I was 24 and in my first job at a small public relations company. I had just hit the one-year mark and was patting myself on the back for being a proper grown-up, with a full-time job and money in the bank every month to do whatever I wanted with it.
I was also enjoying my work and got along well with my colleagues. A few of us account executives especially spent a lot of time together as we were around the same age and we also helped each other with work duties. Of course, we gossiped about our boss Mr Lim* often – who doesn’t? – but he really wasn’t that bad.
But, because I worked hard, had results to show for it and was respected by my clients, I never had any personal issues with my boss. In fact, despite his gruff exterior, Mr Lim even gave me the odd compliment or two about my work.
All this changed when SHE joined the company. Joyce* was a few years older than me and, thus, had more work experience. Unfortunately for her, she tried to get cosy with a group of colleagues who had already built a strong bond over several months. It’s not that we purposely left her out; it’s just that she was trying too hard to fit in and she did this mostly by being bossy. It’s clear she thought she was better than all of us by virtue of her experience, and she took every chance to tell us how to do things “the right way”. Even if we weren’t wrong, she just insisted we did it her way with a (fake) smile on her face, thinking she’d won us over.
But what she lacked in friendship with colleagues, she made up for it with the boss. She was overly friendly with Mr Lim and always took the chance to ask if he wanted her to buy him coffee or lunch. None of us in the office ever did that as he was a quiet guy who kept to himself in his office most of the time. It obviously worked as he soon came out of his shell and chatted with her often during lunch breaks and even sometimes during work hours.
Choosing her victim
For some reason, Joyce zoomed in on me. While I did find her annoying and certainly not the sort of person I’d ever hang out with socially, I treated her as just another person in the office and was never rude to her. But little did I know that she had grand plans for me.
After a month, a few of my clients told me that Joyce had rung them up to try to get her to work on their accounts. She had her own list of clients, which meant she was effectively trying to “poach” from my list and undermine the work I was doing in order to impress the boss. I asked my colleagues if she had contacted any of their clients and they said they hadn’t heard anything. It was obviously only me she had a problem with, for some reason. I spoke to a senior colleague about it and she told me not to worry as long as my clients were happy with me, and to just plod on and ignore Joyce.
That’s easier said than done, of course. Joyce was soon telling outright lies to Mr Lim about my whereabouts during office hours. He started calling me on my mobile almost every time I was out of the office for meetings, just to make sure I wasn’t skiving. In fact, he even scolded me twice when I came back late (by just 10 minutes!) from lunch, despite clocking in hours of overtime in the past year and not been paid extra for it.
Crying in the toilet
It got to a point that I couldn’t even look at Joyce. Every time she laughed over-enthusiastically at my boss’ jokes, I cringed. My boss was unnecessarily harsh to me and, all of a sudden, he didn’t like any of my ideas in meetings, when he used to praise me for my creativity in the past. Joyce took every opportunity to agree with him and sell her own ideas instead, which all of us thought were quite frankly not up to snuff. Not Mr Lim of course; he loved every word that came out of her mouth.
By the three-month mark, Joyce had such an effect on me that I found myself hiding in the office toilet to cry on an almost-daily basis. I considered going for a short holiday to clear my head but was afraid that she would “steal” my clients while I was gone. In fact, I was positive she would’ve jumped at that opportunity.
After a few more weeks of torture, I decided that my job was not worth the stress it (or rather, Joyce) was giving me. I resigned without even looking for another job as I knew that I wasn’t in the right state of mind to go for job interviews; I probably would have ended up sabotaging my chances and ruining my reputation in the industry.
Looking back now, I wish I had stayed on and fought for my rights and, of course, my job. I was young and inexperienced and gave in to her bullying. I’ve never bothered with office politics – I don’t even know how to do that – but perhaps I should have played the game with her too and got someone senior on my side.
But Joyce taught me a few important lessons – how NOT to treat your colleagues and that everyone should stand up to office bullies. Thankfully, I haven’t encountered anyone similar in the last five years and I hope never to meet anyone like Joyce again.
* Names have been changed.