21

I've been disrespected since coming back from maternity leave.

I am trying to get the behavior to stop and I want to feel comfortable at work even talking to them in general without massive details about my private life being discussed. They harass me about my husband being a stay-home dad. They harass me about when to have another child. They gossip about this and then come and talk to me about it.

On my first day back they were very nervous around me and stared at my abdominal section a lot. I felt uncomfortable. Someone even made a comment about my body parts being bigger. Very creepy. Also, they were wondering how I was able to stand and walk so easily but I had taken 3 months off!

They made snide remarks about how not too many new mothers can handle it without any evidence.

I never really had a good relationship with several of my coworkers. They were very rude to me and mean to me when I first started - I was just out of university and didn't have much experience and it irritated them. I tried my best but they were still mean to me. So I don't like them. I didn't tell them I got married or had a baby because I don't like them. Some also assumed I was an artist because of my gender rather than a dev - very sexist.

I have told management that I have childcare completely covered and I have met every deadline.

I have tried to be as closed off to their questions as possible like being as distant as aloof as I can and giving minimal responses. I have also told HR about everything but it hasn't controlled the issue. HR sat me down with one individual and he apologized to me but that's all that happened.

I don't do much in the moment because I am not prepared to deal with this. I'm a computer programmer - I have periods of intense concentration and it's hard to shake off just to talk to someone and I don't realize they were being rude until after the fact.

Why would they be so flustered by me having a child? Why would they be so irritated and nosy? They are fully welcome to have their own children.

I enjoy my work and I don't want to quit but it's a really bad time for me to look for a job because I have only been back for 6 months.

I do not feel another trip to HR is the right solution here. Do I seriously need to sit them all down and tell them all what they have done?

I have drafted the following letter:

RE: Workplace Interpersonal Issues

Dear colleagues,

Since returning from maternity leave I have been subjected to:

  • gossip
  • inappropriate comments
  • rude and arrogant assumptions
  • self-righteousness

I’ve already brought my concerns up with management but a recent event has prompted me to write this message.

I really have had enough of this behavior. It’s been going on since I have returned to work in October. I suppose this message will just create even more gossip for the 'gang of 3' though.

Please be respectful and professional.

Regards,

Does this sound too angry? Should I be sending a letter at all? What other options do I have to get them to respect me?

Oh and now there are 2 men whose wives are having kids and no one is harassing them - they are being praised.

  • 61
    This is a terrible idea to send. If you want to alienate yourself from everyone who reads it, then it's not a bad idea, but you will make yourself look to be a martyr and frankly I think most people would lose a lot of respect for you for sending this. – enderland Apr 26 '15 at 19:45
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    In order to answer this we would need to know what outcome you are trying to bring about, what you have tried already, and why that didn't work. Your proposed email (which I wouldn't send; yes it sounds angry and alienating) should be the smaller part of the question. Try to follow this pattern: "I have problem X; I've tried doing A and B but they produced outcome C which doesn't fix it. How can I solve problem X? I'm considering sending email, perhaps the following: (draft)". – Monica Cellio Apr 26 '15 at 19:58
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    From what I can recall you have posted about 10 questions in the past 6 weeks or so, all describing more or less the same problem. It is high time you moved on, those people are not going to change, worrying about it only affects you. It is not good for your health to keep suffering through this, especially when you are a new mother. – Masked Man Apr 27 '15 at 3:11
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    If I read that letter, the first thing I'd do is ask around to my coworkers about it. I'd want to know what the juicy back story was, who said what to you, what sort of crazy at home situation you must have, etc, etc, etc...not because I'm a jerk, but because I'm human. – Rob P. Apr 27 '15 at 10:15
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    I have debated with myself how to address this question and all the related questions. What I am about to write doesn't count as an answer to your question: If you worked in my office and I knew about what you are feeling, I would be concerned about postpartum depression. Some of your complaints seem legitimate but some seem blown out of proportion. The perseverance on these issues seems troubling. I would recommend that you talk to your doctor or the newborns doctor about how you are feeling. – mhoran_psprep Apr 27 '15 at 10:35

10 Answers 10

-2

As a parent I can say that comments like these are incredibly common. Usually from people that don't have children.

I'm not sure why, but a lot of people think that it's okay to make disparaging comments with regards to children, pregnancy, etc. I've had countless duplicate conversations with even completely random strangers about my children, work etc... and I'm male. The things my wife has relayed to me that has been said to her are at times equal parts idiotic, unconscionable and incredibly rude.

