I found out my coworkers have been mocking me in a group chat for years

A reader writes:

Snooping is terrible. I know. But when a coworker quit and my boss asked me to search her email for something—and I instantly saw a Gchat conversation on the side that “[my name] is the worsssst”—I just couldn’t help myself. I opened the chat and saw four coworkers, all of whom I thought I had good relationships with, spending YEARS making fun of me relentlessly. Screenshotting my social media posts to laugh at them, rolling their eyes at every email I sent, calling me a “try hard” and a “kiss ass” for caring too much about work, making fun of my partner. Just truly mean stuff. I’m embarrassed and so, so hurt.

I know that I can never confront them, because what I did to find the conversation was ridiculously unprofessional. I just wonder how I can move on and continue to work with these people. I’m so self-conscious about my every move at this point. How do I get over it?

I’m sorry, that’s so awful.

For what it’s worth, anyone who would spend years (!) mocking and trash-talking a colleague like this is a truly horrible person. It’s one thing to occasionally vent discreetly about someone at work who gets under your skin. But this kind of sustained shittiness toward another human — where they seem to be taking pleasure in making fun of you — is the sign of seriously horrible, maladjusted people. And the opinions of people like that are worth very little.

Personally, if I were your boss, I’d want to know about such serious toxicity on my team so I could deal with it swiftly and decisively. I know you’d probably feel awkward bringing it to her attention, but truly, a good manager would want you to. If you’re open to doing that, you could say, “When you asked me to go into Jane’s email, I was taken aback to find what looks like a lengthy, ongoing Gchat where she and others on our team have been mocking me daily in an incredibly mean-spirited way — for what looks like years. I’m shocked by it and doing my best to ignore it, but honestly don’t know how to move forward from here.”

You don’t have to do that, of course, but know it’s a very reasonable option if you’d like to (assuming you have a reasonably capable boss, which you may not).

It’s also an option to tell your coworkers what you saw. There’s no reason you can’t! Here are two different ways you could say it:

* “Lucinda asked me to log into Jane’s computer for a file, and I saw a years-long Ghat from you savaging me on a daily basis. I was taken aback by how unkind it was.” Then stop and wait for them to figure out how to respond. It will be awkward, and that’s fine — they deserve the awkwardness. It’s okay to make them feel it.

* “Lucinda asked me to log into Jane’s computer for a file, and I saw what looked like a years-long Ghat from you savaging me on a daily basis. Is there something I’ve done that has offended you? I can’t imagine you’d say those things about me otherwise.” You don’t need to genuinely care about their answer here, since there’s nothing that would justify their nastiness. You’re asking the question to make a point (and because they deserve to have to squirm).

You said you feel like you can’t do this because of how you found the messages — but how you found the messages was fine. Your boss asked you to look on Jane’s computer, and it sounds like the chat trashing you was right there. It’s perfectly understandable that you then looked at it more closely. And frankly,, your colleagues would look ridiculous if they tried to shift the focus to that rather than the far, far worse thing they’ve been doing.

What other advice do people have?

{ 604 comments… read them below }

  1. Anya the Demon*

    I agree with Alison that you have very legitimate ways to bring this up. Your boss asked you to log on to the account to look for something, and the Gchat was sitting right there. It’s not like you had to hack into her computer or do a search for your name in their emails. I am fairly certain that almost anyone would have opened a Gchat with their name as the subject. You don’t have to pretend you didn’t see it. In fact, I don’t see how you realistically can act as if nothing has changed. I’m so sorry. These people are not nice people and not good colleagues.

    1. Cartographical*

      Gchat is stored alongside email, yes, I was just thinking this. It’s not like opening a separate program.

    2. Quill*

      Yeah, in this case, going through the coworker’s computer was a work duty! Not really snooping there, especially if Gchat was being used for legit business communication as well.

      OP, do mention it to your boss as calmly and “I wanted you to know” as you can.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        I would absolutely escalate this if your boss is remotely competent. If nothing else your coworkers clearly need a reminder that anything they do on the company’s equipment/property/network is not private and IS the company’s business. And that there are consequences for crappy behavior.

        If they’re going to act like catty 10-year-olds, they can be punished like one too. I think that’s fair game.

        1. Tom (no, not that one)*

          They are using company property (hardware, network, time (!) and maybe more) to be vicious to one of the company employees.

          Do not feel hesitant to approach the boss, or HR as these people are creating a toxic environment for you.

          How to deal with them now is beyond me though. I would not be able to continue working with them :|

        2. Big Tech Done Right*

          I work as an HR Investigator in Employee Relations at a large tech company and we would absolutely discipline employees if we found that they were speaking this way about a co-worker using company resources. It’s absolutely unacceptable.

    3. Observer*

      This is pretty much what I was coming to say.

      What you did was NOT “unprofessional” in the least bit.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        The fact that she thinks it is, in addition to what the chat was about, makes me wonder how toxic this place is.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          Also, I’d say it’s a sign of being conscientious – which appears to be what this mobbing was over. ‘Try hard’ is what assholes call someone who’s doing a better job than them, and who are afraid of being shown up.

          OP, you did nothing wrong in looking at this, and nothing to deserve the mobbing. If your management is any good, they should see this not just as workplace bullying, but as a culture of feeling entitled to be lazy and wanting to enforce low standards.

    4. Jadelyn*

      Not just had their name in the subject, had “[name] is the worst” – there’s no way it would be unexpected for you to look at something like that.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Also, I don’t know if this is how GChat still works for people, but it pops up in my inbox for me. Like, I don’t have to initiate opening anything. If someone were searching my email account, it would be normal for a window like that to pop up and be visible.

  2. Murphy*

    OMG, how awful.

    How you found it wasn’t unprofessional. You were in there for a reason and the conversation was immediately visible. You did nothing wrong.

    1. Czhorat*


      And the issue isn’t how you found it; it’s that it was there in the first place. This really is something that can/should be shared with the boss.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      +1. Your boss instructed/asked you to log into your former coworker’s computer, and when you saw your name and that subject line, of course you looked at it. I agree with Alison on her suggested approaches.

      You did nothing wrong, OP.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Agreed. What the former coworker left behind in their email was company property and you saw it when you were legitimately tasked with reviewing the emails. Most people would look at a file with their name on it. I’m so sorry they did that.

      2. Artemesia*

        And unless the boss is really incompetent this is something they would want to deal with. This kind of use of the work communication is a potential firing offense. It should absolutely be brought to the boss’s attention. The worst mess we ever had with an intern in a high level placement involved gross misuse of the company email like this. It nearly cost us our program in an entire major international city. Only our immediate removing the student and a very socially competent local adjunct managing internships in that city saved the program.

        1. Researchalator Lady*

          HAHAHA! “Unless the boss is really incompetent” indeed… Have I got a story for y’all! I stumbled legitimately, in much the same manner, upon a GChat from a woman who reports to the same boss as me but has a completely separate and junior role as a course administrator, to one of my direct reports, “trash-talking” me to him. I told my boss what I had seen and that I wanted to follow our respectful workplace policy to address it (which gives a detailed script for addressing disrespectful behaviours) with him as a mediator, since he supervised us both.

          He stated that he thought GChats were “protected communication”, and that he would have to ask the woman first if she wanted to have a discussion about respect with me. When I said I would prefer he clarify the IT and respext policies before he acted, he refused and went down the hall, talked to the woman, and returned with the reply that — surprise!! — she didn’t want to speak to me and claimed to not know what I was talking about, so now Boss had to recuse himself altogether from the situation because he had two different stories from two different people, and what was he to believe? Ludicrous!

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            The truth will out. How in the name of all that’s holy can people not be aware of the risk they’re taking, and that their totally heinous behavior with company equipment won’t come to light? It really astounds me.

      3. Chinook*

        I have been the victim of a fellow employee who complained about an email she found on my computer about her snooping, so I can confidently say that what the OP is quantifiably different because 1) the boss tokd you to look for business emails and 2) they were not filed away in a folder marked “personal ” but in the open where anyone standing behind the now gone employee could see them.

        On top of that, no one had talked to you about their issues nor weee they looking for a solution – they were just gossiping maliciouly.

    3. RUKiddingMe*

      This! OP was asked/directed to log into the computer and the chat *with her name* was tight there, front and center. How many of us would *not* read it?

    4. Anonomoose*

      I’ve done searches like this as tech support, and incidental discovery like this is totally something we’d take to the manager who asked for the search (and, the amount of this kind of stuff that shows up is staggering).

      There’s no expectation of privacy in the vast majority of corporate email systems. OP, please take this to your manager. I think there’s a piece of responsibility to inform management here, as people engaging in this kind of bullying have a pretty high chance of doing it to others.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        That’s a really good point. The others are still there and I think it unlikely they reserve their middle-school behaviour for just one coworker.

        And let’s say it louder in case anyone isn’t paying attention at the back: your work stuff belongs to your employer, not you. You cannot expect privacy regarding the content of communications in a work system (confidentiality perhaps, but not privacy).

      2. Observer*

        There’s no expectation of privacy in the vast majority of corporate email systems.

        This is a REALLY important point. It’s not like your boss told you to do something that was boundary violating and then you extended it. Your boss told you to do something completely legitimate and that anyone should EXPECT to happen, and then you saw something that it was legitimate for you to follow up on.

      3. JustaTech*

        “There’s no expectation of privacy in the vast majority of corporate email systems. ” Again, louder for people in the back!

        So, so, so many times I have I told (former) coworkers that the chat is saved just like e-mail (heck, it tells you that) and that IT, your boss, and the Powers That Be can access it. Heck, we’ve laughed at the weird email newsletters folks signed up for that their bosses found when they left and their email was transferred to the boss. (Mostly about motorcycles, oddly.)

        1. Anonomoose*

          The reason it is ” in the vast majority of” rather than “in any” is because I think there was a case in Germany about it (Germany having some of the strictest laws on this), but can’t remember if it was ruled that the employee had the right to some privacy on work email..perhaps anyone from Germany can help me out here.

          1. Chinook*

            I think the arguement for privacy in work emails can be made for confidential information like payroll info and disciplinary issues, but then it should be confidential in a “need to know manner”.

            1. Anonomoose*

              I mean, those are two fantastic examples of things that belong on a dedicated HR system, not general email

        2. Anonomoose*

          It’s also worse than just being saved. In most cases, there’s some requirements from company lawyers about retaining email for x numbers of years, and it’s highly likely to end up in discovery if there’s a court case. At which point, on the companies side, a trained legal professional, possibly with the assistance of an IT type like myself, will be looking through the entire mass of email for anything that could be unpleasant to discover in court.

          That means keyword searches for the name of the person filing the court case, through the whole organization’s email. It also, if it’s a harrasment or similar case, might involve other search terms that might indicate that the issue is prevalent in the culture of the organization.

          The tl:dr is, not only is your email searchable, there’s good reasons for the company to occasionally do deep dives through everyone’s stuff.

          1. smart advice*

            Our boss often warns us, don’t write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want plastered on the front page of the paper if our records were subpoenaed.

            1. Pampaloon*

              True that, from somebody who had some mildly embarrassing emails pushed in my face at a deposition.

          2. Anne Elliot*

            I am one of those “trained legal professionals” and can fully endorse this. This sort of search happens routinely in litigation discovery and as I repeatedly tell employees in training: We may be looking through your email on any given day, and you may never even know it. And NOTHING in email is thrown away, it is all stored; just because you deleted it doesn’t mean it’s gone.

            I would absolutely escalate this back to the offending employees’ supervisors and ask them to report back to what steps are being taken to address it. And for myself personally, I would report this to my supervisor if for no other reason than that I would find it impossible to continue to interact with those A-holes with the same degree of cheerful friendliness, and the supervisor would be entitled to know why my formerly cordial attitude had changed so suddenly and dramatically.

            1. Hats Are Great*

              I am constantly shocked, when doing e-discovery, how many executives who have been through lawsuits before and know their email is discoverable, STILL CARRY OUT EXTRAMARITAL AFFAIRS ON THEIR WORK EMAIL ACCOUNTS. Including dirty emails. Including details of how they’re dodging the wife and where they’re hiding money. (It’s always heterosexual men.) Learn to use a burner phone, guys!

              1. The Bean*

                Also a litigator and you’re correct. The hubris of older male executives re email is astounding.

              2. Anne Elliot*

                When I did document review as a young attorney, I found myself in a nest of emails between a very senior VP (male) and a younger coworker (female) who were clearly in a sexual dom/sub relationship. I still remember the first email from her to him that started “Dear Master . . .” and thinking “Oh sh!t, here we go.” The first couple of these sorts of exchanges you have to review are kind of giggly fun, but after that they get old and icky. Because in addition to doing work that frankly is not that exciting, you are made the unwilling voyeur to someone else’s personal life. I don’t want to hear ANY adult tell another adult that she’s been a naughty girl and needs a spanking in the conference room. Ugh. Ugh!!

          3. Just wondering*

            Yes this. Also In cases of things that happen in your private life such as divorce. Esp if lawyers are trying to prove infidelity.

      4. TootsNYC*

        I think there’s also a chance that people who form a “gang” like this might cover up one another’s bad behavior in other ways.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        So much this.

        And oh my goodness these folks are behaving like absolute garbage people. I am so, so sorry OP. This is awful, and my heart goes out to you.

      6. Not a cat*

        Yep. I was managing a dept and our IT team ran queries on the chat program. I was the lucky recipient of an entire spreadsheet of mean and shitty comments about me from my SCRUM master. When I wrote her up…..she sobbed (eye-roll).

    5. Clorinda*

      They, or at least one of them, did this on a work computer, with no expectation of privacy. Tell the boss.
      (Now, jumping in to join the chat MIGHT be construed as less than fully professional–but linking/forwarding it to Boss or at least letting Boss know about it is totally reasonable.)

    6. Kiwi with laser beams*

      Yes. Alison, thank you SO MUCH for telling LW that this wasn’t snooping and LW is not in any way to blame for not ignoring an immediately visible IM that literally said “(LW’s name) is the worsssst”.

  3. Mike C.*

    HR comes to mind. Lots of competent HR folks take workplace bullying seriously, especially when you have receipts.

    1. Cartographical*

      Yep, this. IMO, doing it on a work computer obviates any expectation of privacy. Further, they’re not only participating in thinly-veiled workplace harassment and possibly even contributing to an actual-definition hostile workplace if the mockery touches on protected categories, they’re doing it on company property which I believe would automatically be subject to disclosure in a legal case. HR is not likely to be pleased about the liability in that event.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      I got my first professional job after college because three employees were fired for doing exactly this. Three employees on a team of five, at the height of the busy season.

      OP, tell your boss. If you don’t trust your boss, tell someone you do trust who can act on this. Any decent organization will want to address this. Best of luck and big internet hugs.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I had a coworker get fired for this too. Except she and the other person were mocking their boss via work email.

        1. JustaTech*

          Mocking their boss on work email? That’s right up there with “that alligator doesn’t look very fast” dumb.

          1. Zelda*

            Round these parts we call that “weapons-grade stupidity.” Bystanders should get behind a blast shield when the consequences start coming down.

        2. Constance Lloyd*

          Come to think of it, that may have been why these three were actually fired rather than reprimanded. They were being viciously cruel about coworkers *and* the manager over work IM.

        3. Lying Over the Ocean*

          This happened where I work, too. A high-level exec got walked out after mocking her boss via work email (along with some other more public things she’d said about/to the boss, which is why they looked at her email in the first place, I guess).

          It’s come up in other ways, too — I had to have a firm talk with my direct report about not using work chat to denigrate her colleagues because (a) unprofessional and (b) all tracked by IT.

          1. 'Tis Me*

            I had to think very carefully about how to word an email to my line manager to make it clear that I was “aaaargh” forwarding an email from a colleague in another department because I was surprised at the complete lack of RCA being done on an issue, and wondering if there was any way to flag to the powers that be that rolling out LSS methodology to their office might be beneficial while acknowledging that as our department started using it back in 2013 and the cultural shift has been pretty well embedded now, my understanding of a sensible response to a problem being identified *would* be different from that of somebody who hasn’t come across those tools and methodologies at all.

            Not bitching, not in any way personal, and trying to look for ways to improve the situation on a wider level.

      2. LilyP*

        And because you sound like a very kind person OP — do not for one second hesitate about bringing this up because you don’t want to “”get them fired””. They’re grown adults who had choices about how to behave and them getting fired or disciplined would be because of *their choices*, not because of you.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          Yes, THIS. Don’t try to “be the bigger person” or “don’t ruin their lives” or any of that rot. Report, escalate, go scorched earth on these vermin. They deserve anything and everything that is coming to them. Report, report, report, escalate, escalate, escalate.

          1. Socrates Johnson*

            Especially because this is so egregious. It wasn’t like one snide comment or something. This was over periods of time, it was particularly bad, and they were all doing this at their job when they should have been working.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              If it was ONE snide comment or just one instance of something like “Jeez, I wish Jane wouldn’t snap her gum, it gets on my last nerve” or “Lucinda is late with the reports, as usual” then I wouldn’t be so harsh on them. But this was years of junior high style bullying. There is no excuse for that.

      3. Anonapots*

        Two of my best friend’s coworkers were fired last January for exactly this reason. They were talking on Slack and someone saw it and it all came out.

    3. Observer*

      Yes, if your HR is competent, they WILL want to know and they WILL act on it.

      If you don’t trust your boss or HR to handle this, then you should seriously think about developing an exit strategy, because this is toxic.

    4. Mimblewimble*

      Yep – go to HR. They’re creating a hostile work environment and it needs to stop. Totally wouldn’t hurt to look at moving to another team/job either. I’m so sorry this happened. You have every right to be royally PO.

      1. Other Becky*

        They’re creating a work environment that feels full of hostility, but that’s not the same thing as a “hostile work environment” unless it’s based on the OP being a member of a protected class.

        Legal terminology is so weird; it takes words we know, like “hostile work environment” or “actual malice,” and gives them definitions that aren’t what a non-lawyer/expert would expect.

        (“Actual malice” is a standard regarding defamatory speech about a public figure; it doesn’t constitute libel or slander unless done with “actual malice,” defined in this case as saying something you know is false or having reckless disregard for whether what you’re saying is true or false. It has nothing to do with whether your intent is malicious.)

    5. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      I second Mike C on going straight to HR (or your manager) with this. They will absolutely want to know. Not _only_ because of the bullying, (likely) misuse of company property and breach of IT policies, but also that this is happening on *company time when they are paid to work*. Even the most heartless of bosses and hopeless of companies will recognise that this is bad for business on some level. I bet at a minimum the timestamps on those conversations could demonstrate a WHOLE lot of unproductive time. Times four!

      I had a similar situation once. I felt anxious about bringing it to my boss, but I knew I had to. I choked when explaining it so I said something like “I came across some [stuff]. It seems pretty problematic to me, maybe it isn’t, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel comfortable repeating it out loud, maybe you should have a look yourself and see what you think.” He logged in and went through it right there and then in front of me and I swear I saw the blood rising up his face in fury. The gossip gang were out of there soon after.

      I know from experience how much this hurts and I’m so sorry you’re going through this, OP. FWIW, know that they wouldn’t be secretly ganging up on you like this if they didn’t earnestly feel you were “above” them somehow and they needed to bring you down. Seriously, four of them? For years? Their criticism of you alludes to you kicking butt at work and being respected by the higher-ups. And that’s bad..?! Sounds like they’re deflecting from their own inadequacies by inventing some for you. Take their words to your HR/manager, not your heart. It’s an awkward but necessary step in your professional growth, learning to handle this BS. Don’t just quietly “get over it”, handle it. You got this, OP. Keep kicking butt.

  4. Jean*

    OP I am so sorry this happened to you. What a bunch of assholes. Please understand that you did not do anything wrong in discovering this – you were asked to look at the computer and the convo was right there WITH YOUR NAME ON IT. Definitely let your manager know and please update if you can! Hugs!

    1. Radio Girl*

      That was my reaction, too. Those coworkers are not just mean-spirited, they are mentally ill. Yes, please follow Alison’s advice, OP, and tell your boss or HR.

      And know you have friends and supporters her at AAM. Please keep in touch.

      1. Anonomoose*

        Umm, let’s perhaps stay off the mentally ill comments. I’m pretty sure it’s unhelpful, and there’s not a link between “awful human” and “mentally ill”

        1. It’s not mental illness*

          Especially since BEING bullied often causes people to develop mental illnesses (hi!)

          I’ve noticed that it’s common for people to say “they must be mentally ill” about people who are bullies, violent, etc. because they’re struggling to imagine how anyone could be so cruel. The trouble with that thinking is that you end up throwing mentally ill people under the bus, when in reality there are several comment sections on this site alone that are full of comments from mentally ill people who thoroughly condemn using mental illness to justify treating someone like crap. I’m sure you didn’t meant to imply this, Radio Girl, but mentally ill people aren’t responsible for all of the horrible behaviour in the world.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Thank you. I have mental illnesses, partly triggered by bullying like this when I was younger, and being mentally ill doesn’t force me to be an asshole to my coworkers.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            “Thank you.”

            Thanks from me, too!

            “I have mental illnesses, partly triggered by bullying like this when I was younger”

            Same here.

            “…and being mentally ill doesn’t force me to be an asshole to my coworkers.”

            This, sfm.

        3. Ermintrude*

          I prefer ‘f***wit’ and ‘f***ed in the head’. These are more apt if also more crude descriptions whether actual disorde rs are involved or not.
          Also, arse-hats.

      2. Mr. Tyzik*

        Assholes and awful people aren’t the only people who deal with mental illness.

        For instance, I can call you an asshole for making the link, but I wouldn’t suggest you are mentally ill for doing so. Part of not attributing mental illness to meanness or weakness.

        1. Radio Girl*

          Sorry, folks, but mentally healthy people don’t gang upon co-workers.

          They don’t have the need to make themselves feel better that way.

          Maybe they aren’t ill, but they are mentally damaged.

          1. Anonomoose*

            Hey, Radio Girl, the reason everyone is jumping on you for this is because, declaring every time someone does something terrible that ” they must be mentally ill” unfairly stigmatizes a group of people who are already unfairly seen as dangerous or troubling in society. It’s sort of not ok to speculate on other people’s mental health.

            I’ve always found it helpful when checking stuff for reasonableness, substituting in another group, and seeing if the statement still seems acceptable.

            I’ll leave out the ageism, apart from saying in my experience, all ages seem to be equally capable of writing horrible emails…

          2. Mr. Tyzik*

            I’m trying really hard to be nice, but you have no idea just how offensive you are being, especially with doubling down on your perception of mental illness. As someone who battles with with my own share, and I pissed and offended, and I think you need to evaluate your feelings on the mentally ill and your hurtful assumptions on the matter.

          3. bookartist*

            Yes, they do. To say otherwise tells me you have no real world experience of or living with people do have mental illness. What a peculiar hill to choose to die on.

          4. Quake Johnson*

            People can be mentally healthy and also rude simultaneously.

