My coworker wants my job

by Evil HR Lady on August 23, 2012

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have been in my position of HR for over a year at my present company. Everything has been going well so far in my role but I noticed one of my co-workers is trying to undermine me at every turn. Now I’ve read past responses with difficult co-workers you have mentioned, but this young lady is subtle in how rude she is to me, and is currently trying to get me excluded from projects.

I won’t bore you with our countless interactions, mostly me trying to be nice and her being very cold/nonchalant to me, but overtly kind with any other employee she interacts with. She hasn’t exactly made it a secret she’s wanted my job from the start, and recently has been in meetings, mentioned to other co-workers (I have good ears) that I’m too busy to be involved and she could easily handle whatever duties are relevant to me (besides confidentially ones). 

I’m trying to find out how I can interact with her, in a kind way, but not in a way that negates the rude behavior she’s displayed toward me? We have cubes right next to each other, and are supposed to interact daily, but lately (last 2 months) I’ve stopped talking to her socially because it was like talking to a wall. I wouldn’t mind not talking to her but now she’s trying to get me excluded from projects, or is constantly suggesting herself for job duties I could be doing (not exactly duties in my arena but in the HR field)…Is there any way I can hint to a superior that she has issues/should leave/acts more robotic than human/ etc… ?

The only other thing is she’s been here longer than I have, is actually very competent, and no one else has any problems with her. What can I do?

First, I would talk directly to Shelly. Be blunt. “Shelly, I understand that you wanted my job. However, for whatever reason, it’s my job and it’s difficult for me to do what needs to be done when you try to take over my projects. Please let me do my work.”

She’ll deny that’s what she’s doing. But, there’s this weird thing that goes on in some people’s brains when they are passed over for promotion/job/whatever. I’m betting that she’s normally a nice person, but somehow she’s gotten it into her brain that this job is supposed to be HERS and you STOLE it from her, making you some sort of sub human criminal. And because you are a sub human criminal it doesn’t matter that she’s rude to you.

She’s probably be horrified if she observed this same behavior in someone else. It’s weird, I tell you, but I’ve seen it before.

Every time she make a comment say, “Thank, Shelly, but I’ve got that.”

I would mention it to your boss (especially if you report into the same person). “Jane, I just wanted you to know that Shelly appears to be upset that she didn’t get my position. She’s doing x, y, and z. Is there any particular way you’d like me to handle this?”

This way you’re not whining, you’re just checking in.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™ August 23, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Good advice in that communicating directly identifies (as the old saying goes) the elephant in the room. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by highlighting what she is doing that is unacceptable.

It shows her to be plying selfish personal agendas instead of contributing to the team’s vision and organization’s success.

Honest (not blunt) communication wins the day. The advice above is honest without being brutally blunt and emotional.

I would also say avoid the word “whining” — it is a patronizing insult that could paint you as petulant. The struggle you are having inside about how to handle this is very normal and common. It isn’t whining.

The key step to solving is honest communication. Here are some tips for related difficult moments in the office:

Good luck and best wishes!
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™


Evil HR Lady August 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Good comment, although I tend to think that blunt is sometimes better than being soft and the clueless can rationalize the soft away. They hear only the tone and forget the content.

And I agree with you on the word whining.


Marty Sims August 23, 2012 at 3:37 pm

This is great advice, both in the comments and in the article! I’ve had a similar problem with a co-worker for a little while now so I’m taking this to heart!!


Evil HR Lady August 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Let us know how it goes.


LTMG August 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Will a polite, professional, and mostly passive approach work to negate Shelly’s ambition? Maybe also try a polite, ethical, and professional counterattack. Perform one’s duties in a way possibly aiming for promotion. This can create more distance between the writer’s performance and Shelly’s performance making Shelly’s task just that more difficult.


Evil HR Lady August 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm

I like this suggestion a lot.


Lawrence August 23, 2012 at 7:49 pm

I kept wondering if it was just me until the co-workers noticed I was being gaslighted. Look it up. :) I read the Emotional Vampires book and got some good tips, I still use it when issues arise. Classic manipulation – mine told co-workers to give my clients to him because I was “too busy” or “having a bad day.” Seemed like he was being nice, but actually selling it higher as I wasn’t pulling my weight and he was having to cover. When I’d walk out and my client would be gone, yeah, I did have a bad day – which only reinforced what he was doing. Good luck!


Elizabeth West August 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I love that word–gaslighted. I finally saw that movie. This is so common at work, much more than people realize, I think.


Naomi August 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm

I also work in HR and have come across a couple of ‘Shellys’ in my time one place I worked was fine until we had a new person start and a clique formed. The new person was paranoid about people stealing her work.

The other place was a two faced cow who was out to steal my job, unfortunately she was the favourite of someone higher up so it worked.


Elizabeth West August 25, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Ugh! I had this happen once, where a coworker was promoted into an inside sales position, but then decided it wasn’t to her liking. Someone else had been hired into her counter position so she was unable to go back.

So she set out to make me so uncomfortable that I would quit and she could move back to doing her old job. I really wasn’t experienced enough then to handle it, and we had a slight altercation. My boss had noticed it by then and stepped in. The coworker eventually quit without notice (she had family problems, which no doubt were not helping her disposition).

I like the idea of seeking the boss’s advice rather than tattling. And I have to add, the experience did teach me that standing up for myself (in a respectful way) was okay.


Sam January 17, 2014 at 8:35 am

For twelve years I was the only one in my department, when expansion was necessary, a man was hired with no experience (just same degree as mine). He copies everything I do on the job and wants everything 50/50. In all other departments, the one with seniority sets the tone for the department and is given respect for their experience. This man ignores me, acts like he should be department head “because he’s the man”. HIs plan of attack is to copy me, then play the victim, that I’m trying to gaslight him, bad mouth him, etc.


POP March 1, 2014 at 6:40 pm

I wonder if this is something that happens in HR pretty often because of the perception that HR is an easy managerial role to step into with little training/education.

I’m in a similar situation except the person who wants my HR job has morphed their own job into a vague administrative position since I joined. Surprise, they often do HR stuff “as needed” without consulting me and have managed to get into a position where they critique my work while I have no say over what they’re doing. They have “non-HR” meetings with my boss more than I do which is also scary.

Disclaimer: I’m pretty fantastic at my job and have been promoted accordingly so this isn’t a case where my boss can’t trust my performance. In fact, I’ve wondered if my boss is anticipating my exit for a bigger role and trying to set a back up.

If any managers are reading this, that stuff is extremely stressful and drives your top talent to network and update their resumes sooner than they would have otherwise considered.


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