5 Cardinal Sins in the Workplace

Ah, the cardinal sin.  A concept in Catholicism, it means the most egregious of the bad things you can do to piss off God, such as murder, adultery, stealing, and calling your helicopter parents names and throwing their house keys into the sewer.

When I get my hands on you, you're going to regret that one, sonny!

When I get my hands on you, you’re going to regret that one, sonny!

Image: stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Well, God isn’t in your manager’s office, but you might want to avoid the following activities at work anyway.  In no particular order, here are the five sins you don’t want to commit in the workplace.

Stealing:  lunch, etc. 

Whether you snake your filthy paws right into innocent, defenseless lunchboxes or accidentally take a piece of cake Shirley the accounting lady brought from her granddaughter’s second birthday party but didn’t label, you’re scum if you do this. 

Okay, maybe Shirley didn’t write her name on her Tupperware cake holder, but that doesn’t matter.  See, maybe it was special sugar-free cake, because Shirley is a diabetic, and maybe she’s only allowed one slice of that per year, and little Tamara’s birthday was her one shot.  Or that sandwich the receptionist brought is vegan, and there isn’t a damn thing in the vending machine she can eat, and she doesn’t have any money to go out for lunch.  Congratulations; you just made another human being go hungry. 

I’m not even going to mention stealing from your company—money, office supplies, etc., or taking anything that isn’t yours off someone else’s desk (iPod, wallet, etc.).  That could land you in jail.  And you’d deserve it. 

You can get by pretty well in this world if you remember one rule:  if it’s not yours, DON’T TOUCH IT. 

Snooping in someone’s desk/purse/locker

No, there isn’t a commandment that says “Thou shalt not snoop,” but there ought to be.  Besides, do you really want to know that your coworker needs a midday application of specially prescribed hemorrhoid relief cream? 

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

 Image:  stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mind your own business, please. 

Smell offenses

You like the smell of burnt popcorn?  No?  Well, other people don’t either.  Most microwave popcorn burns because people walk away from it.  Stand by that microwave, or just wait until you go home and make it the right way, on the stove or with an air popper.  You don’t need to breathe all that diatacyl anyway.   

Same with your kale / tuna / hardboiled egg / Limburger casserole.  Blech. 

Excess cologne can actually trigger asthma, migraines, and allergy attacks in susceptible people.  Some offices have a no-scent policy for this reason, or simply because what smells nice to one person may gag another. 

One guy at a former job, Bob, wore a lot of cologne—you smelled him before you saw him.  A coworker making fun of him one day said sarcastically, “Hi, I’m Bob—I stink like a French whore!”  (Inappropriate?  Maybe, but I laughed my ass off.)  Another coworker told me about someone who predated me (we’ll call him Stinky Horace) who rarely took a bath because he just couldn’t be bothered. 

Don’t be Bob or Horace.  Your colleagues will remember you, but for all the wrong reasons. 


Grow up and deal with your coworkers like an adult.  If Trixie comes in an hour late and leaves early, that’s not your problem.  You’re not the time clock police, are you?  There may be some arrangement there you don’t know about.  And if you complain, the first thing a good manager will probably say to you is, “Don’t worry about Trixie’s schedule; get back to work.” 

If Trixie’s schedule legitimately interferes with your job, you need to be proactive.  Let’s say you need forms from her but she isn’t sending them before she leaves.  Talk to her first, politely.  Maybe Stinky Horace isn’t sending them to her, either. 

If you can’t work it out, then you might need to bring it up with your boss.  Alison Green at Ask a Manager recommends framing it as though you’re asking for advice about YOUR work, like “I’m having trouble getting data I need from Trixie when she leaves at three.  I went to her and asked if she could send it earlier in the day, but that didn’t seem to help.  Do you have any ideas about how I can finish the TPS report and maybe incorporate it later?” 

Gossiping is just as bad.  Speculation can severely affect someone’s reputation and in turn, their career.  You do not want to be seen as the office gossip; if you spread rumors, eventually, you’ll damage your own credibility and you can even be fired. 

Lame when you were a kid; lame now.

Lame when you were a kid; lame now.

Image:  Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Bullying in the workplace isn’t illegal, though many people think it should be.  Suzanne Lucas of Evil HR Lady argues against that here.  She also says it should be stopped.  And she’s right.  Just like it does in elementary and high school, bullying makes people feel afraid, helpless, and angry. 

