September 13, 2016
Jill Davidson* came from a loving family. She was outgoing, loved people and had a strong work ethic. Her father ran his own earth moving company and from an early age, Jill learned a lot about business and construction.
As a young adult, she got a job at McMahon’s Machinery Hire where her talents leant themselves to a rapid rise through the ranks, becoming a store manager within 6 months. She was one of 5 women in a company of 300 men. She worked hard, earned respect and got on well with customers and staff alike. Until she fell under Gerard Krugerrand’s orbit she never had an issue with anyone at work.
He was the regional manager: a tall, intimidating man, with a pronounced South African accent and a way of barking orders that set everyone’s nerves on edge. “I am God!” he would proclaim. It wasn’t long before he was verbally abusing Jill for not doing what he expected her to do. She took work home, stayed up until 11pm at night answering work emails and was required to do the work of 3 people because 2 staff were on leave and her assistant manager wouldn’t pull his weight. When she fell short of completing all her tasks, he would humiliate her in front of staff and customers.
She started getting stressed and anxious and had recurring nightmares about being trapped and overworked. Her self-esteem and work performance deteriorated. Eventually, she decided she’d had enough, took out a worker’s compensation claim and won a settlement worth 7 months’ wages.
Luckily, Jill was still young, ambitious and with energy to burn, so she went into business for herself, hiring out bobcats and doing excavation work. It was hard going, but she was good at it and earned a reputation as an ethical and hard-working business woman. This won her several prestigious and lucrative building contracts for a luxury holiday resort.
After 20 years in her own business, she started slowing down as her body was paying the price of her doing the work of 3 or 4 men. She had back and knee problems.
She decided to quit her business and find a slower-paced job that would ease her way to retirement. She got a job as a business manager in a failing auto-repair shop and within 6 months turned their fortunes around so the business became profitable for the first time.
The owner, Chris Barkley, had a reputation as a bad boss. He would yell at the young apprentices and call them names when he thought their work was shoddy. It wasn’t long before he turned his attentions on Jill and humiliated her with a barrage of sexist comments, while also sexually pursuing her relentlessly. He touched her up at work and sent her dozens of text messages a day saying he was in love with her. At the same time, he overloaded her with work, 12-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, but was late in paying her wages and superannuation.
After 2 years, she’d had enough and quit. She saw her GP when the nightmares and flashbacks got too much for her to handle. She was diagnosed with PTSD.
She went to the fair work tribunal and even though they admitted Chris Barkley owed her for lost wages, they couldn’t obtain it for her. So she went to a lawyer specialising in industrial law, who put in a compensation claim with the government work insurer. They said they couldn’t process her claim because crucial evidence was missing – namely the hundreds of text messages he’d sent her, which she’d deleted. She found a phone forensics guy in Singapore and paid him over $3K to retrieve the lost messages for her. The insurer offered to pay her $2K compensation.
Next, she went to the federal court. But her lawyers were incompetent and she got nowhere. So she found another lawyer and while she was fighting her case, received no income for almost 2 years. She had to sell her precious possessions – like her Harley Davidson – just to survive.
His lawyers dragged it out for 4 years. That gave him plenty of time to hide his assets, which would have taken several years to recover through the legal system. By the time the whole case settled, it had cost her $400K in lost wages, $200K in legal fees and her settlement covered less than half of her losses.
Her mental health was shattered and she was left unable to leave her house, with no companion other than a therapy dog. Psychiatric medication didn’t help and health professionals didn’t understand what she’d been through – or didn’t care. She was left, at the age of 52, an empty shell of her former self with no foreseeable future other than one of interminable boredom and loneliness. At the end of our conversation, Jill admitted:
“I never spend money on myself, I can’t afford it.”
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*N.B. All identifying information has been removed from this case study, which represents an amalgamation of many clients’ stories over the years.
As a Work Stress Strategist, Author and Doctor of Psychology, I've had over 20 years' experience helping clients recover from stress, anxiety and depression as a result of relationships with toxic people at work (e.g. your bad boss) and at home (e.g. an emotionally abusive partner). I’m especially interested in helping professional women, who, in mid-career, find themselves working in a toxic work environment with a bad boss but fear to leave because there seems no other way to pay the bills. My clients long for a transition into a free spirited life and I help them find their voice, their confidence and their ambition to succeed so as to put them firmly back in the driver's seat of their own lives so they call the shots. I also help my clients develop their imagination, intuition and spirituality - because often that's what it takes to get out of a stuck place. I've written two books: "Stressed, Depressed And Dreading Mondays What Smart Career Professionals Can Do To Claim Their Life Back” and contributed a chapter to the edited book by Anton Hout: “What Every Target Of Workplace Bullying Needs To Know.” I've appeared on Channel 10, 6PR, 92.9FM, Huffpost Live and WA Today and had articles published in PsychCentral, Women's Agenda, NineMSN Health, Rebelle Society and Witch magazines. I'm currently a regular Huffington Post contributor (under my pen name).