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I got hired around 6 months ago. But I started to have a difficult relationship with my mentor from the first weeks.

He got interested in me and tried to get close to me and I rejected him for two reasons: first I was married and second, he was my coworker and worst of all my mentor.

I rejected him to just keep a professional relationship with him and he's turned off now. But treats me like a fool and replies my questions as if I am so silly to ask such questions. He even was refusing to assign me tasks and when I was asking him for having me to do something he was assigning me nonsense tasks until I talked to my boss that I didn't have much to do and she asked him to assign me tasks.

Currently, we work together but our relationship is kind of disgusting and intolerable. I'll never ever even think about bringing the issue to HR, because I don't trust them and I'm sure they're not my friends.

But this kind of relationship is really irritating and I would like to know if there's a way to fix it to an extent to be able to just bear it up.

  • 42
    How big is your company? Can you request a new mentor? – David K Apr 16 '18 at 15:29
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    Do you have to keep this mentor? (As in, can you ask for a different mentor, given his inappropriate behavior?) – HopelessN00b Apr 16 '18 at 20:18
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    Depending on the interpertation of "got interested" you might not recognize that you (possibly) are being sexually harassed. I know that if I was receiving negative commentary at work based on my not going out with someone, it would seem strongly suspicious. – Edwin Buck Apr 16 '18 at 21:12
  • 10
    What country is this? It can make a huge difference in how you should proceed. – JimmyJames Apr 17 '18 at 14:28
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    He tried to touch my bare knees; that's the only thing led me to interpret all other his behaviors as harassment. hopefully, this is not due to the fact that we are fed with feminism ... – Ms improving Apr 17 '18 at 16:14
108

You have to let your boss/line manager know.

A mentor is someone who should be guiding your path in your first months in the company - not making your live harder, whatever the reason.

Get together all your facts, sit together with your line manager and let him know about the situation.

The possible solutions may be:

  • You manager making clear to your current mentor that he should be... well, mentoring you. In other words, keep the relationship strictly professional.

  • Assigning you to the other mentor - even if he's busy

  • Or just deciding that you don't need a mentor anymore - since you've been in the company already for 6 months.

Any of these outcomes should improve your current situation, so if I were you I would start collecting specific examples of cases when your mentor is mocking you/treating you badly, and as soon as there is enough solid evidence, report them to your manager.

  • 13
    At some companies the word "mentor" is used to mean someone who is in charge of your career progression all the time, not only at the beginning. Also this can misfire as the boss can blame her or not believe her, especially if no written proof is presented. I don't think this is fair of course, or that it should happen, but it happens a lot. – BigMadAndy Apr 16 '18 at 15:46
  • Thanks for your answer. Actually, I tried the first option you mentioned without clarifying the main issue. My boss talked to him about my tasks and even checked on that a few times, still doing. The other guy tries to help me and mentor me whenever he can. and I am supposed to have the former mentor for this whole year to learn their complicated system. In most cases, I don't need him and try to avoid him but sometimes it's not possible because my boss directs him a task and asks him to monitor me doing that, where all those messes starts up. – Ms improving Apr 16 '18 at 16:20
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    @Verver I think you need to talk about the actual problem in detail if you expect it to get addressed in some meaningful way. If the only thing you're brought up to your mgr was that you weren't getting tasks, your mgr has no reason to think there's a deeper problem here. Be upfront about what happened, avoid speculation/opinion/biases to the best of your ability, and focus on what actually/objectively happened when giving your explanations. Make sure you explicitly leave the next step to your mgr. If nothing changes, then either HR or a new job search will be your only options, methinks:c – code_dredd Apr 16 '18 at 19:46
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    You mean "your manager", at the end? – Ismael Miguel Apr 16 '18 at 20:44
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    @Verver: Ray is right - for your manager to take appropriate action, he needs to know what's happening (with as much details as you are confortable sharing, of course). I do not agree with Toss comment here: Even if the boss does not 100% believes you, at the very least he should be aware that the problem is way more than just meaningful tasks, and he should be interested in fixing the situation. The key here is to avoid presenting the case as "the guy is an ass", but rather as "I don't feel confortable with the way he interacts with me". – carrdelling Apr 16 '18 at 21:02
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You have a number of options:

