When I Was An Intern I Was Liked-Now I’m Not!

Question:

Dear Workplace Doctor: Hello, I am a 26 year old secretary/IT assitant in a federal agency and I need help in some workplace issues. When I was 20 years old, I was hired as a temporary student to gain experience in my field. At that time I was loved, respected and could not feel any better about my life. When I completed college, my contract gave me 6 months to find a job in the company and if there was no jobs available I had to leave. This happened during September of 2001 and lots of funding was cut and I had to leave which left me devastated. Luckly, 9 months later, I was hired back in the same department. Now this is my problem, I feel that I am not getting respect anymore. I feel that people do not trust me, never invite me into projects and leave me out of about 60% of everything. I feel that everyone has turned their backs on me.

My manager is a Doctor and I like her, but when I talk to her its like we both speak diffrent languages. I am mostly an IT person where everyone else is clinical and I feel left out.

I have depression problems and always have a fear of losing my job. There are days that I cry at my job and I take medication every day just to cope. I don’t want to leave the company that I worked so hard to get into but how can I regain respect again?

Signed,

Wanting To Be Happy At Work


Answer:

Dear Wanting To Be Happy At Work:

Hello! Thank you for writing and sharing your concerns with us. That takes courage and commitment and shows that you not only recognize a problem, but that you have a willingness to do something about it.

I think your entire situation is summed up in the phrase you used, “I have depression problems.” These feelings you are having are not the real you, any more than the lethargic feelings someone has when they have a cold represents the real them. The first step in dealing with the situation is the one you have taken–realizing that you have a medical and emotional condition that is causing you uhhappiness. If the condition can make you feel so badly you need medication to cope, perhaps it also makes you see things in a much more negative way than they really are. You may not be depressed because your job is making you unhappy. You may be unhappy because you are depressed.

I am not a psychologist and cannot provide psychological counseling. If you are taking medication that leads me to believe you are seeing a professional about your condition. If not, please do so right away. Your organization almost certainly has an Employee Assistance program that could help.

In the meantime, let me suggest a few things that are not clinical in nature, but that you might be able to adapt to your situation—or not do at all if they don’t seem to fit your needs. 1. You used to feel loved, respected and happy with your life, when you were a 20 year old student and temporary employee. Now you are 26 and a full time employee and you don’t feel nearly so loved, respected and happy.

Realistically, part of that can be attributed to the fact that you aren’t the enthusiastic young student everyone wanted to help and support–you’re just one of the employees. The honeymoon gets over in both directions!

Another thing may be that your physical and mental situation and the unhappiness it causes you to feel, is obvious to others and makes them uncomfortable. Few people who feel upbeat can understand why someone else doesn’t feel that way, and the result is that they shut them out, usually unintentionally. So the bad feelings just keep building and the more they build, the worse the employee feels and the more it shows and the less the others want to spend time with them…and so it continues.

Consider this: Put your focus on your work product and having pleasant, professional behavior, and try to take it off issues like relationships, liking, respect, and inclusion. Most of us would feel like strangers in a strange land if we closely examined how we are treated every day at work!

2. You say you feel you are not trusted and that people do not invite you into projects, and leave you out of 60% of everything. You end by saying that you want to regain their respect. I wonder if something specific occurred that you think would have caused them to lose respect for you. If so, you may have to apologize or be open about your efforts to regain their respect. If not, you may need to develop a different view of what shows respect and what doesn’t.

For example, it may be that their work doesn’t need to directly involve yours very often, so they don’t even consider that you should be involved and would be surprised if you felt left out.

Consider this: Talk to your supervisor or boss about those feelings and ask if you have done something that might have changed everyone’s approach to you. Then, believe your boss and either ask for help to make things better, or thank them for reassuring you that nothing is the matter. Don’t put them in the role of having to counsel you or support you–just use them as a brief sounding board for your feelings, and as a resource for helping you feel stronger in your work.

3. You say you are worried about losing your job. Again, I wonder if that is based on something specific or if it is just a worry. Look at your evaluations. If they are acceptable and you have had nothing documented about your performance, you are not on the verge of being fired.

I DO think you should let your manager know, telling her to keep it in confidence, that you are having depression problems. You may have already done that. Letting her be aware of it could explain some of your behavior, if that has concerned her, and would also provide some protection for you, if performance has suffered somewhat. That would be another reason to go to EAP–so you can show that you are attempting to improve the situation.

