I will survive! But I'd like to keep my sanity, too.
April 12, 2014 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Hostile, toxic workplace is causing me tons of stress. I can and will do my job well, conduct myself appropriately, and be courteous and pleasant as Mrs. Cleaver at a dinner party while I'm there. When I get home, I just fall apart. Being fake for 14 hours a day is exhausting, self-censoring every word that comes out of my mouth is a trial, and documenting in detail every mundane task I've performed is time-consuming. I need any advice, articles, or techniques to help me fake it through my days and stay sane!

A workplace bully lost her previous target and has now focused on me. I'm normally one to go along and get along, and I avoid the drama like the plague. I've ignored her nonsense as long as I could, but for REASONS I had enough. I filed a complaint with administration and said I would not tolerate this treatment any longer.
I have a supportive boss, but going back to work on Monday will be hell, as this bully will have been put on notice and looking for a way to retaliate (I know it sounds crazy, but this is what she does, and being reprimanded escalates her behavior like you wouldn't believe!). The icing on the cake is that bully is now president of my union and 3 other coworkers are union officers and part of her "clique."
Already doing therapy, and taking antidepressants. Family doesn't really understand the pressure this causes me. My gp has been made aware in case I need anti anxiety meds. Therapist said call or text any time. I know I can get through this, I have to! But helpful advice would be wonderful, so hope me Metafilter!
posted by notaninja to Human Relations (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I've been there and done that. The only solution is to find another job. Your employers won't protect you, they have form protecting her.

You're not weak, and you don't deserve this, but eventually you might start to believe this. You'll start to believe that you can't leave. Leave now. Find a job and get out before you're truly damaged by this situation.

I'm so sorry. I'm still scarred nine years later after my work place bully. Get out. And massive hugs for you.
posted by taff at 2:29 PM on April 12, 2014 [11 favorites]

This is kind of a no-win situation. I would polish up my resume and start looking elsewhere. I'm sorry.
posted by xingcat at 2:41 PM on April 12, 2014

The best and only way to do this is to be happy and enthusiastic about finding another job so you can get the fuck out of there.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:50 PM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was in a similar situation years ago. I went to my GP, had my work-related anxiety noted and I went on a 6-week medical leave. During that time I looked for and got a new job, and I resigned.

I am sorry. This person isn't going anywhere. Just get out, and get your anxiety documented just in case you don't get a job and need to file for unemployment which you may get if you resign because of a hostile work environment.
posted by kinetic at 2:52 PM on April 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

The technique I use while having to deal with ANY type of workplace where I'm not happy but I'm not yet gone is to remind myself that I am getting paid for this bullshit.

So, until you can leave, break it down. Since I don't know your hourly wage or salary, I will just throw out a random number, like 50 cents. I am getting paid 50 cents per minute to put up with this shit. It was just a mental trick, reminding myself that I am getting money for this, because I sure as hell wouldn't do it for free! It gave me something positive to focus on.

People will see how she is, just keep on doing your best work with a good attitude. If she gives you shit, you can "flip the script" and ask her why she is acting so unprofessionally.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 3:38 PM on April 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Pushy people seem to need validation more than normal people, and they get even pushier if they don't feel like you are validating them. This is 10x worse when the pushy person is in a power position and the power position is largely unchecked.

Bullying comes from a place of vulnerability and personal limitation and lack of imagination. She's awful to be around, sure, but she's stuck with her awful self forever and you are juuust passing through. Don't be angry. Find a way to feel SORRY for her. Find a place in your heart to give her the benefit of the doubt: Maybe she's in a bad home situation and she's taking her job waaaay too seriously because she quite literally has nothing else.

The people who say you need to go are probably right. No job is worth your mental health and quality of life. In the meantime, I have some counter-intuitive advice: Surrender to her a tiny bit to take the heat off. If she's complaining about something work related, ask how you can help. Don't pander or be fake. Be as helpful and genuine and kind as you would be to someone who actually deserves it. But never say anything she can use against you.

Consider trying the favor technique on her. I did this recently and was kind of amazed.