  1. Try to actually fix the relationship. Basically confront this mentor about his unprofessional behaviour and ask him to stop. The best way to put it is probably: "let's pretend nothing happened and start over from scratch. Hi, my name is Verver, and told me to ask you to mentor me. How do we start?". Frankly, I doubt this will work, given that this person's behaviour has been incredibly unprofessional and childish so far.
  2. Take it to management in full consequence. Since you already said you don't trust HR, the only way you have a snowball's chance in hell is if you have as much hard evidence of misbehaviour as possible and your boss supports you 100% - very unlikely since that mentoring position almost certainly means this guy is considered valuable to the company.
  3. Fight a dirty office politics war to get this guy fired. Might be possible if he as made other enemies, but honestly, you don't sound like the kind of person capable of or inclined to that kind of thing.
  4. Drop the mentoring relationship and avoid the guy as much as possible. Find alternative ways to get everything this mentor is supposed to do for you. Find your own tasks and other sources of information. Requires you to be proactive and him to at least not be vindictive, and the mentoring relationship to not be a formal requirement. This could work out very well for you if you can pull it off.
  5. Quit and find a company where you can trust HR and this kind of shit is not tolerated.
  • 1
    Lovely answer, Thanks! But why do you think I'm not like the kind of person capable of or inclined to that kind of thing? just curious :) – Ms improving Apr 16 '18 at 20:55
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    @Verver: because if you were you would not be asking a question here, especially not about "how to fix a relationship". – Michael Borgwardt Apr 16 '18 at 21:10
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You basically have 2 solutions to chose from:

  1. Go to HR and complain. This makes sense especially if you have anything to prove the harassment, e.g. emails or any other sources in writing or witnesses (although these can be unreliable and are probable not to support to you to avoid problems)
  2. Avoidance. There's this great book by Robert I. Sutton about dealing with assholes in the workplace. His main advice is to avoid them because the probability you will win is tiny. Other advice include moving in the organisation. Just think how you can avoid dealing with him altogether and do everything you can to reach that.
  • 2
    Strange, that author has two books with "asshole" in the title. – Raystafarian Apr 16 '18 at 21:24
  • @Toss There are always many more options than 2. For example, assuming this is an poorly formed attempt to have a "realtionship" there might be independent counsel, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, telling her mentor to "knock it off before he lands in a sexual harassment lawsuit", telling her direct manage (not the mentor), starting a rumor by telling someone who views her negatively that she's being punished for not cozying up with a creep, and more. Binary thinking is just too limiting. (I don't endorse any action, even ones I've mentioned) – Edwin Buck Apr 16 '18 at 21:41
  • @Raystafarian - Considering how well his first one sold, it would probably be stranger if he didn't. – T.E.D. Apr 16 '18 at 21:55
  • In most answers I saw on the workplace, usually you should really first let your manager trying to resolve the problem before going to HR. – Walfrat Apr 17 '18 at 11:28
7

You’re coming here because you are being pushed to your limits and want to know the best course of action, seeking advice from the community at large. That’s great!

I consider much of this to be a comment, but my lack of rating in this forum won’t allow me to attach it to your question, so please allow me to expand on some things to consider. I would look at it less as letting your manager know and more as getting input from your manager whom should be trained to handle inter-personal conflicts.

Something to consider is that there could be more than meets the eye. For all you know the person could be going through something personal that has nothing to do with you. People have their own struggles (relationships, deaths, financial) and are riddled with disorders (bi-polar, depression, etc), which makes it difficult to interpret even what you think you know.

The point you want to focus on (at first) is not that there is a problem, but that you are looking forward to establishing a solution and to learn how you could better address the situation. You would like to know the best way to move forward and not necessarily raise a complaint. There are perhaps personal differences that are bleeding into your working relationship and knowing where to step next is a delicate move.

Because there is more to the story, more than you could obviously elaborate on here, the best point of advice will be from someone impartial that can hear the whole story and ask questions where you may have left holes. Who the advisor is, will ultimately be left to your better judgement as there are a lot of things to consider (comfortability, trust, role, etc). Depending on your personal and working relationship it could potentially be your boss, another superior or senior employee, life coach, psychologist, Ombudsman, or HR. If you ever do wish to raise the issue (more than seeking advice) it's important to be seen as someone other than an instigator.

Without all the details, I couldn’t honestly rule out that the problem could still be you, or it could be all in your head - not saying that you’re wrong, but the outsiders perspective should not be to automatically trust the storyteller. That said, being a problem-causer rather than a solution-maker will certainly be more frowned upon.

We, hearing this situation, have no history of the person, so if the person hasn’t had any issues in the past, they have tenure in their favor and you don’t. But then there are things we don't know.. do they have a pattern of this time of behavior? Have other people raised complaints? Is there something you can do to adjust? Are they the type of person that are open to ideas? Whatever the case, be innocent and open to ideas, but with whomever you speak, also be assertive. State that you don't want to upset anyone, but care about your career and don't want to jeopardize that. It's a fine line, but you have to express concern without offending someone or being seen as a trouble-maker, while instilling your own value and self worth.

