at the end of my tether
November 22, 2021 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I asked a question here a month or so ago about feeling like my colleagues at my new job were abruptly icing me out (odd woman out, sorry no link I'm on mobile). This has intensified and I'm at a breaking point.

They aren't openly hostile (like, no name calling or picking fights or trying to sabotage me) but it's clear that they just do not like me, they don't even say hello when I come in in the morning. The tension in the room is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

My boss and I get along great band at the end of the day that's probably all that matters, I can keep my head down, wear headphones, and so my work. There are no performance issues that she's made me aware of and I get along well with folks in the other departments I have to work with.

However, this sort of passive hostility is driving my anxiety into overdrive. I'm trying to just gut things out at this point. The work is fine, boring at times but fine. My only problem with the work itself is that there's actually not enough work to do and I hate having downtime. I volunteer to take on other projects and help anyone else out if they are feeling like they have a full plate and sometimes that results in some additional tasks to take up my day. I am nothing but polite and friendly to them.

But they so clearly hate me. I was right in my original "odd woman out" question (check my ask history) - there is a Queen Bee in this place and the other two women are very much her followers and QB abruptly seems to have decided that she doesn't like me and the others are following her lead. The behavior is so childish that it almost makes me laugh - sharing photos with everyone except me, making loud plans to socialize after work and not inviting me, sneaking off to the hallway to whisper about me after I ask the boss a question, being very very loud (like YELLING LOUD, usually about something on TikTok - apparently they don't like it when I answer a text from my dad but they can share TikTok memes and screech about it) when I'm on the phone with a vendor, which has actually resulted in some of our vendors requesting I call back when it's less noisy.

It's just so fucking dumb and immature and at the same time I have fucking had enough. This is my fucking day job, I come here for the health insurance and the regular pay, I do my work and I do it well, and I have a budding writing and music career, both of which are starting to take off. I have plenty of great things in my life outside of work, I don't need to make work my life. And yet this childish bullshit lives rent-free in my anxious brain.

I don't want to work here anymore. Even with a great boss, my mental health is just entirely too precarious right now to put up with this for much longer. I've just restarted therapy as of last week so at least there's that but a new therapist isn't going to solve the fact that I work with a bunch of mean women.

If I can land another job, which in this market I think I can, especially after a major relocation like the one I've dealt with this year, this will officially be the fourth job I've left in a 12 month span due to toxic work conditions. At this point, I don't know if I'm just dealing with a string of bad luck or I am the common denominator here. Like seriously I'm sitting here trying to figure out if there is some major social faux pas I've committed without understanding. Maybe I'm not neurotypical? I am not trying to be flippant, I just don't understand the 180 from them being super friendly and kind to being fucking Regina George and the Plastics so quickly. I don't over share about my life (I don't talk about it at all at work).

I'm extra fucking pissed about this today because the hostility was super pointed (I could see QB and one other woman texting each other about my dress) and I literally had a nightmare scenario on Friday; one of my band mates tested positive for COVID. He was vaxxed and boostered. The rest of the band was scrambling to get tested, I had to leave work per company policy. I stayed in touch with my boss while I found a testing site and luckily I tested negative and let her know. HR says I did the exact right thing. I'm worried about my band mate, he has to quarantine till the 28th, and also scared that someone who is triple vaxxed got COVID.

But they don't know that nor do I want to share it with them. I just would prefer not to deal with passive aggressive hostility for no discernable reason, not on top of worrying about my friend.

What should I do? I've been in this job since June, after we relocated further upstate. Should I start job hunting? Continue to keep my head down? Go to HR for workplace bullying (nope, kidding, I know that's a bad idea, I can't prove anything and also HR is on the company's side)? Pray that my new album gets picked up by Capitol Records and I become suddenly rich?

Is this a me problem or a them problem? Or both?

