On Not Being That Coworker

You know the one: who makes your life miserable on the job.

A coworker could be dastardly. That’s no excuse for joining them in a race to the bottom.

Taking the high road as the expression goes is what’s called for. Asserting yourself when it’s clear you’re being taken advantage of on the job.

The case is clear: you don’t want to be that coworker that causes trouble for no reason at all.

Scenario #1 for example: You have seniority in choosing vacation time. A coworker comes to you and asks you to allow them to take off in June so they can visit their elderly parent in Sweden.

What you don’t do is schedule your vacation in the exact week the coworker wants to visit their parent.

Scenario #2: You see that someone has changed your weekly schedule without your permission or knowledge. The person might have told you that you couldn’t have off that Monday because the firm was short-staffed. You’re told you can no longer have off on Monday. This person then schedules themselves off on Monday.

What you do is act assertive and talk to them. Instead of firing off an angry email to them or going ballistic toward them.

Why would this person not say upfront that they needed the day off and could you switch with them? Who knows?

Scenario #3: Someone is stealing your food from the refrigerator at work. What you don’t do is print up a flier that you tape to the refrigerator stating: “No Stealing Food.” This would likely be a real deterrent like the electronic noise in Rite Aid that goes off when you reach for the deodorant behind a clear panel.

Instead: You can ask your supervisor to send an email to staff asking them to bring their own food. Or have a salad for lunch. Chances are no one else wants to eat a salad.

True story: At one job I bought a glass to use in the workplace kitchen to drink water at lunch. It looked like a regular whiskey glass. Curiously it went missing shortly after I started using it at lunch.

What you can do: keep the glass at your desk until lunchtime. In shared kitchen space it might not be clear whose glass is whose.

The wind-up: act ethical and above-board in how you interact with coworkers.

The truth is I don’t think most coworkers or supervisors intend to harm you or are acting with malice. They are simply self-centered and acting in their own interests.

Which is something you should consider doing on your job: figuring out whether the same person is repeatedly acting dastardly toward you. Not allowing this behavior to continue. Speaking up for yourself assertively and confidently.

This points to a real irony: that self-disclosure on the job about your bipolar or schizophrenia often only backfires. Interacting with coworkers for eight hours a day you are already a huddle of personalities that can be too close for comfort even without throwing a mental illness into the mix.

I will talk more again about self-disclosure in the workplace. This is definitely a case of “Do as I say not as I’ve done.” A victim of accidental disclosure–and then my honesty about publishing my memoir Left of the Dial had a happy ending.

Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and athlete.

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