I know this is a topic that some people have strong opinions about, but a toxic culture is developing in my department whereby several postdocs have convinced themselves that they are being mistreated because of extremely small -- often imaginary -- confrontations.
For example, a postdoc encountered a senior staff member in a doorway. The staff member apparently gave her a "funny look", which confirmed the postdoc's view that this staff member is abusing their position of privilege. Anyone who points out that this is a total non sequitur is accused of allowing bullying to flourish.
This situation has been building steadily over the last few years and now five or six postdocs keep a running tally of "microaggressions" so microscopic that it is very difficult to see how they can exist. For example, one postdoc sits with their back to a door, and a professor came in to talk to another colleague, and didn't acknowledge them. This incident was talked about for weeks as evidence of the professor's "rudeness". In other cases, some people are labelled "creeps".
To be clear: I absolutely do not condone abuse. I know power dynamics are real, and that many minorities (of which I belong to several) experience daily microaggressions and othering. I have been on the receiving end of workplace bullying myself, and would never wish to silence real problems. I too am a postdoc, so have no additional power and gain nothing from allowing abuse to flourish.
What worries me is that none of these incidents are being raised with any of the staff members in question. Therefore, many junior researchers have accepted as fact that their professors are horrible and selfish people. I'm concerned about this mindset, because in at least three cases, these "selfish" professors have some form of autism (I know this as I'm a wellness officer). Perfectly ordinary behaviour is framed as malicious.
Personally I've found it very upsetting. Many of the people on the receiving end of this gossip are very kind, if not socially awkward, people. It scares me that so many people uncritically accept that everyone with a permanent job is some kind of bogeyman; of course, I cannot betray confidentiality by informing my colleagues that many of these incidents didn't occur and indeed it's kind of ableist to assume you can read minds all the time. Abuse and power struggles certainly can, and often do, occur... but if any of these complaints were substantial they should be raised with HR.
The sad truth is that I think my colleagues just get their power from trash talking others, and aren't actually interested in the truth. Dissenting voices get shunned (and accused of being privileged / not being woke). Anyone who isn't in 100% agreement gets immediately shut down. But, also, my colleagues are just upsetting themselves for no reason. They're scared of encountering these "terrifying" professors, most of who have done nothing worse than dressing slightly shabbily and being uncomfortable with eye contact.
Anyone have any advice on dealing with this kind of situation?