            …kind of like you right now.

          5. Tisiphone*

            People with mental illnesses tend to be on the receiving end of bullying and straight-up abuse more often than dishing it out.

          6. Julia*

            We live in an unfair society, where bullying others to keep them down is often overlooked or even encouraged. You don’t have to be mentally ill to use this system to your advantage, and as the others have said, as someone who was bullied as a child and has developed depression and anxiety probably due to it, I’d thank you to not make this a double whammy by implying that mentally ill people are awful.

            1. Sparkle McGrumpypants*

              The thing is, happy people don’t feel the need to spread unhappiness. Not in such a long-term, organized way anyway.

              1. Ice and Indigo*

                Why bother to pity these people? There’s no evidence they’re anything other than assholes reinforcing each other in a nasty habit. They weren’t aware they were ‘spreading’ unhappiness; they were just enjoying a good trashing. Social norms can make you surprisingly unaware how bad you’re being. And as far as OP goes, their inner lives are SO not her problem!

          7. Depressed and Alive*

            Well, your comments are bullying to those of us who have mental health issues. By your own definition, what does that make you?

    1. Elenna*

      Pretty sure there was an update recently from a letter-writer with a similar story, except that their tenure there was shorter and they found out from seeing it on coworkers’ screens.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Slightly different scenario though; that one had the boss involved while this one has an innocent boss. But yeah … there’s probably more of this going on than anyone wants to think about.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yes, I remember the other letter and I think you are correct about this. It’s hardly the only case. People can be really terrible.

          2. bootoawfulcoworkers*

            God, this has reminded me about the time years ago when I saw an IM convo between my then boss and her boyfriend (another co-worker, we were a small company) laughing about how tight I was (as in stingy with money). I was so hurt and upset, not least because my boss knew the salary I was on (low! certainly in comparison with hers and her BF’s), because I had financial commitments they didn’t know about, and because I couldn’t even work out what they were talking about. Plus, you know, it was my boss. BUT, I found it through idle snooping, and the lesson I took from that was never to do that again (I definitely would have rather not known). The OP in this case wasn’t doing anything at all to be ashamed of – and her co-workers absolutely should be!

    2. Christy*

      That’s what my first reaction was too!! This feels very familiar. Maybe another internet advice column got to it first?

      1. Christy*

        It was in Dear Prudence in November. Which makes me glad Alison got a crack at it. Link in reply.

        1. Heidi*

          To be fair, Prudie did say to find a supportive environment to process her feelings outside of work. And to seriously consider looking for a new job rather than continuing to see her mean coworkers every day. Depending on the workplace, it might actually be easier to leave than to rehabilitate a toxic environment. The past season of updates, a lot of the LWs ended up leaving their horrible workplaces and were a lot happier for it.

          1. Another Alison*

            Plus, we don’t know if her manager is responsive and supportive or incompetent. If she’s the latter, that tips the scales toward leaving altogether imo.

        2. Cookie Captain*

          Oof, yes, that is terrible advice. Basically making excuses for the coworkers? They aren’t just “jealous and lashing out,” they are terrible people.

          I agree that there’s no obligation to pretend it didn’t happen. I think either choice is valid. But “change nothing about how you interact at work” is just absolute, ridiculous nonsense. Even if the LW chooses not to mention seeing the chat, she can absolutely start keeping her interactions with them minimal and 100% limited to work.

          She should never mention her personal life again, or pretend to be interested in theirs. She never has to cover for them, or volunteer to help out in any way.

          You don’t have to pretend people don’t suck, even if you don’t want to address the reason you know they suck.

          1. Important Moi*

            Thank you Alison. You don’t need my approval on how to run your blog, but I’m glad you did that.

          2. NeonFireworks*

            I apologize. Thanks for your efforts to keep things on topic, and sorry to have necessitated them.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      There was a similar one that had a (rather unhappy) update recently. In that one, though, the manager was also involved in the meanness!

      1. Yvette*

        Yes!!! When I saw the title and started reading I thought it was going to be one of the “revisited letters answered elsewhere” letters. But the one you refer to is the one I was thinking of.

    4. Brandy*

      Ive had the same thing happen to me, except I was new to working and told the boss who let it slide and I didnt push it as I should have and would have now. Ive commented about it before but never wrote in.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        This is mind-boggling to me that people do this. If you have enough time to sit online and talk shit about your coworkers all day, you a) need a life, and b) need more work to do. The fact that this issue is so widespread too makes me think a lot of people around the globe need better jobs and more fulfilling home lives.

      2. Artemesia*

        So many bosses are unable to confront gross violations like this. If it was ONE comment maybe letting it slide wasn’t so gross, although the person should have been cautioned. But if there is a lot of it, it needs to lead to major consequences like a PIP or being fired on the spot. Letting it slide is horrifying.

  5. Foreign Octopus*

    I’m all in favour of calling them out on this. There’s no reason for you to have this knowledge that they’re doing this to you – I hate to say it but it will continue like this if something’s not done – and they get away without any consequences. Go to your boss. If your boss doesn’t do anything, go to a member of the group. I’d also query whether this is a job that you want to stay in after discovering this. I understand if finding a new job isn’t possible at the moment but I truly believe that you need to protect yourself from the toxicity of this in whatever form that takes for you.

    The petty part of me wants you to print out the email exchange and pin it up somewhere but not say anything about it just to watch their reactions.

    1. DataGirl*

      I mean, my first instinct is to print it and hang it in the kitchen for all to see, but I know that’s not a good response. Maybe forward the email to HR/your boss?

      1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        Hang it in the kitchen?? Maaan, I’d be making A2 poster prints, tablemats, wallpaper… I joke, but absolutely call them out, OP. And tell HR. This is heinous behaviour.

      2. Havarti*

        I was gonna say print copies out and put them on each offender’s desk. Maybe scrawl “I know where you live” ominously on their computer monitors with blood. j/k don’t do that.

        OP, I’m so sorry. Those people are terrible and dumb. But their stupidity has given you valuable info. I had someone do this to me years ago. I went to my boss and the person got a talking to and was made to apologize which I accepted because what else can you do. Luckily I moved into another position shortly after and while I rarely see this person now and am polite when I do, I’ve never forgotten what they did.

      3. AKchic*

        Giving it to the boss or HR is the best option if you’re going to print out evidence. Make sure to print yourself a copy, take screenshots, and if possible, send a copy of the whole thing to your private email.

        Dump it on boss/HR with a “if they are talking like this about me so frequently and openly, should I continue to look to see who else they might be discussing?” with the slight implication that it could be supervisors, others within protected classes, and clients.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          slight change to script, ‘should *someone* continue to look’ with a statement that it could be clients / protected classes. OP should try to step away.

      4. TootsNYC*

        I wondered about printing out the colleague’s in box, and printing out the first few pages of the chat; make copies.
        Staple each set together, and write on the top of all but 2 of them, “Our boss asked me to look for the vendor file in Susie’s old in box. I’m going to drop this off with him and with HR.”

        And then drop them off on people’s desks–and the unmarked ones, to boss and HR.

        1. Jadelyn*

          No – don’t give them the warning. Just deliver it straight to the boss/HR. Giving them warning gives them time to get their stories together and (attempt to) hide evidence.

    2. Daniel*

      Agreed, call them out–but in a civilized way. Make yourself look as good as possible. (Alison’s script is great.)

    3. Hills to Die on*

      I would also remove them from social media – assuming you haven’t already done that.
      If it were me, I might print out a copy and put it down in front of the offender’s without a word and stand there while I let them come up with something to say. Whatever they say, reply back with, ‘Have I done something to offend you?’ I learned that sentence here at AAM and have used it before with rude, aggressive people (I work in a pretty tough industry with lots of fighting) and it is very disarming.

      One of the most helpful things I have learned from decades in recovery is this: ‘Other people’s opinions are none of my business.” That is far, far easier said than done, but it is true. Just like Alison said, it’s got everything to do with them being bad people and not very much to do with you. You are just the circumstance. I’m sorry this is happening and I hope you find a better place, professionally and emotionally. Whatever that looks like. Please come back and give us an update.

    4. designbot*

      yeah the petty part of me wants OP to pick up some choice phrases they’ve used and parrot them back at them in unexpected moments, like “I don’t know if this is just me being a *completely unmitigated kiss-ass,* but I think a team happy hour is a great idea!”
      I’d have a hard time actually having the guts to do it, but man would I want to.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Oh, I’ve done something like this before, but it was with an old boss many years ago. I worked at this hellish law firm and had a manager I couldn’t stand who was constantly trying to pawn off the most annoying ass clients to me while her pets got the less needy. I got tired of this, so put in for a couple of internal transfers with HR. Boss got wind of my transfer requests and finally acquiesced to my desire to leave after I made it clear to her and HR that if I wasn’t transferred, I’d be quitting the firm altogether (and I was one of their top producers, so HR was not about to let that happen and they overrode by manager to approve my transfer).

        One day, HR summoned me to their office to notify me of the new team I would be working on, but they told me I had to wait for the HR rep who oversaw my transfer to get finished with a meeting she was in. Turns out the meeting she was in was with my new boss. Another HR rep went into her office for something quick and forgot to shut the door back all the way, and she also forgot to notify the rep that I was waiting for her, and I overheard a conversation she was having with my new boss pertaining to me and old boss’s relationship. New Boss had never met me before and basically asked what my deal was, and the HR rep said something like, “She’s a great worker, but I think Old Boss thought she was high maintenance because she didn’t want to keep dealing with Major Annoying Client. But I understand it – she’s burned out dealing with those people.” The new role was less customer-facing than the old one, so New Manager didn’t seem to mind this explanation.

        Later that week, Old Boss – who was notorious for always trying to pawn off her work on lower-level staff that she was explicitly told to do herself by upper-management – came to me and asked if I had time to help her with a project. I told her, “I would, but unfortunately, I’m too high maintenance to do that right now.” She blanched and then quickly scurried away from my desk. Two weeks later I was in my new role and new department, lol.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Lol, thanks. I was feeling particularly bitchy that day because she came over to me and acted like I should have been kissing her feet that I was allowed my transfer – I think the hell not.

        1. AKchic*

          Do you think that maybe that door was left open intentionally on accident so you *could* hear it?
          I mean, it’s passive aggressive, but it still notifies you of what your Old Boss was telling (at the very least) HR about the situation in order to cover her own backside / reputation.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Looking back on the situation and knowing what I do now about how toxic and dysfunctional that place was, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was exactly what happened. My manager was not liked in the HR department thanks to her horrendous employee retention rate, and she had a bad habit of walking around that firm like she owned it – which would have irked the HR team because they liked to walk around that firm like they owned it (and they really did have an enormous amount of power that I’ve never seen wielded anywhere else).

            What made this whole thing funnier was three months or so into my new gig, New Boss said to me, “I don’t know what Old Boss was talking about – you’re amazing!” I was also the only one in my department besides my team lead and supervisor to get a raise that year (they claimed we had no money in the budget for raises, but were renovating the building). Old Boss was fired two years later for pawning her work off on others and lying about workload/performance metrics so her team didn’t have to come in on weekends and do OT.

            1. 'Tis Me*

              What did you reply to that? I’d probably have been tempted to go with a calm, cheerful “Yep, she was the problem” but perhaps “She tried to block my transfer at first; perhaps she was trying to dissuade you from taking me on” would be more tactful and if she followed up by asking why you wanted to transfer, “I think she got on with some of my old team members better on a personal level and I felt that it influenced our work assignments. So I had [number] of accounts, including [name drop some of the big difficult ones other people would have heard of], and all taking that sort of level of attention to detail, and other people almost entirely had ones like [name drop a well-known cushy one]. While I was fine with the work itself, after a while the situation started to feel somewhat disheartening; with some soul-searching I concluded my old position just wasn’t a great fit for me” would be more tactful?

        2. They Don’t Make Sunday*

          I especially love the “right now” you tacked on, as though it were a passing vapor that felled you.

      2. Avasarala*

        I agree with this. I feel awful for OP but if you could weaponize the sadness into shaming them, that would be very satisfying.

      3. Try Hard!*

        I was thinking about that too. Like OP changing her sig file to something like “[Name] [Title] The Worsssssssssst. My motto: Try Hard!” (but only on emails to the team).

        …But assuming that OP is not at the stage in her career that I am (the “Whatever, just pay me on Friday” stage), I would recommend first taking it to the manager who requested the email search, and then to HR if the manager failed to act, and even then only doing this if HR failed to act too. And in that case, also looking for another job, because if neither her manager nor HR acts on this, she works in a horrible place.

    5. GreyjoyGardens*

      I agree. Call them out. Escalate. Don’t worry about “ruining” their careers or reputations, because they did that their own damn selves. Go scorched earth on these human cockroaches.

    6. Airy*

      Regina George it (with the twist that you would actually be an innocent victim rather than only pretending to be).

  6. Coffee Cup*

    Awful coworker is awful anyway, but who does something like that and then DOESN’T delete the chat while leaving the company and their emails behind? I agree with everyone that the way the OP has found the messages is completely fair game. My first instinct would be to go to my boss if I knew them to be reasonable and competent.

    1. rayray*

      Right?? I deleted most of the personal conversation emails when I left my last job, and it was all just stuff like “Want to go to lunch today?” or “Thank you for bringing donuts today!”.

      Truth is, most people don’t actually think ahead that way. It doesn’t even occur to them that all their personal documents and such will live on forever if they don’t remove it on their own.

      1. Quill*

        I clean out personal or off topic emails fairly regularly because I may actually need my archived emails! I don’t need the “Allison will be joining us in teapot metrics from her previous post in teapot data analytics” or “there’s a pizza in the break room” past the day of.

        1. Quill*

          Of course, I have zero things to hide other than having “ask a manager” on my internet history…

    2. Mockingjay*

      Even if you delete the ‘visible’ chat, there is still a log of it on your computer. Depending on IT admin settings, you can’t delete those. Same for comments in documents; even if you delete text, there are programs that can resurrect the changes within the file.

      Always presume that anything you type can and will be recorded. Keep it professional!

      1. Coffee Cup*

        Of course, but the poster says it was right there, so the visible chat wasn’t deleted, which is very strange imo.

      2. Czhorat*

        Yes, exactly. “I delete all the personal stuff when leaving” is, to be honest, a really terrible takeaway.

        Professional communication channels are for professional communication. Full stop. Even if it’s for an after-work social meeting (let’s all get drinks at happy hour after 5!) it needs to be done in a manner which conforms to professional norms.

        If you wouldn’t be OK with your boss seeing it then don’t send it under ANY company channel.

        1. Employee of the Bearimy*

          My company offers to pay for cell phones for senior management, including just taking over their personal cell account. I’ve refused this offer multiple times, and my boss doesn’t really get it. It’s so weird.

          1. Yvette*

            I would let them pay for a cell that I use just for work and keep my private cell. Unless of course they are only offering to pay the bill and not provide the phone.

            1. Leisel*

              My company handles it really well. We get an allowance for our personal phone bill of $150/mo. Luckily I’m on a family plan so that more than covers my bill twice over! The only thing they’ve requested, not mandated, is that we use Apple products for consistency. The only apps I’m required to have on the phone are my work email and an app we use for a cloud-based server. However, we do use our phones to take a lot of pictures, so I have to have a device with enough memory/cloud storage to handle that. My personal voicemail says, “You’ve reached Leisel Longbottom of Potter and Associates, please leave a message.” but that doesn’t bother me.

            2. Ophelia*

              That’s what I’m fortunate enough to have. I have a corporate cell phone; I use it for work calls, travel, and–in rare instances–when my internet is out (I work remotely), I’ll do work on it using the data plan. I have a personal cell that I don’t use for work, full-stop. (Honestly, my entire life is pretty tame, but on principle, I like to maintain the distinction.)

        2. Oof*

          It’s not the first takeaway of course, but it does serve as a terrible reminder, that for the majority of us I feel, is for benign items. Not as a cover-up.

    3. Mel_05*

      I think most of us never think about it? Or there isn’t a real option to delete it?

      I definitely left behind some gchat stuff that I never want anyone to see… it wasn’t nasty like this, but it was full of complaints and conspiracy theories about our company. But when I was leaving, that just wasn’t on my mind at all.

      I think that while I was working there I would occasionally scroll back and delete the worst comments, but in my last couple of weeks… I was just jazzed to be leaving.

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Yeah, I think people get so used to a company computer or phone being ‘theirs’ that they forget it isn’t.

      Me, I just assume every keystroke is stored and viewable at will; my job is to not make a red light go off on someone’s dashboard in IT.

    5. sofar*

      It never fails to amaze me how people will use company Slack/email for unprofessional purposes during work hours. The company has access to that stuff before and after you leave. You’d think self-preservation would prevent this kind of behavior, but people really are that stupid.

      1. I Need That Pen*

        I’ll not forget the time a coworker at a job years ago had a complete meltdown because someone saw something she left open on her screen, and it was a personal not-for-office-hours type thing. “That is MY computer! That is MY stuff, that is MY…” I had to tell her the only thing that belonged to her here was her paycheck and her W2. Some people just don’t get it, as they say.

        1. Leisel*

          My old coworker was pissed when he left the company that he lost access to his email on his last day, after working hours. He called me the next day to ask what was going on. I thought it was weird to be so upset about it, but then my boss asked me to go through the email history to look for client communication and catalog it to keep for historical data. He had a lot of personal email on there, most of it between him and his wife. I guess he forgot to go through and delete those before he left. I didn’t read any of it because it felt icky, but what I did glance over in subject lines was mostly about their children’s school functions. Still, it’s personal and it didn’t belong in that inbox, where they become the company’s property!

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            I know people who STILL use their work e-mail as their primary, and personal, e-mail account. He was probably shocked that he no longer had “his” e-mail account.

            1. Captain Raymond Holt*

              My mother does that! It makes me uncomfortable to have her email me about family related things from her work email, but she can’t afford a computer/internet at home (and likely wouldn’t know how to use it if she did). She has a smartphone but I don’t think she could write a whole email on it.

        2. JustaTech*

          One of the first things my old lab manager would tell people when they started at our State University lab is that every single e-mail we sent was public property because we were state employees, and to not send any email that we wouldn’t be OK with having on the front page of the local paper.

          The student workers took this very seriously. The older scientists … eh, not so much.

        3. JD*

          Are you thinking of me? When I was very young, I had some photos on my computer that were certainly not scandalous, but they also weren’t meant to be flaunted around the office. One morning I came in, turned on my computer, and noticed that the “Recent Items” list was all of my photos. I didn’t leave them open for someone to accidentally see, but someone went onto my computer and looked through them. I admit I flipped out. It just felt so creepy. But yeah, lesson learned.

    6. CL Cox*

      When they quit, they may have been told to leave immediately and wasn’t given access to email. They still should have deleted this kind of thing before quitting, but it’s possible they didn’t have the access to clean it up.

      1. anonymous 5*

        …which would never have been a problem if they hadn’t been using company property inappropriately in the first place.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I had a close call in an old job, with a guy who’d inherited my Blackberry when I was leaving. I mass emailed a group of personal friends “don’t call me on my work cell anymore, I’ll be getting a new phone soon, just handed this one over to a guy in our department” and someone replied to all “Is he hot??” (Those were the early 00s when we were young and dumb and did not know what the heck we were doing. Also no one had two cell phones then. If you had a work phone, you just used it for all the things.) The minute I hit Send on my mass reply that said “he’s the opposite of hot”, the guy walked into my cube holding the phone. He said “I’m getting emails on this phone, but cannot read them because it wants your password, can you unlock it?” (Cue me almost having a heart attack in front of the guy, trying to make sure he doesn’t notice.) I said “no, but I can do you one better”, walked him over to my good friend’s desk in infrastructure/desktop support, and asked the friend if he could reset the pwd and clean out all the personal stuff on this phone asap (he could!) Learned the lesson and never left any personal conversations out in the open like that again. Deleted everything and logged out of everything anytime I left a job. Also never discussed anyone’s looks over email or chat again, because come on, none of us are models, myself included. (Apologies to the actual models, y’all are of course models.) TL;DR: I screwed up pretty badly, almost got caught, mended my bad ways, never did it again.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My spin on it is that the coworker isn’t that bright anyways, they were engaged in mockery of a colleague on their company provided computer. So I’m not surprised they didn’t have it within them to remember to delete that stuff.

      I get the feeling she never assumed someone would need into her email either, lots of people forget that their email accounts often get passed along to someone else after they leave.

      I’ve found some wonderfully colorful emails in the boxes of people I’ve replaced. Nothing that was cruel like the OP stumbled on but some “LOL WUT is this doing here?!” kind of emails.

      1. Jackalope*

        I took over a volunteer position that included a position-specific email address, think something like thesecretary@organization.com. I was searching through the prior emails after taking on the position and came across some where my predecessor had emailed someone about official business but also included a lot of info about her personal life (she was apparently going through something difficult like a divorce at the time). The person she was talking to was apparently a friend who also handled the official stuff and I guess she never thought about someone else reading it later. I did my best not to get into the personal bits but they were in the same emails as the official info that I needed so I couldn’t avoid it. Changed how I approached the use of that email!

      2. Ice and Indigo*

        I’d take it as a sign of how toxic that little in-group had become: workplace mobbing is so normal to them that it literally didn’t occur to them that it’s nothing to leave on a workplace computer where it can be found. Just normal office chat, right? Everyone does this, don’t they?

        I had a coworker once who I caught exchanging nasty e-mails about me. Her excuse was ‘office life is always a minefield.’ I can well believe that was her experience, because she was a very difficult person and the only colleague she liked was the one she shared b*tching sessions with; the mildest guy in the office referred to her as ‘needlessly combative.’ But she genuinely seemed to think this was normal, because for her, it was.

        People can be very bad at realising how far from normal their behaviour is!

  7. bluelights*

    If you were the manager in this situation, how would you handle this? Do you insist that the jerks apologize? Fire them? Transfer the victim to another team or promote her?

    1. WellRed*

      Since I’d be seriously questioning their judgment, maybe work on managing them out? Or at least the worst offender/instigator. Break up the group by moving to other teams if possible? They’d all be getting a firm conversation and I’d also lock down their ability to use the chat on their work computers. I’d also push for an update on use of company equipment/time and what is OK.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Fired. Any employee putting both other employees and the company at risk like this doesn’t get to have a job anymore. Zero. Tolerance.

      1. Avasarala*

        I agree. This is just so needlessly cruel. I would rather work for a company that gives leniency to performance issues than one that gives lenience to bullying and cruelty.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on context. If any of them were already performing at a less than optimal level, I’d just fire them. If there’s an obvious ringleader in there, I’d probably fire that person, regardless of performance. At a minimum, though, they get an incredibly serious (and hopefully mortifying for them) conversation, a warning that they’re on extremely thin ice and I’m considering whether or not they can ever regain my trust (and their coworkers’ trust) and I genuinely would need time to observe how they handle themselves in the aftermath before deciding for sure, their judgment is suspect for a very long time (which will impact what opportunities they get), they can’t be trusted with additional responsibility (which means no raises/promotions/cool projects for the foreseeable future), etc.

