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A situation at work

SummerBob

Super Moderator
As some of you may know, I recently started a new job.

A situation arose in the lunch room the other day that I want to air, and just seek some advice and get people's opinions.

We were talking about different languages and cultures around the world, when I mentioned that my wife is from the Philippines. A woman in the corner of the room blurted out, "Was she a mailorder bride?". To that, someone else remarked that he "had a friend who did that", and that he "always thought the guy was kind of weird anyway". This is a young crowd and very cliquish, unlike at my last job, except for the woman who made the remark in the first place. She was about 45.

Does anybody here think this is inappropriate behavior for the workplace?

My old company requires employees to take annual compliance training that involves watching videos and answering questions about what is and isn't appropriate behavior in the workplace. Something like that would have been grounds for discipline, I believe. It creates a "hostile work place" and is not, and should not, be tolerated in today's work culture.

I think from now on I'll just avoid the lunch room and either go out or eat lunch at my desk.

Any thoughts or comments?
 
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truckman

Guest
As some of you may know, I recently started a new job.

I didn't but congratulations!

Does anybody here think this is inappropriate behavior for the workplace?

It's absolutely inappropriate behavior and unfortunate the first person's inappropriate remark triggered a new conversation about that person's assumption.

A senior level manager at a company I used to work at did have a mail-order bride - polish - and essentially the same thing you experienced happened to him. Here is what he said:

"Actually, I was the mail order husband. She imported me to Poland, then decided later on we should move to the United States."

He was at a level high enough to have "instructed" HR to fire the three people who were involved in the inappropriate conversation about mail order brides, particularly his, and this is how he handled it instead.

It creates a "hostile work place" and is not, and should not, be tolerated in today's work culture. I think from now on I'll just avoid the lunch room and either go out or eat lunch at my desk.

Agreed, but I find a quick quip that makes people laugh a bit diffuses the situation. You don't want to be new and filing a complaint with HR if you can help it.

Just my view from 30 years of knowing HR is not my friend.
 

degausser

New member
It's absolutely inappropriate. But I agree with truckman - it's often best to just handle it with a joke. Or sarcasm - sarcasm can be a great way to shut down the situation without causing any rifts.

I don't think there's any need to isolate yourself, unless it's a continued behavior. Sometimes people say stupid things, but it doesn't necessarily mean they had any ill intent or will make a habit out of making thoughtless comments.
 

SummerBob

Super Moderator
Thanks everyone.

I thought of an anonymous note slipped under the office manager's door, alerting them that this happened. No one could prove that I wrote the note, and since no particular person is implicated, it probably wouldn't result in discipline. However, it might spawn a meeting about appropriate behavior, and result in beefed up scrutiny of professional workplace decorum.

In the end, though, I probably won't do anything.

A similar thing happened at my first job in the '80s. A bunch of co-workers were having lunch and joking about an interviewee they didn't hire, remarking about his girlfriend being "older than his mother" as if to say it was part of why they "threw his resume in the trash". I backed off and didn't have lunch with those people after that, but it didn't matter. Time went on, they gradually left, new people started, and I got in with a different crowd later on. I was at that job for 8 years.

You know, it's funny. I was happy to leave the strict environment of a big company with big company policies, and now I kind of miss it. Everything has its good and bad points.
 

SheLikesKitties

OW/YM 21YR GAP
I would have answered the question and satisfied their curiosity about my wife, and how we met. Us people in AGRs are weird, and odd, (meaning statistically outside the norm) and we have to be ready to wear that badge proudly. One of my best friends once called me weird and immediately apologized. I said, don't apologize, I am weird and I don't find anything wrong with it.

I would not want to be the person that needs to be treated as if walking on eggshells. :no:
 
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truckman

Guest
No one could prove that I wrote the note

Prove? No, but I could narrow it down to one, maybe two people with a high degree of accuracy.

Sure, I could compare handwriting on the note to handwriting on the employment applications, or I could look for single-page print jobs that occurred while I wasn't in my office, or even go as far as to compare the inevitable toner streaks between the note and printers on the floor. That's actually more work than it's worth because the dead giveaway is the writer themselves: spelling, cadence, tenses, phrasing, punctuation, noun/verb order, sentence structure, word choices, tone, etc.

I'm not trying to be a jerk Bob. I've been in management most of my career (specifically, IT within large NY financial institutions) and I've been through this before.

