Over the past year and a half I have been reported to the Employee Hotline here at work. It seems there are about three women here who watch every move that I make. I am an Administrative Assistant at a large utility company. I am a blonde 5’8 and am 45 years of age. I was a former State Beauty Pageant winner back in 1989. The reason why I am telling you this is it seems that my parents gave me a gift from both of them, and I have always been known for my looks before my brains and practically everything I have tried to accomplish in life.I have tried to make friends for the past 10 years and it never works out. Two years ago, I was watching another administrative assistant’s phone while she was out ill; I had to send something from my desk to hers in mail so I could work on it. I pulled up an email that had said my name in the subject line not thinking that it wasn’t the mail that I had sent, and it shocked me what a few of them had said about me. They were, let’s just say, berating my looks, my dress, my relationship with my boss (who is like a brother to me). .I printed it out and showed my boss. We put it away in a file and just wrote it off as jealousy amongst co-workers. To make a long story short since this has happened I have been reported for two years to the employee hotline two times now – the accusations were ludicrous–Saying that I put my make-up on in the bathroom and I should be ready when I get to work. (There is hairspray, makeup, basically everything in the women’s’ bathroom by the way) And I have seen many a person apply makeup or touch it up on occasion. They found it annoying that I did that. Also, that I sleep in the bathroom too much. (There are two couches in the restroom that people take naps on or just relax and read on there lunch breaks).This whole thing is so petty and ridiculous but has caused me great aggravation explaining things to my boss who knows what is going on and has helped me try and ignore these things all together. It is starting to get a lot like harassment though from these women.. Even though they remain anonymous in their calls to the hotline, I know who they are because some of the comments made to me about dress, etc. have been reported on the hotline. I feel they are abusing the hotline for petty and jealousy issues and I would like to make them stop. Any suggestions?
Gets Under My Skin
Dear Gets Under My Skin:
Sadly, a group of women (men too, but especially women!) can often create incredibly unpleasant work situations because of jealousy, ego, competition and downright meanness. In your situation your supervisor, manager and HR group should be dealing with the matter. Let me make some observations and give you some things to consider as you develop a plan of action that involves those resources. 1. The calls to the hotline and the nature of the complaints certainly seem frivolous. If you had been given organizational discipline or warnings, that would be different–but apparently that hasn’t been the case. However, even though same-gender harassment can occur under EEO laws, I don’t believe this would rise to that level. If you feel strongly about that, you may want to ask for an attorney consultation about the matter. Usually the first consultation is free. 2. What seems more likely is that this negative environment is interfering with your ability to focus on your work as much as you’d like, and results in the focus of the complainers being away from work as well. For that reason, it would seem appropriate for your bosses to be more concerned than they apparently are. If you really feel strongly about this, I suggest you write an overview of what has happened…every event that indicates to you that the women involved are targeting you to make your work life unpleasant…..and insist that an investigation be conducted to find out who is involved and to make them stop.You might write,” I realize that to those not directly involved, this might seem to only be irritating. But I think this isn’t good for a workplace and is a symptom of a much bigger problem involving poor teamwork and an unpleasant work environment.” (You might use other words, but that is the general idea you want to convey.) Make it clear that you are tired of living with concern and unhappiness over what will be said next or what will be reported next, and that you need their help to make it stop. Suggest that you will participate in conflict resolution meetings if HR would like to conduct those. The people making false accusations should be required, at some point, to come out in the open. But what frustrates me, is that if the accusations are so obviously false, as you say, the calls and letters shouldn’t even be mentioned to you. They should be thrown away or deleted and you should be left alone about it. It may be that the calls and complaints have been so few and far between, that HR doesn’t see it as an ongoing problem. Given that it’s been going on for so long, it may be that they believe it to be a chronic issue but not severe. You need to be clear about how much it bothers you. On the other hand, if you have only had a question about your behavior two times in two years, and both times you were cleared of wrongdoing, it may be they view that as trivial and do not see a reason to be concerned. Talk to them about it and find out why they even notify you at all, if they know there is not basis for complaint.3. The key issue for you is to ensure that your work is top-notch and that you do not provide ammunition for anyone to use against you. You also want to ensure that you do not use the same dirty tactics used by others. If you are a high level employee who is pleasant to work with, your supervisor and managers will view you positively–and they are the main ones to be concerned about anyway.4. You may want to determine if there is any chance of an assignment change to keep you from being in such a poisonous place. On the other hand, if you find you have had this same experience every place you have worked, then you might want to consider what you may have done, without intending to, that has added to the problems. Many pretty, competent women are able to work in office settings without unusual conflict. If there is someone there with whom you have a better relationship, ask him/her for honest input about the situation.You might say to them, “I want you to tell me honestly, what are some things you might do differently if you were me.” However, I also know that sometimes, in spite of one’s best efforts, some people are hateful and vindictive. So, it may be that none of this can be attributed to anything you have done or not done. All the more reason to insist that your boss do his job and protect you from the ill effects of negative attitudes and behavior. 5. If you think you know who has done it, consider talking to them directly and telling them how hurt you are about it. Or, talk to them under the guise that you don’t know who would do such a vile thing, because it’s so hurtful to you. Get the message to them THAT way! Or, consider bringing up the matter at staff meetings or in some other group setting. Say that you want to get something out in the open and would like to get their thoughts. Then, mention the things that have been complained about and ask if there is a view about the issues that you don’t see. Maybe you can have some honest dialogue that way. What you decide to do next will depend on how serious it seems to be. A lawyer might be an option, if you think you are being harassed and want to hold the company liable for allowing it. A letter to HR, through your supervisory and managerial chain, is certainly a good idea. But maybe you would like to start by talking to the boss with whom you have a good relationship and tell him that you don’t want to keep ignoring this, you want to make it stop once and for all. You can’t make people like you or stop gossiping about you in their private conversations. But you can stop the activity that results in you having to explain your actions when you are clearly in the right. If the people responsible for the false accusations are not stopped, they could start doing this more often than they have in the past. Or, they could pick a victim who was less able to deal with it than you are. Best wishes as you work to find a lasting solution for this problem. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.
Tina Lewis Rowe