      I do think some people can build their way back from something like this, but it would be hard. Someone who was genuinely contrite and learned from the experience might be able to. Someone who wasn’t probably wouldn’t last long.

      As for the victim, you don’t promote someone just because of this, but I’d look at what options exist for making her life more pleasant there.

      1. Yorick*

        I’d be especially concerned if they were responsible for managing others (and this would definitely impact promotions that would lead to that) or dealing with clients who need sensitivity or whatever.

      2. CL Cox*

        Yes, at the very least, a written reprimand and repercussions that may include being suspended without pay for a number of days or, depending on the employees’ track record, possible termination.

      3. 867-5309*

        I could see a situation where it becomes Group Think – it started as a venting one-off and then became a way they bonded. I’ve had that happen at jobs, usually around a particularly difficult boss, and have had to route my team to more productive conversations because it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole. Totally inappropriate in this case, but I agree people can come back from it.

        1. KHB*

          That’s what I was thinking too – it starts off as an occasional-venting thing and then spirals out of control (maybe with some of the group leading the escalation and others following). If their work is otherwise good and they seem suitably mortified, I can see giving the non-ringleaders another chance.

      4. Senor Montoya*

        Include a strong message about retaliation, as well, because they’re likely to know it was the OP who brought the info to the manager.

        1. TootsNYC*

          If the OP only alerts the boss, then I as a manager would absolutely be able to handle this so that they never knew. I’d just tell them that *I* was looking through the email and saw this.

      5. Sacred Ground*

        Couldn’t transferring the victim to another department be construed as retaliation if her job duties change or her career track is derailed?

    4. Daisy-dog*

      In my company, this activity is direct opposition of our company values which would result in immediate termination.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’m very proud of a former employer who terminated three team mates for violation of company values. These two Mean Girls bashed our boss on the office chat client. IIRC, they had a daily prayer circle, asking for the demise of their boss in what they thought were clever and very painful ways. One of them commented about this during a casual discussion with someone out of our department. This person notified the boss in question, who had IT check the chat logs. IT got HR got involved, and the Mean Girls were walked out of the office that day. This was all very much by-the-book.

        The boss in question – her crime? She held our team responsible for their deliverables, and enforced consequences for poor performance. It will probably not come as a surprise that the Mean Girls were not top performers, and were regular roadblocks on projects.

        1. Daniel*

          “IRC, they had a daily prayer circle, asking for the demise of their boss in what they thought were clever and very painful ways.”


          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Weird to think of prayer going under the heading of black magic but in this case, yep.
            (See the famous post “…Black magic is one of many occupational hazards.”)

            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

              Um, might want to look at a few holy texts for that. Gods of various stripes, including the biblical one, do that.for that.

            2. Ice and Indigo*

              Given the outcome, you might say they got an answer. It just wasn’t the answer they hoped for!

            3. Texan In Exile*

              *runs to check cnn.com*
              *certain US president is still alive*

              Nope. God does not answer those kinds of prayers. Or even “die peacefully in his sleep but Lord just get this man out of our political lives” prayers.

        2. Observer*

          Good grief! A prayer circle asking for someone’s DEMISE?! And then casually mentioning it to someone else? Yeah, that’s firing on the spot territory! It’s not just that they did this, it’s that they also clearly thought that it’s SOOO ok that you can just mention it to someone else and it’s not going to raise any eyebrows.

        3. WellRed*

          “It will probably not come as a surprise that the Mean Girls were not top performers,”

          They never are, are they? Also, resistant to change.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Yeah, about the prayer circle – they thought they were very clever. Here they were, the noble workers, suffering because of their boss and her unrealistic expecations. They had no other option than to pray for God to smite her, amen.

            Thankfully, the person the Mean Girl talked didn’t see it that way. She later said the MG was so enthusiastic about the ‘joke’ of her boss’s demise that she couldn’t help but wonder if MG was doing other things to cause her boss trouble. Filing false reports of misdeeds, sabotage, etc.

            1. TootsNYC*


              That is why I’d just fire them. What other things are they untrustworthy about?

              There’s a thing…
              Al Capone went to jail on tax evasion–which was indeed a crime.
              And there are people who point out that those who commit the worse sexual harassment in offices are often also fudging expense accounts, misusing company assets, and doing other clearly identifiable misdeeds.

        4. GreyjoyGardens*

          “they had a daily prayer circle, asking for the demise of their boss in what they thought were clever and very painful ways. ”

          How…how very Christian of them. /s

          I’m glad they got what they deserved.

        5. Gingerblue*

          “ IIRC, they had a daily prayer circle, asking for the demise of their boss in what they thought were clever and very painful ways.”

          What the actual verifiable fuck.

    5. NW Mossy*

      I’m a manager who’s seen the forced apology play out on a peer’s team, and I feel pretty strongly that it’s not an effective tactic. If the person making the apology doesn’t genuinely feel contrition for their behavior, it often ends up making the victim feel worse because they can see the insincerity. The apologizer is also likely to resent being forced to say sorry when they’re not, and that resentment can feed future poor behavior on their part.

      Instead, I think the right frame for those who trash-talk is that the onus is on them to repair the damage they’ve done to their working relationships and get back on a stable professional footing with everyone around them (not just the victims) if they want to keep their job. An apology to those they’ve harmed can certainly be a component of that, but other behavioral changes are needed too – the bad behavior has to stop immediately, and their ongoing behavior has to be scrupulously professional and kind to everyone.

      From there, it’s like managing any other kind of performance issue – you observe for the change, and if you don’t get what you need in an appropriate timeframe (this one would be days/weeks, not months), you move towards termination.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I do agree – you can see profound results IF (big IF) the person is truly remorseful and has a sincere desire to change. If it’s forced or they just got caught / are trying to avoid consequences, then bleh. It doesn’t result in a huge personality change, which is what needs to happen here. A personal awakening / desire to be a better person is the only way to really have this be effective and you can’t manage another person to that place, unfortunately.

        Termination is probably the best. Ugh.

      2. Lora*

        +1. And then there’s the question of, do you as a manager have the bandwidth to manage this kind of crap? It’s a TON of work to fix behavioral crap, not only with the person but trying to clean up the messes they make with other people. If you as a manager think it’s going to be easier to replace them in terms of your own capacity, then just fire them and be done. But it’s really important that whatever you do, you do it quickly and follow up quickly.

        Company I’m in now is both struggling to hire enough new people AND struggling to keep the people who leave due to bullying, and it’s really a vicious cycle – if you wait too long to act, you lose people who then go on to tell all their friends what a crappy place it was to work, and then you can’t hire good people, and then you’re scared to fire even the warm bodies because you know you can’t replace them easily.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I have been the person called on the carpet for behaving badly, and my apology was tremendously heartfelt. So I recovered. (I still feel like shit about it, probably a decade later; what a jerk I was! And it’s conceivable it cost me a big promotion years later, too, because while the guy I hurt forgave me, other people’s judgment of me was shaped by my behavior.)

        If I’d given a semi-sincere apology, we might have gotten past it, if only because it was a one-time thing, and a strategic realignment of behavior would probably have been enough. (but it would have to be an -actual- realignment)

      4. GreyjoyGardens*

        I think people like this ought to have the boom lowered and the book thrown at them. If they do not sincerely apologize AND mend their ways AND act super nice and courteous to everyone, it’s OK to fire them.

    6. Sleepy Librarian*

      I would fire them. My employees have expectations they sign at the beginning of their employment that include things like avoiding gossip and being professional, and this level of bullying would be covered by several of them. Full disclosure: I supervise students (part-time temporary employees) in an at-will work state. Honestly it’s really hard to fire full-time staff in my organization but I’m curious how my HR would respond to something like this if it happened with staff or faculty.

    7. Mediamaven*

      I found a couple of bullies doing this exact thing after one of them left. I fired the other one immediately. Typically these people are also underperformers who deflect by insulting better employees. The energy in the office improved immensely. The girl I fired has never worked in the field again and I think the revelation that she was fired for that kind of behavior has caused her permanent issues. She’s never even had a legit job since then. I will never, ever tolerate that BS in my workplace.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        “The girl I fired has never worked in the field again and I think the revelation that she was fired for that kind of behavior has caused her permanent issues. She’s never even had a legit job since then.”

        In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz – HA ha! Some people really do deserve everything that comes to them. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

      2. Ice and Indigo*

        And given that the ‘criticisms’ of OP here seem to be that she works too hard and does what the boss says, I think it’s a pretty good bet that deflecting underperformers are what’s happening here. I mean, they’re literally complaining that she tries too hard to do a good job!

    8. designbot*

      I’d try to follow the logic of what the natural consequences of this behavior would be. I would not want to make the subject of the thread work with those who participated, and I’d make sure that in any conflict, the victim’s interests were prioritized over the bullies. Oh, you can’t both be on this high profile project? Bully gets kicked off. If that results in not enough work that the bullies could be doing, then their jobs would be in jeopardy. If they were involved in any performance reviews, those duties would be reassigned because I could not trust their judgement or their delivery. They would not be able to lead any team building activities, because they were undermining the cohesion of the team. Realistically the likely result of that is that they’d leave, and that’s fine by me.

      1. TootsNYC*

        If I worked in a company in which I could arrange for them all to work in completely different groups from their target and from one another, that’s about the only reason I wouldn’t just fire them.

        I’m never afraid of hiring new people (of course, in my field, I have a wide range of potential candidates), so I don’t care if people leave. I don’t want to drive people out; I love having quality people working for me, and I’ll do a lot to keep them happy. But ultimately, it’s not skin off my nose if they leave for any legitimate reason.

        The time suck of interviewing new people and training them wouldn’t be ANY bigger than the time suck of trying to discipline these people into being decent human beings. It certainly would be more hopeful!

    9. Hiring Mgr*

      Depends – if you’re an ordinary employee you’ll probably get fired. If you’re the CEO (Away), you get bumped up to Chairman of the Board

    10. TootsNYC*

      I think I’d fire them.

      I just wouldn’t want to go through the work of rehabilitating any of that relationship between them and their target, OR between them and me.

      I don’t have the time or energy to do that, and the likelihood that I’ll be successful is very, very low.

      Add to it this (which I’ve mentioned elsewhere in comments):
      People who will protect one another while they are going this sort of mean stuff are essentially a gang.
      And they think they are above all normal rules and ways of doing things–so where does that stop? They think they can say nasty stuff, but do they think they can file fradulent expense reports? Can they do a shitty job on something and cover it up for one another?

      They have no integrity, and I don’t want to work with people I can’t trust.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I agree with this. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes, etc. We expect victims to “forgive” and “be the bigger person” but I think there should be a zero tolerance for the kind of bullying (not petty griping, but serious bullying, especially in a group) that creates a toxic work environment.

    11. a non for this*

      definitely a fireable offense. At this point there is no way to recover a working relationship between them and the victim, and so they must go. Transfers would be unfair also.

      Also, doing something like this indicates legendarily bad judgement that is not worth keeping.

  8. Ms. Chanandalar Bong*

    One thing I will add.

    If you are planning to bring this to your boss or HR, I would do it before you confronted those involved. Someone here mentioned HR taking action if you have the receipts… don’t give them a chance to try and erase and deny.

    On a personal level – I can’t imagine how much this hurts you. But, now you know that these people are truly awful (and that’s them, not you!). Now that you know their true colours, you can be professional and polite in your interactions, and bask in the internal glow of being the bigger and better person. It may feel like small consolation, but when I was in a similar position, that feeling of kicking ass, caring about my work and being a good human being really carried me through!

    1. rayray*

      I like this idea too. Take the proof and go over their heads. They took it too far, and hopefully will also have to deal with the consequences.

    2. londonedit*

      I agree with all of this. OP has a perfect way of bringing it up with the boss, as Alison said – ‘When you asked me to search Jane’s email the other day, this is what I saw’. The fault isn’t with the OP for finding the chat, it’s with the people involved with the chat in the first place. I definitely think this is serious enough to warrant going straight to the boss and to HR, and totally agree that they should do so as soon as possible, before anything might be deleted.

    3. JKP*

      Also the boss and/or HR doesn’t have to disclose that the coworker saw the gchats. Anyone could have found them when accessing those work files.

    4. Hills to Die on*

      This approach is getting me through my divorce. Be the better person, but cover your butt too and definitely take this to HR and your boss.

    5. LKW*

      Agree completely. If it was a month of messages, I’d say talk to your co-workers. This is years of nonsense. Years. Download the chat. Print out a copy. Bring it to your manager and bring it to HR (preferably together). Say that you found it when you saw your name and the insult. No one will question your desire to dig into that. Depending on the company – I can see several behaviors that are grounds for termination: misuse of company systems, sustained bullying campaign, at my company we have a “respect the individual” policy – that I’ve nicknamed “The Don’t Be An Asshole” Policy.

      If your manager and HR ask if you’ve ever discussed the issue, I’d say that given the scope and time this issue has been allowed to fester, you’re concerned that attempting to deal with it now is like using a soup spoon to carve the Holland Tunnel. Sure, you can do it, but would it be effective?

    6. CubeFarmer*

      In my very first job I had two very, very catty coworkers. They’d get together and pssst, pssst, pssst, whisper about things and people all the time. I assumed (rightly, I think,) that they were whispering about me. What I did was to put on my big-girl pants, decide that this job wasn’t going to be my long-term, and become extremely professional. Was there a project to do? I’ll get it done without complaint. Do you need that when? I’ll get it to you on time. The only issues I had with one of those colleagues was that site visits were mostly wasted time because this guy was our team lead, and spent most of our field time shopping (not kidding.) In hindsight, that should have been something that our supervisors questioned right away.

      Within three months, I had moved on to a better position. One of those whispering colleagues (time waster,) got fired. The other colleague moved on and is still active in the field, though I haven’t seen her in decades.

      1. JustaTech*

        This is why I try so hard to get one of my coworkers to not whisper. She’s actually not gossiping about anyone, but just hearing someone whisper sets off everyone’s internal antennae (because who whispers about mundane things?), and that’s just unnecessary stress for everyone.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          There’s whispering and there’s habitual whispering. A quick whisper “psst, Bob, you have a piece of spinach in your teeth” is fine. Habitual whispering sounds shady and sneaky and is best avoided.

        2. Oh So Anon*

          I have a colleague who is a habitual whisperer (like, even about mundane stuff like the weather) because they think it’s more polite in an open plan office. I get wanting to keep the volume low, but at some point it comes across as awkward and unintentionally exclusionary, which I’ve mentioned when they initiate totally above-board whisper conversations with me, but they aren’t convinced.

          1. JustaTech*

            I’ve mentioned it several times and this coworker hasn’t really changed so now I just say “I can’t hear you” because about 50% of the time I really can’t (and I have decent hearing).

    7. CM*

      Yes, I was coming to say this too.

      Schedule a meeting with your boss and HR. Explain that you came across this while doing a search requested by your boss — I would say something like, “I want to assure you I wasn’t trying to violate anyone’s privacy and didn’t read any other unrelated emails, but when I came across a subject line that named me and insulted me, I clicked on it to see what it was.”

      I’d also say that while you would normally talk to coworkers directly about interpersonal issues, this is so extreme and has gone on for so long that you need guidance and support from your boss and HR.

    8. TootsNYC*

      another reason to take it to HR and the boss before you mention it to the other employees:

      The boss can say, “I went through Susan’s email looking for the info on the XYZ report, and I was shocked to see this”–and then our OP is not involved in any accusations of “snooping” (which is WASN’T) and can’t be retaliated against.

      HR can say, “We skim through everyone’s email after they leave, and we just now got to Susan’s account, and we found this.” or “IT was doing a cleanup of old emails, and they spotted this and brought it to us.” Again, the OP isn’t a target for retaliation.

      If I were either of those people, that is absolutely how I’d handle it. It’s how I handle all complaints I get, as a manager; I investigate them for myself and build up my own complaint, which is often exactly the same (but might be a little bit different because I’m reacting like a manager and not a colleague).

    9. LilyP*

      Yes, caring about your work, trying hard and kicking ass are things you should be proud of, not embarrassed about! And objectively, they’re also things that will lead you towards promotion and more responsibility (if that’s what you want, or else more money/flexibility/seniority). Don’t let this weird middle school bs trick you into thinking you should care more about being “”cool”” and having your mean co-workers like you than about doing your job well.

  9. rayray*

    I’m sorry this happened. They’re being really mean, and it is super hurtful when you find out people who you thought were your friends, were actually making fun of you.

    I think you’ve been provided with great ideas on how to approach it. I think if you have a good relationship with your boss, do something about it. This could also have been found by the boss or by IT anyway. They’re using company property to do this. Like Alison said, an occasional comment or vent might happen over lunch, but tons of back and forth over the years is too much.

    1. Bostonian*

      Yeah, way too much. They even went so far as to troll her social media to find things to make fun of. This was way more than “so-and-so does this annoying thing at work”.

  10. glitter writer*

    I hate to say it, but in my experience when the culture is this rotten and toxic, with pervasive “mean girl” and outright bullying behavior, proper procedures and complaints rarely make long-term change. If I were in the letter writer’s shoes I’d be looking to bail on this organization as soon as I could humanly get hired elsewhere.

    I’m sorry, OP. It sucks.

    1. Mary*

      Yes, I don’t think I could move on from this. And whilst I think you have *every* right to confront your co-workers or report it to your manager, and Alison’s scripts for doing so are good, if I was in your situation and carried out a cost-benefit analysis of doing so and what I hoped to get out of it, I can’t see a positive outcome.

      What happens after the confrontation? They squirm and then… what? Best case outcome seems to be that you manage to shame them into an apology, but would that really be enough to keep working with them? Or alternatively, if your boss addressed it or disciplined them–would that be OK?

      It feels like the classic therapist question of “what do you want to get out of this conversation?” I think you are COMPLETELY justified in taking whatever action you want to make them feel the weight of the awkward — but I’m not sure where it gets you in terms of rebuilding your confidence or your relationship with them.

      1. beanie gee*

        I think this is a situation where talking to the manager would be hard, but could have positive outcomes.

        I think the best outcome of informing the manager is that they stop doing it. To the OP and to anyone else they might be chatting about. If the manager is a good one, they’ll communicate to these jerks that this type of behavior is not acceptable. Maybe the jerks won’t change, but maybe it’ll be a wakeup call to them. The manager’s actions would also communicate to the OP that they take these types of things seriously and value the OP as an employee of the company.

        The risk would be if you know you have a terrible manager who wouldn’t handle the situation appropriately.

        1. Mary*

          I would not feel comfortable working with people who only refrained from mocking me because the manager had told them not to do it, though! Stopping the behaviour is one thing; re-building trust and feeling comfortable working with them is quite another.

          1. Observer*

            That’s true. Which is why any competent manager / HR is not going to stick with JUST saying “no, no, no, you can’t do that.”

            In response to another post, Alison outlined how she’d handle the culprits. And this is one of the issues she explicitly takes into account.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I agree. I’d have to leave.
            The only reason I’d tell the manager is if I wanted her to have the chance to make things better after I’m gone.

        2. Artemesia*

          Nah, the best outcome is that they are fired. ANy other outcome and the OP has to continue to work with these people. if that is the case, she should look to move on — at her own pace and when she finds something better.

      2. KS*

        Letting them get away with it is not useful. ALSO look elsewhere, sure, if it seems necessary. But sitting there like “oh it won’t change” like Eeyore pretty much ensures you’re right. But hey, I guess if you want to be an enabler, just skulk away and say nothing.

        Me, I’d put them on blast AND very publicly start looking elsewhere.

        1. Pippa K*

          ‘Enabler’ is quite a stretch. The target of the misconduct isn’t obliged to do anything she doesn’t want to do. Bullied people don’t have any duty to solve the problems of bullying; responsibility lies entirely with the people committing the misconduct and then the managers responsible for them.

          Calling the target an “enabler” is a species of victim blaming.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          I think we put too much onus on victims to “be the bigger person,” “forgive and forget,” “don’t roooo-innn some person’s life for a mistake!” but I think that is wrong in most cases. In instances of group bullying like this, I think that it’s *just fine* to throw the book and lower the boom and if their working reputations are ruined, too bad so sad maybe they should have thought of it before they were bullies.

          1. Mary*

            I see it the other way around: I think we put too much onus on victims to be the Solvers of the Problem when they aren’t the instigators of it.

            This isn’t about saying, “be nice, don’t rock the boat.” It’s about recognising that a confrontation takes a ton of energy out of the victim and may very well be a horrible experience for them, and the potential upsides are small.

            If a victim of abusive behaviour wants to confront bullies, report them, return awkward to sender or whatever else, they should go for it! But they should be under no moral obligation or responsibility to do so. I think it’s completely unacceptable to suggest that someone who has already been put in an awful, unwanted position has any kind of duty or obligation to put themselvesin what may be an even worse position.

        3. Ice and Indigo*

          Everyone’s a badass about situations they don’t actually have to handle, I guess…

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I’d tell my boss and HR AND start an active job search, or at least try to transfer out of the department with these people if I liked the company and it was big enough. Every interaction I had with them going forward would feel fraught, like “I know if they had the group chat they’d be talking trash about this,” and that’s no way to live.

      1. londonedit*

        This. I don’t think ‘Well, telling the boss isn’t going to stop these people being arseholes’ is good enough reason not to tell the boss. No, it won’t stop them being immature idiots, but that doesn’t mean there’s no point in letting the boss know exactly what her employees are getting up to on company time. Any half-reasonable boss would absolutely want to know, and while it might not help OP, anyone involved in this sort of workplace bullying deserves to be called out for it. Of course, OP should also be on the lookout for another job, but I think they should absolutely tell their boss about all of this as well.

        1. The Original K.*

          Oh, without question. I think you said it best with “anyone involved in this sort of workplace bullying deserves to be called out for it.” Regardless of what the OP decides to do for herself re: staying vs. going (and I stress that she should do the best thing for HERSELF and her life), these bullies need to face consequences.

        2. Mary*

          >>Any half-reasonable boss would absolutely want to know, and while it might not help OP, anyone involved in this sort of workplace bullying deserves to be called out for it

          This is what troubles me: “boss wants to know” and “they deserve to be called out for it” doesn’t confer an obligation on the OP. If you’re the victim of bullying and your preference is to walk away *without* reporting or confronting your bullies–both activities which have a certain amount of risk for the OP–that’s completely valid. People’s first obligation when they’ve been a victim of abusive or bullying behaviour is to themselves: you don’t owe anything to your manager or to any kind of wider cosmic justice.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I would make that call depending on how healthy the rest of the org is and whether I have a group of trustworthy people I can count on. Just because there’s a tiny clique of four people in the office (down to three now) doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else has to leave to make the clique of three feel comfortable. Screw that. Let them leave.