Basically, what I'm saying is that this appears to be an unfortunate aspect of life. Just remember that they have absolutely no idea what it is you're going through. They don't understand the sleepless nights, being cranky due to it, dealing with a cranky spouse who also hasn't had any sleep, and all the other things that come with adjusting to a new baby. None of that is to excuse their behavior, rather it's a partial explanation.

Oh, they'll ask fun questions like "is the baby sleeping through the night?" and you'll tell them "of course" whether the child is or not just to get them to go away. Pat answers in this are regard will become common place. If you have more children and they all end up the same gender be prepared for fun ones like "Don't you wish that one had been a girl/boy?", or much much worse, in front of the children. I can't tell you how many times I envisioned myself punching someone out just for asking that.

The best thing you can do is find some friends that are at a similar life stage as you. That way you have a support group - and, yes, I write this knowing just exactly how hard that can be. People who haven't had a child really have zero clue about it even though they think they do because they watched a movie once that had a woman giving birth.

All of that said, find a new job. Coming back to a job after a few months off is hard, especially when there are environmental changes. However stepping into a new one, without this history, is an easy way to kind of start over in the work force.

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    The problem with this answer is that wherever she goes, there she will be. I don't think that changing jobs will solve anything. – Jim Clay Jun 5 '15 at 15:09
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    @JimClay - my sixth grader said it best, "At a new school, I can be anybody I want to be!" - And he was right. The same is true for most people in adulthood at work. Is that a "solution"? Well, it's different... – Jim Dec 22 '15 at 20:29
61

Is this letter effective?

"Effective"? It depends on what you are expecting to happen with this letter.

If you expect that your colleagues will suddenly change their behaviors that you don't like, that seems unlikely. If you expect that your colleagues will completely leave you alone, and avoid you at all costs - that is more likely. If the latter is your intent, then this may be effective.

Does it sound too angry?

Yes, of course. You are angry, right? It sounds rather over the top to me. "I suppose this message will just create even more gossip for the 'gang of 3' though" is particularly snarky.

How would you change it?

If it were me, I might write it, but I would never send it. Letters seldom are an effective way to change things, particularly angry letters. Discussion might - but an angry letter isn't a discussion. (Sometimes the best letters/emails are those that aren't sent. I've done this before myself.)

If I felt this angry with my workplace, I would likely find another job, and then leave. In my experience, unless you are the owner, you have no chance to makeover this workplace to match your expectations, particularly not by writing an angry letter.

  • In addition to this, perhaps I am reading too much into the OP' – Cronax Apr 28 '15 at 9:05
32

First, I understand where you're coming from with this. You sound like you're a private person, and others are involving themselves in your business unnecessarily. While I haven't been in your exact situation, I can understand, and empathize with, the issue.

That being said, the letter will only come off as snarky, irritating, and possibly a bit pretentious on your part. (with a title of Workplace Etiquette - they will start calling you Ms. Manners) It won't help with the problems, because the people doing the gossiping don't see it as a problem. For them it's fun. Especially when it gets a rise out of you. And going back to HR may not be especially helpful as it's more of an interpersonal issue, rather than one that directly affects the business. You hit your deadlines, so as far as they know, there are no problems. That is not a suggestion to stop hitting deadlines or dropping quality levels, as that will cause other issues. But that tends to be what HR focuses on first, rather than the interpersonal. They assume people will handle personal issues like adults. Forgetting that some adults are that in name only.

How do you deal with that? Stop giving them what they want. If someone comes up to you with a personal question and interrupts you in the middle of coding, give them a blank look then turn back to your work. If they persist, tell them (calmly, firmly, and possibly with a little smile) that you're in the middle of some difficult work and can't be interrupted, then go back to work. Stop feeding the trolls. How you live your life (stay at home dad, 1 kid vs. a herd, etc.) is not their business, so it also doesn't matter what they say about it. As long as your boss and the powers that be are happy and satisfied with your work, keep doing that.

Since you've stated that you don't like your colleagues, you don't have to tell them anything. Be professionally pleasant, but no more. Do your work, make sure it's up to the expected levels of quality and professionalism, then go home and live your life.

