Revenge Is Not the Answer: Dealing with Intern Abuse

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As an intern, you’re on the lowest rung of the ladder at your given internship site. Hopefully you realize this going into an organization and act accordingly. However, this doesn’t mean that abuse you may endure as a result of your intern status is acceptable.

What do you do as an intern if you find yourself being treated poorly by employees of the organization? What should you do if conflict arises between you and another intern or an employee? Here are some thoughts:

  • Focus on the work you’re there to do. The only person you have any control over in the workplace is yourself. While it is easier said than done, focus on your work and not the problem person. Don’t waste your entire internship experience, which is short-term and will go by fast, crying that “he did this” or “she did that.” Stop worrying about the trouble-maker and do what you’re there to do – gain experience and learn.
  • Always be professional. An internship is your first foray into the professional workplace. It’s unfortunate when you encounter unprofessional behavior on the part of a seasoned employee in your first experience out of the gate. However, this is your opportunity to rise above another person’s poor behavior and prove yourself to be an excellent professional-in-training. Remember, you only have control over your own behavior.
  • Be proactive. It’s always best to enter into an internship as prepared as possible. You might give some thought to dealing with workplace conflict before it happens. If you have regular meetings with your site supervisor (and hopefully you do), this could be a topic you might wish to discuss with him or her. As a mentor, what suggestions do they have for dealing with co-worker conflicts? Even if you don’t encounter troubles at your internship, you’re bound to encounter them at some point in your career. Remember, your internship is a learning experience and should prepare you for entering the world of work.
  • Don’t wait too long to address the issue. Even taking the first three points into consideration, it’s important to address an issue quickly before it becomes a much bigger problem. Ideally, the perpetrator isn’t your supervisor – that would be a whole different issue to tackle. Speak with your supervisor about the issue you are encountering and seek suggestions on how to handle it. Take the proactive approach and speak one-on-one with the individual you’re having difficulty with in a rational, private manner. If you’ve done your part to attempt to resolve the problem and things don’t change, then it would be appropriate to ask for your supervisor to step in.

In any case, you will always have support from the university. If you have found yourself in a bad internship, staff in Career & Leadership Development or faculty internship supervisors on campus are always willing to consult with you on strategies for dealing with the situation.


For those of you who have had an internship already, did you ever experience poor treatment from a co-worker? How did you handle the situation?


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