiculous yet serious thing to happen to me in my working career. Reading this letter was a stark reminder of no matter what you do in life there is always some absolute human disaster waiting to put the boot into you. I have more or less all my working days worked with youth, be it in the community, school, and youth group or as more recently in a prison setting. Had the meeting and subsequent investigation went against me, it could have ruined my reputation and career. (Don’t worry it certainly wasn’t anything untoward, and of course I was completely exonerated of any blame, hence my confident statement that it was completely ridiculous, and finding it brought a laughter I wish I could have had at the time, honestly unbelievable nonsense) I don’t even blame any of the youth involved, this is clearly an example of employers not listening, or even safeguarding staff.
Background of issue
I won’t even name the employer (s) involved, as it was somewhere that right up to this point brought me immeasurable pleasure and genially was a wonderful place to work, the people, even the job, so as much as I felt betrayed, angry and hurt by what led to this meeting, it will always be a place I fondly remember. I will change the name of a person in this story, not because of any respect I have for them, but mainly because I prefer the new names they will adopt and feel they suit the name far better than the name given at birth. Plus I don’t wish them ill or anything, just complete acknowledgement of them being a first class catastrophe, maybe in other circumstances I’d even like him. Doubt it, but I’ll give anyone the benefit of the doubt.
From day one in this job, we were encouraged to train to be Steps/PX2 facilitators, a kind of cognitive therapy training course owned and implemented by The Pacific Institute, The Pacific Institute’s® STEPS course is designed to help its participants make a more positive impact in their professional and personal lives. It encourages greater self-belief, motivation and the ability to both set and relise goals. A lot of the time you implement examples, they can be other people’s life stories or if you are comfortable your own story, hopefully, you can empower people to open up and share their own personal stuff, this course can be extremely empowering and motivating, it can empower through emotion etc. It encourages people to step outside comfort zones and at times brought its own issues, however all in all it’s a decent enough course to experience. BUT, you need to buy into it, open yourself up to it, if you resist it can feel almost like brainwashing, which it’s not, probably the opposite, but it’s easy to see how it can be misunderstood, gladly there is plenty of time for positive feedback and reviewing things just to make sure there are no misunderstandings, no course is ever the same, as it tends to be open to improvising, at the discretion of the facilitator. I am not doing it any justice, if you get the chance it’s defo a course you should do, here is a link to read more.
I am very experienced in delivering this programme, and never have I encountered any negative backlash, during the course, obviously due to differences in self-opinion, sometimes a heated controlled debate occurs, but nothing that wasn’t resolved and even explored and respected at the time. All in, part and parcel of people resisting and challenging their own beliefs, even mine. Up to this point I had about 4 years’ experience of participating in and delivering Px2 /steps continuously, so it was only really a matter of time before something bizarre occurred.
And it did, in one particular building I worked, the staffing and management was nothing short of farcical, even non-existent. The staff member or youth worker/community education worker that was supposed to be on site was never on site or at least never where he was supposed to be, which was either in the office or with me.
We shall presume this youth worker was a detached youth worker, he took the detached bit to new extremes by actually being detached from the office and his job, and we shall call this fella Eugene as he so looked like a Eugene.
Now, this guy on the surface was lovely, although defo the sort of fella that would talk with you, then about you, and the youth he engaged with seemed to like him when he wasn’t taking the detached side of his work way too literally. However, we automatically had a strained relationship from day dot, mainly because the fella had a very silly self-fulfilling belief that somehow I was answerable to him, his first contact with me was an absolute calamity. But that’s a different story.
I know at times interpretation are open to exaggeration, but I worked this job for three years and was in his building nearly every week, and as God, as my witness, I saw him a handful of times, 5 or 6 tops. Clearly participating in that detached youth work I was talking about. In fact the running joke amongst the youth he worked with whenever I asked where Eugene was, they would laugh and say “in his office”. I would challenge this saying “no, he’s not I just left the office “. They would laugh and say not that office, the gym in the building was his office. This made sense almost immediately and I understood that the Gym was the place where all this world-class detached youth work took place.
