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Co-Workers or Cow-Orkers or Co-Irkers?

Jan-Jun 2003 Archive

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Jan - Jun 2004 Archive


I work for a non-profit in the western United States. The person that sits next to me "Susan" is a retro hippie. She moved west several years ago from a large southern state. Susan keeps the head shot photo from her failed acting career on her bulletin board so that everyone can see it. It also has her "stage name" in big block letters.

My boss sits in an office across from my desk. Susan sits next to me. If my boss asks me a question, Susan will answer it. I can hear everything Susan says and does. Her laugh is like listening to nails on a chalkboard. She eats so loudly that I can hear the individual crunches of chips. She listens into my phone conversations over the cube wall and insists on correcting me in a loud voice if she thinks I've said something wrong. She also has a habit of talking very loudly on the phone with her feet up on the desk and reclining in her office chair. She wears her pants up around her boob line with her shirts tucked in, boasting about how much weight she's lost while downing another Danish from the shop downstairs. A few weeks ago I came around the corner and saw her, chair reclined, feet up on the desk, her pant legs rolled up, as she was cutting her leg hair with the big black office scissors! My boss saw it too and never did anything about it. She runs her "other job" from her desk and the boss knows it. She now spends her time planning her wedding and buying a house - all while she is supposed to be working. The worst thing is that I have to help plan her wedding shower. I sent out 90 invitations - and only 7 people are coming!


 Thanks for a great site - I love it, and spend far too much time reading! I'd love to share my co-worker story with you......   

We're a market research company in New Zealand, and I have been working here for a couple of years now. I love my job and my colleagues are kind, generous, amazing people - and then we had Claire. Claire started working here in November 2003. She was quite shy, but we all made an effort to get to know her and in time we wished we hadn't. But I digress. Claire was a large girl with a penchant for short skirts and breast-hugging blouses, mostly worn to show off her numerous tattoos to good effect. New Zealand is quite laid-back and no comment was made about her personal style, as the work ethic is more important. 

After a few months, Claire opened up enough to regale us with stories of her married lover - a little uncomfortable for us, as the man in question was married to a colleague's friend. But to each his own - we may have disagreed but poor Claire had had a hard life, what with a disgracefully bad-mannered daughter from a lout who left her. (I wonder why?) Anyway, Claire would often badmouth the lover's wife, describing her as a fat lazy cow who couldn't be bothered with anything. Ookkaayyy.....roll on a month or so more, and we here that the lover has taken a contract job in Iraq (this is to help with the rebuilding of the country). Good for him - makes you wonder though, that he leaves behind his wife and two young children as well as his lover and her child. Claire was devastated, more so when several weeks go by and nothing is heard. 

Comes the Easter weekend, and we're all looking forward to a break. I had asked Claire to house-sit for us as my husband and I were going away and we had a very high-strung dog that needed care. She enthusiastically agreed and looked forward to it. I was less sure, but Claire was my last hope as my willing neighbors had a family crisis and couldn't help. At the last minute we got word from our holiday destination and got permission to take the dog with. Claire was quite upset as she had 'really' been looking forward to getting out of the city (we live in the suburbs). Oh well. 

On the Tuesday after Easter we all get back to work, except for Claire. I receive an email via her cell phone telling us that she's very ill and can't get to work, but will contact us later. Poor Claire - as she hadn't been there very long she was not yet entitled to paid sick leave, so she really had to be ill. Two days go by - nothing yet heard. My boss tries to phone but there is no reply. We send a letter offering help, if she'll just contact us. Nothing. We courier the same letter a day later, but the courier comes back as there is no reply. Right - we're starting to see the light here. Eventually we get the IT department up to 'hack' into her computer so that we can get up to date with her work, and see what is outstanding - and the picture gets very clear indeed. 

Apparently Claire had left for Iraq. She had applied for a job, got approval, bought her plane ticket, got a visa - all while happily letting us believe that nothing was wrong. And as for the work - we realized that almost nothing had been done, and her clients were fuming as we tried to explain ourselves. There were months of phone calls from irate creditors, landlords, etc - nothing we could do. But we did manage to eventually see the funny side of it all - after all, if you don't laugh, you have to cry! The last straw for my boss was when she copied a file from Claire's computer to her own and got a virus. We now call Claire's office the Iraq Room and wonder if her new boss has wised up yet!!   Thanks very much .