And 14 hours a day? That's a problem. Is there any way to cut that back? Even at the best job, 14 hours a day leaves people out of sorts and clamoring for me-time.
posted by mochapickle at 3:46 PM on April 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Are you getting paid hourly? If not, stop working 14 hours/day immediately.

Good on you for filing complaints. Don't stop. Your bosses and so on can't fix something they don't know about, and it gives you ammo if you need to sue later because they don't fix it (so print out copies and keep them at home). Use the words "hostile work environment". Squeaky wheel gets the grease -- really.

If it were me: Stop tolerating her treatment ever. Stand up for yourself, every time. Be clear, loud, and precise why what she's doing is unpleasant and that you expect her to act like a decent human being.
posted by flimflam at 3:55 PM on April 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Maybe it's time to drop the June Cleaver act and snark back. Don't fight covertly, but bring the bully to light directly & firmly. Won't change the bully much if at all, but at least you won't be cracking under the pressure to keep up a front. You can't entirely lose it because you always want to remain professional, but I find bullies dump on people if they think they can get away with it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:14 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

You said she is president of the union, does that mean she doesn't report to anyone? Our union is a division of a larger union so I'm just wondering if she is accountable to someone else.

As flimflam says, keep going to your boss and HR if you have an HR department. In my neck of the woods, retaliation is tolerated even less than whatever the initial infraction was.

Short term maybe try to stay around other people as much as possible? This might help to curb her behavior a little but it might also provide you with witnesses.

Then think about what it is she can actually do to you. Presumably her retaliation doesn't actually include physical violence (which might be simpler to solve, really) and it doesn't sound like she is in a position of authority over you. So what can she actually do? Maybe if you can pin down her potential actions, you can develop a defensive strategy and maybe that will give you a little more sense of control of your environment.

-Be snotty to you or talk about you behind your back? So long as it's not libelous, take the high road. You are there to do a job, not make friends.
-Destroy your work in some way? Bcc your boss on everything or at least important stuff (and tell him/her why).
-Something as nutty as damage your computer or property? Make sure you have backups of your work (offsite if possible) and don't keep anything irreplaceable at work.
-Impact your professional reputation? Staying professional like you have is a great tactic. Continue to do everything you can to make sure your performance is above reproach. She is just showing her ass in public here and she will lose in the end (ha).
-If she might claim she "never received" or somehow "lost" documents you sent to her, make sure someone witnesses you delivering them to her.
-Depend on her for information? Copy your boss on your email request for that information.
-Document, document, document.

Oh, and, what's your exercise regimen like? An exhausting workout is the best thing I've ever found for dealing with work stress. Eat right, exercise, take care of yourself first! Good luck!
posted by Beti at 4:32 PM on April 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

You should indeed look for another job. Meanwhile, passive-aggressively avoid making eye contact with her. When she talks to you, say the minimal number of words back, while refusing to look her in the eyes. Look at another person or at empty space adjacent to her, while answering her questions. Do this in large meetings, small meetings, in the hallway. It will throw her off-balance, but is subtle enough that she can't report you to HR or yell at you. What is she going to say, "You're not looking in my eyes while you talk to me! How dare you!"

Because she will hate it but can't proactively address it, there is a fair chance that she will go find a different bullying target. Bullies are very insecure and they like to feel powerful. This will make her feel less powerful, so she'll want to avoid you.

Also, if you have a way of finding out about the bully's personal life, that can sometimes be helpful. One time I found out that my bully was trying to help a disabled family member. The next few times the bully was shouting at me, I was able to see them in a softer light, as someone who was in pain and dealing very poorly with it, rather than a mini-Hitler who was persecuting me for no reason.
posted by cheesecake at 5:30 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing that worked for me during work-stress upticks was planning really awesome lunches with my favorite foods.
posted by bq at 5:51 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I nth getting a new job. It made a WORLD of difference for me when I was in a similar position. I was also working 80-90 hours a week during that time and it took every last ounce of willpower I had to dredge up the energy to apply for new jobs, but it was so so so so worth it.

In the meantime, the best way I found was to use a mantra every time the workplace bully started to act up. Some people use peaceful phrases like "Om" or "I am worthwhile". For me, the only thing that worked was, "Not related to her, not married to her, not related to her, not married to her" - as a reminder that at least I wasn't saddled with her as family, just some coworker who really, in the end, meant nothing to me.

