If you feel threatened at work but can't quit, what would you do?

Hey there, first time poster. I was hoping to get some tips for how to deal with a tricky work situation.

Basically, I work in an environment where the people using our service may be dangerous. There is one person in particular with an especially violent past, who seems very drawn to me.

He has never done anything that I can strictly complain about, though other staff have commented to both me and my manager that he pays too much attention to me. I find the situation is making me feel anxious even outside of work. He stands too close to me, offers too much unwanted help, stares. I find myself nearly falling into a wall trying to get away from this person. He will walk so close behind he stands on my heels.

It might seem obvious that I should as this person to back off, but as he is unpredictable and prone to paranoia, I don’t want to identify myself as someone he might have issues with. I worry I have gone too far in the other direction, been too friendly (though I will only say hello really) and in some way encourage this. he does do similar things with other women of my age group, as I have noticed with visiting students etc.

Any nifty tips that might help, until I can get out of this work situation would help. I have been looking, but no luck so far. Would especially like to hear from anyone with a knowledge of psychology, but really anybody would be great. I even just need a way to think about it that is more empowering and less scary for me. I don’t really feel supported by my manager here, as he laughed when it was brought up as an issue.

Have you told your manager? What was his response?

Do you have to deal with this guy? Is there a way of servicing him without you having to deal with him directly?

If you work in a place were you frequently service people who might be dangerous, shouldn’t the place have some sort of protocol for dealing with this situation?

I would tell the manager your concerns first. If the manager doesn’t do anything, then I would let this person know you have boundaries and see how he deals with that. If he doesn’t respect the boundaries you’ve set, then you should have more cause to complain about him.

Hi Lakai,

Thank you for your reply.

I have discussed it briefly with my manager, but he made it all into a big joke and started laughing at me. He’s not exactly sensitive about this sort of situation. I think the guy would have to be touching me inappropriately for him to care. But I could definitely mention it more ‘officially’- my manager tends to say he can’t recall ever hearing about a problem the second or third time you mention it.

I actually no longer have to have any dealing with the guy, I used to have to supervise him, but now he is not on my list, but still seems to seek me out, and we all work in a very small building. Also, my workplace is supposed to have a ‘community’ atmosphere (most people there are not threatening like this one person), so it is hard to set boundaries in the sense that from another person his behaviour might not bother me as much, but knowing his background, it does bother me more. Sorry to be so vague, deliberately not saying where I work as we have confidentiality.

I think I may have to do as you say and speak to the person, and just choose my words carefully. I have done my best to avoid him, but he will come into a room if I am there alone etc.

Hello, Wilma1984, and welcome to the Dope! :slight_smile:

Since you and other staff members have told your manager that this unpredictable, paranoid, violent person pays you too much attention, and your manager just laughs it off, then yes, I think your first answer is to continue to try to find another job!

I don’t have much helpful advice, I’m afraid. A little, but I’m not sure how well it would work.

Would it be possible for the staff members that have noticed the problem to run interference? Could you discreetly ask them to make sure you are not alone in a room with him? To enter the room if they see the two of you alone? If they have voiced concern, they may be willing to help.

Also, you say it is a very small building, so people would hear you if you were to start shouting? Maybe that could give you a little empowerment. Just repeat to yourself, “I can always shout for help,” and it might help you to not feel so scared.

About the anxiety outside of work - are you afraid of this person being able to find you outside of work? Is it fear of him outside, or just general anxiety about the whole situation?

You and the other people who have mentioned this should be able to rely on your manager for assistance. All of you go together and demand that he take this seriously. If he doesn’t, go and talk to his manager.

The guy’s a creep and wants you to feel threatened. Your talking to him won’t help. It will just tell him he’s getting to you. OTOH, your manager telling the guy to back off will put him on notice that his behavior has been spotted and that you have people who will back you up.

Your manager is the one who needs to handle this. He’s being paid to manage problems. Make him get on with it.

It sounds like this is something that can be expected to happen as a natural consequence of your line of work, so your workplace must have a formal policy for highlighting it and dealing with the situation. Your line management should help you with this.
If no such policy exists, your line management should implement one asap. For their protection as well as yours and everyone else.

Discuss it with your manager and make it clear that the situation requires action, not just sympathy.

This, also mentioning that the problem client is creating a “hostile work environment” (use that phrase) might light a fire under your manager’s ass.

It’s difficult to advise without knowing the exact nature of your work, but you might find some use reading up on Relational Security and the See, Think, Act guidance developed for NHS England. This was developed for people working in high secure units with individuals with serious offending histories - murder, GBH, rape and sexual assault - and it focuses on how to establish boundaries.

I can’t embed links because pressing that button makes my iPad browser crash, and I can’t be bothered to type my post out for a third time, so cut and paste this link, and/or Google the terms I’ve included above:

Lo Slung Denim, Thank you for that piece of advice, that document will be really useful and something I can share with my colleagues and manager

Kaio thank you for adding about that phrase, I have heard it before and it may be significant to use.

