Why Am I Being Moved Around at Work?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about possible reasons for several instances of being relocated within the workplace.

Question:
A month ago, I started a new job as a cashier and still haven’t created many contacts with my colleagues. However, they were all friendly until something unusual happened. I was sitting back to back with a male colleague and we had spoken to each other a little bit, when the manager saw us and said something to our supervisor. A minute later the supervisor came and asked my male colleague to move.

The next day when I went to work, the only available till was in front of a male colleague, but I was not allowed on it and instead took over from a female colleague.

Another time, the only available till was at the end and a male colleague was working on the front till. I offered to go on it but was refused.

Another example: Due to shortage of staff, a young guy came to help and sat behind me. The working area is so small that when you push the chair, it will touch the back of the chair of your colleague. So that is what happened. Two minutes later the supervisor came and said to him “I am sorry, but you need to move. S. will take over.” Why did he have to move? Why didn’t S go to the other till? Am I being paranoid to think that male colleagues, for some reason, are kept away from me?

Response:
It appears that you—and where you are located in the workplace—are being noticed by supervisors and managers. Whether that is because of a male-female issue or if there have been other reasons for the changes you describe, is something you will only be able to find out by talking to your supervisor.

The benefit of that action is that not only may you gain an understanding of the situation, it will also connect you with the person who is very important for your success at work—your supervisor. Over time you will make friends among your coworkers but it’s always crucial to have a good working relationship with your supervisor.

If you decide to talk to your supervisor (and I’ll mention some reasons, below, why that may not be your best decision) the best way to approach a conversation is to keep it brief and comfortable. You might say, “It’s hard to realize it’s been a full month since I started working here! I’m really enjoying it and hope I’m doing OK from your viewpoint. Am I?”

After you talk for a bit, you could say something like, “I’ve wanted to ask you about the times when I’ve been moved around or someone else has been moved. Were there any specific reasons for it that I need to know about?”

You could start a conversation when you’re asking your supervisor for approval for something or if you’re chatting in the break room. Or, you could be more intentional about it and go to his or her office and ask for a few minutes of time. Supervisors usually do not want to have an in-depth conversation about work every day or even every week, but they welcome a show of interest and a willingness to learn and are usually happy to have a chance to praise or to suggest changes.

In the meantime, I can understand why you are wondering about the directions involving your work location within the office, especially since it seems to have involved you and male coworkers. However, keep in mind that most new employees land in middle of many situations about which they are unaware. For example, bosses may be thinking about issues with former employees when they train new employees and integrate them into the workplace.

They may be thinking, “We sure don’t want that problem from last year to happen again.” Or, “When Marie left, she complained about Brian. He denied any of it, but I just saw him interacting with our new employee in some of the same ways Marie talked about. Let’s move him away from her and see what happens.” Or, “The CEO told us that he never wants to hear of any activities between employees that could lead to a sexual harassment allegation. Better safe than sorry—I think we should move Lisa and Brian.”

Or, it may be that you are considered to still be in a training mode, since you were hired only a month ago. Perhaps your supervisor and manager want you to be working around strong positive influences or away from problematic influences. Or, they may be thinking, “Our new employee is having a few problems with one part of her work. She needs to focus on that, rather than being distracted. For the time being, let’s keep her in areas where she can concentrate more.”

In all of those cases, I think your supervisor and/or manager should have already talked to you about the reasons for their actions. But, if they don’t, and you want to have an explanation, you will need to ask. The key to that last sentence is, “If you want to have an explanation.”

You may find it helpful to just wait a while and see what happens over the next few weeks. A month is not very long to have been in a new office. You will benefit by continuing to build good working relationships and friendships, with those you interact with most often. You can also establish yourself as someone who is gaining knowledge and skills and gaining in value to the workplace.

It could be that at the end of the next few weeks, you will have come to understand (or have been told) the reasons for the seemingly odd directions you’ve received. Or, you may decide it doesn’t matter any longer, because things are working out just fine anyway. Another thing that might happen is that once your supervisor and manager get to know you better, they will know that no matter where you are located in the workplace, you’ll be doing good work and managing your time well.

What you decide to do—talk to your supervisor or not—will depend upon the culture of your workplace, the personality of your supervisor and your own personality and confidence. The most important thing is that you retain your job, develop in it and that it is an overall decent place to work. Everything else is minor compared to that, at this point.

If you remember your first few weeks at your last workplace, you probably recall how some of your opinions changed a lot over time. That will undoubtedly happen in your current workplace too. The one constant from the first day until the last, is the need for effective communications with colleagues, clients, supervisors and managers.

Best wishes to you with this situation. If you have time and wish to do so, let us know how you decided to handle it and what were the results. Your experiences may be very helpful to others.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors