We don't want to be the mean girls
March 22, 2012 2:41 PM   Subscribe

I am navigating a very awkward, uncomfortable situation with a coworker who wants us to be friends. I'm in need of smart, sensible advice on how to handle this.

A few months ago, our company hired a new employee. I don’t really know how else to explain this, but there is something very off about him. Over the weeks and months, a few things became clear. The first thing my coworkers and I noticed was that despite his claim of having extensive experience and impressive qualifications in this field (on paper, he’s somewhat overqualified for this job), he had no clue how to do the work. He had difficulty grasping simple, basic concepts that should have been second nature to someone with his credentials. He is very, very slowly coming along, but he is developing at the pace of someone who has never done this kind of work before. We are fairly certain that his resume contained significant embellishments, if not complete fabrications regarding his experience.

We have tried to be patient with him, and we help him whenever he asks for it, but he doesn’t take advice well. He is stubborn, defensive, and argumentative. He has a tendency to demand our help before he has given any critical thought to the issue he is having, and omits or misstates crucial details when relaying his problems to us. He misinterprets instructions and suggestions in perplexing ways. He often doesn’t understand why his mistakes are mistakes. He needs to be taught simple administrative tasks repeatedly before he retains them. All of this is a drain on our time and we have heavy workloads of our own to manage. He also reacts poorly to criticism from our managers, and is not above deflecting blame onto coworkers (when we have done nothing but try to help him). I suspect that his attitude is a big reason why he has been so slow to improve. If you ask him, nothing is ever his fault. I admit that we don’t think much of him, either professionally or in terms of his character.

We are perfectly polite to him while at work and we never refuse him help or advice when he asks for it, but we have no desire to interact with him further. He’s not just hard to work with, but he’s also strange and socially inappropriate. He makes me and the other women I work with feel very uncomfortable. For the first few months, my coworkers and I thought he understood that our relationships with him were purely professional and would remain that way. We haven’t had the most pleasant working interactions with him, and besides the most perfunctory of polite greetings, we haven’t engaged him in off-topic conversations.

Meanwhile, a small group of female coworkers and I have become good friends. We take our lunch breaks together and sometimes hang out outside of work. We recently noticed that while we were chatting in our office’s lunch room, the new guy was obviously listening in on our conversations, nodding and chuckling along with us. This made us uncomfortable, but we understand that the lunch room is a public space and we can’t expect to have total privacy in there. Shortly after we noticed this, he sent me and my coworker an email, asking if he could join us at our table for lunch. We didn’t know what to say at first, but that day so happened to be one where we each had our own separate plans for lunch and wouldn’t be meeting up in the lunch room anyway. My coworker and I told him this, and hoped he would get the hint. He asked if he could join us some other time, and neither of us replied.

A few days later (today), the new guy sent my other coworker an email asking again if he could join us for lunch. She replied, explaining that as a group of female friends we often discuss topics that are personal and private and she did not see us changing that in order to accommodate his presence, so she was sorry but the answer was no. He pressed it, saying that he listens to our conversations and thinks they’re fun and interesting, and stated again that he would really like to join us. He said that he doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, so he would be respectful and discrete when personal and private topics come up, and not comment about our feminine issues. This made my coworker all the more uncomfortable and she did not reply.

This small group of coworkers and I are in our 20's, and the new guy looks to be in his late 30’s or early 40’s, which adds to our discomfort with his taking such a personal interest in us. We realize that he probably has a hard time making friends and is probably very lonely, but our intuition tells us that he is not someone whose attentions should be encouraged.

What, if anything, should we do to protect our boundaries? What should we say if he continues to press the issue? We will have to continue working with him and we certainly don’t want there to be more negativity between him and us, but we do not want him to know anything more about us on a personal level and we definitely don't want to give him the idea that we are open to being friends. We are already uncomfortable having our lunches in the lunch room now that we know he enjoys eavesdropping on us, but we can’t afford to eat out every day and it’s too cold to take our packed lunches outside. We are inclined to leave things alone and cross our fingers that he simply gives up on trying to develop friendships with us, but we are afraid that he will go to our managers or to HR, as he has shown no hesitation in pointing fingers at us to our managers before. We’ve been concerned about this since one of our managers recently took my coworker aside and asked her if we were making an effort to include the new guy and make him feel welcomed as part of the team. We don’t want to end up with reputations as mean girls, excluding the poor lonely new guy, and potentially have it on our performance reviews that we’re not team players. On the other hand, we don’t want to pre-emptively speak to our managers or HR about him, because he really hasn’t done anything worth reporting, and we don’t want to escalate this unnecessarily or come across as a bunch of hysterical women.

TL;DR: I need advice on how to enforce my boundaries with a male coworker who would like to have more than a professional working relationship with my female coworkers and me. He makes us very uncomfortable and does not know how to take a hint. We hope we can do this in a way that is professional, as polite as possible, and will not affect how our managers and HR view our performance in terms of being good team players. How do we make it clear to this male coworker that we do not want his company outside of working hours and do not want to interact with him beyond what is required for us to do our jobs, as kindly yet clearly as possible?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (85 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honestly, I think he's doing more to negatively affect your ability to be team players than you are. If your coworker sent him a message that politely said, "No offense, but please give us some space," and he ignores it, that's not great -- on top of the fact that his lack of productivity and general "not getting it" -ness is holding up the rest of the work you do by arguing.

It is absolutely okay to want more personal space. Let me give you an example: back when I was new in this job (and working at a much lower level than I am now -- delivering mail, not actually Doing Stuff), I really, really wanted to be helpful and show that I knew things/could do stuff. So if I heard someone saying something out loud and, say, wondering who the XYZ of a department was, I'd pipe up. (Yes, obnoxious and kind of first-grader material. I know this.) Finally, my boss, who knew that I was just trying to be valuable, said, "Could you please cut that out?" And I said, "Sure," and that was that.

And that's not even creepy.

What this guy is doing? Creepy, AND not negated by some sort of magically amazing skill without which your company can't survive. (Note: Nobody deserves to be made to feel uncomfortable, no matter who the instigator is.)

This is the kind of thing that really should go through a manager -- yours, his, both, whatever. Not all the way to HR, but to a trusted supervisor who knows who you are and can see that you're not trying to stir things up. It's not out of line, regardless of whether it's just a little weird or Gavin de Becker-level bad.

Bottom line: it sounds like his behavior is speaking for itself. Make sure yours does, too; be kind but clear on this. Your ability to eat lunch without being eavesdropped on is pretty clearly linked to your ability to feel safe and supported in your position, which affects the quality of your work.
posted by Madamina at 2:56 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly, you and your friends sound very cliquey--I say this because of your constant use of "we," which may mean considering whether the problem is him so much as it is a workplace dynamic reinforced by cliquishness.
posted by liketitanic at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2012 [28 favorites]


Wow, I feel so sorry for this guy. I get how someone so different (and with separate professional issues) is really cramping the social thing you all had going on before he showed up, but I can't see how you *can't* invite him to lunch with you guys. Save the personal topics for when you all hang out after hours--anything that sensitive shouldn't be talked about in a break room anyhow. Having to lunch with coworkers who you might not be particularly fond of is part of working in an office. You may find that if you all welcome him into your lunches, he'll stop acting out.

I'm sorry if I'm coming off as harsh, but taking the high road in life is rarely a bad decision.
posted by smirkette at 2:59 PM on March 22, 2012 [30 favorites]


We don’t want to end up with reputations as mean girls, excluding the poor lonely new guy, and potentially have it on our performance reviews that we’re not team players.

No offence, but that's kind of how this reads. I mean, nobody's going to force you to be friends with everyone, but if he's being singled out of even eating lunch with you on the basis of his gender then that's a big problem.

If he's actually doing creepy things, inform your supervisor. Right now, he sounds like a guy at work who's shut out by a bunch of people who are clearly talking enough behind his back about him to write an entire question with "we" as a single point of view.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 3:02 PM on March 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


As you say, it's part of your job to make the new guy feel welcome. That means you can't exclude him at work. There's no need to invite him out unless it's an all hands lunch.

The bit about his incompetence is irrelevant to your real question, but if he isn't performing your boss should fire him and pay an agency to help him find a better-fitting job because he sounds like he would have a great deal of trouble finding another job.
posted by michaelh at 3:04 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Having to lunch with coworkers who you might not be particularly fond of is part of working in an office.

This x 1000. I wish I could always just eat with the one girl at work who is fun and I have a lot in common with, but our break room is shared and I don't get to decide who else is eating in on a specific day. We talk about personal stuff when we're alone, and I think that's what you and your work pals should do, too. His complete incompetence is a whole 'nother issue.
posted by jabes at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


You're being waaaay too nice to this guy. He's pushing your boundaries and you need to stop him, even if it means being blunt. Your greatest asset is that you have several co-workers who think as little of this person as you do. If, when pressed by managers, you present a united front, the truth about this person's lack of ability in his position as well as his creepiness should be apparent based on the fact that you all feel this way. You are good team players-- he's the creep who can't get it together.

You need to call him out on his creepiness when he pushes you socially.

The next time he asks via email, don't ignore him. He's unwilling to take hints. Email him as a group. Write: "From 9-5 we're all a team, and we're committed to being there 100% for every member of our group professionally. After hours, however, we'd like to keep our relationship with you purely professional. For various reasons, we would appreciate it if you respect our wishes and stop pursuing this point. Thanks, X, X and X"

Refer any creepy responses to management.
posted by devymetal at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


I do not believe it is ever okay to HAVE to incorporate someone into your life when they make you so profoundly uncomfortable. As women we are socialized into believing that if we are not inclusive to absolutely everyone, we automatically must be forming an exclusive clique. You have every right not to spend time with someone that drains you and makes you feel really uncomfortable.

The bigger problem here is that he sucks at his job. I would make an issue about that to your supervisor, and leave the creep-factor out of it so that it doesn't complicate the fact that he is obviously not suited for the position he holds in your company.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:05 PM on March 22, 2012 [55 favorites]


Oh wait, I missed the part about where this happens in the lunch room. Even so, freeze him out.
posted by devymetal at 3:07 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clarification (because I am not a total bitch):

Yes, examine your own cliqueishness. I've been the awkward person out more than I care to admit. But there's no reason you can't coexist in the same lunchroom, different conversations or not.

Anyway, my advice about letting your behavior speak for itself stands. Your manager will know what you've been acting like -- and quite possibly maybe both parties here are a little bit off.
posted by Madamina at 3:07 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you ever tried inviting him to have lunch with you and join the conversation? Maybe he's an okay guy once you get to know him - and befriending him professionally (not necessarily outside of work) could help you diplomatically resolve some of the other issues you have with him.

From reading this I can't quite picture the situation because I have definitely been in situations with truly creepy men who could not take a hint. I can't tell if this is the case in this situation, or if this guy just wants to bond with his new coworkers.

Without more information your group does sound a bit cliquish.
posted by fromageball at 3:09 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


You don't like him, you co-workers don't like him, and he's been attempting to throw you under the bus. I don't see a problem with not associating overly much with the guy. That's a personal choice for you and your friends at work. I don't understand the thing about lunching with co-workers you don't like, if you don't like them don't lunch with them. Be cordial, professional, and not passive aggressive about the office but there's no requirement to be personal.

Looking at your group however: Having a clique isn't bad, but perhaps you want (if possible) to re-locate to somewhere more private? Having a clique in a public space talking about private things is grating at best and more than likely considered out and out rude by your co-workers.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:09 PM on March 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


Having a clique in a public space talking about private things is grating at best and more than likely considered out and out rude by your co-workers.

Agreed. If you want to have private times with your friends, go out after work.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:15 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


If it makes you feel any better... are you certain that your coworker is the one who complained to the manager?
posted by kettleoffish at 3:17 PM on March 22, 2012


And where else is this guy supposed to have lunch? Sitting at a table in the lunch room by himself while you all sit together?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:17 PM on March 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


Ugh, what an annoying situation. This is one place where I feel like women can definitely struggle in the workplace- on the one hand, you don't want to let your guard down with a creepy person because the consequences of that in a young woman's life can be huge and horrible, and on the other, you don't want to get labeled as bitchy, clique-y, or not a team player.

Sooooo I think you have to suck it up and have lunch with him ONCE IN A WHILE, but it should be in a very structured way.

Pitch to your boss (or just organize it on your own casually depending on your read of the situation and your office politics) something like "Working Lunch Wednesday," where one member of your group gives a 10-20 minute talk during lunch on some process or procedure in the office, a recent trend in the industry, etc. Stuff like "The Importance of Social Media in Industry X" or "Using Access in Task Z." Then you do a little Q&A or discussion group on, you know, don't post drunk pics on Facebook if you have clients friended. You rotate the topic and the speaker each week. Specifically invite your awkward co-worker. If you are tactful you can make it clear that this is NOT an invitation to lunch with y'all every day, ie, "John, it would be great if you joined us on Wednesday when we're going to talk about X." If that works out, maybe eventually you ask him to give one of the little talks one week. Do it in a conference room or wherever to make it more separate from your lunch breaks.

Hopefully you only have to continue this business until he gets fired or quits, but either way you get to put on your resume that you organized work training sessions and stuff.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:20 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, you don't want to go to your managers or HR to complain about him because as you said, he hasn't done anything wrong. But if his inadequate skill-set is causing a problem or affecting your productivity because you're spending time bringing him up to speed, then there's no reason your manager shouldn't know about what you're doing on a regular basis.

So in a meeting when you're discussing Project X, you can say to your manager "Newguy wasn't sure how to do the monthly budget last week so I showed him again, but it's time to do the quarterly report I might need to reshuffle some priorities because it'll take me a bit longer to go through it with him." You're not throwing newguy under the bus, you're making sure your manager knows what his staff is doing. That you've gone several months without letting your manager know how newguy is affecting your work makes me wonder if communication isn't an issue across the board.

Keeping your manager in the loop about what's going on with your team helps them manage better. That way you're making sure your manager knows that professionally, you're doing what you can to acclimate newguy. You're absolutely not responsible for his social life.

I'm not a guy but I am a 40s woman in a company with a lot of women in their 20s, and while we're all friendly and I have now & then sat with the kids in the breakroom, I would never want to hang out with them, we have nothing in common.
posted by headnsouth at 3:21 PM on March 22, 2012 [12 favorites]


He doesn’t have to be the best guy ever to be polite to him.

I don't really understand why you can't eat lunch with him. He's a little skeevie- but the other option seems to be having him sitting alone in a corner, conspicuously eating and eavesdropping.

As for being creeped out by the fact that he said he wouldn't comment on the "feminine issues"= your friend started it by suggesting that you guys were talking lady-business and that's why he couldn't sit with you.

If you don't want to eat lunch with him- eat somewhere else other than the company break room. He’s not going to give you cooties. Him sitting with you doesn’t make him part of your friends and doesn’t taint you. Be polite and continue with work-appropriate personal conversations, and leave the office if you want to be free of him. The break room isn’t a place to be all kinds of high school.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:23 PM on March 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


FWIW, I am coming from a place where I was forced by a supervisor to spend time with someone who was sexually harassing me and verbally abusing me even though my super knew full well that the person was a creep, so my knee-jerk reaction to workplace crap like this is "Fuck that noise."

Just to add on to my last comment, though: if going to your supervisor or HR is going to be a political error, just start eating elsewhere or make arrangements to have an unpredictable pattern of when you actually do eat as a group and when you don't.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:26 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


FWIW, I am coming from a place where I was forced by a supervisor to spend time with someone who was sexually harassing me and verbally abusing me even though my super knew full well that the person was a creep

This person isn't doing any of those things. The OP and her clique just think he's weird and icky.
posted by downing street memo at 3:31 PM on March 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


We recently noticed that while we were chatting in our office’s lunch room, the new guy was obviously listening in on our conversations, nodding and chuckling along with us. This made us uncomfortable, but we understand that the lunch room is a public space and we can’t expect to have total privacy in there. Shortly after we noticed this, he sent me and my coworker an email, asking if he could join us at our table for lunch.

In an office lunchroom situation, it seems very odd that someone would need permission to join you. The lunchroom is a common space, right? So, I find it strange that he feels he has to ask to join you, and I find it strange that you all would be so affronted by his request.

I have worked in an office with a conference room that we used as a lunchroom. I never felt it was anyone's right to refuse someone permission to join them in that conference room. So, maybe I'm not understanding the dynamic, but the whole asking permission thing doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

With regard to the "BUT HE'S SO WEIRD!" factor, it's kind of your employer's responsibility not to hire weird, incompetent people. If your employer hires weird, incompetent people, I don't really think it's okay to freeze them out because you think they're weird. Blame for this weirdo being in the workplace falls squarely on the employer.

It doesn't sound like he's doing anything really offensive. The "you can't join us because we talk about girl stuff" thing is really kind of offensive to me. Can you imagine if a young woman was trying to fit in at a new job and was told by male coworkers "don't join us in the lunch room because that's our guy time, we talk about guy stuff." That would be supremely offensive, almost go-to-HR-and-file-a-complaint offensive. I don't see that what you and your women friends are doing is any different, honestly.
posted by jayder at 3:32 PM on March 22, 2012 [37 favorites]


ALSO like ThePinkSuperhero said- are you guys seriously all eating at one table while the guy sits all by himself? are there any other people in the breakroom at the same time?

It doesn't sound like he's actually doing anything other than be a little pushy about being included. Just because he is off-putting doesn't make him worth a HR report.

his actual work problems are a totally unrelated to this.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:37 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's possible that some folks - especially male folks - may not have experienced the sustained, socially-inappropriate attentions of a creepy guy. It can be really stressful and it often escalates. Not only are your lunches no longer an actual break that you need to recharge for work, but you start getting pestered to go for drinks after work, you get personal calls and emails, maybe you even get stalked. It's very difficult to explain what's so creepy about the really "off" kind of guy, but let me assure you that's it's not just that he's socially awkward or a bit shy or kind of a doofus (which is what I think a lot of nerdy, internet guys imagine in this situation, which is why they identify with and excuse the guys). It's the lack of ability to read social cues, lack of ability to respect direct requests or boundaries, lack of taking no for an answer - and all of this sort of orbiting around gender stuff. It's creepy. And it's exhausting. My experiences with creepy guys with no social boundaries - some of whom I met in a professional setting - still make me freaked out and stressed to remember, and I am basically a big tough dykey queer person, not some alluring girl who gets lots of dude attention.

You probably can't keep directly excluding him in the lunchroom - can you eat lunch together somewhere else? Outside? If you can move your regular lunches to somewhere more private, you can then have a monthly or bimonthly group lunch where maybe you order delivery or all go out together. That way, if he isn't a creeper - which I doubt, frankly - he will be able to charm you all and get included. And if he is a creeper, you'll have made enough of a gesture toward including him that your manager will be happy.

Seriously, if you have not had to disentangle yourself from an overbearing, unpleasant "off"-seeming guy, you really can't imagine how unpleasant it can be. I was once part of a volunteer project where we got this older, pompous, patronizing, yet "off" fellow - a volunteer project where everyone was under 40 and he was past retirement, which is not always a bad thing but is certainly unusual - and we lost a couple of women because it was so stressful to work with him. I was actually thinking of quitting, and I was practically the longest-volunteering person there. Finally we asked the guy to leave. It was awful.
posted by Frowner at 3:38 PM on March 22, 2012 [95 favorites]


That way, if he isn't a creeper - which I doubt, frankly

No offence Frowner, your experience sounds terrible, but there's nothing in here to suggest he's beyond a reasonable doubt creepy. He sits in a lunchroom and then emails to ask if he can join them for lunch and they don't even write him back. That's pretty cold if you ask me.

Just because someone feels creeped out does not mean the other person is being creepy. A lot of times they are, but sometimes they're not. I again go back to the fact that if he's done anything actually creepy, you need to point it out to HR, but simply trying to socialize at work is not creepy.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 3:52 PM on March 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think it's possible that some folks - especially male folks - may not have experienced the sustained, socially-inappropriate attentions of a creepy guy

It is also possible that some folks - especially younger folks - may not have experienced trying to work in a new job, with new environment, know you completely suck at it, get defensive because your ego is being crushed because you know you should be better at your job, and yet with all that, you can't seem to fit in at all with anyone at your work - because they are all 15 years younger and they automatically think it makes you a creep to want to talk to someone at work, and with your (single minded) politeness by asking to be let in, it just makes you feel even more ostracized.
posted by LeanGreen at 3:54 PM on March 22, 2012 [17 favorites]


This has nothing to do with gender. I am a guy and I would not want to have lunch with this dude. If I were you, and I have been you in this situation, I would continue to help him with his work to the point it does not detract from yours, and I would meet my friends for lunch somewhere else than the breakroom for a week or two.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:00 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's possible that some folks - especially male folks - may not have experienced the sustained, socially-inappropriate attentions of a creepy guy.

I'm a (female) creep magnet, but in this situation we obviously only have half of the story. Is this guy actually a creep or are we learning about him through the creep filter?

There is a big difference between socially awkward/weird creepy and dangerous creepy. Maybe he is approaching this group because he doesn't know anyone else in the office. It sounds like they are his most direct coworkers.

I've worked in some pretty toxic environments, but during the 9-5 workday (including lunch if you're still in communal areas) everyone at least pretends to like each other. I can't even imagine someone trying to sit with other coworkers in the communal lunchroom and being told "no."
posted by fromageball at 4:05 PM on March 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


Frowner-

eehhh. I'm a girl working in a very male-dominated industry full of creepers. I think one of the problems women tend to have is being socialized to be as 'polite' as possible- which somehow turns into being indirect or deferential to men- OR letting your silence speak for you- assuming that creepers (accidental or intentional) will respect/be able to read girl-avoidance.

The OP is avoiding the problem- maybe because the only (honest) answer she has to give the guy is "no, you have sit at a different table because we don't like you" and she knows it's a crap reason.

All she has to do is move the lunch outside- or suck it up and let him sit at the table. If he asks to hang for after work drinks- that's when you need to ovary-up and tell him "I'm not comfortable with that. I'll see you tomorrow."
posted by Blisterlips at 4:05 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hmm. If there's a lunchroom all employees eat in, or if the lunchroom is actually a long single table in the conference room or something, then you can't really expect total privacy in there or choose your tablemates. When you're on work turf, that's probably no-go. It seems to me your only options for avoiding this scenario are eating at your desks (maybe just IM on Gchat during lunch instead of talking out loud?) or going off-site somewhere. Is there anywhere nearby that you could go where there's indoor space to eat and you wouldn't have to buy anything to be there, like a mall or a park with an indoor area? Last resort, maybe you could frequent a coffee shop where maybe you'd have to buy a drink to stay, but it wouldn't cost as much as a full meal.

If you find another place to eat and he still asks to be invited or asks where you're going, I'd just string him along as best as possible with various polite excuses—"Oh, sorry, I'm actually going to run errands at lunch"—and then go ahead and meet up with your friends. Unless you're in a public work space, it's none of his business (or anyone else's) what you do with your own time at lunch.
posted by limeonaire at 4:09 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I keep re-reading the OP -- trying to understand it. I don't read anything in the OP to suggest he is trying to do anything outside of work with your clique.

"I need advice on how to enforce my boundaries with a male coworker who would like to have more than a professional working relationship with my female coworkers and me"


You need to consider lunch in the public work break room as part of a "professional working relationship." If you want to make your public meetings exclusive, then it should be in private or at a restaurant|park, not within the company's domain.

I work in a field where I only relate with a couple of guys in my group. The rest are different backgrounds, ages, skill level -- where my background is local, gender is male, age is lower-middle and my skill is senior. With all that, I still end up going to lunch with girls right out of college, talk about mindless crap, or go eat with middle aged South Pacific Indians men and talk about sports that I know nothing about... Somehow we can do all this without being friends IRL. This also goes for the very odd people, which my industry collects like it is a hobby.
posted by LeanGreen at 4:14 PM on March 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


OP, you have my sympathies! I have had this sort of experience before, both with male and female co-workers. It was all there - "the lack of ability to read social cues, lack of ability to respect direct requests or boundaries, lack of taking no for an answer", as Frowner pointed out. It's so uncomfortable when people are incapable of taking a hint. It's not your fault you don't want to hang out with him, and I don't think it's fair for you to have to accommodate him during your non-work time.

I work in a similar sort of dynamic... a bunch of co-workers who have a lot in common and like hanging out during lunch break and after work, and some others whom we don't hang out with - I hesitate to say exclude.

When my work-friends and I go out for lunch together, we are very discreet about it - we'll send emails around and get up to leave at roughly the same time but not in a way that draws attention to the fact that we're hanging out together and not inviting the others.

I think the whole "hanging out in the lunch room" thing is problematic because it rubs into your co-worker's face the fact that this big bunch of people he works with are hanging out together but not inviting him.

That was a long-winded way of saying: can't you keep hanging out with the people you want to, but not in such an obvious way? Sort of keeping it on the down-low? Don't use the lunch room, go out to a cafe together sort of thing. If he doesn't see you hanging out together and obviously excluding him, he might stop hassling.

On preview: what limeonaire said.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:14 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


You cannot say no to the guy sitting at your table in the shared room at work. If you don't want to eat with him but eat with your friends in a group, you need to leave the office. You're welcome not to want to eat with him, because it ruins the idea of recharging if you have to interact with people you dislike. But you can't do it at the office.

If he's actually doing creepy things, go to HR. If he's just incompetent, be sure to document the time you spend helping him.

It's possible that his sitting there trying to pretend he's part of the group is creepy. It's also possible that he just feels isolated and is trying to join the group and doesn't know how else to do it.
posted by jeather at 4:17 PM on March 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


they automatically think it makes you a creep to want to talk to someone at work

This is pretty unfair. I know a lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction to cliques, but there are many examples of his "stubborn, defensive, argumentative" behavior in the OP, plus the fact that he "responds poorly to criticism," with the conclusion that he seems "very off." Just to use the original language.

Nobody wants to invite harassment into their life-- like 75% of stories I've heard from my mom and sisters about creepy aggressive guys begin with, "Well, I felt so sorry for him... "

we are afraid that he will go to our managers or to HR, as he has shown no hesitation in pointing fingers at us to our managers before

Not only does he want to be surrounded by fun, younger women, he's also content to use them as scapegoats behind their backs. This guy is kind of a jerk, at least.

I've worked in majority-female workplaces with a couple of (younger and older) guys as peers and an older guy in a position of power. Everyone socialized together, but lunch break wasn't a team-building exercise, and the older guys had the social graces to be involved in casual conversations without expecting to be on a personal basis with a bunch of younger women. They also handled their concerns about coworkers professionally, instead of never taking responsibility and expecting to blame things on us one moment and be best buds the next. Seriously, how does this guy sound-- like the kind of guy who would own up to inappropriate behavior and back off if he was being threatening?

I agree, if there's a way to leave the premises, I'd go that route. It's none of his business what you do on lunch break.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:19 PM on March 22, 2012 [18 favorites]


I think you need to remember you are in the workplace - aside from the fact he isn't performing his role properly - he is a colleague that you need to attempt to be professional with. These are the challenges you face in working with other people and you will only be a better employee in the long run if you work out how to deal with situations like this in constructive ways.

i.e. "Hey girls, lets stop bitching about Guy as that doesn't help us work any better with him"
i.e. "Hi Manager, can you please help me prioritise - should I help Guy with XXX Repeated Item or work on Project A? I need some guidance"

One thing I have done in the past, to include those people in my workplace like this in a non-threatening way, is have a group lunch. Each department is invited to attend a pot luck lunch and we all sit around having generic small talk and how nice to is to do something as an organisation. This tides everyone over for a least a few months and then we hold another one.
posted by latch24 at 4:21 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Have one lunch per week for everyone -- including this guy you don't like and anyone else. Have one lunch per week out with just you and your friends, and then eat at your desks.
posted by xingcat at 4:30 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


It sounds like you are dealing with 2 completely different problems (1-new coworker is taking a long time to learn things- competence? and 2) coworker wants to join you and your group for lunch and you are worried about unwanted attention).

I'm not going to address the lunch thing because it sounds like Xingcat just gave a good solution, but, In regards to not learning info and blaming it on you or colleagues, start writing up weekly, brief status reports as to what you do each week (bulleted, maybe 10 sentences, sent at EOD on Friday to your supervisor or on Monday). It can include things like "wrote 10 TPI reports" (or whatever you do), But also include a section called "training" and if you show the new guy how to write TPI reports 3 X that week, write it down. The goal here is not to get anyone in trouble, it is just to document what you do each week. At evaluation time you can say, "I wrote100000 TPI reports this year, as can be seen by my weekly status update).However, it also protects you if a new employee states you are not teaching him anything...and if training still appears on your weekly status report 6 months from now with the same person, then your supervisor should see that there is a problem. But all you are doing is documenting BEFORE your manager asks whether you are training him.
posted by Wolfster at 4:38 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, we don’t want to pre-emptively speak to our managers or HR about him, because he really hasn’t done anything worth reporting,

His incompetence making it harder to do your job is worth reporting to the manager, because it's the manager's job to do hiring and firing and allocate resources. Your time is a resource. It also protects you from accusations or allegations from him.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:39 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Guy is definitely being creepy, and I wouldn't want to let him in my fun young female lunch group either. He is totally fumbling his attempt to integrate himself socially. This does not bode well.

I like xingcat's solution. You may have to cut down on the weeklong fun lunchtimez, which sucks. Maybe when coworker sits with you and conversation grounds to a halt he will find it is not as great as he anticipated. What's he going to do, order you to give up the amusing anecdotes (he might, from your description)?

But, do make an effort to include him in some way, even if that involves simply NOT excluding him in the lunchroom. Then arrange private lunches for your gang off-site.
posted by griselda at 4:44 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding potential mean-girl cliquishness: the closer you are to your desk/other coworkers when you slip into "personal friend" mode, the more cliquish and unprofessional you'll seem. Especially if you act markedly different towards your friends than you do with your coworkers. It's fine to have work friends, but keep the conversations professional when you're physically in the office. One day, the new employee may be a shy non-creepy person who doesn't attempt to wedge her way into your lunch table, but instead feels left out and scared of you, or goes to HR to complain about the cliquishness.

Regarding the guy: I'd be wary of him, too. Don't feel obligated to be his friend, especially if he makes you feel uneasy (and if he ever does anything flat-out inappropriate, document and go to HR - in that case it doesn't matter how lonely he is or how exclusive your clique is).

The fewer friends-only conversations and activities you engage in while you're in the office, the fewer opportunities he has to push for friendship. If he does continue to ask to do friend things, reframe them as coworker things and expand them to include other coworkers. He wants to eat lunch with you and your friends? Okay, let's see if Coworkers A, B, C, and D want to come along, too. The added advantage is you have those coworkers as a buffer against potential creepiness.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:46 PM on March 22, 2012 [31 favorites]


Metroid Baby's take on this is perfect.
posted by liketitanic at 4:49 PM on March 22, 2012


It sounds to me like you are being very "mean girls." You're eating lunch at the office with co-workers and telling this co-worker, "You are not welcome to eat lunch with us."

I get that you don't want to be friends with this guy, and by no means am I suggesting that you should hang out with him outside of work if you don't want to... but excluding someone from group interactions in the workplace is extremely cliquey and, frankly, unprofessional. He's a colleague and while at the office it's your job to try to get along and foster a collegial relationship with him. If you don't want him to be privy to private conversations about sensitive information, don't have those conversations in public spaces at the office.

There's a huge difference between getting along with people at work and being "friends" friends, by the way. I have colleagues whom I socialize with more than others, and for some this includes hanging out outside of work. Those ones are my friends. The others range from "work friends" to "colleagues," but I would never actively exclude any of them at work. Part of being a colleague and team player is to try to make them feel included -- which is totally consistent with maintaining boundaries, it's just that those boundaries should not include "conversations and lunches in the break room at the office."

It doesn't sound like you're asking about the issue of his competence or lack of competence -- in fact it is irrelevant to the question posed -- so I won't address it.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:52 PM on March 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


Mm, yeah, Metroid Baby's approach is definitely what I've done before when I didn't want to seem like I was excluding a kind of pushy, untrustworthy coworker who wanted to be friends. I'd just say, "Oh sure, and should we see if so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so want to grab lunch?" And we'd walk down the hall and check in at each person's office re: whether they wanted lunch. That made it feel more like coworker lunch time than friend lunch time, to sort of reinforce the dynamic I wanted with that person, and we'd make coworker small talk.

Of course, if the person is really that socially clueless and/or untrustworthy (I disagree with J. Wilson about the competence/professionalism issues—the scapegoating thing that this guy is doing re: work items makes that part of the question highly relevant), it can really be, well, work to be around them, so I don't blame the OP for wanting to avoid this guy at lunchtime. The avoidance just has to be managed in a professional way when at work (eat at your desk or stick to blandly inclusive topics if you eat in the lunchroom) and in a fairly quiet/discreet way if you're leaving work for lunch specifically for the purpose of avoidance.
posted by limeonaire at 5:00 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Re: Frowner's point:

Seriously, if you have not had to disentangle yourself from an overbearing, unpleasant "off"-seeming guy, you really can't imagine how unpleasant it can be.

Oh I very much can. Guys and gals, in fact.

But "seeming off" is not a basis for marginalizing a coworker, in a common space. He's a coworker, there is an obligation to treat him civilly and professionally. His sitting in the break room and laughing and nodding with their conversation violates no norms, as far as I can see.

Work is not a place to cultivate friendships by excluding others. If you're in the workplace you have to be inclusive, or else you'll be in the wrong ... Not the guy who Seems Off.
posted by jayder at 5:08 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am surprised at the number of responses here that are saying you should suck it up and eat lunch with him. You should never feel like you have to spend your own private time with someone who you do not want to. Plus, If you do it now, it is just re enforcing his pushy annoying and socially inappropriate behavior.