Proving you wrote the note isn't useful. Narrowing it down enough to know who to keep an eye on is. Watching two employees a little closer is much easier than watching 25, 50, 100, 300.

However, it might spawn a meeting about appropriate behavior, and result in beefed up scrutiny of professional workplace decorum.

Again, drawing on my many years as a mid to high level manager, I have to say these kinds of meetings are generally ineffective for most HR type problems. The marginal offenders usually do change their behavior slightly but the worst offenders in my experience do not. Part of this is because people are what they are and really struggle with change and also because the majority of employees who are forced to attend such things approach them with an attitude of "Oh Jeez, I have so much stuff to do and I have to go to this krap?" or something similar.

In the end, though, I probably won't do anything.

I wouldn't unless it becomes a reoccurring theme. If it is a reoccurring theme, my advice would be to discuss the matter with your supervisor or manager first, giving them the opportunity to do something useful before you blindside them by going to HR. Here's why.

Back in the 90's I worked for a global bank and had a multi-layer staff of about 280 people. One of them, a young male, used the "C" word while referring to a female co-worker, to her face, in front of a few of their mutual peers.

She filed a formal written complaint with HR and I found out about it when HR sent over a pair of investigators the next morning and they were sitting in my office when I arrived for work that day. The HR folks were shocked I was unaware of the matter. Of course I was unaware, she didn't talk to me. They didn't care. Egg all over my face.

HR started their investigation, interviewing all 280-ish people 20-30 minutes each. That took nine weeks. Every Friday there were HR-issued emails sharing the status of their investigation, CCing four layers of my management and four layers of HR's. Some of those higher-level managers on either side would respond, requiring me to respond each and every time.

I had to put this mess on my weekly status report, as did my manager, and his manager, and her manager, all the way to the Executive Vice President.

All in all, the whole thing start to finish took 15 weeks for HR to recommend (i.e., insist) the offending employee be fired for cause. Had the female employee come to me instead of HR, I would have done the same thing in a week or less.

There were some ramifications after the fact because of that incident. Months later, HR decided to "randomly" select my team for thorough background checks which the bylaws of the bank is permissible and agreed to by every employee coming in the door. So, they ran their higher-level background checks, and that resulted in my having to fire 37 people out of the 280 because they essentially lied on their resume. One of those was the woman who initiated the HR complaint about the guy who used the "C" word months earlier. Sad ending I have to say.

As the manager, I felt a lot of pain from this. I had to fire 37 people. And, hire 37 replacements. Recruiters of the day charged 12% of the hiring salary as a fee. That was about $400K of recruiter fees I hadn't budgeted for, not to mention having 37 holes in my organization caused the services we provided to other business units to suffer. My pay, and my managers pay, was partly tied to our honoring our SLA's - which for me was a one hour turn-around and a 99.98% uptime. Tough to do when more than 10% of your staff was escorted out of the building in a two-hour window.

Just offering this as an alternative view to what could happen. Smaller companies handle things very differently. Not necessarily better or worse, but differently.
 

SummerBob

Super Moderator
Wow, that's quite a story. Sorry you had to go through all of that as a manager. It just goes to show how bureaucracy works vs. how efficiently a manager can get the job done in short order, with far less consequences to the company.

For the last decade I worked for a large, D.C. area government contracting company with over 11,000 employees and offices around the world. If I said the name you would recognize it (a company like Booz Allen, but not them), but for the sake of propriety I won't. Appropriate workplace behavior is a BIG thing with them. Like I said, we had to take annual courses online, take tests and answer questions to ensure we know what is right and wrong in the workplace. It was kind of interesting, because every year we'd get to watch some juicy video about an employee getting drunk in the office, or saying something inappropriate, or looking at porn on their computer, etc., etc.. The "correct" answer was always report, report report....

This company has maybe 50 people tops. It's a small, informal shop and there isn't a lot of "policy". So the culture shock is something to say the least. But that's why, when I hear something like this, my first instinct is to do what I was trained to do in my last company.
 

christina923

New member
i'm sure it was meant as a joke... were you insulted? rather then blow stuff up, or run to HR, how about we learn to just speak up and say whoa, that wasn't a cool thing to ask/say.
 

MissMuffins

New member
As some of you may know, I recently started a new job.

