On our first shift together, my new colleague told me how he got the job. He said he walked in, asked if there were any opportunities available, had a 15-minute interview, and management offered the job there and then. At the time, I did not know how an already well-staffed team had essentially offered a job that wasn’t available to someone in their late twenties.
He told me about how straight after school he joined the British army to serve in the Afghanistan war. The life lessons learnt there must have made him appear like the ideal candidate for most roles in most businesses. No doubt, he would have developed the qualities of the most experienced humans:
- And a few dozen more…
He must have learnt so much, it was no wonder he immediately got the job. But when I worked alongside him, he’d disappear often, which was the first of many concerns.
As this was a physical and manual job in the behind-the-scenes of a large hotel, we always needed to stick together. After a few weeks, I’d wondered where he’d go. I had to walk past the staff smoking shelter one day and I saw him there. He’d go there a lot. I’d ask for help and I’d always hear, “Of course, mate”, but he was rarely by my side when I needed help.
Sometimes I’d find him talking to the bar staff, and I’d be worrying about the amount of remaining work on our shift. I’d go up and say I needed help. Again, he’d say “Of course, mate”. And he helped me, but this kept happening, again and again. This annoyed me, because not only was he avoiding work, but he’d rather be talking to someone else than to me! To be fair to him, I was 17, quiet, and introverted, and had little to talk about.
Some of my other colleagues noticed he had become difficult to work with, they’d call him lazy and someone who was conveniently only hard-working when management was watching. Our relationship had taken a toll on me. I had to ask my supervisor to alter the rota, so I didn’t have to work with him anymore as shifts together became more and more challenging.
But it turned out I didn’t need to speak to my supervisor. I was on the rota to work with him for the week of November 5th, which is Bonfire night in the UK. It’s essentially a day for fireworks. He told me he wouldn’t be coming in for those shifts.
He explained to me that the firework’s sound exacerbated his PTSD, which triggered severer episodes of depression. As he was saying this, I realised it was no wonder he’d take breaks often, using cigarettes as a quick mood booster. And no wonder he talked to the friendly and approachable bar staff, whose job it also was to interact with people, rather than introverted me. Realistically, he was getting support from no-one, and anything to take his mind off things felt like it helped him.
My colleagues told me they knew about his illness caused by the war and how it affects him at home. As I realised that this illness must have been affecting him all this time, I felt terrible that I wanted to distance myself from him, rather than be there as support.
The only time that management could help was by giving him those shifts off. They only did this because there were physical symptoms caused by the PTSD. They knew about the PTSD, but if there were no physical symptoms, would they have given him those shifts off? What if he could work the shift and his work-rate was unaffected, but he suffered mentally? Would they still have given him those shifts off if he’d have asked?
If an employee was absent with a cold, a manager might be surprised they didn’t come into work. If they were absent because they’re vomiting, a manager would probably be glad they stayed at home. The more ‘physical’ the illness, the less chance people will question absenteeism, yet mental health issues can have no physical symptoms.
The HR manager was often too busy to talk to the employees and undoubtedly could not prioritise employee issues. I never saw the HR manager speak to him yet over half a million US troops alone suffered from PTSD from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, so where was the support? Do mental health issues remain taboo, and do we falsely believe the opposite?
Management didn’t care about him, and I tried to take their place by being more open and by regularly asking him how he was, but I’m not sure how much this helped. Management gave us no mental health support advice or information.
One day I came in and I was expecting to see him there, but he wasn’t. A colleague and friend of mine explained they had fired him. I asked why, and it turned out that he poured himself a pint from the bar, sat at a manager’s desk, typed up his resignation notice, printed it off right there, handed it to them, and walked off.
I’m not sure what caused him to do this, but he was receiving no mental health support, his colleagues were uneducated on workplace mental health, and there was no interaction from HR. There was no mental health support available and, unfortunately, this is currently the way it is across the globe.
There are a few lessons I reflect on from this story from within this industry:
- Management should make employees more conscious of workplace mental health issues.
- Management should be friendly and approachable. They should allow any employee mental health issues to be dealt with.
- HR should be able to monitor staff well-being and know employee concerns, especially the ones of highest priority.
However, these lessons apply to not only the physical-labour job sector, but all sectors where there is HR management — because HR management needs desperate re-evaluation and modernisation.