    4. Frankie*

      I’ve worked so many places where this honestly wouldn’t even be addressed. Maybe the people doing it would get a slap on the wrist, but you’d actually look worse for bringing the issue to management.

      It’s heartening to see some posts on here stating these culprits would be in danger of getting fired. There are saner places out there!

    5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      This is my experience too. If the culture allows this sort of bullying/gossiping attitude, the chances are that management is listening to the complaints of the bullies and taking them seriously.

      I had this happen at a job. I was the bigger person. But the bully had the big boss’s ear, and big boss sided with the bully’s assessment of things, and ultimately, that was not a reputation I could shake. Even though over time it was proved wrong.

    6. motherofdragons*

      I think you might be right. In that case, reporting it somehow might only result in the OP feeling slightly better about the situation. Sometimes knowing that you’ve done something about it is its own reward.

  11. Jessica Ganschen*

    I’m notoriously conflict-averse, so I can’t say I’d have an easy time confronting these coworkers if it was me in this situation, but I definitely think it needs to be done. I’d tell your boss as well, so that you have all your bases covered (assuming, like Alison said, that you have a capable boss). In fact, I’d probably go to your boss first so that you have them in your corner before talking to your coworkers.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, I don’t really think that the OP should confront their coworker. Not because they did something wrong, but because I think that *IF* there is any way to make their work situation better, they will get better results with their Boss / HR.

      1. TootsNYC*

        If I were the OP’s boss, I wouldn’t want her to confront them. I’d want her to bring it to me, and I would want to be the one to confront them.

  12. WellRed*

    OP, ANYONE would have done what you did in this situation! You did nothing wrong. Please feel free to address this however you feel most comfortable. If I were your boss, I’d want to know.

  13. Justin*

    Oh I’ve been there (they actually told me, “we used to find you really annoying but not anymore,” which… thanks?).

    I guess I’m a tattletale because I confided in our mutual boss. I think you’re within your rights to do this, you weren’t really snooping.

  14. Elenna*

    …didn’t we literally just have an update from someone who left their job partly over something like this? Why are there multiple groups of people who do this? (At least this group was a bit more discreet – not sure if that’s a good thing or not…)

    Sorry your coworkers suck, OP.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      OP, if it’s any consolation, please realize that these people are so stunted that the only way they can get any enjoyment in life is through juvenile crap like this. You can certainly be angry, but the high road is so very easy to take in this case – they’re awful people, they probably aren’t very good at their jobs if they call you a “try hard”, etc.

      Leave them to wallow in their mutual pigsty.

    2. Plus Ultra*

      Yes, this is incredibly familiar except the original was about (I think) Slack and this is Gchat. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same letter.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        Well, in the older letter the OP had only been at the job for a couple months. The trash-talking in this letter had been going on for YEARS.

    3. Chili*

      I think it happens when a group of people get to BEC level with an coworker and start bonding over shared frustration (which is a powerful way to bond). Along the way, they forget that their coworker is a real person and even if they never find the exact chats, there’s no way to contain that much animosity completely.

      1. Frankie*

        There’s that scenario. I’ve also seen a couple of people (usually a ringleader with a few folks who fall in line behind them) who are most comfortable when they feel “on top” of everyone else, and if they’re not in a position of relative structural power, they start doing bullying stuff like this. It makes them feel like they are in control and can set the terms of how everyone else at work should be behaving.

        Like, is OP driving them to BEC stage or are these people just looking for a scapegoat?

        Both scenarios are definitely bullying, though. It’s maybe easier to rationalize the first kind.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        I think the BEC thing often is a trigger. The victim becomes kind of a hate sink where everything they do is annoying, and the more the mean-person group talks about it, the more it feeds on itself, and creates a vicious cycle (and makes the workplace toxic).

        The best way to prevent this is to keep things from getting to BEC about one person in the first place, and not be a bully, in the second, and for god’s sake grow up out of junior high, in the third.

        1. Ice and Indigo*

          I’ve seen that happen where the BEC is ‘annoying’ because they’re seen as bad at their job, by people who don’t realise how many competing demands that job involves, which mean the person isn’t always able to do what they want when they want it. Receptionists are vulnerable, for instance: a proportion of people assume they just sit around all day and should surely be free to run errands for them, don’t realise how many other people assume the same thing, and the receptionist ends up getting trashed for being unable to be in three places at once.

          Think of it as the BEC and call problem.

    4. TootsNYC*

      and remember that manager who sidelined an expert who was brought in to open a new field, and she was older, so the young clique of people froze her out? They made fun of her on Snapchat, if I remember right.

  15. Marie*

    I hope you do follow the advice to say something. Many people do not “like” confrontation and so avoid it. I’ve started re-framing that word: it’s not a confrontation with the other person/people, but a confrontation with myself (I’d rather someone else be “angry” with me rather than that I am angry with myself.) I think it’s easier when there is a script. I try for one sentence—I really like the first example in the advice—and then when I speak that sentence I really say it to and for myself—as Allison notes, it doesn’t matter what these people have to say for themselves. You get to clear the air for yourself. I send you all my best, and I hope you send us an update. My heart is with you, cheering you on.

    1. Marie*

      PS I would say something to coworkers first, that first neutral sentence, and then mention it to my boss. I would want my opportunity to say something on my own behalf.

      1. CL Cox*

        Why? They do not get the opportunity to come up with an excuse or try to cover up the chat. They lost any right they have to defending themselves with their egregious behavior. If this was a one-time thing, maybe I’d give them the chance to fix/explain it, but not for something that’s been going on for years. They know this is wrong and they don’t care.

        1. Frankie*

          Yeah, I’d definitely bring it to your boss BEFORE giving the coworkers some chance to concoct a cover story. People who would do this kind of thing over a work chat would lie their butts off to excuse it away.

          1. Marie*

            Oh no I did not mean to let them say anything in their defense: there is no defense. That first script does not give them any opportunity to “explain.” That being said: I see your points and especially agree with people’s advice about screenshots. I would like an opportunity to confront them myself, as a strengthening option to let them know that I know and am not “destroyed.” If I go to a manager first and that manager runs interference then I might lose that chance. No matter what letter writer chooses to do I am heartened, and hope they are too, by all the compassion and great advice offered here. And I do see your point re these people, so I am re-thinking….

        2. BethDH*

          My understanding was that Marie was saying that OP should get the chance to say something to the offenders on their own; not that the trash talkers should. Presumably because once it gets reported it becomes about how the boss/hr want to handle it. Some people would get satisfaction out of confronting it themselves even if it gave the offenders more warning.

          1. Marie*

            @ BethDH yes, you are correct.
            And now upon reflection, I would let manager/hr handle (if trustworthy), for several reasons: because I have stood up for myself before and know that I can do it, so it is easier to choose not to do so in all situations; 2) these unkind people and the crap they say is all about them and not about me; and, 3) they did all this on company time. Mainly I don’t think these people are worth letter writer’s time. And I hope letter writer feels all the true compassion from the amazing intelligent and kind commentators (truly wonderful and amazing such a forum as this exists!) rather than hurt from the false words posted by false/fake/unkind people.

    2. Mimi Me*

      Yes, please say something! Your co-workers are likely going to be upset and defensive when confronted with their meanness, but in the end they’ll know you know and really there’s some power in that. And if you’re worried about their feelings in this, don’t. They never considered yours when starting this chat.

    3. Please No More Meetings*

      OP, I’m so sorry this happened and that you are now the one who has to wrestle with it!

      I agree with Marie in the reframing and the neutral tone. One thing that may also help is: when you know you’re about to say the thing, instead of looking them in the eyes, look at their eyebrow or the space between their eyebrows. The object of your sentence *thinks* you’re making direct eye contact, but you are not actually looking them in the eye. I have found that when I have to call people out for their crummy behavior and I am having a hard time with “confrontation.” Secondly, you don’t have to listen to their reply! The point is not their scrambling (and frankly, inadequate no matter what) response. If it is easier for you to stare at their eyebrows and silently count or space out while they are deservedly uncomfortable, please do that! We are rooting for you.

  16. JB*

    Many organizations have some kind of statement in some official document like a policies manual or technology manual or what have you stating that your employer has the ability (at least) to view anything you do using work systems and equipment. You did not do anything wrong. You accessed a person’s work email at the direction of your manager. I’m not going to even comment upon how to talk about whether or not you happened upon the chat or actively dug around for it, because it’s what you found that needs to be the focus. It’s not cool to use work equipment, systems, and time to do what they were doing.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Our IT policy also includes an acceptable use statement that would cover using company resources for trash-talk of fellow employees (i.e., that sort of use is prohibited on company technology and a policy violation).

  17. 3DogNight*

    First, this is terrible! I’m so sorry you found out how awful your coworkers are in this way.
    Second, if you do plan to say something to your co-workers, MAKE SURE you talk to your manager first. My worry would be that they might be the kind of people that would think (and act) like: She knows, now we can just be mean to her face. You want your manager on your side ahead of this.
    However you move forward with this, I wish you luck!

    1. Nervous Nellie*

      OP, my goodness, I strongly second this. Their middle school behavior should be settled a la middle school. Involving a teacher (manager) will shut this down faster than if you deal with them directly on the schoolyard. It adds a level of seriousness to involve a ‘grownup’ in this analogy.

      Also, if you tell the manager, they will know your truth before the bullies come to them to ‘set the teacher straight’. That is hugely important for you.

      Also, if you can print out and save these chats, do so without delay, so that nobody can deny they ever happened and gaslight you into madness.

      Good luck to you! Nobody should have deal with this nonsense.

    2. Kramerica Industries*

      I think this depends on your manager though. I went to my manager before with something similar and the response I got was that this was an interpersonal matter and that they didn’t want to intervene. In their eyes, it was fine as long as we could be professional at work face-to-face. This left me more embarrassed that it was out in the open now and still without a solution.

      1. Daniel*

        Good lord, that manager.

        I wonder what they would’ve said if you had replied, “This goes beyond an interpersonal issue–this is an integrity issue. This is godawful behavior, and I can’t help but think that they are doing it to other people as well.”

        1. Kramerica Industries*

          Literally said this. Was told that since I was the only person that voiced a concern, my manager couldn’t verify that others also felt as if it was toxic. I then received coaching to learn to deal with things/people I can’t change.

          1. KS*

            If you have stark evidence they really can’t try to weasel out of managing. And if they do, then it’s time to go higher. What a sorry excuse for a manager.

      2. M*

        Reading: ” I went to my manager before with something similar and the response I got was that this was an interpersonal matter and that they didn’t want to intervene” was like reading a direct story of what happened at my workplace.

        We had a workplace bully at my old job, multiple people complained to the manager with video/text/paper proof, and my manager literally sat us all down together and said that he wouldn’t intervene because it was an interpersonal matter. Even though it was literally one person bullying another person and using the schedule against them which made it a workplace matter imo. The reason multiple people complained was because it was making other people feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

        A bunch of people ended up leaving the job in the months after but the bully and the manager still works there to this day (it’s over a year later). I left the job for other reasons.

        1. MtnLaurel*

          I took that information to my big boss and got the reply that “that’s not a battle I want to fight right now.” Ugh….fortunately left soon thereafter.

        2. KS*

          Did the place have HR? Because HR should have been sitting in that sad excuse for a meeting, too!

      3. Observer*

        That’s a toxic workplace issue. And your boss is an incompetent idiot. Which means that confronting the bullies wouldn’t help anyway, since they have no decency and no external reason to behave.

        If your HR or grand-boss are competent, go to them. If they are also incompetent, please start planning your exit. Whether it’s just job hunting, or looking at broader changes, it’s really your only choice when a workplace allows that kind of behavior.

    3. Sparrow*

      Depending on my relationship with my manager, I might start there for on advice for how to handle it, but I’m not necessarily concerned about the coworkers suddenly being mean to her in person. If OP hasn’t picked up on this kind of attitude from them before, I’d guess they probably know this isn’t the kind of thing that’s acceptable to say to someone’s face and will feel uncomfortable/awkward when it’s exposed. Personally, I think I’d go with Alison’s “have I done something to offend you” speech because I’d want to believe there was more to this story, at least from their perspective (and if there’s not, that would quickly become apparent).

  18. Amber Rose*

    I’m guessing you’re already experiencing some of the consequences of this: feeling afraid of saying or posting anything anywhere because of what they’ll say, feeling like you can’t speak up at work, doubting everything you do.

    You’re already 90% of the way there if you think you can’t say anything because of how you found the info. This is how the people who abuse others gaslight them into shying away from getting help, by making them feel like they are the problem for not being good enough. Even if you had found this by less than ideal means, there’s no way that justifies their actions in ANY way, and you do NOT have to live pretending you don’t know these things. You don’t have to be a perfectly good person to deserve protection from this kind of crap.

    Please, please, don’t let this fester. They don’t deserve this much control over you. Speak up, get help. Consider therapy if that’s something available to you. You. Deserve. Better.

  19. Miss Vicki*

    In your shoes, I would also IMMEDIATELY block/unfriend all of them on social media. It might make you feel a little less violated to create that distance.

    1. Yorick*

      Yes, definitely block them so they don’t end up seeing anything a friend-of-a-friend might post on.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, that NEEDS to happen. Also, how did they find OP’s facebook? OP, check your privacy settings (are you really on friends only or friends of friends?) and ensure that, for example, you aren’t reachable via a post or photo a mutual friend commented on. Good time to do a friends cleanout / block spree and change your personal information to remove your current workplace and possibly your last name.

    2. Ginger Baker*

      Came here to say this. Definitely agree with going to the manager, but in the meantime TRIAGE ASAP.

    3. Another Millenial*

      Before blocking, make sure you make a ton of posts showing them how amazing your life is!

  20. Anona*

    I’d definitely block/unfriend them on social media channels.

    And I’d be professional but cool towards them. I’d focus on doing stellar work, and realize that they are very small people.

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this!

  21. Dreamcatcher*

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been in the same position, but the manager wad also involved in the conversation…fun times!

  22. Phony Genius*

    How should the boss handle it if the writer takes Alison’s advice and informs them about it? Could the level of the group chat conversation be so toxic that they could all be terminated? I wouldn’t normally suggest that, but the part about making fun of the writer’s partner seems like it went too far for just a reprimand.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I think it depends on the content. I wouldn’t necessarily read much into the making fun of the partner. It could have been anything from making fun of the picture on the OP’s desk to something more insidious.

      Again based on the what the OP wrote, this doesn’t sound like it’s anything more than petty back biting and mocking, in that case I’d probably trot out my “Professionalism Speech” TM with an emphasis on ‘you don’t have to be best buddies, but you do have to be respectful and company tech is not the place to reenact your favorite scene from Mean Girls’ and that failing to curb this kind of talk about your coworkers could lead to some harsh consequences.

    2. Daniel*

      It depends. If the mocking was about a protected class, they’ve exposed the company to legal liability, and I would say they would *have* to be fired.

      If not…it still indicates that they have disastrously poor judgement and integrity, and that it would take a looong time of good behavior before that image of them changes. I would tell them as much, and would let them know that any kind of advancement would be out the door until then as a result.

      1. Daniel*

        I also wanted to mention the “try-hard” comments. If these clowns think that trying hard at work is worthy of mockery (?!?!?!?!) then I would say that there is very little hope of a turn-around.

        1. Sparrow*

          Not defending them, but I think it’s more being seen as a suck up than working hard because I definitely saw that play out in my last office. I had no issues with this coworker and she was quite good at her work, but I know the way she acted toward the higher-ups really rubbed some people the wrong way.

          In fact, I had to talk a few people down when I announced I was leaving because TPTB bumped my position to a higher title and gave it to her. They felt she was reaping the benefits of my work because the big boss favored her. In reality, it WAS my work that convinced them the position needed to be at a higher level and I already knew the title was changing when I decided to leave, but the people who were most upset (all of whom were very strong workers and not office “mean girls” at all) just saw a colleague who worked hard, like them, and whose work they valued seemingly get undercut by someone without the same track record.

          Ultimately, this was really about their own feelings of being unappreciated by questionable leadership, and she just became a focal point of that in their minds. They were always polite to her face, but I wouldn’t be shocked if a similar chat existed at some point. It was messed up, but I think it was a product of a larger toxic environment. Fortunately, everyone involved has now moved on, hopefully to healthier workplaces unlikely to foster that kind of resentment.

        2. Batgirl*

          It’s bullying 101 though isn’t it? Why surmount your own insecurities, work and challenges when you can just pull someone else down?

  23. Third or Nothing!*

    Oooh, something similar happened to me! Except the mean clique in question are all related to the higher ups here so I have no recourse except to leave. And it’s really hard to give up 5 weeks of PTO, free insurance, a 35 hour work week, flex time, good salary, and a short commute.

    I deal with it by pretending that I’m watching a play and internally rolling my eyes at their ridiculousness. Sometimes I pound my ire out on the pavement when things get really annoying.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Free insurance on top of all of those other perks – man! I can see why you would tough that out. it sucks though. What an odd place to take such good care of the employees that way and then let the higher ups behave that way. Weird.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Probably because they are literally a family company. The ringleader is a co-owner’s niece. Another mean person is the other co-owner’s daughter, and another is the daughter of a VP.

        But one co-owner just retired and sold our company to a venture capital firm (I think that’s the deal anyway) and there are a lot of new VPs around now. One that’s based in our office has noticed the clique and made some efforts to increase inclusiveness and general office culture. He’s the same one who gave me the green light to dust off the old marketing skills and get some professional development so I can take on some more responsibilities. We shall see how things pan out.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            Thanks. It’s worth sticking it out here because the work-life balance really is good. And that’s becoming increasingly more important to me as my daughter gets older.

    2. Batgirl*

      I’ve been in this situation and it was actually kind of amusing. I knew them better than I otherwise would have and I never ignore or waste good intel. I knew there was a good chance they were shaky on other counts and it was a lot like a play. These situations can be very intimidating but they were kind of a hopeless, pathetic bunch who couldn’t even keep hold of the jobs they got through nepotism.

  24. Black Hole Sun*

    Oh, this is so hard and I just want to give you a big hug and tell you to F them. Because honestly, they don’t deserve your energy. These were petty, callous, pretty crappy people and you do, as Allison said, have every right to call them out for their actions. But, I’m also of the mindset that the biggest middle finger you could give them is to a) let it slip that you know they’ve been trashing you and b) you don’t care because you know you’re a bad ass. Sure, that might make them talk about you more, but I would encourage you to lean into it. They’re going out of their way to mock you (screenshotting your social posts???) Go out of your way to live your life out loud. Because although we need to be respectful and professional to those we work with, they don’t get to dictate your personality and if they have a problem with something they should be direct and honest instead of children. Be you and I think you’ll find your strength.

    1. Marie*

      Yes! Love this! Live Loud! It’s generally the gentle sensitive people (I include myself) who need to know do this. We won’t hurt anyone by being ourselves/our best selves, but we hurt ourselves by squelching who we are.

  25. ElizabethJane*

    Wouldn’t it be a great quitting story to just screenshot the worst of it and send an all company email with “I’m out b-tches! Enjoy being horrible to each other!”

    Sorry, that’s not realistic.

    OP I’m so sorry. I hope you confront them and write in with the juiciest of updates.

    1. Quill*

      Don’t screenshot it, print it out, wrap a bunch of cod in it, and leave it in the breakroom microwave.

      /obvious fantasy senario.

        1. Quill*

          Okay, use some cod to write on the breakroom table, microvave a single, whole, remaining cod 5 min with a bag of microwave popcorn.

  26. Not So Super-visor*

    So as a manager, I had an employee in a group like this suddenly develop a conscious and turn a long thread of emails to me where they were mocking one of their coworkers. It wasn’t years worth, but it was months long, and it was petty stuff. They had terrible nicknames for this guy and picked on everything from his dress to perceived tardiness that didn’t impact their work at all. The person who turned them in didn’t want her coworkers to know it was her who turned it in, but she felt that the toxicity couldn’t continue. I thanked her for turning it in, and I laid out a plan. I called each person in one in a time (and included her in the mix but changed my script) and told them that i had been notified that an email thread mocking and bullying a coworker had been going around. I told them that this wasn’t acceptable and this wasn’t how team member treat each other. I told them that if this kind of behavior continued that we would not be able to keep them on as part of the team. For the person who turned it in, I toned it down, but did include the part that this was not how we expect team members to treat one another.

      1. Not So Super-visor*

        Everyone was incredibly sheepish about being outed and agreed that this wasn’t ok except for one person who was the Toxic Ringleader (TR). She was incredulous that I had read their emails and felt that she was being picked on. TR and I had already been butting heads. She never accepted me as the manager when I was promoted from within the group and went out of her way to make this clear and be a little, black raincloud over the department spreading negativity. She had been talked to multiple times about her behavior ranging from screaming at customers, slamming her fists on her desk, yelling at me from across the room, and sending incredibly inappropriately worded emails to me. to challenge process changes or work assignment. She had been written up, put on corrective action, and was an HR nightmare as she continued to insist that I was singling her out and harassing her. Literally, every time that I had to talk to her about even a small performance issue, I ended up doing a full written document about what happened and what I said to proactively warn HR about the impending complaint. Finally, one day she crossed the line (I won’t go into details), and HR and I agreed that she had to go. Once she was gone, it was like the sun came out after a rainstorm. Morale improved, the department was quieter about negative chatter about coworkers. It was amazing.
        Morale of my story: there is usually one ringleader who is whipping everyone else up. You might have to take that person out of the equation in order to restore peace. Most people aren’t awful human beings, but people like to belong to tribes. It’s easy to get sucked into a negative tribe and want to stay part of that tribe.

        1. KS*

          After all that, she wasn’t outright fired for the earlier stuff? How bad was this “crossing the line” then? Wow, that is incredibly lenient. o.O I can only hope it’s the type of place where there are very difficult and stringent processes on ousting someone, because any of that would get us fired from this corporate office without any fanfare.

          1. Not So Super-visor*

            At the time, I had a big-hearted but overbearing director. He was very sympathetic to TR because she is a single mother and has a chronic medical condition. Every time that I brought up the performance issues, the morale issues, the attitude issues, I was given a litany of “don’t you have a heart?” “what would happen to her kid?” “She’ll never find another job that will let her work with X condition.” I was guilted into letting her stay despite her issues. The crossing the line incident was bad, the firing was immediately afterwards due to the mountain of documentation that I had collected over almost 2 years to show that this was not an isolated problem and that it would continue unless we terminated her.

    1. Inquiring mind wants to know...*

      What was the result: both the immediate reaction by those so confronted and the long-term?

    2. Sara without an H*

      Yes, please, how did it go over? I like how you managed it, but I’d be really curious to hear more about how it played out.

  27. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Protect yourself first (e.g., back up your work, don’t keep personal items at your job, etc). It could be that the coworker who left was the main instigator and the others will stop. Or it could be that the situation will escalate. Regardless of what you decide to do, make sure you’re protected and there’s nothing that management can use against you.