A situation arose in the lunch room the other day that I want to air, and just seek some advice and get people's opinions.

We were talking about different languages and cultures around the world, when I mentioned that my wife is from the Philippines. A woman in the corner of the room blurted out, "Was she a mailorder bride?". To that, someone else remarked that he "had a friend who did that", and that he "always thought the guy was kind of weird anyway". This is a young crowd and very cliquish, unlike at my last job, except for the woman who made the remark in the first place. She was about 45.

Does anybody here think this is inappropriate behavior for the workplace?

My old company requires employees to take annual compliance training that involves watching videos and answering questions about what is and isn't appropriate behavior in the workplace. Something like that would have been grounds for discipline, I believe. It creates a "hostile work place" and is not, and should not, be tolerated in today's work culture.

I think from now on I'll just avoid the lunch room and either go out or eat lunch at my desk.

Any thoughts or comments?

I didn't know--congratulations!

Yes, it's inappropriate. It also gives you some insight into your workplace culture.

Whether or not my impression is fair and on target, just by reading about it in toneless black and white, I get the message that your site management doesn't perceive diversity as important because their HR hasn't conducted diversity & cultural sensitivity trainings to make sure their people know why comments like that aren't cool in their office.

What it tells you about the people who made the comments is that they "don't get out much", as the saying goes.

They probably don't know anyone who's different. They don't have enough workplace exposure to know that's an inappropriate comment to make in the workplace, and they definitely haven't had enough exposure to people from the Philippines to know to ask, "Tagalog or Ilocano?" and "omg, how's her pansit?"

The next time someone says something like that, don't let it ruffle your feathers but do feel empowered to say something that utilizes buzzwords in that office culture. At my workplace, we're expected to attempt to resolve it with the peer, then involve the immediate supervisor, then HR. In the culture of our building (we have 10 sites), "I" statements, "intent" and "effect" are buzzwords; so is the "7 Habits" franchise.

Five departments are housed in our office, one of which is what the military would refer to as a "tenant command". If we have to interact with staff in another department, there is a pecking order among our departmental directors. There's an unspoken agreement that we're supposed to defer to one director in particular (even though they're supposedly peers on equal footing and she has the least experience and seniority among them). She would expect us to say something like, "That was an insensitive comment. While I realize it wasn't your intent to be insensitive, I need you to realize that could be the effect you achieve."

If you're from another department (as I am) when interacting with her staff, you'd better intuitively know her pre-approved buzzwords. If you don't, your boat is sunk and the situation is such that HR would back her and say nothing to that director about that method/language being a departmental training specific to her staff.

In the department I'm in, that mess is dealt with in-house. You'd jolly well better not go crying to HR unless it involves someone from another dept, and you'd jolly well better make sure you're not involved in a mess with someone from another dept.

SB, you don't have to answer intrusive/insensitive questions such as that. If you choose to answer it, go with what works for you. I'd be factual in a way that makes it clear you have a sense of humor yet don't appreciate dicquish behavior. I have a coworker who'd give them a simple "yes" or "no" and excuse himself, leaving them to sweat it out.

To an extent, it's all in how you handle it...yet it also depends on the relationship you have with your coworkers. I have a coworker in another dept who's a little different, who's absolutely transparent about his wife being a mail order bride. He knows he's different, so he makes a point of cultivating strong relationships with people. He's the first to make a jibe about him being different & having a mail order bride, but he does it in such a way as to make it crystal clear that nobody else better say a word against his wife or he'll go Medieval on 'em. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a former coworker who's the butt of more than a few jokes about her many failed online relationships, but that's because she's a prima donna.

FWIW, I've met very few people who are from the Philippines whom I didn't like upon sight. As a general rule, they're absolutely frickin' hilarious & some of the best, most "real" people I've ever met.

MM
 

SummerBob

Super Moderator
Exactly (your last paragraph!).

I think for me the problem is culture shock with this new company, new people and an environment that's not unfamiliar to me, but one I haven't been exposed to for many years. The young people seem cliquish and gossipy (you frequently hear the young women giggling in the background), and the 40sh+ women are "tabloidish", for lack of a better word. An image of her sitting on a couch watching soaps and reading "The Enquirer" comes to mind.

It reminds me of my first "professional" job back in the day.