Before talking with anyone else, though, it might be worthwhile to have lunch with the person and identify that your relationship seems to have got off track and if there's anything you both could work on to improve that. Maybe don't confront or raise all the problems at once, but start the conversation to establish a rapport and keep notes on that (your efforts and the outcomes) as they will ultimately better describe the situation and your efforts if push comes to shove.

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    I do have some hard evidence from him, but like you said I don't wanna be an instigator. Besides, I believe that HR is not always fair enough. Besides, this is not a matter created in my mind. Upsetting someone is totally different from being obviously harassed by somebody – Ms improving Apr 17 '18 at 0:05
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    If you're being harassed that's a different situation entirely and you're right, HR might not be the correct path. Not only because sometimes HR is seemingly incompetent (workplace dependent), but they also may have to follow certain protocols (documenting) for legal reasons. If there is a co-worker you trust, especially someone that's a little older and has seen a thing or two, perhaps pick their mind and see if they have anything to offer for your situation. Going to your boss is putting him/her in a special situation that you may want to avoid. – vol7ron Apr 17 '18 at 2:38
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I think you have a classic case of Quid Pro Quo Harassment, since you state that he tried to touch your knees, among other behaviors. The fact that it came off as unprofessional to you and immediate made you consider your relationship with your husband indicates that something did not feel right and you felt compelled to reject him.

Since you can say, with the example, that he made advances, you rejected them, and now as a result he has effectively ended the mentorship part of your relationship, which is critical to your advancement in the company, you should let your manager and HR partner know immediately.

I think there's no point in attempting to salvage this relationship.

  • I am inclined to agree. As soon as this person understands what his behavior looks like (regardless of intent), all you will hear will be defensive statements. You might even hear excuses or outright lies. People get desperate when they are defending their jobs. Mending a strained relationship will be the last thing that comes naturally, defaming and defending will be the first response. – Edwin Buck Apr 18 '18 at 0:06
4

You are in a really tough spot. These advances were a while ago and most likely you don't have hard evidence.

Even if you have hard evidence go at him for sexual harassment will be a win or lose. Even if you win you may not get a fair shake going forward.

It does not appear this mentor is going to cooperate no matter what you do.

I would continue to go to your boss about not getting work.

If he is rude to you or ignores you start documenting.

At some point collect enough data to ask for a different mentor.

3

Very good advice has been stated here already. My view on the situation is as follows:

From the moment you rejected him, your mentor has stopped respecting you as a person.

In my experience, there is exactly one moment to address this kind of problem, which is now. His disrespect is not only detrimental for the working atmosphere, it affects your professional career as well, in a sense that he will not give you serious tasks or serious answers to any of your questions. Unfortunately, now is already 6 months ago. Two basic options:

  1. Regain respect by confronting him with the situation. Do that by stating facts only and stay emotionless. You might include something like "There is no basis for any working relationship if you do not respect me as colleague." This takes strength and training however, and there is no guarantee that you will succeed with this person in this situation.

  2. Talk to your boss that there is problem. Describe the situation efficiently and directly. You do not need to judge on the situation, your boss will do that. You do not need to talk in a disrespectful or insulting way about your mentor - your boss will realize on her own. You did that perfectly just here when you wrote your question. Then I see to possible outcomes:

2a. Same as 1., but do it together with your boss (apparently a woman as well - this may or may not help) as a mediator.

2b. Change departments or quit. Seriously.

Whatever you do, keep in mind that respect is not something you wish for. It is a fundamental requirement for a fruitful working environment and you will refuse to work in a place where you are not respected - for both sakes, your professional life and your personal welfare.

2

I'll never ever even think about bringing the issue to HR, because I don't trust them and I'm sure they're not my friends.

Your interests are currently aligned with the company's; both you and the company want you to get on with your work unhindered. In this case, HR is who you should contact.


You have some options here, but most of them are either not a guarantee or simply undesirable:

  • Talk to HR or your manager. Get the company involved.
  • Find a way to talk to him and convince him to get over the refusal and return to a normal (healthy) work relation with you.
  • Suck it up, move on with your day, and try to distance yourself from this person as soon as you can. Ask for a new mentor, or count down until the day you don't need a mentor at work.
  • Quit. (In my opinion, definitely not a good approach but it would be a "solution" of sorts, I guess)

These are ordered in order of preference (though this order may be subjective).

0

I kept behaving friendly but professionally with him. He seems to be changing his attitude towards me and trying to be nice.

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