Can HR help with a toxic manager/co-worker?

Hi there,

Long story short, I’m a web developer and working at a company I really liked where both my manager and team were awesome. No place is perfect but overall the culture was healthy as well with the exception of one person on the team that made a daily routine of complaining how underpaid he is and how much he hates this job. We had gotten used to him and for the most part, let him rant and went about our work. The truth is, neither him being underpaid or the job being “bad” is true. However apparently he has a different perspective on what he deserves and how he felt our projects should be built.

My mother passed away 5 months ago and I was her caregiver through ICU, and then a brief stint with a nursing home before she passed. As you can imagine, it was a very trying time for me and my manager/company worked with me so that I could do what I needed to with my family while simultaneously being able to work when I can. They were so good to me and ever since she passed and I returned from bereavement I’ve been working full time business as usual despite that my anxiety had taken a dive due to the grief.

I was prescribed a low dose of Celexa which has helped me. About 2 months ago, my awesome manager reveals that he’s resigning, therefore leaving behind us, his team that he built. Initially it freaked us all out especially me bc the last thing I needed to worry about is job security but he assured us all would be well. In the meantime, they brought in a new hire to replace him, let’s call him David, that he could transition into the team before he left.

Now the bad apple coworker, let’s call him Bob. The transition period was around 2 weeks where honestly no management of any sort was really happening and Bob therefore took it as an opportunity to well, do whatever he wants. “Finally” now that our good boss was leaving who did a good job at curbing his toxic behavior, it was an opportunity to let loose I guess.

During those 2 weeks, due to his lack of knowledge with version control that he never wants to admit due to ego, he merged the UAT branch into several of my branches as well as accidentally broke and launched something live he was not supposed to.

After me spending several hours rebuilding my feature branches and basically losing my patience one day, I spoke up to what everyone was feeling and told our new manager that our current workflow and process was unacceptable and I spent more time fixing things than developing new features due to this one person.

On another note, the most senior member of our team, Ellie let’s call her, who’d been putting in extra hours all this time and working alongside former manager to eventually take over his position, was cheated out of the position.

While the transition between old and new boss were happening, the team noticed Bob was suspiciously motivated and spending a lot of alone time with the new boss. New boss told Ellie that her and Bob would share the leadership position. Then Bob stood after work hours chatting with new boss, and for some reason was told the next day. That Bob was getting promoted instead despite that new boss knew nothing of anyone on his team yet.

So we as a team confronted new boss after these version control snafus as well as Bob’s personality that clashed with everyone on the team that he made a poor decision that none of us supported. To save face basically he asked us to give Bob a chance.

Since then we have continued to work with Bob and David and there seems to be some sort of bias happening here. Not only does David refuse to acknowledge that Bob is a lot more trouble than he thinks, but he’s justified his choice in leadership claiming Bob has the most technical experience. Also, not true and David even now 2 months later has yet to research his team’s professional skillsets and work histories, instead resorting to letting Bob make all kinds of decisions even if they’re bad ones.

It’s only when we fight back enough that sometimes he will let us “win” the decision making. Thing is, most of my team are women. Bob is the only guy. When myself or another woman offer our expertise, David hesitates and wants to “check with Bob”. When Bob says something however, its believed without a second thought and we can’t help but wonder if sexism is happening.

So last week, I got into yet another altercation with Bob but the worst one yet. I asked him to give me some space, twice, and still he continued to harass me over what was literally one line of code that he had nothing to do with and didn’t affect anyone’s work, but he wanted it to be HIS way. And right NOW. So he nosed about my branch for absolutely no reason to find a spot he felt like he wanted to change for something I’d spent months working on and was frankly none of his business.

So it got loud but I was trying to remain professional and pinged David to come and help bc that is what he’s SUPPOSED to do. Bob got to a point where he not only harassed me, but dared to question my professional experience and put me down and of course, I fought back.

David then tells us to calm down and that he would speak with both of us individually so we could resolve the issue. I decided to go for a walk to cool down.

I was literallyy shaking when I left the office on a verge of an asthma attack. I only shake under extreme anxiety like my mother’s death anxiety and yet this toxic duo was causing me the same mental symptoms.

When I came back, I discovered that not only did Bob check out my branch and start pointing out all the places he thought we should change things but our boss David then asked me if I could change it.

Like…what the f*ck are you serious bro?

I asked David, since I was being forced to despite that we had other really urgent priorities I needed to tend to, if I could take a few mins to refamiliarize myself with code I had finished like a week as go to determine if those changes were the best course of action.

Neither Bob or David let me do that, instead David asked Bob to create a branch and merge the changes in and he walked away considering the situation resolved.

David has made no further effort to resolve this. And although I made it clear that I was open to alternate code solutions and criticism, my problem was the disrespect and harassment. Not the code.

Our team is losing hope. We don’t feel listened to and I’ve been anxious all weekend about returning to work and possibly getting into another fight with Bob.