I feel for you. Good luck.
posted by RogueTech at 6:17 PM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi, welcome to my first AskMe question. Realizing that I was having panic attacks whenever this crazy woman got up in my business helped me deal with it and stand up for myself. As soon as I did, she backed down and I was able to work with her for a couple more years without much trouble. I basically just told her that she could talk to my boss from now on about anything that she needed from me and that I wouldn't take her shit anymore.

Luckily that worked for me but she wasn't in any kind of position of power over me so that was a bit different. I think you definitely need to find a new job, asap. It's not ok for a job to have this much power over your life.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:25 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I disagree with the 'not making eye contact' advice. Any bully I've dealt with would have taken that as fear and would have felt empowered with that.
Bullies love having a sense of power over you. Nothing throws them for a loop more than your not caring/being affected by them.

Also here to say: get another job. Life is too short.
posted by Neekee at 6:42 PM on April 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Cut back your hours to 8-9 hrs max. Under the best circumstances 14 hrs is a lot, and with your situation its like volunteering for torture.

Check out the thread below. I'd be happy to write where things have been with me in a email message so let me know if you are interested.


My two cents is to tap into the positives, to make sure the boss is on your side. For me it hasn't been an eye-contact issue- I outright ignore the bullies some days, and the "kick the world and the world licks you" works out well at times. What I don't do is put up with BS. No one likes confrontation but the bullies should know that you will not put up with anything and everything. You seem to be spot on about this part but yes, it causes a ton of stress. I try to focus on how I will feel about this in 10-15 years once I am out of here. That drastically changes the focus, and then the feelings. I also try to mindful of how my own thoughts make it much worse for me. I mean, I have had weekends dreading going to work and just the mere thought of facing the idiots at work. Actually facing them is hardly as agonising. The thing is that I have then invited them over into my personal life to spend the weekend with me. Do I need to think about them during the weekend? Hell no. I'd be happier focusing on things I enjoy. That awareness helps sometimes when things feel overwhelming during the weekend/holidays. I talk to a very supportive friend, and its helped me weather an awfully bad period. Its not one single thing that gets me through. Its been an awful six months but things seem to be getting tolerable in terms the amount of BS I have to put up with from the bullies. Its a lot of small things. And then mixing and matching to suit what gets you through the day. Every day is different too. Focusing on what I am gaining from this experience, how I will be stronger for it down the road helps, but not all the time. For the times when nothing helps and no one is around, you have to be very kind to yourself. Forgive yourself and know that you did your best given the circumstances. If you want to talk about any of it, or just vent, feel free to email me.
posted by xm at 7:00 PM on April 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

An alternative to full-on medical leave (as suggested above) is to go on a modified work program to assist you with treating your anxiety. I went on a modified work program that had me working in the office only two days a week and outside the office for the other three; it worked fucking miracles for my mental health. Also it is easier to look for a new job when you are off site. Go to your GP and get a note to get you sane.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:35 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does your workplace have a staff assistance department or an equal opportunity person in the Human Resources department? You may want to speak with them, ask for accommodations, let them know that you have sought medical treatment (i.e. the medication from your PCP) as a direct result of the bullying. It would be worth a shot to just sit down with someone in HR even if they do not specify in two aforementioned areas. I had trouble with my boss in the fall, accommodations were suggested to me by my HR representative. I didn't know these accommodations were a possibility until he told me. I have utilized them and it has made things a bit more bearable. I have also done a ton, ton, ton of work on me, too. I was the cause of some of my problems. I doesn't sound like you are contributing to the troubles you are having. Don't forget to advocate for yourself. You are all you have.
posted by Jewel98 at 8:47 PM on April 12, 2014

Bullies go after people they perceive as weaker, so make sure you appear to be strong. document everything. Copy IMs, forward emails to an external account, make notes of meetings. Be publicly courteous and appear to make friendly overtures. Your bully is well-entrenched, and you should consider whether you can tolerate this. Extended stress takes a toll on your body. Meanwhile, learn some meditation techniques for disengaging and read articles on How Not To Care.
posted by theora55 at 2:30 AM on April 13, 2014

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