Sunday, 1 October 2023

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Self-professed ex-officer shares experience of Singapore Police Force’s broken employee grievance system

Below is a post written by “Alex Lim” on Facebook

Long Post Ahead. In light of the death of Sergeant Uvaraja S/0 Gopal, alleged to be due to a toxic working environment, I felt that I had to post this to let people know about my experiences in the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

I am writing under an alias account, but I can assure you that this story is very real. Let’s see if SPF would doxx me, hypocritical as they are to their own laws.

This is a story about how broken the employee grievance system can be in an organization.

This is a story written to warn those considering joining this organization. You may take it as the ramblings of a mad man, dismissing my claims as the organization has done so.

This is my story of my experience in SPF. No names or sensitive information is shared in adherence to Official Secrets Act.

Whilst I was being posted to the investigation branch, another department’s IOs warned me about the department I was being posted to. They talked about the toxic people and managers there. At that time, I didn’t believe them.

As my police tours started, as seen on the Channel News Asia (CNA) documentary, I was in charge of handling phone calls on cases. My teammates would work on other tasks.

Going in fresh, I did not know what to expect. I asked my allocated mentor what I should look out for when picking up calls. He said, ‘when you become more experienced you will know.’ Later on, I asked if he could demonstrate how to handle the phone calls, he picked up one and demonstrated how fast he could handle a call and ended the call within 20s.

There was no explanation that came after. This would be his modus operandi for many of his future ‘teachings’. With this, I went on tours without the basic explanations on what I should be doing even when I asked.

During the course of my tours, I tried to ask my teammates on the tasks and cases, but many denied to share information and told me to ask my mentor instead. People were not forthcoming in sharing knowledge – Knowledge that was essential to do my job.

In addition, there was no proper orientation. Every time I needed a document or resource to do my work, I had to go beg around for them. In contrast, other departments have starter packs with documents to get them started. Their teammates were forthcoming in sharing. I envied them.

As I naively believed that the phone calls were about speed, including making decisions as my mentor had demonstrated so, I tried to pick up all the phones calls that came during tour. As a result, I was overwhelmed.

I only found out much later that my teammates were supposed to help pick up the calls.

But sadly, they did not inform me or offer to help. They certainly did not notice something was amiss when they were getting little to no calls. As a result, I was making mistakes in my work. I kept forgetting stuff as I got overwhelmed by calls during tours and outside tours.

As I made work mistakes during tour, some of my teammates began to say: ‘if you don’t know something, you must ask’. In my thoughts, I was thinking, I did ask but I get bounced around or get nonchalant answers except from a few people. This is just my bias, but I think in the private sector, people would know better. They would know that those with experience have to also play their part to share.

The repercussions are that during tour, I made some decisions and some did not work out. I then get blamed for them. Generally, there was a stance that did not tolerate mistake – which one can argue to be both good and bad.

I raised the issue on my mentor to my manager. I told her in a nice manner that my mentor was not really teaching me the things I needed.

Based on my impression, my manager talked to my mentor to take corrective action. At first, things seemed to get better, because my mentor would sit down with me to explain a subject that was essential for my work. However, this only happened once. The nonchalant teaching continued afterwards.

If I did not ask, nothing is ever shared or taught. But to be fair to the manager, she did try to share some teachings. Am I supposed to know what to ask when the information is something that is privileged to those with experience?

Work mistakes continued. With the overload in work, I continued to make mistakes during work, including typos. I was also blamed for not coping well.

Thankfully, there was a teammate who was kind enough to share the resources that his own mentor shared with him. If not, I could not even do my basic work.

However, as my work performance was not improving, my manager became more and more abusive. She became fiercer and fiercer in her interactions with me, sometimes shouting my name fiercely out from her room.

Months later, she would also fiercely tell me to get out of her room and to leave her department. Hostile interactions continued as she gave a ‘black’ face during our interactions, including when I greeted her in the morning.

At some point, the narrative that I did not ask has become entrenched, even though 9 out of 10 times, I can assuredly, based on my conscience, say that I did. I asked the best of what I could, without the privileged information held by the mentors. (I was even blamed later for asking about everything. Just how self-serving can these people get?)

Later on, I found out that my mentor was covering his ass by speaking poorly about me to my manager. Given that she is, in my opinion, a covert vulnerable narcissist who cannot take disagreement, it was clear that he was agreeing with her own views on my incompetence to protect his position.

One month in, I sat with my big boss to tell him that I wanted to change department. He dismissed my concerns, showing a lack of interest.

The next day, when I was back in the office, I was shocked when my boss angrily told me off for talking bad about her to the boss behind her back. Since when did sharing concerns about a manager become bad talking?

That was when I knew that what I told my big boss was being conveyed to my manager. I still remember her saying: “I hate people who talk bad about me behind my back the most?” Given the fierce backlash from trying to raise an issue, one would be mad or a masochist to raise issues with the big boss.

So I tolerated such a department. A few months in, when I finally found out that I was not supposed to take all the calls and told my manager, she blamed me for not asking. This blaming continued though she said at the start with such gusto to me that there will be no blaming in this department.

Deteriorating treatments continued, and my mental health deteriorated. I was getting dark thoughts. I sat down with my big boss while censoring my words on my manager, and I was referred to a counsellor. I knew this had to be done because I knew something would happen if I did not leave this department.

This time, it was my big boss who said, ‘why didn’t you tell me?’

In my mind, I was thinking, you were conveying what I said to my boss, and it only leads to blaming and scolding. You think I would be able to tell you? I would only be shooting myself in the leg.

Nine months in, I was finally transferred to another department. I ceased my therapy then as the colleagues there were friendly, professional, and forthcoming with their sharing and I was able to do my work well.

