The famous writer and playwright Thorton Wilder said it best with the phrase:
"There's nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head"
Now before you quit reading & start to think that I am simply filling my weekly entries with boring random quotations from dead American writers, let me assure you that that nothing could be further from the truth. That specific quote is very relevant to what happened to me just this past Monday.
Perhaps I should explain.
Ever since our company began talking about layoffs and cutbacks late last year, there has been a noticeable decrease in staff morale as well as in productivity.
Now that reaction was really not a big surprise as it is the usual expected attitude from staff when co-workers lose there jobs and some departments close. It is almost like a 'grieving period' for lack of a better phrase, but one that was both recognized and anticipated by our management team.
We discussed this point at our weekly management meeting and came to the conclusion that this is nothing more than a phase and to let the staff complain and gossip amongst themselves without too much interference or reprimand. If they needed answers to questions or anything else in coping through this difficult period, we were expected to assist them wherever possible or refer them to the Human Resources department.
For the first few days I did in fact notice that a few of the ladies in my department and in the Operations Centre next door were a lot more vocal in their negative comments towards the company however after the first week that seemed to dissipate.
People slowly began getting back into their old routine even though a number of staff members had been laid off with the exception being the noticeable amount of gossiping, which I presumed was nothing more than the remaining nervous staff bonding with one another.
After a few more days, I really began to notice this more & more as each I walked through my department or over to the kitchen for a coffee, a small group of woman would be gabbing away about every topic under the sun, such as holidays, ski weekends, shopping, relationships, etc.
I didn't think too much of it until I noticed last week that this was actually becoming a bit of a very loud and noisy habit these people were indulging in on a fairly frequent basis. Myself and the other department managers stares of disapproval did not seem to phase these folks one bit and these 'gossip breaks' became more and more of a common and noticeable distraction.
It was almost like the staff had now formed some kind of unofficial union of sorts - a union of slackers and a 'work to rule' campaign was beginning to take hold.
Being the excellent manager and proactive individual that you all know me to be, I took it upon myself to hold a short impromptu meeting on Friday afternoon and explain to the staff that these numerous loud and distracting meetings were not considered acceptable. I made it very clear that I have no problem with them all taking breaks and talking, I just wanted them to keep the noise to an acceptable office level and the content of their conversations to be professional.
The staff all seemed to take my request very well and I considered this to be the end of the matter. Just to be safe however, I checked with my assistant Greg just before leaving for the weekend.
Greg is not only an excellent assistant department manager, he is also friends with pretty much everyone in our group and on the entire floor for that matter. He assured me that my message was received well by the staff and everything would be back to normal on Monday.
Well this past Monday rolled upon us and I couldn't believe that after only two days since my little talk, a number of the employees were already back to their disruptive loud gossiping first thing Monday morning over in the kitchen.
As I was standing just around the corner from the kitchen reviewing our daily reports, I overheard these woman indulging in the most filthy and obscene conversation that my poor ears had ever been subjected to.
Now I am not a prude by any means, but this was way too much. The small snippet of conversation I heard was as follows:
Donna: "I was hoping for at least six inches this weekend but I think at best, it was only four. I was just so disappointed."
Leanne: "Damn, "I sure would have settled for even four inches, you shouldn't complain Donna, at least you got some."
Karen: "Well how do you think me and Sara felt. We got nothing, absolutely nothing this weekend, and we have both been waiting so long."
If I hadn't heard it with my own ears, I would have never believed that this conversation was occurring in a workplace kitchen. I was both shocked and angered. This talk was the straw that broke the camels back, I have had it with these people.
I had certainly heard enough. It was one thing for innuendo to be bantered around the office but this explicit filthy conversation was way over the line and in no way going to be tolerated.
As I was about to march into the kitchen in a rage, I noticed that Greg was in there with them. I could not imagine how terrible it must have been for him, being that he is a rather quiet & dedicated family man.
I thought about poor Greg, obviously trapped in there while getting his morning coffee with all those horrible foul-mouthed hags. He is way too polite to say anything or excuse himself from their disgusting vile conversation.
'Not too fear my friend, help is on the way. I will not leave you there to be subjected to this filth'. I thought to myself as I marched into the kitchen.
As I entered the room I immediately held up my hand for silence and attempted to control my anger, demanding they stop this vile and vulgar talk at once.
"I will not tolerate this kind of talk in my department or for that matter, in this building. It is extremely inappropriate in the workplace as well as very disrespectful to others. If it were all males talking about this raunchy topic, each of you would no doubt be up in the Human Resources office complaining about the degrading sexual overtones going on. Well let me tell you, there will be no double standards here."
I looked around at each of them as they all looked totally stunned and startled at my interruption during their nasty little conversation.
I must admit I was somewhat surprised that besides the three younger woman of Donna, Leanne and Karen being in the room that Dorothy was also present indulging in this conversation.
Dorothy is our senior secretary in both years of service and in chronological age. I believe she is in her late fifties or early sixties. I went over to her immediately.
"And you Dorothy." I began in my chiding tone. "I am especially appalled and disappointed with you being involved in this kind of talk. I mean a woman of your er, maturity - should certainly be above all this!"
Dorothy was of course, speechless as she just stared at me without blinking. I mean really, what could this nasty old trollop reply to me. I had caught her right there. I was about to continue in my 'dressing down' of the staff to ensure they understood my message when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Greg was trying to get my attention by discretely waving his hand.
I assumed he wanted to thank me for stopping this contemptible conversation as well as coming to his rescue. But that could wait. I needed to make sure I got my message across to these people as I was still quite irate at the total inappropriateness of the entire scenario.
What happened next however, was quite unexpected.
Greg, obviously annoyed by me ignoring his subtle waves, suddenly grabbed me by the arm and quickly pulled me out of the kitchen.
"Skiing" he blurted out at me, his eyes bulging wildly. "The girls were talking about their weekend ski trips. What you heard them referring to was the amount of snowfall they all received. They each went to three different hills in the Rockies and were just talking about it now. That's what you heard!"
Greg's comments took a few seconds to register into my brain, as I just stared at him blankly. When they finally did, I was completely and utterly panicked.
"Wh, What...." I just started to babble. "Skiing? Inches of snow? Not sex?"
Suddenly I then began to hear uncontrolled laughter only a few feet away, coming from the ladies in the kitchen.
I had basically two options to consider. The first option would be to take the high road and march directly back into the kitchen and apologize to each of these woman for this terrible little misunderstanding or go with my other option. The choice was clear.
I did what any normal male would do when faced with this type of circumstance. In a calm and collective manner I made a very quick about face and went to my office.
Actually that description is not entirely accurate. I basically ran like a frightened rabbit making a beeline back to my office and slammed the door behind me, hoping no one had noticed my extreme embarrassment or the fact I was sweating profusely in the middle of winter after only a 15 yard run.
I stayed locked and hidden in my office for the rest of Monday until just after three in the afternoon when I finally calmed down enough to overcome my embarrassment and emerged to apologize to everyone involved.
Everyone seemed to take it all well and I think I have given the entire floor if not the entire company enough entertainment to gossip about for the next couple of weeks.
In reviewing all this insanity, I believe I too got something out of this experience, that being I definitely learned a couple of valuable lessons stemming from this incident.
First, live by the phrase that I quoted at the start of this entry. It is obviously quite accurate.
Second, never listen at doorways as nothing good can ever come of it.
Thirdly and certainly most importantly, from now on make it a point to listen to the stupid weather report every day before work. You never know, it just may come in handy sometime.