Not Treated Equally

Question:

I started this clerical position that I’m in now about 6 months ago. I work with all women and I’m the youngest one there. I’m 24 and the rest of the ladies I work with are all 50 and older. They have been at there jobs for around 20 years (except for a lady whom started 2 days before I). My first day I started I was introduced to Mary who has been there for 22 years. She is not the supervisor but just a regular employee as I am.

When the plant manager introduced me to her I could tell she did not like me that well. There are a total of 5 women that I work with in my department. I could tell when I first started there that they all backstabbed and talked about each other. I just kept to myself and did not want to get caught up in all that workplace drama. I would not go and eat lunch with them because I did not want to get caught up in that, I just wanted to stick to myself.

At work I’m the type of employee who wants to learn new things all the time. I always help out the other women at work when I’m not busy.

This one lady there is very rude to me. She always swears and is just plain rude and acts like she does not care. Finally I went to the plant manager about her and let him know that I don’t appreciate being treated like that and I want to be treated with respect. I also talked to the plant manager about how Mary treats this other co-worker (who started 2 days before me) better than she treats me.

Mary is always teaching her more of the job than she teaches me. As if she doesn’t want me to know certain things about the job. Mary became close friends with the other co-worker and they whisper a lot and talk a lot about the other co-workers. They make me feel left out and like I’m not even part of that department. They make me feel like a don’t do a good job at work.

The plant manager has noticed that about them and he said that he noticed that Mary shows favoritism toward this employee. But now that I went to the plant manager about this, they treat me even worse. They make me question myself and my work performance.

My first review went well. The plant manager has told me that I’m a very proactive worker, and that I work as a team with everyone. There was nothing negative to say about me. However, he did share with me that the lady that started 2 days before me is a backstabber. And he indicated that Mary will not be supervisor and will not be running the department.

Right now we don’t have a direct supervisor in my department. The ladies that have been there for 20 + years do not qualify as a supervisor. The plant manager is always gone on business trips and he cannot be there all the time to see what goes on in my department. The other day Mary and the co-woker she favors were whispering and talking to each other in secret as they always do. This made me feel very uncomfortable so I went to another supervisor (who is second in command from the plant manager) since there is no direct supervisor running my department, and the plant manager is away.

I told her that right now I’m feeling really umcomfortable and I told her about the situation. She indicated that she has known of the problems in my department, (obviously the plant manager made her aware). She must have mentioned this to the 2 ladies that were whispering. The 2 ladies came up to me and said, “Do you want to know what we were whispering about?” I said that they make me feel uncomfortable when they do that.

The next day, Mary was not at work cause she had the day off. When I went into work that morning the lady that started 2 days before me did not say good morning, (she never does unless I do first). So I did not talk to her all day and just went to work. At lunch time I left to get food and she was there to answer the phones. After lunch I continued receiving warranty returns because that is what I also do if I’m not busy on the phones helping customers.

While I was in back the phone was ringing. One of the other employees in my department had told me the phone was ringing back there. I said to her, “Isn’t she back there answering the phone?” She said “no, she went to lunch”. I said she could have told me so that I could have been there to answer the phone while she was gone. So I went back to answer phones.

When she got back from lunch I said to her that she should have told me she was leaving so I could have been there to answer phones. She said, “Well you did not say good morning to me, and you have not talked to me all day, and I told them that I was leaving for lunch.”

I said, first off, you did not say good morning to me, and second, I’m in this department too and you should have told the person that it matters to that you were leaving. It does no good to tell the other ladies when they don’t do customer service on the phone as we do. And she said, “well you’re spreading rumors around the plant about me.”

I said what am I spreading about you I would like to know. She said, “well you should have went to Mary about the whispering and not the other supervisor. (why should I go to Mary when she was also whispering and she is not supervisor?)

I told her that the plant manager said I don’t have to go to Mary, she is not the supervisor. She told me I was tattling. I don’t see how that was spreading rumors about her.

I mentioned to one supervisor about how I’m feeling. That is not tattling. She is acting like a child. I said to her, “you act as though you never talk about people.” She said, “I never said that.” So she is pretty much admitting that she talks behind employee’s backs.