I'm a cis woman of color and everyone else in this office is white, if that matters. I'm not sure if it does or doesn't.
posted by nayantara to Work & Money (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You are clearly unhappy. Find another job. It sounds like your boss will give you a good reference, so that's good. If the interviewers ask why you're leaving after such a short time, just say the job duties were not what you expected and felt you needed more of a challenge. And Ask a Manager will have plenty of good ways to field those questions as well.
posted by ananci at 6:50 PM on November 22 [5 favorites]

Would you trust your manager to give advice/guidance about how to leave? When I had a bad work environment (although not this bad) there were a couple of people with connections and more workplace experience that helped me remember my strengths and skills. Otherwise I would have fallen into the trap of trying to figure out what about ME made all these men think I was a loser - remember these other people are the problem, not you. If someone at work can support you in looking for a new job I think it will mean a lot in terms of confidence and maybe help you to get some perspective about what to ask for or look for.
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:01 PM on November 22 [2 favorites]

Hey it really stands out to me that you are the only person of colour. As a white woman, I have seen other white women gang up against the ‘other’ more than once. It’s gross and if that indeed is what’s happening, I think I would get out. You shouldn’t have to but the mental health toll will be likely worse if you stay than the career hit if you go. Re the multiple toxic jobs, me too. You’re right to reflect on any part you may have played, but honestly, capitalism is toxic and so are a lot of workplaces, maybe even most. Be extra kind to yourself in this terrible situation.
posted by t0astie at 7:47 PM on November 22 [27 favorites]

The job market is on your side right now, so most of the usual advice against job-hopping probably doesn't apply. Between Covid & your relocation, it won't be hard to spin the "I just left 4 jobs" thing. Start looking.

Meanwhile, I would see if there's any WFH you can do. Work more slowly, maybe surreptitiously work on your writing...and soak up that regular pay and health insurance while you're at it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:17 PM on November 22 [2 favorites]

Having recently taken a couple HR trainings, I can tell you that this stuff is really not okay. HR might be "on the company's side," but part of that is by controlling behavior that could get the company sued. (You mentioned wanting a large payment that'll cover your therapy costs and lost wages from having to leave this job?) What you describe sounds like it might be really pervasive and like it may have a racial component.

My quasi legal advice is not worth the time it'll take me to write it out, but I'd Google and do some reading. I think the key points are likely to be that you want to have asked them to stop, made your boss aware, and kept a journal documenting what happened when. These are also good troubleshooting steps. You could try that idea mentioned above of speaking to people one on one, and maybe part of that conversation could be, "hey did I do something to offend you or the other women? I feel like I'm being made fun of and left out and wish it would stop. Is there something I need to know?" You can also ask your boss's advice - she might have an idea or be willing to intercede, and worst case you've made her aware of what's going on. And alongside all that, keep a journal. Then you could Google something like "harassment at work" and call up a couple of the places offering a free consultation and no fees unless you get a payment.

You can do all this alongside efforts to get another job and walk away, but it'll be insurance in case you suddenly hit a mental health wall and have to stop working before you get another job. Best wishes and I'm sorry about all of this.
posted by slidell at 8:49 PM on November 22 [14 favorites]

I agree with slidell. Until you've taken this situation to HR and your boss, I don't think you've done as much as you can to nip this in the bud and honestly, why should YOU be the one to leave? But if you're planning on leaving anyway, hey, that means you have nothing to lose.

So get HR and your boss together and make an official complaint, or maybe talk to your boss first if you think HR is a step too far. Have everything documented, the comments, whispers, dates, times and then tell them that you've never had any bad interpersonal conflict with these women so you just don't understand where it's coming from and while you hope you're wrong, the only thing you can think is that there's a racial component to it. Your boss's face will probably go white at this point. They'll tell you they'll look into it.

I can imagine a flurry of emails and hushed meetings happening at this point and then I think those women will start to be very, very nice to you indeed. I mean, fake nice, but nice nonetheless. This is what I would do, anyway. I'm sorry you're going through this. Sounds awful but now it's time to put the uncomfortable feeling at work back where it belongs, onto your colleagues.
posted by Jubey at 9:30 PM on November 22 [16 favorites]

I literally lived this life. In my case, I kept my head down. One of them quietly and then openly bullied me by screaming at me in public in the office and that got out. My boss shut it down, but once my boss left I was immediately transferred out of the unit that hated me. So unfortunately "keep your head down until you get another job or can get a transfer out" is the solution I have for this. If this bunch is smart enough to keep their obvious hatred well under the radar, that might be hard to pull off, but you might want to document.

