The profile has agreed to share his story under the condition of anonymity. His name has been changed to protect his identity.
What constitutes workplace harassment, abuse or even discrimination?
Sometimes they could be outright obvious, sometimes they could be subtle or even hidden behind closed doors.
For Michael, who is now in his 40s, all was well at his job for the first few years. That was until he was put up as a possible contender for a management role.
Life in His New Role
Five years ago, Michael started working as a business consultant at a trade association, giving advice to clients on how to advance their competitiveness and capabilities in the local economy.
He performed well at his job and got along well with his fellow colleagues.
Though he brought over 10 years of working experience, he considered it a mid-career switch as he previously worked in a different role at a start-up company.
At the trade association, he was under a female supervisor who was around 10 years younger. Despite the age difference, he had no issues working for her as she had more industry-relevant experience.
He also considered himself to be of a minority race within the organisation, however explaining that it never bothered him as his colleagues were generally amicable and that he was there to do his job.
The first three years went by pretty much without a hitch until one of the directors decided to quit the organisation, leaving the position open.
Michael said both his peers and a couple of management executives felt that he would have been an excellent candidate to fulfil that role, putting him up as one of the contenders for consideration, alongside his own supervisor.
That was when the troubles began.
Trouble at Work
Michael started recounting various experiences of unfair treatment from his supervisor – ranging from being held accountable for mistakes he said he did not make, to accusations of insubordination and insensitivity.
“I was called in for ‘meetings’ and made to just sit there and wait, usually for an hour or so before she [his supervisor] would even show up,” he recalled.
Once, the supervisor started the meeting only three hours after calling him in. Despite that, she reprimanded him for going against her instructions when he tried to head back to his workstation to wait.
In a separate incident, his supervisor told him off for passing her documents with his left hand.
“To quote her, she said I was ‘insensitive to cultural nuances,’” Michael recalled.
He said that he even went to the extent of asking other colleagues who were of the same ethnicity as his supervisor to see if anyone else would have taken offence to his actions. No one else did.
The most humiliating moment in Michael’s career was when the supervisor called him into her office one day. She didn’t want to speak to him about work. Rather, she wanted him to practice smiling for half an hour in front of her.
Apparently she thought Michael had a “very condescending smile”.
Michael chose to suffer mostly in silence from the alleged harassment he was facing at work. He pressed on because he needed a job.
It was also not easy for him to find a role that aligned with what he wanted to do.
Michael never thought he would experience such treatment when he was delivering above expectations at work.
“Initially, I was shocked and surprised. I thought that by being a good colleague and employee, I wouldn’t face such problems. To receive this kind of negativity for doing a good job, I think that is just crazy,” he said.
He further emphasised that as the harassment went on, he started feeling helpless, and it affected his overall confidence.
He didn’t have anyone to turn to for help. As he was single, Michael didn’t have a partner to confide in. He also didn’t want his parents to worry about his work problems.
Michael said that the issues persisted until he met up with the people at the NTUC U PME Centre.
A U PME career coach encouraged Michael to approach the centre. The coach was someone he knew through his volunteer work at NTUC.
“Not only did they inform me of my rights as an employee, but the U PME team also encouraged me to build my knowledge – because once you have knowledge, it builds up your confidence,” he said.
Michael decided not to pursue the matter with his supervisor and instead, focused his energies on shaping his career.
He started attending more NTUC career improvement workshops, and the career coach taught him how to identify his career path; improve his resume; enhance his LinkedIn profile; and brush up his interview and salary negotiation skills.
And around to six months later, Michael finally felt confident enough to leave the company.
He even managed to secure a new job that was more aligned with his career goals, as well as a 25 per cent pay increment.
Michael now encourages those facing abuse to seek help, after realising that he didn’t have to suffer alone all those months.
“Reach out to seek help – be it at a professional level or emotional level. Talk to family and friends. Some people would have been in similar situations before, who will be willing to help,” he said.
NTUC U PME Centre
Established in 2014, the NTUC U PME Centre aspires to be the first and only stop for professionals, managers & executives (PMEs) to empower and educate them about work-related matters.
The centre also provides one-to-one career coaching, career preparatory workshops, mock interviews and other career-related tips to enhance PMEs’ employability skills.
The career coach who attended to Michael’s case explained that he attends to approximately 30 individuals every month, out of which, around five cases will be on workplace harassment.
On dealing with harassment, the coach’s advice was to not sit on the matter.
“Do not suffer in silence and seek help immediately. The longer you wait, the situation may worsen and take a toll on your health, lead to depression, lower your productivity and your self-confidence, just to name a few.
“Talk to your human resource department or an ethics committee if your company has one. If all else fails, union members can file a report with NTUC,” he said.