I don’t know what to expect when I go to work on Monday. The plant manager will be there because he will be back from his business trip. I don’t know what to do about the situation that I’m in now. I only want Mary to treat me as she does the other employee who started only 2 days before me. I know that they have become friends and do things now outside of work.

I don’t know why they make me feel like I do. Is it because I’m younger than they are? Do they feel threatend by me? Do I do a good job at work? They make all these questions arise in my head.

I feel sometimes as though I’m being teamed up on in my department by all these older ladies that have been there for years. I have heard that there are other people that have been employed in that department and did not end up staying there because of them. I don’t want to leave my job, I like my job. I have learned so much about my job and getting to know it. I just want Mary to treat me as she does the other ladies. There has been more problems that I have mentioned. It’s like they all want to push my buttons so I blow up at work and get fired or something.

Signed,

Feeling Pushed Out


Answer:

DearĀ Feeling Pushed Out:

It certainly sounds as though you have an unhappy work environment! It also seems that your manager and supervisors could do something more about it than they are doing. However, since they are not, you are going to have to develop a plan of action that will allow you to stay in your job and be happy in it.

You are finding out how miserable a few employees can become–and how they can spread that misery to others. But you are also finding out that your responses to the things that are done can make a big difference. Consider some of these thoughts as you develop your plan of action. You may not be able to apply all of them, but may be able to adapt them in some way that will help you.

1. Be realistic about what you will be able to achieve at this point. I would think it accurate to say that Mary is never going to like you very much! That may change as time goes by, but I doubt it will change enough that she will treat you in as friendly a way as she treats your co-worker. That is only human nature when there have been conflict–especially since she knows you have complained about her.

You said you purposely didn’t have lunch with others, or spend much time bonding with co-workers when you were first hired. So, Mary and the others may have felt you didn’t want to be friends–or at least can say that now. Aim instead for a civil relationship that is focused on work and that never involves open rudeness. More about that next.

2. There is also the issue that you don’t have to be friends with co-workers, just effective in your work efforts together. I think that is where you should put your focus. Not on what you think is being said or done, but only on how you are able to do your work.

Many of the things you mentioned, though upsetting and hurtful, are people to people conflicts that can be worked around. The one thing you mentioned that has an impact on work, is the failure of the co-worker to notify you about the phones. THAT will be worthy of going to a supervisor about if it happens again–because that impacts the economic well-being of your organization. You can bet that would get a much stronger reaction from a supervisor!

3. I agree that the behavior of Mary and the other co-worker would be very unpleasant and demoralizing. But why should it make you doubt your work? Your co-workers aren’t supervisors. The one co-worker started when you did! You don’t say that they have criticized the quality or quantity of your work–perhaps they have. But, most of the things that are happening seem to be based on not liking each other’s styles, mannerisms and communication, rather than them making remarks that your work is being done wrong.

Your supervisor is happy with your work. That’s all you need to know to feel confident that you aren’t going to lose your job, and that your work product is respected by those who matter. If your co-workers complain about a specific issue related to your work, consider it carefully to see if there is any validity to it. If you don’t think there is, ask your supervisor about it, without mentioning that someone else brought it to your attention. That way you can get input without appearing to be telling on a co-worker.

4. YOU lead the way in stopping the hurtful communications. Stop debating whether or not you tattled or they whispered about you or anything else that only leads to conflict. (And incidentally, a tattletale is an informer. The term is usually used to imply that the deed wasn’t so serious that it had to be reported in that way. So, I can see why your co-worker said you tattled. I also can see why you went to a supervisor about the actions the co-workers. But that shows you that debating the words is a waste of time!) One way to lead in the area of stopping the negative communication is to stop keeping your antenna up for everything that appears to be hurtful or rude to you. Keep the focus on your work and doing your work well.

Another way is to purposely be courteous, without making a big deal about it. Find one or two of the other employees that you can be friendly with, and find things to talk to them about now and then. Even the employees that have caused you trouble should be spoken to in an open way. Maybe just a slight smile and, “Hi, Karen” as you walk in the door.

