Beware of Coworkers
Great news, you've just been hired to work for ABC Corporation. You will be starting out as an assistant to the vice president. It all sounds too good to be true. The hiring manager tells you that your position puts you in line for even better jobs as they open in the company.
All you have to do is do your job well, and you will succeed to the upper echelons of management where your future is secure. You might even be able to afford that dream home and new car and vacations to exotic locations.
Dream big, new hire, dream big . . . but watch out for the nightmares, otherwise known as your evil coworkers! They can really get you if you let them. They can make your newfound freedom in the workforce seem more like a battlefield, where your strategy to get ahead or hold your ground includes avoiding the gossip bombs and landmines that threaten to sabotage your progress at every turn!
Lies, Spies, Gossips, and Corporate Ladder Climbers
How well do you get along with your coworkers? Are there some you like more, and if so, why? Do you work in a relaxed atmosphere or one of mistrust? Does your boss interact with workers on a daily basis, making sure everyone is getting their work done efficiently while providing emotional support and making sure you have what you need to do the job?
If you answered positively to all those questions, then you are the rare one—working where everyone has a say in the company and everyone's ideas and efforts are appreciated.
Oftentimes, that is not the case. You may have several supervisors working in one department, and each may feel threatened by the other. So they are secretive about their motives and put you ill at ease trying to figure out whose work comes first or who you should be loyal to.
You may have to lie or pretend not to know something, so that when you are grilled about what another supervisor said, you will not get them in trouble.
Case Study: Carrie B
Carrie B worked in a temporary position where field agents brought in information for office agents who supervised a workforce to crunch the data and send on to a bigger office out of town.
Carrie was in the computer room working on a spreadsheet and hidden behind rows of boxes when a field manager came in complaining loudly to her companion about an office agent and how she acted like she was their boss. The agent brought up the woman's race and called her a fat a--.
Carrie told the office agent about it to warn her to be careful in case the field agent tried to report her to their supervisors, but the office agent then wanted to sue the woman for racial discrimination and wanted Carrie to sign a legal document stating what she had heard.
Carrie said she was afraid to be dragged in the middle and said that the field agent only mentioned the woman's race, the same way you would say, a big man or a lady with glasses and she did not feel it was openly hostile, just venting steam, and then did not want to get the field agent in trouble.
"I wish I had just kept my big mouth shut," said Carrie who was hounded by the office agent even after the job ended. "She would not let it go and by the time she wanted to take it to court, I honestly could not remember exactly what had been said, only that the field agent was really mad and speaking inappropriately about another coworker."
What Are Office Politics?
Office politics—the actions and behaviors of people interacting in regard to power and authority within an organization—is something that is rarely discussed in interviews.
Employers may allude to office politics indirectly, by asking if you get along well with others, and asking you if someone else did something wrong would you side with them or would you report them as a good little coworker should do. Often these questions can make or break an interview.
The rote answer is that of course you work well with others, and can adapt your work style to any working conditions, including: coworkers who eat garlic and cabbage stew at the desk next to yours, spray industrial-strength disinfectant every 10 minutes, and spend three hours on their cell phones texting until the boss comes in, then jump up and act like they have been working like a madman while you look like a slacker because you put a handful of peanuts in your mouth because you've been too busy to take a real lunch break.
If you saw one of your coworkers doing something wrong, you would of course inform them that they were going against company policy, report them to their immediate supervisor, and feel no guilt at having ratted out the person that trained you but spent an extra half hour at lunch talking to their military spouse who was deployed overseas and can only contact home during business hours.
I mean, isn't that what every good employee would do?
Most Employees Are Unhappy About Working Conditions
Numerous studies have shown that people who work well together tend to be happier, more productive and loyal. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 70 percent of workers were not engaged at work. That means that they did not feel like part of the company, but more like a cog in a wheel. There was no shared purpose of the company’s mission and no group loyalty.
Instead, most people felt put upon by supervisors and coworkers. They reported carrying more than their fair share of the workload, not being thanked or appreciated, and having to do with cliques at work that tried to lock them out of information-sharing so that they could retain power and leverage over them.
Case Study: Katherine D
Katherine D works for a mega corporation where information sharing is zilch:
"We would often be surprised by last-minute work orders. Many people felt like they were in a prison, working as slave laborers rather than feeling like a part of the company. We went through so many new people that it was draining to train them knowing they would probably be gone for something better in two to three months. I would have gone too if I could find something that paid as well and offered benefits."
Case Study: Tom G
Tom G reported that he had gone to work for a local car dealership expecting it to be a happy-go-lucky bunch, but instead it was a cutthroat environment, with people lying about you and snitching on you to the boss at every opportunity. Said Tom:
"There was no respect, no boundaries. People even stole your lunch out of the refrigerator and there was no communication. You were basically on your own until you made a sale."