Maybe this post comes across as slightly 'cliquey' due to using 'we' a lot, I would just to frame the issue in terms of what you do or do not want. In the future, I would focus on your own personal relationship with him, not the 'group'.
posted by seesom at 5:09 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


You do not have to, and should not, spend your private time with this guy.

But I don't think lunch in the office break room counts as private time. I think that's the miscalculation. Lunch is something everyone has to do, and if you refuse to let anyone in to the common break room during lunch, you are in fact being exclusionary.

I nth Metroid Baby's response, said better than I could.

Oh, and pineappleheart, I'm female, never in fact had a crush on the cheerleader in high school (requited or otherwise)- and for the OP, yes, I do think you could wander in to "mean girls" territory here (without meaning to, most likely). Following Metroid Baby's advice is probably the best path to avoiding this while keeping your sanity.
posted by nat at 5:35 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's true that the OP and her coworkers are obligated to treat him civilly and professionally (and there's a lot of good advice to that end), but it also seems biased to ignore the fact that he's not treating them civilly OR professionally, and it's causing them problems on multiple levels.

he doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, so he would be respectful and discrete when personal and private topics come up, and not comment about our feminine issues

I'm curious how he phrased this, because it could range from innocent to completely inappropriate.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:45 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm of two minds here: on the one hand, you don't have to spend time with the guy if you don't want to, and I'm sure your inner creepometer is valid here. On the other, it's tough to explicitly not include someone (now matter how creepy!) in a work space like a lunch room. The way I dealt with work creepy guy (who was felt to be creepy by basically everyone at my woman-dominated friendly workplace, dudes included, though he was definitely in the same age-group as everyone else) was that we were on-the-surface nice to him at office events and included him in whole-office group social outings but we (independently) would not ask him if someone was having a party where it was a mix of work and non-work friends, or there were a couple of us grabbing drinks after a long day. If you want to keep it to a specific group at lunch, can you and your friends go out somewhere? I know it sucks to have to revolve your lives around creepy guy, but part of work life is that if you want space away from work people, you have to leave work.
posted by SoftRain at 5:47 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


OP and her colleagues did not shun the guy in the breakroom. She described the guy as sitting separately from them (but not acknowledging or talking to them directly), eavesdropping on and audibly responding to their conversations (but not acknowledging or talking to them directly), and then sending a formal written request to select individuals asking to join them in the future. That is weird and "off" especially coming from someone who doesn't appear to enjoy working with OP or respect her professionally, so there's no prior camaraderie that most workfriendships arise from.

If newguy had walked into the breakroom and said directly "hey how are you guys doing, mind if I join you?" then the lunch issue wouldn't even be part of the question, it would just be a work&money question: "how to deal when incompetent newguy keeps throwing me under the bus?"
posted by headnsouth at 5:50 PM on March 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


If you insist on lunching in your place of work you'll have to include him as it is a workplace and he works there. If you don't want to lunch with him, you go elsewhere.

but he’s also strange and socially inappropriate. He makes me and the other women I work with feel very uncomfortable.


You don't explain this at all, so it's really hard to know just how he is strange and socially inappropriate beyond the lunch thing.

His demands about you helping him before he's worked through it himself - this is often a male, generational thing (young women help men) and/or a skeevy thing (he likes your attention).

You have to get fully parental/teacher with him - tell him to spend some time thinking about it on his own or get him to write down how to do it or you'll tell him once but you won't tell him again because you're busy and your boss will get annoyed if x isn't done ASAP. As there are a number of you, there is at least support by numbers to help manage him.

But if you continue to lunch in the lunch room and exclude him in the workplace I guarantee you that he will keep throwing you under a bus and that management will side with him under the mean girls/women are bitches/they're bringing it on themselves banner.

In other words, rise above it.
posted by mleigh at 5:54 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


[If you can't make your point without insulting other posters it's totally okay for you to not make your point. Being mean to talk about other people's feelings about being mean is not what AskMe is about or for.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:58 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, you can't "bar" the lunch-room - it's a communal space and everybody has a right to be there. Additionally, it's super-dooper-dooper unprofessional to freeze a colleague out no matter how much you dislike em. Career-wise it's a really bad look.

This doesn't mean you have to socialise with the person outside work, but there is a minimal expectation in most organisations that you will be able and willing to engage in chitchat with people you work with, and I don't think it's an unreasonable one. The reason to do this is for purposes of cohesion and workplace harmony. Perhaps if you start including this dude in your lunches he won't be so unreasonable outside them; it wouldn't be the first time a situation like this has played out that way.

I understand how difficult this can be with someone you don't like, and may resent in a professional capacity, but the further you move up the chain the more you will be expected to grit your teeth and smile at arseholes, so get the practice in now. There are a few... "characters" that I currently work with, and I certainly have my group that I really love as friends not colleagues. It is clear that I treat my friends somewhat differently, but this doesn't come at the expense of my non-friends at work. If a non-friend comes over to the table at lunch, they are welcomed and chairs are pulled up for them. If I want to gossip/be friendly with my friends at work I do it when it's just a few of us, and we are going out to get coffee, or off to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Ignoring colleagues is not cool, and it will hurt you professionally. I really do feel an underrated but required skill in office jobs is the ability to find something to like about everyone. Cultivate it, it will serve you in good stead.
posted by smoke at 6:00 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


From a MeFite who would like to remain anonymous:
Answers to this question really illustrate why women always feel like they can't trust their instincts about people and try to stand up for themselves without worrying about being "mean." I'm especially shocked by the answers to this thread given how often people bring up "The Gift of Fear" and books like that. It's pretty obvious that the reason she spends so much time on his shitty performance at work is because she's worried that the obviously creepy things she knows about this guy won't be enough for anyone here, which apparently it wasn't.

.....the answer was no. He pressed it, saying that he listens to our conversations and thinks they’re fun and interesting, and stated again that he would really like to join us. He said that he doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, so he would be respectful and discrete when personal and private topics come up, and not comment about our feminine issues.

This is such obviously inappropriate behavior coming from an older man trying to ingratiate himself with a group of younger women, who have already told him they aren't comfortable with the idea, with whom he doesn't even have any kind of collegial relationship. OP if you're still reading, please trust your instincts and hold your ground on this one.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 PM on March 22, 2012 [54 favorites]


I'm really shocked at the amount of people siding with the guy.

So far he has been described as: "Off", stubborn, defensive, argumentative, deflects blame onto coworkers, and makes your job suck more because he sucks so much at his.

Why do any of you think this toolbag is entitled to OP and her work-friends attention? This isn't about being cliquey, it's about not wanting to spend any time with a stubborn asshole and being frank about it.

I agree with what frowner says - I'm not a woman, but when I read this post I immediately got what OP was saying when she described the guy as creepy. Being around a guy who can only be described as "off" and doesn't seem to respect anyone's boundaries or pick up social cues is NOT nerdy and endearing, it is anxiety inducing. I cringed reading the post. No one should have to deal with that shit.

I'd talk to your manager about how he's cramping your performance with his suckiness at the very least.
posted by windbox at 7:17 PM on March 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


At work you are required to be polite to people, because that's work.

NOT because you are a woman. You are not required to put up with creeperism.

The appropriate corporate response to the "can I join you" email was probably something more like, "the break room is a communal space and if we are in there, obviously we expect that other coworkers will be there as well." It is weird, and to me frankly a little passive-aggressive, to "ask" to join people at lunch where, if your input was welcome, surely someone would have noticed you by now and asked for your opinion on the matter of the day.

So. Be polite, not because you are required to do so due to sexism, but because polite in this case means professional. If he gets up in your biz in an unwanted way, you can say, "Hey Coworker. When you x, that is not okay with me. So I need you to slow your roll in x way." RECORD IT. By which I mean, WRITE IT DOWN. And if he doesn't comply with your very reasonable request to not be creepy, report it.

(I was creeped on by a "nice" older man who insisted on creeping up behind me and making weird small talk at work. There were people who thought I over reacted, but I swear to biscuits, I get to work at 7am and you show up at my desk at 730, with so few people in the office, and I'm not your friend? GET OFF MY LAWN. And you have the right to set boundaries with the creepy guy, just not the right to ban him from the breakroom, which you don't seem to have done. You are not in the wrong.)
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:01 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Part of the Team" does not mean including him in your lunches, unless the lunches are considered work time, and you are paid for them, and do work during them.

If you do not want to hang with this dude outside of required work situations, don't. Period.

You don't even need to give a reason.

If he says, "can I join you for lunch" you can say simply, "sorry, no." That's YOUR time, and you shouldn't feel obligated to spend it with someone you don't care for.

