Uncomfortable Work Environment

Question:

I have been on my job for almost 3 months, and I keep to myself at work for the simple fact that I don’t trust my coworkers. I have two women that sit right behind me and they are always gossiping about people in Spanish. Other employees worry too much about what the other is doing instead of minding their own business and do their work. It’s frustrating because I sometimes want to explode and cuss these people out, but I feel that it’s not worth my job. What can I do to make this a more comfortable work environment?

Signed,

Frustrated Worker


Answer:

Dear Frustrated Worker:

An uncomfortable work place is certainly not an ideal environment to be in. But the good news is that it is within your grasp to change your workplace into a desirable place to work long-term. Here are some suggestions: 1. Focus on improving your work skills. Some of us have a tendency to sometimes perceive behavior or speeches by our colleagues or bosses to be more negative than they actually are, and thus we can become more paranoid than we should be. Management researchers term this “paranoid social cognition,” and it happens frequently in the workplace. Even though some of your coworkers may be speaking another language, they may not necessarily be constantly gossiping about other people (names may be mentioned, but perhaps they are talking positively about their colleagues). Instead of concentrating on what other people MAY be doing around you, try focusing on how you can improve your work skills. Since you are relatively new to your job, try talking to your colleagues and boss and see if there are new tasks you can learn, current tasks that you can improve on, or be more involved in other teams. You can always transfer skills you pick up from this job to another endeavor if you choose to move to another gig.

2. Focus on strengthening your relationships with other coworkers. While it can be hard as a newcomer to establish strong social ties at work right away, you can definitely try to get to know other coworkers better. Try asking a couple of colleagues to join you for lunch one day, or start a conversation during break time on their recommendations for a good Italian dinner spot. If other colleagues need help with their tasks, you can step in and volunteer to help out. Before you know it, you will be able to find co-workers you enjoy talking to and working with. 3. Motivate others around you. The workplace is increasingly about teamwork. You and your coworker may not be on the same project, but sooner or later s/he is likely to be involved with some part of your current or future tasks. You can change the culture of the workplace by exerting a positive, can-do attitude at work. You can directly motivate other people around you through your dedication to work or by giving your co-workers encouragement and praise. Change starts with one person, and change can spread quickly. Good luck! Finally, ask if those co-workers you criticize are really harming you or your workplace? The Workplace Doctor wonders if you might be looking down on others, feeling superior, and self-centered? Are you ego-centered rather than WEGO-focused? You may resent these questions and think they don’t apply to you. You should know yourself better than we can after reading only the question sent us. The advice we give, like a grain of salt, is meant to prompt you to do what is possible to make your working relationships more tolerable and satisfying. Apply only what seems reasonable to you and/or use our thoughts to spark your own answer to your situation.

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. If you do apply the advice in the #1,2,3 above, please get back to us after a couple of weeks to tell us if you see things differently.

Follow Up: In response to your e-mail, I’m not looking down on my co-workers, feeling superior or being self-centered. When you are minding your business working at your cubicle and you have one of the two busybodies turning around and worrying about what you are doing. Then yes, it’s a problem. When everyday while they are busy gossiping, while I don’t care what they are talking about, I care when the same lady that worries so much about what I’m doing turns around and look at me constantly while she is talking to the other coworker then yes, it’s a problem. I asked your opinion. I wonder why the workplace doctors wonder if I’m looking down on my coworker, feeling superior or self-centered? I refuse to communicate with a bunch of gossiping busybodies. Our Reply to Your Response: You ask: why does the Workplace Doctor wonder if you feel superior or self-centered? You first state that you “keep to yourself” and “don’t trust my co-workers”. Also in your reaction to our advice, you do not say anything positive about our suggestions for creating pleasant and productive working relationships, and you again refer to coworkers as “gossiping busybodies”. In short, you apparently feel superior and look down on those with whom you work and you don’t like the fact that you came across that way. And I’m glad you don’t see yourself that way. I’m sure the few words you provided to us do not provide a picture of your true self. But your co-workers might also view those few words and your refusal to join in with small talk as I have pictured you. Is that possible? The reason co-workers gossip is to help pass the day. They find comfort and interest in that when their jobs are not engaging, when they are low paid, when they are bored, when they have little say in how their jobs are done, and when their boss and employer have not encouraged them to be partners in profit and the enterprise. You do not enjoy your working relationships. Only three months on the job and you are so unhappy with others that you would like to cuss them out. Yet you do not state one negative thing these co-workers do wrong except to gossip and look at you rather than their own work. So you have a choice: either get off your high horse and don’t keep to yourself or continue to be unhappy in your new place of work. Reject our advice if you like. Our suggestions are free and we have no ax to grind.

Our only hope is that our thoughts might be helpful or prompt you to better ideas of your own. You will always be unhappy if you focus on the shortcomings of others, if you keep to yourself, if you don’t trust your co-workers, if you will not lower yourself for some small talk, and if you do not engage your co-workers in conversations about how to make their working conditions more beautiful, more efficient by cutting wasted time, and supplies, energy, and if you do not yourself focus on delighting your internal and external customers.

Work is hard enough even when the working environment is sunny. It is especially hard and overcast when we can see no good in our co-workers. What if you just pretended to be a cheerleader for a week? What if??? More Follow Up:You people constantly have something nasty to say about people that is asking for your advice. As for me being on a high-horse and not wanting to gossip with people that obviously have a problem with me, means that you only look at views one-sided. How could you give advice to people when you look at something one-sided? You people need to be more open-minded, because you are certainly no experts. Reply: I’m sorry you find my advice unhelpful. Hopefully you can find someone who will meet your needs. You are tempted to cuss your co-workers, so apparently you are a very unhappy person. Ignore what we advice. We won’t take up more of your time. May the sun shine on you and may you find a way to build relationships that give you the respect that you deserve and need. I know your day will be cloudy until you do.

Nancy Lam & Bill Gorden