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Office Karma: I wonder when will she get hers?

composite photo-illustration by Franke James, MFA. Sky photo by Franke James. Business man ©istockphoto.com/Rene Jansa

Dear Office-Politics,

I am really in desperate need of your advice. I subscribe to your site and read all of the incoming letters and all of the advice is great. I thought I could piece parts here and there but nothing is working.

I work in a very small, family owned construction office (4 family members and 3 other staffers). One of the non-family members is a complete bully, spy, know-it-all, done-it-all, backstabbing, wretch of a person. I believe in office karma – but sometimes – especially when it comes to this person you have to wonder WHEN will she get hers?

This person is constantly watching, waiting for any little mistake. Then she immediately gets on her high horse and tells management how to do their jobs. Why they put up with her I will never know?!

If we were in a customer related industry she would have been gone long ago, I would like to believe. She can be extremely rude and racist and sometimes they will chime in right with her. I have gone to management with my issues about the lack of professionalism from this individual and things that really matter, but my concerns have fallen on deaf ears for 5 years now. She is constantly wasting time by being the office tattle-tale. They only come to me because they feel that if they do not address her every whim she will retaliate against them and it is better that I am her target all day every day.

I love my job and the functions I perform for this company, but every day I am on guard because of this person. I am human and am going to make mistakes but the office politics here have been taking a toll on me for quite some time.

I have applied for other jobs and yet nothing happens. I feel so stuck. While the emperor here is spinning a new wardrobe every day, I just sit at my desk and mind my own business and do my job. What is a person to do when you complain to management and

A. They Don’t Care
B. They See It Only As A Personality Conflict
C. They Let Her Get Away With It?

I have been documenting things for about a year now and have considered seeking legal advice – but sometimes I don’t know if it would do any good. Any advice you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Hard Worker In Need of Advice

timothy johnson

Dear Hard Worker,

“Hello? Mr. Karma? Yes, your three o’clock is here. Yes, the office bully, that’s the one. Shall I send her in? OK, thank you.”

Sigh…. If only.

Yes, there is such a thing as office karma, and no, you can’t decide when the deserving individual receives his or her comeuppance. Early in my career, I worked for a supervisor with another manager above her. Looking back, either one could qualify as “Satan in drag” and both were rabid man-haters who took pleasure in making my life miserable. However, I learned a lot from them both on how to handle office politics and bullies, and in retrospect, I’m grateful for the hard lessons I experienced while in the grasp of their merciless talons. Harsh? Maybe.

The rest of the story was that both saw meteoric rises within that organization, but their behaviors finally caught up with them. Both eventually were let go from the company… because of the way they treated the men around them. For one, it occurred five years after she was no longer my boss; for the other, it was nine years after that. The bottom line is that it eventually happened, and I didn’t have to do a darn thing to speed it up. My revenge happened years earlier: I figured out that they were not going to change, and I figured out that any control they had over me was what I was giving them. Hence, I moved on with my life. I’m successful and content. They’re both struggling to find a place in a town where everybody knows everybody else’s business (past and present). They’ve left enough corpses in their wake to ensure extreme difficulty should they ever find themselves out on the street.

But I have a feeling that office karma timetables are not your real reason for writing. You have a bully to deal with, and managers who are unwilling to take action. You have some choices to make:

1) You can start to outbully the bully. If your managers are not taking action against her, it can be pretty well assured that you would probably get away with it. When she gets in your face, get in hers. Stand up to her.

2) Robert Sutton, in his book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, suggests calculating the TCA – or Total Cost of Assholes. Management won’t pay attention to behaviors, but they might pay attention to bottom line impacts.

You said you had been documenting her behaviors for months. Put a cost to it. How much time has been lost reacting to her? How much turnover has occurred because of her? In this same vein, have you shared copies of your documentation with your management team and told them you are considering legal action? Pushing the issue in this way may force them to act. It might mean you lose your job, but if you scare them enough into thinking you may have a case, I would be willing to bet something happens quickly.

3) Practice energy conservation
Ignore her. I work with difficult people a lot. A colleague recently asked me why I’ve been so at peace the past couple of years, why nothing seems to rattle me. I told her that I’m practicing “energy conservation.”

If somebody is being challenging, I don’t give them any of my energy to feed from. I will not go to meetings (if I can get out of it) where those people will be there. I will not return their phone calls. This is not to be confused with avoidance strategy. There are some difficult people with whom I simply must interact. The ones who add no value to me (or to the planet as a whole) are the ones who get no reaction. Again, a lot of bullying is all in the control that you choose to give her.

On a final note… FIVE YEARS?

Many prison sentences are less than that. That is an awfully long time to put up with this level of abuse. No job or employer is worth that.

I hope this helps. Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.com


Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant

Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.

An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.

  1. 4 Answers to “Office Karma: I wonder when will she get hers?”

  2. Feedback from Hard Worker:

    I appreciate the advice and the site. Mr. Johnson’s response made me smile. This person constantly goes through my desk looking for something to get me in trouble…

    I know a lot of this is my response to the situation but it has been going on for so long I really feel at the end of my rope here. I plan on seeking some legal advice and actively pursuing another job. I have asked management here to move me to the field for work but they did not see any benefit there, I can tell you the less I have to hear and deal with this woman the better I will be, my nerves are shot.

    There was one point in time when the anxiety I felt every day driving to work would make me pull over and vomit as well as feeling like I was having a heart attack. Thank you so very much for forwarding my question(s) on to Mr. Johnson and taking the time to listen my problems.

    I plan on purchasing some of the books mentioned on your website – so to gain better insight into how to deal with all of this. Again thank you for the site and taking time to listen to all of us workers who are not very good at OP.

    By Letter writer on Feb 22, 2008

  3. you should work with the vermin i have to treat them with contempt they deserve and let them have it by the bucket full

    By tommy on Aug 25, 2008

  4. I have a co-worker who knows everything, she is always in my office complaining about the manager is giving her to much work to do and that she is tired and ready to quit, But i feel if she would stay in her office and not come in mine, then she would be be able to get her work done, she has made all kinds of comments about the owners and it brothers me but Im the type of person who dosent tell everything i hear unless it’s too bad, so what should i do, tell my co worker to stay in her office………….

    By Kimberly fox on Feb 22, 2015

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