If your boss is great, can you try talking to them? I bet QB has a history of pulling this shit on all the newbies or picks a new buttmonkey every time one leaves.

Sometimes assholes decide they don't like you. I've been polarizing all my life because I'm an obvious weirdo and some people like or tolerate that and some DO NOT. I can't speak to if it's racism or just people being dicks or someone has to be the office buttmonkey and you're new (though the last one is highly likely, I guess). But I do think those people feel superior when there's someone that they can pick on.

I'm sorry this is happening to you. Even if you keep your head down and the headphones on all day and ignore them, it sucks to be stuck in a shark pit all effing day.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:40 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]

Is this a me problem or a them problem? Or both?

From what you've described very succinctly, it's a them problem. Their behaviour is egregious.

Also, the fact that it's driving you batty is perfectly normal. I'd be a wreck by now, and I consider myself a generally well adjusted person.

Kind, sane people won't thrive in that kind of environment. You're therefore probably not the first person to be driven away, leaving a core group of Mean Girls.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:07 PM on November 22 [3 favorites]

You’re wondering if you’re the common denominator in 3 unpleasant job situations. I wonder if that’s true in the sense that you seem to be a very high performer. Most people are not. Many react with hostility to high performers. High performers highlight their shortcomings and threaten the natural order of just-barely-acceptable performance ruling the day. Add to that you’re the new person, and your boss likes you, and you’re a woman of color? I can totally see insecure slackers freezing you out.

You could stop taking work off their plates and see if that helps relations. You could look for a new position where you’re more independent or where standards are higher and the people are nicer. You could—and should—escalate this behavior to your boss, though I’m not hopeful it will result in genuine change. Or you can embrace being a bit of an outlier when it comes to office work and accept that means slackers will get defensive.
posted by kapers at 4:27 AM on November 23 [18 favorites]

They are intentionally keeping their hostility at a level that makes you miserable but that no one can latch onto to reprimand them.

I don't think you have anything to lose by talking to your boss IF there may be a solution they can help with. Possibilities may include changing your work location or switching to a different department. I don't think it's likely that getting external aid involved will change their behavior in ways that will improve your day-to-day experience, so you need to be able to physically remove yourself.

I'm so sorry this is happening to you.
posted by metasarah at 5:13 AM on November 23

I think "you as the common denominator" should get a little consideration. And even if it is just bad luck and lousy people, learning how to better manage the dynamics will be useful.

This is not to dismiss your experiences, and having a job that you hate can be soul crushing, so you have my sympathy.

But a lot of what you describe seems open to interpretation, and anxiety can make things seem much worse. As an example, you say “They clearly hate me.” That is an extreme framing of the situation. At worst, they don’t like you or care about you. And that is allowed, you don’t seem to like them that much either.

They “apparently” don’t like it when you send a text—what does that even mean? And you why do you even care. Likewise, they “whisper” in the hallway, but how do you even know that they are talking about you?
“They never say hello.” Do you say hello to them?

My point is you might be inadvertently feeding into this dynamic.

The sharing of photos and making plans without you certainly sounds rude, but have you feigned interest and involved yourself with any of the chit chat? If you want a more friendly workplace, behave in a friendly way.

When someone is being loud, the appropriate response is to directly ask the person to quiet down so you can hear your vendor. This is the one observable and actionable issue I see here.

Calling some a “queen bee” seems gossipy and not very professional, I would find another way of describing it.

Getting another job is an option, but having a boss on your side is very valuable. And four different jobs within one year is a lot. I'm not an advocate of needless suffering, but if you leave every job when you have issues, you are not giving yourself much of a chance to succeed.

Hope this was helpful, good luck.
posted by rhonzo at 5:27 AM on November 23 [9 favorites]

OMG, no, you are NOT responsible for making friends in this situation. Maybe that would have worked in the beginning but it's clearly past that point now. They're behaving horribly and it doesn't even matter at this point if you ARE the common denominator. I can't even imagine that you are, though! There are people at my job who make me crazy but you know what I don't do? I don't talk about them behind their backs, I don't make it my mission in life to make them miserable, and I sure as shit don't expect them to try to befriend me.

