We spend a lot of time at work, so a positive environment is vital for our mental health. Here are 5 ways to deal with being treated unfairly at work.

Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych. is the CEO & Founder of MyWorkplaceHealth and Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych & Associates, an expanding in-office and online (virtual) clinical counselling practice with offices located throughout BC.

We spend a significant portion of our days working, so relationships with our colleagues can be important to maintain for our overall mental health. Conflict with colleagues, as well as actual or perceived unfairness in the workplace, particularly when it pertains to important outcomes such as a promotion, can have a tremendous impact on job satisfaction. It is normal to feel disappointed, frustrated, and perhaps even angry.

What Happens When We Experience Co-Worker Related Stress?

As human beings, we tend to enter a state of cognitive constriction (or tunnel vision) when faced with a stressful situation – particularly when it has to do with another person. We tend to paint the entire situation or object of our discontent with broad strokes. This manifests as us being much more likely to only focus on the negative attributes of situations – leading to a snowball-effect over time, where our emotions become more and more negative and difficult to manage over time.

How to Deal with Unfair Treatment

What are some ways you can manage a situation where you feel you’ve been unfairly treated by another at work?

  • Identify and articulate your feelings and thoughts – as specifically as possible. Who are you mad at and why? Are you angry with your boss for making an unfair decision? Your colleague for being the recipient of an unfair decision outcome? Is there any aspect of you feeling upset with yourself
  • Think about what it is that this colleague did (or didn’t do) that may have contributed to them getting treated differently. Try to articulate the behaviours and approaches that may have contributed to them being treated differently – for example, obtaining the promotion. Writing these down can help bring some objectivity to the situation. Be precise. This may lessen the negative emotions toward them.
  • If applicable, request a meeting with the manager/supervisor or the human resources professional that made the hiring decision.
    • Express interest in determining what you can do differently as well as areas of improvement
    • Indicate a clear commitment to the job and an interest in moving ahead in the company.
    • If it seems appropriate given your relationship with the person you are speaking to, you could respectfully convey that you thought you were a strong candidate for the position.
    • Ask what could have been done differently that would have helped you land the promotion.
    • Avoid bad-mouthing your colleague.
    • Stay focused on personal areas of improvement.
    • Ask for actionable feedback, both positive and negative.
    • Then request a follow-up meeting to evaluate progress. This can help refocus the negative energy from the colleague to the job and self-improvement.
  • If applicable, request a meeting with the manager/supervisor or the human resources professional that made the hiring decision.

How do you approach this colleague if there are still negative feelings toward them?

  • Be mindful of internal evaluations about this colleague. It is stunning how powerful our thoughts can be in shaping both our behaviours as well as our emotional reactions to others. For example, thinking things like “he’s such a jerk, he didn’t deserve that promotion” when you see them, that will likely shift your demeanour in a more negative direction.
  • Catch those thoughts and replace them with more objective, non-judgmental ones. For example, “I feel strongly that he didn’t deserve the promotion, but he got it and I need to move forward. Rather than focusing on him, I am going to focus on what I can do differently.” This may sound simple, but our thoughts can be very powerful in shifting our mood.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych & Associates, written by Dr. Samra.