In December of 2014, I was offered an opportunity that I thought would change my career and open so many wonderful doors for me. I left my pretty decent job at a mental health agency that paid me more than this new opportunity would, but I decided to take a leap of faith. My mom, who has worked for Ramsey County for almost 20 years, said taking this opportunity would be a really good idea and really change things for the better (career wise). I accepted the offer and put a resignation in at the mental health agency I had only been with a very short time.
I was a little sad to leave a job I have done on and off for 3 years but I thought I needed a break from working in home based services providing mental health services. I’m in school for counseling, I surely need a break, I thought to myself. So I felt I made a great decision and was excited for my new journey.
On January 26th, 2015, I entered the world of Hennepin County. There was a large orientation at the Hennepin County Government Center. It was an extremely large orientation (60+). I listened intently to all the welcoming presentations and quickly signed up for the amazing health and dental benefits. I thought I had made it. I thought working for the largest county in Minnesota was going to lead to bigger and better things fairly quickly since my foot was already in the door.
At my second interview, I was told there would be six months of in depth training on the government assistance programs I would be working with as a “Human Services Representative” (HSR). My interviewers said it was going to be a very interactive, hands on, thorough training that would set me up to be a successful and efficient HSR. I was sold. No mention of numbers, accuracy, etc.
Day one of orientation went by quickly and I couldn’t wait to get started on learning about government assistance programs that I have helped so many of my clients sign up for in my previous positions within mental health. I always heard complaints from my clients about the entire system, how they didn’t understand why things were the way they were, why it was always so hard to get someone on the phone from the county, why they always had to fill out so much paperwork, and always provide so much “extra stuff”. I never sympathized, but tried my best to empathize. I always told them to just follow the rules and they will get what they need. Honestly, in the back of my mind on Day Two, I was set to learn about everything regarding health care, food support, and other programs. I was set to be the best HSR and make things easier for clients on the other end because I knew how they felt about the “system”.
Day two, there was a lot of computer set up, tours, etc. I was overwhelmed but making my first friend on that second day made things so much better. As time went on, more and more access issues to programs on our laptops would come up. It was odd because over half of my lab group didn’t have access to the major systems we would be working on daily (MAXIS and MMIS). I didn’t have access and I was frustrated. I started to notice a lot of disorganizations in our trainings. But I was just rolled with it once my computer issues were worked out.
I was scolded for reading during our downtime (waiting around for other people) by one of the HSR mentors. “If a supervisor catches you reading, you could get in trouble so put that away”, I was told. I was extremely baffled. Am I in grade school? I thought. I put whatever I was reading away and never did it again, afraid I would get scolded again. The same mentor for not having the correct training material on hand scolded me again. It was never given to me, I told her. And she responded, well why not? A friend passed it to me and she walked away, displeased.
Scott and I (the friend I made the second day) sat next to each other and I guess talked quietly to each other when we were waiting for our lap group members to catch up. I didn’t think of it as a concern because we weren’t distracting anyone, and we were adult enough to do so if we were just sitting around waiting for others. After 2-3 weeks, I was called into one of the supervisor’s office. I was unsure why. My friendship with Scott was deemed “inappropriate” and “things needed to stop”, I was told. What needed to stop? What was inappropriate? That a man and a woman had made friends and talked to one another? Nothing more was said then, “we have noticed your friendship as inappropriate”. Never told why, or how but I felt threatened. Once again, afraid to speak up like the 32-year adult I am and feeling like I had been in the principal’s office, I nodded and said this will not be a problem. Scott no longer sat next to me and we made sure we were never really seen around each other a lot. We both worried that our friendship could cost us this job so we kept quiet. Is any of this starting to sound ridiculous to you?
In our training group, there were about 45 of us, split into two lab groups. There were many personalities, different maturity levels, and of course, everyone learned at different paces. I respected everyone who respected me. One day, maybe two months in, I was having a conversation with a new friend (female, of course). Suddenly, a woman in front of us who actually had the cubicle next to mine, turns around with annoyance and says, “Like oh my god, I’m Natalia and I’m so annoying”, and turns back around. I believe this woman was in her 40’s. I leave the room and burst into tears. Once again, I could not believe a working professional could act like that. Ok, sure, I should not have been having a side conversation but was I the only one in the room of 20 talking to one another? I felt singled out again, but this time by a fellow co-worker. An HSR mentor did approach me and asked if I was okay and asked if she should say something to a supervisor about this situation. I was afraid to lose my job for some reason and said, no it’s fine, and I’ll get over it. I wiped my tears and re-entered the room and didn’t speak for the rest of the day. I never received an apology from my co-worker and she eventually acted like we were friends. High school.
Next thing that happened, with that target on my back was something I thought would never happen to me as a 32 year old woman. I was victim of cyber bullying. I’m not going to sit here and write about the other people involved. It was more about the fact how my supervisors handled the whole thing. I was a nervous wreck every day at work, worried, anxious, depressed that maybe what was written was true. I had meetings with the supervisors whom I reported this to. I was always told, “We are investigating this and taking this very serious”. I tried to put my faith that I would get my justice. With the target still on my back, I didn’t. I was told that it was partially my fault for what happened and nothing, absolutely NOTHING was done. Cyber bullying is a serious matter. And according to Hennepin County’s standards and policies that they drill on us daily, this is something is inexcusable and will not be tolerated. Well it was and I was left, feeling more depressed about the job, and completely beaten down by the system at Hennepin County.
I eventually moved to my “region” at the Hopkins Human Services site. Things were not better there either, since we were all still part of “onboarding” and had to meet with a very unprofessional supervisor, who bullied us into getting our numbers up and our accuracy rate higher. I thought this job was a joke, but I will say, this is a really hard job and we should’ve been paid way more than we were for all the things we had to remember and read through and process. I respect my co-workers who are still there doing a really difficult job at a low pay.
All in all, I was let go on July 8th, for having too many errors. I knew it was coming and I was relieved. I had been interviewing for positions in the mental health field since end of March. I was ready to go. But I will sum up what is wrong with the hell I went through in those 6 months:
Conflicting leadership directives
- a) Supervisors, Trainers, Mentors…the ‘correct’ answer depends on who you ask and who completes review
- b) Supervisory Staffs are specialized; not versed in ALL programs
Accountability focused vs. client focused
- a) The priority and focus is staff behavior, not customer care or client outcomes
- b) We receive emails warning of clients and ‘incidents’ that took place yet there’s no conversation of what HC did wrong in the situation or what should have taken place…no responsibility or accountability on HC whatsoever.
“Serving Residents” is the claimed statement of Hennepin County yet nothing in onboarding implies that or instructs on how to successfully accomplish that.
- High expectations of low-level staff, low expectations of high-level staff
- a) Dress attire – supervisors wear leggings, converse, show cleavage regularly and dresses much shorter than ‘policy’, wear muumuus w sports jacket and sandals, wear hats
- b)Punctuality – Depending on the day you may see any staff rolling in while onboarding awaits their morning check-in’ yet we’re told “we have the right to end your probationary period at any time”
- a)Onboarding is like ”Survivor,” you never know what supervisor is plotting against you or why; if you question you’re reminded… “We have the right to end your probationary period at any time”
- b) If you’re wrongfully accused of anything (i.e. making a noise in class) by a mentor another mentor who never fails to show their high-level of unprofessionalism not deny these accusations or you will be deemed “disrespectful & insubordinate” and be targeted, harassed and made an example of daily; giving supervisors an exciting opportunity to display their power and true colors.
I’m glad this chapter of my life is over and I made a best friend out of the whole experience. Kind of made it all worth it. Thanks, Scott. 🙂