I have recently been in an informal discussion with my area manager about disciplinary charges against me. The areas of concern were: 1. Breach of confidentiality 2 Defamation of character. At the meeting I disagreed with the accusations and I was told who had written the letter of complaint. They are two members of work who are best friends and I had a personal, outside-work issue with one of them. My area manager knows about those problems. I feel they are bullying me into handing my notice in. Or, they are trying to get me fired.All of this is making me ill to the point I don’t want to go to work. I am off sick today and feeling very low. What can I do?
Feeling Forced Out
Dear Feeling Forced Out:
I can imagine it would be difficult to go to work when you feel things are being stacked against you to get you fired or make you quit. However, I hope you will step back a bit and look at the much bigger picture. By approaching this in a reasonable, logical, long-term way, you can save your job and your work reputation, overcome the actions of the others and improve your overall feelings about work. I think you could even find yourself viewed more positively than ever before, if you can show your ability to deal with tough situations. Treat this like a challenge that you are going to meet and come out winning. You can do that if you are purposeful about everything you do related to this, from now on. Some ideas for you to consider and adapt:1. Separate your personal problems with the one coworker from your work interactions with her, even if she and her friend at work do not seem to be keeping them separate. Work is work and away from work should stay there. You say you that you “had” a problem away from work, implying it’s over now. If it isn’t, make it so and you will eliminate much of your stress.Over the years we have found that almost all personal conflict that doesn’t involve a legal obligation to interact with someone (over child custody, for example), could be easily stopped by stopping the repeated contacts, phone calls, emails, gossip, etc. But, people who are in the middle of a conflict, no matter how much they say they hate it, will often do things to keep it going. They’ll swear they have no choice, but almost always they do.So, the bottom line on the former or current away-from-work conflict is to stop it now. And, be sure to never, ever refer to it at work, unless you must do as when talking to a supervisor. Just as important is to never mention work problems you’re having with the coworker when you are talking to friends away from work. conflict. Such conversations always get back to the person involved and its not appropriate on your part. Keep the issues completely separate.2. Identify or re-identify exactly what it is you are being paid to do in your job and recommit to doing it better than ever. Outdo yourself on the quality of your performance and work behavior.We often find that people who write to us about workplace conflict have lost track of what they are being paid to do there. Their work becomes secondary to the conflict. That is the essence of what people are referring to when they complain that someone is in the middle of a drama at work all the time. You don’t want people thinking that about you!The problem with obsessively thinking about what people are doing to you or against you is that it ends up causing just what is happening to you now. You are home, feeling sick about work. Which means the work you are being paid to do is being done by someone else or not being done. That weakens your position at work when your boss looks around and you aren’t there; and he or she knows your illness is probably more about feeling sick of work and two coworkers than really being too sick to do the work you get a paycheck to do.You know everyone else is aware of the conflict and your potential disciplinary actions, so they are looking around too and wondering where you are. If the two coworkers are still at work, who looks the best out of that situation?So, get back to work and decide today that whatever you might be going through with disciplinary discussions, accusations or conflicts, you will be the most dependable, effective, skillful and knowledgeable employee at work. That can apply whether you are an accountant, custodian, teacher, salesperson, assembly line worker or anything else. Decide also that not only will your appearance, performance and overall effectiveness be at its best, but your behavior will be as well. You don’t have to be fake in your smiles and positive conversations, but it won’t hurt to be purposeful about what you say and do. Think of others and reach out to them and see if that doesn’t help you feel better in every way.When I gave this advice to someone in a similar situation she wrote back and said she pretended she was at her first day at work every day! She pretended she had the desire to look her best, do her work very well and interact with everyone in a positive way, just as if it was her first few days on the job. She said that kind of focus kept her going and reminded her that such an approach is valid for everyone.3. Make your manager your ally and support, rather than an enemy. She wants the problems to stop because she certainly doesn’t want to be dealing with them over and over. She would be happy to know that you are trying to get your focus back on work and away from personality disputes, work conflicts and anything that doesn’t have to do with getting your work done the right way.If she is already thinking your coworkers may be setting you up, she will be much more supportive of you if she can say that you are doing your part to not add to the situation. If she thinks you have been in the wrong, she is much more likely to want to help you correct the problem if you show you are sincere in your desire to get things back to a good place.Talk to her about how you’re feeling, but take the approach that you are going to do what you can do to make it better, not just depend upon others to make it right. And, show also that your good work isn’t dependent upon your two enemies getting in trouble, but rather on you being given a chance to show that you aren’t the kind of person they describe you as being.You say you’re feeling low and I can see why. But, the only thing YOU can change are your actions and reactions. You can be honest with your manager about how much you want to keep your job and how much you want to end the ongoing problems that have flared up with these recent accusations. Let her see the differences in you and your performance and behavior and she will be much more likely to see you as someone who deserves to be given a chance and not beat up mentally on by coworkers. If she thinks you have been in the wrong she is more likely to keep this at an informal level rather than pushing it higher.4. If you didn’t do the things of which you are accused, there is no evidence of it, so you don’t need to worry about how you will be quoted or what will be viewed by your manager. The fact that two allies claim something different can be overcome by telling the truth and sticking to your story. However, if some part of it is true, but you interpret your remarks or actions differently than they do, now is the time to promise yourself you