Sometimes it is not the actual work that makes a job difficult but the interactions between employees and between supervisors and workers. An unpleasant relationship with a boss or colleague can turn an otherwise comfortable job situation into a daily nightmare. It is important to first examine your own behavior on the job to make sure that you are not contributing to the difficult interaction.
Types of workplace behavior that deserve serious complaint can range from abusive anger and sexual harassment to constant daily criticism and stealing credit for the work of others. Bosses may abuse their power to intimidate employees, or they may not even be aware that their management style leaves workers nervous and frustrated. Difficult coworkers can also make your job more challenging. They may be overly competitive, even attempting to interfere with the work of others in order to make their own work look better. Some coworkers may be too focused on their personal lives when in the workplace, may spread damaging gossip, or simply may talk too much, interfering with productive work.
It can feel demoralizing when your supervisor gives you only negative comments about your work. A good supervisor will make sure to balance criticisms with positive comments, but you will undoubtedly encounter bosses who do not follow this practice. The most important thing to remember in a situation that may feel like constant nitpicking is not to allow yourself to become defensive. Take deep, slow breaths in order to remain composed and receptive. You can often disarm critical bosses by sincerely thanking them for their input. Your boss may simply feel the need to exert control, so do not be drawn into a power struggle. Rather than trying to avoid criticism, you may want to seek your boss's opinion of your work on a project at various stages to make sure you are meeting his or her expectations.
If you receive criticism, listen to your supervisor's comments and think about them before responding. Examine your own job performance honestly to evaluate whether your boss's criticisms are valid. If they are, make an effort to learn from them so that you do not repeat the mistake and invite more criticism. If, after calm reflection, you disagree with your supervisor's evaluation, discuss your opinion with your boss in a calm and open manner. Recognize that you may, in the end, be
forced to do things your boss's way. Accept this in a polite and graceful manner. You will have a better chance of being heard if you do not challenge every criticism but reserve your argument for a few incidents about which you feel strongly.
Bosses who feel the need for total control are called micromanagers. Working for a micromanager can be frustrating, as you may not feel that your own skills and knowledge are respected. Again, it is important not to respond defensively. Understanding your boss's behavior will help you realize that his or her seeming lack of trust should not be taken personally. Micromanagement is often a sign of an insecure boss who does not know how to delegate responsibilities effectively. This failure often results in an anxious, overworked supervisor who feels alone in the pressure and responsibility of the job.
There is perhaps no work experience more painful or shocking than having a colleague or boss present your work or idea as if it were his or her own. As in all work situations, if someone appears to be intentionally stealing your work, think before reacting. A strong emotional response may prevent your supervisor or coworkers from hearing your point of view. Consider whether the “credit grabbing” was intentional. Some bosses genuinely believe that their responsibility on the job entitles them to take credit for their team's work. Others may actually threaten your job if you reveal that an idea or accomplishment was originally yours.
Think carefully before making a complaint. You will want to make sure that the issue is important to your career before initiating a confrontation. Then approach the person who stole your credit calmly and frankly, explaining your point of view and listening openly to his or her response. Do not be angry or emotional, but make it clear that you want recognition for your work.
If you receive a negative response from the person who stole your credit, you can consider taking your complaint to a higher authority or to the human resources (HR) department. Make sure you have written documents proving that the work is yours, and keep good records of all interactions. One way to avoid losing credit for your contributions is to promote them yourself. Speaking up in meetings and sending e-mail reports on your work progress and ideas will make it much harder for someone else to claim credit. Also, set a good example by being sure to acknowledge the support of anyone who helps you on work projects.
Sexual harassment is a serious civil rights issue. Extreme examples, such as a boss touching you or telling you directly that you will lose your job unless you become involved in a sexual relationship, can usually quite clearly be seen as wrong. However, even more subtle cases, such as remarks about a worker's appearance, clothes, or body type or sexually suggestive jokes, can make the worker feel uncomfortable and fearful. Sexual harassment can even include offensive comments made about a group, such as saying that all young women are oversexed or that homosexual men are promiscuous. These types of comments are inappropriate in the workplace. If they occur frequently, they are said to create a hostile work environment, and they can be deemed illegal.
If you are made uncomfortable by sexual behavior or remarks at your place of work, begin immediately to keep a written record of each occasion, including the exact date and time and the names of anyone present. The first time you hear such a remark, respond clearly (but not angrily) by saying something such as “Please do not use that kind of language” or “Please stop doing that, it makes me uncomfortable.” If such an incident occurs more than once, you should report it to HR and request a copy of your company's policies on dealing with sexual harassment.
A workplace is a small community, and many different personality types are represented there. As often happens in schools and other organizations, groups of like-minded people may form to socialize on breaks and even outside of work. People who do not fit in with these groups may be less socially skilled or just may prefer to keep their work relationships strictly professional. Just as in high school, workers who do not have good social skills may find themselves excluded from the group and disliked or even mocked for their discomfort and difference.
Continual exclusion of a coworker borders on bullying, which is usually defined as constant threatening or humiliating behavior used to intimidate and control others. Bullies are often perceived as having more power than those who are bullied, whether they are larger and stronger physically or have a higher position in the company's chain of command. Psychologists sometimes draw parallels between bullying and domestic violence, suggesting that bullies are often deeply insecure people who assert their power aggressively because they feel like they have little control in their lives.
Bullying behavior in the workplace includes abusive language and shouting, especially in front of others. Constant criticism over unimportant or personal matters, such as a person's weight or what time of day he or she takes a break, is also considered bullying. Victims of bullying may be isolated within the workplace by being excluded from meetings and by having their suggestions ridiculed or ignored. If the bully is a supervisor, victims may be subject to unrealistic expectations in terms of workload and find that goals and deadlines have been changed without their knowledge. They may be demoted or have their job redefined. In extreme cases they may be encouraged or forced to quit.
Victims of bullying and other abusive attacks may become anxious and depressed. Even their health may be affected by the daily tension. Therefore, you should not simply accept bullying on the job but take steps to stop it. As with other interpersonal workplace issues, it is important to document your experiences by writing down the details of each incident. Bullies often attempt to intimidate and fluster their victims, so they typically remain composed and reasonable in response to angry outbursts. A calm response such as “Please do not speak to me that way” may be helpful at least in pointing out the offensive behavior.
If bullying continues, your only option may be to report it to your supervisor, the bully's supervisor, HR, or your union representative. Be sure to have written documentation of the events you describe. Your HR department can advise you of your company's policy for filing a grievance . It is possible, however, that even this action will not stop bullying behavior, especially if the bully holds a high position in the company. He or she may deny the charges and trivialize your concerns, and company officials may accept that version of events. You may ask to be transferred to a different work area, away from the abusive supervisor or coworker. If this move is not possible, you may choose to leave the job and seek work elsewhere. Although this is a difficult choice, your health and well-being may require it.