Before I even start writing this post, I want to make a couple of things incredibly clear for the sake of covering my own back. This is my own experience and you are asked to form your own judgement from reading this post- I will not be attempting to sway your opinion of Primark during this post. Any decision you may make to boycott Primark, talk about this publicly or else, is at your expense and not mine. I do not take responsibility for the actions you take as a result of reading this post. I am sharing my story and my reasons to not support Primark and then leaving it.
This is not an attempt to cause any damage to my former employer. I just feel that my story should be heard. I was wronged on many occasions and cannot keep bottling up what happened. I have suffered as a result of one store’s actions. This is not me speaking for every store but for the one I had experience with- this store will not be named for privacy purposes.
Most people do not know that before my jobs in Pathology, I worked for Primark. It’s a story I rarely tell publicly for fear of backlash and for quite a while, I did not have solid and concrete evidence for my story to be taken seriously.
I worked for said company part time for 5 or 6 months for some extra cash. It was my first job and I was so excited to start my first job.
This had been my shop of choice for almost all of my 17 years of childhood. I loved their clothes, their sizes fit me and as far as cheap and cheerful goes, it was the place for me.
I never hated the principle of working in retail- I actually loved working with people and during my time at the store, I spoke to so many interesting people who made my day with some of the stories they told.
It was the staff, particularly management, that let down my experience. We all dislike our managers (well, not currently but eh) because they are the head of the department/store and love to enforce every little rule/preach the staff handbook or code of conduct. They always seem like untouchables that never seem to do much, right? Sometimes you get a great manager/managers like I currently have. You can have a laugh with them but they still lay down the law. For me, this wasn’t the case.
From speaking with a few people and knowing experiences of friends, other bloggers etc, I know most people will say that when you work retail jobs a lot of people don’t want to be there or don’t work hard so the environment becomes toxic because bitching about colleagues or other people becomes the only interesting thing to do. This place was toxic. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great people I worked with and one or two girls I still talk to regularly but the majority of people I worked with were the biggest shit stirrers on the planet.
So, what is my story that required a 600 word essay for an introduction?
Well, if you don’t like long stories then this isn’t the one for you.
But this is the story of why I needed elbow surgery again, why I have anxiety in the workplace and why I made the decision to boycott the store in October 2017.
Little bit of context for you.
In 2015, I trapped a nerve in my left elbow during a mock GCSE exam. In 2016 I saw multiple consultants and had multiple tests but it was decided that I needed surgery to decompress my ulnar nerve.
I applied for the job during my GCSEs in 2016 (shit, is it really 2 years ago that I finished high school?) and I was unsure if I’d get the job due to the fact I needed surgery.
During my interview, I made them aware I needed surgery and I was told that if successful, I’d be put on ‘light duties’ (oh, my favourite phrase) after surgery. I did end up being successful and started my job after my GCSEs finished.
I was called for surgery pretty quick actually and after only a few weeks working there, I let them know that I was going in for surgery and would need two weekends off (I only worked weekends). This was OK. I went for surgery and thankfully, I was told the surgery had worked. Immediately after surgery, I could hold a clenched fist again, feel my two little fingers on my left hand and nothing hurt. I could have cried in happiness.
In discharge notes:
Overall Plan For Care:
Rest in sling, gentle elbow motion only, analgesia
I do have written confirmation that surgery was successful. I contacted my GP for all my medical documents relating to my elbow and in there, I found the letter that said the nerve had been decompressed. There was no reason that I couldn’t make a full recovery.
Unless, of course, my arm was not rested.
In letter to GP after bandages were removed:
She feels that she has already noticed some improvement
In second letter to GP:
The pins and needles have completely settled down
On my return to work, no formal return to work was done until about 3 shifts after my surgery. As a 16 year old who had no knowledge of how the workplace worked, I did not know one was necessary or even what one was. I just assumed that I handed in my sick note and went on my merry way.
I knew my limits but knew that I was able to move my arm as usual and was actually encouraged to go about life normally to build up the muscles that I had lost due to nerve damage. But by the time that I had my back to work meeting, I knew that I was in too much pain to be working on the tills.
So, I asked to be moved and my line manager endorsed this request but the store manager got funny and asked for a note from my doctor.