I used to work nights at a package store. A couple of nights a week I would work with "J", a female employee in her 40's. I should point out that "J" also has a full-time job at the local hospital, so she would work just those nights.

Now, the normal night schedule would be 5-10PM. However, Tuesdays was bingo night for one of the daytime employees, so she would leave at 3PM, so I would come in at that time. When she left, I would be on register A, where she worked, while the other daytime employee would still be working on register B. "J" would come in at 5PM, but she did not want to work at register B. Sometimes she would stand right behind me when she came in, giving the impression (in body language) that she wanted to work at register A. But given that it is busy at 5PM, I kept working at register A. So she would give in and start working at register B. But the second I left the register to grab something from the cooler for a customer, she would move over to register A. This went on for a couple of months, so I eventually gave in and would move to register B when she would come in.

Nobody really liked working with "J", so I was lucky enough to work with her the 2 nights she worked (actually I alternated Friday nights with another guy). And after a while it soon became apparent why she had this reputation. The package store was in a complex owned by the anchor store, a regional supermarket chain. The owner of the package store also owned the pharmacy and video store in the complex, in addition to another package store across town. The entire complex closed at 10PM, and there weren't any similar stores nearby that stayed open later (or 24 hours). So sometimes during a lull, I would need to run over to the pharmacy (if I had a prescription to get filled) or into the grocery store. To be nice, I would ask if I could grab/do something for her. She almost always did need something. And I don't think she ever returned the favor (why run out if the other person is going, huh?). We also handled returns/empties. But she would always have the "bottle boy" (the kid handling the returns) redeem her soda bottles (no beer) at the grocery store. She would say she didn't want to give the impression that she was stealing from her employer.

There is one incident that sticks out in my mind. One night during a rush of customers, she was on the phone in the office adjacent to the space behind the counter. With about 10 or so people in line, plus a couple of more people milling around the floor, I look over at her to see if she would get off the phone and help me. It seems the customers were disturbing her - she shut the door to continue her phone call in peace!

After about a year, they moved me over to the other package store (their decision - they needed people to open/close that store as it was a stand-alone store). This happened in mid-June. By Labor Day, I had heard that "J" was fired. It seems one of her new co-workers was able to catch on to the fact that she was skimming from the register. I think (my memory is fuzzy on this, as it was never fully explained to me) she would overcharge customers, but would correctly enter the correct amount into the register, thus pocketing the difference.

In talking to a couple of other co-workers (one of them the guy I would alternate Fridays with -- he stopped working Fridays shortly before my transfer) after the news spread. Looking back at the things "J" did, things started to make sense: * Add her errands to ours - more time we were out of the store, more time for her to run her scam. * Having the bottle boy return her empties at the grocery store - 2-fold (A) keep the bottle boy out of her hair (he would usually hang out behind the counter when there was a lull in his duties) and (B) make her seem "above board"/"the model employee". * Working at register A - register A was more hidden than register B, so a customer couldn't see what she was doing with the money.

And to rub salt in the wound, the store owner considered her a good friend. "J" invited the owner to her wedding earlier in the year. "J" even took in one of the owner's daughter in a few years earlier when the daughter left home because she couldn't get along with her mother (the owner's wife and also one of the store's bookkeepers). Some friend.


