Coworkers’s Ganging Up Against Me

Question:

I worked at a place where my coworkers are mostly older than me. However, I have better training and better people skills. There was some talk by upper management that they wanted to promote me to supervise the department; this caused uproar amongst many older, envious coworkers. I felt it was even worse because the coworkers were mostly bossy females above 40. They made up lies about me and accused me falsely of not doing my work well. They constantly complained to my boss who was also an older female, who didn’t know any better than to believe the gossip she had heard about me from coworkers. It was appalling that she didn’t even have the sense to talk to me to see what was really going on; she ignorantly believed whatever she heard, and never tried to be fair towards me.

I know I did an excellent job, but my reputation has been tarnished because of the envious coworkers, and inefficient supervisor. I feel that all my effort, and my kindness to my coworkers has been dismissed/unappreciated. My question is: how can I let the coworkers know that I will not tolerate their trashy behavior, and that they need to stop? I have spoken to Human Resources, but they have done nothing. I have told the coworkers to stop, but since they are older and green with envy, they act worse since they think my asking them to stop their conniving behavior is a way to control them. My supervisor has been informed as well, as I have mentioned, she is inefficient and believes the rumors.

I feel that I have been put under stress for no reason at all. I do not boast of my skills; all I wanted was a pleasant work environment where my good work is appreciated. Please help!

Signed,

Better But Tarnished


Answer:

DearĀ Better But Tarnished:

No matter how easy is the job and how well trained one is, if one is not respected and liked, the job is hard and coming to work is a chore. Whatever the work group, there are several interpersonal factors at play and they can be remembered by three polar opposites: Up/Down, In/Out, Warm/Cool.

*The Up/Down dimension is where one fits on the power ladder. In a workplace, those who hold higher positions are paid better and have more perks. In your case, upper management’s talk about promoting you, you say, aroused envy and rumors that tarnished your reputation. In short, those who generated the rumors were doing what they could to put you down so that management would not put you up. Be aware in almost every workplace Up/Down is in play, and you can chose to climb, earn and claw your way up or at least not to be put down or you can simply focus on doing good work and letting the chips fall as they might. Those who seek or are assigned a position above others must be able to stand the envy and sometimes the sabotage of those who don’t get the promotions. You are learning about that. *In/Out symbolizes the dimension of belonging/rejection. In your case, the fact is you are younger and they lack your training; older women have made it clear you don’t belong. Your superior people-skills have not won you acceptance. Even if you were their age and were a new hire, it would be akin to entering a room with people who know each other and are fully engaged in a conversation. You would be expected not to interrupt, but to wait until you were invited to join the conversation. And when you were given a chance to speak, it would be expected that you not speak too much. To do so would strike that group as you were pushy. You probably know that intellectually since you have “better people skills.” Nearly a hundred years ago, industrial psychologists found that a work group can make workers who are faster slow down. In one factory, whenever a worker was working too fast, coworkers would “bing” that individual on the arm, hitting him hard enough to say, “Slow up. If you work faster than the rest of us, it makes us look bad, and we won’t put up with that.” Warm/Cool, as you emotionally realize, represents the dimension of liking and being liked. Almost every superior wants to be liked and if not liked, to be respected, and if neither liked nor respected, he/she wants to be feared. You don’t mince words about your low opinion of your boss and you have nothing good to say about anyone where you work but your self. In short you don’t like anyone and you think they don’t like you.

With this background, I now repeat your question: “My question is: how can I let the coworkers know that I will not tolerate their trashy behavior, and that they need to stop?” I predict there is little hope that your plea for help will be little more than ignored by your boss and to HR. Also I predict that your “Stop badmouthing me” will continue to fail. You probably will have to move on and start anew in order to find a place that is a pleasant place and in which good work is appreciated. Or you will need to toughen up; getting a harder shell–one that can shed the stress like water on a duck’s back. Or you will have to hone those people skills; skills that can understand why the older women have turned against you and skills that show genuine respect for them, and skills that enable you to see some good in your boss in spite of her inefficiency and ignorance–lacking the sense to talk with you about what was going on.