And start looking for a new job with a less toxic environment. As long as you maintain your quality and professional levels, you should be able to do that without having to leave your current job until you have a new one in place. If you start letting them affect your work, then other problems might arise. Stop feeding the trolls, until you are ready to. Such as when you leave.

  • Thanks very much good explanation. They don't bother me too much when I'm coding but very much so when I'm in the kitchen or doing something like walking to the washroom so it's really tough. – Kerry Apr 27 '15 at 14:18
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    I would suggest just using the same tactics, honestly. Polite blank looks are like fine wine - they are subtle, but when they hit they are effective. :) Maybe develop a mantra in your head - something silly like 'I know you are but what am I' or something like that, so you end up tuning them out when they start with the questions or gossip. When they move past it, then tune back in. As with the myriad number of dead plants on my balcony - if you don't water them, they wither and die. Stop watering them. It takes practice, but it will come. – Wren Apr 28 '15 at 10:51
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    I agree with @Wren - I'm a programmer as well and people sometimes like to run over to me when I'm incredibly busy. When you look at them blankly and turn back to work they'll usually say "Is something wrong with you today?", to which I typically respond "No, but I have a ton of work to do and not a whole lot of time." People get the hint and if they mention that you had a tone you can generally lay it off that you were frustrated with code, although it may have legitimately been that person. – zfrisch May 6 '15 at 19:21
  • I can't comment from experience, but shouldn't this actually be HR's business? After all, if it's not solved, the company's likely to lose an eployee, which makes it quite a business-related issue. – Reinstate Monica May 7 '15 at 8:30
  • @Angew - not really. Remember: the main function of HR is to protect the company from the employees. A secondary function is to collect candidates to send to the hiring managers (the more they collect, the greater HR's perceived value to the company). That second function is why they have no incentive to retaining employees -- ironically it is a disincentive. – BryanH Feb 15 '16 at 17:38
25

I've been disrespected since coming back from mat leave.

That sounds upsetting. Sorry you're going through this. No one deserves that.

I am trying to get the behaviour to stop

Start by accepting the fact that you cannot control the behavior of other people.

Really, you can't.

You can control your own behavior, so work on that.

and I want to feel comfortable at work

Of course you do. If you're only going to be comfortable by controlling the behavior of other people, then you're not going to get what you want, because you can't do that. So find a way to be comfortable without controlling the behavior of others.

They gossip about this and then come and talk to me about it.

You can't stop them gossiping; that's their behavior. You can stop talking to them about it. So stop! Practice saying

"I'd rather not discuss my personal life at work with you."

in the mirror until you can say it with utter conviction because it is true.

Then when they come to talk to you about it, keep saying it.

Really, keep saying it. This is your behavior, you can control it. You can't make them stop asking you, but you can stop answering. You're feeding trolls and wondering why they keep coming by for more food.

So I don't like them.

You don't have to.

I didn't tell them I got married or had a baby because I don't like them.

And that's your behavior, so good on you for doing that.

Some also assumed I was an artist because of my gender rather than a dev - very sexist.

Yeah, well, who cares what those people think?

I have tried to be as closed off to their questions as possible like being as distant as aloof as I can and giving minimal responses.

Good start, but you have not yet explored all that is possible in the realm of closing down nosy questions. I do not want to discuss it with you. Full stop, end of conversation, do not feed the trolls. Talk about work at work.

Why would they be so flustered by me having a child? Why would they be so irritated and nosy?

You're not their psychologist, and the only way to find out the answers to these questions is to engage deeply with them. Stop worrying about why these people think the way they do.

Would you bother going to HR again?

If it is impacting your productivity, or more generally the productivity of the firm, or if it is exposing the firm to possible legal action, then yes, engage with HR.

If a letter won't help do I seriously need to sit them all down and tell them all what they have done?

They are fully aware that they are catty gossips.

Is this letter effective?

Nope.

12

Every person causing you issues would LOVE for you to send this angry letter. These are the same people looking to stir up drama and make you feel uncomfortable. You are their entertainment, reality TV. They keep going back to your channel because you keep getting emotional and upset.

The fact is most guys act this way out of jealousy. If you were a young women just out of school, they might have thought you were on the market. And thought that work was as good place as any to meet someone. I have personally seen people get very very upset and act like assholes once one of their coworkers get engaged or married. You not only got married but the kid sealed the deal.