Dude wants to be given a break? Dude can try harder at being less socially awkward. And I say this as an *incredibly* socially awkward person.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:12 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


OP, I believe the majority of people who have never been on the receiving end of relentless boundary-pushing by creepy older men (in other words, people who have never been a teenage or 20-something female) are going to fly to the defense of this guy unless you frame your concerns very carefully. So in that sense, this thread should be very valuable in helping you figure out what to say and what to AVOID in framing this. I completely believe you about how he is and I think you should absolutely trust your instincts and not let anyone who clearly has never been in this situation make you ashamed of not being the self-sacrificing woman who needs to make sure she keeps all the men happy, no matter the consequences to her.

I do not think you should make any personal complaints about him unless/until he does something overt. If he makes personal comments about you guys to the managers be super positive and let them know you have no idea what he is talking about, and you've been doing your best with him. Don't self-sacrifice but cover your ass and make sure everything you do is above reproach.

What is really important, and where I do NOT think you will get this kind of blowback from men, is the area of his work performance. If he very obviously does not have anything approaching the skills and experience he was hired for, that is a serious and legitimate problem. So address that with the managers and do your best to avoid the other stuff as much as you can.
posted by cairdeas at 8:16 PM on March 22, 2012 [14 favorites]


I'm also stunned that people are coming to the work guy's defense en masse. Dealing with creepy guys may be par for the course for women, but that doesn't mean that creepiness should be accepted, validated, or, especially, rewarded. His age is a red herring: it's his lack of respect for your boundaries and comfort that's the issue here. You don't owe this guy anything, especially since it seems that you and your coworkers are bending over backwards to be polite and helpful and he's not, at all, doing the same.

I'd ask your coworker to nicely write back and reinforce the extremely understandable boundary that she set. Being perceived as mean/a bitch by this guy is better than making work weirder and more stressful for you and all your friends. Being nice is not always the most important thing.
posted by alicetiara at 8:29 PM on March 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm also stunned that people are coming to the work guy's defense en masse.

It's a sticky situation since it takes place at work. If this were just a social gathering it would be fine to leave someone out in the cold just because they're weird or you don't like them for whatever reason. At work - especially since OP has to work directly with this guy - it would serve her and the group much better to take the high road.

If this guy is creepy in a dangerous way, sexual harassment or whatever, then tell HR or escalate the situation somehow. If he is that type of creep, telling him he can't sit with the group at lunch isn't going to stop him from being creepy. He will just continue to sit and nod and chuckle at their conversations - and HR or the managers will just tell OP that it is a communal lunch area and they can choose to eat there or somewhere else, just as this guy is free to eat wherever he wants. Not to mention the problems involving actual work will only get worse and there will be added tension - and the blame will likely fall on both parties since OP says that so far he hasn't done anything worthy of reporting to HR.

I think the solution to the lunch problem is to find somewhere else to eat.
posted by fromageball at 8:55 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think you need to start a campaign to get this guy fired for incompetence. Alas, you probably can't do so for creepiness at this point without him getting worse.

I think at this point I pretty much define creepy as "when you say no, he keeps on coming." He doesn't respect space or personal boundaries, he wants "in" with you and doesn't take no for an answer, and you feel like the air is being sucked out of the room when he comes over. You feel kind of passively stalked. And yes, it's usually by awkward weird guys who don't know social cues and you kind of feel sorry for them, and women are socialized to be nice no matter what, and technically he hasn't tried to like, physically grab you or anything yet, and you should be nice because he's obviously sad and lonely and you're being a bitch, but...you still don't want to breathe the dude's air.

That's already godawful to deal with at work every single day. But not knowing how to do anything on top of that? Man, it's time to work on getting him canned.

While I concur that this is generally Mean Girl Clique behavior and not okay and you can't really say no to dealing with him in the break room because it's public work space, dealing with creepers is a whole other story. If you're nice to them at all-- one friendly smile, one time you let them sit with you at lunch--it only encourages them to keep on coming and escalate their behavior because now he thinks he has friends/girlfriends.

I feel sorry for these folks, but you need to do the bare minimum possible to get along with them and otherwise AVOID AVOID AVOID. And eat lunch outside even if it's freezing. Or in the ladies' room, I don't know. But you can't exclude him from work public space, really, and he could probably complain to HR and get you all in trouble for it if he wanted.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:10 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I need advice on how to enforce my boundaries with a male coworker who would like to have more than a professional working relationship with my female coworkers and me. ... We hope we can do this in a way that is professional, as polite as possible, and will not affect how our managers and HR view our performance in terms of being good team players.

I realize that I did not answer your specific question.

We’ve been concerned about this since one of our managers recently took my coworker aside and asked her if we were making an effort to include the new guy and make him feel welcomed as part of the team.

This is what they want to see you doing, you can give this to them. If I were you, my way to protect myself in this situation would be make a visible, obvious, and quantifiable effort to "make him part of the team" in a PROFESSIONAL way. By quantifiable I mean doing things that can be measured, counted, and listed rather than subjective things like "being friendly to him."

And by "in a professional way" I mean always on work time and always relating entirely to work. *Never* relating to anything personal and *never* on personal time like a lunch break. Here are some random suggestions that may or many not work in your particular workplace: Can you hold regularly scheduled, 5 minute long "team huddles" in the morning to get aligned on that day's work? Or, can do you a version of that with "team emails" to kick off the day some mornings? Label the things you do with the word "team." For your usual emails, cc him on anything that would be appropriate for him to know about, with a note that it's an FYI for him. You can even do some faux friendship stuff - the key is, again, make it entirely on work hours and not at all outside-friendship related - like having a "team bulletin board" in the office that has all your names and pictures, and everyone can pin stuff on it. You can pin things on that have to do with your work-related interests. Just kind of really simple, easy things, that will at the same time not have him in your face too much. But things that you can list (in a very long and detailed list if need be) and you can cite how often you did them, for how long, and when.

If you come up with example of your own and do enough of them, I think this will totally protect you from the personal stuff and it should be very easy to say no to that. Just make sure it's entirely above reproach. With him, the key is not to argue and not to provide explanations for your "no" or too much detail. Explanations lead you open to challenge both from him and from managers. Just say, "It's very nice of you to offer, but I have to decline." If he presses, just ignore him. If he continues to press, say, "I am becoming extremely uncomfortable." If he keeps pressing, "I am very uncomfortable and don't wish to discuss this anymore." That's it, nothing further.

Now if the managers get involved, I would make it crystal clear to them how much effort I was making to include him as part of the team. That long long list. If they suggested something that would intrude into my personal life I would make it clear that I was shocked at the suggestion, that I go beyond a professional relationship with him to a personal one, that it was a strange and unexpected thing to be asked in the workplace. That it would be detrimental to our professional relationship and possibly inappropriate. I would use the following keywords: "Very uncomfortable" "importance maintaining a very professional relationship/workplace" "importance of maintaining a separation between personal and professional lives" "inappropriate." Again, what you can say depends on your workplace. But this is the sort of thing I mean by covering your ass and being above reproach.
posted by cairdeas at 9:15 PM on March 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


I agree that probably the solution with the least amount of problems is is to eat elsewhere; in other words, do what women have always had to do when men behave inappropriately.

This is your personal, unpaid time and you should not feel guilted into spending it entertaining an older man. From your description of "managers" and HR I am assuming this is a larger company, so it is not a case of six women giggling together while he sits alone at another table. Or am I misreading this and Everyone is on small team together and he is the sole person excluded in the lunchroom? Because yes, that does look bad.

What about asking your manager for a team meeting to re-balance your workload since you have a team member who should be approaching your level of competence? For the manager who asked about making the new guy feel welcome ask specifically what actions they are looking for.

This is a toughie, you have my sympathy.
posted by saucysault at 9:33 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Could you contact a mod, and make a clarification?

From my reading, I think a bunch of people are misreading the multiple "we's" used in your post.

Definition one being,
we - all of his coworkers,
and 'we' number two being, "a small group of female coworkers and I [that] have become good friends".

From the context used of 'small group', it implies that your group is a subset, and he has *other* co-workers.

I think many people have been misreading this, as, "all of his coworkers are ostracising him", which is more problematic, instead of, he only wants to hang out with the group of 20-something year old girls.
(And even if it is problematic, you still aren't required to be social outside of a .
Being a geeky girl who had been bullied, a socially naive/aspie-like teenager, with a very accepting social attitude, I've often been friends with people who came across like this. Some turned out ok, and appreciated a friend. But well, a *lot* of others?
It turned out those social red flags are there for a reason. Go figure. Creepy-creep-creepsters. At the worst, from arsonists, to pedophiles, and then all the dickish guys who no longer wanted to be friends with me, once they realised they weren't getting into my pants. Ridiculously manipulative.)

