Coworker Has Others Fooled

Question:

I work with a woman who I think is a sympathy-seeking, kind of passive-aggressive person. Her words say one thing (“See, I am acting professionally”) but she lies, leaves out information I need to do my job, doesn’t relay phone messages, gossips, has made best friends with the Executive V.P.’s assistant, and now the V.P.’s assistant is escalating things to HR.

I was getting along beautifully with my new boss, have had perfect performance reviews for a decadefrom my old boss, and I think my feeling frustrated over these issues could cost my job.

We did have a meeting – the other co-worker, my boss and me, where I was the one with the grievance and so my boss seemed to want to protect the other woman from any conflict, which essentially sent the message that her behavior is okay and I am the problem. This is tricky stuff and hard to wrap my head around. Essentially, the problem has been turned on me.

I am a lover not a fighter, which is probably why this bully co-worker has targeted me in the first place. She really is amazingly effective; I am dumbfounded. I guess it’s time to leave. I’m not far from retirement so this is a huge blow to my financial security.

Signed,

Feeling Beat Down


Answer:

DearĀ Feeling Beat Down:

This kind of situation can be very disheartening, especially after years of seeming to do well at work. You don’t indicate that the coworker is new, just that your boss is, so that may be part of the issue (a new view of the situation.) However, apparently there is enough of a problem that HR is being asked to investigate. Let me offer some suggestions and see if they can assist.

1. If I were you I would welcome a full investigation of what is happening. Right now you are dealing with people who might have biases, but perhaps by having someone else get involved you can present your information and have it be fully considered.

The one thing to remember is that HR’s job, while ostensibly to help employees as well as the company, is primarily to ensure an effective workplace overall. So, they need facts and truth, preferably recent events, not just feelings or old events.

You mention several things that the other employee has done,but you don’t say if you have ever asked for an explanation right at the time it happened or that you have documented it and immediately asked your boss for help about it. That is crucial to showing that this is not just something you’ve made up out of dislike or that you spill out a bunch of old grievances without any proof.

Welcome a complete investigation and have something to show. For example, list the events that have created problems for your work, what the coworker did or didn’t do and what you did about it to try to get improvement.

That kind of unemotional and work-focused approach is more effective than any other.

2. Avoid labeling the coworker (sympathy seeking, passive-aggressive, bullying, etc.) instead, stick to performance and behavior. Be able to describe the gap between what you believe an effective coworker would have done and what the coworker did, and the effect it had on work.

3. You say you are afraid your feelings of frustration will cost you your job. It’s not your feelings of frustration but rather your actions about your feelings that might cost you your job. So, your decision needs to be about whether you can continue to do your job without showing your anger, irritation and frustration.

The only other reason you might lose your job is if your work product is substandard. If the coworker is doing something that clearly blocks your ability to do work on time and accurately, and has done it more than once or twice, that is evidence to document: What happened, when it happened, how it kept you from getting work done. If you have continued to do work well, emphasize that fact to show your value. Have copies of former evaluations to show that you have been valuable employee.

4. Is it possible that others are seeing a different side of you in your interactions with this employee, than your former boss saw? Certainly she may have her sympathizers, but if you have had good working relationships in the business for decades it seems that would be recognized. (Again, I’m assuming this is a business where you have worked for awhile.) 5. The big question is, could you, if you really tried, find a way to focus on work, push back appropriately but engage in the war this coworker seems to want to create? You use the phrase that you are a lover not a fighter. Try being neither at work. Just work and don’t engage with the coworker about anything except the work to be done.

Are there other employees with whom you have friendships? Perhaps that will have to be enough. Is the work something you do well and enjoy? Maybe you can put that as your focus until you can retire more financially stable.

6. I used the phrase, “push back” to indicate that you should ask for courtesy and helpfulness, in appropriate ways. “Jean, I don’t use that tone of voice with you, don’t use it with me.” Ask your boss what you should do if you feel you have been lied to or lied about. Ask HR how you should handle a situation where the coworker doesn’t take messages that you need. Let others see you as trying to solve problems rather than only having a grievance.

If you believe your coworker is primarily enjoying bullying you to show her power, at least don’t give her that satisfaction. Go about your work serenely and avoid having your irritation be obvious if the situation isn’t serious enough to complain about formally. 7. None of those thoughts may be useful for your specific situation–or perhaps you can adapt some of them. I am well aware that sometimes situations develop where one person feels a coworker has gained the support of everyone else and is using that to keep the upper hand. If your employers can’t see your value and if you can’t find a way mentally and emotionally to deal with it, you may have to do as you said and quit. But, I hope it won’t come to that.

I think you’ll have to accept that the coworker will be there too, so your challenge will be to find a way to work around that potential obstacle and show that you have made the extra effort. An HR investigation may bring all of that out.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. Best wishes to you with this.

Tina Lewis Rowe