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Context:

  • I work in tech which is very male dominated.
  • I work for a large company with >1000 employees

A newish (<1 year) colleague, straight out of university, is behaving in an aggressively toxic manner. Here are four examples:

  • Telling an explicit joke about her private parts.
  • Telling a colleague he was “being a p***y” loudly in enough to be heard in a room of +200 colleagues.
  • Telling Hitler jokes on her first day.
  • Telling me to “get f***ed” during a standup.

There are many, many more examples.

I complained about the latter example to my manager. She avoided discussing it for two weeks, but when she finally did she claimed I treat her differently to other members of the team - and indicated I was patronising her.

I’ve talked with my manager, and I’ve accepted that I can come across blunt and straight to the point, but I don’t accept I was targeting this behaviour in a particular direction. Concluding, that conversation we agreed I need to work on my people skills and to avoid contact with her.

But reflecting on that conversation I don’t think my manager sees the pattern of toxic behaviour for what it is. The other instances were just things I overheard in a social context and not in a conversation with me, so they can’t be related to my interpersonal skills.

Am I being too sensitive? Or is this something I should bring up?

Outcome I want to achieve: Colleague learns toxic behaviour is unacceptable, I don’t lose respect from management.

Thanks in advance

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    What is the outcome you hopw to achieve? Because when stuff's that rotten that someone can tell a person to "get fucked" in a meeting, and management doesn't care, your only real shot at sanity is to switch jobs. (granted I don't have context for any of it, so take it with a truck of salt)
    – Aida Paul
    Jun 17, 2023 at 6:17
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    Why were you told to get knotted? I've said it to quite a few people in meetings including a govt minister but never without reason.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 17, 2023 at 8:22
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    “Am I being too sensitive?” - You are absolutely not being too sensitive. If the roles were reversed you would be fired immediately, so elevated your response, if your direct manager isn’t handling it properly. Reporting the behavior to HR would be the next step. You can’t prevent losing respect if management actually loses respect by reporting unacceptable behavior by this individual. Don’t react to the comments publicly, report it privately, don’t give this individual a reason to report your behavior.
    – Donald
    Jun 17, 2023 at 9:47
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    I'm having a hard time believing this person said the things the OP alleges, in full earshot of others, and hasn't been reprimanded or terminated. Perhaps the OP is trolling us?
    – joeqwerty
    Jun 17, 2023 at 19:29
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    I would ignore the jokes about Hitler and her private parts. Especially if they were made in an informal setting (lunch for example) and not in front of external non company people. Doing this may not be the smartest thing to do, but I don't see how that effects you or other colleagues that much tough. The other two example tough seem to be really out of line and are definitively not OK. I would focus on them and I would ask the colleague that she told "not to be a pussy" in front of people privately how he feels about this.
    – seg
    Jun 18, 2023 at 15:08

6 Answers 6

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Her behavior is unacceptable and your manager is failing to manage the situation.

Since you work in a large company, I would raise your concerns with HR. It may not result in immediately visible action, but it can help them establish a pattern of behavior. It will also serve to protect you if you end up accused of something instead, since in your shoes I would be quite concerned about being told to "work on my people skills", implying you're the party at fault here.

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Outcome I want to achieve: Colleague learns toxic behaviour is unacceptable

She will only learn this when her job is in jeapordy (if then). This isn't tomboy behaviour, its just obnoxious attention seeking at best.

Whether you personally should do anything is up to you and dependant on locale.

Realistically it's not your problem unless you're still feeling humiliated over being told to get fucked. In which case you can take it to HR if your manager is fine with you being sworn at.

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Document. Document. Document. Retroactively memorialize your conversation(s) with your manager via email. Include the dates of the incidents and the date(s) you spoke to your manager. And add any post-meeting clarifications/counterpoints you may have forgotten to talk about. Print out that email and keep it at home. Don't just complain. Try to offer potential reasonable solutions as well.

For instance, one potential solution would be to assign her a potential mentor (not you). Another solution would be to enroll her in some kind of online conflict resolution training / sensitivity training. And/or at the very least, even nothing else gets done, someone in authority should have a private talk with her, to get her to agree that she needs to find a better way to handle disagreements (even if she strongly disagree with what you have to say during standups).

But before you send that email to your manager, have a few of your professional friends (friends that you respect) read it over and give you their suggested edits/deletions. That message needs to be crafted very carefully, but that message also needs to be as concise as possible, which is not going to be easy to do.

Some people on here are advising you to take this up with HR, and you may want to do that, but if you want to avoid that option, I'd suggest you use email with your manager. In fact, even if you choose to bring HR into this, you'll want to email them as well, even if you do end up calling them. Having a written time-stamped record is very important. If you want HR to take your complaints seriously, you need those complaints recorded.

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    "Try to offer potential reasonable solutions as well." Isn't this overstepping for a non-manager to make suggestions like this? Shouldn't the manager or HR decide on a course of action? Also, you did not address the management laughed it off and made it look like the OP lacks people skills which seems pretty serious to me. Any written document which makes bold suggestions and tells the manager how to do his job seems pretty ill advised to me. Jul 8, 2023 at 12:35
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Two records that I witnessed: One guy leaving the company where I worked, starting the new job Monday 9am and calling the old company at 9:15 if he could have this old job back. Company was happy and HR removed every indication that he had ever left.

And another place where I worked, someone started at 9am and was fired at 10am because he refused to do some work that was beneath him apparently.