This is a problem best handled at management level.  The workplace is for competent adults, not tantrum-throwing, bullying babies. 

If you’re a manager, don’t bully.  Either PIP or fire bullies on your team.  You’re not doing yourself or your company any favors by allowing this disgusting behavior to continue.  And if someone actually gets physically hurt (it can happen—some bullies like to throw things), you could be sued. 


Most of these behaviors are or should have been weeded out past elementary school.  If you see these with your direct reports, then you should really think about firing these people and hiring adults.  If you recognize your own behavior in any of these list items, STOP IT.  Regardless of whatever valuable skills people have, if they can’t get along with their peers, your company will suffer.



Hell No, I Won’t Go–Dating at the Office

Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady, did a great post over at WiseCareers about office romances.  Since I’m on the market now and just started working at a large company, I checked it out.  You should too.   Find it here.

My personal rule is no dating anyone at work.  I have two reasons for that:

  • I don’t want to see my significant other all day, especially if we have a fight.  Bleah!
  • I cannot afford to lose a job over a guy, no matter how hot he is.
Yeah, this would be a tough one.  Okay, maybe this one time….

Yeah, this would be a tough one. Okay, maybe this one time….

Image:  imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve only done it a couple of times, but it didn’t go well the first time and the second—well, luckily I had moved on to another job before we broke up.  Not gonna do it again.

There is another reason not mentioned in the article:  office gossip.  Who needs someone asking you about your boyfriend / girlfriend all day, or breaking both their legs to tell you she saw him with Marcy in Accounting and are you mad?

No.  Just no.  I’ll find my dates elsewhere, thank you.





4 Tips for Halloween Costumes at Work

Happy Halloween!

Some workplaces allow employees to dress up or celebrate this spookiest of holidays.  If you’re lucky enough to have this kind of boss, I congratulate you!

Of course, you’re still at work.   What you might do at a giant Halloween bash could be totally wrong in your place of employment.  So here, in no particular order, are a few things to remember about your Halloween costume at work.

#4–Pick an appropriate costume

Now is not the time to break out your Obama-carrying-Romney’s-head-on-a-platter costume.  (Feel free to borrow that idea, but if you do, tweet me a pic and I’ll post it here.  I’m @DameWritesalot.)  Politically-charged anything at work is a bad idea.

No slutty Angry Birds, either.  Cleavage, skirts that stop just short of panties, banana hammocks, etc. don’t belong in the office.  Some people might be tempted to wear their anime cosplay outfits.  That’s fine, unless you’re revealing something only your doctor should see.

Very well done. But save it for the cons.

Image: Tabercil / Wikimedia Commons

#3–Remember you still have to be physically able to work

An elaborate costume with hydraulics, special effects, or that restricts your movement should wait for the big party.  It might cause a hazard in the office.  If it squirts anything, your coworkers who elected not to dress up will be mad at you if fake blood ruins their office clothes or sullies their TPS reports.

You need to see your screen.  You need to hear your phone, and you will have to use your keyboard or mouse.  If you’re in a workshop or factory atmosphere, costumes will probably be banned for safety reasons.  Don’t circumvent them.

Anything wide and tall may also cause problems.  If your office doesn’t have recessed lighting, you’ll spend the day ducking fixtures.  You’ll knock over people’s coffee cups, hit them in the head, and generally inspire rage fests against you.  Rage fests might inspire practical jokes that will only end in tears.

“Let’s set his wings on fire in the parking lot.”

Image: istolethetv / Flickr.com

#2–Be sensitive to those who are chicken

Excessive gore needs to stay at home.  I’m fine with it, but Nancy the accountant may be rendered comatose by the anatomically-correct intestines spilling out of your shirt front.

Yeah, you’re not getting invited to any client lunches today.

Image: Amazon.com

A little blood or a blue zombie face is cool.  Just try to stay away from anything that would make someone throw up.

#1—Avoid just plain silliness


Image: Jnghiem / Wikimedia Commons

You’re still at work.  Just because your employer loves Halloween doesn’t mean that clients will, or vendors.  You still may have meetings or teleconferences.  You still want to be taken seriously.  At least this person can remove the head for such things, although this costume may cause #3 scenarios.

