Co-Worker Spreading Lies About Me

Question:
I have been at the same job for 20 years. New management took over and said they want to keep me and that they needed me. However, we have a young girl who started with them and obviously wants me gone. She talks about me daily turning others against me. Spreading terrible lies.

When they first come in a few months ago I did everything humanly possible to help them make their transition especially since I already knew them and didn’t have a problem with them . My years and experience made this girl jealous and that’s when she started. It has gotten way out of hand. There isn’t a day that goes by that she don’t slander and spread rumors to others.

There are only two of us who stayed on and she is doing the same things to my old coworker. That person tried to have a meeting with HR but was rushed due to a shortage of time that day and nothing has been done She is great friends of those now in charge. Now everyone I work with has turned on me. I have done absolutely NOTHING to any of these people.

I plan to start counseling next week because of the depression and feelings I have now at work. It carry’s into my private home life and has made me ill. Please any advise you have would be greatly appreciated.

Answer:
You are wise to seek counseling about your feelings of depression and anxiety. Someone who can get to know you and your situation better than we can, may help you develop some personalized methods for responding to it and for finding mental peace in spite of it. 

In addition, I hope you will talk to family, friends or other resources and seek advice. They also will understand your situation better than we can, and because they know your personality and communication style their advice could be more specific. 

There are several things for you to consider as you decide what to do about the unpleasantness that is going on in your office. 

1. The only way you could know that the problem co-worker is telling lies about you is if another employee tells you so. Even then, you don’t know exactly what has been said. Perhaps you are not as disliked as you think and she is not a popular as you think. But whatever the situation, unless you heard her say something, you don’t know for sure what she has said or done. 

If someone has told you about lies or exaggerations, you have at least one witness to name, when you talk to your manager and maybe to HR. If more than one person has told you about it, you have even more ways of proving your allegations. 

Make a list of who has told you about a harmful comment made by the coworker, when they told you about it, and anything they said about the impact of the remark on other employees. If you go to your supervisor or manager, ask that those witnesses be interviewed. 

Also, the next time someone tells you about an untruth, ask them to help you by letting others know the truth. If someone likes you well enough to keep you informed, build that relationship and let them know you rely on them to be a good influence in the office. 

2. You don’t say what you are accused of doing or saying. If it’s something specific, go to the person involved and tell them it isn’t true. Then, work with others in such a way that no one will be able to point to your words or actions as proof that you aren’t a good person. 

That’s easier for me to say than for you to do, I realize. But you will not be able to resolve this issue only by having someone higher up tell the problem co-worker to stop talking about you. The attitudes and actions of others will have to change too–and your feelings about them will need to adjust.

3. Another thing you need to be clear about in your mind is what is happening that is depressing you or making you feel you are disliked. Those actions are as problematic as the gossip by the one employee and should be the concern of your supervisor.

It is easy to become so sensitized to a situation that everything seems an offense. Often other employees are worried about their own lives and work and don’t intentionally do something hurtful.

Make a list of who has said or done something that you think is a direct result of the remarks of the other employee. Could it be they are unpleasant to others as well, and the gossip they heard has nothing to do with their actions toward you? 

Those are things to analyze and talk about with your supervisor or HR.

4. In the workplaces I have reviewed with situations similar to yours, I found one thing to be present in all of them: Pleasant communication had almost stopped. Everyone felt prickly, awkward and distrustful. The person who felt beat down barely talked to anyone and the others rarely showed any real enjoyment. It was depressing! 

When even one person started saying hello, discussing a movie or TV show they liked, or having normal chatty conversations now and then, it started thawing the ice. Maybe you can be that one. Or, if you hear pleasant or fun conversation, see if you can add to it. 

5. When one company takes over another company, tenured employees quite often feel a sense of loss, and employees with the new company often feel special and somewhat superior. 

In your case, you were told you were needed and you stayed. You may have more influence than you realize. If you still work for or around the person who first encouraged you to stay, talk to that person and find out why things have gone so badly, and what you can do to stop the gossip. They might be very worried that you would quit. Or, they may be able to move you or help you in some other way. 

6. You’ll notice I haven’t suggested talking directly to the problem co-worker. I don’t think it would help, and she might spin it as you treating her badly. Just make sure you don’t gossip about her, so no one can say both of you created a problem workplace. 

You can deny what she has said about you, but don’t bring her name up negatively just to be doing it. 

7. You didn’t mention your direct supervisor or manager. That person is the one who is responsible for ensuring you and others have a motivating workplace. 

Your supervisor wants to see good work being done. He or she probably also wants to avoid being caught in the middle of conflict. So, when you decide to ask your supervisor for assistance, approach it as if you want to solve a problem, rather than just telling on someone else. 

Have your facts ready, as well as your feelings. Then, link all of it to the work that needs to be done. That is a primary concern of a manager. If things are as you say, it seems that people would be less likely to ask questions of you, trust your expertise or respond to you in positive ways. Those things have an affect on everyone’s work. 

If you go to HR, do not give up as your friend did. Submit a WRITTEN request for assistance, so there is documentation. In it say what has happened, when, how often and how it has affected your life and work. 

If you have an employee manual or a mission statement on a website, quote anything that refers to a good workplace and mutual respect. Let them see that this is not just casual griping, it is a serious staff issue. 

Think about what you want from HR. Do you want someone to order the problem employee to not discuss you for any reason? Do you want to move to another work area or different task? Do you want your manager to talk to all employees about the unfair talk about you? Do you want the problem employee to receive a written reprimand, so there is a record to protect you in the future? A question frequently asked when there are personal conflicts is, “What do you want to see happen?” Be prepared to answer that question or something like it. 

8. When you talk to your supervisor, manager or HR, ask them to tell you honestly if there is something you have said or done that they have observed, and think may have added to the problem. 

You may not think you have done or said anything to offend anyone, but perhaps your managers have another perspective. Or, if they think you have done great work in a good way, they will realize that the treatment you’re receiving is very unfair and will help you. 

9. All of the above is part of a strategy to investigate the situation and get your name cleared, while improving your workplace overall. But you still have your immediate problem of how to keep your composure at work. 

I don’t know what your workplace is like, but you probably have a desk or a locker or cubby. Whatever is your personal workspace, wash it off or clean it out and freshen up everything. Make yourself feel good about the space or items you look at every day. 

If you can bring a personal mug, bring one from home that signifies something good to you. 

Next, resolve to say hello as you pass people, and engage a few in conversation. For example, instead of a brief “Hi” as you walk past, give her a thumbs up and smile. Tap on a desk and give a little wave. Stop and say you’re looking for a good movie to go to and ask if they’ve seen one lately. Find something to engage them about, if they don’t look exceptionally busy.

Or, ask about  a work issue and offer to help if there is something you can do to assist them. Ir you need help, ask a coworker and make it food experience. 

Focus on your own work and improve it as much as possible. Continue to be the person they need. But make sure they know what is happening and the affect it is having. You have value and they know it. They may be very anxious to help. 

After all of that, I should remind of what Dr. Gorden often says: Sometimes you have to “vote with your feet” and leave a place that is ruining your life. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but it is an option. 

You have been a good worker for twenty years, so you know that times can be good then bad, then good again. Give this your best mature outlook and be an example of how to handle tough times. You may find that others want things to be better too and would welcome someone taking the first step to improve life at work. 

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know hot things work out. 

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctor

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.