In January of 1995, I started working at a financial institution. I was 19 and preparing to be married in June. I had moved home from college to Forest Lake when the term ended in December of 1994 and was so discouraged. Not only had I ran out of money and had to drop out of college, the job that I had moved home for had been given to someone else. Someone long term. To someone who wasn’t getting married. I asked around and spoke with a few small business owners, but there were no jobs to be had. I didn’t have a driver’s license or a car and was so set on that job close to home, that having a Plan B was something that hadn’t even crossed my mind.
I cried to my future husband and didn’t know what to do. He did. He called his mom who was in Florida on vacation over Christmas Break and together they came up with a plan. I would move in with my future mother in law and find a job closer to her home. Where businesses and jobs abounded, I knew this was an excellent idea and was so thankful to have this opportunity. I believe my mom was a bit saddened to learn that she wouldn’t have the next six months with me, but totally understood my predicament. My husband helped me move all of my belongings to his mom’s house for the second time in two weeks. I decided to walk into each business down the main street in town and ask if they were hiring. Since I moved home for a bank job that I thought would be very interesting, I was drawn to the bank right on the corner.
At my first stop, they weren’t just hiring, they were in need of someone to start almost right away. They needed someone who was flexible with hours. Could open, possibly close, and maybe even work a split shift and be available to work most Saturdays. I could do that. I could work a ton of hours. Now that I lived close, I could absolutely make this work and spend the next six months saving as much money as possible for our pending nuptials.
I started about two weeks later and I loved it. I loved being a bank teller. The customers, the service requirements, the constant attention to detail and the need for accuracy. I was meant to be a banker! I worked with a couple of sweet older mom like coworkers who were intelligent and helpful. The other young woman who also worked as tellers were a riot. They were funny, personable and competitive. Often departmental goals were established and we all fiercely tried to outdo each other.
I enjoyed working with my direct supervisor and branch manager. And then they were both transferred. A new teller supervisor arrived and I was at a loss. Temperamental, moody, self-conscious, paranoid and often downright rude, she baffled me. She was a grown woman who struggled to keep herself together and it affected her work. She was often late and unapologetic and relied on me always being on time to make sure that the bank would open on time, and that drawers would balance at the end of the day. I had a knack for finding errors and was able to help other tellers balance if they were having problems. She approached me one evening and said, “I know you want my job. And every day you make me look bad. I have my eye on you. Don’t think I am going down without a fight. ” She stomped off in her too-big black high heels. What just happened? I was so confused. Apparently, rather than acknowledging and admitting that her work ethic had slipped and that she needed to put in more effort, she decided to focus on my success in the workplace as a direct threat.
I tried to stay out of her way. I did what she asked and always completed my work, but never entered into another personal conversation with her. I then was confronted with rumours of her badmouthing me. She had told my other coworkers that I was a snob. She said that I “looked down my nose at her”. I laughed at this. I wasn’t being rude. I am very tall and she was really short. Maybe I needed to work on my facial expressions when face to face with her.
I was called into the branch managers office late one afternoon and was panicked when I found my teller supervisor already sitting across the desk. The two women wanted to talk with me about what it meant to be a young professional. I kid you not, I sat there for the next half hour listening to the two of them pontificate on how when they were young and starting out, they were smart enough to know who were their friends and who they should watch out for. I was regaled with tales of days gone by of “big meanie” bosses and reminded that neither of them was big or meanies. They both laughed much harder and longer than necessary at that joke. I stared in disbelief. I wasn’t sure if this was a pep talk or if they were reprimanding me. These were the first two women that I had encountered in my young life that wasn’t there to help me, only to hinder. I had been warned about women like this. Warned that they would be jealous, make things up if they thought it necessary, pretend to be your friend and then use everything you said against you. These were the women that would throw you under the bus. And my teller supervisor did just that and the branch manager believed her.
I sat there silently wondering if it would ever end. My teller supervisor used everything that she thought and felt about me and turned into false stories of what I had done and said. I was told my lateness was affecting my job. I was told my relationships with fellow tellers were difficult at best. I was told that it took me too long to complete my daily work and customers were complaining about my interactions with them. Not one of these things were true about me. Yet they were all true about my supervisor.
I don’t know where the ability to stand up for myself came from, but right there and then, I possessed every word I needed to say.