I would hope it would help. The thing is, from the person who is coming off as threatening, I feel it is almost his way of expressing attraction, but because I know where that has led in the past it makes it frightening for me. Whereas my manager’s approach in laughing at it was nearly as if I had gotten a big head or ideas about myself, that I would be worth targeting in that manner.

This especially stems from his having approached a member of my family outside of work. He had seen and met them prior at a public event associated with work. Now, he did nothing threatening and seemed to be trying to be ‘friendly’, but it really made me uncomfortable. I reported that to my manager, and was backed up by a colleague, but again, he did nothing.

It’s not that I know exactly what outcome I’m afraid of, its more that the person’s behaviour and the fact my manager does nothing to support or protect me, coupled with that this person is at times not well supervised and wanders from room to room. He also moves very silently, and might appear right behind you without you noticing. It puts me on edge. Other staff have noticed that silently entering the room thing, at least that’s not just me. I was planning on asking for his schedule to be tightened and for him to be told that he doesn’t need to be in other rooms when they aren’t on his schedule?

When Wilma said she should “talk with this person” she was responding to my suggestion to establish boundaries. This is the same thing you are suggesting the manager should do.

It won’t be easy. It will probably feel awkward and irritating. But I think that if Wilma finds this guy in her office (for example) she should say something like “I’m sorry, I need to get back to work. Please ask X to help you. X is down the hall.” If the guy ignores her and says “I know, but I really need some help with [whatever]” then Wilma just needs to repeat “I’m sorry, but I need to get back to work. Go ask X.” And Wilma can do this as often as necessary.

I think we both should agree that it’s the manager who should be telling this guy not to wander around. But if the manager is not doing his job, then Wilma will probably have to do it herself.

Both what you,** Lakai** and **Merneith **are telling me are helpful things.

I definitely need to be articulating to this person that they need to move along, and I also take Merneith’s point about not advertising that the guy is getting to me- I am a bit worried that he gets off on that, and it will make him worse.

The sort of dialogue that you describe, Lakai, is exactly what I need to be doing.

I have just been thinking while listening to all your ideas, that I need to re-arrange my office, so that some supplies or ‘reasons’ he has for dropping in are elsewhere, which can further decrease his presence. When he comes looking for one-to-one help, I will encourage him to go to another staff member.

Be aware that if there is any kind of intent behind this person’s behaviour, you will not succeed in turning it aside by subtle, gentle measures - that sort of thing only works when the person is doing it out of simple ignorance.

You may have to take a tough stand (and be prepared for the person to react in such way as to paint himself as the victim.)

A tough stand may be necessary, but you always have to start with the gentle measures and work your way up. The key is to challenge his behavior without upsetting his ego.

If someone is being passive aggressive when they harass you, they are being passive aggressive because they are cowards. What they are most afraid of is their egos. If they fail at what they are doing they need an excuse to save face (i.e. to save their egos). If they fail, they cannot have anyone know that they failed. That’s what the passive aggressive behavior is for. It always provides them with an excuse in case things go wrong. It allows them to say they did not fail at attracting or threatening you, but that they were “just getting supplies”.

That’s why the solution is almost always to set boundaries. Once a boundary is set, the passive aggressive behavior becomes useless. He can no longer use the excuse of “just getting supplies” because you clearly told him he should not be in your office. He will have to decide whether to pursue his goals without his safety net, which is highly unlikely because we know (based on past behavior) that this person is a coward.

A problem might arise when you challenge the person in a way that threatens his ego. When you call him threatening or a pervert directly. At that point his ego is threatened, and this person will do anything to defend his ego. He may even resort to violence, in extreme cases.

Therefore, challenge behavior, do not challenge his ego. Tell him to go away because you are working. Do not tell him to go away because he’s a creepy pervert. That’s the basic idea.

I disagree with Mangetout that confronting this person will show him that he’s getting to you. If you confront him without becoming emotional, he won’t know that he’s affecting you. People look for emotional signs of fear or anger to determine if they are affecting you. If you stay calm he will think his behavior is not affecting you.

I don’t disagree with any of that actually; being firm and setting boundaries is pretty much what I was thinking of, but you elaborated on it much better than I could.

You have to be prepared to stand firm (and if necessary, escalate) if he keeps skirting the boundary and testing it though. I’ve dealt with a few people who were quite skilled at minimal crossing of boundaries - once you have drawn the line, you can’t let it be nudged even a millimetre.

Thank you, you are both really hitting the nail on the head here.

This is exactly what I was worried about because this person has resorted to violence in exactly the scenario you described before- not towards me, but historically.

This is also the key issue- there is a practised skill in slightly crossing boundaries, and my manager never enforces the boundaries when they ought to be- this person has been expelled from other services for other sorts of boundary crossing, but my manager just tolerates it, partly I think because work would be involved in addressing it.

