I’m being physically bullied at work, coworker leaves bathroom in chaos, and more — Ask a Manager


It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I’m being physically bullied at work

I’ve worked in the same office for about five years now. The department I work in seems to be run by a large clique of tight-knit friends (we’re all women), who are also close with management (they all hang out together outside of the office). Those of us who weren’t accepted into the clique are often treated as if we don’t exist, but most days are tolerable.

However, I’ve been experiencing bullying/harassment from two of the more popular women for some time now, and one frequently threatens to get physical. Every time we pass each other in the hallways (we have very wide hallways – plenty of room), she purposely gets so close to me that we nearly collide, and we’ve brushed up against each other several times. She’s had me to where I’m completely against the wall and can’t get away from her. She’s never tried to touch me with her hands, but we’ve grazed each other’s arms before. She comes at me very aggressively, like she’s going to run me over. The entire hallway will be wide open and she’ll get as close as she possibly can. She won’t do anything when other people are around though.

I’ve also had to start parking in a different parking lot. Our main parking lot is separated from our building by a side street, and here lately, if this woman and her friends see me trying to cross as they’re pulling in, they won’t let me cross, even when someone in the opposite direction has stopped for me. I nearly got hit last week.

Things got worse a few months ago when I got a promotion she’d been hoping for, so now she hates me even more than she did before. In my opinion, she’s trying to intimidate me – I’ve been told that she doesn’t like me because I’m “too quiet.” The whole situation reminds me of high school. I’ve had multiple talks with her direct supervisor, but her supervisor won’t do much – she said she doesn’t want to “ruffle any feathers.”

Do you have any suggestions? I’m currently searching for a new job, but I live in a pretty rural area where jobs aren’t super easy to come by, and the company I work for is one of the best in the area.

Good lord. You told her manager that this person is routinely trying to mow you down in the hallway and endangering you in the parking lot and her manager has declined to intervene?

Your next step needs to be to escalate this. If you have HR, go to HR immediately. If your company is small and doesn’t have HR (or doesn’t have real HR), go to whoever in your company has the authority and the sense to say “this is not okay and we’re going to stop it immediately.” If it’s so small that no such person exists, then we might be stuck with your manager — but then you should go back to your manager and say, “You’ve said you don’t want to ruffle feathers. Something far more serious is happening than feathers being ruffled. I’m in danger of being pushed in the hall or hit by a car outside. It’s not an option to do nothing. I need you to intervene before I get injured.” I’d also add, “I’m frankly shocked that you’ve declined to intervene in what’s clearly a coordinated campaign of bullying and harassment. If you’re not willing to intervene, who should I speak with who will be?”

(Legal note: This isn’t harassment in the legal sense unless you’re being targeted because of your race, religion, or other protected characteristic. But I’d put the word in there anyway because it’s accurate in the non-legal sense, and it might spur your manager to stop twiddling her thumbs.)

2. My coworker leaves our bathroom a mess

I work in a mostly male office. There are only two other women here besides myself, and one is often out in the field. The other is someone I am friendly with but who is much younger than me.

The issue is she is a pig in the bathroom. We have a single-occupancy restroom and we do not have customers or anyone else who uses it. She uses WADS of toilet paper to blow her nose (I guess because it’s always in the trash). We went through four rolls one week! I put facial tissue in the bathroom but it’s untouched. She can’t seem to replace the empty roll. This morning I found the new roll had been yanked and half unwound onto the floor. There are always bobby pins left around, cabinet doors left open, and her box of tampons on the counter for all to see. Today there was a wad of presumably used toilet paper on the floor by the toilet.

I feel like a mom with a sloppy teenager around. I can’t live or work in a mess, but I don’t see a good way to get this resolved without embarrassing her or causing an upset. The men are pigs too but that’s for another topic! I’m the newest employee and I figured it’s my problem since no one else seems to mind, so I started cleaning up after everyone but I’m starting to feel really resentful.

I think you’re got to get clear on what’s a problem here and what isn’t. If she wants to blow her nose in large amounts of toilet paper instead of tissues, that’s her business as long as she’s throwing it in the trash afterwards. (If your company is concerned about how much toilet paper is getting used for nose-blowing, that’s theirs to deal with. It’s not something you need to worry about.) And a box of tampons left on the counter isn’t a big deal. Lots of bathrooms have tampons out because the bathroom is a logical place for them to live.