Some of the work is even more advanced than my previous work. At one point, I handed in a file that was well done to my big boss. There, he asked me, ‘why is it that you couldn’t cope previously?’ That was when I could confirm, he didn’t really care.

Whilst I was in the new department, the commander held a no supervisor chat with the employees. Before I went to the talk, I was clearly told to send the minutes of that chat to a supervisor, who was not supposed to be there.

Ultimately, I did not send those minutes out to the unauthorized supervisor. But at the same time, I could not raise my issue or give my true feelings about the organization to the commander as that information could be leaked. I am sure my colleagues felt the same, given their lackluster response.

Ultimately, I decided to quit SPF, given how dysfunctional the organization was. There was no procedural justice or any effective form of grievance handling of verbally abusive managers.

One year later, I still get dark thoughts. During one such attack, I wrote in to a minister to look into the matter. Action was finally taken. Info was sent to the division’s feedback and the Internal Affairs Office (IAO) called me. I thought something was finally getting done. I thought that someone was finally going to recognize that there was a problem here.

What happened during the interview was not pretty. I felt that the Internal Affairs Officer had deemed me to be a troublemaker, saying that he knew that the big boss had engaged me on the matter even though I said that he did not.

However, in truth, my discussion with the big boss on that matter in the entire nine months did not exceed ten lines. Okay, maybe twenty lines just to be generous. He told me that the big boss did a lot of things for me behind the scenes and asked if I know what had been done for me.

I told him that I did not know what actions had been taken. This was my honest perspective as the management only communicated within themselves.

Nothing was ever shared with me. No one informed if action was taken against my manager. No one engaged me to ask me more about the problem that I faced in my department. If they did engage anyone, I can only speculate that they talked to my manager.

Weird isn’t it? When someone raises an issue, they do not try to learn more about the issue from the person raising the issue but talk to the manager and ask her opinion on the person raising the issue. What kind of organization does not ensure the anonymity of the persons raising issues?

The internal affairs officer asked why I did not seek counselling or treatment after. I told him I was doing alright in the new department.

I was also thinking: ‘after I left, I didn’t, because I would have to pay for my own counseling and I was not employed for a year already.’ During this year, I fought hard against my dark thoughts using self-help cognitive therapy.

After a year of investigations, the internal affairs officer called me and said that they did not find my boss’ behaviour to be excessive. This was verbatim. I told him that some of the people I know had left SPF – people whom I know were in the new department which the manager took over. He told me that people were leaving en masse from the public service not just SPF.

So, instead of trying to fix the problem, SPF buried it and condoned it? That is what I thought.

Given how negative the initial portions of the interview were by the internal affairs officer, I could only speculate how SPF processed my provided information when the minister forwarded the information to the feedback department of the police.

I speculate that my division and my manager got hold of the information first, gathered information from people in my ex-department.

If that was the case, how could the investigation and information gathered not be biased?

The manager herself would be exerting pressure on those providing information. The same goes when the IAO officer was interviewing witnesses. Did the witnesses have to provide leave of absence with supervisors, and was there any pressure exerted onto them to be politically correct, given that the manager has rank and position?

And this concludes my story. I am trying to move on with life, trying to find positive interpretations of growth and peace to my dark thoughts and all the gaslighting.

I considered suing SPF but it would take a toll on me financially, emotionally, and mentally.

I am writing this post because I believe people need to know what they are getting into when they sign that contract with SPF. They need to know that some parts of SPF are rotten and that one may experience a department and division that do not care about the mental wellbeing or the procedural justice that pertains to employee grievance.

These structures may exist on paper, but are sorely lacking in reality. SPF would surely disagree given how well the persons involved can cover their asses.

I would like to end off by asking people who are looking to join SPF, not to believe my words at face value because this story is just my perspective, but to think critically for themselves, talk to friends who left SPF and see what their experiences are. Not just look at the rosy pictures painted by yearly advertisements. Be sure to give careful consideration to the monetary bond for those who sign on.

With all that is said, my conscience is clear. I have been blamed for not being resilient, not coping with my work, but I know better. I know better than to be gaslighted.

All that I have posted here are my personal perspectives. I am sure SPF would vehemently disagree given that the letter they sent me (portions attached below) had disavowed all legitimacy of my claims. After all, despite providing some evidence on chat, they have found ‘no evidence’ to substantiate my allegations.

Now, after two years of fighting my inner demons, I am taking a short course, with many thanks to skills future (kudos to the government!) to pivot industry. I hope that everyone would be able to find workplaces that are not abusive and workplaces with functional employee grievance systems.

I am merely sharing my story because I believe people deserve to know. Be careful joining an organization that is so good at managing impressions. If they can with their conscience look at me and say that there are no problems, then so be it. The symptoms are all there.

I fully empathize with the experiences of SGT Raja because I have experienced similar dysfunctional management where the big boss sides with the boss and there is no form of effective grievance handling in the force. There is no form of 3rd party investigation or whistleblowing within.

You raise an issue against your colleague, your colleague will know. You raise an issue against your boss, your boss will know. They will then beat you down like they have done so towards me, like during the initial portions of the IAO investigation. Own self check own self. This is the consequences.

IAO officer got the guts to say to me on the phone that his investigations revealed that the manager’s treatment of me was not excessive and that SPF was losing a lot of people just like the other parts of public service, but got no courage to put it down on the reply he sent me.

I can only conclude that the investigation was slipshod, biased towards the manager and never really finding out why I couldn’t cope.

I can speculate that all sorts of problems are buried in this manner.

I challenge SPF to send my investigation file for external audit, or even better, file a court order to open those documents for public scrutiny.

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