Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Bad Behavior

I want to tell you about the worst coworker I’ve ever endured. I want to be fair here; well, as fair as I can be. I’m going to try real hard not to claim knowledge of what she was thinking. I may speculate, but I won’t claim to actually know. And to be even more fair, I’m also going to tell you about the good she unwittingly accomplished.

Let’s call her Josette. She had seniority over most of us and had no reason to feel insecure in her position, yet she apparently did. Anyone who came in with a skill set comparable to hers was automatically her enemy. She would actively work to undermine such people, slandering them to coworkers and even actively sabotaging their work. I know; I watched her do it. People who had worked there longer than I had told me that she had even gotten some of her imagined enemies fired by telling management lies about them. After seeing how she operated, I tended to believe those stories. And when she realized I was friends with some of her enemies, she began to treat me differently as well. At best, I was completely ignored. At worst, my efforts were similarly undermined. And this was not a passive activity on her part; undermining her enemies was an energetic undertaking for her.

Please forgive me for not being more specific in my descriptions of her activities. As vindictive as she proved to be, I’m going to be vague about when and where this all took place. Perhaps some of my former coworkers will happen across this post. If they do, they will surely recognize the situation I’m describing.

So why didn’t I report my findings to management? Why didn’t those even more directly harmed by Josette lodge formal complaints? Well you see, they did. And they got nowhere with it. Management would typically respond to such complaints by either ignoring the situation completely or making a token show of response before allowing things to go back to normal.

It became plain that management liked Josette. Or if they didn’t precisely like her, they liked having her there. She performed a couple of valuable functions for the bosses. First and foremost, they valued having someone of her age there who was never going to leave, as this was a difficult commodity to find. I know that doesn’t exactly make sense, but you’re going to have to trust me on that one.

The other invaluable role Josette played was the role of management’s little snitch. Any discussions or meetings involving employees were fair game for Josette to report back to management. We watched her do it, walking directly from an employee meeting into the boss’ office. It seemed that she either didn’t care if we knew, or perhaps she wanted us to know that she was helping management keep an eye on us. Not that we employees were up to anything illicit; it was apparently just a way of trying to make us fearful and compliant.

So what do I think was actually going on in Josette’s mind? All right, let’s speculate. I think she was a fearful, insecure person who felt she was guarding one of the most precious things in her life. I think she viewed her little evil acts as a small matter in light of what she was receiving in return. I think she convinced herself that we were small, silly folks receiving nothing less than justice at her hands. But at the top of her mind, I think she regarded herself as a kindly woman who was fair and loving to those who mattered. But I think she put all of us who were her coworkers into a little alternative universe box; she was not obliged to grant us the courtesies granted to the “real” people in her life.

I mentioned at the outset that she had unwittingly accomplished some good through all of this. It came in the form of how the rest of us related to one another socially. It is common in human society for people to rally around a common enemy, and I think that’s what happened here. Almost any time a group of us would get together far away from the job and Josette, the conversation would turn to sharing stories of her evil acts and stunning pettiness. People from very different backgrounds, who might otherwise have had trouble finding a common frame of reference, could all relate to stories of Josette’s deeds. You could call it a bunker mentality if you like, but it definitely contributed to our camaraderie. It has been some years since I left that job, yet it is still common to share these stories when meeting former coworkers. Some of them still break out into impressive strings of obscenities when referring to her, but it somehow feels therapeutic.

Some might bemoan the fact that we continue to dwell upon such a negative energy as Josette and our powerfully negative feelings about her, but I can’t look at it that way. The fact is, we’ve shared many a laugh over all of it. With the passing of years, it is only occasionally that we get genuinely pissed off about it. The stories of her evil have largely been transmuted into something like a collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that we tell to scare others while giving ourselves a little shiver and a laugh. As for Josette, I’ve heard that she’s moved to another state far away, where she now walks among an unsuspecting populace like a newly freed Hannibal Lecter.

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