I even walked past a few times to see him in action, his detached skills were fabulous. Anyway, during the summer holidays I turned up for my session, on arrival, as expected no Eugene in the office, I spoke with an old colleague who was in and ask where Eugene was, a shrug of the shoulders was all that was required , passed the reception staff asking if they saw Eugene, was told to try the Gym, on making my way through the corridors I could hear noise, and lots of it, laughing and hilarity, I thought wow, Eugene must be doing something with them, however when I got there, this group I had never met, were causing absolute mayhem, kicking empty bottles, pens lay scattered over the corridors, anything that could be kicked up and down the corridor really. After a lot of intervention, I managed to calm them enough to listen to me, again asking where Eugene was, no one knew, a quick look in the gym or his office confirmed where he was.
I immediately felt uncomfortable with this group, my experience alerted me this wasn’t going to be easy, they simply were not interested in anything I was saying or going to say, some even told me they were f**king off to have a smoke. In fact, the general attitude of this group was brutal, terrible attitudes, terrible manners and a huge lack of respect, they were a new group, and it’s not uncommon for new groups to flaunt the peacock feathers, to assert dynamics etc. but this group were different, more chaotic and unsettled.
For signing up to be part of this group most were given an education allowance of £30, but they had to be marked as present for so many hours per week, so although my session was completely voluntary and they didn’t need to stay with me or participate in my session, they were mandated to because of this £30 allowance. I had no problems with them staying, but my job was to deliver an SVQ, employability and volunteering sessions amongst other things. After a few weeks of what felt like dragging my face down a rough wall, I finally decided it was time to stamp my authority, I knew support wasn’t going to come from the staff who were supposed to be present, the ones really pissing me off were told to go away, go home. For them to return telling me that they tried to slip out the back past the Gym and that Eugene had sent them back otherwise they weren’t getting their money. Frustrated I decided to ask them all what was the point of them coming, as a father I’d happily pay my kids £30 for not being here, what was the point of engaging with this programme if they weren’t going to grasp the opportunity that was being offered to them. I’d pay my kids £30 to sit in their room looking for progression and opportunity rather sit in this environment where they were wasting everyone’s time including their own.
As they were about to start PX2 (Steps) the following week I thought I’d start warming them up for it, by going over some of the content, focusing on grasping opportunity, and a wee session I do on how hard it is to be born. This involves examples and stories of me becoming a father and the positive impact this has on me in choosing my goals and opportunities. How happy being a Dad makes me, It also highlights some of the challenges I have faced in life, and no matter what it’s all about dusting yourself off and charging on regardless, also about some of the business opportunities I’ve embraced and failed at, but no matter what, always bouncing back and charging on, then talking about creative avoidance which stopped me really going for my dream as a photographer, and by stepping out of my comfort zone I have gone on to win national photography awards etc.
This wee session is always well received and on feedback forms is often highlighted as the most memorable part of the sessions. Throughout this session the usual “I’m f**king off for a smoke, or the shop, or the toilet “ brigade would make excuses to leave, three or four young attitude laced females, in particular, would dip in and out of the sessions, when they were required to actually do work or participate. And when they did return and engage it was always with me having to go over any difficult parts they missed, but they more or less missed the whole point of the session, and started twisting points made , just being destructive, after an exhausting 2 hours the session was a turning point, and opened them up to participating in the SVQ , so each young person began working on the SVQ, some charging through it and producing wonderful work, this allowed me to go online and work on my computer marking previous SVQ’s registering them for their awards and general administration, it also allowed me to show some young people opportunities they could apply for. For a few weeks it seemed like progress was being made, still no show from Mr detached UK though, Eugene. I constantly began becoming more vocal in my criticism for this group and the lack of support from staff from it to my managers. Writing reports and feedback forms required as part of the contract, always to no avail, mainly I got a put up and shut up kind of reaction, so I did. Lesson learned.
