Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trouble in the Office (Advice Wanted)

Right you lot get your thinking caps on. Mrs T's friend, who shall be known as Mrs Doe, needs some advice on a tricky situation at work.

Let me explain:

Mrs Doe has been working in the same job for a good few years. It's a specialized job and requires quite a lot of time in a small, confined room. Mostly, Mrs Doe is by herself but sometimes with a male colleague. Mrs Doe works part time so she doesn't see this gentlemen all the time so when they meet he is always pleased to see her and quite generous in his greetings - in that he likes to hug her and give a peck on the cheek. Now this friendly greeting has been going on for a number of years and although Mrs Doe is not really comfortable with it, she has accepted that it's part of his nature and with him being in a happy (in so far as she knows) relationship she thought there was nothing to worry about.

Or is there?

A couple of weeks ago she had reason to call him on the phone regarding a work matter. There was no answer and after a while she was able to resolve the problem and no further contact was necessary. However, the next day he politely texts and apologizes and enquires what the problem was. She replies that everything is taken care of and that no further action is required. Then she gets a text that reads;

So, no chance of gratuitous sex then?

Now Mrs Doe is a little disturbed by this and not sure if it's a joke or not. So she decides to ignore it and the following day he texts saying "You do realise that was a joke?" Mrs Doe decides that it probably was and texts back to that effect.

All well and good. Everything back to normal.

Until they meet again in their small, confined office. The gentlemen is the same as usual with his effervescent greeting.... but somehow or other he also manages to slip his arm round her waist. Nothing more. It's a momentary touch....but now Mrs Doe is not sure that the text was just a joke. Was he just testing the waters? Alarm bells begin to ring.

Now Mrs Doe likes her job, it's very convenient and fits in well her family commitments. She also likes her colleague but being very happily married she's not up for gratuitous sex. What's more, she's not even sure if what has happened means anything at all and whether it was just a series of unfortunate events. Was it a joke that went wrong and he's tried to make up for it, not realising his behaviour is even more inappropriate? Hmm. Questions, questions....

Now Mrs Doe asked Mrs T for her advice.Obviously I thought we should job share but Mrs Doe thought that maybe I wasn't ideally suited to a specialized job. She kindly refrained saying "Any job" so I took the refusal quite well. Humph. Anyway, so my initial thought was that until the point where there was the touching business  it was probably a joke - that's how I would have taken it. Although I have to say that if Mrs Doe was uncomfortable with all the hugging and kissing beforehand, even though it seemed inoffensive, that could have been the women's early warning system triggering off. But now, after the second incident even Mrs T is not so sure...

So what do you lot think? What should Mrs Doe do, if anything? Should she clear the air and, if so, how? Or should she bide her time and see what happens? One thing Mrs Doe does not want is for the situation to escalate or to be put in a position where she feels so uncomfortable she has to leave her job. So what should she do?

So let's have some thoughts please both Gentlemen and Ladies please!

( Don't forget - those of you who normally read but don't comment you can leave a comment anonymously or under a pseudonym. Let's give Mrs Doe some help here!)

25 comments:

  1. Explain her discomfort in a firm and clear manner

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  2. Okay Anon, I will clarify that with Mrs Doe later today. Off the cuff I would say that her main source of discomfort is that the overtly physical nature of his greeting her is more than she would like. This she has taken in good faith but she is now worried that perhaps there has been an ulterior motive and what complications might arise if that is the case. However, I don't think she feels he is your average sexual predator (if such a person exists)and doesn't want to cause offense or damage their working relationship if it was all just an unfortunate series of events.

    I hope that clarifies the situation a little - the ability to be concise is not my strongest asset:)

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  3. She does not have to feel uneasy and uncomfortable in order to spare his feelings. Too many people do this, allow themselves to be put upon because they don't like confrontation or an embarrassing scene.
    Neither should she wait passively for it to escalate. She should take control of the situation.
    She should just say "I'm sorry - I'm sure you didn't mean anything by it, but I am now feeling uncomfortable and don't really share that kind of humour, so can we just keep this hands off."
    He will of course immediately deny that he meant anything by it, but that's fine. Hopefully it will be enough to make him stop.
    She may find that he behaves rather oddly for a while though as he will convince himself that she has misread him.

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  4. That sounds sensible advice E. I agree it is probably best to go in for a pre-emptive strike just in case it is the worst case scenario. This will be a pretty tricky situation for Mrs Doe, who is a sweet natured lady, to handle though- whereas I would probably go for a short, sharp knee to the groin and you might favour a ruler to the knuckles:)

    It would be a pity for the working relationship to be destroyed though so maybe Mrs Doe could try a softly, softly approach over a coffee first?

