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I Think I’m Being Bullied At Work, What Should I Do?

Gossiping, petty colleagues can turn a dream job into a daily nightmare. But is it workplace bullying, and what can you do about it?

I Think I’m Being Bullied At Work, What Should I Do?
[Photo: Flickr user TechCrunch]

Studies have proven what we already know: Having friends in the office makes work significantly more enjoyable. Your relationships with your coworkers are so important, in fact, that they can make a bad job bearable and a good job untenable.

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This week, psychologist Art Markman helps a reader figure out if her employees’ bad behavior is workplace bullying, and what she can do to turn things around.

Hi,

A few months ago I accepted what I thought was my dream job. But, after less than a month in my new role, what I thought was the opportunity of a lifetime quickly turned into a daily nightmare, with coworkers excluding me from key meetings, which seemed intentional, so that I wouldn’t be able to meet deadlines; gossiping to leadership with untrue statements about me (i.e., being late or missing meetings, leaving my desk, and going “missing”, etc.). The same coworkers also copied senior leadership in emails about projects that make me appear incompetent.

After addressing this to leadership, I was eventually disciplined and written up for what appeared to be unjustifiable from my perspective, especially being new to the organization.

The last two months, I have dreaded the thought of going to work, I’ve been depressed, can’t focus, and am all-around miserable. After doing research, I discovered that my coworkers’ treatment of me, as well as that of leadership, aligned with “workplace bullying.”

My question to you is, how would you suggest I address this: Should I report it to HR and hope for the best, or should I move on to a happier workplace?


Wow. This sounds like a toxic work environment. It must be very hard to have to wake up each day knowing you are going into this sea of negativity.

The most frustrating elements of this situation is that the leadership has condoned the activities of the current employees and has created a paper trail that can eventually be used to block a promotion or fire you. That means that the organization is not looking out for you.

If you haven’t talked with any of the leaders in the organization yet, you should probably have at least one meeting to express your concern. If you do have that meeting, focus it primarily on what you can do to help improve your relationship with the company rather than making it a series of accusations about your coworkers. Even though they have excluded you, making accusations in a meeting is likely to make leaders defensive rather than bring them around to your side. That said, if you have any documentation relating to your complaints (such as meetings that were held without you being included), bring that along in case those issues come up.

The big question is how to move forward from here. I strongly recommend you look for another job. You might choose to stay at this job until you find another one, but if your industry is one in which there is a fair amount of hiring, you might consider leaving soon for your own mental health. You can always tell prospective future employers that the job you took was not as good a fit as you hoped it would be when you took the position. You might also ask around to find out what kind of reputation your current firm has. It may be that others have had a similar experience to your own, in which case choosing to leave that company might be self-explanatory within the industry.

You could certainly try to work this out using the HR department at your organization, but I suspect that avenue will not be that successful. Even if HR recognizes that you have been bullied, changing the culture of a toxic group takes time. And you will always be seen as the one who brought the problems to light. There might be a chance for you to move to another group within the organization, but you are likely to find a better fit elsewhere.

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If you do decide to leave this job, there are two other things I recommend. First, when you resign, you should write a letter to HR and copy it to the head of your division that gives an evenhanded account of your experience working at the company. It won’t help your situation, but it may alert the company to problems that it needs to address in the future.

Second, read over the performance reports you have been given to see if there is anything you can learn from them yourself. It is tempting to dismiss everything they say as being a result of the toxic environment, and it may very well be true that all the organization was doing was creating a paper trail that could eventually be used to dismiss you. At the same time, there may be some nuggets that you can use to improve your performance in your next job.

I am sorry that this has been such a difficult situation. It sounds to me like you will be much happier in a different environment.


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