Emphasize to her, as I did to you, that this is not the real you–it is something unpleasant that is happening with your emotions and you are working to deal with it. And that really is the key. It’s one thing to know you have symptoms of depression and you accept that and work around it as much as possible. It’s another thing to know you have symptoms of depression and you wallow in it and don’t do anything about it. You are clearly trying to do something positive–which puts you in a much more favorable light.

4. Consider this as well: Do you have one or two people there with whom you have a good working relationship? If so, start with them. Build trust back, if you think it is lost, or strengthen what is there already. Trust is based on two things: People believe we CAN do what we say we will do, and they believe we WILL do what we say we will do. Find things that are appropriate for your work and position, that can benefit them, and come through for them about it. It doesn’t have to be big, just something you can say, “I’ll help” and then you can say, “I did it.”

Look around the office for others who could use your support and assistance. Find one person who seems left out or not as well accepted, through no fault of their own, and support them through smiles, a shared laugh, offers to help and requests for their help as well.

5. If you are in IT you probably DO speak a different language than your boss and many of the others! But that doesn’t mean you can’t listen and respond just fine. It’s like talking to someone from another country whose language you do not speak–you stick to the basics and smile a lot!

You once communicated with everyone just fine. Think back on those conversations and examine the spirit of them. Not the topics, just the spirit. What helped them move along nicely? See if you can duplicate some of that, or encourage it in others.

6. This might be rather cynical: Have you considered that you have rude co-workers and a boss who doesn’t communicate well in spite of being a doctor? Might there be a lot of issues related to others instead of just to you? Perhaps you are feeling badly over something that you never could have prevented, once you were a full-time employee.

If there are others in your job position, maybe you could talk to them about how they feel. Or, maybe you could ask them the secret to their success.

7. This last is Pollyanna-ish: Starting now, consider purposely thinking of yourself as a well loved, well-respected employee, and never stop thinking that. Go into other offices with a smile, as though you are the source of all the energy and good feelings they need. Be the ray of sunshine that everyone wants to feel.

That isn’t so difficult to do. It may be acting, but you know it’s the kind of person you’d like to be. Think about what you could do to help the office rejuvenate now that it’s Spring. If you have staff meetings, be pleasant without being overly friendly. Smile at everyone. Listen intently. Say people’s names and ask them questions, then thank them for answering. Smile when they talk. Follow Dr. Gorden’s thought about WEGO–putting the team first and helping everyone build the team.

While you’re at it, live your life fully, away from work. Become active in a church, club, volunteer group, or your own personal fitness program. Clean the house and invite people over. Live, and be happy for the chance.

That way time away from work will be precious, and time at work will be much more endurable because it isn’t everything in your life.

I like the book, “How To Be A Star At Work” by Robert Kelley. You might find it interesting too. I also like the idea of linking with others in your professional field, so you have people whose language you DO speak.

But especially I want you to think of this as temporary. This situation and your feelings haven’t been this way forever, and it will stop being this way before long. Maybe not immediately, but some day. And you want to be ready when you get over this prolonged cold!

I have a brass container in my office–not much to look at, really, and I’m looking at it right now! I bought it at a cheap import store in 1980, in Fairfax, Virginia. When I bought it, it was just something I could afford that I thought I might be able to use over time. I was alone, because everyone else at the four month long class I was attending, was with other students having fun. Someone had left a mean anonymous note on my dorm door, saying I should go home because I wasn’t wanted there. For the first time in my career I wasn’t the favored person in the group. That was a shocker!

When I bought the brass container I could barely breathe I felt so sad. I thought, “I’m going to keep this. If I can ever get over feeling the way I feel now, I’m going to use this to remind me that bad feelings will go away if I don’t grab hold of them and not let go.”

Starting the next day I focused on my classwork and my fitness program. I was friendly, but I stopped agitating about whether others liked me or not. And, I got through just fine. I made friends among the faculty. I never really bonded with my classmates–but it stopped mattering so much to me.

That’s been 27 years ago and I still remember how badly I felt. But now I realize it wasn’t all me–maybe part, but not all. And my life has been infinitely better and more successful than almost anyone else in that group. I enjoy looking at the brass container!

Having said all that, let me also say—I wish there had been someone for me to share my thoughts with and to receive some counseling. You have that advantage, so I hope you’re using it.

Please let us know how things develop over time. I’m confident you will find the inner strength to help you not only grow through this, but to grow stronger than ever. You have a long life and career still, to do and be all you want. Just keep your focus,your smile and your courage! Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe