If you’ve been treated by your coworker rudely, disrespectfully or in an abusive manner you might be feeling annoyed, hurt or helpless. You might be wondering how to deal with such a person and how to protect yourself from further harm. In this article, we will explore some possible circumstances, causes and actions that you can take if you encounter a coworker who treats you badly.
Being treated badly by a coworker can affect your mental health, productivity, and morale. It can also create a hostile work environment that can harm the whole team or organisation. So, it is important to address the issue as soon as possible and seek help if needed.
Table of Contents:
[Feel free to skip to any section you want to go through first]
- Case Studies
- Possible circumstances of being treated badly
- Possible causes of abuse
- Actions you can take
- In a nutshell
K’s Case Study:
K, a dedicated employee, experienced harsh treatment by her colleagues upon joining a new team after a promotion. The alleged behaviours leading to K’s mental injury were quite distressing. She was:
– given the least desirable desk meant for temporary staff
– accused of obtaining the job through inappropriate means
– harassed after announcing her pregnancy saying she got the job through inappropriate means
– tormented by the supervisor calling HR in front of her and asking if she could be replaced because she was pregnant
– was coerced to voluntarily relinquish her position
– labelled ‘the black widow’ by her supervisor when she walked into the room
– socially ostracised by the team
– struggling for essential time off to look after her child post maternity leave
– was excluded from team activities and interstate trips
The cumulative impact on K’s well-being was profound. Once a fit and healthy officer, K’s mental health deteriorated significantly, leading to depression, high anxiety, and panic attacks.
These workplace behaviours violate the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 provisions which requires employers to eliminate risks to health and safety.
You can read more about K’s case study here: Bullying case studies | WorkSafe Victoria
You can also take a look at some more case studies of people who faced similar situations:
– A female worker who was verbally abused by a male contractor on a building site
– A worker who was subjected to inappropriate remarks about his ethnicity and religious identity
– A worker who was discriminated against and harassed because of her disability
So, if you’re being mistreated at work, you have legal rights to protect yourself from such offensive behaviour.
Possible circumstances of being treated badly
There could be several possible reasons why a coworker might treat you badly. Some of them are:
New Recruit: If you are new to a job, some senior coworker(s) (not managers/supervisors) might be mean to you because they feel threatened by your presence or skills. They might try to undermine your confidence or sabotage your work because they envy you and fear that you’ll take their job away.
Excelling At Work: You are doing hard work and achieving good results. A coworker might not appreciate your efforts or feel jealous of your success. They might try to belittle your achievements or take credit for your work.
Being a Female Coworker: If you are a female coworker, some male coworker(s) might treat you badly because they have sexist or misogynistic attitudes. They might make sexist jokes or comments at you and try to intimidate or harass you. The same can happen to you if you’re non-heteronormative too.
Diverse Community: If you are different from the majority of your coworkers in terms of your race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, some coworkers might treat you badly because they have prejudiced or discriminatory views. They might make racist, homophobic, transphobic or xenophobic remarks or actions at you or exclude you from social or professional activities.
Odd Man Out: A coworker who is generally rude to everyone might have a personality disorder, mental health issue or a personal problem that makes them act aggressively or impulsively. They might not care about the feelings or opinions of others or have difficulty controlling their emotions.
The way a coworker treats you badly can also vary depending on the situation
Public vs Private Abuse: They might treat you badly in front of others or privately. If they do it in front of others, they might be trying to humiliate you to assert their dominance. You need to address this issue right then and there. If they do it privately, they might be trying to isolate or manipulate you. Keep what they did in mind and make notes which you can later escalate.
Verbally or Physically: If they do it verbally, they might use offensive words. Do not react exactly back at them the same way. I know it’s easier said than done. But, this could put you in a bad position. If they do it physically, they might use gestures that are violent, intimidating or inappropriate. You can report physical mistreatment immediately.
Directly or Indirectly: If they do it directly, they might confront you face-to-face or through phone calls or messages. If it’s through a message, you’ll have proof of the mistreatment. If they do it indirectly, it’s going to be a bit tricky to prove it. They might spread rumours about you, gossip behind your back, or sabotage your work. You’ll at least be able to pinpoint the source of their behaviour.
Possible causes of abuse
More often than not, the reason why a coworker treats you badly is not related to you at all, but to their own issues or circumstances. Some possible causes of their abusive behaviour are as follows:
Stress: They may be under a lot of stress at work or in their personal life. They might feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or insecure and lash out as a way of coping.
Low self-esteem: They might have low self-esteem and try to boost their ego by putting others down or showing off. They might feel inferior and try to compensate by being dominant.
Trauma: They might have a history of trauma or abuse in their past that has affected their mental health. They might have unresolved anger, resentment, or fear that makes them act aggressively or defensively.
Conflicts: They have a different work style or personality type than you and clash with you because of misinterpretations. They might have different expectations than you and disagree with you because of the conflicts.
Toxic Work Culture: The work culture itself might encourage abusive behaviour. They might follow the example of other coworkers, managers, or leaders who are abusive or disrespectful. They might think that being abusive is acceptable or even necessary to succeed in the workplace.
Actions you can take
If you are being treated badly by a coworker, you do not have to suffer in silence and accept it as normal. You have the right to be treated with dignity at work and to work in a safe and healthy environment. The following are actions that you can take to protect yourself from the abuse:
Make Notes: Making notes is absolutely important. You need to document every incident of abuse that you experience or witness, including the date, time, place, people involved, what was said or done, and how it affected you. Also, keep any evidence of abuse, such as emails, messages, recordings, photos or witnesses. This will help you to have a clear and accurate record of what happened and to support your case if you decide to report it to higher-ups or HR or take legal action.
Stay assertive and firm: Do not let the abuser intimidate you or make you feel guilty or ashamed. Stand up for yourself and your rights and express your feelings and opinions clearly and respectfully. Set boundaries and limits with the abuser and let them know that their behaviour is unacceptable and unwelcome. Be mindful to not engage in arguments or fights with the abuser or stoop to their level by being abusive back.
Ignorance isn’t always bliss: You don’t need to ignore the abuse or pretend that it does not affect you. Acknowledge the impact that it has on your well-being and seek help, if needed. Also, don’t isolate yourself from others or withdraw from your work activities. Maintain your social and professional network and seek support from your friends, family, colleagues, manager, union, counsellor or therapist.
Stay unaffected & calm: Do not let the abuser get under your skin or ruin your mood. Try to stay calm and composed and not react emotionally or impulsively to their provocations. Avoid unnecessary contact with the abuser and focus on your work tasks and goals. Practice self-care and do things that make you happy and relaxed. Focus your attention on positive things.
Report it to the manager: It’s not about being a crybaby or that the manager has nothing to say in this regard. Do not be afraid or ashamed to report the issue to your manager or someone else in authority who can help you. It is not your fault that you are being abused and it is not your responsibility to deal with it alone. Reporting it is not being a crybaby or a snitch. It is being brave and responsible. Reporting the abuse can help you to stop it from happening again and prevent it from happening to others.
In a nutshell
Being treated badly by a coworker is a serious issue that can affect your health, happiness, and performance at work. It can also create a negative work culture that can harm the whole organisation. So, don’t ignore or tolerate it. Take action to stop it and seek help whenever needed.
Remember that you are not alone. Many people have faced similar situations and there are many resources that can help you. You can find more information and advice on how to deal with workplace bullying here:
You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity at work, do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Disclaimer: The information and views expressed in the above blog article are individual and inspired from the writer’s experience and study in Mental Health & Hypnotherapy.