    Hmm..I'm inclined to think that even though some folks are more touchy-feely than others that a kiss or a hug for someone who you see regularly, although not very day, is perhaps a little too enthasastic....

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  5. She shouldn't worry about it being 'too late' to say anything. She should just come out with it, and begin, 'Look, I should have said this before, but now I think it's time.' And be firm!

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  6. I don't see how having a coffee about it makes it any easier to say Hands Off. Whether she is firm and clear, or whether she tries to go softly softly, either way the same thing has to be said. She can try going down the self-deprecating route if it helps eg "I know I am over-thinking this, an that you don't mean anything, but I really would prefer not have to exchange racy remarks" and so on...Or she can just say in a jokey exasperated way "enough already" next time he tries to kiss her.

    But the thing she mustn't do is give him any grounds for believing that she likes it or is encouraging him. He may already believe this, so it is in her interests to get him to understand that it makes her uncomfortable.

    (By the way I think Anon above was meaning SHE should explain her discomfort, not you.)

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  7. Fran,

    Another vote for the pre-emptive strike! Excellent:) I think firmness is the key here. It's still possible to be nice so long as she makes it clear cut that she's no longer going to play ball.

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  8. Ah yes, E, I think Mrs Doe will join us later in the day. Currently, she is at work!

    Of course you are right, there's no easy way to say this kind of thing. Knowing Mrs Doe well, I think she will find it easier if she goes down the self deprecating route and not go for anything too confrontational. However, I entirely agree as both you and Fran have said she must be firm and not give him any grounds to think there's any hope in the future. Since she's always been uncomfortable with the touchy stuff this seems a good a moment to kick it into touch rather than endure it any longer. Hopefully he'll feel a right chump and just get on with his job.

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  9. It, of course depends on the person and how they handle it. I'm like you with a short, sharp rap on the knuckles followed by a "Grrr" and bared teeth..however, Mrs Doe sounds doe like!

    What she should do is slap him lightly with a stapler...and say "Off with you, you beastly predator..don't be so disgusting!" with a laugh. Thay way, he'll be embarassed to be called a predator and disgusting, and she'll be able to extricate herself with decorum.

    Good luck to Mrs Doe.

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  10. I do like that phrase "Off with you, you beastly predator"!!

    Well said MummyattheSchoolGate! That phrase has a certain panache to it:) And I can certainly visualize Mrs Doe slappping the fella around the chops with a stapler. Hmm.. maybe she should staple a few invoices to his nose at the same time?

    Mrs Doe is a sweet natured lady and very considerate of other folks - why on earth she is friends with me I don't know. Maybe cos I pay her well:))

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  11. While it's great to be very considerate of everyone else, Mrs Doe should realise it's OK to be to be considerate of herself as well and stick up for herself.

    At the very least this chap is being insensitive.

    I quite like the jokey approach as an opening gambit, if she feels she can pull it off. And if that doesn't seem to sink in then she will have to be clearer and firmer.

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  12. Good point E. It's not right to feel uncomfortable everytime you go into work - whether it's the result of something entirely innocent or not.

    I prefer a jokey approach myself - that said maybe Mrs Doe could always upgrade to the rolling pin and stapler option if things don't go according to plan.

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  13. Mrs Doe and et al,

    A further comment has come in via facebook from one of my gentlemen friends who has experience in management. He says:

    "Jane, Mrs Doe should discourage this as the man is looking for some sign that she might be willing to take things further. She must use words that cannot be misinterpreted. If he continues then the Personnel Officer should be informed of the situation & it should not be her that has to change jobs. I am assuming that your friend is not a militant feminist looking to cause problems to all men, or a shrinking violet waiting to be offended by normal inter-office banter."

    Strong words there, but they seem to echo what us ladies have concluded. And I confirm Mrs Doe is neither of those two personalities.

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  14. Right, to keep you folks updated, I have been in correspondence with Mrs Doe who has been on to read all your comments and for which she thanks you greatly.