Ideal Work Environment: Everyone Gets Along and Shares the Work
Having friends at work can help build a strong social network and make coming to work fun instead of a dreaded event. If you work with someone who puts the burden of the work on you and doesn't care if the work gets done or not, and only works when management is watching, it can make life tough.
Complaining about a lazy coworker or one who invades everyone's personal space, makes a mess of the office or does work so sloppily that it is given back to you to redo because the boss knows you will do it right, can make for a stressful work environment for the kindest of souls.
Good Management Prevents Problematic Office Politics
Let's face it, good management sees what is going on and intervenes and comes up with workable solutions that are fair to everyone, but good management is hard to find.
Most managers prefer that everyone get along and if a problem arises, you work it out amongst yourselves, but doing so, especially when you are perceived as having no power to enforce company policy, means that keeping the peace requires more work than actually working your job!
It's a real problem affecting thousands of businesses, especially small ones where the owner/manager may have no training in employee relations.
In any working situation there will be some workers who have more informal power than others.
Formal power follows a hierarchy...new hire, senior worker, supervisor, manager, but anyone who has worked at the same job for a while knows there is an underlying influencing power that can include maintenance workers, delivery personnel and children of supervisors who are not even on the payroll or work for an outside company.
Within the company ranks, there will be those who are jockeying for open slots that will move them to the victor's circle. Those people are most likely to compete with you rather than work with you as a friend. They may say they have your back, but what they mean is that they have a knife pointed at your back ready to stab you if you step into their territory.
They can make your job miserable and keep you always on guard for fear they will report you for some minor infraction like checking personal email on company time or using the office computer to print off grocery coupons... for shame!!
New Hires Can Create New Problems
Office stability can become less stable when new hires are added to the mix and old hats feel threatened or annoyed at a change in routine. Sometimes things are fine at work until a new employee upsets the company culture.
Mary D. said they used to be allowed to place pictures of their family and little trinkets from home in their workspace until a new employee posted pictures of herself and her lover half nude on a beach and hung heavy metal satanic looking logos on her bulletin board.
Then everyone was forced to remove their personal items from their desk so it would not look like management was discriminating against any one person. No one likes to have their personal freedoms taken from them.
Office politics can be thought of as real-life politics where one or more people want to set their agenda as THE agenda and anyone stopping them is seen as the enemy to be maligned and discredited by all means possible.
These political campaign smears can make work life difficult to intolerable and if you are vested in a company, awaiting promotion or wanting to hold on to insurance and vacation and other perks, then leaving and going somewhere else can feel like your whole world is in turmoil and you may have to live in a box under the bridge. The fear is real.
Liars and Snitches Can Make Your Life Unpleasant
Finding the perfect combination of supervisory interaction is difficult enough, but add in the coworker factor and your job could quickly become a nightmare.
When people are working together toward a common goal, a lot can be accomplished and deep friendships can be formed with each person willingly helping the other, but when one perceives they are being discriminated against, has a greater workload for the same pay or is so caught up in what everyone else is doing wrong, that they cannot see what they are doing wrong themselves, then the fur can fly.
Many offices have spies or snitches that watch and listen to everything you do and report you to supervisors or complain about you not only to coworkers, but people outside the business including customers and people with whom you associate.
While some may slander your name to put themselves in a higher position to get back at you for some perceived mistreatment, others can only see the faults of people, not the good qualities and derive great satisfaction at seeing you put down, especially if you disagree with the way they do things.
Office gossips can kill a career. If you constantly have to watch your back, you are not going to feel innovative or be willing to take risks that can improve the performance of the business for which you work. If you perceive you are going nowhere fast and your work environment is hostile, no matter how good the benefits are, you will not be happy and are more likely to complain yourself.
Those looking to climb the corporate ladder undoubtedly have no plans for you to follow after them. They only want to go higher to make more money, often thinking they will have to work less and can hire people to do the things they do not want to do.
None of the above situations leads to a good working environment and if you have a warden in your midst—a coworker or supervisor who keeps tabs on your every movement and does not allow you any freedom to think or act on your own—then the situation can become intolerable, leading to you to call in sick or leave work early or come in late to reduce the level of stress that seeps over into your private life as well.
Rise Above the Liar, the Snitch, and the Warden
There may be times at work when you wish you could walk through a wardrobe closet and enter a new world far removed from your office or workplace woes, but take heart, if you are willing to put in the effort, you may be able to get better results, though it all boils down to management being willing to enact new policies and keep the ball rolling.
Liars, snitches and gossips, if given enough time, will eventually be discovered and removed. Documenting what they do is less important than documenting what you do. Keep a daily journal and write down what you did at work and even why you did it that way, so if someone does try to blame something on you that was not your fault, you can hand over your record book.
