Dishonest Jealous Co-worker

Question:

Recently I got a raise and as I have direct deposit my paycheck receipt and other co-workers receipts get put in a filing cabinet in the office accessible to all. A co-worker, who hates my accomplishments, has opened my paycheck and confronted me about my raise. The only way she would have known was through opening my paycheck receipt. Should I tell my supervisor and live with the co-workers continuous hostility or just stop talking to her. What to do?

Signed,

Paying For Getting A Raise


Answer:

Dear Paying For Getting A Raise:

What should you do? Tell her to go to hell. Tell her to get a life. Tell her your pay is none of her business. Tell her the only way she could know that you got a raise was to snoop. Tell her you are angry. Tell her that you deserve a raise and that apparently management doesn’t think she does. Tell her that you will inform your supervisor that she snooped and that she is harassing you about getting a raise. Tell her this is the last time you will speak to her. Then treat her as if she didn’t exist. Does this kind of advice make you feel better? It might. Your question implies you can’t take the “continuous hostility” of your coworker and want to get back at her. In short, you can escalate the hostility prompted by jealousy of your coworker and see where that gets you. You leave your self only two options when you ask: tell my supervisor or just stop talking to her?

There are other options: you could toughen up and deal with whatever specific expression of hostility she sends your way. You don’t say exactly what your coworker does to give you a feeling of “continuous hostility,” coolly ignoring it probably will make it lose its effect. Or you can be tougher, like an attorney interrogating a hostile witness. If she says, “You’re the supervisor’s favorite,” you can continue the conversation and ask her why that might be. Probe for specifics and she likely will find it hard to come up with more than a couple. If she says, “You suck up or brown nose,” you can asked her for examples and/or you can say that it is possible that you do good work and that your raise indicates that it is recognized. Or you can say, “Stop whining and I will talk about what seems to bother you.” Or you can say, “Alice, (or whatever is her name) we are hired to work, and when you and I need to communicate about getting the job done, we can talk. Until then, I don’t want to hear from you.”

This isn’t the first or the last time pay can cause feelings of envy and anger. Those who put in more effort are frustrated when less able or loafing coworkers gets the same pay. Those who put in less effort or are less skilled are angry when their peers get raises. Therefore, pay often is kept secret and only learned by gossip or secretive investigation. Management must decide how open it will be about pay and if it will it be the same across the board or differ and on what basis. Management knows that pay can cause jealousy and it also assumes that differential pay motivates greater effort.

I think money talk is best done openly and that pay scales and raises should be announced. However, that is not the way it is at your workplace, nor is it in many others. You have a right to know if your file has been opened. Therefore you can ask that a system be put in place for it not be be. It might not be that your raise became known only by opening your file. So I would not be so sure that your coworker is dishonest as you assert. It is always wise to be cautious about accusations such as that. I’m not sure it is wise to become obsessed about whether your coworker was dishonest as you have have said in the title you gave to your question, but before making that accusation, would it not be better to request an investigation? Your coworker apparently is angry because she feels that she deserves a raise as much as do you. You can understand that. Most of us think we deserve better than average. And as I have already said, you have more than two options. An option you didn’t mention is to confront your coworker; telling her that you understand her feelings that she too should get better pay and that you will do what you can to make your work group performance more profitable so that she will also get a raise. You can ask her how she learned you got a raise, and depending on her answer if you are convinced she opened your pay envelope, you can say how displeased you are that she invaded your private mail.

You can tell her that you don’t think you deserve her hostility and you can behave in that same way toward her, but that will not increase her pay or make either feel good about coming to work. You can be up front with Alice, telling her that her snide remarks paint her as a trouble maker not only in your eyes but also in the eyes of your supervisor. And you can say, if she wants to be seen as one who also deserves a raise, she will have a better chance of that if she is a cheerleader and champion of teamwork.

The sad fact is that in some work groups there is sniping and cattiness. Wise supervisors realize this and they create overarching goals that foster team-mindedness. In order to deal with jealousy that comes from working solo, they convene their staff to talk through what needs to be done and who does what. They have regular skull sessions that set goals, correct mistakes, and praise accomplishments. Sometimes supervisors must knock heads together to stop bickering. If you unable to resolve the hostility, you can say to Alice, “Please come with me and we can talk this over with our supervisor.” And if she refuses, you can ask your supervisor to schedule a meeting between you and Alice to work out the dos and don’ts of what is accepted and required for effective communication between the two of you.

Going to work is hard enough without feeling you are a target of a coworker’s hostility. So you are at a point in which you must decide whether to bite your tongue or to find an assertive way to confront it. I suggest that is best accomplished if you can approach it with the thought in mind that you are hired to think and work interdependently. When that happens, I predict you will find that there’s enough job satisfaction for all of you and, unless that happens, there will be petty jealousy from working solo. We are shaped by or we help shape our work environment. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. And that’s what you want where you work.

William Gorden