 Last night, my office held a meeting for about 175 people.  Since the meeting was only an hour, they were served refreshments but not a full meal.  Those of us checking people into the meeting, however, were staying 2.5 hours overtime, so our boss ordered in pizza for us.  Unfortunately, the food arrived just as a crush of people got to the meeting, so it was placed on an out-of-the-way side table while we signed in the large group. As the crowd was dwindling, I happened to glance over and saw a meeting attendee taking a slice of pizza and putting it on a plate.  Now, this was one pizza and one order of breadsticks for 5 people.  Not a lot of food, and very clearly (I thought) not meant to feed all the attendees.  But OK, innocent mistake.  "Excuse me, " I said (politely), "I'm sorry, but that's actually dinner for the staff.  There are refreshments for you inside the meeting room."  She shrugged and said, "Too late, I already took a slice," and walked away.  Not even an apology!  And then she ate it in the meeting room and sent at least two other attendees to come inquire if there was any pizza left - all before the people who it was ordered for had eaten anything!  (Luckily, they were more polite when told it was for the staff.) I'm not so much annoyed with her taking a piece as I am with how rude she was about it.  If I took someone else's food, I'd apologize profusely and offer it back.  If they told me I could have it anyway, great, but I'd make it their call.  (And if she'd done that, I would have let her keep it.)  And then to direct more people to it even after she knew it was for other people ... unbelievable.  Even my boss, who ordered the food to begin with, waited until we'd all had a chance to eat and then asked if it was okay for her to take a slice! I just can't believe the entitlement some people feel.



While in college, I worked for a small bio-technology company. Once a month, our department would have a potluck lunch (a true potluck - there were no sign-up sheets - you brought what you felt like bringing). Participation was optional, people contributed or not according to their own schedule and/or plans. There was only one rule - in order for one to eat, one had to contribute. Management and staff all understood and abided by this rule. Then "Stan" was hired. Stan's first day at the company just happened to coincide with a potluck. We invited him to eat with us that day, which he elected to do, and explained all about the monthly potlucks. So far, so good. 

Over the next couple of months, Stan continued to join us for the potlucks. In fact, he was usually one of the first in line and went back for three or four trips. I didn't think anything about it until I overheard Stan telling a co-worker how much he loved this monthly "free food." My co-worker, Elaine, who was an accountant, smiled and said, "Well, not completely free. It costs whatever you spent for the item you brought." Stan laughed and proudly said, "Oh, I never bring anything. I figure there is always plenty of food, so you don't need more, you need help getting rid of it all." Elaine very politely explained that it was expected that all who enjoyed the potluck would also contribute something. The next month Stan showed up with a two-liter bottle of soda. As we didn't have any dollar thresholds that people were expected to spend, this was fine. A little on the cheap side, but fine.

In November, we decided to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. This was the one time that we figured we should have a sign-up sheet. In addition to rolls, sweet potatoes, dressing, pumpkin pie, etc., that people signed up to bring, we each contributed $3 toward the purchase of a turkey, which a fabulous cook in our department volunteered to roast for us. Stan signed up for soda and paid his $3. The day rolls around and the turn-out is terrific - almost everyone in the department had joined us. Due to a meeting, I was late. As I filled my plate, I was disappointed to see that several of the dishes were empty (my boss's wife's delicious dressing!), but figured since I was late, I couldn't complain about the selection. When I sat down, a co-worker filled me in on why the selection was limited. Stan, his wife, and their four children, which included two teen-age sons, had joined us for lunch that day. There simply wasn't a polite way to indicate to Stan that it was not appropriate for his family to be there, so no one said anything while his family went back for seconds, thirds, and even fourths! Unfortunately, it turned out that for the first time in the history of our potluck lunches, there wasn't enough food for everyone. Several people, including the lady that had roasted the turkey for us, did not get much to eat (green beans and the remains of a green salad). Elaine told me that, as they were leaving, Stan told his wife, "Not a bad meal for $4.12." He had contributed $3 for the turkey, a $1.12 bottle of soda, and fed six people. Some people are absolutely unbelievable!



This is a story about a former co-worker. I use the term loosely because, although she worked there for 15 years, she had degenerated into a leech who showed up when she felt like it, did as little work as possible, ignored the rest of us except when absolutely necessary, and moreover, what work she did was usually full of errors which others had to correct in her absence, assuming we could even find the documents on her computer. Eventually she was fired, although as far as the rest of us were concerned the process took way too long. I have many stories I could contribute about this woman, who we called Skippy, but for now I will stick to just one.