In their warped little minds they thought they had dibs on you. They are jealous of your husband and pissed at you for not giving them a chance to be with you. Your husband being a stay at home dad makes them more pissed because they feel like well this guy has the girl and doesn't even have to work... just trying to let you see how their little heads work.

The fact is the manager should see this behavior. If you have to bring it up to the manager, chances are it never gets worked out right. I managed a very large tech group that was 85% men and everyone for the most part was young. When I brought a new girl in, you could almost hear them grunt like cavemen. The first few weeks would include some mild teasing like 8th graders hanging around the new hot girl that just moved down the block. If it got to anything more than this I made sure it stopped or that I adequately embarrassed the instigators. This does not seem to be happening at your work place.

How do you deal with it? Certainly not the letter. Others said this may alienate you. I disagree. I think they may be worse but in more subtle ways.

You said there is a gang of 3 mainly. I would generally handle them in two ways. I would act really happy no matter what first of all. Make fun of stay at home dad? "As long as he keeps making me happy he can stay at home for as long as he wants." When are you going to have another child? "When ever my husband wants. I will let him decide since he is watching the baby." I would make sure that the amply understand that you are a very happy person, with child, husband, and outside of work. At the same time, no reason you can't put a couple of indirect digs in to the 3 guys too. Something along the lines (to one of them), "Wow I am really lucky to have my husband. I never understood until I was working how great he is compared to others I have met."

Also to go along with this point - you have to check your emotions. Like I said before they are acting like little kids. There is nothing more that a little kid likes is to see another kid that they are making fun of cry. You have to be able to ignore them.

The second point is, if these 3 guys have people that don't like them, befriend those people and get allies at work. This is the easiest way to change your situation. If you have guys that get along with you they will see that these guys are acting like punks. Don't complain about the guys or get emotional but you can matter of fact say what is happening. Something like, "I really feel sorry for those guys having nothing better to do than make fun of my husband they don't know." Then honestly laugh it off. If you have friends at your workplace they will stop this (whether it be in a considerate/legal way you don't need to know).

Just by being happy and turning everything they say to even more happiness it won't change things right away and may take 6 months to a couple years to wear them down. The friend thing could be much shorter. If you can't wait or don't think you can numb your reactions/emotions to them they you need to look for another job.

  • 2
    this is a very very good answer – Glowie May 15 '15 at 17:02
  • "Your husband being a stay at home dad makes them more pissed because they feel like well this guy has the girl and doesn't even have to work" -- in fact either way. If they think it'd be easy then it's as you say, whereas if they (perhaps secretly) think it'd be difficult then he's showing them up by doing what they wouldn't. – Steve Jessop Feb 15 '16 at 12:30
  • No where in this Question did I see any reference to the gender of those who are bothering her. Observations based on personal experience can be helpful and insightful, when they are presented objectively. In this case the assumption that the antagonists are male seems quite biased and makes whatever insight offered suspect. – Martin Fawls Feb 16 '16 at 1:55
  • @MartinFawls Based on the behavior mentioned and the fact that she's a dev, odds are that those she's working with are men. The insight offered is spot on in my opinion, even if the "gang of 3" are female I still learned a lot from this answer. – reggaeguitar Mar 12 '18 at 19:36
5

I wouldn't send the letter, by the sounds of the environment you'll just annoy the bears rather than have the effect your looking for.

It sounds to me like people don't think you are coping in your role. By the sounds it's been happening for quite a while, and it's currently manifesting itself around baby/support.

It sounds like 2 things, something when you started around skills they may of assumed you had, and also you're daring to want a life outside of work/the company (a potential nono in a lot of startups).

My advice is really just to keep things as calm as you can just now, answer what you can/are prepared to with the questions, and plan your escape route, by the sound of things it won't get really much better where you are, and there is probably a more suitable life balance in larger company who will expect to not be the cornerstone of your life.

Working full time with a young child can be hard, lack of sleep, maybe calls during the day (and by sound an hour+ commute) can take it out of you and affect you work performance (it hit me with both my kids, and I was only in supportive Dad role, my wife had the harder job), don't make it even worse by remaining in a toxic environment. Even if it feels a difficult time to move, I think staying would be worse.

A bad perception can be the hardest thing to overcome, doesn't sound like this job is worth fighting for, but don't annoy the bear by sending the letter.

