Not Feeling Welcomed Back At Work

Question:

I came back to work after 8 weeks of maternity leave. On my second day I asked my boss a question about storage and she pretty much called me dumb. Then, she proceded to tell me that the new employees who have been there for two weeks were complaining about me and that all the girls of the office were tired of me including the doctors.

I know that isn’t true because the doctors have told me they couldn’t wait for me to come back so my department would get back to normal.

These two new girls are in different departments from me. One is in billing and the other is a receptionist and I work in medical records. The first two days I was back I stayed busy cleaning up the mess I had found when I returned, so I didn’t make much conversation with anyone those two days. I think this is what caused the two girls to complain to my manager and to one of the doctors, but I think that was really unfair.

Now, I feel really uncomfortable. Every time I pass by or say something to another employee they look at me as though they’re trying to see what I’m doing. Is this legal to have another employee who is new spying on someone who has been working there for almost six years?

Signed,

Not Happy Back At Work


Answer:

Dear Not Happy Back At Work:

Coming back from maternity leave is always difficult for both the returning employee and the employees who have been there all along. It sounds as though things didn’t start well from the first day back and have gotten worse.

Perhaps these suggestions can be adapted to help you get through this bad time and get back to enjoying work again.

It seems that you and your manager are the ones having the most serious problems, because employees with only two weeks on the job are probably not much of a threat to you. If you never have had a good relationship with your manager, you may know of a history of issues you will have to deal with. BUT, if you always had a good relationeship before now, I hope you can go to her and find out what is happening and what has changed. I think though that you will certainly have to talk to her directly and I’ll mention that in a moment.

I also think you will probably need to accept that you are more tired and more easily upset that you might have expected you would be upon return. I don’t know if that is contributing to the situation, but it wouldn’t be unusual if it was.

I’m not saying this is all of your doing, but it sounds as though you came back ready to jump right in and fix what you think others have messed up. But, from the viewpoint of the manager and others, they’ve gotten along without you for eight months, so you aren’t the salvation for the office. (I’m not saying that you implied that, but that they might think it to themselves.)

Could it be that you showed by some facial expressions or comments that you thought things were a mess and that was resented? Could it be your manager said what she was thinking and that encouraged the new employees to say something they wouldn’t normally have commented on? After all, they had only been there two weeks so they certainly don’t have enough influence to sway the doctors if they complained about you.

You think these two new employees are both looking at you as though they’re spying on you. You must admit, that sounds excessive. Do you think the manager has told them to report to her what they see you doing? I don’t think that is happening. So, there is nothing illegal going on and it sounds as though you are overreacting to the unpleasant situation that you found when you came back to work.

It could be you thought it would be fun to get back and see those you used to work with, but now you find a bunch of people you don’t even know! Could it be that the former employees left because they saw things getting bad while you were gone? Maybe it’s just not the same place anymore. Or, maybe there were problems before and the manager is determined that she won’t let those develop again–so she is being overly harsh with you.

I don’t know the underlying causes of any of this, but clearly there is something going on and this mess wasn’t just created for no reason. You might not agree with the reason, but I’ll bet your manager thinks she is justified in her actions..or has convinced herself she is. So, the key for you is to find out what is going on and at the same time to find a way to get back into the team you’ve been gone from for almost a year.

Consider some of these ideas. They might not feel natural or easy, but they may make it possible for you to start over in a better way.

1. If it’s part of the culture of the office to have someone bring in a treat now and then, bring some cookies or bagels in. Put a sign on the plate or write on the box: “I’m glad to be back. Thanks for your help while I was gone.” (Or something similar.)

Or, bring in a new photo and smile and say you know they’ll get tired of baby pictures but you wanted to show them one more. Then, you can say, “I probably acted like my mind wasn’t quite here the last couple of weeks. It probably wasn’t! I’m trying to get back to it though, so bear with me.”

Or, just act as though your return time didn’t happen and start again. They won’t remind you by saying, “Hey, it’s too late to be friendly.” Just be it.

I often refer to the concept of flossing every one at work, every day, just like we floss around our teeth. If we don’t do it, our gums get sensitive, if we do, they become healthier and less sensitive. Communication at work is the same way. The more you avoid someone, they more they avoid you and the more you feel like avoiding them, etc.

2. Be a bit less possessive about your work area. A lot of things have had to be done while you were gone. Someone has worked hard to try to keep up–maybe someone who was doing double duty. Be appreciative of that and expect that things might not be the same. Slowly get them back to normal. But that doesn’t have to happen in a few days. Talk to the people who helped and ask about it in a friendly non-judgmental way.

3. Talk to your manager, as I suggested at first. You’ve worked with her for longer than the others so surely you can communicate with her now. Just say something like, “Shirley, I worried all weekend about what you said. I’d like to know what I should be doing that I’m not doing now and what I should stop doing that I’m doing now. I sure don’t like feeling that you don’t want me back.”

Give her the chance to say that isn’t the case and I’ll bet that is what she says. She certainly knows she doesn’t want to get someone else up to speed on your work. But, she may feel stressed over the new dynamics of having you back and all that involves now with new employees.

If you feel you can, be even more honest with her and tell her how you had looked forward to coming back to work and you felt really let down. You can say that you were more tired and emotional than you expected you’d be. Let her know you want things to be better. Even if she has some negative feelings, that might at least convict her about how she and others have behaved.

4. You say you get along good with the doctors. That’s a good sign…although doctors are notorious for leaving everything to the office manager and not wanting to be involved in conflict! If they think well of you, what the new employees said won’t matter. If they think well of you, what the office manager says won’t matter much either. Their primary concern is getting the work done without hassle. So, just focus on your work and on not providing anyone with something new to complain about. (You can bet the doctors are used to hearing the staff snipe at each other anyway. It’s a sad fact of medical office life in most cases!)

5. I said at the beginning to pretend the first week back (or whatever the time frame is) didn’t happen. I realize that won’t be easy to do. But, you know you’ll be working there anyway, so you might as well do what you can to make it tolerable for you. One way to do that is simply keep working and smiling. Dedicate each hour to your new baby or to your family and keep at it.

Figure that some of this is because of the immature or unpleasant other employees and some of it might be inadvertently because of something you did or said that you didn’t mean to come across as it did. That may not be true, but it won’t hurt to consider it.

Now, having said that let me add that if you are trying all of that and still are getting very negative results, talk to your manager again. Then, ask to talk to the lead doctor about it if that is something that is possible. If you’ve done all you can do but it appears you’re being pushed out, then you may need to push back. (But don’t do that unnecessarily.)

Work is tough and juggling work and parenting is tougher, especially with a new baby and perhaps other children too. So, anything you can do to make it easier for you is worth the effort I think.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.