As you do, I got the letter requesting that I be moved to an alternative department and my line managers were all happy with this and I was moved but the store manager kept insisting that I work on the tills.
I couldn’t stand up to her. If I’m honest, she fucking petrified me. And one weekend, she called me out on the shop floor for my ‘appalling’ customer service. I was working the tills and was almost in tears from pain but she didn’t like that I wasn’t smiling. This was all said on the shop floor, in front of customers on our busiest trading weekend. She made me cry and proceeded to tell me that there’d been complaints about my attitude (and was later told by my line manager that THIS WAS A TOTAL LIE). I told her that I couldn’t work the tills and she told me that my doctors letter was not enough and until I had an actual sick note, I had to work on the tills.
Around this time, I caught wind of the fact that people I worked with were saying that my doctor’s letter was fake and an excuse to get out of work. I was the type of employee that people would compliment and I did have managers TELL ME THAT CUSTOMERS HAD COMPLIMENTED MY CUSTOMER SERVICE. If I had wanted to get out of work, I’d have pulled sickies every weekend. But despite the pain, I STILL went in. But OK, I was totally dodging work.
So, I got an actual sick note saying I was fit to work but with work place adjustments. I was promptly called for a meeting with managers to see if I was actually fit for work but after my manager spoke to me the way she did and I was just not turning into work (I was either in too much pain, too scared or too drugged up on painkillers), I quit my job.
I quit because I was never told what the purpose of the meeting was. I was under the impression that I was going to be told I was not fit to work and would be either dismissed or asked to resign and this actually happened to a girl I still talk to now. The manager wouldn’t fire her so asked her to resign after giving her the same grief I got, again on the shop floor.
I fought hard with my GP and the trust that I was being seen by to see my original consultant. I didn’t feel like I was being taken seriously at all by my post-op consultant. I knew my nerve was trapped again but no tests could be done until a year after surgery. You just know when something isn’t right in your body. My hand was spasming, I could barely grip anything and the physio was not working. I knew I needed surgery but I needed to see the consultant who was actually thorough in his examination of my arm and nerve.
In September 2017, I was given an appointment to see my original consultant and he said I needed surgery again. The nerve was trapped and in a letter to my GP, he states that it’s likely my work was the cause.
In letter from consultant to GP, 25th September 2017:
… initially felt that symptoms were improving quite rapidly post-operatively. However, she returned to her [“full time” was written rather than part time] manual shift work very quickly despite feeling that this was not very beneficial for her on-going problems
I had enough ammunition to complain.
I went down the formal complaints route with Primark and for a while, I felt like I was being taken seriously.
Then they told me that they were dropping the complaint because the store had done nothing wrong and basically implied that I was lying. Even after I’d presented them with nearly 30 pages of my medical records as proof. And despite telling me that the manager wouldn’t find out that I’d complained, the email they sent telling me they’d dropped the case said she DENIED doing anything wrong. How tf did she know I complained?? I do have theories on that one but hey, we’re not spilling THAT kind of tea today.
That’s when I made the decision to boycott Primark. And since then, I’ve only made two purchases and that was in a compete emergency and to buy tops I didn’t mind splitting after surgery (ha, ironic huh?).
It’s hard to boycott the place that you’ve spent years buying clothes from because you love their clothes, they fit you. It’s hard to see them come out with really cute clothes and makeup and ranges that you just can’t buy because you’re then supporting the company. It’s hard to go months without being able to buy new clothes or shoes because that was the only place you can afford. And it’s hard seeing other people in the blogging community praise the store for their clothes and makeup and seeing people openly support a brand that treats it’s staff in such a horrible way.
But those are material things.
What’s harder is being in so much pain that you struggle to find another job. Being so scared of authority figures that you don’t ever want to trust a manager again. Being so scared every time your manager wants to speak to you because you think he or she is going to yell at you.
When I quit, I couldn’t afford to go to college anymore. Along with other stresses in my life, the elbow pain, what had happened in this job and losing my only source of income, it got to a point where my mental health was so bad that I attempted to take my life. I felt useless.
I’m thankful that my first job in the NHS came up. It was bank and I could take shifts as and when the pain came and went. It wasn’t a taxing job and well, when you work for the health service, your health is taken a little more seriously!
