In most cases, you don’t get to pick your co-workers. Things usually work out regardless because competent organizations emphasize hiring people who fit their culture as opposed to only focusing on their job-related skills. Unfortunately, not all companies are this competent, and when they get the wrong people together, the results can be disastrous.
All content has been edited for clarity.
Some People Don’t Want To See You Succeed
“I went back to school at age 47 and the first job I got after graduating college with an Information Systems degree was working as a programmer for a small clothing manufacturer. I was assigned to work under the supervision of the warehouse manager because I was helping to implement a brand-new inventory system for the warehouse.
The warehouse manager was, to put it kindly, a boor. She was not technologically savvy and her people skills were nonexistent. She would constantly berate and belittle her employees in front of others, and the morale in the warehouse was in the gutter. But the company owner, who was based in California, loved her and backed her no matter how badly she treated her people.
The company paid reasonably well for unskilled labor and good-paying jobs were hard to come by in the area. You either worked for this company, worked for Walmart, worked in fast food, or worked on a farm. Employment opportunities were minimal unless you were up for a 90-minute (one-way) commute.
The assistant warehouse manager was a jovial guy who liked to spend time hiding out in the warehouse in order to avoid his boss. He’d talk to the employees and try to smooth things over when the warehouse manager ruffled feathers. He and I got along well and we eventually began riding to work together.
It took 15 months to get the inventory system up and running but once it was in place the warehouse manager refused to let me move over to the IT department. Her refusal cost me around $5K in annual salary so I began looking for another job.
Over a 2-month span, I went on 3 different job interviews. I used the assistant warehouse manager as my reference contact with my current employer. The interviews seemed to go well but each time I was passed over for the job. Before each of these interviews, I would tell the assistant warehouse manager about them and ask if I could put him as the contact. He said that I could and he’d tell me when the company called him. When I didn’t get hired after the 3rd one I decided that I wouldn’t tell anyone when I interviewed again.
My next interview was with a state agency. I told them that they could contact my current employer but they shouldn’t expect a favorable reference. They called 2 days later, on a Wednesday, and told me that I had the job. I had to go in for a pre-employment substance test and while I was there I asked the woman who had interviewed me what my current employer said when she called for a reference.
She told me that she hadn’t called them because my previous employers had given great recommendations. Then she told me to stop by her office on the way out. When I did, she had me stand by while she called my current employer.
She asked to speak to my buddy, the assistant warehouse manager, but when he answered and heard that she was calling for a reference, he transferred the call to the warehouse manager.
The warehouse manager told the woman that she didn’t think that I was ‘anything special.’ She said that she hired me to fill an immediate need and if she had to do it all over again she’d hire someone younger. The interviewer asked if I was reliable and the manager told her I showed up and didn’t do anything to warrant getting fired.
When the woman who interviewed me got off the phone she said that she understood why the other companies had passed on hiring me. I was stunned that a guy who I trusted had sabotaged my efforts to find another job.
I told the agency that I would start the following Monday. During the ride to work on Thursday morning, I asked the assistant manager if he’d been called by the agency, and he told me that he had and that he’d given me a glowing reference. I didn’t tell him I knew the truth; I just thanked him and told him I’d keep my fingers crossed.
I drove myself to work on Friday and at the end of the day, I passed the assistant manager as I walked out of the building. He said he’d see me Monday morning and told him no, he would not. I then told him to tell his boss that I quit and thank her for the great reference she gave me on Wednesday. He stood there with his mouth hanging open as I walked away.”
You Played Yourself
“I worked with a very ambitious woman who had her eyes set on becoming a Vice President at the company I worked for. She apparently considered me, and several others, a threat to her goal so she worked to get us all fired. Little comments in meetings, filing conducts reports against us that we had to defend, and making sure we were not invited to key meetings.
Two of the people she targeted quit their jobs, deciding life was too short for harassment. I was bullied through most of school so her actions annoyed me and I did worry about her succeeding, but I needed the job so I stuck it out. More than that, I never sank to her level and even referred things to her that could help her promotion prospects. Which drove her nuts. Why was I doing that? It made her very paranoid.
One day the HR group contacted me and asked me a bunch of vague questions about her management style, which I answered as honestly as I could. I wondered if she was going to get that promotion she wanted, to be honest. Then an HR agent from our corporate office flew in to interview me and several other people, asking even more in-depth questions. I had no idea what the interview process was for the job of director level or above was so again I answered as honestly as I could. She wasn’t my boss after all.
About a month later, to my surprise, Building Security and two police officers came and presented her with a bunch of documents telling her she was terminated immediately and they were there to remove her from the property. She was fired for ‘creating a hostile work environment’ for her staff.
Ten years later, she is an Avon salesperson with a couple of other side gigs. She couldn’t find a full-time job. And I am with the same company and not a Vice President because I do not want to be a Vice President. I was never any threat to her at all.”