“I feel that I have been ambushed. I have now worked at this bank for almost a year. I love my job, I love the work and I really enjoy my coworkers. I have referred more new accounts, loans and investments than any other teller. I rank the highest out of any other branch employee on customer surveys and have never once been late for work. I am the youngest employee at this branch by far and I feel that I have been targeted to take the blame for something. I am just not sure what it is. I believe you don’t like me Helena. (name changed) I am sorry if you do not. I wasn’t under impression that you needed to. But next time, please approach me with something you can substantiate. Something real. Something credible. Please stop pointing your finger at me for everything you are doing wrong. You are the one that is late 4 out of 5 days a week. I have been covering for you. I am the one completing all of the work you have not even attempted to accomplish. And I dare you to produce even customer complaint. I have learned a lot from you. And I know I feel that I can no longer do so because you have apparently no faith in me whatsoever. If we are done here, there is a line of customers waiting for me.”
I stood and exited the manager’s office. I am still not sure of this today how I was able to say that to her and have it not even dawn on me that I could lose my job for insubordination. I continued helping customers until the end of the day. I had heard the glass panelled office door closed when I had exited. I also glanced over my left shoulder a few times and found that tears were being wiped and arms were flailing in frustration. Then I heard the yelling. And the swearing. I had made Helena so upset by standing up to her that she completely lost it.
I finished working that day, balanced out, locked up the bank, just like every other day. I went home and called my husband at work to share with him what had happened that day. He was in shock. What happened? You said what?! Kelli, you are going to get fired!
I panicked. I was absolutely going to lose my job.
Saturday and Sunday passed without event. I dreaded Monday. I thought, yes, today is the day I lose my job. Tuesday, okay, today is the day. It never happened. Helena didn’t speak to me once except to ask me when I would be back from my long mid-day break as I was working another split shift. However, Wednesday came and Helena didn’t show up for work. Two of the other tellers were joking about what a state she must be in racing for work and how she was probably going to be in a mood all day once she got there. Helena never came to work that day. The branch manager came behind the teller line during a slow few moments and informed us that Helena had been transferred to another branch where she was needed closer to home. When she told us about what was happening and that another teller supervisor was in the process of being hired, she looked nervous. She addressed each person making the point to look at each one, but failed to make eye contact with me.
Later that afternoon, the branch manager asked if she could speak with me. I followed her, but she walked right past her office and continued down the long dark hallway towards the back unused offices. “I owe you an apology. Helena had been telling me the last two months that you were doing a poor job. I took her word for it. I didn’t make a point of looking at balancing sheets, time cards, customer surveys or to speak to your coworkers. That is my mistake. You are a very good employee and I am glad you work here. But you did not come to me. You didn’t tell me that Helena is late all of the time. You didn’t tell me about how rude she is to you and your coworkers. You never once told me that you were doing her work too. Why didn’t you come to me.”
I was baffled. “I didn’t know that I could. This is the first real job that I have had. I didn’t know that I should come and talk to you. I understood that she was my supervisor and that some supervisors were better than others. She isn’t one of them.” The branch manager told me that she wanted all bank employees to know that she has an open door policy and the only reason this happened was because I didn’t say anything.
No. That isn’t the reason. That isn’t the reason at all. I was convinced the reason this happened was because women can be petty and cliquish. This happened because the branch manager wanted to be friends rather than she wanted to be the boss. She listened to the complaints of one person rather than check the facts. And in all of these complaints, there was proof that Helena was actually lying. All it would have taken was just a little digging.
I learned two very important lessons. First, no one ever wants to take the blame and it is easier to point fingers than to address your role in a situation. And second, document everything. I don’t mean to get other people in trouble. Document everything so that you have proof. Often you will never need it. I learned that day to document everything for the possibility of needing it. I kept a notebook at home, never brought it to work. If something happened with a coworker, with a customer, with my supervisor or manager, I would write down the date, approximate time and a brief description of what happened. I, at 20 years of age, never wanted to experience something like this again. Especially when I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.
Two months later, I was offered a promotion to work in new accounts and in investments. I was offered a promotion by the same bank manager that told me I was at fault for never saying anything about the situation with Helena. I excelled at my new job and loved it. I loved that was given this amazing opportunity to be and account rep and investment representative. And only 2 months after I thought I would loose my job because I had found my voice for the first time and stood up for myself by being truthful and professional. Never point fingers. Never speak poorly of others. State facts. Be kind. Be professional. Be a real woman in the workplace, in life, and stand up for yourself. You will never regret it.
Kelli Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candle lit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).
Find Kelli J Gavin on social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @KelliJGavin
Check out her blog kellijgavin.blogspot.com