Ask Fiona: Colleague keeps putting me down at work

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas

There is a pattern of bullying behaviour from your colleague

I AM having a big problem at work and don't know what to do for the best. I joined the company after being interviewed and accepted by a very nice woman, and I thought it was going to be great. The problem is that there is a man who reports to her who is my immediate boss, and he has taken against me from the start.

He is forever criticising what I've done workwise, but he goes further than that, criticising what I wear, the way I look. He runs me down so much and so often in front of other people that I am losing confidence, and it's getting to the point that I can't do anything.

Other members of staff have told me he's doing it to get back at the woman who appointed me, because she was promoted over him. If that's the case, what can I do? If he's determined to dislike me just to get at her, I don't stand a chance.

I am just a new junior and if I say anything, it will be me that gets the chop, not him.


FIONA SAYS: Although there is a risk that things might go against you, if this man's bullying (and that's what it is) is known and recognised by others, then don't be so certain. Unfortunately, it usually takes someone to stand up to a bully before anything is done.

Although there is no legal definition of bullying, an abuse of power by someone in a senior position – as you are experiencing, especially when it's intimidating or insulting – is most definitely bullying. Any unwanted behaviour that is designed to undermine or humiliate you, especially when it causes physical or emotional harm is bullying too.

Your company should have a policy to deal with this and you could ask your HR department whether there is such a policy and say you would like to see it. Harassment in the workplace is unlawful. If you are having to deal with insults relating to age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation then this comes under the Equality Act too. If this is the case, then you should most definitely raise the issue with your HR department, as they should be dealing with it.

If it's bullying, do you think you could tackle this man yourself and tell him how his behaviour towards you makes you feel? That's a hard ask, I realise, but sometimes bullies don't even realise they're doing it. If you wouldn't be comfortable with that, could you put it in an email to him?

I would also suggest that you speak to the person who interviewed you – she is his superior and probably has a lot to lose. She appointed you and if you are as bad at the job as this man is making you out to be then her reputation is on the line too. If you explain the facts (and I would suggest you don't mention you know of the animosity between them) then I am sure you will get a fair hearing.

I'd also suggest you keep a diary or some other kind of record of the bullying that includes dates and times; how you were made to feel; any witnesses to the incident and any physical evidence. By physical evidence I mean any notes or emails sent to you or to anyone else where you are mentioned. Also screenshots of any social media posts if he is using this technique to intimidate you.

If it ever got to the point of a disciplinary procedure against him, your diary could be useful evidence. If you can get some of your colleagues to back you up then that's all to the good. If you are a member of a trade union, then do contact them and get them involved.

I would also suggest that you contact ACAS (, an organisation that provides free and impartial advice and which can do a lot to help you through this.


I SAW your recent letter about a lady who was having problems with her husband. He was blaming her for everything, and I wonder if this is what's happening with my father-in-law. I am having real difficulties with him, as he has become very bad-tempered in his old age.

Because my husband works long hours, it falls to me to keep an eye on him – which I do, regularly. He used to be fine with me, but now, whenever I call or pop in to see him, he is rude, orders me about, and is generally quite horrible. The odd thing is though that if my husband comes with me, he is as nice as pie – although he can still be a bit bossy.

My husband thinks I must be imagining things, because he has never seen his father the way I do. I know he needs help and a bit of care, but it really does put me off going to see him. He used to be lovely with me when he was younger, but now he's really hard work.

The interesting thing is, when he visits us, he is perfectly charming. And if my husband goes to fetch him, he usually insists on stopping off to get flowers for me. How do I cope with him?


FIONA SAYS: Like you, I can't help but wonder if your father-in-law is becoming a little confused. You don't say whether or not he also has carers in to help him, but could it be this that confuses him? It may be that he recognises you with your husband around or when you are in your own home, but without these triggers, he gets confused and thinks you are part of his care team. Not that he should be treating them as ‘staff' and people he can give orders to, but if he is getting old and confused, it is surely forgivable.

It would good if your husband could see how his father behaves with you – he might then understand your concerns and start to share them. Could you, perhaps, record things on your phone? I suspect perhaps the old man has always been a bit of a tyrant, which is maybe why your husband doesn't notice him being bossy.

Have you tried asking him who he thinks you are? You could try this gently, or ask him if he knows who your husband is. If there is no sign of confusion, then I think it would be perfectly reasonable to tackle his behaviour yourself. Perhaps the next time he starts to order you around, tell him you would rather he didn't talk to you that way. If he persists, point out that you don't have to come to see him and that if he doesn't change towards you, you won't. If he does it a third time, quietly pack up and leave.

You can repeat this pattern each time you visit, giving him a chance to change, and I am sure that by the third or fourth time – if not sooner – he will have taken the hint. Obviously, this isn't going to work if his problem is dementia or confusion – in which case I'm afraid that difficult though it may be for you, there is very little you can do. It might, though, be time to seek medical help for him – you might want to talk to his GP before taking him to an appointment – if you're in a position to do so.

If, however you need to involve your husband, be aware that you may have problems convincing him for the need for this. It is always hard to accept a diagnosis like this for a parent, and he might have trouble coming to terms with it – especially as he's not seen any signs or symptoms.

When you are struggling to cope with your father-in-law, try and remember how charming he can be and remember the flowers he brings you. It won't improve him, but it might make things easier for you.


I HAVE been happy with my boyfriend for some time, but things have changed between us and I don't know what to do. We went to a party together and met another couple there. We all got really drunk and went back to their place.

I went to bed with my boyfriend, but have hazy memories of the other couple joining us. Apparently, we swapped partners and according to my boyfriend, not only did I make love to the other guy but to the girl as well.

He says it was great and wants to do it all again, but the thought of it really turns me off and I can't believe I joined in; I must have been far-gone. I really don't want to see them again, but my boyfriend says that perhaps we are all bisexuals and he has arranged a get together. He says I'm just being a silly prude.


FIONA SAYS: You are being neither silly nor a prude. Just because your boyfriend enjoyed this group encounter, that is no reason why you should have to.

If your instincts tell you this is wrong for you, then go with what you feel. And don't let your boyfriend – or anyone else – pressurise you into doing something that you don't want to do, whatever it is. If he tries to force you into this, then I think you need to think carefully as to whether he is the right person for you at all.


I AM looking for some advice please. I am a single guy, nearly 35. I don't have many friends any more and I'm looking to increase my social circle. Do you have any advice for me please?


FIONA SAYS: You don't say why you don't have many friends any more – but are there old friends you've lost touch with? I would always encourage people to contact their old friends and revive past friendships, even if means looking back as far as primary school days.

Perhaps you have moved away from your home turf, but that doesn't mean you can't contact people. Tell your old friends where you're living now and ask if they have any contacts in your new area they could put you in touch with. Ask relatives as well – when I went to Hong Kong, a friend of my mother's put me in touch with the daughter of one of her friends, who became one of my closest friends.

Beyond that, social media is a good place to make new friends – there are often local groups that arrange events and get-togethers. Type in your town or area in the search engine and see what comes up. I'd also encourage you to reach out to people you work with – or, if you don't work, take up some form of volunteering and see who you could meet that way.

If you're into hobbies of any kind, join a club – ask at your local library for details of what's on that you could join in with. Sports clubs – where people are active together – are better than gyms for meeting people, where most are doing their own thing.

The most important thing I can tell you is to get out there and meet people, because it's highly unlikely anyone is going to come knocking on your door. And give it time. I hope you have a whole new circle of friends soon.

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