Who Knows How Many People She Drove Away
“At my last job, I worked with a woman who was just terrible. She sat and gossiped all day on the phone with a high-pitched voice, didn’t do any work, was nasty and rude to her co-workers, and totally incompetent. Her files were a mess. She didn’t seem to understand the alphabet. And she didn’t bother with office protocol at all. But she was pretty. Great hair, great clothes, great smile. It was obvious why she was able to get away with such toxic behavior because she was cute. She was one of the single most destructive forces in that department and offered no positives that I could see, but she got away with things nobody else would get away with. While others worked hard, she sat there cackling on the phone doing nothing, throwing others under the bus, and being a force of chaos. She texted co-workers outside of business hours about work-related things and was making people’s lives miserable. Several people quit that office because of her, including my best friend at that job – who was one of the best people on earth. Nobody could stand this woman and her toxic behavior and chaotic energy.
Eventually, she got promoted to a job in a sub-department right outside of our department, got her own office nearby, and was not my problem anymore. It was a nice year or so when I didn’t have to worry about her. Until one day I did. They decided to start having my sub-department merge more with her sub-department, and she started contacting me. She had a temp working for her and this temp started behaving exactly as she had, rude, chaotic, and not using office protocol.
This was a government healthcare office with very strict forms that needed to be filled out, and they would casually ask me to do things via phone calls, texts, and emails. I had to remind them over and over again ‘Just fill out this form.’ And re-send the form that everyone had to fill out.
She started emailing managers in her strongly worded replies to me. She seemed determined to get me in trouble. I couldn’t believe a year after she was out of my hair she was resurfacing, causing the same old trouble as before with her chaotic energy, and her temp was doing the same. I didn’t have the energy to deal with this anymore as my father was in hospice with cancer at the time.
I went on leave and eventually quit the job because of her.”
This Is More Common Than You Think
“One of my co-workers, upon finding out I had a heart condition, would sneak up behind me in a raised floor (computer, with a lot of fans) environment and shout in my year to startle me.
This co-worker, every morning, would take coffee to our manager, and the other managers.
This co-worker, when we were working on a computer that I knew very well, during which there was a failure that burned out one of the IO cards, threatened to throw me under the bus in relation to this. I knew the company’s policy, and I knew there was no recourse, but he was trying to say that I would have to pay for the part. I pushed this back at him and pointed out that he was no less responsible than I was. Were I to go under said bus, I’d hang tight to him, we’d both go.
During a work cycle, he and another ‘star’ employee finished their efforts. I was forced to wait on another coworker who was not getting his work done so that I could proceed. They went golfing rather than assisting the worker who I was waiting on. For the record: I was busy assisting other workers (there were about 10 of us, it was a disaster recovery center at IBM and we would test customers’ ability to come to our site and be functional in short order).
There is more, but nearly every interaction I had with this worker was about him schmoozing his way up, and treading/abandoning others to look good.
I eventually got targeted and was offered a package to be ‘laid off.’
After I left, he was promoted.
This tells you the kind of efforts that corporations appreciate and promote: internally autodestructive (of the company). They actively rid themselves of team players (I wasn’t the only case I witnessed of this sort of thing). And yes, I do have examples of deserving individuals who succeeded and are still with IBM, but far too many examples of those who ‘failed up.’
For the record: yes, I did talk with HR, and yes, I ended up being interviewed by my second line. He closed ranks with management. This was when I was offered the severance package.”
If They Say We’re A Family, Run Far Away
“I worked for this company for 10+ years and it was a small/start-up company. Because our numbers were little, we were all pretty tight like family. Going on trips together, celebrating birthdays, inviting families to celebrations, etc.
One year, my colleague was promoted to manage the business development/revenue team. I was happy for her for the first few months, but it became more apparent later that while she was a good friend, she was not a good manager.
First, she claimed that I had insubordination issues and that I was not reporting everything to her ‘as I should.’ For the record, my reporting line never changed from day one and we both still reported to the same Director. I held dual portfolios and the other portfolio (which was not under her) took up most of my work anyway. So I really did not have much to report to her for the function that was under her. But she insisted I reported to her everything I did, including the function that was not under her purview, to ‘justify’ why I did not have many deliverables under her. When I told her just enough (still not everything because some matters I handle are confidential), she complained to our boss that I had no teamwork and that she was not given the power to hire and fire as she pleased. Big red flag.
Then one incident, I went to the office despite having sprained foot as there was an important client meeting. The printer, of all days, decided to run out of ink that very day. Note that this was an older model of a printer and their toners are usually specially made to order. The general instruction in the office was to inform me when anyone changes to the last available toner in the office so that I can make an order to the manufacturer early. On that day, she and everyone on the team were so quick to blame and berate me for the printer running out of ink.
With a sprained foot, I was ordered to go hunt and buy the toner from retail shops, and not to return until I got one. When I tried explaining that the toners were made to order, I was not even allowed to explain by my boss. I was told instead to ‘Stop making excuses and go do something to make up for your mistake. The printer ran out of toner, how embarrassing you have made us look to the client. While we are all scrambling around to solve your mistake, you’re just sitting around doing nothing.’
