Like many people, I was extremely nervous to start my first job. When I got the job, I had also just started my freshman year at college. I was already feeling anxious about the workload I was about to carry. I worked as a student assistant at my university – my role was to answer phone calls. At first, I felt intimidated, but I found most of my coworkers to be friendly, welcoming, and supportive. Everyone except my boss.
Since the beginning of my employment, I got the sense that my boss didn’t like me – they were very cold and seemed like they were trying to avoid talking to me at all costs. I tried to push that idea to the back of my mind. I thought I was making this all up in my head because I knew that I had done nothing wrong.
It was my first job, so I had thought, “Maybe this is normal. Maybe the workplace is supposed to be this way.” So, I continued to come into work with a smile on my face, say my “good mornings,” and answer the phone calls.
One day, I said my usual “good morning,” to my boss. In response, I was asked to see them in their office. I didn’t know what the conversation that was about to happen could possibly be about. I had already felt intimidated given their cold nature.
My boss then told me that my “good mornings” were a distraction and asked me not to greet them when I came into work.
I didn’t see this conversation coming. I was completely thrown off guard and taken aback by this request. I remember thinking:
“Have I done something wrong? Am I a nuisance to this office? Does everyone else feel this way? Am I annoying everyone around me?”
How this situation at work affected my mental health
I agreed to never say “good morning,” again when I walked in the office. I was left feeling anxious, self-conscious, and very small. I even felt a sense of guilt because my boss had made it clear that I was annoying them.
That morning changed the trajectory of my work life.
Afterwards,I felt anxious every time my boss walked into the room or talked to me. I was no longer excited to come into work (which was also my university). I felt self-conscious about everything I said at work since I had gotten in trouble for a simple “good-morning,” and I felt that my boss looked down on me.
I kept my head down for a while and walked on eggshells as much as I could.I didn’t want to talk to HR or anyone else because I didn’t want to cause any drama. I considered the idea of speaking to a coworker, but I wasn’t sure if they felt the same way as my boss. I decided to keep quiet in order to avoid conflict.
Finding allies at work
It wasn’t long before one of my coworkers let me know that they had overheard the conversation. They had told me how ridiculous it was that I was asked not to greet my boss in the morning. Hearing the situation from another employee’s point of view made me realize just how absurd it was. One conversation with my coworker shattered the illusion that I was the office nuisance. They told me to not let our boss get under my skin and to brush it off.
Talking to a coworker really helped me get back on my feet. It felt like a weight was lifting off my shoulders and like I could finally take a fresh breath of air. I always knew that the way my boss treated me wasn’t a normal way to treat your employees, let alone people. Moving forward, I held my head high when I walked into work.
Even though my boss’s coldness and the whole situation still cast a shadow in the office, I tried my best to move past it because that’s all I could do – control what was within my control. I learned a valuable lesson in all of this: I couldn’t control how others treated me, I could only control how I responded or reacted.
I wish I had a resource to support me
Several years have passed and I still remember how I felt the moment I was called into my boss’s office. I’m glad that I can laugh about it now, but sometimes a situation like that never really leaves you. Even though I had family, friends, and coworkers to talk to at the time, I wish I had a service like Empower Work which unfortunately didn’t exist back then.
I joined the staff at Empower Work because I wanted to support people that have been in situations like mine – people whose mental health is being affected at work. Work is such a big part of our lives. It takes up most of our days and sometimes people see their coworkers more than their own families. No one should be made to feel inadequate, exhausted, or burned out at work. People deserve to thrive at work – to be supported, valued, and empowered.
I always wonder what my life would’ve been like if I could have reached out to Empower Work in that situation. I would’ve felt relieved just being able to vent to a peer counselor. I would’ve taken that fresh breath of air much sooner.
I know what it’s like to be in a situation at work that’s affecting your mental health. If this resonates with you, text “CWC” to 510-674-1414 to chat with a peer counselor. Take that fresh breath of air.
This blog post was originally published on Empower Work’s website by Mackenzie Waldron