The Office Bully Won’t Win

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The Petty Olympics

The counselor is correct and has not led you astray. Do not capitulate to this bully. You did nothing wrong and given the strangeness of your colleague’s behavior, I’m not sure there is anything you can do that would appease her in the long term. That your colleague would take offense at something so minor, in the first place, is truly ridiculous. Using profanity is not a crime. That this situation has escalated in this manner defies credulity.

As painful as your colleague’s cold shoulder may be, please remember that a true friend would not treat you this way. The silent treatment is never pleasant but you will be OK. You have other friends. You get along with your other co-workers. Continue to be cordial with your colleague when you have no choice but to interact with her. Move on with your life, without this toxic person.

Peer Pressures

You are under no obligation to follow your boss on social media. Your boss is not your friend. Now, some of us do follow professional colleagues on social media for a range of reasons. If you work in social media, for example, it might be necessary or beneficial to follow people you work with. Other times, you might be curious about a co-worker’s personal life or you might actually be friendly or even friends.

When following a boss, though, there is a significant power imbalance and an added layer of pressure to engage with content. As you note, that sort of thing is exhausting. It’s more work and few people are looking for more work. You also have to worry about your boss following you on social media, and perhaps knowing more about your personal life than is ideal. Boundaries start to blur and that can get messy, depending on how you handle social media. Do yourself the kindness of unfollowing your boss and don’t give it another thought.

Wanting to Be a Better Mentor

A formal mentorship experience is only as successful as the people involved and the design of the program. Good mentoring relationships are active, mutual and always moving forward. I have found that mentoring experiences that are structured work best. In those experiences, there are clearly defined goals and outcomes. There are systems in place to create accountability, and there’s flexibility to allow the mentoring relationship to evolve based on the mentee’s needs and the mentor’s expertise. It’s helpful when there is a clearly delineated time frame and the possibility for informal mentoring to continue after the program is done.

It’s also really important for both parties to want to be involved. All too often, professionals are thrust into mentoring experiences without being given the opportunity to offer any input, without even being asked if they want to be mentored. If someone is not interested in mentoring, for whatever reason, even the most beautifully designed program will fail.

It might be time for you to take a break from formal mentoring. Or perhaps you can offer some feedback about what is and isn’t working in the current program. The real question here is why aren’t you giving or getting much value from these programs? And what, if anything, can be done to address your concerns? I wish you the best in finding more fulfilling formal mentoring experiences. That you care enough to ask this question lets me know you will figure this out.

The Mandatory Superspreader Event

Your anger is entirely justified. You shouldn’t have to risk your life for your job. And your employer should care enough about its employees to ensure that everyone, regardless of their autoimmune status, can participate in work-related activities safely.

I wish there was a satisfying answer to offer you but there isn’t. If your employer cared about being responsible it would not have held this superspreader event. I’m afraid your frustrations will fall on indifferent ears if you take them to your boss or to human resources. I don’t know that you would suffer professional consequences by saying something, but I also don’t know if that’s a risk you should take given your standing. Perhaps any employment lawyers reading this can offer us some feedback on what kind of liability an employer has in this situation. I would like to believe there is some mechanism for accountability here but the company’s cavalier approach to the meeting leads me to believe there isn’t.

What do you want to see happen? The past cannot be undone. A better way to approach this might be to offer your boss some suggestions for how to safely conduct the next sales meeting — with everyone vaccinated, boosted, tested and masked or, even better, with the meeting held virtually using one of the many tools we now have for remote, synchronous engagements. And I encourage you, next time, to tell your employer that you cannot participate in any in-person meetings of this nature without rigorous protocols in place. You deserve to be safe at work without having to jeopardize your professional standing. I hope you recover swiftly and without complications.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at [email protected].

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