Is This Harrassment?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about rude manager and a poorly managed operation:

I work in a retail environment that I at first felt was a very good one. In the beginning, everyone seemed friendly and open, but I’ve been working there now for only three months, and now I’m almost desperate to quit. The store is organized so there are essentially three bosses. They all seemed like nice, understanding people at first, but I started seeing that one of them was incredibly rude, sometimes even cruel. She is constantly ordering employees around in a demeaning manner, badmouthing them to the store manager, hoisting too many tasks on them at once, or berating them for doing the tasks they’re supposed to be doing. She even messes with the supervisors and makes it difficult for them to hold authority over the people they are supposed to. She’s also rude to customers; a number of them have complained. But no one seems to do anything about this. Fellow employees have complained about her behavior, and have literally been told (paraphrasing) ‘do what she says, even if it doesn’t make any sense’. If she treats us badly, we’re just expected to put up with it. The store manager’s answer is something to the effect that there will always be people you don’t like working with.

For a while, I actually did like working with everyone, even this manager, except this week she started messing with me in particular. I’ve been called in to the store manager’s office about all kinds of things, but a running theme seems to be that I’m friendly to customers. We’re not encouraged to talk to customers; they make it out to be that when a customer asks for help, we’re having an hour-long non-professional conversation with them. She insists I get in her way when I do my job, even though I’m usually not anywhere near her.I did find the latest little meeting kind of amusing though, as our supervisor is always brought in to sit with us and hear what happens. The store manager kept referring to him as if I were frustrated with him as a supervisor-I had voiced nothing of the sort on any occasion; I like working with him-and acting as if she were the understanding boss trying to make me sympathize with his situation. I went to him later, asking if he agreed with her assessment of my behavior or if he’d voiced any misgivings, and he said he actually had no idea where she was getting any of this from.

He is probably the only person in a supervisor/management position at this job whose word I trust at this point. Our work is broken up into three crews: day crew, night crew, and production crew. Day crew is apparently this manager’s favorite; they get away with doing almost no work during the day while night crew usually gets all of their tasks unofficially heaped on. I’m not saying this just because I’m only night crew, although even management encourages a clique mentality.

Members of day crew are allowed to be rude to customers, sit around in the back and do nothing during their shifts, and order night crew to do tasks assigned to them, and meanwhile the notion that night crew members are lazy and useless is perpetuated. Meetings have been called over things that night crew supposedly did or didn’t do, and any one of us could name which employees were responsible, always on day crew. When this is brought up to the store manager, its completely ignored.

I have a feeling the heat on me personally will die down after my latest review, but since I’m planning on leaving soon anyway, as I intend to move, should I just put in my notice now? I don’t understand what is expected from me as an employee, and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m already developing bad habits as a coping mechanism for dealing with how we’re treated. One of my coworkers, after her complaints were ignored, walked out today. Others take longer breaks when they should, steal things, take their anger out on fellow coworkers, or just laze about on the job. I take pride in my ability to do a job, and don’t want to slip into that kind of behavior, but I find I can’t help it sometimes, when I’m frustrated. But since I’m already leaving, should I just do so as soon as possible? Furthermore, is it possible that there is a case for harassment in their behavior? One of my coworkers mentioned that he threatened to sue them for being treated this way, and now they don’t bother him as much. Should I try to do so, or encourage my coworkers to do so? I appreciate you time.

Signed, About To Leave

DearĀ About To Leave:

Should you threaten harassment or encourage other coworkers to? No, you haven’t described a legal reason for harassment. Rather you describe much job frustration because you feel that your store is poorly managed and that those in charge are anything but customer-friendly. Should you leave as soon as possible? Probably not unless you are independently wealthy. Most of us must work, sometimes as your store manager told you “there will always be people you don’t like working with.” Wait until you know when you will move and then give the usual two-week notice.Workplace harassment pertains to discrimination, coercion or hostile environment based on race, national origin, sex, religion, age, or physical disability. Charging harassment can’t be brought for such reasons as bullying, verbal abuse, assigning too much work or nasty bosses.

You say you will soon move and therefore will quit work at this retail workplace. Apparently you don’t think of it as the beginning of career. However, the important thing for you in these remaining days there is to soak up every lesson, both positive and negative, you can about work. I sense that you have one thing going for you and that is a work ethic, one that motivates you to want to earn what you are paid and to deliver quality work to the customer. You don’t want this poorly managed place to take that away from you. I once was in summer stock in Boston and to my disappointment had a director, who, despite the fact that he had been managing that company for years, was indecisive and unprepared. I learned from him what not to do and that taught me to think through the motivations and blocking action when later I directed. I also learned more about acting from a fellow actor, Stacy Keach, who was to later go on Broadway and have a successful acting career on television and film.

Not long from now you can shut the door behind you, shake the dust from your feet, and rejoice that you are outta’ there. Or you can think of yourself as a cultural anthropologist doing an ethnographic study of that organization. Observe its communication channels, what works and what chokes off respect of the bossed for bosses. Don’t discount the time you have spent with coworkers and supervisors who have earned your respect. Put their names in an address book. See this time as a time as spinning a web of significance, and a web that might extend even after you move on when you might need a positive reference. Learn what you can of this retail establishment relationship with suppliers, how prices are determined, capital is acquired, what’s this store’s overhead, personnel practices, and inadequate measures to prevent theft. You were amused at the way your store manager openly characterized your “bad” feelings about your supervisor. What did you learn from that other than to hate her? All of this you might think is wasted effort, but realize you are going to school in the real world and you will find that the lessons learned in this retail place can apply well beyond the lesson of eliminating a particular place in which you want never to work again or more generally eliminate of one kind of occupation that is not for you.Your carefully written account of three months of deteriorating respect for a work environment reveals that you will be more discerning when you seek out employment in your new location. List those qualities you want in that just as you might when and if you are looking for a mate. Also look in the mirror, reflect on the qualities you want others to see in you; the skills you have acquired on the job as well as the more formal education you have or must yet acquire to qualify for the kind of work you can love. All this said, likely is far more that you expected, but I suggest that study of the thousands of Q&As in our Archives might add to your understanding of what can shape a workplace to be good, and even great. Read some of the answers of my associate Workplace Doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe, the most-savvy woman I know who winsomely shares her wisdom about workplace matters. Also click on her name to get to her own site. It is an attractive place to learn more about work and what it takes to live a beautiful life. I end each question I answer and each class I teach on communication in teams with this signature sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. What might this signature mean for you in your next workplace?

William Gorden