7 office disasters

We spend approximately a third of our time at work.  We are thrown into situations and confronted with group dynamics that are often not of our choosing. Problems are bound to occur.  CyberShrink tackles some big ones.


Q:  Recognition at work

My heart is sore and I can't stop crying. Today the list of people who are nominated for good to great performance was published. I wasn't nominated. This is upsetting because for the whole of that year, I was doing 3 peoples' job. I did them well - put on hundreds of overtime hours at the expense of my family, and got great feedback from clients, but all that counts for nothing. I put in more than 200%.

So, if this is the case, what will motivate me to work hard the next year? I am really upset and I'm even thinking of leaving this un-appreciative bunch. Is it normal for me to take it this hard?  Can I improve this situation in any way? What does one do in a case like this?

A:  Nominated by who? Some businesses allow a process which values creeps and crawlers, without even being able to identify hard workers who achieve real value for the company. Can you speak to your boss or supervisor, not sounding like you're whining or even complaining, but asking for an explanation to help you understand, and how to perform even better to their satisfaction next year? Explain that you were working 3 jobs, did a whole lot of overtime, and got good feedback from clients - yet your work seemed to get overlooked. Ask what you did wrong, what you could do better, what maybe you could do less of.
And meanwhile, why not start looking around for a better job with a more appreciative company? In my experience, some groups only really appreciate how great you were, after you leave.

Q:  Work colleagues

I have worked for the same firm for about 5 years. About a year ago a new girl started working in my office – she is 20 and I am 29.  We are constantly fighting.  She changes my system (which has been working fine since the beginning), and what's worse, she's turning everybody against me. I do not want to go to work anymore.  Please tell me how I should handle this.

A:  Isn't there an HR person or even department you can discuss this with? And what about your boss or supervisor? If her version of your system works better, maybe it's a good idea - but it should be suggested to you, maybe evaluated, and a decision made, rather than her just making changes on her own.

Q:  What is he doing?

I work with a man who is a lot younger than what I am. I am seriously attracted to him.  Whenever he comes into my office he stares at me and when I look at him, he blushes and walks away!

A:  Bear in mind the significant risks of work-place romances. Maybe he is embarrassed by your obvious attentions?

Q:  No confidence.

I am a 26-year-old lady and I work as an Office Administrator at a very quiet company (I need to find another job). My problem is with socialising: I can't express myself fully when am around people - especially people who are outspoken and bubbly.  It's like there is a person inside me who is willing to talk and become loud and happy, open to ideas, and all that, but that person won't come out. I feel so uncomfortable around other people, it's like am too scared to say anything as it might come out wrong and people will look down on me. I would like to become a PA in years to come, but I know I need to change my personality somehow. Is there anything I can do?

A:  So, from the sound of it, you may have a mild social anxiety problem. Fine, that responds very well to CBT (Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy), a form of talking therapy which needn't take long, and sometimes also to the use of some medications also used to treat depression. In any case, and especially because you are aware that but for this unneeded anxiety when around people, you could be a lively and successful person, it should work well for you.

You need to see a good local shrink, psychiatrist or psychologist, for a proper assessment and diagnosis, and then a discussion of your treatment options.

Q:  Wrong or right?

I started working at a pharmacy when I left school and we were working with money. The security was not very good (no cameras or anything) so if someone wanted to steal money it would have been extremely easy. There was money going missing before I started working there and it continued for a long time.  The girl that worked in the office and I became very close and I considered her my best friend.  Then money went missing out of my cash-bag one Friday night.  Luckily my boss was sitting with me while I cashed up and he took my bag to put in the safe.  On the Monday R3000 was missing, but my boss came to my defense and said that he was with me the whole time so it couldn't have been me.  They suspected my friend and that made me furious - I stuck up for her whenever they mentioned it. 

Money kept going missing and one day when I was left alone in charge of the money about R5000 went missing.  I would have been blamed, but I found out my friend was the one stealing the money.  I gave her countless opportunities to put it back without letting her know that I knew she'd taken it, but she didn't.  When the bosses came back I had to tell them what she did, but it broke me down completely, I felt horrible. They fired her and didn't pay her because of the money she'd taken.  She told me that I was a terrible friend and then I lost it and got ugly with her, telling her that if she was a good friend she wouldn't have done something that could have gotten me into trouble.  She's making out that I'm in the wrong and I just want to know if I did the right thing?

A:  You're a very kind and sympathetic person, maybe to a degree of real risk to yourself. This person was a cold-blooded thief, stealing money that didn't belong to her, stealing even from you, while pretending to be your friend - and arranging things so that you would be blamed for her thefts. OF COURSE YOU DID THE RIGHT THING.