Leaving toilet paper unwound and dangling on the floor isn’t great, and neither is used toilet paper on the floor. Bobby pins lying around and cabinet doors open — not disasters in an of themselves, but combined with the rest I can see why it just feels messy in there.

You didn’t say how new you are but assuming you’ve been there at least a few months, you could say to her, “It bothers me how messy our bathroom gets, with toilet paper everywhere, empty rolls not replaced, hair pins lying around, and cabinet doors left open. It seems to be up to us to keep it clean, since we’re the two who use it most often. Do you think you could help me keep it cleaner?”

Hopefully that might help. If it doesn’t … well, it’s probably not something you can keep harping on. But it’s worth a conversation.

3. The office thermostat war is right by my desk

I recently began a new job and was pleasantly surprised to learn I’d have my own office. I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks getting it organized and am finally feeling at home in my little space. Taking my cue from my coworkers, I leave my door open most of the time, unless I’m on the phone or otherwise need privacy.

People generally hang out in the doorway if they want to speak to me and wait to be invited in … except that the thermostat for a row of offices is located in my office, and the dreaded thermostat war plays out in my office every day. There are two coworkers who come in and adjust the temperature back and forth, and they don’t knock or ask to come in— I just look up and they’re in the corner of my office adjusting the thermostat. I was warned when I started that this was going to happen, but I didn’t think much of it. But now I’m feeling like I need to set a precedent before this gets out of hand and I don’t feel like I have any privacy in my office. Am I wrong in finding this odd and rude? What’s my best course of action here, recognizing that I’m very new and barely even know anyone yet? I’d like to just find a temperature we can all agree on and leave it at that so these two will stay out of my office, but I’m afraid it won’t be that simple since this has been going on for ages.

Try this: “Hey, Jane, it’s distracting to have you and Cecil in here so often adjusting the temperature. Would you mind working it out with him directly so my office isn’t a thermostat battleground?”

If you’re senior to them, feel free to just tell them to cut it out: “It’s distracting having you and Cecil adjust the temperature so often. It’s fine to adjust it occasionally if you need to — like once a week or so — but I need to ask you not to do it as often as you have been.”

This kind of thing is why some offices end up locking up thermostats.

4. Should I quit with nothing lined up?

I have been in my company for nine years. It’s my first employer out of graduate school. I’ve been trying to find a new job since about 2012 to no avail (I don’t even get interviews). My mental and physical health is suffering to the point I have FMLA arrangements and am looking into short term disability and workers’ comp.

How risky is it to quit with no employment lined up and demonstrated inability to find new employment? How bad would this look to future employers?

It’s not so much that it would look bad to future employers that you quit without something else lined up (although it’s true that it’s often easier to find a job when you’re already employed), but more that if you’ve been looking for seven years, I’d be extremely worried about how long you’d be out of work before you found a new job. If you’re unemployed for a year or multiple years, what will that mean for your finances and ability to support yourself? Plus, if we start getting into years, plural, at that point I’d get more worried about what that means for your hireability; employers will start wondering why you’ve been out of work so long and whether your skills are getting stale.

So if at all possible, I wouldn’t quit at this point. But when you’re job searched for seven years with no interviews, that says there’s something seriously wrong with your search. It could be the jobs you’re targeting, or it could be your resume. (It could be your cover letter too, but a weak cover letter isn’t as likely to lead to seven years of active searching with no bites, so it’s more likely to be one of the other two.)

There are a bunch of resources here that may help. You could also check out my job hunting guide.

5. Am I about to be rejected?

I interviewed for a job a few weeks ago and just received this email from the employer: “We are currently holding off on making an offer until we can further define our staffing needs for new projects. We should be able to update you further toward the end of the month.” Does this sound like I’m about to be rejected?

There’s no indication either way. It sounds like they’re reconsidering exactly what they need to hire for or whether they need to hire at all. They might end up deciding not to hire anyone, or they might realize they need to hire for a different skill set than they originally advertised for. Or they could end up moving forward exactly as they’d originally planned, but still might hire someone else — or they could come back and offer a job to you. There’s no way to know at this point, so the best thing to do is to put it out of your mind, move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do come back to you with an offer.



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