    I’m sorry this happened. These are vile people. Wishing you the best of luck and please let us know how things turn out for you.

    1. Observer*

      Protect yourself first (e.g., back up your work, don’t keep personal items at your job, etc)

      This makes me sad, but I think it’s a good idea.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        I really do try not to be alarmist, but I learned the hard way that it’s best to prepare for the worst. You can still be optimistic and work for a positive outcome, but make sure you’re safe first. I hope that things work out well for the OP and that she has a decent boss.

  28. Puggles*

    I would take screen shots for proof. If they’re shitty enough to do this then they’re shitty enough to deny it. Take screen shots and show them to your boss, or if you don’t want to show them to your boss then lock them away in a safe place so you won’t have to keep looking at them and dwell on it.

  29. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    You work with a bunch of mean girls, and in most cases confronting them will do nothing but make it worse – they may stop using company equipment to vent about you, but it will just cause them to find more creative ways to gossip about you. I would just ignore them. Be civil and professional, but don’t talk to them about anything personal anymore. Unfriend, unfollow, un-whatever you need to do if you’re connected to them on social media. When they speak to you, provide quick unemotional answers. I realize this is easier said than done, but once you disconnect yourselves from these people, over time it won’t sting as much. And think about this…these people are sad if they get their rocks off making fun of you behind your back and being nice to your face. These types of people are not worth your time or the energy spent worrying about them. I’m sorry you work with such rude and immature people.

    1. CircleBack*

      It’s sad but true. I had a coworker once accidentally send me an IM on our company messenger that was about me. The next week it slips out that most of my coworkers on the team are now using personal gchat to message each other at work. It’s not the messaging itself that’s the problem, it’s their attitudes and reasons for doing it that need to be addressed before they’ll stop.

    2. SimplyTheBest*

      Just want to point out that only one person (the coworker who left) has had their gender identified.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Why is that significant? I didn’t say “mean girls” because I think they’re all female. It’s a reference to a movie, and your point isn’t relevant to the advice I’m offering.

          1. SimplyTheBest*

            When it’s neutral sure, as a way to combat the idea that male is the default (and that’s not a site rule, by the way). But when it perpetuates stereotypes, it’s not great.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          Because everyone reading this and assuming only women are catty and cruel is sexist. You may be referencing the movie, but I doubt everyone is.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I don’t ever see it as anything other than the movie reference, though clearly I cannot speak for everyone. I agree that the wording is unfortunate. I’d suggest that we call this kind of a group of people a Omega Theta Pi House (the snobby fraternity from Animal House), but no one will get the reference (I had to google it myself. I remember the frat but not the name.) Open to any other suggestions.

            1. SimplyTheBest*

              I don’t know, bullies works just fine. Does it really need a cute movie reference name?

          2. Fish Microwaver*

            Simply The Best, I had a similar reaction to you. It might be a movie reference but it still perpetuates the idea that only women are mean and catty. I think some commenters are so eager to get the movie/pop culture reference in that they forget about stereotyping etc.

  30. Two Cents*

    I’d begin looking for another job ASAP. If the nasty chatting went on for this long, I’m guessing the boss likely saw signs of the co-workers’ attitudes and behavior towards OP (even if boss didn’t see the actual chat messages)—and just chose to do nothing about it. My guess is that this behavior is symptomatic of a generally bad culture at the office.

    1. Eulerian*

      I mean, if the OP had no idea it was going on, it’s very plausible that the manager didn’t either.

  31. SomebodyElse*

    I think this is one of those times you have to decide what you want the outcome to be.

    Do you want to forget that you know this? That’s fine and a perfectly reasonable want. If so, don’t give any of them or what you saw head space and proceed as if you never saw it. Yes I know this sounds impossible, but it’s really the only way forward if you don’t want to move this to the next level.

    Do you want it to stop? This might be hard, but not impossible. I’m a big proponent of direct confrontation in these types of issues. The advice was spot on to confront one of the gchatters and ask what’s up? Actually I’m a bit more blunt, I’d probably say something like “Hmm… just a word of warning, you may want to be careful of what you write in gchat and emails from now on, since the information is fair game if the person you are writing to has left the company.”

    If nothing else comes of it, they will know that you know and that should at least get them to stop doing it over gchat. You may never get them to stop fully and it sucks that you now know who and what you are dealing with.

    Do you want them in trouble for it? Not the worst thing in the world and you’d be justified. In that case, definitely boss discussion time. I would want to know about this, even saying that I generally don’t get involved in interpersonal issues with my employees. This goes beyond the normal “Jane’s being mean to me” scenario.

    In any of the cases, how you found the information was not unprofessional and I wouldn’t bat an eye if an employee came to me under similar circumstances. So please take that out of the equation.

      1. serenity*

        Agreed. This is actually a huge performance problem – one that likely rises to the level where people need to be let go (as Alison added in a thread below).

        Vague platitudes and insinuations from a senior manager are absolutely not the way to handle this.

  32. Auburn*

    I’d talk to your manager. I’d want to know if this was happening on my team. And I wouldn’t fault you for finding it that way.

    But depending on the manager’s reaction, I’d probably also start job searching honestly. That kind of toxicity is very hard to recover from. And frankly, that kind of reputation is hard to recover from. Not that I think they should get to win, but even if your manager talks to them and they cut it out openly, you can’t exactly forget this and put it aside. And neither will they. Short of them all getting fired or transferred or something if you have to work daily with these people it’s going to understandably sour your feelings about work and about them. I would feel differently if it was one person, but that group dynamic is very challenging to break. Very few people are going to see the error of their ways in this situation with the group dynamic in play.

    It also amazes me how consistently dumb people are about having these convos in their work chats! In my previous role, I was often the first one in everyone’s email when it was deactivated. And even when people KNEW they were leaving and had time to clean up they would leave gossipy chats that were shocking. The comfort of finding that is that literally everyone gets gossiped about at some point. But it still hurts when it’s you.

  33. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Oh LW, this is so, so awful, I can’t imagine the ball of anxiety you are walking around with! Please, please talk to your boss. You have done absolutely nothing wrong, you were in your former co-workers email with permission, and you saw you own name, so OF COURSE you looked. As a manager, I would 100% want to know if this kind of toxicity was present on my team. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, sending hugs if you want them.

  34. Granny K*

    If this happened to me, I don’t think I could continue to work with these people in the long term. At first I’d be hurt/anxious/paranoid but I think eventually I would lose respect for my coworkers, and it would show. (Sometimes I don’t have much of a poker face). I would dust off my resume and get out of there. Nobody needs to feel that anxious to go into work every day. It’s not worth it.

    1. noahwynn*

      This is where I am on this too. No way will I ever want to see or deal with these coworkers again.

      I’m not saying OP should do this, but I can guarantee that I would print out the chat, clean out my desk, type up a resignation letter and staple the chat to it, and then turn it all in and walk out the door. If I had to stay for financial reasons I would probably not tell my boss but become ice cold to my coworkers. I’d still be looking for a way out ASAP.

  35. Ashley*

    I agree that they way you found out was appropriate. It sounds like the title of the message was inflammatory and included your name. It would be valid to let them know you saw the message and that you weren’t aware of the animosity that they had towards you.

    But honestly I would just make a copy of the chats and not bring it up unless something happen that made it relevant to mention it. Otherwise I would just move forward knowing that those girls are not my friends and that I can’t trust them and should keep my relationship with them completely professional and neutral.

  36. SusanB*

    I was friendly with a co-worker but at times she could be sort of jealous and catty to me. She was fine with me when we were both in the trenches getting stuff done but if I ever got any special attention or anything, she would react badly. I share this to say that she wasn’t a good friend but for the most part she was a “work friend” where we got lunch and would chat at work. Once she was going through old photos on her computer and we were laughing at some of the memories. I was sitting behind her so that I could see the screen and she came across a number of photos of me taken from a distance. It was soon after I’d come back to work after having a baby and looking at the photos, I can clearly see that I looked like hell those days. My clothes didn’t quite fit. I looked schlubby and tired. I’d just had a baby! I was holding it together as best I could. But it was clear from looking at the angle of the photos and the volume of them, that this was something she did with another co-worker to make fun of me. I realize this because I’d also received photos of her about others like “What is Sally wearing today?!” with a photo.

    I was like “Wow, what are those from?” and she was bright red and was like “Oh you knew I took these” trying to laugh it off. I was like “No, I didn’t. How could I? They were taken from a distance?” playing dumb. She tried to quickly blink through them but there were SO many. And she was so embarassed tht I was seeing them.

    I know it’s not the same thing but I thought of that line “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” She showed me who she was. That’s really all I needed to know about her. I am kind to her and polite. We will still talk occasionally “How was your weekend?” kind of stuff. But I don’t get lunch with her. I don’t count her as a work friend. I don’t trust her.

    And once I stopped talking to her, I realized that this was her way of operating. She’s stealth mean about all sorts of people. Nice to their face and friendly but makes fun behind their back. I didn’t realize how much that was poisoning my interactions at work too. Once I stopped talking to her, I realized how many of my co-workers are actually pretty cool people and my relationships with a lot of people improved drastically once I stopped being seen as a friend of Mean Girl.

    Sometimes that’s just the best thing you can do. You saw insight into the kind of people they are. You know. File it away. Be polite and kind in a professional way but know who they are and don’t trust them further than that.

    I’m sorry this happened to you.

    1. Mel_05*

      Yup. This is how half my office is. They slam everyone behind their backs and they’re nice to their face.
      I know that they must make fun of me, but it would be too tiring to care. I just treat them how I would treat them if they were actually nice. It really doesn’t change anything for me.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Bah why are there so many other people on here dealing with jerks? Why can’t more people follow Wheaton’s Law?

    2. Ashley*

      God that’s awful. I’m glad you found out what a jerk she is. I’ve definitely learn that some folks in my life are simply associates. Whether it’s work or something similar, our relationship is pretty one dimensional and functional rather than being a genuine friendship.

    3. sofar*

      OMG. I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s also a great case study that proves these kids of people amass literal troves of digital evidence of their cruelty. And they don’t even think it will come back to bite them.

    4. CircleBack*

      This is such an important lesson – if people are saying unkind things to you about other people, they’ll say them about you, too. I learned this the hard way and now I’m relentlessly positive or neutral in how I talk about other people personally, if I talk about things like clothes, food, etc at all to begin with. Their lunch looks delicious! I like the color of their sweater! Their hobbies are interesting!
      Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of work-related complaints (it’s annoying that Wakeen doesn’t respond to emails! I don’t think Cersei knows what she’s doing!). But I realized how important it is to not wade into negative comments about other people’s personal choices or appearances, and I value being a part of setting a kind atmosphere because unkind ones can turn so easily.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Yeah, it’s not something that should be a regular thing.

        What I’m finding is that it’s hard to resist. A newish co-worker thinks that the way to build a team is to build ‘us vs them’ mindset. The problem is that the ‘them’ she’s trying to target are my internal customers / partners, extremely competent, kind people with whom I’ve worked for years. She actually got a talking to about ‘that’s not how we do it here’ and got better, but we’ve still got lots of fire alarms, and it’s so hard not to go, ‘I know what you mean!’ when she complains about the latest one. But having to constantly watch what I’m saying / parse her statements for bitterness really gets in the way of trusting her as a team mate. She’s mentioned looking for a new role, I can only hope the replacement’s a better cultural fit.

      2. SusanB*

        Absolutely. I agree. I think I fell into the trap because I was a new employee and I felt lonely and overwhelmed. Someone reached out to be my friend and I had someone to eat lunch with and before you know it, you’re the Beta Girl to the Alpha Mean Girl bullshit. But yes, if they talk trash constantly and they do it to you, they’re likely doing it about you too.

  37. SaffyTaffy*

    OP, the way you found this was not inappropriate. A reasonable person who saw that would click on it. You are morally in the clear, and you should tell your boss.

  38. Cartographical*

    OP, I would get set in your mind the outcome you’re after before you move forward with bringing it up — which I think you have every reason to do. Mostly because, while your feelings are hurt, this is also a question of you being able to do your job and be effective in your position from the company’s standpoint. If you have a grasp on how this might impact your role and future with the company and what outcome you want, it may help you be more dispassionate about your complaint. This isn’t just “they’re mean to me!” it’s “no one can be expected to work at their full potential in an environment where this is permissible” and that’s damaging to your workplace and your career.

    I have to work really hard at processing “I’m hurt!” in order to see past that painful reaction and see things like this as genuine, pragmatic problems that need to be solved whether it hurts my feelings or not. I hope you get a positive resolution regardless of your choice of action.

  39. MuseumChick*

    OP, I’m so sorry this happened! I want to add my voice to those saying that 1) How you found it was NOT unprofessional 2) You should talk to your manager. As a manager, I would absolutely want to know about this.

    As Alison said, it is 100% normal to occasionally vent about your coworkers. Just last week I had to vent to someone about my boss (who is great to work for!) because of something small but very irritating that she did. What these coworkers have done is beyond anything reasonable.

    The petty part of me (caveat do not do what I’m about to say, this is fantasy pettiness) wants to tell you do start dropping lines from the chat into conversations with these coworkers. Things you have no other way of knowing without having seen the group chat, “Oh, and Jane I know you didn’t like it when I did X on that project but I still think it’s the best way to do Y.” when Jane has never spoken to you about X.

    But, in reality Alison’s advice is the best.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      +1 on the would want to know as a manager. I’m so sorry that this happened to you, OP, and I would want the opportunity to shut it down.

      I was helping a member of my team with a project once, and a few messages from her peers denigrating a colleague popped up. She turned bright red, immediately acknowledged it was inappropriate, and didn’t even try to make an excuse for it.

      I asked to speak with the others involved, and one of them – frankly, the Regina George of the group – thought I was offering her an early promotion. She was stunned when she found out that not only was she not getting a promotion, she was being counseled about her behavior. I told her I could not give her a leadership role, particularly one over the coworker about whom she spoke so cruelly. She accused me of spying on her computer (because I didn’t mention how I knew – but, really, like I have time to spy on people’s computers), and I just told her that she was misusing a company computer/software, she had better things to do with her time than put people down and needed to bring performance problems that were impacting her to me in a productive manner, and that, if she was seeking a leadership role, she needed to demonstrate the qualities of a leader.

      She left shortly thereafter and totally burned me on her exit interview, but HR already had my summary of the mean IM incident and was able to pull the chat log to attach to her “not eligible for rehire” form in her file. It was like the clouds parted.

  40. OrigCassandra*

    OP, there’s one piece of Alison’s scripts I might change: should you confront your awful coworkers, don’t tell them how you learned what you know. Leave it vague, perhaps something like “it was brought to my attention that {rest of Alison’s script}.”

    This accomplishes two things: taking the “snooping” accusation out of the situation (because this type of person will seize on any excuse to counter-accuse), and putting some well-deserved fear into people who deserve to be afraid.

    Be straight with HR and your boss about how it happened if you go to them, but I don’t at all think you have to be straight with the perps.

    1. Kaaaaaren*

      Totally agree! They don’t need a detailed play-by-play about how you found out, OP, they just need to know that you know. And, if they ask HOW you found out, just say “That isn’t important. What’s important is…” (that is, don’t let them deflect or counter-accuse).

      Maybe the vagueness will have the added benefit of sowing discord among their ranks, if they suspect one of the others involved told you or something.

  41. Michael*

    I would print it all out and give to HR.
    Then have a meeting with your manager.
    Block them all on social media.
    Begin a job search.

  42. pally*

    Hoping someone can enlighten me.

    Years ago, a college friend of mine stumbled upon a similar thing. She was an employee who worked on their data using the company computer system. One day she had to find some files and subsequently found a word processing file with entries by multiple co-workers – all aimed at mocking her. Her walk, her clothes, her lack of boyfriends, her not using cuss words, her work habits, the old car she drove, etc. Very hurtful.

    She discretely made a copy of this file. Then brought it to an attorney.

    (I cannot recall if she went to her supervisor or HR prior to consulting with the attorney)

    She got a nice settlement.

    So why can’t our OP embark on some kind of legal action?

    I recognize that a lawsuit might harm the OP’s reputation in procuring future employment. But my friend got a sealed judgment so there’s not much -officially- out there about this (except that her name and the employer’s name are listed on the lawsuit). And yes, there’s always gossip that someone might use to justify not hiring someone.

    I will say that my friend had no problem finding jobs after all this.

    1. MuseumChick*

      IANAL but I think it would depend on for the mocking created a (by the legal definition) hostile workplace.

    2. Mary*

      I think it might be worth talking to an attorney! But (IANAL) I doubt it would be possible to sue the colleagues involved directly, and to get a settlement from the employer you’d probably need to show they were negligent in some way? If someone senior was involved or if it was all going through an employer-owned Gchat system you might have a better chance.

      1. pally*

        I guess I was not clear. The settlement was from the company.
        I wouldn’t waste time suing co-workers. Usually not deep enough pockets there.
        This was the company computer system (although looong before Gchat was available) that all employees used for their work. So it stands to reason the company should take steps to assure folks are using it properly. Such word processing files, like my friend found, should have been discovered by management the first day they were created. And subsequent disciplinary action taken against the author(s) of such files.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For it to be illegal, the hostility would have to be connected to a protected characteristic like race, sex, disability, religion, etc., which might not be the case here. In some cases, you also need to show that you attempted to bring it to the company’s attention first (or that they reasonably should have known) and they did nothing.

      Beyond that, though, legal action can be exhausting and expensive and incredibly lengthy (which aren’t necessarily reasons not to do it, but are definitely reasons to understand why someone might choose not to).

      1. TootsNYC*

        But also, a company might offer a settlement in order to just not have to deal with the thing, because while they already have lawyers, it still costs them money to argue with YOUR lawyer.
        All a settlement means is “we paid her money to go away.”

        Maybe this woman just had a skilled attorney who was able to persuade the company that it would be faster and easier for them to just write a check.

  43. Undercover Bagel*

    OP, I’m so sorry, you have my sympathies. A similar thing happened to me last year. I have IBS and I found out that my coworkers (who do not know nor will ever know about my condition) had a chat group devoted to making fun of how I always eat the same things or comments like “she’s so dumb, it’s amazing she isn’t fat”. It was so upsetting, it took me almost a month to feel comfortable going back to work. Thankfully, I was granted permanent work from home privileges so my problem was short lived.

    People can be so self-centered and hurtful sometimes. Know it doesn’t reflect on who you are as a person. If anything it shows how kind and considerate you are. I hope things get better soon OP. Hang in there.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      For eating the same things?! People are ridiculous. If you had a varied diet, they’d probably freak out that you never ate the same thing twice *eyeroll*. Of course, it’s not about what you do, it’s about them being garbage people. I’m sorry you had to deal with them.

      So glad you can work from home now! Hope things are improving or remaining stable health-wise, IBS is the devil.

  44. Jennifer*

    I prefer the 2nd suggestion.

    Occasionally venting is one thing but this is Mean Girls level nastiness. And they shouldn’t have been doing it during work time using work equipment anyway so they don’t have a leg to stand on.

  45. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

    There is nothing wrong with you, OP. These coworkers are miserable if they feel the need to attack someone over very petty things.

    This admittedly isn’t good advice, but if you don’t want to rock the boat, you can keep mum until you find another job, and then drop the bombs to both your boss and coworkers before you leave.

  46. Kaaaaaren*

    OP! I’m so so so sorry these people you work with are so awful. But, you weren’t “snooping.” Your boss asked you to log in and you happened to see the chat — it’s all perfectly legit and professional on your part. You should do as Alison advises and bring it up to your coworkers and watch them squirm. Let them know you know. Let them sit with the awkwardness of it.

    Also, you will have to continue working with these people and, as such, will have to remain professional toward them no matter how much you now dislike them, but please de-friend these people on social media and avoid telling them anything personal (as you might normally with a colleague).

  47. Liz the Librarian*

    OP, you are not at all in the wrong. Your coworkers are a pile of buttholes.

    If you’re comfortable doing so, can you lock down your social media so they don’t see it, or just block them? I’m guessing your personal social media doesn’t tie into your job, and it’s so unprofessional of them.

  48. Flora*

    So this actually happened to me– I am in charge of scanning emails after people have been fired or quit, and found a group of people who I thought I was friendly with bashing me at every opportunity– my situation is a bit different because I am a manager, but I was only in charge of 2/5 people in the chat.
    I was pretty devastated– I did what Alison suggested and brought it to my boss. He was furious– there was a huge issue with the morale in that department in the first place, and he used it as an opportunity to let them all know that anything on email/chat IS company property and can be surveilled, and also told them that he went through the chats (instead of me) and found some very concerning things.
    That was a year ago, and although it was really awkward at first, I’ve actually repaired and created much better relationships with those staff. It gave me the opportunity to grow and learn from the situation personally and professionally, and I hope that you’re able to do the same. It sucks, but time WILL help. Don’t get so focused on other people’s opinions about you that you stop being yourself, their pettiness and thoughtlessness should never affect you. Wishing you the best moving forward!

    1. Burned Out Supervisor*

      I had something similar happen, except it was someone who didn’t report to me bashing me to my direct report. It was addressed, but I won’t ever forget it.

      1. Burned Out Supervisor*

        I should say that my direct report let me know right away because it made her incredibly uncomfortable.

  49. President Porpoise*

    What terrible coworkers, OP. I’m really sorry you had to find out how awful they were this way. It sucks to discover that the people you consider work friends are not actually friendly at all.

    *internet hugs*

    I have no advice but to behave in an impeccably polite and professionally friendly way, while you resolve this with your manager (and theirs, if different) looping in HR.

  50. beanie gee*

    It’s possible that if the manager handles it well, the manager never has to let the jerks know it was the OP who found the chat thread. Then the jerks don’t have to know that the OP knows. If that make it easier for the OP. It may be enough to tell the manager and have them communicate that in the process of getting files from the former coworker’s computer, the company found these threads. The manager can communicate that their behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop, toward the OP and to anyone else they’ve been bullying.

    1. Do It*

      Exactly – the manager can say “I’ve seen a group chat ….” and if the people involved have any conscience at all they’ll be so busy panicking they won’t have time to wonder how, they may just assume the manager was checking themselves.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        In my experience, it will drive them crazy, too. They’ll assume their computer is being monitored or that there is a “traitor” amongst them. I’ve seen these groups turn on each other, assuming one or the other “narced” on them rather than realizing that these things often come to light purely by accident rather than some sort of covert mission to out them.

        I say let them squirm, but I’m also the sort that, were I not in a leadership role, would select a few nuggets from the most recent portion of the chat and cheerfully drop references to them into my everyday interactions.

  51. CBH*

    I’m so sorry you are going through this. I vote for printing of the document and doing a confrontation with HR or a manager as a mediator.

    Just curious since it seems your letter has been discussed on other websites in the last few months (only go with Alison’s advice!) – do you have an update?