Or, y'know, maybe I'm wrong. For curiosities sake, it'd be helpful if you contacted a mod and explained that point so they could post it anonymously.


By this point, I think the thread is a bit of a write-off, because this far down, it'll be hard to get some good advice about how to give this guy the 'professional' brush off.
But no, you are not required to eat lunch with him, or be his friend. You are his workmate.
If you do have other workmates, I'd perhaps ask one of them to run interference for you. Get someone to invite him to sit at a table on the other side of the room. If he turns down the invitation, or keeps trying to hang out with you anyway, then you've got a lot more social justification to avoid him.
posted by Elysum at 10:04 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Should be:
...social outside of a professional working relationship.
posted by Elysum at 10:05 PM on March 22, 2012


NO - BECAUSE HE BLAMES YOU AND OTHERS FOR HIS MISTAKES!

This is classic behavior for someone who gets ahead by using others to do his work for him. Likely, he thinks if he butters you guys up and becomes friendly, you'll do his work for him.

DO NOT.

I can't understand all the folks picking on you and your work-mates. I recently posted a response to a similar question relating the experience an friend of mine just had - supposedly well qualified and older male "new hire" on a training experience tried to get the younger female admin employees and fellow younger female new-hires to do all of his work and exams for him.

I liked DevyMetal's email response. Keep your emails - this thing smells bad.

---

Play your cards right, as a group. Stop lunching together onsite! Stop appearing as a "group" at work.

Otherwise, keep it professional as you have been. If one of you gets pulled aside again, and you've already altered your habits - FUCK YEAH FORWARD HIS CREEPY EMAILS TO UPPER MANAGEMENT.

Don't editorialize about his performance, the email exchanges speak for themselves!

C'mon! Don't you know upper management already knows the guy can't do the job?? Don't help him cloud the field with his attempts to get personal with you guys. Take the high-road, document, pull the trigger when it gets out of hand.

Although, I think it is already pretty bad, since he didn't take polite and direct statements to heart which stated, "We enjoy working with you professionally, but we prefer to keep personal and professional separate."

- If I were you, I would PRAY he complains to higher-up's and HR. His emails out him as the creeper and opportunist that he is.

Stay to the high road. Disclose when it becomes necessary.

Remain calm. You're on the right side of things, here.
posted by jbenben at 10:43 PM on March 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


I feel you've done more than enough by bending over backwards trying to help creepy guy do a job he's almost certainly lied about being qualified for. I don't see why you need to spend your own personal time off the clock at lunch with him too. Many people need a break at lunch during the workday to unwind or it starts affecting their stress levels and feelings of sanity. Having lunch with him would not be a break for you. Plus, as others have said, it will escalate. On top of all that, the boss may well see you all having lunch together and think "well, I had my doubts about Mr. X, but the team seems to like him so much that he must be working out well...."

Women do not have to bend over backwards to accomodate creeps in order to avoid being seen as mean. Especialy who have probably lied their way into the workplace anyway - you and your boss have no idea who this guy even is if his resume is filled with lies. Aren't there any men in your workplace he could have lunch with?
posted by hazyjane at 11:49 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


OP, listen to your instincts. Ignore all these people telling you to make nice. Other people gave pretty good advice on how to clue your boss in to dude's lack of clue. You can put on a show for the boss, but don't encourage any more contact with this guy than necessary. Don't reward him in any way for continuing to pursue any kind of personal relationship with your group now that he's been told no. Don't say yes, ever, after having said no. No exceptions. Otherwise he'll probably get the idea that he can just bug you until you give in.

Some of the rest of you...

With about half of these comments it's really frightening how so many of you are looking for any chance to excuse this guy's behavior. You automatically jump to the conclusion that these women must be a bitchy clique set to ruin an innocent man's lunch break, like they're piling up furniture against the lunchroom door to keep out this most humble of men.

It's clear that these women are less Mean Girls and more of a friendly support network that simply has no room for this guy in their group. They're being professional while working, but on their lunch break - when they're probably not being paid - they're free to do whatever they want. They're not obligated to ask anyone to join them, especially not a backstabbing sleaze who gives them bad vibes.

It's no wonder women can't trust their instincts, we're told every day that we have to be nice to the creepy guy, talk to him in our spare time, invite him to lunch, let him sit next to us, include him in conversations about our personal lives, when it goes against our better nature. Why are we expected to expend so much effort to prove we're "nice girls" when it can so often have a very real detrimental effect on our lives? We should be able to be honest and say what we do and don't like rather than having to learn how to couch our words in inoffensive language so that we're not thought of as "aggressive" and "bitchy" and "cliquey".

I find it really striking that these seemingly competent women have to deal with a bumbling male coworker and they're the ones who are considered out of line. Not the guy, even though he's being an ass at work and being inappropriate about understanding the meaning of "no". I honestly believe that if this were a group of competent men having a conversation about a bumbling female coworker the "play nice" answers would have been the polar opposite (but potentially just as awful for other reasons).
posted by i feel possessed at 3:05 AM on March 23, 2012 [33 favorites]


People may be coming to this guy's defence because they can emphasise with being "the creepy guy". Especially towards men, "creepy" is frequently shorthand for lacking confidence and generally not being a REAL MAN. I'm not saying this is OP's attitude, more why people feel sympathy for this guy.

I can also heavily relate to his difficulties at work, as I've been in similar situations myself where I just don't pick things up as quickly as others. Turns out I have ADHD, which also makes me socially awkward.

Other people might be encouraging this guy , in or out of the workplace, to make the effort with people, to try harder to fit in which just ends up exacerbating the problem. As to his "pointing fingers at us to our managers before" he may see this as being the best way of dealing with workplace problems due to past experience.

All that said, I personally tend to avoid people at work and am over-cautious about coming across as a creepy, weirdo nuisance and OP deserves credit for wanting to handle this in a way that doesn't upset the guy.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 4:15 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry, this is so emphatically not a sexist thing. I have one of those less-common workplaces that is female and nerd-dominant. Meaning there are a lot of socially awkward women around. You know, it's not always the most pleasant thing to interact with those folks - particularly when you'd rather be having normal, non-stilted conversation with a closer co-worker. But if you're going to lunch and someone says "hey, I'll come", they come. No questions asked.

The workplace is not for bullshit re-enactments of high school. If the guy starts encroaching on your actual personal life - i.e. that time outside of 8am-5pm weekdays - then, enforce your boundaries. But at work, your time is not yours, and you're there to co-exist and work with your team. Full stop.
posted by downing street memo at 5:40 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait a minute. Regardless of workplace politics, the guy asks to join the ladies in a social setting, off the clock, is told "no", then presses the issue? If that's not inappropriate, I don't know what is! Does that mean it's also inappropriate for the girls to say no if he asked them out for drinks? Or on a date? Come on.

I'm a female working in a male-dominated environment where the men often hang out together and have formed their own little cliquey group. I wouldn't dream of asking to join them, nor would I want to. Reading a book or taking care of personal matters (i.e. wedding-planning related phone calls and such) is just fine by me!

It's not your responsibility to have lunch with the guy. In a professional setting, yes, it's part of your job to make the guy feel welcome. This is regardless of performance; any work-related issues should be addressed directly to your supervisor in a private setting, so s/he may address it with the employee in the proper manner.

Making someone feel welcome professionally can be difficult as a young female, because welcoming gestures may be misconstrued as flirtatious advances, even without intending it. Smile, but not too much. Talk strictly business.

Please bring up the work issues to your supervisor directly, and make sure s/he understands the training issues involved. The work related items need to be addressed immediately. As for the social issues, you're required to be polite, nothing else.
posted by Verdandi at 5:46 AM on March 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can only speak for myself, but I don't think the issue here is people saying that the OP is wrong to feel that this guy is off, or that we are somehow sympathizing with him. My position is that lunch in the office break room does not count as out-of-work time, and that if any co-worker says "can I join you" while you are eating lunch in the office, you have to say yes. The solution to divulging personal details you don't want to share with him is to share those details with your friends on your own time, but when you're at work, to treat all of your co-workers as co-workers.

Anyway, the reason I'm saying this is that I think it will "affect how our managers and HR view our performance in terms of being good team players." This is the OP's expressed concern, that and being professional (and maintaining boundaries concerning her personal life). Look at the split of opinions in this thread. Especially since management hired him, the odds are good that management will view this the way a lot of people in the thread are -- that the OP and her colleagues aren't being professional and team players when the new guy isn't welcome to join them when they are having lunch at the office in the common areas.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:07 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Setting aside the question of whether it might have been a nice gesture to try initially including the guy, I agree that it is inappropriate for him to pressing you to join you and your group of female friends at lunch after being told no repeatedly and, it sounds like, with increasing directness. That shows a lack of respect for others' boundaries and comfort levels. His persistence at being socially included in your regular lunch group has crossed the line into something that makes multiple people uncomfortable at work, which makes it inappropriate for the workplace.

