When People at Work Spread Rumors and Don't Like You, There is Usually a Reason

Dear Office Mom,

I’m in my mid-forties and moved to another state to be around my family. I never had difficulty finding a job, but the general consensus in interviews seems to be that I’m an attractive female that would either be a distraction to others workers or they wouldn’t want to work for me. I finally took a job in a factory environment. My problem is that I don’t know how to do less than 110%. I work a lot harder than I have to most of the time, and I don’t know any other way. Being an attractive female seems to compound my problem. I try to keep to myself and mind my own business, but after two years, things have escalated, and it’s getting to the point where it’s affecting my job and cooperation with others. They are telling my boss lies about me and there is lots of backstabbing. I tried to go to my boss, but I just got the runaround. What do I do?
— Diane

Hi Diane,

Thank you for contacting Your Office Mom for work advice. After contemplating your predicament, I have some advice for you to consider. There is a lot to unpack here, so please lower your defenses and let’s examine the situation from different perspectives.

Image: Lacey Seymour Photography

Image: Lacey Seymour Photography

  1. There are many attractive men and women in the workplace but most don’t find that to be detrimental to their ability to work well with others. Or, if it is, it is short lived while they acclimate to their new team and work environment. Are you so drop dead gorgeous that your outward manifestation of beauty is such a distraction to others and a hindrance to your career? Frankly, I am inclined to believe there is more to it. I don't understand how your appearance can create problems as long as you adhere to the dress code and don’t flaunt your physical assets by dressing inappropriately for work. And, if you don’t have an air of superiority, your appearance shouldn’t hinder your ability to interact with others professionally, considerately and warmly. That being said, it is possible you lack confidence which could be interpreted as being standoffish and full of yourself. What is your take on this point?

  2. You say that you give work your all and that is very commendable. However, are you showing up your co-workers in the process? If so, that might cause friction and tension between you and others. If you are busy churning out the work tasks, you may ignore the people side of work and miss opportunities to socialize and develop relationships (and vice versa of course). Or, sometimes the people who work the hardest (like you) are clearly irritated that others don’t have the same work ethic. But, keep in mind, it’s not your job to police others, that responsibility lies with management. So, if this rings true, you might want to temper your oversight.

  3. You state "I try to keep to myself, and pretty much mind my own business" but I wonder if this attitude creates a perception that you are not approachable? It might be perceived that you are somehow above others, and you don't want to work in a factory especially as you say, you’re only there because it’s all you could get. There's nothing wrong with good hard work, but if you gave others the impression that the work was beneath you early on, or it was just a stopping point, that’s likely a big problem.

  4. Any of these factors (1-3) could cause friction with others, so I’m curious if you understand your personal style. Have you taken a personality or communication styles assessment? Doing so can help you understand how you filter the world, interact with others and how they perceive you in turn. Your desire to keep your head down and do your job may be viewed negatively (even somewhat arrogantly) and make others believe you are unwilling to associate. Please take a few minutes to complete a free assessment to determine what makes you tick, and how you can adapt to others. Keep in mind, we all have strengths and opportunities for improvement. I facilitated training sessions using this instrument for 20 years and it’s often the catalyst for the proverbial light bulb to flash on. I hope that’s the case with you.

  5. You don't say what lies and rumors are spread about you (not that it matters), but anytime this dynamic is present, it's difficult for managers to address it. Besides writing performance reviews there’s nothing managers dislike more than handling conflict between team members. Usually, they don't want to fuel the fire and are ill-equipped to handle it. Take some quiet time at home to reflect on who you are. Make a list of some of the untruths about you, and who is saying it or fueling the fire. Then, try to identify why people might feel this way, why they want to believe lies or rumors and what you can do about it going forward. I’m not suggesting you confront anyone, but this awareness alone can be crucial to improving your life at work. If there’s nothing you can do differently, then chalk it up to a toxic work environment.

It’s not easy overcoming this dynamic at work (or anywhere for that matter). I realize it’s been two years, but it’s never to late to clear the air and try to begin again. After your period of self-reflection, make some gradual changes if warranted, so you can approach your work day differently.

Consider my suggestions and let me know your thoughts. Also, let me know your temperament type from the assessment. Good luck! I hope this helps.