These 4 females who done everything not to participate were nothing but lazy and lippy, which in this line of work is something you get used to, at least they were turning up, and trying to engage in banter, they seemed to be warming to me, so I highlighted my concern at their lack of work and that some of them had nearly completed the SVQ etc. thinking no more of it. I then went off for 10 days on a family holiday as it was summer holidays. On my return I was amazed at the warmish reception and rejigged what had happened over the past few weeks, most of them asking question on my photography, how my holiday was etc, so I was showing them some of my portfolio on line, some showing a keen interest in photography, even the hard to engage girls were now participating, I stated that just round the corner I had a studio, so would happily arrange for Eugene to bring them down for a shot of it, taking photos of each other and showing them Photoshop, this seemed to have excited them, I nearly had to have a lie down as Eugene made an appearance at this group and stayed for a while, eventually the young people left for a break.
Eugene all of a sudden became interested in what I was doing, so I highlighted what we had done, telling Eugene about my session that involved me telling them about them wasting opportunity and what was the point of turning up, I spoke in detail that I’d happily pay my kid £30 to stay in the house, rather than come to this programme and colour in, make collages and not do anything to improve their prospects. Highlighting that I’d be disappointed as a father to come to this programme and see that it was nothing more than a youth club which they got paid to attend, with limited scope for progression unless they grasped opportunity as an opportunity wasn’t looking for them.
I voiced my concerns that some of them were doing really well with the SVQ (qualification) but some demonstrated zero enthusiasm in general never mind doing the SVQ, and that I had tried to deal with that by telling them they weren’t required to stay, for Eugene to disappointingly send them back to me due to education allowance requirements, just for them to become an unwelcome distraction, I informed Eugene that the education allowance wasn’t my concern but his, meaning that he had to more or less deal with the ones not engaging. I also explained that this is feedback I will be providing in my reports on this group, and something I had previously been reporting over the past few months at team meetings etc. I explained that I had submitted feedback in a detailed report about each centre as requested, and also a partnership report that each centres manager would have access to. I explained that at least I had sparked some interest in getting them to want to come to the studio to see it working and play with the cameras. It all ended positively, with Eugene keen for this to happen, or so I thought.
The next day or so, my office seemed weird, again my experience alerted me that something wasn’t quite right, I then got the “can we speak to you upstairs”. In I went with the Chief Executive and my senior manager, who both looked disappointed in me, to say the least. I see the official folder and white envelope. Then I got the news that a very serious complaint had been made against me, my mind went into over drive, “Oh no, what had I done” Cleary concerned that I had done something that would be a cause for anyone to complain as I’m one of the most laid back easiest people on earth to speak with, albeit a wide man, in a humours sort of way, granted my sense of humour can sometimes be close to the bone, but not in my profession, just amongst peers, I was also disappointed that my managers had to deal with it” . Mark, “it’s not just from one person it’s from three”. “Wow, my heart melted”, as you do, as uncertainty and doubt in yourself starts to rain blows on your stomach”. Thinking back to anything I said that could be misinterpreted, did they misunderstand my invite to the studio, did I look at someone the wrong way” thoughts all over the place, this was a new experience for me, and I didn’t like it.
That was until they laid the complaint out to me in points, honestly, this is genially what the complaint was, exactly in point format.
- I was too happy (ffs, no joke, someone complained because I was happy)
- I was always talking about my kids (so the fuck what? Why wouldn’t I, I love them)
- I was always telling stories about my life, personal stories (Erm!! Not in the way it was being laid before I wasn’t)
- I was brainwashing them (ahahahahahahah)
- I told them that they were wasting my time and I’d pay my kids £30 not to do the group (yip, so what, but major point of why I was saying it was missing)
- I was always using my work computer, and phone (erm, yes, marking SVQ’s and using my phone as a hotspot to get online, not to mention showing them opportunities, and registering them with SVQ, even showing them some of my photos that they asked to see, so I was using my work computer, for erm, work ffs)
- And that they weren’t doing any work (which is bullshite as I had a usb full of work that people were doing for their SVQ qualification, maybe the ones raising the complaint weren’t doing any work, but that wasn’t my concern or fault)
The three young girls were seriously upset, as soon as they said this I knew exactly who they were speaking of and before I laughed at this ridiculous complaint, and explain that had it been a random complaint then I could see why it may seem alarming, but in the context of the sessions I was delivering then it was very relevant as to why I said these things, and why I was saying it. I genuinely hope the points laid out form my employers were a subtle way of letting me know how ridiculous they found the whole thing, I am so wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.
