I am hoping for some advice. I am a high school librarian. I left my previous position for a position that offered $20,000 more a year. The extra income is a big deal for me.
I am a single parent and I have struggled to provide for my child. I was at my previous job for 6 years. I left with a good reputation, an excellent work record, and an offer to come back. I love my work!! I love turning kids on to books!! This new position was fine in the beginning.
I found out from my co-worker that the reason the former librarian left was because she was “difficult to get along with.” Everyday, for the past several months, I heard about how awful this former coworker was, sometimes several times per day. My coworker knows where her former coworker is employed and is now starting a hideous gossip chain about her to her new employer. What does this have to do with me? In meetings, my coworker, humiliates me in front of everyone, she says demeaning comments to my face. She has sabotaged me with other teachers by telling them that I do not know what I am doing. She tells everyone I am a “dingbat.”
I have a masters degree and have raised myself since the age of 15. I just bought a new car out of necessity and she tells everyone I am on “debtors’ row.” I became sick last night because I was scheduled to go to a meeting with her today. I didn’t go. How can she humiliate me if I am not there?
If I get a phone call or make a phone call she asks me who I the person was, why did they call, and almost always comments that it should have been her handling it. My supervisor sent me a book to review and she commented that it should have been addressed to her. When I write emails, she hangs over my shoulder wanting to know all the details. She has point blank asked me about my salary.
She is constantly calling me “poor Petrova” as if I am some pathetic loser. She asked me about my living situation. After Katrina, I lost my house. To save money and avoid the trailer situation, I took a small apartment. She totally misconstrued my situation. And she brings up my living situation in front of people I don’t know. She asked me if I was ever on welfare (never, I have always worked).
I am now thinking that SHE was the problem, not the former librarian. She has done and said other things as well, but I think you get the gist of the situation. I have never had to deal with this before. EVER. I respect others and I hope to get respect in return. Please advise. Please. Thank you so very much.
Masters in Survival
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
Dear Masters in Survival,
I bet by the time you finished writing that letter you knew what you had to do. But just in case you have any doubts let me tell you the message I’m getting loud and clear.
Your coworker (let’s call her Teri) is a bully. You’re a smart lady and you’ve faced some very tough situations — and not wallowed in self-pity. So don’t do it now.
You’ve recognized the bully for what she is. You know what her tricks are. Perhaps now that you know who and what you’re dealing with, she will have less impact on your emotional health.
But let’s clarify what your choices are. The way I see it you’ve got three:
- Ignore her and rise above her taunts. (You’ll need a skin like rhino. But if you’ve got determination and grit that she is not going to force you out of this job, you will be able to do it.)
- Document her abuse in a daily journal and file a report with your supervisors.
- Find another job (possibly go back to your last job even though it paid less).
It is very hard (some would say impossible) to change an abusive colleague like Teri. Why are you putting up with her nonsense? Because you’re earning more money. Now, twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money, but it’s not worth the grief you’re experiencing in my opinion.
Teri is making your life miserable. Your mental health and happiness is too important to let this continue. You need to take control. I have faced bullies and in my case (everyone’s situation is different) the best thing I did was to resign myself to the fact that I could not change the people I was dealing with. So I moved. It was the best and most positive action I could take. It was a gigantic improvement. It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was free. It opened up new doors for me that have helped me to this day. But the experience taught me an important lesson: Do not work with people who are abusive.
Although you are dealing with an adult coworker, this situation is also like the torment that kids face in school playgrounds. Let me tell you briefly about my son (at that time in grade 3) who was being bullied. It was ruining his self-esteem and making him miserable. He didn’t want to go to school anymore. We met with his teacher several times. Finally she told us (confidentially) that if we could afford to move him we should. We had suspected that it would come to this, but hearing it from the teacher was our signal to take action. We switched him to another school — even though it required moving him at Christmas break. He is now grown and happily employed. He has told me many times that the best thing we did was get him out of that destructive environment.
My view is that you are in a destructive environment and you need to rescue yourself. Review those 3 choices I’ve laid out for you. The good news is that you love being a librarian. The economy is obviously in dire straights right now, so I strongly urge you to be careful if you do switch jobs. Secure any new job in writing (and if possible have a lawyer review the contract. Ask in advance for an estimate of the lawyer’s fees. You’ll be buying a service and you need to know the price tag).
You can also find a good stress reliever like an after-hours hobby. Write. Paint. Cook. Knit. Garden. Hike! Any of those activities may help you feel better — and you never know. Perhaps you’ll write a “fiction” book about this bully, and in that way earn additional revenue.
You may decide that it is too financially risky to find a new job. If so, then you’ll have to proceed to do battle. There are many books on bullying you can read. I suggest you read some and then plan very carefully how you are going to disarm this bully.
Best of luck and please let me know how things work out.
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game
Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.