I work in the food service department of a hospital and we have around 10 or so college students (I am a high school student). One of them considers herself in a higher position then the rest of us, especially me, although I have been here longer.She also has a co-worker boyfriend who she bosses around all the time and makes him do her work. Then, she constantly is putting me down and it hurts. At first we were friends and I took her put-downs as a joke, but now it’s kind of going too far and everybody thinks so as well.For example, she’ll go to tell me to do something when she can do it herself. When i tell her that, she will say I am a bad worker and I should just get out! I try to ignore her but now my anger is kind of rising.I am a really sensitive girl and I almost started to cry at work due to her mean comments. I have talked to eeryone about this and even her but I think she took it jokingly and continues on.I have a good friendly relationship with all my other coworkers but I don’t know why she keeps picking on me! (I’m short, while she is a tower, but thats no reason, right?) Sometimes she makes sexual comments, like calling me a virgin. But, thats my personal life and i want her to stay out of it. Now working with her makes me really uncomfortable and I feel like I am open to anyone’s verbal abuse. What should I do??
Dear Internally Bruised:
The kind of constant verbal picking that you describe can be hurtful and cause anger, just as you have discovered. Also as you have discovered, when it is treated as a joke it’s hard to stop it later when it no longer is funny.The person who should be helping with you with this is the supervisor of the food services group. That person should be aware of what is going on and intervene to calm it down or stop it, especially when sexual remarks are made.Go to your supervisor or send him or her a message or an email and say that you want the mocking and ridiculing comments to stop. Ask if you can talk to your supervisor about it in private. When you do, ask your supervisor if you are doing your work OK. Tell him or her that you want to do a good job and you would like to know it if you are not. Promise to improve in the areas the supervisor might mention.Then, say that your coworker had said that you weren’t a good employee as well as other things that are unpleasant. Ask your supervisor if he or she has ideas for what you can do in your particular work situation to stop those actions.If you wish, tell your supervisor that you are going to try to deal with it yourself, but would like to know you can have his or her support if you need it. (Most supervisors would tell you to try to work it out on your own anyway.) If your supervisor seems to prefer to handle it, that’s fine. Otherwise, there are things you can do.First, keep in mind that the coworker has no authority at all over you. None. She can’t fire you. She didn’t hire you. So, you don’t have to accept her negative remarks and “jokes.” You don’t have to do anything she tells you to do, unless it clearly is for the good of work.However, what you want to avoid is coming across to others as just being rude or hard to work with. What many people do in your situation is to either shut down and withdraw or they lash out angrily and make more of a problem. Don’t respond in either of those ways. Instead, show your maturity by continuing to be a positive part of work. Who is more likely to get support from coworkers, someone who is not much of a positive contributor because they’re so timid or because they’re angry, or someone who is a pleasant part of work? You know the answer.So, combine three actions to not only respond to the mean coworker, but to help yourself in other ways. 1. Come to work ready to work. Work isn’t an entertainment, so focus on getting work done. Make this a time to learn every skill you can about working with others, providing good service and learning to do the tasks of the job.2. Be a work friend to everyone, especially to those who may need one but not have one. You don’t have to have big conversations (and shouldn’t), but you can ask people how they’re doing, how their families are, how school is going, etc.Make it a point to say hello and give at least a slight smile to everyone, even the person who isn’t very pleasant.3. Stop the inappropriate remarks and keep working. Don’t put your focus on the remarks, put your focus on work. That way you don’t draw more attention to her comments than they deserve.Don’t “talk back” to her in an effort to get even. You probably won’t win that kind of fight. Instead, based on the situation, try a variety of things that might reduce her comments. *Say “stop it” as though she is an irritating mosquito, and keep working. Don’t engage her in conversation. Don’t engage her in frowning looks. Cut off her supply of energy from you! Make it where she gets nothing out of her remarks.*If she makes a sexual remark or is especially mean, say, “Stop it. That’s inappropriate.” Turn your back on her and go back to work. If she continues, immediately go talk to your supervisor.If you tell your supervisor that a coworker is making inappropriate sexual remarks and you feel uncomfortable about it, you’ll almost certainly get some reaction. Say what you have done to try to make it stop and ask for your supervisor’s assistance.*Don’t talk about your coworker to others, unless they start it. If someone expresses sympathy for you,thank them and say something like, “Right now it’s me, but she’ll turn on someone else one of these days.”Let them see her as someone who could cause anyone a problem, not just you. But don’t engage in a long gossip session. Turn the conversation to something positive. *If she asks you what is bothering you, you can tell her the truth: “You say things to me that upset me and hurt my feelings. I’m not going to keep acting like you’re a friend if you do that.”Or, “I thought we were friends, but friends don’t treat other friends that way. When you can treat me like a friend, I’ll start talking to you like one again.” (Or something else that gets your point across.)*In spite of trying everything you can think of, your coworker still might not act very friendly. As long as she doesn’t act mean, that may be the best you can hope for.But you should NOT accept being talked to in a mean way. You should NOT accept having sexual remarks made to you. And, you should not accept your supervisor not doing anything about it if you make a complaint. Most large hospitals anymore are very, very concerned about problems between employees. If you have to, go to HR and talk to someone. If you need the support, ask a workfriend to go with you. If you need to,ask a parent to help you with this.Best wishes to you as you. I know that a high school student can feel unable to take on a situation like this. But, I think you can do it. You write well about it and you know that you have done nothing to deserve bad treatment. Just keep the approach that you are going to be the role model for how a young woman in that job should act.Think of this as practice for when you have a career. You’ll have the poise and confidence your coworker won’t have because you will be showing it already and will keep it going throughout your work life.If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens in this challenging situation.
Tina Lewis Rowe