But my managers went on to say, I had to stop visiting the centre, make no contact with anyone from it and that a serious investigation was taking place, if I am found guilty so to speak I’d be disciplined which could lead to dismissal. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Wow, complete and utter betrayal as well as an overreaction to what could simply be explained away, but it was now game on and I kept my cards close to my chest. The fact they took this complaint seriously and didn’t slap it down at creation, confirmed to me that my career and loyalty to this company was over. I was simply delivering content, expectations, and responsibilities that they hired me to do, told me to do what I had been doing for the three years previously without any cause for concern. Had they had a quiet word I’d have explained I was doing my introduction to PX2 session, and also working on SVQ, the rest is just silly, and I explained the £30 bit in greater more accurate terms at this meeting.
So my whole management team kind of hung me out to roost, because even though they encouraged me and paid me to deliver PX2/Steps personal development employability based programmes, they couldn’t tie it all together to see that was in fact what I was doing. They couldn’t even piece together as mentioned that I had written a few detailed reports criticising this centre and its lack of support, and my fears of what could happen. In another centre up the road I worked in (same sort of thing really), the staff used to beg me to come and deliver my empowering employability/ volunteer sessions. Which is the vital point here, had the detached worker bothered his arse to sit in on the sessions, he would have quickly identified that I was delivering a PX2 (steps) focused session, with an employability volunteering slant, and had any concerns been raised he could have explained them before any cause for concern escalated to this now completely ridiculous and highly embarrassing complaint.
What made matters worse, was that I was off on holiday for a week or two previously, so why did this complaint only materialise once Eugene came on the scene the previous day or so, and when the complaint was being read back to me, it was more or less give or take a few examples word for word the very conversation I had with Eugene. The wording used in the official complaint was also highly suspicious, words that no youth would use, totally scripted gibberish and nonsense.
Of course I am disappointed that young people felt the need to raise a concern, which I doubt they did, coerced possibly as it came a whole two weeks after my initial input, had it been handled correctly, by say, a general chat between both Eugene and myself I could have gone back to the group and gone over in detail things they may be misunderstood, and also explained had they not disappeared every 10-15 minutes in the sessions then it would have made more sense to them rather than bits of information they pieced together like a horrendous jigsaw. Why was the other 9 or 10 young people not raising concerns, plus I could have had the rare presence of Eugene also to make sure that once I left he at least understood what I just had done, a session may I add, that he had been in attendance at before on one of his rare appearances. A session he said he enjoyed. Honestly, you couldn’t make this shit up.
I worked in three centres similar to the one Eugene frequented the Gym in, and, had anything like above happened the staff would have shown me the professional etiquette to run the concerns past me, and also allowed me the chance to clarify, but not that that would ever have happened as the staff from the other centres did their job and were always present for these sessions, especially more visible when it was new groups of young people.
Anyway, to bring a long silly painful story to a close, I counter complained as I had to, had this went against me, then I simply could not work with young people again, it would have damaged me badly, imagine getting sacked for being too happy, hahaha, but then having to explain to potential employers that I was sacked because I was brainwashing young people, I was being happy, and telling young people that I’d pay them to sit in their rooms, and also for using my work computer.
Rather than this complaint being brought to conclusion rapidly, my management team that I once admired and was fiercely loyal to, keep me waiting an agonising 4 weeks, with zero feedback, no encouragement, nothing, a period of time that seriously affected me, mentally, emotionally and started me questioning my professionalism, my commitment to working with youth, self-doubt, resentment everything went through me, all because I done my job, a job that I was required to do, until they finally said I had nothing to answer to, no shit Sherlock, it should have been laughed out the door on the first day.