Telling Hitler jokes on the first day, as a German I would complain to HR instantly (the correct action is not allowed in the workplace) and would try my best to make sure she doesn’t come back on the second day. For the company, not taking immediate and decisive action is allowing a time bomb.

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Thought: She may be trying to over-compensate due to it being a Male-Dominated field. Showing that she can Banter 'With the guys' and hold her own 'Like the Guys'.

Whether this is a deliberate strategy or just a set of behaviors that she's learned if she primarily interacts with guys (AKA is a Tomboy) is up for debate.

Now - is it Toxic behavior or not really depends on you - from what you've described I'd probably get on with her like a house on fire. But then, that's me.

If it's an issue for you, then it's an issue for you. If you've approached your Management and you don't have a resolution - then best you just avoid and try to limit your interactions.

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    What would TheDemonLord response be to being told to "get fucked" at standup? Jun 17, 2023 at 8:24
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    «from what you've described I'd probably get on with her like a house on fire.» Do you think making Nazis jokes on your very first day at work is forgivable? Should someone wait until they know their coworkers and the company's norms/culture well enough before letting loose their wit?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 17, 2023 at 8:33
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    @mattfreake - Depends on the context really - but probably a witty riposte. Jun 17, 2023 at 8:53
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    @Mari-LouA - I Personally wouldn't do that - but if it was a good one, yeah - I'd laugh. I've got a terrible sense of humour Jun 17, 2023 at 8:54
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    In that there would be people screaming and trying to leave the building? Jun 17, 2023 at 9:25
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You are right to bring it up if it offends you. But none of these examples sound aggressive or toxic in a modern British context. So it is more about setting personal boundaries and indirectly coaching a junior colleague than removing a poisonous hazard from the workplace.

Is this language unprofessional? Yes. Will she cause needless offense sooner or later? Yes. Are they toxic? No.

I am curious whether you are originally from the UK, or perhaps a time-traveling character from a Jane Austen novel.

These three things were not directed at you and were in informal conversation:

  • Telling an explicit joke about her private parts.
  • Telling a colleague he was “being a p***y” loudly in enough to be heard in a room of +200 colleagues.
  • Telling Hitler jokes on her first day.

Assuming they are not directed or malicious, you can hear this on the street in the UK every day of the week, and sometimes read it in the newspaper. (Sorry Germans. Maybe this isn't great. But from the OP, keep in mind it could have just been a joke about a small moustache.)

Telling me to “get f***ed” during a standup.

This depends a lot on delivery, but if it was said with a smile, it's a bad idea, but not aggressive. Just excessively casual. If it was said to get out of work, call it out. "You need to test this again" - "Get f**ed" - "Get over it, that's the job".

Going to HR over this, as some answers suggest, is a massive overreaction, self-important, and even a little immoral. You are about to trash a junior colleague's career, in her first year out of uni, in an environment where she is demographically out of place, because you are getting offended by casual but everyday language in conversations you aren't a part of. Put it back in perspective. American corporate language standards are not universal and you should not take people on the internet getting offended by proxy as universal workplace advice.

And to anticipate the people about to get huffy, yes the rules are different for women in a 90-10 workplace because of the patriarchal society we live in. But a male new grad in the same UK workplace should get the same guidance on professionalism as a first step. (They are realistically in more danger of a formal HR response, though.)

If she was your manager screaming swearwords at you, that would be a different situation. But it's not.

A word from her manager, in a one to one, that she should be more professional, is appropriate. Since it seems important to you personally, a polite, private word to her directly that being sworn at in the standup meeting was offensive to you would also be appropriate. Sounds like she can be blunt like you. Maybe she could be an ally when the project needs someone to call a shade a freaking shovel.

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    It's true employees might not know the exact culture of the company or how to handle mismatches. Because of that, asking HR - who are educated and trained for this exact situation - to look into it with their expertise and skills for handling this is far from excessive. HR is not the police. They're there to smooth things out and they have the resources (time, education) for it. If you truly believe OP is delusional, HR will handle him. If he is delusional, goes up to her and says the wrong thing, he'll be in a mess. Let HR deal with it (if anything needs to be dealt with).
    – vspmis
    Jun 21, 2023 at 8:58
  • Involving HR in a bit of swearing is a serious escalation. It doesn't fit the stated goal of the OP: "Outcome I want to achieve: Colleague learns toxic behaviour is unacceptable, I don’t lose respect from management." Adding HR involvement will result in a loss of respect from management for what is essentially a personal sensitivity.
    – Adam Burke
    Jun 21, 2023 at 10:28
  • To be clear though, it's fine to set boundaries around personal sensitivities.
    – Adam Burke
    Jun 21, 2023 at 10:47
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    It appears you have a very specific idea of what HR is, specifically due to calling it "escalation", while in my specific understanding of HR I'd call it "assigning the task". Since I don't see how HR has higher power than, eg, her manager, I don't see how letting HR deal with it is an escalation but, as you suggested, letting her manager deal with it is not an escalation. Moreover, her manager has projects to manage, that's why there's HR so managers can focus on work. I can't seem to find common ground, but I hope our discussion will be of use to OP to asses his case nonetheless.
    – vspmis
    Jun 21, 2023 at 11:14
  • HR exist to help the company do well, by ensuring staff are treated in a way that helps the company do well. This can be helping employees, it can be stopping abuses (which prevents PR and legal action), it can also be managing people out. However the people on the ground, especially the line manager, are always responsible in the first instance. When you take on line management responsibility, it is primarily a responsibility for people. Running projects may or may not be combined with that. For example, you can run projects without being a people manager.
    – Adam Burke
    Jun 22, 2023 at 6:31

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