Shunned by Coworker and Others

The next day Jane picked me up. She said her car was making a funny noise and she was going to take her car to the dealership at lunch. She said she might have to get a loaner. I said I would just work from home, Jane said she would make sure I got home. She came back from the dealership and said some wires had been chewed on and the car would have to stay there. Then she said because of the snow they were not doing the loaner car.

A while later, I was at my desk talking to IT about an issue and Karen came over and quickly said, “I got to go, my husband is here to take me home.” The IT person was talking and she was talking and before I could finish asking the person on the phone to give me a minute Jane was gone.

I had no money on me for a cab or bus and we weren’t getting paid for another week so I did not have enough to use my debit. I asked 3 people that I knew that lived out by me if I could get a ride (there are only 22 people in our building). Some people did not come in because of the snow. There was one person who said yes, but I would have to wait until 5 p.m. when he would get off work. It was only about 1p.m. I could not stay because of my kid. Anyway, I called a friend who lives pretty far from me. She packed up her 3 kids and drove about 30 minutes to pick me up.

The next day I worked from home. The day after I came in, I immediately noticed when I said good morning, no one replied, which is unusual. There was so much tension, no one talked. At lunch time Jane and another lady went out to lunch. They would always ask if I wanted to go. I would go every once in a while. This day, however, Jane asked the other lady if she was ready and walked past me without saying anything. This went on for several months. It was not only Jane who would not talk to me. Every day I would come in and the 3 co-workers would exclude me. If I asked a work-related question, it would be short. It finally came to a head when K-Jane asked to use my badge to let a maintenance person in. I asked what was wrong with her badge, and she said it was broken. Knowing better, I still let her use it. She could have asked the other two co-workers, I thought maybe she was using it as an excuse to talk to me.

NOPE. She brought my badge back and tossed it on my desk then walked away. I said, “Oh, it’s like that.” She started telling me to stop talking about her. I asked who was I talking to about her? There was no answer.

Jane contacted HR. We were talked to about being a team. We needed to focus on work. Jane said I was talking about her, but again she did not know to whom, but was sure I was. I said you are talking about me, in ear shot. Jane said, “I am confiding in someone.” We have hardly spoken to each other since.

Recently, I had a work related question and was asking a coworker, Jane started answering. I put my hands over my ears to let her know, without saying anything that I did not want to hear it from her. Immediately she and the coworker I was trying to ask the question went to the break room together. I went to our supervisor and asked if I could talk to her. My supervisor was not happy that she had to deal with us again, but glad that I did not go to HR like Jane did. I told my supervisor that I covered my ears because the last time I tried to talk to her she got upset and turned her back to me.

At the HR meeting I felt like I was made to be the problem. Because it was 3 against me. I am afraid it will happen again. I am not good at sticking up for myself. We are supposed to have a meeting with the supervisor today, 7/30/20.

My questions are, how can I stop feeling like there is a target on me and get the 3 co-workers to quit talking about me? And to let my supervisor know that I’m not being too sensitive?

Thank you Signed–Target

Dear Target:

I’ve changed the name you used in this account so as not to identify you or to say again you were talking about her. Also I edited your question and apologize if that has altered your meaning. You have shared a stream of consciousness about what happened. Of course you are not a video camera, but the more clearly you can recall the language that you used and heard, the better can someone from the outside understand what happened. 

Since your question involved Human Relations, I know you can benefit from the expertise of one of our guest respondents, I sent it to him, Mark Mindell, PhD and long time manager of H R in major corporations. Mark’s advice is succinct and explicit. He spells out what you need to do for your peace of mind and to seek resolution to the interpersonal problem between your coworkers and you. 

“There is very little said in your ten paragraphs to help me suggest much of anything.  But your last sentence finally asks your questions and here are my responses:
1.  You can only stop feeling like a target if you decide you are not a target.  They are your feelings and others don’t control them.  It is clear to me that there are a number of obvious interpersonal problems but I have no real way of knowing what is causing them, why they continue and/or how you contribute to them.  

2.  It does not appear that your supervisor is very interested in trying to sort out the problems you identify because he/she really shouldn’t have to.  I almost feel like I’m dealing with a group of 6 year olds who are fighting over their toys.  I don’t know exactly where HR stands on this and I don’t know if they should be involved at all.  One thing I know for sure:  putting your hands over your ears when someone is talking to you is not going to get you what you want.

3.  Ultimately, if you came to me I would also likely turn it back over to your immediate supervisor to sort out.  If your HR group is large enough to have some experts in Communication, there might be value in one of those people meeting with you and Karen to force an honest discussion about what is happening and how to resolve or reduce the associated issues.  But you can’t make this happen yourself and my sense is that both HR and your supervisor might be saying the same thing:  ‘everyone needs to work well together or leave the department.’”

This conflict has gone on for months, you say. Is now not the time to follow Dr. Mindell’s three steps? Think them through and approach this situation rather than allowing it to fester further. Work is difficult enough without interpersonal childish behavior. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. That’s what your supervisor, you and your coworkers can have if you make that goal your goal. –William Gorden  

Second Opinion of Danica Rice, H. R. Manager, guest respondent

At this point, I know that I am too late with my response but the harsh reality is this went on far too long before going to the supervisor.  I am not sure of the ages of these individuals but regardless as adults in the work environment it is not called for and it should not be tolerated, period!  This is basic harassment (hostile work environment) training 101, at the first sign of “trouble” this young lady should have spoken with Jane and with the failed attempt, gone to the supervisor in an effort to resolve from a work standpoint, and if that did not do the trick then go to HR.  Three months or more should not have gone by for hearsay, it’s childish, petty, and again a complete waste of professional and personal time.  If this company does not have harassment training, which companies should do every other year if not annually, then it may not be a bad idea for them to incorporate it.