If you change nothing, nothing will change

Q I’m not coping with being at work at the moment. I feel like I am a hated person and a group of staff now ignores me because I told them they made me feel uncomfortable for speaking badly about other staff. There seems to be a culture of negativity and when I raised my concerns with the manager, I was told to lodge a formal complaint and to access counselling. I just don’t see how counselling will resolve the bullying I am now experiencing. I am also afraid to lodge a formal complaint because these colleagues will know it is me and will probably make my work life even worse. I feel stuck and miserable – what if I lodge a complaint, put myself through a process and the investigation comes back in favour of the colleagues I have issues with? This has happened before and I don’t want to have to leave another workplace due to something like this. What do I do?

A Firstly, consider how you might feel if you did nothing and this negative situation continued. You always have options available to you, some more uncomfortable than others, and no doubt you have been thinking about these options. Some that come to my mind include:

  • Do nothing and see what happens. Sometimes (but not too often, unfortunately), negativity resolves with time.
  • Access counselling for emotional support but don’t lodge a formal complaint. Counselling can help you gain a clearer perspective on a situation, on how you have been coping, and will also provide you with strategies for coping.
  • Lodge a formal complaint and access counselling at the same time. Managers often recommend lodging a formal complaint so that an investigation can occur. It is important that you have examples of particular incidents or behaviours which can be documented and explored further. A complaints process is meant to achieve the goal of clarity and make recommendations and the end result may offer some relief. But the process itself is quite stressful so emotional support through counselling or a trusted friend is so important at this time. Sometimes processes can be drawn out for many reasons so having someone to talk to, whom you trust, is imperative. It’s also important to look after yourself physically and emotionally, knowing that you will be going through a difficult time. Of course, you may choose to lodge a complaint and not access counselling. But carefully think about your self care if you prefer to deal with this on your own ‒this is not my recommendation.
  • Whether you choose to lodge a complaint and/or access counselling, do you need a short break from work to help refocus? Would it be possible to have a week away somewhere nice, so that you can relax before making a decision? I suggest only a short break because sometimes, when people take a break from work due to work-related issues, coming back can be much harder. If you do take a break, make it worthwhile and do things you will enjoy – don’t take a break if all you plan to do is be at home, thinking and worrying about the work situation.
  • You mentioned you did not want to leave this workplace due to these issues. Leaving a workplace seems like a reasonable idea if you feel you have done everything you can to change a situation and nothing changes. Are you willing to confront courageously these issues in some way?

For you to make an informed decision, it might be worthwhile talking to someone in Human Resources (HR) so that you gain an understanding about how complaints are handled. Will it be investigated by your manager or by HR? How long will the process take? Having this information can help you feel prepared, despite the outcome being uncertain. Keep this in mind: if you change nothing, nothing will change. There is more than one way to achieve this.


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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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