Question submitted to “Ask a Coach”:
I started a new job six weeks ago. From day one, my three female co-workers made it clear they didn’t welcome me, making comments such as “we weren’t the ones who hired you” and “We had a good friend who would have been perfect. You apparently out-interviewed her.”
I didn’t know what to say. I said, “I’m sorry about your friend.”
I’ve done my best to make friends with them, but they don’t give me a chance. When I come in to work, I greet each of them with a smile, or at least I did for the first three days, but no one greets me back.
Muffins in the trash
On my third day working here, I brought muffins and left them in the breakroom. When I went into the room for a second cup of coffee, I saw the muffins in the trash.
The file tower
The next day when I arrived at work, tall stacks of files buried my desk. When I asked one of my coworkers, she answered, “work.” I asked, “what am I supposed to do with them?” She said, “your job.”
I looked through the files and couldn’t figure out what they were. I went to my supervisor and asked “where do I file these?” She asked, “why did you take them out of the file cabinets?”
I told I hadn’t and what what had happened with the muffins and she said I needed to “be patient” and not try to “push my way in.”
When I asked what that meant, she said, “The ladies have been here for a while, and we sort of let them be as long as they do their job.” She added that the individual who made the hiring decision, her manager, wanted to hire me because he thought it would be good to have a younger person in office. The way she said it made it clear she thought he’d made the wrong decision.
The bathroom wall comments
Patience has never been my strong suit, but I need this job. So I decided I didn’t need to be liked, that I would just work. Then yesterday, the maintenance guy, who’s been nice to me, told me he didn’t want to upset me but thought I should know that nasty comments had been written about me in the men’s bathroom.
Why are these ladies doing this? I’m angry. I went to human resources and asked for action. She told me that unless someone saw who had written the comments, she couldn’t do anything about the situation, because I could have written the comment myself.
What am I supposed to do–just leave?
You’ve walked in to an entrenched work group that has power, is miffed you got hired, and intends to run you off.
You’ve done many of the right things. You brought muffins. You let your supervisor and HR know what’s going on.
Your supervisor should have done more than show you where to file the stacks and counsel you to be patient. Her job includes making sure you’re welcomed into the department. You gave her clear, physical evidence that you’ve been hazed. Unless you’ve done something other than bring muffins, I’m not sure how you’ve been pushy.
Someone knows something, and HR needs to listen to what you reported and not expect you to run this gantlet alone. HR needs to interview every employee and ask what they know and to carefully evaluate each employee’s nonverbal reactions to being questioned. Even if HR doesn’t find the answer to who wrote the bathroom comment, left the files on your desk or dumped your muffins in the trash, HR’s interviews can make it clear “the gig is up.”
Since neither the supervisor not the HR officer have stepped in to help you, meet with the manager who hired you. Outline the toxic situation you’ve encountered and mention that you have at least one witness that you’re being targeted, the maintenance man.
Vote with your feet
None of what’s happened here is okay. It’s not okay to treat a new employee with hostility. It’s not okay when a supervisor or an HR officer let “mean girls” rule. If no one steps to the plate to help you, this isn’t a job or a company you want to stay with. Good luck.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit her @ www.communicationworks.net or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.