I wasn’t sitting around doing nothing. I had a sprained foot. The manager and the rest of her team probably thought I was faking it. I remember afterward, sitting in one of the cafes, crying. I didn’t know which one hurt more – my heart or my sprained foot. The first lesson learned on that day is just take the sick leave if you need to. Don’t try to be a hero and go to work. No one will appreciate it. Not even those who say ‘we’re family.’
Then it was discovered later that somebody else (the manager’s pet) had forgotten to inform me when they changed to the last toner, causing the printer to run out. After that discovery, no one reprimanded that girl and no one apologized to me.
And I got told the rudest thing ever by that manager colleague. ‘This is all about work yeah. No hard feelings okay?’ What a non-apology.
The second lesson I learned from this incident was to not overly dedicate and sacrifice yourself for your company. At the end, when something goes wrong, people’s first instinct is always to protect themselves and they won’t hesitate to throw you under the bus.”
The Peaceful Option
“I was one of 3 ‘Team Leaders’ in a department. 2 of us had no staff and the other one was the Admin TL and had 4 staff members.
Admin TL was very turf-protective and anything she didn’t want to do, didn’t get done. Furthermore, she’d managed to get the manager that hired me ‘special projected’ for him calling out a bad mistake that she’d done (her daughter was PA to GM). I eventually found this out from the other TL after I joined – after a 6-month delay due to a car crash causing me to be banned from traveling for 6 months – and also from my peers at Regional HQ where I had regular meetings. I decided just to carry on, do my work and work around her.
In the meantime, I’d got a reputation at RHQ and HQ, where my previously been for picking up on interesting concepts from my meetings and seeing how they could be implemented on the ground – a mixture of some free time and my general attitude towards things.
The boss and I had a deal – I’d be 100% open with him (no problem – he was a great guy) and, as long as I’d got his okay for a project that the witch didn’t want to do (the results of which used to go up the tree quickly and he and I would look good as a result – simply because he and I were open to new ideas and were able to run with them easily, not because we were pole-climbing), he’d deal with the witch when she eventually got wind.
This meant that when the witch got wind, he’d have to ‘discipline”’me to keep the peace – I’d be called into the office loudly and publicly (but in the usual way that I knew what [wasn’t] coming), we’d close the blinds, plan things and generally chat and try not to laugh loudly. After 15 minutes, I’d have to walk out looking utterly miserable as if I’d been disciplined again.”
That Was More Of A Problematic Workplace
“I shall never forget how cruel this company was to us.
About fifteen years ago, we had a whole series of traumatic events happen all at the same time. I had just lost the IVF baby that my husband and I had wanted so desperately. Around this time, I also had to fly back to Singapore because my father had suffered a fatal heart attack. Then came the funeral arrangements and all the painful details of settling such matters.
A week after I returned back to work in Sydney, the company underwent a restructuring. I had to reapply for my own job even though I had performed satisfactorily in the role for over three years. I was not successful.
Our whole team was affected. We had recently completed a difficult project six months ahead of schedule, implementing a computerized system that increased the efficiency in processing data from a month down to a week. We were declared the ‘Winning Team’ of the month. The managers were pleased that the task now required fewer people to do the same amount of work. In hindsight, that should have raised a red flag for us.
Within a few months, the company took the opportunity to retrench half the ‘Winning Team.’ By some strange coincidence, all five of us were middle-aged, female, and from diverse backgrounds. Those who retained their jobs were all male and not diverse; three were in their twenties and the other was in his early thirties. The fifth was actually hoping for a payout because he was close to retirement; it would have meant more money for him to have a golden handshake.
The management was callous in how they broke the news to us. We came in that morning and found that our logins to the computer system had been revoked. The HR manager walked in with the head of our department to tell us that our services were no longer required and we were to empty our desks of all personal belongings immediately.
We were rushed through the whole procedure. The exit papers, clearing our things, handing back our security passes – everything. None of us were given a chance to even say goodbye to any of our colleagues.
The managers stood over us and watched our every move. Then they summarily marched us out of the doors like criminals. No thank you for the years of service or words of appreciation for all our achievements as a team. As a group, we had given a total of over thirty years to the company. It felt like a slap to the face.
A month later, I received a letter from the company offering me a lump sum of $8,000 if we did not complain to the relevant authorities or take any legal action against them. I wondered if that was what some of the team members had done.
About a year later, I was at the station when I met up with the ex-colleague who was due to retire. He told us that after the five of us left, work performance dropped like a stone and morale was very low. None of the remaining team members spoke to each other or other people in the office. They worked in dead silence like that for at least six months.
Three young male university graduates had been hired to replace us. One disappeared and simply did not return after a month of starting work. Another complained about his work all day and was not particularly productive. The third was not even pretending to do any work but actively looking for another job on company time.
That company got the staff they deserved.”