Towards the end of her "employment" she was still friendly with a few women who worked in other departments and thus knew little of her shabby work habits and poor attitude. One of these friends was having a baby. Skippy announced that she was going to have a baby shower for her. The impression was given that all the women at the company would be invited (about 40). She spent hours of company time designing and constructing the invitations, which appeared to be some sort of origami creation. She had a big basket of them but I really don't know what she did with them because I never saw them distributed at work. She just sent an e-mail invitation to all the supervisors, and nobody else. The result was that only six women actually showed up at the shower. Skippy was annoyed because she thought the supervisors would pass the e-mails on to everyone in their departments, although she had given no instructions to do so. My supervisor told us that she didn't pass it on to us because, like the rest of us, she had seen Skippy spending hours making the handmade invitations and assumed that we would all get one. Apparently Skippy was upset because she had made tons of food and only six people showed up to eat it. How inconsiderate of us, not going to a shower that we were never actually invited to.

Then, Skippy decided she was going to organize a "baby pool." She made up a chart with columns for boy or girl, different dates, weights, etc. For a dollar you could put your name on a square where you guessed the sex of the baby as well as its weight and birthdate, and whoever won would get half of the money collected, the other half going to the mom. Skippy went all over the building collecting for this baby pool. Although many people disliked Skippy, the expectant mom was very popular and well-liked so almost everyone contributed, some more than once, so Skippy probably collected about $75. Not a huge sum, but just the principle of the thing... The chart was in Skippy's office so people could drop in and look at it, and put their names down on more squares (and pay again, of course) if they wanted.

Skippy went on vacation (which was a joke in itself because she was away from work more than she was there anyway) and took the baby pool chart home with her. As fate would have it, the expectant mom had her baby during this time. There were about four people who thought they might have won because they thought they remembered guessing close to the weight and date. But without the chart we had no way of checking who had won.

So Skippy came back from vacation and announced that *she* had won the baby pool. She said she had put some guesses on the chart after she had gotten it home and one of hers had been the closest. Even aside from the fact that she shouldn't have been able to win since she was the one who had organized the pool, nobody believed her because we had gotten used to sneakiness and underhandedness from her. This incident pretty much lost her the few remaining friends she had at the company. When she finally got fired about a year later, I don't think there was one person who was sorry to see her go.



I used to have a co-worker who would FLOSS HER TEETH DURING OUR DAILY STAFF MEETINGS.   You'd just be sitting next to her and you'd notice that she'd be flossing, plaque flying everywhere! People asked her to restrict her flossing to the bathroom, but she continued, claiming we shouldn't mind because "it's good dental hygiene". People then refused to sit next to her, so she'd STAND and do it. Now, I considered this worse, because now I was beneath the plaque shower instead of next to it. Gravity being what it is, the chances of getting smacked in the face with a wad of plaque were higher. It got to the point that people would start the meeting earlier than scheduled, and abruptly end the meeting when this woman would enter the meeting room.


Uncouth barbarian!  I'd be sorely tempted to decorate her cube one morning with a tangle of hundred of yards of dental floss.



I had a co-worker that I thought I was very close to. She was having an on again off again relationship with a man that was living with another woman with whom they had a child together. Needless to say he was pulling the "she will leave the state if I leave her & I wont see my son". So she went along with the affair. She got pregnant. He flew the little coop she had for him & refused to tell his "girlfriend" about the baby to be. So I, feeling sorry for this already single mom w/ a five year old threw her a great baby shower. I gave her a max of 20 people. Needless to say she verbally invited 20 more on top of it. She wanted small sandwiches & with me having 3 young kids of my own had to order them. I ordered EVERYTHING. By the time the thank you gifts were given & the prizes were done she left! Did not say a word neither did any of her aunts, cousins or mother nor her "best friend". I also bought her an expensive gift and passed down many of my child's things to her and bought a gift "from her son" to give to his new sister. It is 2 1/2 years later & the only thank you I received was a mass thank you from her department at work which my name was included on the one card. She now has a second child by that same man totaling three of hers all together. He has nothing to do w/ her & did not even know about baby #2 till he had to go to court for baby #1 with her on child support. Poor kids!   


If Etiquette Hell exists, it could be only in one Country of the Globe: Israel.

Today, a marketing employee of one of Israel's firms selling software for developers made a mistake. She sent out an email with over 900 addresses in the "To" field.


