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Work Ethic

I reported the boss to HR — now what?

About the author

Chana is a journalist based in New York City, writing about business, finance, and workplace life. She has written for The Wall Street Journal and spent more than a decade at Forbes, including three years as a Tokyo-based foreign correspondent.

Walking the tightrope after reporting the boss. (iStockphoto)

Walking the tightrope at work (iStockphoto)

Q: After my supervisor yelled at me in a meeting, and continued targeting me over the following days, I reported him to our human-resources department. While they decide whether to conduct mediation, my boss and I are not allowed to be alone together or to speak to each other without a witness. This tense situation is upsetting me terribly. What should I do?

A: Even though you’ve reported your boss’s belligerent behaviour to HR, the mood in your office hasn’t lightened and you still feel stressed out. That’s a problem, but you remain ethically bound to perform your job even while under emotional distress. 

First, however, kudos to you for doing what needed to be done to protect yourself, said Mary Gentile, who heads the Giving Voice to Values program at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

There are three possible scenarios here: First, you could leave the group, either by transferring to another part of the company or resigning from the firm altogether. Second, your supervisor could leave, either under his own steam or because he’s been fired. Finally, you could both stay in your current roles. In that case, you’ll have to continue working together, as sub-optimal as that seems. Your responsibility lies in how you handle the outcome.

“Once you know what’s right, how do you get it done – effectively?” Gentile said.

If you and your boss do go through some HR-sponsored mediation, and you both agree to continue in your roles, you’ll have to find a way to let your anger go — assuming, of course, that he makes positive changes in his behaviour and starts treating you in a normal and professional boss-to-subordinate fashion.

Until that happens, you still have to work with a boss who is set against you. Gentile suggested familiarising yourself with the company’s HR policies, to see if there’s an anti-retaliation section that might be useful. You should also check with a lawyer, just to know your options. Consider talking to a licensed counsellor about the stress you’re feeling. Many corporations offer an employee-assistance program that may provide counselling at no or low cost.

Most importantly, don’t forget about your friends and family outside of the workplace. They can help keep your mind off the toxic office situation, so lean on them.

Although it’s uncomfortable to be at the office when you feel that your boss is whispering about you, the best course is to keep a friendly relationship with your colleagues, don’t indulge in gossip (which will surely get back to your boss) and remember that this problem is a short-term issue that will soon be solved, Gentile said.

Some degree of Zen-like thinking might also help.

“Recognise that even when we proceed in the best way we know how, we don't entirely control the outcome,” Gentile said.

Work Ethic is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the ethical and interpersonal dilemmas that workers face around the world. We welcome knotty questions from readers at workethic@bbc.com.