This morning, with all the snow, I was late for work. As I rushed into my cubicle, I slowed down, reminding myself that it was ok. My boss was fine with it. It was ok if I took work home tonight. It was ok, as long as my work gets done.
Then, as I sit here doing my morning writing exercises (prompt: Write about a time you were hated and you didn’t know why), I was reminded of a job where my stress level was not what it should have been, and was, in retrospect, damaging me without me realizing it. I have permanent health issues today that can be squarely related to the stress I experienced there.
Before I go further, let me state: I don’t regret working there at all and overall loved what I did. I had good friends there, some of whom I still keep in touch with. I don’t want anyone to think “X was a horrible company!”. Not at all. Awesome place to work, yo. Awesome. But, for me, not all was rosy for some time. Not because of the company, but because of one person.
I feel I am being brave posting this. I’ve never really detailed this story before (even to co-workers while I was there), and I do not intend to make anyone upset or point any fingers. It was a long time ago now, before I was married or had kids. I am making no direct references to the company or the people. So those of you, who know my history, please refrain from making direct references if you wish to comment.
I had a co-worker at a job hate me from the moment I started working there (for reasons I never found out, or no one would tell me…). She went out of her way to lie to my boss about my work habits, which was detailed to me after the fact, once she was gone. I was snubbed when I brought her a Christmas gift (I brought gifts for the whole team) and she refused to work directly with me. I would sit in my car at lunch and cry after she would ignore my “Good morning!” or brush past me in the hall, knocking my shoulder, spilling my coffee. Once, she saw me come into the break room, picked up the coffee pot, and dumped the fresh-made coffee into the sink, glaring right at me, the steam curling up over her hands as she poured. I just made a new pot, not even reacting as she stormed off with the used filter in her hands. When I got back to my desk, I found wet coffee grounds all over my chair.
I tried very hard never to react to her escalating behaviour in public. I would only ever lose it in private, in the bathrooms, or in my car, at home. But it was hard. I had no idea why she didn’t like me. I went out of my way to be nice to her, be cheerful, helpful and professional. I once asked her, point blank, what I had done to upset her, and she just stared at me and then turned her back. Privately quizzing co-workers got me nowhere either. It was like no one saw it but me. At one point I thought I was imagining the whole thing, my super-sensitivity to being not liked coming into play. But then I heard her talking in the bathroom on her cell phone one day, and she said “That short %&$#* who just started, I ‘m going to make her quit if its the last thing I do.” . I froze in the washroom, afraid to even breathe, and afterwards sat there, feet drawn up on the toilet seat, hugging my knees, crying and contemplating doing just that. Quitting.
I didn’t, and I have never told ANYONE about what I heard that day No one. Not even the company’s HR, my manager at the time, or my co-workers.
I would get so tense at work that I was losing my appetite, the beginnings of stress-induced depression setting in. I couldn’t concentrate, was shaking all the time, and dreaded being even a minute late – for fear it would get me in trouble – because she would assuredly report it. I was more upset that she didn’t like me, than the fact I was being overtly and aggressively bullied at work. I took to locking my computer at all times if I stepped away from my desk (even to the printer a cubicle over), once catching her on my network folder deleting important files (She said she needed a pen and knew I would have one in my desk). Worse, it was being allowed by my manager. (Even though I reported the bullying, it was never addressed, and I was indirectly told I was the problem. I went to HR, they contacted my manager, he again told me to stop stirring the pot.) When she left for greener pastures, it was immediate and immense relief, the physical effects of her departure noticeable by others, some even commenting on it. Immediately my work-life improved, and folks who were afraid to be my friend at work came forward and said it was because of her they stayed away, or were told I was a raving &*$#^.
Good times, good times.
I used to ask myself why I stayed, why I put up with it. But, I needed that job, and had to make the best of it. I look back on that now and will never, ever forget what I told my (now) husband as I sat in his bedroom that afternoon, after my last day there.
“I will never, ever let a job ruin my health again, no matter how much I get paid, how many good friends I have, or how much I love the company.”
And I have stuck to that.
I will never know why she didn’t like me, or chose me as a target for her seemingly ridiculous and immature actions. I don’t do bullying; I was bullied in school, and abhor it. I would never outright be mean to someone. Not my style. Never has been. So if I did do something to upset her… *shrug* completely unaware of it.
But… It doesn’t really matter now. I learned a lot from it about myself, and about being productive and professional in a workplace with someone like that. It has changed how I interact with people I work with, for the better, I think. It has changed how I view work/life balance, and I treat that part of my career with a higher priority now. I also stand up for myself now, and do not let workplace bullying happen. I push back.
So to that co-worker who hated me for some unknown reason? Thank you for the Hell, and the life lessons. It made me better.