I don't have any other suggestions, I'm sorry. I just really strongly believe that you shouldn't try to befriend these women.
posted by cooker girl at 5:59 AM on November 23 [10 favorites]

Oh for Pete's sake, Metafilter people. If OP is of color and the QB and her toadies are white, it's not difficult to decipher what's going on here.

Does anyone remember the phrase "hostile working environment" ? I do.

OP's high level of capability is making them resent her more ... but don't hide your light under a barrel for assclowns .

Lawyer up specifically with an attorney who handles employment discrimination. Do this BEFORE you go to your boss or HR.

I'm happy to help you locate someone decent... PM me if you would like support there.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:09 AM on November 23 [24 favorites]

These co-workers sound very unprofessional and that's the angle you need to push with boss.

Step 1 ask for a meeting with boss. Describe all that you've been experiencing in a non-emotional, detached way, as though you are a scientist reporting lab results. Than ask your boss, "What do you think is going on here?" This allows your boss to draw their own conclusions You're not complaining, just trying to better understand work culture.

Hopefully boss, steps up.

Do you have regular team meetings, does your boss schedule one-on+-ones. Honestly it should be on your boss to set the time and model good work place culture. So though they may be nice, this is a management blind spot.

You could your boss more regular meetings, after work socializing, etc. Your goal is to be solutions oriented and someone committed to professionalism. Follow up this meeting with a thank you email to your boss reiterating the things you discussed and decided

This will also help you put on the record your attempts to address this issue in a professional matter.
posted by brookeb at 6:24 AM on November 23

"Hi! I know I have been a little stressed when I started, but I was wondering if we could get lunch or coffee one day next week. You seem really experienced and manager told me you'd be a really useful contact for advice, and I'd love to pick your brain about x topic, and slow down a bit and learn more about you!"

For a certain type of person, this is going to turn into a fact-finding mission that will be used to make you miserable. If you feel like you want to approach one of them, ask a question about a work-related matter and leave lunch or coffee out of it.
posted by corey flood at 6:43 AM on November 23 [10 favorites]

I wonder if you are the common thread, but not in the way you think. You mentioned this is your fourth job in 12 months that is super toxic. I’m wondering if, when you’re looking to get out of situations that are detrimental to your mental health, you’re taking “any port in a storm” - aka just jumping at any chance to escape. This is totally, 100% normal! But I also feel like it can lead to a kind of spiral where you’re so intent on getting out of a bad situation that you don’t have the mental energy to really investigate your next job deeply? That could be out of left field, but just a thought!
posted by itsamermaid at 6:55 AM on November 23 [15 favorites]

If your boss is actually a good one he will not want to lose a valuable employee like yourself, especially if you are wanting to leave due to factors ostensibly under his control. If you trust him, let him try to address the situation. But that will require you to speak up – nothing will change if you don’t do something. If you just silently quit, this clique will likely move on to their next target.
posted by zsazsa at 7:24 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]

4 jobs in one year that are toxic seems like a lot, but honestly every job I've been in has had some level of toxicity to it. Instead of framing it as a "you" thing, have you considered that this is typical of the industry you are in? I'm not trying to dismiss this behavior at all, rather I'm wondering if when you jump ship to the next job you need to look at something in a different industry.
posted by Toddles at 8:05 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]

Can your work be done remotely? If not, I would consider looking for a remote job for your next gig. I do think it's unusual that you've felt so uncomfortable in four different jobs over a year. Have you ever felt comfortable with coworkers at a previous job? When I read your question, I wondered about the anxiety you mentioned, and then I looked back at your older questions and noticed that you said you have a fear of abandonment and that no one will ever love you. It seems possible to me that this could be related- that either your anxiety is causing you to perceive some of your coworkers' actions differently than they're intended, or your anxiety is making you unintentionally act in ways that push your coworkers away. That's not to say that they're not just jerks, but if you're seeing a pattern, there may be something you can also do differently.
posted by pinochiette at 8:10 AM on November 23 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Pre-pandemic I was in a wonderful job that I loved and would have stayed at for years... but it was in a hotel in NYC. We got furloughed when the pandemic started, then the hotel permanently closed in October of 2020. Prior to that job, I had another wonderful job that came to an end due to massive budget cuts (I was the operations manager for a music school, they had a disaster of a Q4 in 2018, the owner had to make some tough decisions and since I was the only non-faculty employee my hours got slashed to a point where I couldn't afford to stay there, hence the hotel job.)

