“Can I recover from a bad reputation at work?” “
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I am a professional in an office (working from home now but usually we are in the office) and have been in this position for about seven years. For much of my time working here I was a nightmare to supervise, and I am surprised and grateful that I was not fired. I always did my job and met all my deadlines, but I was very difficult to manage and work.
Back when I got the job I was going through a lot. I had just left a very abusive marriage, two people very close to me had recently passed away, and I had no support system in my personal life. I was also struggling with mental health issues that weren’t being treated so I found it hard to cope with everything and stay professional. I felt like I was losing control.
Many of these problems have arisen at work. I was loud and obnoxious. I was constantly walking around and talking to everyone in sight, and my manager was constantly telling me to sit down. I chatted with other gossip and broadcast the gossip to everyone. I told people about my personal affairs despite the fact that they were probably very uncomfortable; everyone was too nice to tell me to stop. I was speechless with management and insubordinate. I acted more like an unruly teenager than a professional adult. Management has had many serious discussions with me.
I finally got some help, and I’m in a much better position now. I am so embarrassed and ashamed of the way I acted. Fortunately, many of my colleagues at the time are no longer with the company, but most of the managers are still there. I’m a changed person, but I know they clearly remember how I was, and I feel like I’m being ignored for learning opportunities and promotions because of it. People who have been here less time than me and have less experience start making career advancement plans and work with management or are appointed to committees when I am not.
I don’t blame management for being careful with me. I know I was a horrible employee in the past, and I would probably feel what they feel if I had an employee acting the way I did. But I don’t want to be punished forever. I have really changed and I am a good employee. I just want to be seen for who I am now and not for this person who is in desperate need of help.
Is it possible to recover from it? Or should I look for another job and start over where no one knows me or my story? My manager recently resigned and I’m afraid that a new manager will be appointed over who I was before.
I’m sorry you’ve been there! Looks like you’ve had a really tough time, and I’m glad you’re in a better place now.
The truth is, it can be difficult to get people at work to see you differently once a negative opinion has taken hold. When they are used to thinking of you in a certain way, often everything you do will be interpreted through that lens. You might be at your desk working all day, then get up for a cup of coffee and have a brief chat with a colleague in passing, and someone might see you and think, “She’s still talking when she should be working.” … Because that’s the mental box they put you in a long time ago.
It is also possible that people do see that you have changed, but be careful because when they consider offering you bigger projects or leadership opportunities, the stakes just seem too high if some of these behaviors were to reappear.
One factor that really matters is how much time has passed since these changes occurred. If it’s been less than a year, people will naturally still be cautious; it will take a lot longer before they are sure the changes will apply. In their minds, there is too much risk that you will revert to old behaviors, or maybe even stress will bring them out. When you do the kind of hard work on yourself that you feel like you’ve done, it can be easy to feel so changed that you can’t imagine it’s not obvious to everyone! But it takes time for the people around you to believe that the differences they see will be lasting.
On the other hand, if it has been several years, it is a different situation; it’s long enough for people to see that the changes are real. If they don’t treat you accordingly, that’s a stronger sign that you may never be able to change the way people in this business view you.
I’m curious if you’ve ever discussed the situation with your manager before she moved on. Did she recognize the changes you made and discuss how your past might still affect your reputation? I can’t tell from your letter if you have clearly expressed an interest in being promoted or having additional responsibilities at some point, but if you had, ideally it would have been candid with you if your story there made these things unlikely. If she hadn’t recently left the company, I would consider her your best chance to have an honest discussion about your future there. (In fact, if you had a really good relationship with her, it might even be possible to contact her now and see if she’s ready to give you advice on your situation. Being gone might make her more or less willing to have it. that discussion; it’s hard to know without trying it.)
But it’s also possible that having a new manager gives you the opportunity to reset things. You’re right that she can hear everyone else’s story, but she’ll also evaluate you and your work with fresh eyes – and if all she sees is “a knowledgeable, mature professional,” it might. prevail over anything she has heard in the past. And in fact, at some point, after you’ve worked together a bit and got to know each other a bit, it might be a good idea to speak candidly about your concerns. She may be more willing to give you opportunities or tell you if she feels there are too many obstacles for this to happen.
Ultimately, however, the reality is that it might be very difficult to escape your story in this business, and moving on might be the only way to really start over. It’s not the worst prospect in the world – you’ve been there seven years, which is a reasonable time to move on anyway. And once you find a new job, I suspect you’ll find real relief, if not liberation, in being treated like who you are now rather than how you were before.
Order Alison Green’s Book Ask a manager: ignorant coworkers, bosses who steal lunch and the rest of your life at work here. A question for her? Send an email to [email protected] His advice column appears here every Tuesday.