Office fight club
August 24, 2017 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently working a job that's on a temporary contract that lasts until the end of this year. There are five of us on these contracts and a few permanent staff on the team. One of the permanent staff has left to take on a new job elsewhere and her permanent job is now being advertised internally. A few people on the team really want the damn job. What was previously a pleasant, harmonious team has turned super-competitive and it's starting to get to me a bit. What do I do?!

Personally, I'm happy with the idea that my contract comes to an end at the end of the year. While it's not an unpleasant place to work and the job is tolerable in the medium term, it's not something I can see myself doing or a place I can see myself working for years to come and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to move on in the New Year. Suffice to say, I'm not planning on applying for the permanent job myself. It's not a long-term workplace for me - there are few opportunities for progression, no training available, it's a job environment rather than a career environment if that makes sense but up until now it's been pleasant.

What's happening now is that the atmosphere is starting to sour considerably. Those people who have decided to apply for this job are moaning about one another behind each other's back, undermining and publicly criticising one another's work and it's generally making for a negative, less productive atmosphere. Where previously we worked together as one team and helped each other out, now you're endlessly walking on eggshells in case you get snapped at or treated like an idiot for asking a question, e.g. in a meeting. There are two people in particular engaging in this kind of behavior - it's all about making themselves look good at the expense of other people, particularly in front of the boss. Someone literally came up to me the other day and said "such and such is a bitch, isn't she?". I was speechless!

Our workplace runs at a glacial pace and the job posting doesn't close until mid-late September. How do I make this increasingly pressured and stressful environment tolerable until the end of the job posting and (hopefully) the resolution of this whole mess? I think the situation has been badly handled by our line manager in general - anyone who didn't see this happening after saying "there are five of you, one job, go" is somewhat lacking in foresight. But that doesn't change the fact that I've got to put up with it for the next X weeks!

I'm not interested in the job myself and I'm not applying, so I have no dog in this fight at all. I'm also not particularly interested in playing peacemaker or going to the line manager with my concerns as I think that might make matters worse in a small team. I don't give a shit if they want to get the claws out at each other and I don't want to be seen as someone who's pointing the finger at others' behavior. I want to make this situation tolerable for me until it comes to a close.

Have others been in this kind of toxic situation, and what did you do to make work bearable? Knuckling down and ignoring it has worked up to a point but it's starting to get a bit too intense for that to be the only solution...
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd make sure that it is clear you're not planning to apply, and that you won't be participating in any way. I'd take on an attitude of "boy it sucks that there are so many highly qualified individuals and only one job - I sure am glad that I don't have a dog in this fight!" It's amazing how fast a month of work goes by. With the "bitch" comment, I'd have just responded "I know that there's a lot of competition that is causing tension internally, but I think such and such is delightful and hate to see that tension tear us apart!" In other words, be honest and open and make it clear that it's not your drama.
posted by bigplugin at 10:14 AM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've been in that situation as a contractor as well as a permanent employee among people who are looking for a leg up, which I think includes most people. I learned that it's best to not discuss this stuff at all with people but if they do bring it up just give them reassurance, point out their skills and positive attributes, even if they are lacking. There is always something! Now the people who are dissing others is a lot more difficult. I hate feeling like no response is agreement so I tend to say things like "I didn't know that" or "I'm kind of surprised, what do you mean?" Let them do the talking and don't say much. Or even better, say much in the way of encouragement. If it gets drawn out explain you have some urgent matters that need attending to. This kind of situation sucks because it stresses people out and breakdown teamwork. You would think that HR could come up with a better plan given their responsibility and role. It's going to be toxic because people are desperate for a leg up and not given the privilege of information, empathy or logic.
posted by waving at 10:15 AM on August 24, 2017

As someone in a similar-ish situation, my approach has been to not choose sides openly with stuff like this. Also, just generally minding my own business w/r/t these kinds of affairs at least lets other people duke it out if they want to but I don't have to participate.

If you need to talk with someone about the drama, talk with a friend or family member. Get some exercise. Pet a nice dog or cat. Play in the garden. That gets the frustration out.

If it were me, I would advise against talking with your manager about it, because again it just gets you involved and you don't need to be. Really at the end of the day, it's all about being able to detach from your job and leave it at the workplace.

And pretty soon, it will all be over and you won't have to deal with it anymore. Good luck!
posted by strelitzia at 10:15 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ha! I kept my mouth shut and let them think that i might apply.
Just to mess with them a bit.
posted by calgirl at 2:22 PM on August 24, 2017

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