I’m in an awful work situation

I work within a team in a government organization directly managing 8 people on a project. Within the immediate team there is a man who is accountable for the whole project.

I have recently noted that this man I speak about has  exhibited a lot of narcissistic traits—tells lies and denies it later, undermines my authority to the contractor, will not speak to me but decides to sends emails warranting a reaction (which I must confess I have fallen victim to). He has also frequently insulted me by questioning my competence and is now verbally abusing other team members.

I have raised this with senior management who have all taken a ‘sit-on-the-fence’ attitude because they don’t want to deal with the situation. I have asked to see HR. When I finally got a chance after this was arranged, HR did not even read the email copies I took as evidence. She said, “These are normal things that happen in a team”. I used to work for a major private company  and this behaviour from the man would not be tolerated and he would have been dismissed.

I work 12-hr shifts (mostly doing this man’s job as well as mine) whilst he sits there doing nothing. I really want to leave, just for my sanity. Yet people say God may be using this to train you and also since you are a Christian you may be the one to get him saved.

I don’t believe you can change a narcissist. What do I do?


Dear Abena,

It sounds like you’re in a terrible work situation. In our experience, government is much slower to remove ineffective employees than the private sector.

You aren’t asking us whether leaving is a good career move but rather whether you have an obligation to stay as a Christian in order to help your superior. If there is a theological dimension, we can’t comment on that, but here is our take.

Firstly, we think that, in general, it’s a good idea to leave psychological diagnoses to those trained in that area. It’s very easy to for all of us to find that annoying people in our orbits are narcissists, obsessive-compulsive, neurotic and bearers of a host of other syndromes. Whether this man has a personality disorder or not isn’t the issue. What matters is that you are miserable at work and putting in unreasonable hours. You tried working within the system and it didn’t work. Perhaps there are things you can do or maybe you’ve exhausted your options; that wasn’t your question to us.

Years ago we started a Jewish day school. In the process we visited many parents to whom the idea of not sending their children to a public school was revolutionary. One father who lived in a district with a poor reputation told us that he felt it was his responsibility to send his 5 year old to public school, even if the child would be bullied and harassed, because it was so important to support the public school system. Our response to him was that his son was not volunteering to be a missionary sent into the wilderness. As a father, his job was to protect and nurture his son. Only once that was done, should he look to assist the greater community.

You did not accept your position in order to be a therapist and missionary to your co-workers. You may very well choose to volunteer in your free time in ways that help those who are struggling with certain issues and in doing so you hopefully would be modeling Christian behavior. You are also not working as a self-improvement course to teach yourself to cope with difficult situations with equanimity and grace. Life hands us plenty of opportunities for that.

On the job, you are meant to use your talents for the benefit of your employer and those your office is meant to serve. If you are not able to do that and it looks like this will be an ongoing and unchanging situation, then we would encourage you to take advantage of opportunities for change.

Still, before you leap from the frying pan, it would be as well to make sure you wouldn’t be jumping into the fire, as it were.  In other words, spend a little time on searingly honest introspection.  There’s clearly a conflict between you and this man.  Is it 100% his fault or could you have contributed to it?  If so, it is worth understanding that before you start afresh in a new work environment.  We understand that you’ve been provoked, but reporting someone to HR is a fairly aggressive step.  In one of our finance resources, Thou Shall Prosper we explain strategies for dealing with ‘the jerk at work’.  Here is one thing we think you ought to try before walking out.  This is the principle from ancient Jewish wisdom:

“If you don’t like the way you feel about someone, start behaving towards him in the way you would behave if you already felt the way you wish you felt.”

You may need to reread that a few times.  Basically it means start being nice to him even though you loathe and detest him.  Yes, that’s right.  Act quite differently from how you feel.  (nothing wrong with that—sincerity is over rated)

We think there’s a good chance this could ease up things to the point you don’t have to consider leaving. Unless, of course, you have a better employment offer elsewhere.

Onward and upward,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

10 thoughts on “I’m in an awful work situation”

  1. Abena: it’s not my intention to step on your toes, I know well how easy it is to give platitudes as practiced in many Christian faith-based groups. I have been guilty of it over the years myself, but have learned some hard lessons. From experience, the balance of learning the difference between co-dependence in situations (following man, so-to-speak) but putting God’s name on it, and following God come what may instead, can & does get so easily forgotten by many in Christian faith-based groups so it might help to remember the Jewish roots of your faith in God as the ultimate advice filter. In Esther, there is a passage of discussion between the queen and her uncle in it: it’s my thought that it’s good to be strong enough for such a time as God opens our eyes to -something we cannot force on others- and only choose to practice in each our own lives. In Micah, there’s a short verse, about what God requires of humankind. Hasn’t God already shown you what is good, merciful, just, and loving (not just for others but for you, first, in that work problem)…? If you’re stressed out and unable to continue there, while at the same time be at peace/be in contentment knowing things very likely will not change, then are you willing to be strong enough to choose to move on and be ok with leaving behind and forging ahead come what may instead? In my opinion, our character, integrity, and faith are not gifted to us by man –nor are those controlled by man. Unless we choose to allow it. Carpe diem, Abena. –Diana

  2. Its always good to hear your words of wisdom. I would like to just mention one thing that I believe to be effective in this sort of situation. The Power of Prayer. As myself being a Christian for many years I have just recently started understanding the real Power of Prayer. Not only Praying under your Tallit or Prayer Shawl, your soul needs to be at peace. This is a good start to really see the Power of Prayer work. Keep your job at least until you give the Power Of Prayer a chance. A clean soul means you must get rid of the anger and despise for this person and really all things.
    Peace Be With You

  3. Agree, agree, agree!!! Fabulous advice; I am a Born-again Christian who has found herself in that situation more than once. I did not always respond in a “Godly” manner either – which always made things worse. If you have any options at all, do exactly as Rabbi says – be nice, smile at all times and plan your exit strategy. For your own sanity, read the Lapin’s material as recommended, and also People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck. Hang in there – it gets better. Shalom!!!

  4. She does not say whether she has always worked for government. Usually, unless one is a politician who has an exemption, one has to make a choice between the public sector and the private sector, because the rules do not allow one to get payments from both when one retires, even though one pays into the retirement system, so find out first from a specialist basdd on your specific work history and dates, and decide accordingly when looking at job prospects and when deciding on and looking for a new job.

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