I was very friendly with my colleagues at the hotel - we used to laugh so much in the office there, it was a place I looked forward to going to every morning. But we also were all there to work, not be best buddies, and when we needed to buckle down and focus that's what we did. My manager was amazing and has continued to be a reference for me since then. I consider him a friend now.

I was also super friendly with my colleagues at the music school - some of them turned into lifelong friends. My former boss, the owner, is still someone I reach out to for advice or a reference.

My job prior to the music school was at a company that was fairly dysfunctional but my colleagues were kind and we all were sort of "in the muck together", though we were all pretty much looking to leave. One colleague there has become a lifelong friend.

Prior to that I was in a small division of a Big Company whose name you would recognize. We were all close, we all worked hard. My manager from there still offers to be a reference for me even though that job is nearly a decade ago. I have two colleagues from there who I consider lifelong friends.

It's really only post-pandemic that I've been landing in places that are toxic enough that it causes me psychological distress. It may be that I'm not doing a good job of vetting these places. It may be that they are just not well managed. I don't know.

Just trying to clarify that fleeing toxic jobs and not fitting in with colleagues is not a lifelong pattern for me. This is really only what has come about since returning to work after the worst of pandemic shutdowns started to abate.
posted by nayantara at 9:06 AM on November 23 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The aforementioned jobs in which I fit in with my colleagues and enjoyed being at work also were all very diverse workplaces where I was not the only POC in my department. For what it's worth.
posted by nayantara at 9:10 AM on November 23 [7 favorites]

That's helpful to know. And the current job can't be done remotely? It seems like that would improve your situation at least temporarily (and remote jobs in general would make it less likely to deal with this kind of bullshit).
posted by pinochiette at 9:23 AM on November 23

Response by poster: No remote work allowed unless a giant swath of employees get COVID or Governor Hochul puts NYS under lockdown again.
posted by nayantara at 9:31 AM on November 23

The worst workplaces churn most so they have more job openings per job, yeah? so it’s not surprising to catch a lot of those job openings.

I also would bet on your competence and energy having activated your coworkers' racism. If getting promoted would get you into a less female-dominated role, it probably activated their misogyny too. Is there a promotion you could be aiming for? Would that plan give you some mental distance while looking for another job? And, cautiously, some bosses are willing to believe "jealousy of high achievers" before they’re willing to believe racism or sexism.

This depends utterly on whether you can flip the switch on caring what they think, and whether they could actually sabotage you, but it would be a backup plan while screening new job opportunities for possibly being toxic.

This may be obvious or too much like dwelling, but would it help to write utterly scathing prose or music about them? HR-acceptable. Make them Daleks or seagulls or something.
posted by clew at 9:47 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]

This is clearly a case of white women racism. I am so sorry - I'm just writing here to validate your experiences and also say that there is some terrible "advice" on this thread by folks who do not understand this experience. That "advice" is the equivalent of being told to make friends with your bullies.

I got iced out so hard by a white woman supervisor at an old nonprofit that they manipulated me into resigning after making my work experience miserable in very similar ways as what you are saying.
posted by yueliang at 9:59 AM on November 23 [6 favorites]

Hey OP, i am so sorry this situation has continued to deteriorate and that you're having such a slog of it in general. The dynamic you describe reminds me A LOT of my first job out of school: blatantly planning/discussing hangouts that included everyone except me, the cackling in corners over private jokes, taking the piss out of me via group chat while clearly believing I couldn't figure out that that was what was fucking drained me, and it sounds like it has you at the end of your tether as well. This is NORMAL and a sign that unlike these people you are maintaining your grip on reality.

