Problems with Work Colleagues in Recovery

One of the challenges for those in recovery can be getting along with other people. This is something that most humans struggle with at least occasionally. The individual does not usually get to choose who they work with so there can occasionally friction and this can progress to full-scale conflict. There are several common problems that can occur with work colleagues.

Holding onto the Past

If people become sober and continue to work in the same job they may sometimes have to deal with work colleagues who try to use the past against them. These other individual may genuinely feel resentment over the former behavior or they may just be using it as leverage. This type of colleague can use the history of addiction as a way to belittle the individual. They can do this by making snide remarks or openly hurtful comments; they could even spread rumors of a relapse back to addiction. This type of work colleague can be actively seeking to damage the reputation of the individual who is trying to build a sober life.

Sabotage of Recovery

Some work colleagues may try to sabotage efforts to stay away from alcohol and drugs. For example, they can try to cajole or bully the newly sober individual into joining them for a drink. Such people will usually be behaving this way because they are dealing with their own inner demons. When somebody else enters addiction recovery it highlights the fact that they should do the same. If this work colleague had been a former drinking or drugging buddy they can feel particularly threatened.

Dangers of a New Enthusiasm

Addicts tend to be a bit ineffective at work. Their colleagues are often forced into a position where they have to take up the slack. They have to cover for their poorly performing employee. When that individual becomes sober it can change the dynamics in the work place; it can also lead to resentment. Some newly sober people can develop a sudden enthusiasm for their job. Some become somewhat fanatical about it. They may even begin to lecture their work colleagues on how things should be done. This type of behavior can be annoying for work colleagues who devoted so much time previously making up for this person’s inadequacies.

Personality Clashes

The most usual reason for conflict in the work place is personality clashes. Every human will have their beliefs, traits, and behaviors. The fact that people can be so different means that occasionally this will lead to conflict. If one person believes strongly that things should be done in a certain way it will bring them into conflict with those who feel it should be done a different way. Outside of work the individual can avoid spending too much time with those people they feel uncomfortable with; in work they may be forced to spend most of their time with such people.

People differ in the approach they use when completing a project. This is fine when people are working alone, but more problematic when they are part of a team. If each team member is pulling in their own direction it can lead to a great deal of conflict.

Interdependence Conflicts

Another common reason for problems at work is interdependence conflicts. This is where one individual depends on other people in order to get their job done. If these other colleagues are not working effectively it can be a threat to the individual’s own perceived performance.

Dangers of Work Place Conflict for People in Recovery

Workplace conflict can be a real problem for people in recovery because:

* It can lead to anger and resentment. These are two of the most dangerous emotions for people recovering from an addiction; they are common relapse triggers. The individual can become so angry that they are out of control; this means that by the time they calm down again they could be drinking in a bar or sticking a needle in their arm.
* Dealing with work place conflict is stressful. The individual will usually take this tension home with them so that it affects every aspect of their life. If people are dealing with excessive stress it can lead to depression and health problems. It can take all the joy out of their recovery, and they may be tempted to once again return to substance abuse as a means to deal with this stress.
* A successful life in sobriety should ideally be well rounded; this means that all the different aspects of life should fit well together most of the time. If people are always having problems at work it can get in the way of a more satisfying life in recovery.
* There tends to be winners and losers in workplace conflicts. If the individual loses too many times it can seriously damage their career.

Dealing with Difficult People at Work

It is probably not going to be possible for most individuals to avoid working with difficult people. The best they can do is to learn how to manage the situation as best they can. This could involve several features.

Twelve Step Groups

If people in recovery are dealing with a stressful situation they may benefit from some support. Those who belong to a Twelve Step group can share at a meeting or speak to their sponsor. It is not a good idea to share the specifics of any work place conflict; especially at an open meeting. The individual should only share about their concerns in a general way without mentioning names or any details that could harm their employers. Those who do not belong to a 12 Step fellowship may benefit from discussing the situation over with a therapies or trusted friend.

Priorities in Sobriety

It is vital that the person in recovery puts their sobriety above everything else. They should not allow any work place squabbles knock them off track.

It may be possible to ignore petty annoyances, but if a work colleague is causing misery then the situation needs to be dealt with; these things rarely get resolved without some type of intervention. The best way of doing this is usually to have a private discussion with the difficult work colleague; it is usually not a good idea to begin making accusations in front of everyone else. This private discussion can make a difference but in many situations it won’t improve the situation much. It is still something that should be tried before attempting other solutions.

Subtlety in Confrontation

If people are going to confront a work colleague publicly it is best to do so subtlety. Sometimes just making a lighthearted comment about this other person’s behavior can carry a serious message to them. For example, if a colleague is being overly bossy a humorous “yes, sir” can point this out to them. The advantage of using subtle humor is that the other individual will see it less as a personal assault. Of course openly mocking this other person is not such a good solution.

Complaining to the Boss

Complaining to the boss is not something that people should rush into. This is because the employer may develop the impression that the complainer is not able to handle the work place environment. If the individual is always complaining about their work colleagues to the boss it can harm their reputation; they will often be viewed as a malcontent and somebody who is difficult to work with – this will not do their career any favors. Sometimes it will be necessary to take the problem to the boss but only after other solutions have been attempted.

Honest Look at Self

It is important that the individual examines their own contribution to any conflict to see if they have been at fault. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. People need to take an honest look at their own behavior to see if there are things they can do to stop conflicts arising in the future. It is also a good idea to try and see things from this other person’s point of view. Such understanding can provide a key to ending the conflict.

If other people in the workplace have been having problems with the same person it may be a good move to develop a joint strategy. This approach to a conflict can be far more effective because of the power of numbers.

Calm, Professional Demeanor

When dealing with conflict in the work place it is best to remain calm and professional as much as possible. Even if people are in the right it does their case no favor if they become involved in a public shouting match. High emotions can easily make a mountain out of a molehill. A situation that could have easily been resolved becomes a source of future tensions. Sometimes the best approach is to just walk away until emotions calm down.

It can be difficult when a work colleague is using a history of addiction as a weapon against somebody in recovery. The individual can calmly explain that this is no longer who they are, but in a great deal of cases the only solution will be to try to rise above such comments.