Do not reveal any personal information to gossips. While sharing thoughts and feelings with a close friend helps bring you closer, gossips will use what you say against you and twist your words. If you tell them you hate it when people give you too much work to do and want it done right now, they will say that you hate your boss and wish she would do her own work instead of giving it all to you.
Don't resort to payback and negative responses. If someone lies about something you did not do or makes something good that you did into a bad situation, then be honest about what you did or apologize. Don't try to put the blame on someone else or come up with lame excuses; even if you are innocent, it will make you look guilty.
Case Study: Tasha C
Tasha C worked for a loan company where three people were supposed to file folders, but they all talked and pretended to work when the boss came in while leaving the filing for her. She decided to go a full week without filing and when her boss wanted to know why, she told her she was waiting to see if someone else would do it.
The boss made the two lazy workers file for the next two weeks and while they were angry at Tasha, she pitched in and helped them when they were really busy and it helped them realize how rude they were being to her.
In other words it is better to kill someone with kindness and help them to see how their slackness hurts others than to get angry with them and yell at them and tell them they need to do their share or else.
Don’t Let Your Boss or Coworkers Mistreat You
If you really can't stand the people you work with, see if you can get reassigned, or work from home or on a different shift.
If you have a terrible manager that withholds work all day and then gives it to you an hour before closing and tells you it has to be done today or else, consider asking her early if the material is ready or if she needs something done right now because you have an appointment after work and cannot stay late to help.
Hopefully if you remind them and offer to help them early they will learn to not put it off until the last minute.
While your boss may expect you to be nothing more than a working machine on go the whole time you are at work, let's face it that this is not reality for most people. We all need downtime and breaks, time to chat, time to get things together and time to interact with other coworkers.
Most of us also have a built in timer that lets us know when we have goofed off too much and really need to get back to work as well as when we need to take a break and recharge before going at it again and we are more productive when we are happy, not miserable.
There is definitely a balancing act with work and pleasure and there are some jobs you may hate to do but someone else likes doing better, so offer to trade off and do something the other person does not like but you don't mind doing.
If you both hate doing it, consider sharing, but don't dump your work load on someone else or disappear to the bathroom in order to avoid a work order because coworkers will quickly pick up on that and it will hurt your working relationship with them.
Always be fair and expect others to be fair as well. While you may not have supervisory powers over them, if they are slacking, there is nothing wrong with asking if they can help you because you are feeling overburdened and it is putting you in a bad mood.
Don’t Give the Snitch and the Gossip Any Ammunition
If there is a snitch among you, don't give them anything to snitch about. Do your job well and don't goof off. Or send them on an important mission while you and your non-snitch friends chill out and discuss sports scores or check out a YouTube video of a cute cat dancing.
Or better yet, invite your boss to come into the office and share the video of the cute cat dancing so the snitch has no ammunition to use against you. You'd be surprised how effective that can be!
Most bosses know that gossips embellish, but they also use gossips to provide them with inside information so again, be careful what you say and do around them, and rat yourself out before the gossip does.
If you got upset with a customer and they were present, explain to your boss that you let it get out of hand and it won't happen again. In most cases all they want to hear is that you realize you did the wrong thing and will do your best not to do it again. Everybody has an off day.
If you are the rare one who gets along with coworkers and enjoys their friendship as much as that of your friends away from work, then hang on to that job! Even if it doesn't pay as well as some other positions, it is worth more than money to have peace of mind and happiness.
What's More Important: Money or Work Environment?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Do I file a DFEH complaint against my harassing, bullying discriminating boss, or do I hire an attorney?
Answer: It depends on the level of harassment. You are unlikely to win a case or retain your job if you file any sort of complaint. The best course of action in a large company is to approach your human resources director and ask if there have been any previous complaints. If the boss owns the business, you need to document what is taking place... letters, emails, photos, etc.
Generally, it will make you less hire-able by other companies, even if you are correct that you are being mistreated.
Your best course of action is to find a new job before filing any motion. I have taken my case to the Labor Department and won a harassment suit but was fired two months later because "the boss was sick of looking at my face," which was a legal cause. I was able to collect unemployment while seeking a new job, but be aware if you file a complaint you are not likely to keep a job at that company even if your boss is fired as most companies do not like dealing with disgruntled employees.
Sexual harassment cases and racial discrimination cases are most likely to be taken seriously. In all other cases, companies will try to blame poor work ethic, inability to get along with co-workers, etc. and they can form pretty compelling arguments that will hurt your future chances of finding a job even if you win your case, so be wary.
I have had multiple bosses tell me I needed psychiatric help and had one ask me what made me so different from everyone else and why could I not act like them? Unfortunately, these comments are seen as opinions, not harassment, but they do a number on your psyche!