Help desk: Do I go back to my old firm?

Your work dilemmas solved by experts
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The Independent Culture
In 1994 I graduated in International Relations and took my first job as a secretary so I could learn as much as possible. Nine months later I was promoted and worked for a woman with a very bad attitude towards her female colleagues. She looked upon us as rivals, neglected to tell us about procedures and made our good ideas look like her own. I decided to leave and did my masters degree in International Trade and now this firm has asked me to go back and work for it. I like the company but I hear attitudes have not changed. Should I go back and if I do, how do I confront bad attitudes and negotiate a better position with good pay?

Debra Allcock, Campaign Manager, The Industrial Society:

All organisations have people who are difficult to deal with. Difficulty is not gender specific. We all need to learn how to work alongside people we do not like. Try to separate your personal feelings about individuals from the job. Be clear about your priorities. Are you prepared to work in an organisation where you dislike their attitudes for the sake of the job? If you are, use assertiveness skills to negotiate the package you want and also to deal with difficult individuals. Decide what you would like and what you would settle for. When negotiating your package, state clearly what you want. When dealing with difficult people decide what you will or won't accept. If someone steps out of line state what happened, how it affected you and what you would like to happen in the future. Always focus on future action.

Neil Scott, Director of Psychological Services, Psychometric Services Ltd (PSL):

Ask yourself why you are considering going back. Is it because you actively want the job or just because it has been offered? If it is the former, clarify precisely what you want from the job, what you think you are worth and whether the company will give you what you want. As to the "bad attitudes", you have three options: accept them, resolve them or avoid them. The first is not really an option, is it? Resolving them is best achieved using a third party but the organisation would need to agree to this and be capable of change. If the solution is to avoid them, the answer is self- evident.

Equal Opportunities Commission:

We would challenge the idea that this working environment is natural. If the attitude of the female manager is the only barrier to you returning to this company it may be helpful for you to bring the matter to senior management's attention. If the female manager's attitude is prejudicial to female colleagues and not male colleagues, she is discriminating on the grounds of sex and her behaviour should be challenged. Employers today recognise the harm that sex discrimination in the workplace causes in terms of poor staff morale and lower productivity. A company's most valuable resource is its staff and employers realise that equal opportunities policies make good business sense.

Ann Speirs, Psychotherapist, International Psychotherapy Associates:

What is your motivation in returning to a situation you chose to leave? It is true there will be difficult people situations wherever you work, and most people find that coping with the variety of people and personalities that make up any workplace is a far greater challenge than the work itself. Effective interactive skills come with experience and hard work. Your previous manager gave you an excellent lesson in how not to motivate staff. So, have you learned what you need to from this situation? What else does this company have to offer you at this point? Since this is your first job at a new level of professional training, are you really sure you want to return to a company where you have worked in less skilled positions, rather than make a fresh start?

Compiled by Carmen Fielding.

If you have a problem at work and would like expert advice, write to Carmen Fielding, Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171 293 2182; e-mail