They couldn't just keep it for themselves. Some of the (male) addressees reacted rudely, pointing out her uselessness and mailing their words back to THE ENTIRE MAILING LIST.



The faculty at my school often has baby or wedding showers for people, and while very friendly about it, many of the "organizers" often go around with the presumption that you will be donating, rather than just asking or (preferably) just informing you of the event and whom you can go to with contributions.

There recently was a big lunchtime baby shower for a teacher, which I declined to participate in as I prefer simply to congratulate the person with a card after the baby is born. Well I waited for days after the inducement (which the teacher told me about himself) for an announcement. Here I am mortified that the birth had somehow gone wrong or something. I finally found out by inquiring through the grapevine that he (his wife) had had a baby boy. Apparently the organizers of the shower, who presumably were close with the teacher, thought that the shower was more important than the birth itself, and did not bother to announce it (which is common practice in our workplace). I was relieved, but shocked. And so much time had passed that I did not even fill out the card I had purchased to congratulate him. I will use it for another occasion (I always buy blank cards or use stationary).

Last year there was a teacher getting married. I honestly don't think I had ever spoken to her once other than saying "Hello" in the halls. I knew absolutely nothing about her personally. Yet some of her friend/co-workers came around and asked me for money for a wedding gift! Other than the fact that this woman works in our school, I did not know her from Adam. I believe it is appropriate to give gifts to people whom you have SOME kind of personal relationship with, however small, or if you are invited to an event (which of course there was not the remotest of possibilities that I would be invited to her wedding). I guess my etiquette instincts kicked in, and I said what I would have said if I were looking to get a gift for anyone I did not know and whose wedding I had actually been invited to: "Well, if you let me know where she is registered, I'll see what I might want to buy for her." They told me, and of course I wanted to buy nothing, so it ended at that.

What really makes me angry though is that there is a voluntary committee setup specifically to avoid these situations. Each person who wants to be part of it contributes $20 for the year, and when something comes up for someone on the committee, a gift is purchased, although it is actually one person who arbitrarily decides who gets what kind of gift and under what circumstances. I really don't like this setup, so after the first year when I realized what was happening I stopped contributing. In fact, one person was getting married, let's just say it was in a state where the marriage is only recognized in that state, and the committee got nothing for her. The committee may not have known about the marriage, but I just didn't like the way the whole thing operated, i.e. that only deaths in the family, and marriages and expected babies that people were yakking about were significant events in people's lives. To top it off, they STILL asked for additional contributions for a baby shower for someone who had not contributed to the fund. So, what is the whole point of this "committee"!?

This all creates a ludicrous environment, i.e. that these things are supposed to be done to foster friendliness, but end up fostering uncomfortable situations and resentment. I now make it a point to only give personal cards or letters to people for any occasion, unless it is someone I actually have some kind of relationship with outside of work. (Or the boss and office staff at Christmastime, where sucking up is still a time-honored holiday tradition in the workplace.)


 I work for the central development (fundraising) department for a large southern university as a staff assistant.  Both academic and medical environments are well-known for their share of nutcases, and they converge in the bizarre world of development, where money and status and family ties rule and good manners go out the window.  Yesterday afternoon I returned from a meeting to find myself unable to even get through the door to my office suite – some strange man had parked himself there and was yowling into a cell phone about what sounded like a golf game gone awry.  Whatever.  I had to tap him on the shoulder twice to get him to move so I could squeeze by.

 I visited the ladies’ room for few minutes, and came out to find His Highness waving a check at one of my co-workers.  As it turned out, this man was a doctor at the university medical center, and he had received a $35,000 check for a grant that had to do with one of his research projects.  The foundation had sent it to him directly instead of to our controller.  My co-worker asked if I would mind walking it down to our main office – two blocks away, nice day out, no big deal.  I said fine, and she said she would get me an envelope plus a couple of other items that needed to be delivered.

