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Background

I am currently working as a temporary student intern at an automotive company's part depot doing jobs for the customer service department there, including updating processes and creating a new employee training manual (my main tasks), along with other small jobs that are assigned to me. Its a 4 month term and I have about 2 months left

Now to be clear, a lot of these jobs end up falling into one of the two categories right off the bat:

  1. The job needs to be put on hold because of something outside of my control (waiting for data from another person, person who I am getting information from goes on vacation, etc.)
  2. Most of the work is manual data entry, which I can do relatively quickly.

I also learned how to use their system very quickly which enabled me to write the user guide very quickly, so I am well ahead on that.

Because of this I have a lot of "free" time compared to the rest of the customer service staff, as they are very busy with training another new rep. I don't sit around doing nothing however. I try to keep myself busy by doing work related things like:

  • Sitting with the new rep and helping them if needed.
  • Editing the training manual to look better.
  • Bringing my write ups of the current process to the various reps so they can look at it and suggest improvements.

Lately I have noticed one of the reps complaining to another that I do no work and shouldn't even be here. I brushed it off but these comments started becoming more and more direct, as in the most recent encounter they told mockingly mentioned to another coworker that "my work wasn't real work" and that I shouldn't be paid at all. I was within about 10 feet and they knew I was there so I think it was intentional.

I fear that others might start to resent me for how little perceived work I am doing and create tension while I am around. I am supposed to be compiling information from them, but I am worried that they will stop giving me all of the info, or purposely leaving some parts out. I might be over reacting but I want to nip this problem in the bud before it could even get to that point.

My Question

How can I de-escalate this situation in the most respectful and professional way possible?

  • Are you doing the duties of a customer service representative or are you just working in that department? – sphennings Jun 28 '18 at 14:20
  • @sphennings I'm not supposed to actually do what they do but I was given permission to advise the new recruit. – TheRealLester Jun 28 '18 at 14:36
  • 1
    This might be better suited for The Workplace SE, unless you are dead set on confronting the individuals making such comments. – Clay07g Jun 28 '18 at 15:21
  • @Clay07g I was leaning towards confronting the person when writing the question but I might ask it again on WP.SE with more emphasis on professionalism. – TheRealLester Jun 28 '18 at 16:21
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I suggest you maintain a list of all your current and recently completed tasks, together with your status (completed, waiting for input from John Doe, etc.) and keep it in a highly visible place on your desk. This should help prevent your boss and co-workers from believing the person who is bad-mouthing you.

Aside from that, try not to stress out about this and remember you only have two months left. I suspect that rep is feeling insecure in his job, and is trying to draw attention from himself onto someone else by making them look bad. A normal, reasonably secure employee who genuinely believes an intern is not doing his job would discuss the problem quietly with management, not broadcast it like that rep. So this is not about you, and I'm sure the other people in the office know what the rep is up to and don't pay much attention to him.

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Frame challenge: You can't de-escalate because this person is actively looking to pick a fight with or bully you for whatever reason (which may not even be related to you). They want tension and drama or just the feeling of superiority.

Since their comments are pretty hostile, I'd escalate this to your supervisor/manager:

Hey [boss], do you have 5 minutes? For whatever reason, Bob started making negative remarks to others about me when I'm within earshot. For example he said that my work wasn't real work and that I shouldn't be paid for it. I'm worried that this will have a negative effect when I collaborate with Bob and the rest of the team. What should I do?

I had similar problems with a colleague who told my boss that e.g. I was trying to harm the company or was not capable of doing my job while I was sitting right next to them. I refused to engage in his power games and (luckily) my boss had my back.

These situations (to my knowledge) occurred when the colleague was stressed out or in pain, which I took to be a contributing factor for removing his filters. But, ultimately, it was none of my concern why it happened.

If your boss doesn't have your back count your blessings: you'll be leaving in 2 months ;-)

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It seems that a lot of the work they've been giving you is work to keep you busy, rather than part of the company's standard workflow. You're an intern working who will only be with the company for 4 months. It's not worth it for them to invest in training you to do the work of a full time employee. Because of this they have you writing documentation, and fixing formatting issues rather than doing the "actual work" of a customer service rep.

Because of nature of the tasks assigned to you there isn't much you can do to combat this conception that you aren't doing much. Being an intern it's effectively part of the job description. Most companies have an unspoken hierarchy of the value of a roles contributions. As an intern doing make-work you're going to be near the bottom.

Given the short duration of the internship and the fact that you are completing the tasks that you are assigned I would recommend not worrying about it unless it starts to interfere with your ability to do your job. About the only thing you can do to improve the situation is to volunteer to take on responsibilities closer aligned with what your coworkers consider valuable contributions to the company. Since you're working in the customer service department that's probably going to be related to helping customers in some way.

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