Clever, however, is fine.  A coworker once showed up with tiny Kellogg’s boxes pasted to her clothes.  Each box had a red smear on it, with a plastic knife protruding.  I asked her what she was and she replied, “A cereal killer.”  Yes, I laughed.  And applauded.


Simple, clean, and effective are your watchwords for costumes at work.  One year I had nothing, so I put a temporary tattoo of a bullet hole on my forehead and wore pale lipstick and my regular clothes.  People’s reactions when they spotted the tattoo filled me with Halloween glee.  Even a small detail can make a costume.  Just be yourself, only scarier.

“Gina, you’re not participati—GAH!”

Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Related articles

What If a Shooter Enters My Workplace?

With the Aurora theater shootings still in most people’s minds, I want to point out that such situations—mass killing sprees—are extremely rare.   You’re more likely to die in traffic or falling in the tub than to get killed in a movie theater or a restaurant by a lone gunman.

One situation where this might happen is in your workplace.

Here’s what OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has to say about workplace violence at their website:

Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. Homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides. Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. [More…] However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a major concern for employers and employees nationwide.  (U.S. Department of Labor, http://www.dol.gov.)

Domestic violence can easily spill over into the workplace.  In my city a few years ago, a woman who worked at a local business was shot and killed—at work—by her estranged husband, who then turned the gun on himself.  He easily could have killed or wounded her coworkers.

I’m one of those people who makes an escape plan everywhere I go; it keeps me entertained while I’m standing in line somewhere to imagine what I will do if the zombie apocalypse suddenly begins while I’m there.  In 1980, the McDonald’s shooting in San Ysidro, CA woke me up.  To this day, I won’t sit with my back to the door in a restaurant.

Am I afraid?  Not exactly.  I’m cautious, yes.  Personal safety is a pet cause of mine.  I firmly believe that if you are prepared to handle a situation, no matter how remote it might seem, that when it does you will react appropriately.

This video, called Run-Hide-Fight, was posted on Facebook by my local news.  It is a disaster-preparedness video with a very simple strategy on how to react to a shooting incident.  In the illustrative case, it’s at the office.

WARNING:  While not graphic, the video is very intense. 

Your boss or HR professional may not be able to tell you if someone is in a situation that could turn violent, or your coworker might have kept it a secret.  They should, however, have safety strategies in place, and so should you.

“How do I know if something might happen?”

 Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are always signs of impending violence. Unfortunately, if you’re in a situation like the Aurora or San Ysidro incidents, you won’t see them until the shooter acts.

Security expert Gavin de Becker, in his excellent book, The Gift of Fear, lists pre-incident indicators (PINS) that may be a sign someone is not to be trusted.  You can find them summarized in this Wikipedia article.

de Becker says many people use these tactics every day, especially men who are trying to talk to women, and they’re not necessarily sinister, but they should give you pause.

Another handy acronym de Becker uses is JACA, which stands for four elements in the perception of a person contemplating violence:

(Perceived) Justification:  can the person justify using violence to solve the problem?

(Perceived) Alternatives:  is there any other alternative to violence?

(Perceived) Consequences:  are they intolerable, or can the person live (or die) with them?

(Perceived) Ability:  does the person have the ability to carry out the violence? [1]

Knowing how a perpetrator thinks goes a long way in risk assessment.  You can apply the JACA elements to a lot of situations, de Becker says, even on a global scale.  I think it should be required reading in business and human resource courses especially.

Read the book.  I have owned two copies, my current one, and the first, which I gave to someone who was on the verge of being stalked.  No, I’m not an affiliate and I don’t have any connection to Mr. de Becker.  I think he’s on the ball and I want you to be safe.

None of this means you have to be in a low-grade panic all the time.  Whether it be wearing a seat belt or getting first aid/CPR training for a job, advance preparation can save your life.


Some resources you might want to check out:

Fact sheet on domestic violence, from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence.  By Gavin de Becker, security expert.  Amazon.com

How to interpret the news:  https://www.gavindebecker.com/resources/article/media_fear_tactics/

National Crime Prevention Council workplace safety page

Hans Zimmer scored all three Nolan Batman films.  His composition, Aurora, is a lovely and moving requiem for the shooting victims, containing the Batman theme.  You can download it at the link below.  Yes, it’s legit.

 Aurora, a composition by Hans Zimmer.  100%  of proceeds go to the Aurora Victims Relief Fund at Community First Foundation (Givingfirst.org).


