Work Advice on Dealing With the Office Bully – The New York Times

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There is one upside to the silent treatment: You don’t have to listen to a toxic co-worker.
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I’m worried a counselor with our employee assistance program may have given me bad advice: He told me not to capitulate to a bully at work. It’s months later and my co-worker still won’t speak to me or acknowledge I exist unless our boss is there. She and I had been friends for six years and previously had only a few conflicts.
The incident that set this off was ridiculous. I was walking to our boss’s office and was a step away when my co-worker came out of her office, looked at me and started running toward our boss’s door. She looked over her shoulder and said, “Ha-ha, I beat you.” I blurted out, “Are you kidding me?” — with some less work-appropriate language thrown in. She walked away saying, “You don’t know how to take a joke and if it’s that important to you, go ahead.”
I knew it was bad; she was so angry. I waited an hour and apologized for swearing. She accepted my apology but began giving me the silent treatment. A week later, I noticed that her husband, her mother and she had all deleted me as friends on Facebook.
The therapist said to hold my ground and that if she asks me why I’m not talking to her to reply that I’m taking my cues from her. I like my job and my other co-workers are nice and friendly. Still, I don’t want to get management involved. What should I do?
— Anonymous
The counselor is correct and has not led you astray. Do not capitulate to this bully. You did nothing wrong and given the strangeness of your colleague’s behavior, I’m not sure there is anything you can do that would appease her in the long term. That your colleague would take offense at something so minor, in the first place, is truly ridiculous. Using profanity is not a crime. That this situation has escalated in this manner defies credulity.
As painful as your colleague’s cold shoulder may be, please remember that a true friend would not treat you this way. The silent treatment is never pleasant but you will be OK. You have other friends. You get along with your other co-workers. Continue to be cordial with your colleague when you have no choice but to interact with her. Move on with your life, without this toxic person.
Do we have to follow our bosses on social media? I do (on two platforms, out of obligation I guess) and feel obligated to “like” all their posts. It is exhausting.
— Anonymous, Toronto
You are under no obligation to follow your boss on social media. Your boss is not your friend. Now, some of us do follow professional colleagues on social media for a range of reasons. If you work in social media, for example, it might be necessary or beneficial to follow people you work with. Other times, you might be curious about a co-worker’s personal life or you might actually be friendly or even friends.
When following a boss, though, there is a significant power imbalance and an added layer of pressure to engage with content. As you note, that sort of thing is exhausting. It’s more work and few people are looking for more work. You also have to worry about your boss following you on social media, and perhaps knowing more about your personal life than is ideal. Boundaries start to blur and that can get messy, depending on how you handle social media. Do yourself the kindness of unfollowing your boss and don’t give it another thought.
Every few years, I opt to be part of a professional mentorship program. The programs vary, but the general structure tends to be matching people with the expectation of meeting regularly over the course of several months. Mentorship can be wonderful, and as a concept, is powerful and important.
I feel terrible saying this, but I’ve never felt like I give much to or get much value out of these structured programs — as either a mentee or as a mentor. But I have found informal mentoring extremely helpful and rewarding. Help! What makes for good mentoring relationships?
— Anonymous
A formal mentorship experience is only as successful as the people involved and the design of the program. Good mentoring relationships are active, mutual and always moving forward. I have found that mentoring experiences that are structured work best. In those experiences, there are clearly defined goals and outcomes. There are systems in place to create accountability, and there’s flexibility to allow the mentoring relationship to evolve based on the mentee’s needs and the mentor’s expertise. It’s helpful when there is a clearly delineated time frame and the possibility for informal mentoring to continue after the program is done.
It’s also really important for both parties to want to be involved. All too often, professionals are thrust into mentoring experiences without being given the opportunity to offer any input, without even being asked if they want to be mentored. If someone is not interested in mentoring, for whatever reason, even the most beautifully designed program will fail.
It might be time for you to take a break from formal mentoring. Or perhaps you can offer some feedback about what is and isn’t working in the current program. The real question here is why aren’t you giving or getting much value from these programs? And what, if anything, can be done to address your concerns? I wish you the best in finding more fulfilling formal mentoring experiences. That you care enough to ask this question lets me know you will figure this out.
My company recently decided to hold a weeklong sales meeting with over 100 of us crammed into a conference room for 10 hours a day. No masks, testing or proof of vaccination was required.
Unsurprisingly, we got our first email about someone testing positive for Covid less than 24 hours after leaving the hotel. Now 48 hours later, I’ve just tested positive, as has everyone else I know who attended.
I have an autoimmune disease, so getting sick is serious. I’ve been so cautious the whole pandemic and now all of that is thrown out the window. I know there’s the argument that I could have stayed home, but I’m new in this role and it wasn’t just expected I’d be there, it was part of my job description. I’m young and in a junior position, with little standing in the company. I genuinely felt I couldn’t afford the consequences of not going any more than I could afford to quit in protest.
But now I’m mad. I’m mad my employer put a glorified networking event over its employees’ well-being. I’m mad at how predictable and preventable this entire outcome was. I’m mad that there’s been no apology or acknowledgment of the company’s part in this. I’m mad that I’m stuck bearing the physical, mental and probably financial burden of this dismissive attitude toward a global pandemic. And I’m mad at myself that I didn’t say something sooner.
Should I say something about my frustrations to my manager — a wonderful boss, but someone who has always been pretty cavalier about the whole pandemic? Can I say something to H.R.? Or am I opening myself up to too much risk given that there’s really nothing that can be done? Is there a corporate-safe way to say, “This was irresponsible and you should have known better”?
— Anonymous
Your anger is entirely justified. You shouldn’t have to risk your life for your job. And your employer should care enough about its employees to ensure that everyone, regardless of their autoimmune status, can participate in work-related activities safely.
I wish there was a satisfying answer to offer you but there isn’t. If your employer cared about being responsible it would not have held this superspreader event. I’m afraid your frustrations will fall on indifferent ears if you take them to your boss or to human resources. I don’t know that you would suffer professional consequences by saying something, but I also don’t know if that’s a risk you should take given your standing. Perhaps any employment lawyers reading this can offer us some feedback on what kind of liability an employer has in this situation. I would like to believe there is some mechanism for accountability here but the company’s cavalier approach to the meeting leads me to believe there isn’t.
What do you want to see happen? The past cannot be undone. A better way to approach this might be to offer your boss some suggestions for how to safely conduct the next sales meeting — with everyone vaccinated, boosted, tested and masked or, even better, with the meeting held virtually using one of the many tools we now have for remote, synchronous engagements. And I encourage you, next time, to tell your employer that you cannot participate in any in-person meetings of this nature without rigorous protocols in place. You deserve to be safe at work without having to jeopardize your professional standing. I hope you recover swiftly and without complications.
Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at


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