Get my point? I don’t know you and I don’t mean to add to your distress; however, since your coping skills and tactics to get the behavior of coworkers to change have been ineffective so far, I think it would be unrealistic to suggest you can change them now, without first changing you. That might mean, if you seriously need your job, that you must learn both how to accept what is not good enough and accept your less that pleasant work environment. For now that would mean to keep your mouth shut. You have reported your displeasure to the proper sources and that probably is as far as you can go. So what is left is for you to do your job as professionally as possible. Don’t gossip about the lies and hurt you feel. Just be a good camper. Contact only those you need to do your job and otherwise be courteous but avoid them. To transform your coworkers trashing behavior or your boss’s incompetence to a workplace that is warm is too much to hope for. Yet don’t give up on the belief that it is possible to gradually develop a healthy workplace culture by thinking and acting with what I call wego-mindedness. I’m sure you will find my response to your query of distress less than you want and will see my signature advice as pie in the sky so abstract that it is impractical. So I have little hope that you can appreciate my closing signature that encapsulates my advice: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

My advice could stop here. And you probably will think, “This Workplace Doctor blames me in spite of how trashy are my coworkers.” The fact is I don’t know who’s at fault. You might be fully or partially to blame for the way you are treated. Or they might be totally to blame. My point here is that blame will not resolve what is a very unhappy work situation. Therefore, consider the following approaches that might be taken:

Lets suppose that your boss’s boss or HR would now decide to act. A smart manager or HR rep, I’ll call her Cally, would knock some heads together, not really, but she would do what a wise parent might do when one child frequently complains, “My sisters and brother are ganging up on me. They’re saying, “I don’t do my chores right and they’re telling lies.'” Cally would call a head to head meeting. She would allow, “They said; I said” to go on only long enough to make it clear that there must be a better way to live and work together. Then Cally would say, “Either you (children) workers establish a do and don’t set of rules about who does what, when, and where, and how you speak to and about one another, or you all will suffer.” And, “More importantly, you better realize that each of you was hired and has a job because this workplace can’t afford you unless it makes money. Your payoff for civility and cooperation is a job and in these times none of you can afford to badmouth each other. You have this next hour to put those rules in writing. When they are ready, call me.”

But this approach hasn’t happened and probably won’t by more complaining. So an alternate proactive approach might be for you to request an early job appraisal of your work. In such a meeting, candidly admit that you are a pain in the butt with your complaining and propose ways to make your boss’s job easier, such as by transferring you. Or if not that, you could propose as I have described in the above paragraph that she conduct a head-to-head meeting or series of meetings of all in your work group that demands civility and cooperation; one to hammers out do and don’t rules of coworker communication and that monitors to see if those rules are being followed. Also you would be wise to come with some constructive proposals about ways you might cut wasted supplies, duplication of effort, time and money.

Apparently your boss has not learned to coach and you have not learned to play well enough with your coworkers to not be a subject of complaints. Therefore, what have you got to lose by telling your boss, you want a boss that is a coach; a coach that calls weekly skull sessions, skull sessions that address questions of: “What has gone well this week? What might we do to work better together? What might we do to make our internal and external customers happy? I predict that your work environment would change if your boss could be coaxed into coaching.

Do these additional suggestions cause you to reflect on the deeper meaning of my signature benediction: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS? Do you see what it might take to generate a spirit and action that saves face–your coworkers’, your boss’, and yours, and more than that makes you all feel good about coming to work?

Follow Up: Thank you for your answer. Your response made me realize that I need to step my complaints up a notch by seeking outside help. The coworkers that I am dealing with are far from the healthy competitive types; the more I think about it, the more I feel that their behavior is psychotic in nature: yelling and humiliating me in front of other employees, spreading lies about me, and so on. I have treated them with nothing less than professional manner. However, it is impossible to please people who do not want to like you as they will find fault with you no matter how great a job you do. I am becoming more aware that I am being treated unfairly, and it has gotten to the point of harrassment. The answer you gave is based on limited information from the Q&A site, and I know it is difficult to understand what truly is going on from that alone. I have since decided to consult with an attorney who believes that I have valid complaints. I will try to resolve this with the employer’s HR once more, if that doesn’t work, I will gladly take further action. Please post this response along with my question/your answer. Thanks! Reply: I will do so and once you have made your next move to resolve your unhappy work environment, please keep us posted on how that works out. We learn from each other with first-hand stories of action taken and consequences that follow.





William Gorden