I think you are right, there has been a time recently when he came up to take something from me to help me carry it, and I just said ‘no’ that I was okay very firmly- he looked irritated, but then accepted and moved on. So I need to apply exactly that level of authority but just keep it professional and respectful. I think I’ve reached the stage where I’m at the last straw of dealing with his approaches so I just physically can’t let him encroach on me anymore.

I disagree with this. Your approach might work if we were talking about a clueless twelve year old, but we’re not. We’re talking about an adult with a history of violence. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. He knows damn well that he’s encroaching on Wilma’s personal life and he’s doing it deliberately.

Women are not obligated to be gentle and polite to people they find threatening. In Wilma’s case, the creep has a history of violence and now he’s approaching her family outside of work? That is not acceptable. He needs to hear that, exactly, in plain and simple English. “Stay out of my office. Stay away from my family.” No excuses. No if-but-maybes. No “she’s being mean to me”. Too damn bad. He’s already crossed the line.

Women are also not obligated to be polite and gentle when their moron male managers don’t understand the problem. The way Wilma needs to handle this is to go to her manager - ideally, with back up from the other employees who understand the problem - and explain it to them, again in simple language. “I need you to tell Creeper to back off and stay away from my family.” It’s a simple statement with simple instructions. If he’s too dumb or chicken to do it, then Wilma needs to go to* his* boss and make a complaint.

The suggestion to follow the company’s police for handling violent clients is also a good one. They should have a policy in place.

Wilma is not making combat pay. She shouldn’t be left alone on the front line to face violent clients all on her own. The company, and especially the manager, should be doing everything they can to assure her safety. They company should not stand for having their employees threatened. It’s reasonable for Wilma to expect them to stand by her.

Finally, Wilma, trust yourself. If you don’t feel safe, don’t let anyone else pooh-pooh your instincts.

To be frank a little more context is going to be necessary to give useful advice which should be possible without divulging where you work or exactly what you do. Is this scary guy a mentally compromised social services client, or is he an employee with a history of violence? It’s utterly unclear. Without some minimal guidance and context from you it 's difficult to know what to say.

Are we dealing with a ex-criminal who has (somehow) been given the run of your facility or a clueless employee who got in a fight outside work at some point in the past? Did he go nuts on a woman he worked with or something else? If you’re in a services business and work in an environment “where the people using our service may be dangerous” and expect your boss to run interference because you are unwilling to or unable to assert yourself even minimally to define acceptable boundaries then this may not be the job for you.
If he is an employee of your organization and he is literally “on your heels” and is crowding your personal space you need to tell him to step off “now” in a polite manner. If he doesn’t then go to your boss, but if you are basically just saying to your boss “He makes me uncomfortable just sharing the same air with him because I don’t like his vibe” then your bosses options are a bit limited. Is he supposed to go to this guy who has not done anything (so far) and tell him you don’t like his vibe so avoid you? Put yourself in your bosses place. What exactly would you do?

The same thing you do when one kid is annoying another kid. Tell the guy to stop annoying his coworkers. Don’t single Wilma out specifically. Just tell him that you’ve had complaints and he’s to cut it out. When he whines, “But I didn’t do anything!”, tell him to put a sock in it and if you get any more complaints, there’s going to be trouble.

Grown ups know how to handle problem children. If it was a five year old poking another five year old, her boss wouldn’t just throw up his hands and say, “Well, golly, I’m helpless. Maybe the second kid should try being polite but firm.”

That said, you’re absolutely right that it’s not clear if Creeper is a coworker or client or what. But either way, the Manager needs to step up and be the boss.

That works fine if we assume he’s actually creeping on Wilma… but what if he’s not, and because she is just naturally fearful or easily intimidated (both of which seem to somewhat be the case in the OP) because of how he carries himself and what she had heard of things he has done in the past she has created this imagine of him as a wannabe stalker and gotten her friends to buy into it.

I’m a tall, large framed man with a serious demeanor at work. I have to be careful of how close I get to unfamiliar people in close quarters if instructions are necessary as I understand my “presence” can be intimidating. If I was called in by someone’s manager and given the extremely insulting and dismissive speech you recommend above I would file an HR complaint and see about other actions if warranted. When Wilma and her manager are interviewed by HR and the “menace” consists of scary guy walking quietly around the office and standing too close while instructions are given I don’t think either of them will get employee of the month.

He is a client, and ex-criminal.

This is exactly what makes the situation hard for me to handle. When I first got to work in this location, every other staff member had refused to work with this person, as he is much more high risk than our usual clients and so I was left to deal with him as a supervisor- he’s now moved to another department but still in the building.

I do realise that part of the problem is more own nervousness and lack of control, though I am not sure the degree. I have seen him talking to young women who visit as students, he will lean on top of them, they will lean back, he will then encroach more on them. I wonder if it is partly a lack of social skills on his part. I don’t really know if he realises how unpleasant women find his behaviour.