The solution is to leave. On principle, because for your mental and spiritual well-being you should not and cannot remain in a place where your peers kick the emotional shit out of you to fuel their own self-esteem; and also because yes, white-girl racism is absolutely, unavoidably at play here and the situation is therefore irreparable (also, NOT YOUR JOB to repair). Eff these people and eff this company for allowing it to go on; they deserve to lose you as a collaborator, tbqf.

As to the "what am I doing wrong?" question: in all likelihood, you haven't done anything "wrong" (or at least, nothing these doorknobs haven't themselves also done wrong re: grumpiness, stress, social faux-pas, etc.).

Here's my educated guess: you sound like an extremely thoughtful, sensitive person, and probably kind. These things drive a certain flavor of Hot-Girl bully absolutely batshit: they perceive it as weakness while at the same time feeling threatened by it because it implies that you don't need to engage in their brand of horseshit in order to feel OK about yourself. Since they're invested in feeling superior to you, your very inoffensiveness means you must be crushed. (Do NOT try to find any link between this behavior and your actual job performance: can you honestly say these shits are working harder than you are while they're busy giggling at TikTok?)

So yeah, in that sense, it IS "you", but only in combination with these kinds of deeply fucked-up people--who unfortunately, as you've discovered this year, are a dime a dozen.

The only tip I can offer to try to make things more bearable while you plot your escape: the day I truly stopped giving a fuck at that job--really, in my soul, decided that while I probably am kinda dorky, I didn't respect the Plastics enough to feel bad about it--things improved significantly, because it took the fun out of it for the ringleaders and their followers accordingly started to actually dare to be decent to me. Then I fucked off and got a much better job in less batshit environment. I know you will too!
posted by peakes at 10:44 AM on November 23 [4 favorites]

I've lived this situation. It was miserable and, regardless of what I tried, I never fit in there and things only got better when I found a new job.

My suggestion is to start looking. Don't let the fact that you have had multiple jobs stop you from leaving a place that is obviously causing you distress. There are plenty of ways to address that on your resume and during a job interview. You deserve to be happy at work, or at least have a job that you are mostly okay with and don't dread going in to every day.
posted by MaryVictoria at 11:26 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]


Job hunt.

They will be screwed if they fire the other three women for cause as they do more work than you could cover alone if they fired them for this. This means that you gotta go. The job has no long term potential.

It might be possible for the boss to salvage the job for you by firing the Queen Bee and having a harsh talk with the two followers, but doing that is equally likely to result in her losing one or both of the two followers as soon afterwards as they can find another job and being screwed by having to replace multiple employees in too short a time. It is also equally likely to not fix the situation as the two followers cannot adapt to working with you and will be even more hostile if the ringleader gets fired. The clearest path forward is for you to find other employment even if they are at fault, not you. Your boss cannot control what they do without being present, so your boss can't fix this hostile working environment. It is extremely probable that even if your boss had them into a private session and let them know that their behaviour is leaving the company open to a massive financial penalty, they would not be able to change their behaviour. If they had that much insight and self control they would be using it.

If you want to aim for a settlement get a lawyer.

It's not just bad luck - a LOT of people are behaving much more tribal and much worse than they used to, due to the instability of the social environment lately. It's not just service workers quitting because of the bad behaviour of clients and customers. Co-workers are behaving much more unacceptably and unprofessionally now too.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:29 AM on November 23 [4 favorites]

Your boss know's what's what already. Queen bees, as you say, do not fly under the radar.

Your best option is to leave. I would highly advise against leaning into some of the things you stated in the original post because imagine what it sounds like to sit on the other side of someone saying "They go into the hall and text about me." I'm not saying all of this didn't happen, and I believe you OP, but just because you both see and see through the nonsense and childish behavior does not mean that you can use that as leverage because to a stranger it sounds a bit dramatic. All of what you are saying is anecdotal and also based on one person's perspective. I have no doubt that they are icing you out, and seriously just leave. I can't imagine a better time to be job hunting. And seriously, these people all already know exactly what's going on, including your boss. I wouldn't even bother giving them feedback in the exit interview.
posted by archimago at 12:27 PM on November 23 [3 favorites]

It's racism, and you should definitely leave and find a more diverse workplace like the ones in which you were happier in the past. It's a good time to be looking for work.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 5:58 PM on November 23 [4 favorites]

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