Q: I am a mid-level manager with an unusual problem. I am being bullied. From the swearing, the comments about what part of my anatomy I step on, to the taunting about Ethernet cable color, there is no mistaking it. The corporate culture where I am enables the behavior. I’ve decided to move on, and will do so with great references. My problem, is answering “Why are you looking?” How do I convey what’s going on without sounding like a complainer?
A: I am sorry you are being harassed at work. Unfortunately, your problem is not that unusual. Many times employees will move on because bullying and harassment take a toll on a person’s energy, spirit and self-esteem. What is most concerning to me is that it seems that the culture supports this negative style. If this were a situation where one individual was behaving inappropriately, then I would ask you to consider addressing the behavior. If it is an entire workplace which promotes this behavior, that is more worrisome. It is hard to determine based on what you have shared, but some or all of this behavior could cross over into what is illegal behavior in the workplace. Of course, it is easy for me to ask you to consider confronting this behavior since I am not working in this type of toxic environment.
There is a way to address the “Why are you looking?” question without appearing like a malcontent. First explain that you really enjoy your current role. Give examples of some responsibilities or tasks which are particular strengths. Also describe that your relationships with colleagues and/or vendors are positive. After emphasizing some of the positives, mention that the corporate culture is a bit rougher than other cultures where you have thrived. If you are asked for an example, you can offer that the excessive swearing or the less than professional treatment of employees. Try to end with a positive during your response to this question, like: “I really enjoy my role and my colleagues quite a bit.” I would avoid using the terms like bullying, harassment, etc. because sometimes an interviewer will perceive you as a complainer. Or the interviewer could also assume that you have taken legal action against your employer, which many interviewers would get nervous about, although they may not admit it.
Lastly, pay attention to your tone and energy when describing other roles within your career. You want any interviewer to understand that your current concerns about your company’s culture are an outlier and that your norm is not to complain about culture, but instead to be part of a more positive environment.