[1] de Becker, Gavin. (1997). The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence. New York, NY.  Published: Dell Publishing, a division of Random House, Inc.

Is It Rude Not to Contact Someone You’ve Interviewed When You Fill the Position?

Heck yeah it is.

It is extremely thoughtless not to contact candidates you have interviewed to let them know they weren’t chosen.

Job seekers need to follow up, so the employer knows they are still interested.   But once someone has been interviewed and has done this, the ball is in the employer’s court.

Think about it.  You have an opening.  You call in several people and spend time talking to them.  After a period of time, which could range from one week to several months, you choose someone.  You decide you’re too busy to let the other candidates know.   They might even have found another job by now, right?


Here’s why you should be considerate of your candidates.

The economy is pressuring everybody

Many people now are unemployed for longer periods of time than before the recession.  Unemployment statistics are skewed, because the Department of Labor isn’t counting those who have run out of benefits and haven’t returned to the workforce.  The facts are clear:  thanks to outsourcing and extreme downsizing, there are fewer jobs out there.  Even crap jobs aren’t hiring.

So there’s no guarantee.  Your candidate may be waiting to see if you hire him, or if he has to take that job cleaning fish.

The hours suck, but the pay is great.

Image:  Wikimedia Commons

Job seekers’ time is valuable too

Think you’re the only one who’s busy?  Think again.  Job seekers still have responsibilities.  They don’t want to waste time any more than you do.

Besides the actual meeting with you, preparation—reviewing your company, listing questions to ask, choosing clothing—is time-consuming and nerve-wracking.   It’s very annoying to go through all that and then hear nothing.

It leaves a bad impression of your company

If you don’t bother to call your candidate back after she’s taken the time to prepare for and attend an interview, she will probably wonder what you’d be like as a boss.  I guarantee it won’t be a very favorable impression.

A couple of times, I have actually been told I dodged a bullet when I told people which companies did this to me.


What are some efficient ways an employer can be more thoughtful?

You probably won’t have as many interviews as you received resumés.  It’s okay not to respond to every applicant.  It’s best to call, or write a personal message to your rejected interviewees, but if that’s impossible, you can:

Set up a template for reply letters, emails or postcards

This will save you so much time.  For mailed replies, all that’s required is a mail merge with the candidates’ names and addresses.  Something basic, like this:

Thank you for taking the time to interview with us.  After a thorough review of your qualifications, we have decided to select another candidate.   [IF IT’S POLICY TO DO SO] –We will retain your resume for [X amount of time].  We wish you the best of luck in your job search.  

A personalized letter is better, but in a pinch, a form is better than nothing.   As an admin, I’ve sent these out myself.  I would much rather be told I didn’t get the job than feel as though I’ve been blown off.

I haz a sad…

Image:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Click the link below for a really fantastic one at www.hrtogo.com.  It’s almost a pleasure to be rejected with a letter like this one.


Announce in your posting that applicants will only be contacted for interviews

This might seem harsh and impersonal, but it means an applicant can set a time limit on her wait.  For most people, that’s two or three weeks.  You might even put one in there, the way literary agents do.  Something like “If you haven’t heard from us in [X], please assume the job has been filled.”

You’ve also covered your butt if you know you’ll be too swamped to field a plethora of follow-up calls.  Most job seekers know you’re busy; we’re all too aware companies are cutting back.

Know that rejection is just part of the hiring process, and candidates know it too

Notifying rejected candidates is uncomfortable.  But ignoring it won’t make it any easier on them.   Everyone who applies knows they may not get the job.  They’re prepared to hear this, even though they’re hoping they won’t.

Now that the candidate knows something about the organization, he may be able to recommend someone in his network next time you have an opening.  That person could be the dream employee you thought you’d never find.  He’s much more likely to do so if your rejection was professional and kind.

“Have I got an applicant for you!”

Image:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net


So You’re Unemployed! A Slideshow

I love PowerPoint slideshows.  I never get to do them.  You don’t see them much anymore, although we used them a lot when I was briefly in teacher school.

At the risk of making this the Unemployment Blog, I would like to share this one I made with you.   It was the beginning of a series that eventually morphed into The XYZ Company Files.

Yes, I made it at work.  No, I didn’t get in trouble. In fact, my boss at the time laughed her butt off.  Being on that side of the desk, it undoubtedly touched a nerve.


So You’re Unemployed!