Statements and subjects you never want to hear at work
By Elaine Varelas, 01/07/2008
It's a new year. 'Tis the season for fresh starts and making New Year's resolutions. For most of us, that means declaring the things we will do: "I will lose ten pounds... go to the gym more often... go back to school... spend more time with my kids... learn to speak French..." The possibilities are endless. These resolutions have one thing in common, though. They are all ways to better ourselves and enhance our quality of life.
The Hire Authority is all for personal improvement – and for helping human resources managers improve life at work. But in this column, the focus is on some don'ts – things we never again want to hear in the workplace.
Some topics of conversation are just wrong, and can take employees or organizations down a slippery slope. Others are beyond inexcusable in an office setting. Here is a sampling of statements I have actually heard in my work lifetime (and hope never to hear again!). Let's call for a joint moratorium on the following statements and subjects to create a more pleasant and enjoyable work environment for all of us in the New Year:
1. "What do you want the numbers to be?" - Feel free to substitute "What number will make you happy?" or "What number do we need to be successful?" How many times have you heard this statement uttered in a meeting? Usually when a financial person or a department head says it, he or she is just kidding, right? Or maybe not. The numbers are the numbers. You can't decide what you need them to be and then employ some type of fuzzy math to get there. The team or organization has to deal with reality and move on. Otherwise, they can be treading in some murky, and likely illegal, waters.
2. "This is total crap." - This is a statement to which many human resources managers would like to respond: "Put a sock in it." In most groups, there is usually at least one naysayer who disguises his unconstructive comments in humor or sarcasm, as if a "ha ha ha" thrown in as an afterthought erases the negativity. In one case, the suspect was dismissing longevity awards as useless and a waste of time. Opinions are paramount in the workplace, but only if they are constructive. The problem with these kinds of comments is that they diminish the value of the recognition and in turn make the person receiving it feel devalued. When in doubt, or when you don't have anything constructive to add, KYOTY (Keep Your Opinion to Yourself!).
3. General TMI - There seems to be a trend in our culture right now of sharing everything. From gossip magazines to celebrity websites to daytime talk shows, we are clobbered with Too Much Information. Let's resolve to keep TMI out of the workplace. If it involves bodily functions, birth control, sex, or any other gory details, don't share it at work. Too many of us are already scarred with mental pictures that just won't go away. Let's not add to the repertoire.
4. "I have a big butt." - While interviewing a candidate for a job, a colleague of mine asked a woman what qualities were important to her in a manager. Her answer was: honesty. Good answer, but it went downhill when she gave her example: "I asked a friend of mine how I looked in my new pants and she said, 'Great!' but I knew she wasn't being honest because my butt looked big. You know, I have a really big butt. I don't know if you noticed when I came in or not..." It is never a good idea to use your butt as an example during an interview, or to call attention to any body part at work.
5. "Is she...dead?" - This is an unsettling question to hear anywhere, but especially at work. In this case, a woman nobody recognized was lying in the dark on the floor of an office - under the desk, to be specific. A person walked in, turned around and bolted to the receptionist's desk, blurting out the above question. The woman happened to be the mother of the person who occupied the office and was lying flat trying to ease her back pain. There are two lessons to be learned from this episode: First, if you suspect someone is really in need of medical help, check on the person and call 911. And if you have back pain so bad that you need to lie on the floor, stay home, or at least shut the office door (or you run the risk of being a real pain in the...).
6. "Sorry. I can't stand up. I don't have any pants on." - In this situation, a man had ripped his pants and had given them to a colleague to repair. Another colleague came into his office and asked him to join others in the conference room. It is never, ever okay not to be fully dressed at work. Keep your pants on!
As we embark on the New Year, let's make a pact that we will never say any of these statements or talk about off-color topics again at work. Hopefully, if we all band together we can make this a TMI-free New Year for all.
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