  • 1
    I don't think you should change an answer this thoroughly. If you no longer agree with your previous answer, it makes more sense to delete it and post a new one. The whole comment-thread under this answer is actually about a completely different answer. – ruakh Apr 27 '15 at 0:29
3

This problem wasn't created over-night nor will it be solved that quickly. Since you're considering writing a letter instead of confronting people immediately when they're rude to you, is your problem. Don't get emotional. Don't make it personal. Ask them to stop. Let them know that you don't talk about their personal life and would like the same respect. People may think they're joking around, but family if off-limits.

If they're interrupting your work, let them know about it and ask them to stop. Inform your boss if you have to because you don't want him thinking your lack of productivity is your fault in this case.

Learning to stand up for yourself is something you should have developed on the playground as a child. You have some catching up to do. Work on it. I don't see things getting any worse. You're already miserable.

  • 2
    Not too many people are prepared to deal with bullying as it happens because you are supposed to have a professional demeanour about you in the workplace rather than bracing yourself. Especially if you have been focusing on your code all day it's very hard to snap out of the 'zone' just because someone talks to you. – Kerry Apr 27 '15 at 4:19
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    I would not send the letter. I'd go further, eye to eye, an eye for an eye: I'd accuse them of pure jealousy and angst. I'd tell them, that by how they act, they are still searching their first girlfriend. But then, thinking further, they want their future wifes to be stay-at-home moms, and they are uncomfortable with the idea that their wifes may act like you do. When you hit their soft spot, and hit it hard, they should chicken out and stop bullying. – Alexander Apr 27 '15 at 10:57
2
Is this letter effective? Does it sound too angry? 

Probably not, and yes.

How would you change it?

Write it but don't send it. This letter, or any letter like it, will do nothing to stop any gossip, and will likely add to the office rumor mill.

Would you bother going to HR again?

Possibly. If you're hell-bent on sending out a letter like this, HR should do it instead of you. You should certainly not contact them while you are upset. If you go this route, take some time and cool down, then write a more objective complaint to HR specifically.

If a letter won't help do I seriously need to sit them all down and tell them all what they have done?

Before you deliver an ultimatum to someone, take a step back. You've just had a life-changing experience, and maybe you need a little more time to adjust. Going on rants like the one in your post will only hurt your reputation at your office.

As I see it, you've got 3 general options.

1) Answer their prying questions to whatever degree you are comfortable. After a while, folks will realize your life isn't that interesting, and move on to the next bit of juicy office hear-say.

2) Wait for another piece of gossip to come along. It usually doesn't take long for someone else to do something gossip worthy, and then they will be the center of attention instead of you.

3) Get a new job. Since you've just had a baby this is probably not the best time to do this. Giving yourself a few months to adjust may also make a difference.

2

I think this hasn't been mentioned, but you might check if there are any male employees who have become a father recently, and if any of those is being harassed in any way. If that is not the case, then you have a good case of claiming gender based harassment. (Which morally doesn't make much difference to me, but might make a legal difference).

  • No they are not being harassed and they 'feel bad' about taking a month of parental leave off. It's all be directed at me and chalked up to curiosity. – Kerry May 4 '15 at 18:29
  • There is so much in this letter. we are only getting one side. @Kerry, you make a valid point that also has two sides. Men don't tend to take parental leave, often if they do there is resentment directed toward them. Maternity leave can be somewhat justified cause for resentment because when it is not managed properly co-workers are forced to pick up extra work. She was off for 3 months in what appears to be a busy environment. Who was picking up the slack? It's not her 'fault' but it can be the reality in some offices. It could especially be so when people already didn't like her. – Martin Fawls Feb 16 '16 at 2:05
  • Make written notes with dates and times. If you have them you don't need to use them, but if you need to lawyer up you will need them. – Bloke Down The Pub Dec 5 at 11:36
-1

State your boundaries clearly and if they get violated, remember it is your life they are making miserable and you only have one. I would rather make their life hell and been seen as unprofessional than swallow up their BS. Sooner or later the other people in the company will understand it.

Send a letter like this:

Dear coworkers,

Please keep the workplace professional and comments/gossip about my family to yourself. You could spend all that energy on something more relevant, for example the work you get paid for.

Sorry to send it as a mass mail, but I think it's in everyone's interest to get back to a positive working atmosphere.

Best wishes, Kerry

  • 4
    This is awful advice. If you begin acting unprofessionally the only thing people will understand is that you are unprofessional. – DavidB Jun 4 '15 at 7:49

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