My husband suggested I take it up to HR. I agree this is the best course of action bc it’s only getting worse and David is either not listening or doesn’t see how his decisions are tearing down the team despite how obvious it is.

Can HR help me? Anything I should keep in mind? How do I curb my anxiety about Bob at work? Any advice would be appreciated.

First off, you don’t deserve the treatment that you are receiving. You have worked very hard to get where you are and you deserve a better work environment. Congrats on sticking with it through life’s challenges, including this one.

Guys like Bob like the hide until they get their moment to strike. He hid amongst you knowing he was a do-nothing complainer, then waited for the leadership to change, buttered them up, and sat back and claimed victory, knowing that his personal relationship would protect him from any scrutiny. That’s an awful thing to do.

As to options, in my opinion, I see only three. You can go to HR, go over Dave’s head, or leave. Folks that I know in HR often feel blindsided when someone leaves angry, before they have a chance to even figuring out what’s going on.

On the other hand, I don’t think Dave and Bob will not take things sitting down, so you can expect some hard conversations and probably some vindictiveness on their part. It’s important to have documentation and evidence so it doesn’t turn into “he said, she said.” It’s also important to keep a goal in mind. Assuming that the best possible outcome happened, what would you want to see changed? To me, it sounds like, “don’t bug me over one line of code,” and, “leave my code alone, no going over my head to change it” might be good examples of goals. “I trained to be a leader and I want the opportunity to lead” is another one.

Going over Dave’s head may sound scary, but when HR gets involved, it tends to be somewhat of a blunt instrument. They’re legally obligated to follow certain rules, and they aren’t technical. Don’t get me wrong, they mean well, but goals like “don’t mess with my code” are things they can’t enforce. On the other hand, if another team is available, they could move you. I’m guessing (and I might be wrong) that this may be the only IT team. Perhaps you could build and lead another team independent of Dave?

In the end, you have a right to be angry about what has happened and a right to a work environment in which you can thrive. Based on what you’ve told us, you could find a job in a lot of different places that would welcome your skills. If you can’t resolve the issue, or if you just don’t want to deal with the drama, leaving is an option too. Maybe you could find a job where your old manager went, for example.

You have options and you are a skilled professional. Those two can’t change that.

1 Like

@Rachie, that sounds really horrible. @wanderer gave you an awesome reply but I wanted to throw in my two cents here.

It is the hardest thing when an otherwise great environment changes dramatically overnight. I had a similar situation many years ago although I’d say it wasn’t as personal sounding. In my case someone just threw a big switch and an environment that had been collegial and relatively dynamic became dry and heavily procedural overnight, run by a huge ego. I fought for awhile to come to terms with it until a great opportunity came out of the wood work and I took that opportunity and bolted.

The interesting thing as @wanderer pointed out is that at my exit interview HR asked why I hadn’t come sooner. I didn’t think they cared. So it would be well worth it for you to check in with HR - you might be able to salvage this great job or at least stay in the organization.

Good luck!

@wanderer @WHLCoder

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story.

I did decide to go over Dave’s head and spoke with HR on Monday. Also because Dave’s boss was out of office so I waited until Tuesday to talk with him as well.

Both of those conversations were productive and it was revealed to me that, not only was I not the first to come forth about Dave and Bob’s behavior, but especially Bob, there have been complaints from other departments as well. So apparently Bob is making a point to disrespect many people, most of whom we noticed were women. So Dave’s boss was concerned we had some sexism going on as well.

My coming forth seemed to be the last straw they needed to take immediate action. By Wednesday Bob was not in office and we had a team meeting. And yes, we’re the only IT team so theres nowhere else to transfer to. They took away Bob’s position so that he is a “normal” web developer again. And because of the added tension within the team suggested that he work the rest of the week remotely. So we can start off this Monday a little more “refreshed”.

While this is a positive change in the right direction, Dave is still our manager and his handling of the situations up until that point weren’t publicly addressed. His boss assured me that he’d speak to him and make sure that code resolution vs conflict resolution is handled separately and that he speaks to the team more often to get a handle of how we’re really feeling.

So we don’t trust our manager still and ever since he’s been overly positive and “willing to help”. However I now have his boss as a trusted outlet for me. And Bob comes back to office Monday and I’m sure things will be awkward at best, but at least now he can’t throw his weight around now that he’s been dropped a peg or two.

I’m not convinced all problems are resolved. However it’s a step in the right direction. I would like to settle in this job for a few years if I can, but whether I do or not will be based on whether the environment improves. So I’ll take it day by day.

Thanks again for your advice and wish me luck! :slight_smile:


Most of that sounds pretty positive. I’m sure glad that HR backed you up and that you got that validation that you weren’t the only person having issues.

Bob sounds like he might be an ongoing challenge. Hopefully he wakes up or moves on. Keep holding on to those positive relationships and working toward constructive solutions.

Good luck! :slight_smile:

1 Like