Former Employee Obsession

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about living with the past:

I have a co-worker, who had a bad situation with a former employer (was terminated by employer and sued & won unpaid wages), but he continues to monitor the former employer’s Facebook page and “like” photos on the page. I have told my co-worker that this is unhealthy behaviour and to just move on, but my co-worker seems obsessed. Am I right?

Signed, Told To Move On

Dear Told To Move On:

Too often we don’t let the past be past. We allow traumatic or unhappy past events to travel again and again in our head so that they become ruts, and sometimes we repeat them to others so often that they bore or annoy. I don’t know why, but, if I understand your brief description, (which I have slightly reworded) it appears you have observed and heard this pattern from a coworker. To put a former employer down might make your coworker feel superior, like a boxer being able to boast, “I knocked that S.O.B. out and he deserved it.” Whatever the reason, from this distance, the advice you gave “to move on” is good. Patterns of speech like other habits are not quickly extinguished. So you may continue to see/hear “obsessive” talk from this coworker. Possibly you can change the conversation by initiating other topics; topics that focus on important aspects of improving the quality of your jobs or simply topics that appeal to this individual’s outside interests.

It’s obvious that you realize you can’t live, nor do you want to relive your coworker’s unhappy experience. You can patiently hear and re-hear it, or you can gently but firmly, inquire, “Jan, you’ve been over that a thousand times before. I realize you can’t completely forget it, but will it help you to stop repeating that story if I say, ïStop’ each time you start it again?” This should help you come to an understanding about how you don’t want to re-enforce her/his obsession by being a listener. Or you can say, “Jan, could we talk about how we can cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy and wasted money in this workplace? That might help our company make enough money to keep both of us employed.” Or you might propose a joke telling contest each time he/she raises that topic again. Possibly these thoughts will provoke other ways to respond. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is what you want–making work with your coworker a satisfying experience.

William Gorden