5. One of the things I suggest when there are conflicts of this nature, is to pretend to be the other person and say what you think Mary might have said when she went home after the last incident: “You won’t believe what Heather did today! Karen and I were talking about a problem Karen is having, and we were talking softly so others wouldn’t hear us. Next thing you know, the acting supervisor calls us in and says Heather complained that she was being made to feel bad because Karen and I were whispering! Heather could have come to us and asked us what we were talking about, if it bothered her all that badly. But noooooooooooo! She had to go tattle to the supervisor and whine about how bad we were making her feel. I’m starting to really get tired of her! She won’t talk to us, hasn’t tried to fit in since she got here, and resents that Karen has become friends with me and others. I don’t know what is the matter with her, but I don’t like it!”

You may say that none of that is an accurate portrayal of you and your actions–but I’ll bet Mary sees some of it that way, and so does the other employee. None of this situation may be caused by you–but your reactions have certainly been focused on what you think someone is talking about, without proof of it mentioned.

Try to get out of the mind-set that people are out to cause you problems or drive you away from work. They may be, but it won’t help to become excessively sensitive about it.

6. I can imagine that you are worried about going to work, and what might happen. Think about doing this:

Stop for a moment before you walk in the door and get your mind and heart focused on what you are there for: To do a job. Keep that job and your paycheck in mind. Your organization pays your salary, not those co-workers.

Play a game of pretend tomorrow. Pretend that everything you do is being video-taped and will be reviewed by a panel who will be deciding which employee is acting the most professionally and appropriately, through positive interactions, good judgment, teamwork, focus on work and working for the good of the organization. Imagine that you want to impress the panel. Make everything you do tomorrow and in the coming days, represent your best, most mature, most cooperative and team-focused self. Be a role-model for how Mary and your co-workers should treat each other.

Then, be pleasant to everyone in a natural and normal way. If Mary or the other co-worker confronts you about something, say that you think you both should talk about it in the presence of a supervisor. That is particularly true if Mary confronts you about your comments to a supervisor last week. Just say, “This is something we need to talk about in front of a supervisor. Let’s go in and talk to Christine.” Then, start walking! Or, if the supervisor isn’t there, say you don’t want to talk about it until you can do so in front of a supervisor.

That may be the last thing Mary wants to do!

Or, say that you’re sorry things have gotten so negative and you would like to be part of an effort to put the focus on work and not on problems.

If you mention the whispering or other actions to Mary and the other co-worker, say how it made you feel and ask them the stop. Don’t argue, just say it simply and let it go. They don’t have to agree or disagree right then. You just need to say you’ve made the request in a reasonable way. If it continues, you can use the guideline below to decide what to do.

I don’t think you should talk to a supervisor again–at least not right away–unless something very specific and work-related occurs. Here’s a good guideline: If what happens is so bad you want to make a formal, written complaint and ask for an investigation about the behavior of Mary and the co-worker, do so. If it isn’t that bad and you only want to vent, or you hope to get action with your name being left out of it–don’t complain. At least not until things have been given a chance to calm down and the hurt feelings of everyone subside somewhat.

7. As I said earlier, the one thing that should get an immediate concerned response from you is if work suffers because of what is going on. You could get in trouble for the phones not being answered, and customers expect the phones to be answered. So, that is a valid complaint. If other work-related things happen, those are valid and serious things to go to a supervisor about. But first, make sure the other employee was purposely making trouble, and be able to prove everything you accuse someone of doing or not doing.

8. When your supervisor asks you about these issues, be honest about your frustrations and state specifically what has happened. Then, ask for his or her insights about ways you may have inadvertently contributed to some aspect of it. It will be good to hear that you haven’t, if that’s the case. But, if your supervisor thinks you can help make things better, that’s important to know too.

9. I hope these thoughts will help you feel stronger and more confident about dealing with this issue. Keep in mind that you only can control your own actions and responses. Find ways to mentally take a break from your frustrations. Reach out to others and show the highest level of professional behavior in your office.

Best wishes!

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.