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Truth, Lies and The Bully at Jenny

I think I mentioned before that this blog is cathartic; sometimes it is my little therapist's couch, a safe haven for venting and a place to work through my emotional baggage.

Such is the case today. 

I've long harboured a burden that I no longer wish to bear, a shame that I have carried for a decade but am releasing after this post.

Truth: I was the victim of workplace bullying, and I didn't stand up for myself.

When I returned from teaching overseas, I wanted to get a job to help pay for my upcoming wedding. I had successfully lost 60 pounds through good old fashioned diet and exercise, and I felt like I could share my experience with others and help them lose weight too. 

I applied, and was quickly hired, to be a consultant at a Jenny Craig in Edmonton; my duties included signing up and subsequently meeting with clients on a weekly basis, encouraging them on their weight loss journeys and selling them the Jenny Craig method of weight loss (spoiler alert: it's the prepackaged meals and supplements). 

In the back of my mind, I knew that the company was a business first, and helping others was just their schtick to profit off the hefty misery of their clientele. They made most of their bottom line from selling dreams and shilling prepackaged meals and shakes, not from charging memberships fees. However, I really liked the idea of helping people get in shape, and my impression was that I would also be able to encourage, support, and advise people on good diet and exercise habits outside of the program.

My naïveté and good intentions did me no favours in that increasingly toxic workplace; the original supervisor who hired me had left shortly after I started, and I found myself being targeted and bullied by my new supervisor (a hot-tempered, disingenuous little redhead named Amber with racist leanings) on a regular basis. When my performance did not produce the numbers that would make her shine to her bosses, she started blasting me for not meeting my weekly quotas, not pushing the sales of diet food hard enough, going off-script in my one-on-one consults with clients, and booking weekly meetings with lifetime clientele who were not purchasing full weeks of food. She started booking meetings with me to "train" me, but these were really just opportunities for her to yell at me or be patronizing and demeaning. Sometimes during our "meetings" the screaming was so loud and vicious that other staff and clients could hear every vicious, humiliating syllable through the office's closed doors. And while condolences were oft offered to me in private by sympathetic colleagues, none had the courage to actually speak up for me or defend me against the tirades of my abusive supervisor publicly. They, too, feared for their jobs and their own workplace standing.

I am ashamed to admit that I allowed this behavior to continue longer than a single instance, and silently endured an escalating pattern of workplace bullying for several months. The tirades turned into emotional abuse, consisting of intentional cold shoulders, dirty looks, and the playing of in-group/out-group mind games much like the ones I played in junior high. Towards the end of my employ, my bullying boss started ignoring me entirely, making it a point to greet every other person in the room whilst simultaneously pretending I was invisible. She was clearly trying to force me to quit because she had insufficient grounds to fire me; I, in turn, obstinately refused to give her the satisfaction of an early departure. Since I was mere months away from my wedding, and I knew that I would be quitting that hell-hole to return to university in the fall to get a second degree, I reasoned that I could stick it out. My future looked bright, and I was almost certain that my tormentor wasn't going to accomplish anything more in her career or life than managing at Jenny Craig. (A decade later, it seems I was not wrong).

On a side note, it did bother me immensely that I was being advised not to offer services to members who simply could not afford to pay for a full week's worth of food (totaling about $200 per person), or who had already earned lifetime membership status and was not required to continue buying their food on the "maintenance" plan. Officially, I believe that members are told that they are entitled to weekly consults regardless of their purchasing power, but in practice I can attest that I was being advised to give priority to those who would buy large amounts of the food, and to book non-buyers and partial food purchasers less frequently. To this day I am not certain if the unethical practice was limited to my branch of Jenny Craig, or if this is what is done worldwide. I am not saying that all of Jenny Craig is bad, but Amber, and this Edmonton branch, most certainly was a textbook case of workplace bullying at its worst. 

It's no surprise, then, that I skipped out of there on my last day, kicking off the dust from my heels as I exited. I was entering into an exciting new chapter of my life, one that would prove to be blessed beyond belief. Let God deal with my tormentor and let Him expose her for all of her hateful, vindictive behaviour, I prayed.

As for me, I guess I am ready to be over it. I am so grateful that I've had a decade of satisfying, quality work since then, and I've grown into a person who would never need to compromise my integrity or be subject to such tyranny in the workplace. My education qualifies me for opportunities that this woman will never have, and my freedom allows me to look back on her and feel sorry for her, and for the fact that her life was so terrible and powerless that the only way she could have any feeling of control and value was to bully someone else.

But before I put this behind me entirely, let me just say this: today is PINK SHIRT DAY, and an opportunity to raise awareness and stand up against bullying. You may not don a pink top or make a monetary donation, but please let your actions speak loudly that you will not tolerate bullying in any form. Stand up against it online, in the workplace, and in the playground or classroom. Don't allow yourself to be a bystander or a bully or a victim. Make a difference!


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