  52. just trying to help*

    I like Allison’s 1st recommended response. Remember to wait in silence while the awkwardness sets in and they have to think about what they’ve done. Stay professional, do not minimize or brush off what they’ve done. Let them come up with a response to having been caught.

  53. Buttons*

    OP- this says more about them than you. Please remember that if you do decide to use one of Alison’s scripts to bring it up. They are awful people. I do not think badly about you, or even wonder what they found so “wrong” with you, what I wonder is what kind of horrible people find enjoyment out of talking badly about a person.
    As Alison said, it will be awkward, but you should not feel embarrassed or awkward- THEY should feel embarrassed and awkward. *hugs* I am really sorry this happened to you. I hope you will update us, good luck.

  54. Aphrodite*

    OP, I do understand how you feel. It happened to me in grammar and high school rather than work but that feeling you have of being “so, so hurt” and wanting to hide in embarrassment and shame is wrong (for you). Don’t do what I did; you are older, more mature, and in a different time in life. You CAN take hold of those feelings and shake them until they rattle by taking control of your reaction and deciding that you will stand up for yourself. Talk to HR if they are good and also talk to your manager. Have printouts if you can get them. Take charge! That will be the only way to eventually lose that shaming/embarrassed feeling you have now. You don’t deserve that and you can change it.

  55. SameBoat*

    I am so sorry, OP. I know exactly how you feel because this happened to me too; I stumbled upon a public (!) Flock channel hidden away where my coworkers would set dares to undermine me and make fun of me. It was nowhere near as cruel, but it was still just awful.

    This kind of toxicity is insidious and it speaks volumes about what kind of people they are. They are cruel, cowardly and immature, and just plain bullies. You shouldn’t have to pretend you don’t know about it and you’re well within your right to take this higher. Whether that’s quitting, letting them get fired or taking legal action is entirely up to you, but please remember that this has happened because of THEM, not you.

    It’s hard, but take screenshots of the messages and download it if you can, so they can’t deny anything if it’s deleted. Before you go to your boss, outline clearly what they’ve done, the rules it violates and the impact it has made to you, your work and the company as a whole. Put everything you can in writing, including any assurances from your boss or HR that this will be dealt with.

    Good luck!

  56. Beverly C*

    The fact that they call you a “try hard and a kiss ass for caring too much about work,” shows where they are likely coming from. In the corporate world they say, “25% of the people do 75% of the work.” When I was in that world, I was amazed at how some cliques developed with people who were fairly slack in their work habits. Those same people would resist efforts to improve their productivity, and would resent people who did more work than they did. It sounds like the clique at your place is more savage than usual. It’s hard to deal with. I was a “25%” person who worked hard, and I was not popular.

    1. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

      Ugh it’s like the classmates who turned on the smart kid in their class in high school. Some people never graduate.

      1. HermioneMe*

        I was the smart kid who raised the grading curve for teachers who graded that way. Because I got an A everyone else got a C or lower. They would be angry but I didn’t care. I figured if I could study and get an A so could they!

  57. Rainbow Roses*

    I’m not sure what a manager can do except to tell them to quit it or even apologize. They’ll just take it off work chat and talk/create personal accounts behind the OP’s back. After all, the OP didn’t even know it was happening until she stumbled on it. They weren’t mocking her to her face. The OP or management won’t know what they’re up to even if they get reprimanded/confronted because they will outwardly give the appearance of professionalism.
    If the OP stays on the job, the only thing she can do is keep her distance. If it were me, I’d be afraid to confront them because they are hiding their meanness right now and being (fake) nice to her face. What will happen if they know that she knows?

    1. Rainbow Roses*

      Forgot to add that one thing I would do is keep copies of the chats in case it’s needed in the future.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If they’re mean to her face, that’s even more grounds for immediate termination. So I don’t know why she should be afraid of them dropping their fake nice?

      You can be fired for this kind of behavior. It’s not just the mockery, it’s the fact they’re using company resources and time to do this sort of thing as well. There’s lots that can be done unless it’s one of those places that never fires people. They could also move her to another team if that’s the case.

      1. Observer*

        Exactly. If management is at all competent, moving from hidden meanness to open nastiness should be an immediate firing.

    3. Daniel*

      There are plenty of things the manager can do: fire them, deny them bonuses, deny them raises, deny them promotions, transfer the OP out of there, or possibly transfer the perps so they are no longer together (and have IT monitor their computer use).

      1. WellRed*

        Signing on to all of this. Also, never underestimate the power of feeling shamed to be called out on it, esepcially if the boss makes it clear that lots of paths are now closed to them in that workplace. Sure there are some who won’t feel remorse, but I bet at least one person in the group will be mortified, possibly distance themselves from the evil group and maybe even move on from the company.

    4. What, indeed*

      “Not sure what the manager can do” when many companies have rules about appropriate use of company time. At my company this would be immediately shut down and disciplinary action taken against the persons using a chat application to disparage co-workers (and let’s be real: probably also other people, and their manager, and the company’s policies, and the company itself as well …) while on the clock and supposed to be working, not mean girling. This is beyond inappropriate. Rainbow Roses I hope you find yourself one day in a position where support exists for this kind of thing and you can count on them to do the right thing. It sounds like you haven’t, so far.

    5. Observer*

      Well, depending on what the details are, this might be a firing offense.

      In addition, the boss should CERTAINLY be looking out for them moving this to in person bullying, in which case firing is the only way to go here. But, also, as Alison noted, keeping a very sharp eye on their behavior, performance and judgement. Lastly, if there is reason to think that they might go to personal chat, have IT monitor their computer use.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      There are tons of things managers can do. For one thing, even making the Mean Girls aware that you know what they’re up to can be surprisingly effective. There is usually a ringleader and then a bunch of followers who, on their own, would be perfectly decent people to work with.

      For another, I’d want them to know that this sort of behavior makes them ineligible for leadership roles/promotions as well as performance bonuses (because working effectively with your team is a review criteria) and is entirely out of line with the company’s values and expectations. We’re not running a middle school, and this sort of thing detracts from client work.

      It’s also an on-the-record warning (assuming nothing in the chat warrants immediate termination), and I would also be able to set up closer monitoring of a known offender’s company IT assets, were I so inclined. If I decide I’m done with Regina George because she be professional with her coworkers, I’ve also got more for HR to work with. I asked her to stop, she didn’t stop, she’s gone.

  58. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is some high-school level nonsense, holy crap.

    I agree that it should be brought to your bosses attention. They need to be reprimanded and taught the lesson that nothing in a work setting is private so stop doing awful things like that. W-T-F.

  59. almost empty nester*

    I’d probably go to HR with the evidence instead of directly to the manager, unless you are very secure that the manager will address it and not try to cover it up. If a fairly big chunk of your team is taking part in this horrendous chat, your manager may not be especially inclined to blow up his/her team over it and try to just do something benign to address it. Lame team lectures about bullying will not cut it here OP…you deserve to have this resolved at the highest level. Oh, and you did nothing wrong in the way you found it; you were following your manager’s direction when you found it. Company equipment plus company time makes it the company’s responsibility to resolve it.

    1. Why Not Both*

      Ask to meet with HR and the manager at the same time. This way everyone is in the room and hears the same thing being said and there’s no room for dis-ingenuity later on.

  60. TotesMaGoats*

    First, you weren’t snooping.
    1. Your BOSS asked you to look.
    2. Gchats are literally RIGHT THERE. You didn’t have to dig for anything.

    Depending on your relationship with your boss, I’d go to them first. But I’d also be looking for a new place to work.

  61. Happy Pineapple*

    This perfectly illustrates that even if you have legitimate gripes about a coworker (read any of the “I can’t stand my coworker, what do I do?” letters on here) you should absolutely never, ever make it into a group activity to complain about them, especially not in writing. This is incredibly cruel and way past blowing off some steam.

  62. Melissa*

    I have nearly the exact same thing going on with the exception of my coworkers still being here and leaving their chat windows WIDE open that you can easily see when walking by

    1. Amber Rose*

      And you’re… proud of that? You thought it was appropriate, on a post where someone is being bullied, to brag about being a bully?

      Sometimes, humans are just… ugh.

      1. Midge*

        Seriously. Just had a “did I read that correctly?!?” moment.

        Zip Silver, how would you feel if your co-worker overheard this. Are you cool with that? What is your goal in sharing this here?

        1. Wow*

          Looking forward to seeing ‘brownie’s – or their manager’s – inevitable letter to AAM about their toxic work environment with Zip Silver the ignominious star of the show.

        2. Amber Rose*

          Yeah, it took me a second to parse. And then I had to re-type my comment a couple of times to make sentences rather than incoherent anger.

          I hate bullying. I’ve complained about people’s frustrating actions/behavior before (don’t we all) but there’s no call for translating that into personal attacks and ongoing dehumanizing of someone.

      2. Zip Silver*

        I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m surprised to see the AAM commentariat vigorously defending brown-nosers. Even pop culture (like movies) mock them.

        1. Not A Manager*

          Oh well, if pop culture mocks them, that MUST make it okay to mock them too. At work. About doing work stuff.

          And even if your co-worker IS just doing this to show off (and not, for example, to share information in a way that he thinks is efficient), mocking him behind his back is MUCH more likely to undermine to your group project than his brown-nosing.

          And look at what it’s doing to you as a person. Is this who you want to be?

          1. Zip Silver*

            Eh. This guy is a personification of Dwight Schrute from the Office. It’s almost 1 to 1 on behavior.

            1. fposte*

              The thing is, the people making a career of crapping on him are still worse than that, both in The Office and in real life.

            2. Another Millenial*

              As a manager I would WANT my employees to go above and beyond. That’s usually how they get raises/promotions. Are you just bitter because that person is succeeding more than you?

              And pop culture is not where you should get your ideas about how the real world works.

              1. Batgirl*

                Wow yeah. Hard agree to your last paragraph. It’s hard to believe some people don’t get that their real life should not be run like a wacky, zany narrative.

                The Office is poking fun at fictional characters. There’s no real feelings or careers or reputational risk. It’s not a how-to! Good Lord.

        2. Amber Rose*

          I don’t support brown nosers, but I LOATHE bullies. And the moment you start calling someone names, you dehumanize them, and you become a bully. And since you presumably aren’t 12 years old, being a bully is unbelievably pathetic.

        3. Midge*

          Notice how you shifted this conversation from one about bullying to one about who it is okay to bully.

          This is not about “brown nosers”, and never was. This is pretty typical trolling behavior. You brought up a topic that has nothing to do with what was being discussed, and while doing so said that you are participating in the bad behavior being discussed. Why are you doing this?

        4. Close Bracket*

          We are not supporting brown nosers. We are pointing out that bullying behaviors are not an appropriate response. You can hate a brown noser without creating a group chat about them.

        5. Burned Out Supervisor*

          Why do you even care that some one is a brown noser? Does it affect you negatively or are you upset that you’re not getting all the attention for your own ideas. Either way, it seems like a personal problem you need to work on.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      I do not actually see the resemblance? I mean, it sounds like you think the OP *should* be mocked?

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      Hunh – he shares ideas, helping prevent duplicate efforts. ‘Competent’ and ‘generous’ would be better descriptors.

      Your jealousy is showing, and it’s ugly.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Personally, I like knowing what’s been taken care of so I can work on something else… Nothing irritates me more than working on something that someone else has already finished. #TeamTryHard

    4. Belle of the Midwest*

      I agree with Amber Rose. This is unkind of you to say and not something to be proud of. Just delete his reply-all messages and move on.

    5. fposte*

      I was going to comment about the temptation to engage in this kind of shared bitching, so thanks for providing an example.

      It can be very satisfying to scratch this itch; running somebody else down is a pretty common kind of bonding, and it’s reassuring to share dissatisfaction and give it an external target. But because people find it so rewarding they really don’t see how damaging it is. They justify it as “venting,” with the implication that it’s a pressure release that makes the situation better. But behaviorally that’s not how that works–in fact the routine itself is so rewarding that it’s essentially somewhat addictive, and it’s making crapping on somebody a key and regular satisfaction.

      And that’s bad for everybody, no matter how good it feels. It’s obviously bad for the person being crapped on, and it’s also bad for people who decided to make that a focus of their days, because that’s a really poisonous practice that limits and stunts the people doing it and prevents them from being any kind of good guy in the story of their lives.

      So if you’ve bitched about the same co-worker more than once or twice, time to either take an action to solve the problem or shut it.

      1. Quill*

        If you must have a conversation about “oh my god I can’t believe Fergus said that” do it in person.

        1) No evidence left behind
        2) No way you can keep revisiting it for toxic bonding
        3) If you have a barrier to discussing it (needing to speak to another person in private) you’re not going to do it unless it’s really bothering you and venting (or reality checking on “I cannot believe anyone in this office thinks it’s acceptable to say that,”) is actually helpful.

        On top of that: if someone annoys you, block their social media. Never make fun of people’s appearance or mannerisms.

        Repeat venting is usually related to some sort of toxic situation – either you’re trauma bonding because your workplace is that awful, or you’re bonding in toxicity. If you’re complaining about someone who doesn’t have power over you / a disrespect for you and other coworkers problem, it’s toxic bonding and you need to quit.

        1. fposte*

          I love that last paragraph!

          I enjoy gossip and bonding, so I totally get the temptation here, and that’s why I wanted to talk about the situation from this side. I think most of us have experienced the satisfaction of sharing annoyance at one co-worker with another. It can be really hard to realize when you’ve gone over to the dark side on something like this, and it’s easy for us to exculpate ourselves–we’re not being mean, because we’re not *feeling* mean, just idly annoyed or jealous or frustrated. But that’s what a pack of bullies often is; we just find it hard to associate ourselves with that.

        2. Close Bracket*

          “either you’re trauma bonding because your workplace is that awful, or you’re bonding in toxicity.”

          And it’s so tough to know when you have crossed the boundary from trauma to toxic, and very hard to extricate yourself once you are there.

      2. Relly*

        Wow, I think this is a very thoughtful and helpful reframing of the issue.

        My initial reaction to this letter was outrage on the OP’s behalf, because bullies suck … But it’s more complicated to think about the situation I have with a co-worker at BEC levels, and to ask myself honestly if I wouldn’t be tempted to join a chat about it. It’s not pleasant to take a hard look at yourself like that.

        I have taken action on the issue — documented like crazy how he isn’t doing key parts of his job, for one — but nothing happens. Which means, I don’t have a co-worker problem; I have a manager problem. I need to try harder to be pleasant to him, even if I am still hoping desperately that he gets fired asap.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, much as I’d like to draw a big line between Them the Bullies and Me the Good Person, I think it’s worth considering how we can get drawn into that situation on the wrong side and how to avoid that.

          1. AMT*

            This is the kind of letter that makes me rethink how I conduct myself at work. I find it *very* hard not to have a shared moment of “can you believe Alice did that?!” with a coworker, especially if what Alice did was obnoxious or incompetent rather than simply irritating. I don’t think it’s an absolutely terrible thing to have moments of exasperation or to vent to coworkers, but I don’t want to look like (or be) the kind of person who can’t respond to annoyance in an empathetic way. The letter is making me look at these moments from the perspective of the “offending” coworkers.

  63. Annie*

    I know plenty of others have said the same thing but please don’t think of what you did as unprofessional! You did nothing wrong, the only people being ridiculously unprofessional are your awful colleagues.

    I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with something so outrageous and hurtful. Even if you happened to be a terrible colleague you would not deserve this and the nonsense of their mocking (you care about your work?!) cements the fact that these are just horrible human beings. You would be completely justified in taking this to your manager or HR and, if I were your manager, I would want to know that people on my team were behaving so appallingly.

  64. CubeFarmer*

    Ooh, we have a running chat on our phones about a few coworkers, but we’re smart enough to not use our work computers AND to use code names. I know: super duper mature. But sometimes you gotta just vent!

    Because this was on a work computer, and your former colleague was stupid enough to both leave it logged in to her GChat, and to not delete the thing in the first place before she left, I think that LW has every right to both bring it up to her supervisors, AND to point it out to colleagues in the ways suggested above. This was all kinds of dumb on their part.

    Could this potentially be the basis for a harassment complaint? Seems like a hostile work environment.

    1. Amber Rose*

      For it to be harassment/ a hostile work environment (in the US) it has to be bullying based on gender, race, age, etc. Those protected categories.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Just because it’s not under the legal umbrella doesn’t mean that there aren’t internal policies.

        Code of conducts tend to include things like not being a bully for any reason, including because you don’t like someone’s haircut or eye color. They’re not protected under the law but they can be protected under the code of conduct.

        1. fposte*

          I think Amber Rose was just talking about the hostile work environment suggestion, since that’s a legal term.

      2. Burned Out Supervisor*

        Harassment in general doesn’t have to follow the legal definition of Hostile. You can be harassing without zeroing in on gender, race, age, etc. Lots of companies have policies that cover both Hostile and Harassing behavior.

    2. hedda*

      Vent to a therapist, and not to each other. “Super duper mature” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

    3. This one here*

      One particular coworker and I sometimes text each other reactions to things that just happened, on our personal phones, and no one else reading would know what it’s about (e.g. “What button?”). We’d never use work computers (we don’t have chat functions anyway). Or, y’know, we talk to each other.

    4. Pink Glitter*

      We had a group text when I was on a team that included a member who said things like:

      “The confederate flag isn’t a racist” (to a black teammate)
      “Are you going to have to get your boobs cut off” (to a supervisor who was diagnosed with breast cancer)
      and other such delightful gems

        1. Pink Glitter*

          No, but she was disciplined a few times that I’m aware of. In general, she was just one of those incredibly tone deaf people who cannot read a room and the rest of us on the team would just gape at some of the things that came out of her mouth.

    5. Observer*

      Do you really think that if your coworkers found out about your “running chat” somehow they would be (ethically) barred from acting on it just because you weren’t using company computers?

      Also, fposte put it very well in response to another comment – if you have a running chat, you’re making the situation worse. Either you need to find some way to deal with the problem or you need to stop discussing it.

      And, if you guys have a running chat criticizing someone for “trying too hard” or because you don’t like the way they dress etc. then reread what Alison says about stuff like this. Yes, you are not as dumb as these people in ONE respect. But in others?

    6. fposte*

      FWIW, I really hope you rethink the running chat. You don’t gotta vent; the venting itself creates the craving for venting, and it means that a lot of your energy is focused on somebody inconsequential and on tearing them down.

    7. AnonToday*

      There’s no reason to vent to other coworkers about it. This often poisons the workplace whether or not it’s done at work and/or on work equipment. Plus, if this veers away from work conduct to personal attributes, then actions taken outside the workplace can still count as creating a hostile work environment/harassment even if they don’t take place at work. It is never smart to be unkind.

  65. hedda*

    This happened to me when I worked at LargeFruitInc. I walked into a coworker’s cube, and they had the secret chat room up where they talked shit about me (saying I was a fat bitch, etc). I asked them, “… is that what you really think of me?”
    I reported it to their managers, who didn’t see a problem with it. I reported it to HR, who made everyone do a mandatory “sensitivity training” which everyone wrote off. The men said, “I guess we just can’t talk to women anymore haw haw!”
    I had a mental breakdown for that and other reasons, and quit the job and left the state. I still have some PTSD about it.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      So sorry – some people suck. I am surprised the mgrs didn’t care, as b* does indicate harassment based on gender.

      1. ACDC*

        So sad that not all workplaces take this seriously. At my workplace, someone called a coworker a fat b* behind her back and was fired within hours after management found out.

    2. Jan*

      Yes, they absolutely can talk to women. If he’s not sure whether something’s sexist or not, he can simply ask himself “Would I say that to a bloke?” Not difficult.

    3. Burned Out Supervisor*

      That’s awful and I’m sorry. I hope you are getting better and I hope they get hand sanitizer on their paper cuts.

      1. hedda*

        I’m in a much better place now, thankfully, and they’re only a bruise on my memory banks now.

  66. Not A Manager*

    I prefer going to your manager over confronting the co-workers, but if you choose to follow Alison’s scripts, it’s key that you are able to control your own emotions when you do so.

    “Lucinda asked me to log into Jane’s computer for a file, and I saw a years-long Ghat from you savaging me on a daily basis. I was taken aback by how unkind it was.” If you can say this in a calm, professional manner, or at most slightly sternly as if you were speaking to a mildly naughty child, it can have the intended effect. Especially if you’re then able to maintain your own silence while they bumble around trying to respond. But if your voice is going to quaver or any other expression of (completely understandable!) hurt feelings or anger, I think this will backfire.

  67. Chaos Monkey*

    GET THOSE RECEIPTS. Screenshot everything, the whole length of it. People who are awful like this (as well as people who are sometimes good) will delete every last piece of evidence. Do not delay doing this, even for one day. The perps, no doubt attuned to your every move, will smell it on you that your response to them has changed, and they’ll act sooner than you think to C their A’s.

    HR is rarely anyone’s friend – they mostly exist to prevent lawsuits – so have the lowest possible expectations from them.

  68. CatsAndGuitars*

    Personally, I’d look for a new job (because clearly I wouldn’t be able to work with them again) and then publicly shame the heck out of them on the way out the door. Of course, I’m a bit vindictive, so I’d make sure I added some “sexist/racist/anti-whatever/calling-the-CFO/CEO nasty name/insulting their families” stuff and attribute it to them in a company-wide email as I’m headed out the door, and then link to the gChat. The only way they could defend themselves against the false stuff would be reference the *real* nasty stuff they said. Nothing wrong with torching their careers on the way to your next job.

    1. Alexander Graham Yell*

      I mean, there’s a WHOLE lot wrong with destroying your own integrity for revenge. The OP will only be thought better of by anybody aware of the situation by resisting that temptation and will not torch their own reputation in the process.

      1. CatsAndGuitars*

        I understand your perspective. To each her own. Personally, I think the OP’s integrity would be fine, because *nobody* is going to be focusing on her, but rather what the scumbags did (if for no other reason than because many others in the company will be focused on “Wow. So what did they say about *me*?!”. But even without the added ‘commentary’, I see nothing at all wrong with a company-wide public shaming, with the gChat log (printed out to a pdf) attached to the email; highly unlikely to harm the OP, highly likely to harm the scumbags. But again, there are many ways of handing this, but I cannot imagine *ignoring* it to be an appropriate one of them.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          Integrity isn’t about whether or not you get caught. Doing this absolutely destroys your integrity, even if you’re the only one who knows that you’re now one of the scumbags.

          1. CatsAndGuitars*

            Again, I understand this position, but do not wholly agree with it. When an individual has stepped over certain boundaries in the way they interact you, and intentionally harm you, it does not display a lack of integrity to do what is necessary to ensure that they *stop* that action. I know many people might not consider tanking their careers on the way out “ethical”, but the only behavior that made it even a consieration was *their own* inappropriate behavior, and as a consequence they lost any right to expect to be treated decently. Again, to each her own, but I genuinely see absolutely nothing wrong with this. I’ve burned obnoxious coworkers/bosses before on my way out the door, and it’s never come back to hurt me, and certainly wasn’t remotely unethical

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          This is really not a “to each her own” situation. That is a bad, terrible thing to do even to bad, terrible people. Do not do that, and do not recommend other people do.

