The atmosphere at work has completely changed, in a way that’s hard to describe
PROBLEM: I made a complaint about something that happened at work on a night out and now I feel completely ostracised. I have been there five years and we were a close bunch of colleagues working together.
A man much older than me, but who doesn’t work in my office, made a drunken pass at me at a work event. I felt it was well handled by my boss and manager and that made me feel better about what happened.
But the atmosphere at work has completely changed, in a way that’s hard to describe, it’s more a feeling than anything being said or done. Each day, I go into work I feel more and more uncomfortable, and I am getting to the point that I almost feel the need to leave and seek work elsewhere. I am due an appraisal with my boss later this month and I am dreading it. I have ended up feeling that I have done something terribly wrong, though I know I haven’t.
But I don’t know how to put things back to how they were, feeling comfortable in my workplace.
ADVICE: We now know that we need to challenge behaviour if we expect anything to change and we also know that the reason most people have not made this challenge is fear that somehow the blame or the consequences would rest on them, and not on the perpetrator of the bad behaviour.
You did the right thing in taking this issue to management and it seems that the policies held up and the right action was taken. However, there is also the culture to deal with and perhaps in Ireland we still have leftovers from the idea that we do not snitch or tell on people to the bosses. Your work colleagues have not said or acted on anything so there is also the possibility that you are over sensitive to the atmosphere, or that you are reading more into the situation than exists. In any case, the danger is that you might end up leaving a job that you love and this is too big a consequence for you without knowing what you are dealing with.
You say you are dreading your appraisal with your boss, but this might be your opportunity to have some of your queries answered. So far, your boss has proven that you are listened to and believed, so this is a chance for you to risk honesty and check if your feelings have validity.
The anxiety you are feeling stems from anticipatory fear and this is mostly based on what you think other people are thinking about you – and of course you think it is negative. This assumption then leads to a response in you that is defensive and anxious and it draws out a distrustful response in others. Go to your appraisal with a sense of faith in yourself that you have the ability to respond to the answers you get. If you get a negative response, then you know that you should think about moving job, but if you get a fair and honest response, then it is worthwhile staying and working through whatever is happening. Anxiety makes us overestimate what might befall us and we are often not dealing with reality. You cannot know what will happen in your meeting until you are there, and going in calm and able to listen is the best way to be. You need to quieten your mind to allow your intelligence and good judgment to work. Anxiety tends to rise – starting sometimes in the stomach and rising through the body until you have difficulty breathing or your head feels like exploding.
The need is to ground everything, focus your breathing on your stomach and feel your feet on the floor. Usually this takes some practice before you can access your calmness in a moment of anxiety and you might consider taking up mindfulness, mediation or yoga to help you with this.
Your aim to feel comfortable in your workplace begins with your own comfort with your principles, actions and interactions. Your colleagues should know what you stand for by your speech and behaviour and you had the courage to take action to back up your principles.
Being yourself is the best you can be and anxiety and fear is going to block that.
Engage with your colleagues as you would all human beings and hold yourself well in your appraisal as you are demonstrating who you really are.