The damage was done, poor management handling, in fact, appalling I’d say from both my managers and Eugene’s, who equally as much as mine should have stopped this silly concern right in its tracks from the offset. Regardless of the mantra that they must take every complaint seriously, they simply never foreseen the shit I could have brought down on them for leaving me on my own with groups of vulnerable young people, not even in the world of youth work, are workers left to fend for themselves with high numbers of young people stuck in the back of beyond with no means of contacting anyone should something happen. Luckily, at least I knew Eugene would have been in or near the gym most times.
Born of frustration
My complaint was born of the frustration of being ignored from my seniors about this poorly ran centre, even when the centre acknowledged my complaint and came to investigate my concerns, not one of my managers came into the meeting with me, not one word or message of support, nothing. This meeting was conducted by two managers of this centre, people that I knew from training and meetings, but didn’t know what they did, so was the appalling way this centre was organised, only putting two and two together the day they said they were coming to meet with me.
As was expected the meeting was a complete farce. It was my time to have fun, listening to the absolute nonsense that flew from these managers mouths without concern or even effort, like it’s something they are well versed in. I didn’t really care about the outcome because I knew what the outcome would be before the meeting began; I just wanted to hear the whoppers that came, and boy they never disappointed. The best whopper was that they investigated the where about of Eugene the past few weeks and they can confirm they are happy he was where he said he was, ha ha ha, eh?, so where was he?, (he should of in fact been in a room with me, or in the office near me, and he wasn’t.) They said that they confidently know he wasn’t in the Gym, giving each other a nice wee smiley look as to show me that I was talking nonsense about his Gym time. ah ha ha, I asked how they knew this, their reply is the most beautiful disastrous lie I have ever been told, both in unison by the way “stated, he couldn’t have been in the Gym, as the Gym belongs to the school the centre is attached to (which is true) and that during school time, only school pupils and staff have access to it”, very matter of factually and very sure of themselves. I allowed them to continue and end with what we have is simply a clash of personalities and a breakdown in communication, Eh?, not even relevant to the concern I raised but hey let them rabbit on to the end.
I gave the yeah, yeah, yawn, yawn we shall put this down to experience and a clash of personalities, thanks for your time, patronising awkward smiles and relief from them that they believed that I had been put well and truly in my place. Small talk and nonsense brought a very pointless and irrelevant meeting to a close. Such was the airheadedness of the managers they didn’t have the intelligence to pick up on the fact I was asking about any holidays they had or had planned, or what holidays they had been on over past 6 or 7 weeks, you know, seen as the schools had been off due to the summer holidays. I don’t think even to this day that they know they had just proved they never really investigated anything, as they were so confident that Eugene wasn’t using the Gym because the schools would have been using it, even though the schools were on holiday.
All good things come to an end
I knew it was only a matter of months before my career with this organisation would come to closure either by pay off or by me moving on, I just wanted to wait out the Christmas period. Probably the most disappointing closure to an employment opportunity I have ever had, which is a shame as it really was one of the best places I ever worked, minus gym bunny Eugene and his magical mystery calamity of red necks. On meeting other people who had the pleasure of working alongside this Eugene character in these centres, it seems, that everyone had some sort of “personality” clash with him, funnily enough, I’ve never had a personality clash with any of them.
This sadly is the world we live in, do what you need to do. No matter what road you venture down or what career path you take there is always going to be some absolute weapon willing to put the boot it regardless of the cost to you, or the implications, to save their own skin, or massage their own lack of self-efficacy. These people are dangerous, even those close to you, or those you think have your back can sometimes prove to be more disappointing than those who stick the boot in. It’s good to talk or write about this grim period as I never really spoke about it during or after it, all I know is that it was a stressful period I’m glad I managed to come out of with no major harm done, other than huge disappointment. On a plus side, I am certainly more contentious and I am more empowered to challenge something that isn’t correct, as sometimes your job and reputation depend on it. Both my previous employer, Eugene and his employers have their own conscience to deal with, I wish them all well, especially my previous employers as like I say apart from that unfortunate event and how it was dealt with, it was a really enjoyable place to work. But all good things come to an end, so they say.
Some random photos to look at, thanks 🙂