          1. CatsAndGuitars*

            Feel free to recommend to others what you think they should do, and I won’t tell you not to. I’ll do the same, and would expect the same. Your perspective on matters such as this is precisely as valid as mine or anyone else’s, and no greater. This *is* very much a situation where an individual has to make her own choice, among many different valid options. Deal?

    2. Observer*

      Only do this if you want to make sure that your reputation gets tanked and that nothing ever gets done about the original problem.

  69. Peter B*

    I’ve worked at a place like this before. I do think you have standing to bring this to your manager and possibly to HR as well. How effective that will be is hard to say from the outside. But I’ll tell you that in any case you should consider looking for a better job. People like this don’t change. If your company fires the whole group of them, then maybe you can stay and it will send a powerful message to any other bully assholes in the place, but if that doesn’t happen…

  70. Karyn*

    I’ve worked with these kind of people and worked for these kind of people. It is an awful feeling. Everyone would say to me, “just quit” or “get a new job”. Quitting was not an option (if it is not for you, don’t let someone talk you into it). I was actively looking for a new job-it took time. I needed advise on how to survive on a daily basis with this kind of situation, and no one seemed to have advice beyond that. What I learned: 1. These people are not your friends. Not in any way. Don’t justify it by, “Jane was nice to me today,” because friends and and people who respect you are nice to you everyday and above and beyond nice most days. Unfriend them from your social media. It does you no good to see what they’re doing or second-guessing what you’re posting. 2. Keep a professional relationship with them. Speak only about work and share no personal details of your life with them. They don’t deserve to know anything about you. 3. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. Do your work and go home. 4. Getting up in the morning to face this sh*t is nearly impossible. Change your morning around so that you have something positive to do before going to work. My friends and I live a long ways away (as in bi-coastal), so we use Marco-Polo to chat. The morning is the best time to watch their messages and to respond back to them. 5. Spend the week-end making a plan for how you are going to exit this job and this cesspool of negativity. I do agree with Allison’s post-especially about speaking with your manager. As a manager, I, too, would be horrified to learn this was happening. I would want to know. That being said, is there really anything that can be said or done to erase your memory of this stuff? Short of firing everyone on the team-which is unlikely-probably not. So, fix up your resume, start the process, and keep that big picture goal in mind on the tough days. 6. Finally, work is going to suck for the remainder of your time there. Know it, accept it, move on from it. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt you, or maybe make your cry occasionally. Don’t let it be the thing that ruins your day or your lovely attitude. You are a winner. They are not. Best of luck to you.

    1. Observer*

      5. Spend the week-end making a plan for how you are going to exit this job and this cesspool of negativity.

      This is so important. More important than most people realize. Quitting without another job lined up is not an option for most people. But the sooner you start working on it, the sooner you’ll be out. And the better your planning, the better your prospects. Also, working on getting out helps make the rest of it easier to deal with.

    2. Burned Out Supervisor*

      “These people are not your friends. Not in any way. Don’t justify it by, “Jane was nice to me today,” because friends and and people who respect you are nice to you everyday and above and beyond nice most days.”

      These people are only nice to you so that you continue to give them fodder for ridicule. It’s narcissistic behavior. If you take away their source of ridicule, be prepared for them to ramp up either their nice behavior or they may target you negatively. Your best option is to continue to be polite and professional and document every interaction. When they ask about your weekend, be as boring as possible and they’ll probably forget about you and move on to something else.

  71. Good Lord*

    As a manager I would absolutely, positively, want to know this was happening on my team and I would work with HR on some way to address it. You never know what another person’s employment history is, if this is a larger pattern, if they are on a PIP for example. PLEASE let your manager know at the very least. Even if you never do another thing about it yourself.

  72. alittlehelpplease*

    Work email isn’t the right place for it, but it is completely appropriate for employees to vent to each other — even regularly — about a coworker who is truly doing awful things. Per the rules of this site, I am assuming that LW is not such a person. But I also assume that her coworkers believe she is such a person. The coworker problem here is more one of location than behavior. I have worked with some truly awful people, and I’m sure if they could have heard what we said about them, they would have reacted exactly as LW did here because bad people and good people tend to react the same way to being told they are bad.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s really not okay to regularly be mocking someone, regardless of (perceived) provocation. Talking about genuine problems, sure, but that’s not what this was — what the LW describes is mockery.

    2. Not A Manager*

      If every reasonable person who heard what you were saying about them would have been hurt and offended, then maybe you should rethink who is the “bad person” in this scenario.

    3. Amber Rose*

      If you’re making fun of someone’s partner and social media postings, you are 100% the bad person.

      If you are regularly venting angrily about someone’s behavior and have done nothing to try to improve anything because you prefer toxic circle jerks, you are 100% the bad person.

      If you regularly indulge in backbiting, you are 100% the bad person.

      Hope that clears things up for you.

    4. Observer*

      Really? There are a number of appropriate responses to “Jules just said something horribly offensive and he keeps doing it. ” (Or any other behavior that is “truly awful”.) But in what universe does that list include “OMG, what a kiss up. He asked permission before buying that expensive new printer! Can you imagine – he actually asked permission. Jerk! And that girlfriend of his? What trash heap did his cat drag her in from?”

      My point is that firstly, the behavior that the OP describes simply cannot be classed as truly awful. But even if it were, ongoing trash talk about it is at best not the appropriate way to handle it. And general mockery of the person AND EVEN THEIR SO means that you are as much of a problem as the coworker.

    5. Jules the 3rd*

      I don’t even agree with ‘it is completely appropriate for employees to vent to each other – even regularly’.

      If an employee is doing something bad, vent once (ok, maybe ‘once a year’). If it repeats, either 1) decide to ignore it or 2) document and hand to management. If 2, and nothing happens, decide if you want / can get out or not.

      But continually harping on the same problems doesn’t get you anywhere good, and isn’t worth doing. It actually makes the situation and your feelings worse by keeping your attention focused on it.

  73. rnr*

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I was in a similar situation one time, although it was only the coworker who had left that had said horrible things about me. I was also asked to look through her files and came across a document where she had made all kinds of bizarre and hurtful comments about me. Things like saying another coworker was hitting on me (he wasn’t) and accusations about my work. All from someone I thought I had a great relationship with up until a couple weeks before she left. I never told my boss because I was so embarrassed about it. I hope you get some resolution on this! It’s easy to become suspicious of future coworkers after something like this, so be aware of that!

  74. Don't put things in writing, kids*

    Just gonna remind people who apparently need reminding what happens when stuff that’s in writing in employer-managed group chats finds its way out of the group chat.





    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Looking at the first link though, isn’t that retaliation?

      Many of the channels users were reportedly queer employees and employees of color, who used the channel to vent about subtle bigotry they faced on the job.

      Then, one day, employees saw CEO Steph Korey’s name appear in the Slack channel. One former employee told The Verge that the next day, Korey called people who were using the channel into her office and berated them. Some were subsequently fired.

  75. saradesel*

    I’m so sorry. This exact scenario has happened to me, where I was asked to log into a departed colleague’s email and found a years-long chat thread between them and another coworker making fun of my weight, calling me a “chipmunk stuffing her face”, etc. It was so hurtful, and I ended up having to work alongside the other coworker for another two years. It hurt a lot, especially as someone who did struggle with body image issues and just…because kinder people wouldn’t do this kind of thing.

    I never said anything to my boss because I didn’t know how to bring it up and I was embarrassed. However, once that boss left the organization and I got a new boss, she asked me early on about my thoughts on this colleague. I told her the truth about what had happened (because she had already proven trustworthy) and she was so horrified by it. She had already started building a case to terminate this colleague, and my telling the truth helped. So I would say that if you have a boss you think you can trust, letting them know in a measured and “reporting the facts” style way was a move that did end up helping my work situation.

    But the whole thing just sucks and you should know you are not alone.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      I just…..AUGH! I am so sorry you went through that although I am glad the new boss did the right thing. I also struggled with body image issues (still do sometimes) and it can feel so defeating. And then to get made fun of for your body…I have no work appropriate words.

      One phrase that’s helped me immensely over the years is “my body is an instrument, not an ornament.”

      1. saradesel*

        Thanks! I’ve done a lot of great work since then and care a whole lot less about what other people think about my body. It’s just a vehicle for my awesome brain! :)

  76. Inquiring mind wants to know...*

    As one who has endured a variety of bullying throughout my life, I just wanted to extend an internet hug to the OP and also ask that, if he or she can, please so provide updates as appropriate. PTSD from bullying is a thing and I, for one, sincerely hope the OP is all right and comes back from it.

    Ok, so I also would love to read an update that the perpetrators received their comeuppance. :D

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Getting in the Jedi hugs or fistbump line. I’m bringing a pile of bubble wrap in case you too like popping it.

  77. Ashley*

    This happened to me once years ago! We had a communal desktop computer everyone had to use to print. You’d have to login to your email on that computer, find the file you wanted and print from there. As luck would have it, the office receptionist forgot to log out of her gmail one day. When I went to close out of her account to login to mine, a gchat popped up from another coworker with my name in it. Like you, curiosity got the best of me and I read the entire thread. It went back weeks and weeks commenting on my appearance, facial expressions and sharing pictures from my social media back and forth to make fun of. It mentioned some other coworkers too but I was by far the most talked about. I blame it on being a pretty male dominated office. The final straw for me was an insinuation that I was having an inappropriate relationship with one of the male directors because we arrived and left within 5 minutes of each other several days in a row (yes they recorded our comings and goings). When I saw that I worried my reputation was truly at risk so I forwarded the entire conversation to my own email and then to my boss and the director that was being talked about.

    Both were fired within about 2 days :)

    You should absolutely say something. Not because you are vindictive and want to get someone fired (that was not my desired outcome at all) but because that shit is toxic and unacceptable and could be hurting YOUR reputation and poisoning the waters. A good boss will realize this and have your back.

    Good luck and please update!

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      The 2 chatters were fired, not the boss & director right? I’m still feeling like death warmed over and can’t make that parse out in a happy way.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      The final straw for me was an insinuation that I was having an inappropriate relationship with one of the male directors because we arrived and left within 5 minutes of each other several days in a row (yes they recorded our comings and goings).

      My god these kind of workplace rumors are the worst and I hate them. Anytime a woman moves receives any recognition at work, it has to be because she slept with her male boss. If she hasn’t received a raise or a promotion yet, that’s because she hasn’t yet seduced the boss! If a man receives one, that’s a well-deserved recognition of his merit. No one ever spreads a rumor about a guy sleeping with a female boss, I wonder why. I had it happen to me very early in my US career. A concerned ex-coworker tried to warn my boss about my sleeping-around-for-raises-and-promotions ways. At that point, the only man in my life had been my husband, but who would ever let the facts get in way of good quality gossip? It got back to me on literally the next day, I’d considered the ex-coworker a friend and was gutted. Now I make it my mission to kill these rumors, about anyone I work with, any time they rear their ugly head (you would be surprised how often that happens). My work friends would be “psst, do you know that A got where she is by sleeping with B, C, and/or D?” and I’m like “as someone who had these rumors spread about me, I have zero tolerance for them” somehow this never fails to end the conversation, which I love. Good to hear that the chatters were fired within two days. I imagine the director didn’t take kindly to being dragged into that nonsense, either, huh!

  78. Bubbles*

    OP, I am definitely conflict averse, so I can tell you that I just would NOT be able to approach or confront those co-workers about this. I’d struggle to have ANY conversations with them. But I would really, really, really encourage you to tell your manager and/or HR.

    If you are still able to access Jane’s computer, you can actually download a transcript of the chat using Google Takeout. rather than screen shot. You can provide that document to your manager and HR. Having your own copy would be beneficial – if the other mean girls find out you know, they may try to delete and hide things. And who knows – maybe your manager is scummy and would try to hide it as well.

    I do think the most difficult part of this will be interacting with your coworkers going forward. But this is a big deal. This is them having compromised trust. Please just remember that they are the ones who have done wrong. You have not.

    1. Enginear*

      Forreals! No way am I going to confront them. Talk about awkwardness and possible retaliation long-term.

  79. AnonPi*

    Unfortunately (?) here people tend to talk smack behind other people’s back where they think they aren’t being overheard. Except they are often readily overheard. I just had our temp in my office last week crying over mean stuff two employees were saying about her which I felt awful about – she’s had an awful run of back luck the last two months so this was just over the top for them to make fun of it, they were just making shit up on top of it, and to do that to a person I view as a sort of “guest” in our office I feel is even worse than a coworker. Since they’re not part of our work group (they help support our office and what we do) and the fact our work place is notorious for ignoring crap even worse than this I know saying anything about it would in the long run likely cause more trouble. Hell most of my coworkers talk smack about me behind my back so I don’t expect them to treat our temp any better or help with the situation. I took our temp with me to a remote work site for her last week so she didn’t have to deal with their crap.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      One day in Toxic Ex-Job I was in the main office for reasons I don’t recall. The Deputy Big Boss of the entire organization was there as well. An affable colleague came in for something and spent a little time in water-cooler-style chat with DBB and the receptionist while waiting for what he’d come in for.

      When he left, DBB said (in a supposed sotto voce that was more than loud enough for everyone within five yards to hear), “Doesn’t he have any real work to do?”

      To this DAY I wish I had spoken up. DBB was terrible on many fronts, and I spent my entire tenure at that job in his sights, so of course I was left wondering how often and to whom he’d slagged me in similar fashion. This was just… typical, honestly, but so very very extra awful from an org leader.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      You should still report that–it’s a definite possible business impact. A reputable temp agency hears that about an employer, that employer will get charged extra. Source? Getting offered a high-paying temp assignment and being warned it was pretty much hazard pay. I turned it down.

  80. Enginear*

    If this were me, I’d bring it to the attention of my manager. Let him/her handle it. If they don’t do anything about it, bring it to HR.

  81. The Tin Man*

    The fact that grown adults are complaining about someone being a “try hard” when I associate that with teenagers playing games online…I have trouble getting past that.

    I would have such a hard time bringing this up but I agree that you should. You’ll learn a lot about your company – either they’ll need new jobs or you will because either you have good management or you’ll learn you have management that doesn’t care about this level of bullying and you should GET OUT.

  82. Robin Ellacott*

    Oh no, I’m so sorry OP had to see that. They are childish, repellant people. Chances are they are bonding through venting and don’t actually feel as strong as they appear to about you, if that is any comfort at all.

    I’m in favour of calling them out because it hands the majority of the squirmy discomfort back to them. Why should YOU be the one suffering in every interaction? They deserve it; you don’t.

    Ideally I would say speak to them and tell your boss what happened and that you spoke to them about it, but if you (very understandably) don’t want to talk to the Mean People about it fair enough. I would very much want to know if someone on my team were doing this. We caught someone behaving similarly once and gave them a warning it was absolutely unacceptable. One changed her behavior and is still here… one immediately relapsed and was fired. Your employer would presumably feel as strongly as we did.

  83. Senor Montoya*

    I would not talk about it with anyone the group, btw. Because they’ll keep it up, but in way that you (or the boss, or HR) cannot see it, such as private texts.

      1. yala*

        Sure. But let it out to HR, not to the coworkers themselves. They’ll likely feel no real shame if coworker is the one to confront them.

  84. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Step 1: Take screen shots. Lots of screen shots, going as far into the past as possible. Make sure to have at least three complete sets of screen shots.

    Step 2: Keep the first set in a secure location, preferably at home.

    Step 3: Bypass your whole chain of command and go directly to HR with one set. Say nothing to the offending coworkers or your boss.

    Step 4: Now go to your boss or grandboss (especially if you suspect that the boss might take their side).

    You don’t need to tell your coworkers that you went to HR first. You don’t even need to tell the boss — say only that you were “thinking about” going to HR. If he tells you not to, you’ll know where he stands.

    Good luck!

  85. Lee*

    I’ve recently had an experience at work that made me realize that how important it is to shine a light on this kind of unpleasantness or else it becomes normalized. Its really important to be able to stand up and call it what it is because there is no grey area here. I think its important that to acknowledge how uncomfortable they have made your work situation because people will never stop if you don’t call it out.

  86. Cheesehead*

    As others have said, make printouts of the chat if you can. Then go to your boss.

    In my first job out of college, I got a call from someone one day out of the blue. This was before email was as widely used as it is now (1990). This person confirmed that it was me, and then she just went off about how I was such a terrible person, how I thought I was better than everyone else and I wasn’t, etc. etc. The stuff she said was like a sucker punch. I could hardly get a word in edgewise. In somewhat of a stupor, I went out to the main reception area and and said something to the receptionist. I don’t even know what I said, but it was something like, “Do you think that I think I’m better than everyone?” or something like that. I don’t even remember exactly. But I remember the look on her face, like she knew what I was talking about. She ushered me into a conference room and then all of the other women in the office eventually joined us. It turned out that they’d all been gossiping about me behind my back, sharing things that I did “wrong” (things that they didn’t like or understand). I was in a trainee position and one of my “goals” was to learn about different parts of the office/business. Turns out that the ringleader woman was jealous of the fact that I was getting training that she hadn’t gotten and basically any little thing I did was grounds for them trashing me. Well, our positions were different!!! So this ringleader had vented to her friend, and her friend is the one who called me and told me how horrible I was (I guess the caller had offered t o do that, the ringleader told her not to, but she did it anyway). The only other example I can remember now is that they said I complimented people (on their clothing, etc.) too much and they didn’t like it?? But it was absolutely mortifying to go into that room to learn that all of the other women KNEW what was going on, and that they’d been trashing me behind my back and to God knows how many other people. I was just trying not to break down and it was seriously one of the worst moments of my professional life. I was kind of naive and was just trying to fit in in this new professional role that I was in. It really did a number on my interactions on all of the women in that office. Luckily the guys were cool. The women did at least apologize and admit that they shouldn’t have done what they did. But I still remember how it felt to take that call and hear what these people thought of me even though they were decent to my face.

    So yes, OP, go to your boss. And try to get a printout if there’s any way that you can. They should have some hell rained down on them for behaving like that. And you have my sympathy and virtual hugs….I kind of know what it feels like to be sucker punched like that.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I actually just read your earlier version of this comment in the linked post (the one with the coworker running a blog) and was horrified and so grossed out. I’m so sorry that happened. What pathetics excuses for women. Please know that you did nothing wrong. I hope your life is much better now.

    2. fposte*

      Holy crap, they *called* you? This is where that horrible “I’m just being honest and telling her for her own good” stuff ends up

  87. OP with Catty Coworkers!*

    OP here! Alison, thanks so much for answering my letter, and thank you to the commenters for being so thoughtful and supportive. I’m a very conflict-averse person and a people-pleaser, and while I am 100% confident there are plenty of people in my life who don’t like me, it was just so shocking and devastating to see such vitriol, especially from people who were nice to my face. You’ve all made me feel so much better about the snooping (if you can even call it that).

    I wrote this letter about two months ago, and there have been some pretty huge updates since then! I did block them all on social media, and started printing some of the messages in preparation to talk to my manager. I also started updating my resume and strongly considering finding a new job.

    And then…. my company was acquired and there were widespread layoffs. I’m keeping my job—and two of the three remaining coworkers involved in the chats got laid off!!! Obviously it’s not a punishment I would wish on anyone, but I can’t pretend I’m sad to see them go. I feel validated that my “try hard” and “kiss ass” tendencies allowed me to keep my position. While I still get anxious moments imagining what they’re all saying about me now, I’m trying to just be grateful I’m keeping my job and realize these people no longer need to be in my life in any capacity. (The one who kept her job said some crummy stuff, but was by no means the ringleader. I plan to keep her at an arm’s length, but likely will not report her in any way at this point.)

    I do think there was a silver lining to all of this. It made me recognize that I had some micro-managing tendencies (even for people on the same level as me) and that I should trust my colleagues to handle their own work a bit more. What I saw as helpful—like explaining a project in overly thorough detail—may have come across as condescending to people who had been in their positions for years. It still doesn’t explain the personal attacks about my social media and my partner, of course. I’m so grateful to be able to start fresh with a new group of colleagues.

    Thank you all again for your kindness!

    1. fposte*

      That’s a very thoughtful and insightful response, OP. It’s pretty awesome that you managed to make this a growth experience, and I hope the new phase of your job is excellent.

    2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      You sound like an awesome person and I’m very happy everything worked out for you!

    3. StellaBella*

      What. a great update, OP! I am sorry this happened but your growth (about your micromanaging tendency) is so great to hear about! And good for you for blocking people on social media. I have a lot of hope that your next years at this firm will be better!

    4. Daniel*

      I’m happy for you, OP. I’m sorry you had to go through this, but it sounds like you wound up with something that works for you.

    5. Heidi*

      It’s extra classy of you to find an opportunity to improve from all this. It would have been easy to dismiss mean-spirited comments as just trash talk from lazy jerks. It’s discouraging to know that there are full-grown adults out there that will go after people for qualities like working hard and wanting to be good at their jobs. No wonder they got laid off.

    6. Minocho*

      I had a coworker that had an issue with me. It got so bad that other coworkers complained to management about the treatment I received from this coworker, and eventually the coworker behaved so badly toward me in front of management that it became a full blown “thing”. The justification coworker gave to management that was then forwarded to me was that I was too nice, and a brown noser, and I overpromised and overvolunteered for things.

      I do have a tendency to over-promise, and I mentioned this to my manager after receiving this feedback, along with an explanation that I was aware of this issue, actively working to curb/correct it, and would appreciate receiving feedback if it was happening despite my focus on reining it in.

      My thoughts on those complaining about brown nosing or butt kissing is if the “brown noser” can’t do the work, they’ll crash and burn, it’s not anyone else’s problem, except maybe the manager’s, if they want to rein it in.

      1. Perpal*

        It seems to me complaints against someone “sucking up” etc are people who just want to belittle people who are doing a good job so they can feel better about not doing it themselves?

    7. Bubbles*

      I think it is really well-done of you to look at what they were complaining about and see if there is something behind their complaints, then make changes. That type of self-reflection can be so painful, but you did it wonderfully.

      In the future, keep in mind Google Takeout for Google products… it lets you download all of the information without having to screenshot.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m going to tell you this as well because I think you deserve it especially after this update. There are people out there that live to cut others down, they don’t have any real good reason for it but they do it anyways.

      Your situation reminds me of grade school behavior, like picking on the kid who reads books or is good in math. Along with the whole “OMG NERD! FOUR EYES!” behaviors that tend to go along with that.

      Being a high achiever will bring these people out even in adult hood. That’s on them, not you. Ever. They just don’t “get it” and get why you care. They are probably just pissy they have to do a job they probably weren’t interested in and your interest in doing the job well and staying on top of things, just dug at those nerves of theirs.

