Hate Attacks at work

I got a call from a friend sometime ago. She was a  fresh Ph D graduate working for a pharmaceutical company. It was her first job. She was also processing her permanent residency (green card) with them. She seemed happy after she landed the job – they paid her well, had good benefits, and her boss was a young energetic man who showed a lot of interest in what she wanted to do. I was happy for her. But it seemed like the tide had turned two years later. She started with saying that her situation seemed rather ‘odd’. Her boss had given her two good reviews and they seemed to get along fine. After a while the company had grown and several others had joined the team. Most of them men, as it is usually. They seemed to be needing more of his attention and over time she noticed that his behavior changed and became somewhat hostile towards her. It started with work related criticism and slowly expanded into critiquing her personally. Anything she did was wrong – where she stood, how many times she crossed his path (often times unintentially in a small office), laughing to a joke – everything was taken personally. Memos were written up for no reason. The guys who worked with her also regarded her with same hostility. They seemed to feel no guilt or emotion in attacking how she behaved or what she did. Appeals for help were met with patronizing advice – you need to be this way or that way. Any attempts to approach the boss directly was consistently refused – and the middlemen, or new guys made up answers instead – often times protecting him or refusing to answer questions about him. She was very puzzled and like many asian women approached her parents for advice. And like any typical asian parent they asked her what she had done wrong to invite such behavior.They were ‘worried’ she would react and lose her green card. She was at the end of her wits when she called me, crying audibly on the phone and asking me what to do, or even if I believed what she said.

I did. And I did only because I had faced almost exactly the same situation where I worked several years ago, and I had tried to handle it in almost exactly similar ways. I played polite, i tried to self examine excessively and correct things which I had done right. I called my parents for advice. I did not have any friend to call so I had to live out the situation a lot longer than she, but I knew exactly what she was going through and also perhaps how I would have handled it in hindsight. What she was facing was a hate attack. It does not happen to all but it does happen to some, and can be really nasty when it does. Like me, she did not work hard enough on making friends at work. She was very good at what she did and thought that would automatically translate into people being nice to her. It does not. If anything it invites envy and jealousy by itself. The men who joined the team later found she was a smart person who enjoyed her boss’s confidence and wanted to take her place. That translated to the constant hate attacks. Her boss, like mine, was not someone who thought highly of assertive women. He liked her work but when she got real good at it it made him insecure. It was a deadly combo of things..so why, did they not just fire her, or get rid of her? One, because everyone knew she was smart and they feared for what the *rest* of the company would think of firing a smart person. Two, she had paperwork in progress and that made them look even worse, sending a person home several miles away. So they preferred she move on instead of they doing it themselves. Yes it may sound excessive but excessive meanness in workplaces exists. I gave her a few tips to handle it, all said.

1 Make friends at work. Where I work we have a question on our annual survey of the company – ‘Do you have a friend at work?’. It may seem corny but it is important. Work is not enough to carry you through, you need friends who can stand up for you, cover your back,speak up for you.

2 If you sense people teaming up against you – multiple people in higher positions – take cover – take some time off and start looking for other opportunities. This type of situation does not heal or turn around easily and may cost more tension and stress than it deserves. Do not confront or stand up to them too much – cowards do not like confrontation (in my case it was deemed ‘insubordination’).

3 Do not approach parents or family members for advice. The advice her parents gave was classic asian parent advice – asian parents do not admit that they are not qualified to help in such situations and they just parrot what their parents said to them – ‘what did you do wrong?’. When you are suffering a hostile situation that is the last thing you want to hear. Talk to other professionals,friends or supportive collegues who can give you options, not turn it around for you to face again.

4 Consult a lawyer on how to handle paperwork. I hate to say it but many times that is not an easy option. The situation may not lend itself to finding another job, and the present job may not release documents necessary to move on.  But that again is a challenge to think of it in bigger terms..maybe a return home is not such a terrible thing. Maybe it is possible to return on new H1 a little later. Maybe one can find jobs in other countries like  Canada, Australia or Singapore.

My friend quit her job a few days later. She returned home to India, and now has a job in Canada. She was grateful I listened to her and told her that I understood. Sometimes the only person we have to depend on is ourselves, and if we do that we can provide support to others in ways they truly deserve also.

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