Her behaviour was wicked and selfish, and trying to turn it round and blame you for telling the truth and stopping her thefts, is truly wicked. Feel proud, not guilty.  She's no victim, she victimizes others, and apparently feels no shame about it.

Q:  Small things bother me

I get irritated easily. Noises in the office, traffic, sounds people make while eating – all these things really get to me.

In general I want everyone to play by the rules, but I know this is not how life works. Things which upset me most are when people violate accepted norms or act discourteously - like cutting in line or paying for 30 items at the express queue - effectively stealing my time. These things stress me and I don't know how to relax about it.

I did talk to a psychologist a while back, but I found these sessions to be fuzzy and airy-fairy, and not really helpful.  I'm a classic type C.  I feel it is the same as to ask me to be ignorant of other people's inconsiderations, but it affects me. Most people can't be bothered whether the car in front of you in traffic signals when switching lanes - but it gets to me.  I also have obsessions about aesthetics and require my living space to be spotless. These anxieties, I fear, might lead to my premature death.

How should I go about, should I try CBT or medication? I'm 23 years old and I think it is getting worse with age - I need to do something about it.

A:  Try to let go and recognise that the irritation need not be automatic and unavoidable. You know there will always be selfish idiots who won't play by the rules, and some were never taught any coherent or social rules by their similarly lacking parents. Does it need to matter so much that they "steal" some of your time? Rather that than do as you now do, and allow them to steal your peace and serenity. 

It's not a question of not noticing that they are selfish and inconsiderate, but of choosing what way of responding to that, is most useful for you. Your fuming for an hour or two, growing ulcers and biting your nails won't transform them into model citizens.  

Sounds like you previously chatted to the wrong sort of psychologist, as some indeed are too airy fairy to be useful.  When you mention being so obsessive about your living space, it sounds as though there may be an element of OCD as well, and this can be helped by CBT, and the CBT therapist could recommend whether medication in addition might be useful.

Remember the wise old prayer: "Lord, give me the strength to change what I need to and can change; the strength to live with what I can't change, and the wisdom to be able to tell the difference".

Q:  Workplace boundaries

I am a married woman working in a corporate male-dominated environment. Having studied (male-dominated) engineering, I am comfortable with men and have no issue.  I have a colleague at work who I know from varsity days working in the same section as me. Assigned to the same project, we interact often.  He mentioned that he was dealing with some deeply personal issues regarding his sexuality and his confiding in me gave me a sense of reassurance with regards to our conversations and interactions - like he was "safe" to speak to.  

Lately though, I have noticed that he's constantly updating me on his depression issues and other personal, subjective matters which shouldn't really be in scope of general discussion. He is either emailing me constantly (if not about work topics, then about his mood, his diet, gym), or just shows up at my desk and plonks himself down there and asks for "updates". He goes on and on about himself and tries to analyse everything I say. It doesn't seem like he respects my workload and often asks for me to help him, give my opinion etc, and tries to "officialise" it by sending meeting requests.  Sure, if the guy needs help, I'll help - but when I show up for the meeting - he takes 20 minutes before getting to the point - because he starts talking about personal matters. I think he is crossing a line.

I am very happily married and my husband is my all - whenever I talk about my husband, this guy looks disdainful and tries to psycho-analyse what I say with a negative spin to it. When this guy says: "let's go for breakfast, I just want to talk" it irks me - I don't want to do this – it's wrong in my eyes to do this - but he doesn't respect that. He nags a lot and fusses when I indicate that I can't listen to non-work matters at the present time. I don't know how to create more of a distance without being overly rude. I can't cut ties with him because our skills work together in an already fragile project team - so if I say anything (and he gets moody when someone defies him) I could risk disrupting the balance in the project team. What can I do?

A:  I understand your view as to sexual politics at work, and such a policy works quite well IF all the participants are similarly adult and intelligent. And your colleague is not. He apparently has a range of personal problems which he is improperly piling on you, expecting quasi-therapy at work, interfering with your ability to do your own work and surely he with his.

Calmly but very firmly tell him this is not acceptable, and goes beyond normal collegial relationships and boundaries. You are concerned that he has some problems and issues, and are entirely unqualified and unable to help him with them. He should arrange to see a proper psychologist for an assessment and advice, and you hope this will prove very helpful for him.

But that you will NOT accept any further long personal discussions of these issues in the office; and outside the office, in your private life, you are happily married and won't accept any intrusion from office matters or people.
If he refuses to accept this good advice, speak to someone in HR about this, as he needs assistance and official encouragement to get the help he needs, rather than the intrusive chat he seems to want.

Read more:

Are you burnt out?

Stressed out for a job interview?

Send your questions in to CyberShrink

(Joanne Hart, Health24, July 2011)

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