or Cow-Orkers or Co-Irkers?
- 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
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
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
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
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
Page Last Updated May 18, 2007