will stop those things at work. Not only does it create problems, you may end up ruining your chances for future good work, based on issues at this job.That doesn’t mean I think you have done something wrong. Your message didn’t provide details and it could be that the full story is very complex. The two could be lying about you or at least exaggerating greatly. But usually there is at least a bit of truth to some aspect of these complaints. You might not have said exactly what you were quoted as saying, but you said something about them. You might not have done the thing they said in the way they said it, but you interacted with them or about them in some way that fits your organizations policies about breach of confidentiality and/or defamation of character.You might not agree that what you did fits those two charges, but apparently your manager feels concerned enough to talk to you about it. Fortunately, more like counseling than reprimanding, at this point. It sounds as though most of this situation involves being accused of talking or writing about the coworkers in a way that could be considered inappropriate. So, make it your purpose and goal to never again talk about them negatively to anyone else at work and not to involve yourself with them except about work issues. That will eliminate most of the problems for both of you. If they stir things up it will be obvious you weren’t involved.If you feel they have done wrong things to you and you’ve already presented evidence about it but nothing was done, you may have to just let that go and move forward. Staying where you are and insisting upon fairness and justice will just keep you from moving ahead. Your manager knows how you feel and she will be on the alert for actions by all of you. So, if they continue to make problems it will be noticed; especially when you are not adding to them.5. Go back to work tomorrow and let your manager know you are committed to getting through this bad time and coming out of it a better employee. You can probably go to work just fine, unless you genuinely have a fever, the flu, a pain or ache you can’t work through, or some other serious problem.Get to work and send a short email to your manager or make a brief phone call. It may seem intimidating or embarrassing at first, but once you hit send or have the conversation you’ll feel much better right away. Just say you know that the complaint is still being looked at, but you want her to know that you used the time away to think about why you have gotten so stressed that you have felt sick. Say that you have decided you want to start being seen as a problem-solver not as someone in the middle of a problem. And, tell her that if there are things she wants you to change right away, you are open to doing that.Don’t put the focus of the conversation on anyone except you and your intentions to do good work. Don’t blame the others or use it as a time to get your own points in about them. Just let your manager know you want to get through this and move forward.You may feel, in your heart of hearts, that you have done nothing wrong and there is nothing for you to change, but let your manager give you her advice or rules without arguing. Just do it. You will be surprised at how much better that makes you feel and how much more positively she reacts to you.Even after all of that you may receive a disciplinary action that you don’t think is fair. But, if you still have your job you will at least have the time to rebuild your reputation and you won’t be looking for work and wishing you had a job! If there is a job somewhere else that you could get easily and get paid the same or better, maybe you want to just go for that. But, I don’t get the impression that is the case. So, focus on staying there and feeling solid about having your job.6. Just keep moving forward in your life and work. When there is a set-back, remind yourself of what you’re trying to achieve. Continue to keep your focus on work at work. When you start to feel stressful or kind of sick at how your problem coworkers are acting, ask yourself if there is someone else around you who could use some support or a smile. Reach out to others when it is appropriate and be the kind of coworker you wish everyone was.If others try to talk to you about your coworkers or try to talk to you about what is going on with the complaint, say that you have promised yourself that you aren’t going to stir that up. Thank them for their concern but insist that you can’t talk about and won’t talk about it. Smile and let them know you are trying to stick with your commitments, not shutting them down. But whatever you do, don’t talk badly about the coworkers.I recently spoke with someone who was having a similar work problem. She did fine for a few days, then started right back with making snippy remarks, saying things loudly enough that her enemy could hear her and generally stirring up problems again. She told me she only did it because the other person did. Then, she said she wouldn’t have said anything but another employee was having problems with the same person and she was giving her advice.That’s when I realized she didn’t really want to feel better about work, she just wanted to be right in her own mind and to make others look wrong. The advice of our parents and teachers was correct: “Mind your own business.” “Keep your hands to yourself.” “Leave other people alone.” “Make sure you’re doing everything right before you meddle in what other people are doing wrong.”If you really want your pain and sickness about work to stop, you’ll focus on how to make it happen through your own actions and you’ll avoid anything that might set off a problem. You’ll also do the things that make work better for everyone: Courtesy, respect, good work product, a smiling face and actions that show you are a strong member of the team.7. The final bit of advice is this: Right now this seems like the biggest, most embarrassing, most stressful thing imaginable. You probably have replayed the conversations in your mind over and over. You may be having trouble sleeping or it could be that when you wake up this is the first thing you think about. That’s a very human reaction.But, cling to this truth: It’s not nearly as important to everyone else as it is to you. Even your manager, who is concerned about it, has many other things in her in-basket or email, so this is just one work issue. You can minimize it even further for them by giving them nothing but positive things to be thinking about you. Pick a project: Clean up the break room, straighten up your desk, volunteer to help someone, do something others don’t like to do. Give everyone plenty of positive things to think about when they think about you. Make a game of it! The bottom line: This has been a lengthy response because I’m concerned about how you feel and what you do next. You deserve to enjoy work and your company deserves a fully functioning employee. You can make both of those happen.I hope you can quickly regain your good spirits as you see that you can control a lot of how you feel. I can picture you coming out a real winner in this situation, and we’d like to hear how it happens. So, if you have the time and wish to do so, let us know of your results. Best wishes!
Tina Lewis Rowe