But first some background. I had this "age difference" problem for many years, even as a young adult. It comes from going to special/private schools and not having exposure to "girls" as a young teenager, and therefore stumbling like an awkward adolescent around them when I was in college at 19/20 yrs. old. I therefore had NO DATING experience AT ALL in my teens through mid 20s. As a result, I found myself attracted to "younger girls". While the age difference between 18 and 25 seems like no big deal, I was also coping with the fact that I was way behind in life, and it might be some time before I'd be "ready" for a relationship. At that time I could be many years older than the girl I wanted to have a relationship with. I was also brought up by very strict Christian parents who were in a church culture that was very strict about dating, marriage and being "equally yoked" with the right person. They were big on telling people "you're not ready for a woman until you 'have it together' in your relationship with the Lord."

Because of all of that, I was very sensitive about comments, remarks, sarcasm, gossip, etc., about "age-gapped" couples. Back then, in the 1980s, I believe acceptance of "different" people was far less than today, and without modern technology (computers, the internet, etc.) there were far fewer options of meeting people.

Which brings me to my first "professional" job. I already told the story about the lunch experience, where a bunch of people were gossiping about someone they didn't hire who "had a girlfriend older than his mother". Those people were a lot like the people at this company. It was a smaller company, people were buddy buddy, there were a lot of young people around the same age, and a strong sense of "fitting in" and being "one of the crowd." I backed off from those people, preferring to eat lunch alone from then on. As time went on, different people came on board and I got in with a different crowd. The people in the original crowd, whom I remained friendly with from a distance, remained contacts over the years, but I never had any job leads or offers to go work with them during times of unemployment, even though they own their own company. All of the job offers/leads I've had came from the second crowd that I got in with later. The point is, that even though you are civil with people like that, you won't get any favors from them. If something happened and they had to let people go, I'd probably be the first, assuming these people were running the show.

Fast forward through the years, and I ended up at a huge government contracting company. Professional decorum is a big thing. Like I pointed out earlier, we had to watch training videos every year in our birth month, and take tests on appropriate and professional workplace behavior. It ran the gamut from timekeeping to conflicts of interest to appropriate comments and workplace demeanor. You were always instructed to first talk to your manager, and if the issue isn't resolved, then go to HR. They even had a hot line where people could call anonymously. I got to know the people, was comfortable there, and that work environment worked well for me.

My transition to this job is kind of like going back to my first company. The experience in the lunch room Friday reminded me of that lunch outing all those years ago. I'll adjust, get used to it, probably do what I did back then and keep to myself more or less, but it'll take getting used to. It's a definite de ja vu blast from the past, and not a good one!
 

MissMuffins

New member
I think you've got a good handle on the situation...you're experiencing some workplace culture shock, and in the midst of that someone happened to make a comment that hit one of your buttons. We all have them. Learning to de-activate them yet retain an whatever "appropriate amount" of sensitivity is true to one's own character is a challenge.

It comes from ... not having exposure to "girls" as a young teenager, and therefore stumbling like an awkward adolescent around them when I was in college at 19/20 yrs. old. I therefore had NO DATING experience AT ALL in my teens through mid 20s. As a result, I found myself attracted to "younger girls". While the age difference between 18 and 25 seems like no big deal, I was also coping with the fact that I was way behind in life, and it might be some time before I'd be "ready" for a relationship. At that time I could be many years older than the girl I wanted to have a relationship with. I was also brought up by very strict Christian parents who were in a church culture that was very strict about dating, marriage and being "equally yoked" with the right person. They were big on telling people "you're not ready for a woman until you 'have it together' in your relationship with the Lord."

This resonated strongly with me. The situation in my family of origin was such that I was effectively isolated from "boys" my age, although not to the extent of being sent to an all-girls school. In some ways, that lack of social interaction at the appropriate point in my development left me perpetually awkward. That, and I'm just weird anyway.

Without being critical of anyone's faith/ spiritual practices, I need to say that I didn't get a lot of good from the whole strict Evangelical Christian "equally yoked" and "being right with the Lord" experience. Most of the people pushing that were neither. To make matters worse, they spent far more time telling us that good Christian wives were doormats than teaching us about to whom we should submit.

Their obsession with female virginity (at that time, it was most certainly "virginity" and not "purity"), and preoccupation with keeping those kids from having sex was a far greater concern than our needs as developing human beings to experience age-appropriate "boy/girl" interaction. A byproduct of my upbringing is my firm belief that young people need to experience social situations which enable them to learn how to handle whatever level of attention they find welcome, as well as unwanted attention and rejection.

