Watched at Work and Verbally Abused–Am I Being Paranoid?

A Question for Ask the Workplace Doctors regarding being watched at work and verbally abused:
My computer is being hacked and people are saying things about me. 

Question:

I have been in my role for 5 1/2 years now. Several times I have heard them say things like “we have to record her work” or “we have to record everything she does.” For the past one to two years I have noticed random mouse movements on my screen where they menu on the software moves down or I try and move my mouse and an abusive comment is made as they can’t move the mouse.

I have put up with this so called torture for this time and it had got to the point where I had really had enough of it and reported to my manager. To which he replied, seems like someone hacking. I said to him obviously someone here is. When they can’t move the mouse they make an abusive remark.

Can you think of a reason why they would do this to me and only me? I have asked another colleague if the random mouse movements are on her screen to to which she replied no. I also hear things like “don’t wind her up now”.

I don’t know if it is my work or my personality and they just trying to get rid of me. It has made me so paranoid and feeling low to be watched at work and bullied like this. Do I just need to leave?

Signed,

Worried


Answer:

Dear Worried:

Your bottom line question is, “Do I just need to leave?” If things are as bad as you say, and if you are genuinely being watched at work and verbally abused, in the way you describe, it would seem to me that you aren’t going to be able to improve things a great deal there. So, perhaps your best option is to start over, find a job where you can be happier and more productive and resolve to not let things get to this point at the next place you work.

However, before you give up on it, consider a few things that might help, in your current work.

1. Consider if you have had similar problems other places or is this completely different than your work relationships other places. What about your relationships in other situations? Talk to a respected friend and get his or her perspective about it. I ask those questions because it seems to me your thoughts about what others are saying and doing do seem a bit paranoid, to use that expression–especially the idea that your computer, in a business, is being hacked, and no one except you is concerned about it. That doesn’t seem likely to me and makes me think that your boss doesn’t believe you or that it isn’t really happening.

2. Talk to your manager and ask him what he thinks of your concerns. Ask him to tell you honestly if he believes those things are happening. You will need to be more specific than in this letter. For example, you will need to tell him WHO you think is muttering abusive statements, what those statements are, when you heard someone say a record was being kept and other specific things that make you think you are being targeted. If he thinks you are being realistic and truthful about it, ask him for his help. Or, tell him you’d like to speak to HR or someone else about it. Ask him what he thinks has caused this situation and what he will do to help you–that is certainly his responsibility as a manager

You may also want to use that time to ask about your overall work product and if it’s acceptable. The fact that you’re interested enough to ask, might be a positive thing for him to observe about you. Let your boss know you’re so concerned you’re considering finding another job If he says he thinks that is a good idea, you’ll find out a lot about his attitude toward you and your work. If he wants you to stay, he’ll let you know!

If you feel those actions don’t accomplish anything, then it probably is time to find another job where you can feel more comfortable. In the next place, stay on top of how your work is viewed and how your work relationships are developing. The moment you sense there is a problem, do what you can to find out more and make sure you address any concerns with your coworker or boss.

Five years is a long time to feel uncomfortable and to think you are being watched at work and verbally abused, and you don’t want that to happen again. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens with this situation.

FOLLOW UP: Thank you for you response. Although, it was actually the manager saying that my computer is probably being hacked. I actually feel it is someone in the I.T department as when the couldn’t move the mouse on screen an abusive comment was made. If they are just winding me up does that not count as bullying behavior? They have made me feel so miserable and low and stressed out. I stay in at lunch as I feel so paranoid at what they might be doing. I also hear things like do not wind her up anymore.

RESPONSE: I think the bottom line is that things aren’t going to get better for you there and you either will need to find another place to work, where you can start over, or find someone in your company who will investigate what you say is happening. You will need to be much, much more specific with them, than you have been here.

For example, tell them a date and time, at least approximately, and how you know something abusive was said and who said it. AND, what you consider to be abusive.

I do think you are becoming so hypersensitive to what is happening that you may see problems where there aren’t any. But, if you have proof, ask your boss or HR to help you get to the bottom of the situation and find out the truth. Considering that you say you are hearing so many negative things, you must surely know exactly who is saying it. Maybe you need to just ask them why they are making those remarks. Or, go to your boss immediately and quote what the person said to you or said where you could hear it. If you are being watched at work to the extent you describe and if you are verbally abused to the extent that you can hear the words, someone has to be close to you or have a way for you to hear them. Investigate.

You can see, I hope, that just saying you’re hearing people or that your computer isn’t acting right, etc., doesn’t provide any proof at all and certainly sounds paranoid. So, you need proof, you need to act on it right away and you need to decide whether or not you want to stay there. No matter what the situation, it seems that you feel badly enough about work that you should make a change. Best wishes to you and contact us any time.

Tina Lewis Rowe