 As soon as she stepped away, the doctor smirked at me and said, “Don’t bother taking it to any banks and trying to cash it. I tried that twice already.”  Now, I’d had a really long day, and it took me a few seconds to realize that the guy was making a poor joke about me trying to steal the money!  One of my other co-workers hurriedly said not to worry, that he could trust me.  His reply was a derisive snort, and then without even saying thank you or goodbye, he stepped out the door and into the stairwell where he made another call on his phone…which everyone in the building could hear.  So he gets points for delivering the check, but loses them for his boorish behavior during the delivery!



An attorney, in public service, it became necessary for me due to financial issues to switch to the private sector. My new job was with a local, well known, reputable firm in NY just outside of NYC. My job interview was with the managing partner as well as the section partner. They advised there was no minimum amount of hours required but the average was 180 hours per month, and a anonymous ranking kept everyone competitive(you knew your own number of hours).

There were four of us in my section, the section head, "Dick" and another associate, "Jack" and a simultaneous new hire "Pete". Dick apparently had a psychological problem - He seemed to think he was an ostrich. Instead of running his section, he let Jack do all oversight & discipline. Dick also used his head secretary "Missy" as an additional pair of eyes. If Jack or Missy said something, then it must be true. Dick incidentally had been with several girls in the office, including Missy despite the fact that he was married and his wife visited.

Jack was a real piece of work. He knew, wrong as it is, there are two ways to look good. The 1st - be good. The 2nd - make someone else look bad so you look better. When I think of some of the stuff he pulled I'm amazed no one gave him his comeuppance while he was there.

Now to be fair, Jack was a hard worker-he worked from roughly 5 am (getting on the train) till 5 pm for the office 5 days a week with an occasional 1/2 Saturday thrown in. The first surprise was being told our section was shooting for 210 hours a month. That's billable hours mind you, not hours in the office.

The next was having Jack serve as relay for Dick in terms of problems. I asked Dick a couple of times how he felt I was doing - I wanted to fit in, I liked most of the people, the wage was good and I had never been fired. Dick would always just say if I had a problem you'd know it, so since your asking there must be no problems.

Jack didn't like the fact that I was fighting for custody of my child (he had let a child of his go) and soon started criticizing my work unceasingly. I soon found out that while Jack was a good writer, there were other things I knew better than him (makes sense really but it was amusing listening to him try and belittle things). My writing was ok, but I was always more of a trial lawyer/negotiator to be honest. Fortunately for me, Pete was a great writer (he once had a showdown with the boss over the uses for the comma and won by referring to a grammatical manual). Pete agreed to check my work before Jack and tell me if I was making mistakes. Strangely enough, Pete noticed that Jack (who was busting his chops too regarding his being verbose) was telling me to do things differently from Pete. After awhile, I took an old letter in the firm's archives written by Jack or Dick (I can no longer recall), changed the names to a current case, and added our new one line blurb at the end before submitting it to Jack. Jack, upon reviewing it was extremely angry claiming our office didn't write like that. I took a great deal of pleasure in telling him no we do and explaining I had just upgraded a letter by him/Dick. The smart thing, in hindsight, would have been to hold a meeting with the managing partner and section head about this. I let it go, figuring Jack would to stop the games because I had caught him. Instead 6 weeks later I was let go because of my writing. The managing partner was embarrassed to fire me and gave me 2 weeks vacation, calling the firing a severance. Dick, the section head would not look me in the eye that day when I asked him a question re files and walked away mumbling. Jack, the troublemaker? he claimed he had an emergency at home and left early that morning.

Dick and Jack were lousy people to work with/for. Strangely enough, I do agree with the termination - when you have a senior associate and a new associate in conflict, unless the senior associate was a complete idiot, it made sense to let me go. I look forward to seeing them on the other side, because to this day on the few times I have seen them, they could not look at me. Pete incidentally left at the same time I did for another job. It turns out in the year thereafter, Dick's sections went through 5 attorneys (more than 1/2 of their staff, many of them staying less than 6 months) and we won't even discuss secretarial staff turnover. My initial replacement after two weeks of Jack's games, walked in to Dick and told him it was unacceptable and that the firm was committing malpractice on a grand scale re a subsection (huge huge client account). Strangely enough she was let go right after that.

I pity anyone stuck working with these two idiots. If you recognize the firm despite the name changes and you're there - get out!


Page Last Updated May 18, 2007