In the nearly 30 years since then, my perspective has broadened to include other genders and orientations. It doesn't matter what our individual opinion on the matter may be; we are going to be in situations which require us to interact with people who aren't cisgender or heterosexual. So long as we continue to err on the side of hate and stigmatize anything and anyone that's not cisgender, heterosexual and peer aged, we're going to have stupid people saying and doing stupid things out of ignorance and fear.

As for my Evangelical upbringing, I don't believe what they believe any more...which is why I am a post-Vatican II Catholic.

MM
 

SummerBob

Super Moderator
You know, what's funny? I trusted what they [evangelical Christians] told me, took what they said seriously, and actually believed that the "Lord" wasn't going to "bless me" with a girl while my life was still "messed up" [That is, I didn't have my college degree or a good job, lived with my parents, etc.]. Not that I would have been successful socially anyway, but whatever instinct I had in me to interact with females was further deadened by this belief that "God" needed to be "First".

Meanwhile, the very church people who were telling me all this were: 1) A pastor who was involved in a 20-year extra-marital affair, and eventually got kicked off of his own pulpit, 2) A youth leader with a fedish for adelescent boys, who got kicked out for molesting them, 2) A church treasurer who stole money from the collection plate to pay for plastic surgery so she could "look younger", 3) the lead guitar player for our church singing group who became a doctor and got arrested for selling prescription drugs to kids on the street. I think you get the picture.

I believed all that crap those people told me, and they were no saints themselves!
 

SummerBob

Super Moderator
Their obsession with female virginity (at that time, it was most certainly "virginity" and not "purity"), and preoccupation with keeping those kids from having sex was a far greater concern than our needs as developing human beings to experience age-appropriate "boy/girl" interaction....

...So long as we continue to err on the side of hate and stigmatize anything and anyone that's not cisgender, heterosexual and peer aged, we're going to have stupid people saying and doing stupid things out of ignorance and fear.
MM

This couldn't have been better said!

I've always said that we have to learn to accept all people's differences, whatever they are. Or we might as well not accept any at all. However, the consequence of not accepting any at all is a return to hate crimes, lynch mobs, separate water fountains for non "equal" people, and all of the things the civil rights movement of the '60s fought hard to overcome.

I've also long maintained that whatever acceptance our society has of inter-racial relationships, homosexuals, transgendered people, etc.... without the same acceptance of non-peer aged heterosexuals, is a transitory phase that must necessarily pass. Sooner or later the inconsistency of those things would make people question, and would force them to a broader acceptance of all people, not just those with "preferred" differences.
 
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SheLikesKitties

OW/YM 21YR GAP
Every older man who gets a "trophy" wife, every "gold-digger" that marries an innocent older man for his money, every younger man who dates an older woman for "the experience", every older woman who keeps a "boy-toy" for his "endurance", every one of them are harming those of us couples who enter into an AGR for love and for keeps.

Regular people in regular relationships are not to blame, it's those in warped and fake AGRs (who are indeed a big chunk of AGRs). We are left with the job of proving we are not them.

Tough luck, thems are the cards we are dealt. That is the hot kitchen we got ourselves into, and we have to be able to stand the heat.
 

SummerBob

Super Moderator
It's indeed true, sadly, that the community of non peer-aged heterosexuals provides opportunities to exploit, take advantage of or seek people for less than honorable reasons. However, there are predatory and dysfunctional people in all kinds of relationships, in every age category, as well as hetero- and homosexual relationships. And there are a plethora of non-age related situations that provide opportunities to exploit or seek people for wrong reasons.

There are many social stigmas and stereotypes that go beyond just relationship-types. It's not hard to come up with stereotypes for criminal tendencies, "standard" occupations and character traits associated with different racial and minority groups, as well as assumed "roles" for men and women in society. To a large extent we've overcome many of those, so we can overcome the "gold digger", "toyboy" and "trophy wife" ones too.
 
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truckman

Guest
every one of them are harming those of us couples who enter into an AGR for love and for keeps.

That is a true statement for those who buy into any kind of social "borg" because they need to "believe" and "conform" in order to feel good about themselves.

For the rest of us, the minority, we're smart enough to realize the only boundaries we have are the ones we set for ourselves.
 
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