My current managers are so supportive of my injury and have allowed me to be on light duties from the get go. But I have huge fears about my return to work. I know they’ll be supportive and they’ve reassured me that Occupational Health, my managers and myself will work together to make sure I can return to work and can do my job or work out what I can and can’t do. But there’s still that fear that I’ll end up in the same position again. That trauma, for lack of a better word, doesn’t go away.
My decision to boycott Primark came from many events but the biggest decider was when the complaint was dropped because the manager of the store denied everything. I was told she’d never find out and I was lied to. I felt belittled and embarrassed to have even tried to take on such a big company.
I cannot support a company that allows it’s staff to be treated like I was and doesn’t pay attention when they complain and have proof that they were in the wrong.
I cannot support a company where the managers ENCOURAGE workplace bullying and won’t do anything about it going on and actually fuel people’s fires.
I cannot support a company where the store manager knew an older male member of staff was preying on young girls AND DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BUT LAUGH ABOUT IT AND FUEL THE RUMOURS (rumours were true, take it from me. The story of when I was emotionally abused will come later).
I cannot support a company who don’t take their staff seriously when they say they’re uncomfortable with the unwanted attention they’re getting from male members of staff.
I cannot support a company that would bollock you if a certain number of transactions weren’t completed within an hour or you didn’t scan enough items fast enough.
I cannot support a company that has managers that spread rumors that employees sick notes are fake.
I cannot support a company that doesn’t care about the health and well being of their employees, neglecting them to the point that they need surgery again.
I cannot support them and I will not.
Since making the decision to boycott them, I’ve done my absolute best to buy new clothes as and when I can to swap out my wardrobe so I no longer own any of their clothes or own as few items as possible. Some items I will keep but very few. My sister can have them or I will sell/bin them. I don’t use their makeup any more, wear their shoes… I cannot support them.
It was hard. The first few months, I’d walk past a store and want to go in and have a look round and buy a cute shirt but I held back and now I don’t even feel tempted to spend money there. The thought revolts me.
Through this decision, I’ve forced myself to buy clothes I normally wouldn’t and have forged my own look. I’ve discovered new brands and brands that have a much higher quality of clothes.
But boycotting Primark won’t change the fact that just days ago, I went through surgery for the second time.
I’m writing this a month in advance and I’m sat here unsure of if the surgery will work. Will it go wrong? Will I be at home or still in hospital when this is posted? Will I ever be able to use my arm again? None of these things are directly Primark’s fault but it is their fault that I require surgery. I shouldn’t be in this position.
I won’t update this post with how my surgery went. Those recovery posts will be separate and my actual surgery story is in the post before this.
For ANYBODY who works part time retail or is about to, even for a short time, make sure you know your rights as an employee and DO NOT be scared to speak up. Especially where your health is concerned. And I am begging you please, if you are not happy in your job, find a new one if you can. I can tell you first hand the effect being in a job you detest has on your mental health, and how much happier you will be working somewhere where you feel well supported and nurtured.
I wish I’d have known that back to works needed to be done and that they could (and should) support me in the workplace. I was promised risk assessments and more but nothing ever came of it.
This post is long. I appreciate that. But I am trying to wrap it up.
I am angry. I am angry, upset, hurt, in pain, anxious and even, dare I say it, traumatised. My experience of working for this store was horrible and I get panic attacks just walking past the store I worked in. I physically cannot do it.
When this post goes up, I’ll be sat all bandaged up. I’ll be fragile and hyper aware of what could come of this. It may get a couple of views and that’s it. Or it could go bigger (like my John Kuckian post did. Wasn’t expecting THAT to happen).
Whatever happens, I can’t stress enough that this is 100% true. No matter what the results of the complaint was. I LIVED THROUGH THIS. My life has been a living hell where my elbow is concerned and lets not get started on workplace anxiety.
Whether or not you believe me, I will appreciate any and all support I get from writing this. At 16 I did not expect to go through this in my first job. It’s left me pretty scarred.
I will likely never get anything for my struggle. I’ll probably never get an apology. And all the financial compensation in the world could not make up for the constant pain and stress I’ve been under for nearly 2 years. I certainly don’t want my job back so I guess I’ll settle for getting my story out there and my voice heard.
Lots of Love,