      But I’m glad that you did find ways through this to improve upon yourself! That’s important for self growth.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        So, I dunno, there are employees who go above and beyond without ruffling anyone’s feathers and then there are people who, often inadvertently, interact in a way that crowds out other people’s contributions in a collaborative environment. Grandstanding in meetings and group discussions, micromanaging peers, talking at people, things like that.

        None of that justifies bullying under any circumstances, but if we’re going to be honest here, hard workers can have soft skills issues that breed contempt even among other high achievers. I think it’s really great that the OP identified some areas for improvement.

        1. Ginger Root*

          yes, you can be a great employee without annoying everyone, and if you are the person micromanaging your peers on a job they do your the jerk and someone is making fun of you. I think the co-workers went too far making fun of the partner, but I cant say I don’t roll my eyes at a kiss ass employee. Honestly I have a work friend that we always have an eye roll and poke each other at a colleague that does what the OP does. I think its great that OP has noticed some of her bad behavior, but the letter made me cringe for the co-workers and for OP. I don’t think there was a right person in this letter, maybe the partner.

          1. Observer*

            Really? Someone is an annoying coworker, so you don’t bring it up with them or anyone who could change it. But you DO take the time to make fun of EVERYTHING about them, and I do mean TAKE THE TIME. They went after their social media posts – which they could just have blocked if she was so annoying, after all. And you even go after their partner. Because that’s the kind of response you expect from reasonable people?


            1. Oh So Anon*

              Gotta agree here – the ad hominem stuff isn’t excusable.

              If someone’s being annoying in an actionable way, you bring it up with them in a reasonable way, you talk to your manager about group dynamics, you try to change it constructively. I wouldn’t bet on the OP’s coworkers having ever tried that.

          2. Jan*

            The OP didn’t behave badly though, she just overexplained stuff. The person or people who found it annoying could have just said “Thanks but I got this. I know where to find you if I need help!”

            1. Oh So Anon*

              I’ll say this, not wanting to make assumptions because I don’t have a full frame of reference into OP’s situation, but chronic overexplainers who don’t respond to cues to stop are behaving in a way that is corrosive to their work relationships. This may not apply to OP because we don’t know how her colleagues responded to the overexplaining issue, but it happens.

              Consider, for instance, all the letters that come in about *splaining – sometimes it’s benign as a lack of active listening, but even so it rises to the level of bad workplace behaviour if it isn’t curbed.

        2. Observer*

          None of that justifies bullying under any circumstances, but if we’re going to be honest here, hard workers can have soft skills issues that breed contempt even among other high achievers.

          So why are you trying to justify it? Sure, some high achievers have poor social skills in one or more areas, and it sounds like the OP did have a least one thing to learn out of this. But the reality is that if this were really just a couple of otherwise decent people who were irked by a genuine issue in the way the OP behaves, they would not have behaved this way.

          1. Oh So Anon*

            I wasn’t – “but” was really the wrong word to use here. The OP had something to learn, but this absolutely isn’t the way she should have learned about it.

            1. Perpal*

              I don’t think OP had much to learn from this. I mean it’s nice that they’re trying to learn anyway, but we really don’t have much frame of reference and it’s just as likely the former coworkers were just gross and OP got singled out for…. not being gross.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Wow I’m suddenly thankful for the field I’m in. At no point in my career did I ever witness anyone being ridiculed behind their back for working hard and getting things done. To the point where I couldn’t think of a logical explanation of why people do so. Like, if someone doesn’t pull their weight, then their work will most likely end up on your plate on top of yours; but if they do, what’s the reason to complain?! I get it that it happens (an older letter comes to mind where an entire group was habitually dumping their work on one teammate, and then the same people that were dumping their work on her, were making fun of her behind her back for working too much), I’m just grateful that it isn’t happening in my world – we have enough dysfunction as it is – at least we don’t have that.

    9. GreyjoyGardens*

      Thank you for updating us, OP! I’m so glad there was a happy ending for you. And being called a “try hard” is like being called a “teacher’s pet” or “grind” – lazy people who want to coast on superficial qualities like to fling those terms around. You got to stay, and all the mean girls but one got fired. Ha-ha!

      Feel free to NOT give them good references if you are ever contacted. What goes around should come around.

  88. MissDisplaced*

    If there is ever a time to go to HR and your manager, this is it.

    I mean, I’d be prepared to quit on the spot, but I would still do it because the company and your manager should know that this is going on. And probably not just about you.

  89. EBG*

    Just in case your coworkers try to turn the table on you, print out the entire chat history and keep a copy of it at home.

  90. Sana*

    I think going to the boss sounds like the best move.

    What I would also do is have a think beforehand about what I, personally, would need to move forward from this. Obviously this is painful and awful and has broken a trust relationship – I’d want to think about whether I could move forward from this, whether it was too painful, whether I’d need an apology or whether I’d just be working on being 100% professional with those colleagues, what state I’d want things to be in 1 year from now. It might shape what you say to your boss and to these coworkers, and will help to keep the focus on moving forward rather than lingering in this awful pain.

    I’m really sorry this happened, OP. Sometimes professional adults really don’t behave like they are.

  91. Mayflower*

    I own a small business with several employees and let me tell you, I would immediately file these people under “cancer” and start managing them out. There is literally zero chance they are not terrible in other ways. ZERO.

    I also used to be a software engineer where technical skills are “what really matters” so bad-to-abysmal social skills and grumpiness or downright hostility are often tolerated. It never ever works out. There is no level of technical brilliance that outweighs this kind of horrible behavior in the long term.

    OP, please report this to your manager and please do NOT apologize for snooping! You reviewed the emails as instructed and you saw what you saw. If you uncovered fraud this way, you wouldn’t apologize for snooping, right? Do not even mention the word “snooping” in any way.

    And please take care, OP. This is way more traumatic than you are making it out to be and you need to be extra vigilant to avoid internalizing these awful people’s opinions of you. They live in an ugly world, don’t let them suck you in!

  92. nora*

    For what it’s worth, if you search gmail for, say, “teapots,” any gchats with the word “teapots” in it attached to that gmail account will show up in the search. In case OP needs a cover story.

    1. Observer*

      They don’t need a cover story. They were in the account for legitimate reasons, and the gchat was right there.

  93. Neil*

    What horrible people!
    Just know that you’re reading Allison’s work and so by sheer definition you cannot possibly be a horrible person. This is on them, not on you. Don’t let their shittiness stop you from shining for the rest of your life!

    What I would do is email the list to myself (you) for any potential future legal action, just in case.
    Then I’d talk to your boss as Allison said. Depending on the size of your organisation, I’d contact your HR too. They need to know what toxicity these people are cultivating.
    I’d also advise you to at least start looking for potential fresh job opportunities. Not necessarily to leave, but just to have some options, should shit hit the fan or should you decide that you just can’t continue working with people who’ve done this behind your back for years(!).

    What I would not advise you do but so desperately would love to see occur (in like a movie kinda way), is you taking revenge.
    Reply to the email thread by saying you’ve always thought they were great colleagues but clearly you misjudged their character. And put your manager, your HR, and all their spouses in the CC too.
    Let them own this, and expose how truly disgusting and horrid their souls are – and everyone who’s in their lives can draw their own conclusions about whether these are the kinds of people they want to stay friends with.
    I’d love to see that play out, but the fallout would probably not stick to the Hollywood script that’s in my mind, so perhaps it’s best not to.

    All that said, I want to wish you the best of luck and the strength to remember who you are (cue Mufasa cloud).
    You’re not what those emails depict – bullying has nothing to do with the victim and everything to do with the void within the bullies (aka bullies always manage to find new victims, how curious…)
    So don’t let any tiny voices in the back of your head talk you down!

  94. Caryn Z*

    Too many times, people get away with this kind of behavior. The chat was seen in a legitimate way. I think management should be involved.

  95. AlmondMilkLatte*

    This is awful! I had this sort of thing happen to me…in middle school, if that tells you about the maturity level.

    Also, even if you really are the worst person ever to work with, like some crazy AAM letters, it takes a really toxic culture to make a whole separate chat channel for months just to criticize you! Anyway I doubt you are such.

    I had a legitimately very bad coworker for a while- extremely unproductive, messy, believed something along the lines of a flat earther belief, listened to right wing stuff at work in front of not-straight me, had bad BO- but I would NEVER behave as these people did.

    Of course, I am not a perfect human, but at least I restricted my complaints to anonymously online! (I found a “crazy coworker” forum in an online platform I frequented, and told some stories just to vent). Whatever my gripes, I didn’t want there to be an environment where everyone was essentially double crossing her by teaming up to mock her while remaining nice to her face. Your coworkers have no such moral “line”. This sounds awful.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I think we had the same coworker! (except mine was a guy) And I think he was a meth head to boot. But, I confined my complaining to my FRIENDS, over beers. Venting to your friends is fine. Venting on AAM is fine. Complaining on a *work chat log* while being nice to their face is not.

  96. LizM*

    I’m sorry this happened.

    In a past job, part of my job was compiling records, and occasionally, I’d get access to email accounts to pull all emails that needed to go in the official file out of the person’s inbox (with their knowledge, unless they’d left the agency). There were a few times I came across personal emails/chats incidentally. For the most part, I pretended I hadn’t seen it, but my boss made clear that if it was a clear violation of policy, I was expected to report it. Without seeing the content, I can’t say for sure, but I suspect this chat violates our anti-harassment/bullying policy.

    Now that I’m a supervisor, I would absolutely want to know, and I wouldn’t consider the way OP found the chat to be unprofessional at all. You had a legitimate reason to be in the account, and there is no expectation of privacy on work email or chat systems.

  97. Amethystmoon*

    Not sure if you were able to take a screen shot or photo with your cell phone, but having proof would be the first thing I would recommend. People will deny things if they don’t think there’s a way it can be proven. This is especially true if the manager won’t do anything and it has to go to HR. Had a male coworker who sent me highly questionable instant messages and I regret not screen-shotting them when I could have, because IT did not keep backups (I asked them).

  98. RB*

    Yeah, I felt like it was a re-run at first but I knew Alison wouldn’t do that without the usual disclaimer: “where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them).”

    This one has enough things that make it a different sort of situation from that previous one.

  99. Josephine*

    I have made my social media private . If I were you I would do the same, and I would unfriend all people from work, no explanations needed. I would also think very hard about what was said about you, IF (and I said IF) you are offending people at work, by being a tattle tale etc, then stop that behavior immediately.

  100. Employment Lawyer*

    1) Print it. You want a record in case anyone tries to make it disappear. Don’t keep the record at work. Phone pics can work too, if they’re legible.

    2) You don’t mention whether or nor you are in a protected class of any kind, If you are, talk to an employment lawyer soon to minimize risk, after you print but before you talk to your boss. You may find that you have more leverage or options than you think.

    3) You can certainly consider talking to your boss; as usual AAM gives excellent advice. However, be aware that “bullying” is a very vague and legally ill-defined word. As I explain to people, “being an a$$hole is not illegal.” So, they may or may not be legally required to stop this (though they should!!) unless it relates to protected conduct, harassment, etc.

    Similarly, slthough everyone hates to admit this, sometimes sacrifices are made for business reasons. If the team otherwise good and they all hate you, it’s always possible that the business will choose “3 good team members” over saving you. And in some circumstances this is legally permitted. It’s not pleasant to consider, but you should at least think about that risk.

    1. Observer*

      Any employer who thinks that employees who behaved as described is “good” employees deserves to go broke. Seriously.

      If the employer is stupid and awful enough to think that it’s worth to keep those “good” employees happy at the expense of basic decency, then the OP needs to start planning their exit.

      This is not about what is legally required. Just because something is legal, it doesn’t mean it’s a decent or reasonable thing to do.

      1. Copier Company Admin Girl*

        Respectfully, this comment was unnecessary and unhelpful. Employment Lawyer never said choosing “good employees” over OP was the decent or reasonable thing to do. They even said in their opinion, bullying should legally be required to be stopped. They were presenting OP with a plan going forward as well as informing OP of some potential consequences they might face from their workplace. Furthermore, it was valuable to have an employment lawyer weigh in at all, as this situation may eventually involve legal action. Anyway, all the best to you and yours as the new year starts, and thank you for having a strong anti-bullying stance.

        1. Observer*

          And *I* was making the point that if an employer takes that approach, it is a sign of being a terrible employer. So terrible that anyone subject to that should be looking for a new job. So the “helpful” warning is not all the useful.

  101. KJ*

    I’ve had this exact scenario at a previous workplace. The office was a regional head office and country head office in one, with about 10 staff (4 regional, 6 country). A team member got fired (not quit) and I was sent into his emails to find out some client info. Found a long email trail of three people making comments about my weight and mocking me – one of the people I knew hated me (she had from the day I started), but the other two I thought were OK (one was nice, the other was just one of those really ambitious, domineering guys, but had never said anything too bad).

    I didn’t say anything at first, but it really stuck with with me and made me angry and frustrated at work. I confided in another colleague and showed her the emails – she said, if I didn’t say anything, she would – so I told my boss. She was horrified and gave the two remaining staff members written warnings and told them to apologise. The guy did (and I know he felt bad about it), but the woman didn’t. Nothing came of it after that – she wasn’t made to apologise (she wouldn’t have meant it anyway) and she went on to be the most abusive and rude colleague I’ve ever had the misfortune of working with. I left about six months later, I was already looking for a way out of that place – which is still the most toxic workplace I’ve ever been involved in, so much so that I actually turned down a role with the regional office because I might have to email my old boss.

    Take it to your boss, explain how you found it, and the reaction you get as well as the consequences the group receive will really let you know how well your workplace handles these sorts of things.

  102. BananaBear*

    Unfriend all of them on social media immediately and set privacy to friends only if you haven’t already done so.

  103. George*

    If it was me, I would get a set of documentation that I did NOT turn in or show my boss/HR (in case the proof goes missing). Depending on how I felt about the job overall, prospects elsewhere, and my boss and HR department, I would consider a massive set-up using my social media. I would set things so ONLY they could see it (FB group of ‘evil co-worker’), and start putting up posts that go slightly skew over a few weeks… Like maybe warping to super dramatic HBO special or going totally weird, like debating the pros and cons of turning your kitchen into a Thor-themed chicken farm. Give it a few weeks of increasing mayhem, act totally clueless if anyone vaguely references it at work, then post something about people who will believe anything they read online. Or just a link to this post here.

    I’m sure someone here can make this more interesting, but I would be quite tempted to do something like this (totally outside of work) to get them all spun up… And then tell my boss what is found. All the while staying totally professional at work. At least I would find it theraputic to imagine them discussing my latest insanity all the whole they are swallowing tripe.

  104. senatormeathooks*

    I’d be tempted to call them out on the conversation by posting a fuck off message on your Facebook page, as they clearly monitor it. But don’t actually do that.

    You have to tell your manager.

  105. LGC*

    Oh jeez, LW. I mean, yeah, looking through her chat wasn’t the greatest thing you could have done, but you have been punished way more than enough for that. I’m so sorry.

    (Wasn’t there another letter about this exact same situation a few months back?)

    At any rate, I think Alison gave good scripts…except I’d just trim it down to “Lucinda asked me to log into Jane’s computer for a file, and I saw a years-long Ghat from you savaging me on a daily basis.” And leave it at that. Practice in front of a mirror if you need to and just let them marinate in the silence and embarrassment. Think of it like Alison says how to negotiate for a raise – just state your number and then leave the ball in their court. And if you don’t think you’re able to pull that off – that’s fine! But…oh man. If you can’t confront them (by next Wednesday or otherwise), I would bring it up to your boss or HR. Her answer will tell you what you need to know.

    Finally, there’s like 500 comments here already, but I’m just going to add on to the pile – this is really more of a reflection on them than it is on you. You found out a couple of extremely painful things – that you work with cruel coworkers, and they turned that cruelty on you. I’m really sorry that you work with such jerks, and no one deserves this sort of treatment.

    1. Observer*

      Why was there anything inappropriate with looking through the gchat? They were there for a perfectly reasonable purpose, and it’s perfectly reasonable to look at a gchat sitting right there with your name on it.

  106. Jennifer Juniper*

    Dust off your resume and find another job. Don’t confront them on their nastiness.

    I’m concerned that your manager may take their side and fire you for snooping into the coworkers’ e-mail and then give you a nasty reference to boot.

    1. Torgo*

      Her manager asked her to go into the email of the coworker who’d left. The chat was clearly visible. She wasn’t snooping. Everything she did was perfectly fine, and it’s odd you misread it so completely.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Pardon me for not being more clear. I was afraid the manager would read it that way on purpose as a way to get rid of OP because it would save them the trouble of disciplining, and possibly firing, multiple people.

  107. MBK*

    I would have been tempted to respond right there in the chat, logged in as the departed Mean Girl. Something like, “Hey wouldn’t it suck if [Letter Writer] logged into my machine after I left and saw this chat? How embarrassing for everyone.”

    It wouldn’t be a *good* choice, but it definitely sounds like something I’d do.

  108. Perpal*

    LW, please print out the whole chat, spread it out in a shared workspace right before your coworkers come in, and stand there. Staring at them. With a camera recording. Then send us the footage.

    (don’t do that, but you’re totally in the right to rub their nose in it. LW you found this perfectly legitimately and they are gross!)

  109. i can't even*

    holy sh*t, i’m sorry this happened!
    take heart that this is posted under “Jerks.”
    it seems like your coworkers are on another and very toxic planet than you. And if you put them in another situation, they would be doing it all over again to someone else who enjoys life, has talent, and likes to do a good job. Lucky for you, wherever *you* go you aren’t a jerk, so you’ve definitely got that on them!

  110. nêhiyaw ayahkwêw*

    Only thing I would change is maybe not using racially charged language like “savaging”. It is 2020 ya’ll.

    1. MBK*

      “Savage” just means “wild” or “ferocious.” As a verb, it means “to attack ferociously.“ Obviously, the word has been wrongfully applied to groups of people, but unlike other words (like “gypped”), it doesn’t derive from or describe a specific race or group of people, or an inherent trait of those people.

      There are legitimate reasons to avoid racially charged language. But IMO it doesn’t extend to purging every word that has ever been misapplied and misused in a racially charged way, even on a large scale.

  111. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Your situation is so mean it’s taken me a chunk of time to wrap my head around it. Because I’ve been experiencing it since early days at my job. Only it’s been people talking about me when I’m meant to hear. I went to work for this horrible company in the midst of the great recession and counted myself damn lucky to have a job, but the bullying and meanness started pretty quickly. One lovely soul even ripped on me to customers while I sat in the next cubicle. Our supervisor sat across the walkway and heard it all, and once had everyone else in her area talking about me. Then they all had a falling out and one person told me supervisor sent her a lot of emails complaining about me from the time I came on board. I mean, before she even got to know me. And while they were all sitting around having their gabfests, who was doing the work? Uhhhh, that would be me.

    Having it be your job instead of your book club or social bunch is tough. You need your job, your income, your medical plan and your retirement plan. Most people aren’t in a position to just leave, and job hunting takes time if you want to go that route.

    I sympathize and wish you the best. It’s hard to take the so-called professional workplace seriously when the workers act like mean bratty children.

  112. Storie*

    The nuclear option is the only option.

    Go to your boss with the info. This can’t stand. And you deserve a workplace that’s not tainted with this behavior. They deserve what they get.

    So sorry this is even a part of your life!

    1. Copier Company Admin Girl*

      This. Be as calm, cool, and collected as possible. Present the facts: your coworkers are bullying you through a WORK chat, of all things, and have been doing so for years. This is horrendous. If your manager/ HR/ company is half decent, they will immediately and firmly put a stop to it. I am so sorry this has happened to you, OP. Don’t let the bastards get you down. <3

  113. glenn coco*

    Oh op, what a bunch of absolute losers. Small minds talk about people. I’d do what Alison had said and I’d be having a conversation with one of them – let them sit in that awkward silence and suffer. But try your best to not to let it affect you too much, the fact that they would carry on so bitchily and for so long says so, so much about their characters. I’m sorry you were their target, it sounds like there was some jealousy behind it all too. Good luck op and hopefully we get a positive update soon!

  114. HR in the city*

    I had a similar thing happen to me and I definatly agree with Alison that you need to let you boss know about what happened. My story is: I got promoted & the person who took my old job was the one talking about me despite the fact that she didn’t know how to do her job and lied (coworker #1). I would point out to our boss her lies and let my boss know she wasn’t doing her job. Thankfully after 6 months she decided to quit. Well I get access to her email and discover that her and another coworker (coworker #2) for the past five months have been talking about my hair, my clothes, the way I talk, if I had a discussion with my boss about something I was high & mighty and got away with murder through the employer provided messaging system. I immediately printed the messages and went to my boss. My coworker #2 basically got off scotfree and I don’t trust her to this day. But coworker #1 we found out later got fired from the job she left for and when the staffing agency called for a reference for her my boss mentioned the messages. Also, I am in my mid 30s & coworker #1 was in her late 40s and coworker #2 is in her early 50s. So no matter age some people will still act like children. It really hurts when you find out that people have been trash talking you so my sympathies. I will also say that it’s not worth your time to say anything to your other coworkers. Just let your boss deal with them.

  115. IV*

    Let this be a cautionary tale for everyone here. Years ago I was pushed out of a job (I didn’t end up fired, but I didn’t up keeping my job) in part because of the following scenario:

    A colleague was off on a major medical leave. Our new boss in the office started doing things that indicated she was trying to push him out for being injured (sudden PIP while he was on disability despite excellent performance and so on). He emailed me privately (from his private email to mine) asking me about it. We discussed it via our private emails and while I didn’t say anything derogatory about the boss personally, I did tell him this seemed illegal and I’d let her know how great he was and I had his back and so forth. He was doing part time work from home at the time and was downloading his private email to his corporate Outlook to read. He got fired (and got a lawyer, but that’s not my story to tell) and when she went through his email she saw all our — ostensibly private — emails on his server and my number was effectively up.

  116. LogicalOne*

    You know you’re doing something right and going in the right direction when others try to sabotage you or make fun of you or criticize you. They are threatened by your hard work ethic. People who talk behind your back will never say it to your face because they are afraid of the consequences.
    Do you have an HR department? If not, could you escalate this to a corporate level? In this day and age, bullying is not acceptable especially with all the social justice issues being a hot button subject for some time now.
    I know where I work, if you even mention the word “bullying”, we take it very seriously because it can land you in a bad world of legal trouble. Not to mention, you could take this to the news media or some local media outlet and it may explode from there. It may get ugly.
    I too am in agreement with many of the folks here in that you definitely need to bring this up to your boss. There could be an investigation made where their computers are searched. Plus most companies do save every email sent within their network and keep records of these emails for many years, just in case any legal cases happen and they need evidence. An incident like this to me, should be taken VERY seriously and could land your company in court if you take this to a lawyer. Who knows, you may get a monetary reward as part of the trial going in your favor. This just sounds ugly. I am very sorry this happened and I hope you get justice and those coworkers get fired.

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