    She intends to try the jokey approach first. Even though she is aware of her "rights" as such, she is also aware that her colleague is in a senior position with important skills so when push comes to shove things might not necessarily play out as perhaps they should.So it will jokey attempt first, then quiet word in the ear and then if that fails only then will it be the stapler and hole punch. Thanks to everyone who commented. Mrs Doe is most grateful and it has given a good push ahead to do what she knows she must:)

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  15. Jane, what are the workplace sexual harassment laws in the UK? Here the first thing she would be expected to do would be to document the incident(s) with Human Resources. They and her supervisor are the ones who should then deal with it, not the victim. Not dealing with it would be grounds for a rich lawsuit, nothing to do with feminism, simply having to do with what is clearly wrong. I wish her luck, it is an awful position to be in.

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  16. Sorry my extreme brevity has caused confusion, I meant that the lady has to explain her discomfort in a firm manner.

    I am glad that she has decided to use the jokey approach, this way she will get a second chance to express her discomfort if things dont improve.

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  17. Marie,

    To be honest I am not entirely sure - as I have been out of the workplace so long. However, I'm quite certain there is a set proceedure for dealing with this. However, Mrs Doe works in what might be termed a provincial workplace with no personnal/human resourse person - to instigate formal preccedures she would have to go out of her workplace - then I suspect there would be no way to resolve this amicably. Mrs Doe doesn't want him to lose his job or to be ostracised - merely that he steps back a bit. She's going to take a gentle route first:)

    Anon - thanks for coming back again - I completely got the wrong end of the stick! Sorry! Yes, Mrs Doe feels the jokey approach is the best option first - the economic climate here is bad at the moment and she wouldn't wish either of them to be unemployed unless the situation became truly unbearable. Thanks for commenting:)

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  18. I'm pleased that Mrs Doe has decided to take the witty route...why would she ask you otherwise? I suggest you write her a script, drill her in facial expressions(disgust, fear, affront..all of which can be done in a blink of an eye!)and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

    If it doesn't work, then she could always change career directions and tread the boards!

    PS I've given you a little award, which is doing the rounds on the blogging cicuit. I don't expect you to accept, but it is a little thank for "narf making me larf!"

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  19. Now Mummyattheschoolgate that has got me thinking as to why Mrs Doe asked Mrs T ...as I'm not exactly reknowned for my sensible advice! Luckily I've got a blog so I can ask my more sensible readers!

    I thank you for the award and I will be over to collect anon! It's been ages since I have had one of those, which means luckily for you I don't have any long winded acceptance speech ready:)))

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  20. I would say something outright, but there again I am always a forthright sort of person who isn't afraid of anyone and how they might react. It's the only way to sort things and everyone knows where they stand that way.

    I love the fact you say your are politically incorrect and am intrigued you say you write. So do I. Three published at present so if ever you want some advice ask away. I also have two writing sites.
    Lorraine x

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  21. Hi Lorraine,

    Well, Mrs Doe will use the tough talk option if she doesn't succeed with the gentle approach. She even has her Le Crueset saucepans waiting in the wings:)

    Well done on getting your books published - always a tough task! I'm not there yet but who knows maybe one day:)

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  22. Mrs T , a tight slap perhaps ? But then she should have stuck to handshakes only and no further touchy feely stuff - but there thats the average middle class Bengali in me talking .

    However ( here I'm clearing my throat ) Mrs Doe should straightaway put her feet down and tell him off straightaway - there's nothing like a little transparency to clear the air , don't you think ?
    Dyou know this is the first time I've come blog hopping after ages ? I am now going to catch up with my reading .

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  23. Gosh Jane, she is in such a tight spot. Through no fault of her own. That totally sucks.

    The light hearted/humorous approach can work to everyone's advantage. But the big IF is IF he gets the message. These wankers are usually thick as a plank and this one sounds like a right oaf. Fingers crossed for her that she can nip it in the bud and everyone can carry on with their jobs.

    She's lucky to have you as a friend. :)

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  24. Mrs Doe need do only one thing to resolve the matter: break wind. Make it loud, clear and smelly and she ll be lucky if he acknowledges her never mind gets close enough for a kiss!

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  25. Mrs G, Eve's Lungs... Welcome back to the blogging world! You've been gone too long. Is there something in the offing from you soon?!

    Marie,

    Love your description of the gentleman there Marie:)) Classic!

    I pay Mrs Doe to be my friend:) A Costa's coffee and the occasional cake and she takes sympathy on me:))

    Anon; Hmm...probably the best solution so far. This is what I like about blogging; so many varied opinions. I particularly like your solution though as I'm not partial to gentlemen with the same problem myself:)) I'm seeing Mrs Doe early next week for an update - I will take a bag of Brussel Sprouts with me just in case things have not improved:))

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I am always delighted to receive comments!