I, too, am a creep magnet, and I do think that many women unfortunately are more vulnerable to these situations than men. So I'm sure that the ways by which different people would deal with this will probably vary, due partially to individual experiences.

I can only speak for myself. It's amazing what being stalked, followed home, or otherwise harassed a few times can do to make you more protective of your boundaries and more attentive to that uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. Since your coworker has shown this kind of socially-oblivious, boundary-pushing behavior, if I were in your shoes I would endeavor to be polite, distant, and professional with this person. Period. No confrontation, no social encouragement. I like the aforementioned idea of keeping a weekly list of your activities and including his continued training on there as applicable--that keeps it about you rather than him, but also establishes a record for your supervisor. Frankly, I too would consider moving the lunch location...not just to assuage the awkwardness, but also to make sure that this creepy guy wasn't eavesdropping on conversations that contained details about my personal life.
posted by anonnymoose at 6:14 AM on March 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Being stalked, followed home, and otherwise harassed a few times, and agreeing that this guy is creepy, doesn't also lead me to agree that it's okay to refuse to interact with him in the workspace.

I think it's curious that he asked you in email. I wonder if management ordered him to improve his relationship with his coworkers and gave "eat lunch with them" as an example of that.

This question is triggering from me in both directions. Some years ago, I applied for a junior position and was hired, only to be switched into a senior position at the last minute. When I protested that I wasn't ready for a senior role and had not applied for one, I was told not to have such low self-esteem. I felt I had no option but to do the task set before me because I'd been out of work for a long time. I was then placed into a project that used a large, complex, and multifaceted skillset I didn't have and had never claimed to have, and which at that time was poorly documented such that there was no reliable set of websites or book I could lay my hands on to get up to speed on every aspect of it fast enough. Turns out they'd just assumed I knew it. Floundering, I asked my manager if he had any tips about the fastest way to learn my new skillset, and he told me there wasn't a way to learn, you just had to know it.

I tell this story because I can easily imagine my then-colleagues perceiving that I had lied in my CV in just the way you perceive that your colleague has lied. I also remember going along with my colleagues to lunch and essentially being left to walk ten paces behind as though I weren't with them. I felt so hated. This is what is leading me to feel sympathy for this guy because if this has happened to me, it could have happened to someone else.

On the other hand, I don't think this is what is going on. I think he probably did lie about his qualifications, because I've also worked with people who did that and I know full well some people fabricate entire career histories out of whole cloth. More importantly, you have ample grounds for thinking that he's lied about his qualifications so you'd have to be an idiot not to consider that he did lie. And someone who would lie about his qualifications is capable of a whole lot worse. So I fully understand why you have talked about his work performance because it is evidence that he is pretending to be someone he's not and is, therefore, relevant to the case you're making that he's creepy.

I therefore fully understand that you don't want to have lunch with him. You should not want to have lunch with him. You should be able to avoid him as much as you feel you need to for your own safety.

There are, however, a number of distinctions between the personal and the professional that aren't being made carefully enough here. Your lunch break is your personal time, but the company breakroom is professional space and not your personal space. Therefore, the fact that he wants to eat lunch with you in the company breakroom is not an example of his trying to extend his relationship with you beyond the professional. Also, every interaction you have in the workplace you need to see as a professional interaction. I am no longer trusting enough to cultivate personal friendships at work, other people might be, but if I did I would draw a distinction between what I talk about with them on work premises and what I talked about with them in the pub after work. This is what's problematic about telling someone they can't join you in the company lunchroom because you're talking about personal stuff. This is why the people telling you that excluding him is cliquey and unprofessional, are right. Another dangerous aspect of this is the topics of your conversation - if I were you I'd be thinking about what kind of intelligence gathering he could be planning to engage in or already have engaged in. I'd also be worried about what kind of intelligence gathering my work friends could engage in, which is another reason to keep in mind that the company lunchroom is a professional and not a personal space.

I can only suggest that you follow the advice to occasionally gather a bunch of people to go and eat lunch together and include this guy. To CYA in case he is starting a documentation trail, I would ask the whole department via mass e-mail rather than by going down the corridor and asking people in person. That way you remain professional and don't have to fold him into situations you consider personal. You don't go back on your "no" (since what he asked was to join in your girly girl-talk) and you also don't exclude him. I also suggest that you follow the advice to document your daily activities and file Creep under "Training". This maintains a record of how high-maintenance he is without accusing anyone. If you are not already having weekly 1-1 meetings with your manager, you should initiate them and have a routine where you go through your list of activities for the week.
posted by tel3path at 7:01 AM on March 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm sorry you have to deal with all this, OP.

Here's my two cents. Try to reduce the amount of time and effort you spend helping him with work. If you're doing something for him that he should be able to do himself, I suggest you stop doing that entirely; it's his job to do his job. Help him as little as possible if you think he's really incompetent, because that's not what your company pays you to do. People will start to figure out that he's not right for this position and then you won't have to deal with him anymore.

As for the social aspect...I have to assume that your intuition is sharp. I think you should refuse to engage in any private communications that aren't about work, e.g. that sad request to join your lunch circle. Be professional and enforce your boundaries. Unfortunately, it sounds like you're gonna be obliged to be a little "mean" (mean in the sense that enforcing boundaries while female is considered "mean") because he's being obnoxious. There's nothing wrong with being open about not wanting attention when someone else is putting you on the spot like that.
posted by clockzero at 7:52 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


All of this is a drain on our time and we have heavy workloads of our own to manage. He also reacts poorly to criticism from our managers, and is not above deflecting blame onto coworkers (when we have done nothing but try to help him).

You should be documenting - with date and time, in writing - every instance of his drains on your time and bad reactions/scapegoating. Keep it private, but handy and up-to-date.
posted by mediareport at 8:12 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is sticky because eating lunch in the company breakroom blurs the work/non-work distinction.

To navigate this while maintaining boundaries, you have a few options (not all of which are good):

(1) Stop eating lunch in the company lunchroom--you've indicated that's not viable.

(2) Include him in your lunches in the company lunchroom--also not a viable option.

(3) Keep saying "no" and exclude him from lunches in the company lunchroom while trying to politely explain that you want some time with just your current group of friends.

(4) Make a point to invite him and other people to have lunch off-site some of the time, maybe once every two weeks. Combine this with some version of (3), and explain that your group wants to continue to have your lunches by yourselves, but you really hope he can join you when you all go out next Friday.

(5) Have fewer lunches in the company lunchroom--try to find cheap places to eat once a twice a week, or find a way to eat lunch outside that isn't as cold, like taking sandwiches with you on a walk or something. Hard to know how viable that is. But the idea would be that you cut down on the times you're in the lunchroom and combine that with ensuring that everyone in the group has an invitation to go out together once or twice a month.

Some hard realities are that it looks as if he likes your group a lot more than you like him, and he's not picking up on the cues that you all don't want him around on your breaks. That means you risk hurting his feelings by being more direct. I think at some point you might have to tell him, "We like to eat lunch by ourselves." Another hard reality is that while no one can force you to be friends with your co-workers, you will also be evaluated in some respects by how you act toward your co-workers, and if you are deliberately isolating yourselves from him, this may wind up reflecting poorly on you. Even if that's not really that fair to you, that's the way it is. So I can appreciate that you're in a very difficult situation, but at the end of the day you might have to make a choice between eating with him when you'd rather not and having people at work perceive you as exclusive and unfriendly.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:32 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait a minute. Regardless of workplace politics, the guy asks to join the ladies in a social setting, off the clock, is told "no", then presses the issue? If that's not inappropriate, I don't know what is! Does that mean it's also inappropriate for the girls to say no if he asked them out for drinks? Or on a date? Come on.

I think part of the difference of opinions in this situation comes from some people thinking that the lunch hour is not part of the work day. If OP's group is staying in the common lunch room during the lunch hour, then while it may be unpaid time, they are still expected to be in professional mode. It is still part of the work day.

In a perfect world they could tell the guy to fuck off and he would leave them alone, but it doesn't sound like that is going to fly here, especially if members of the group have already been taken aside and spoken with about making the guy feel included.
posted by fromageball at 8:50 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"That will not be possible"

If you are making documented attempts to help him with his work, but don't want to have lunch with him, I don't see the problem with telling your manager:

"We go out of our way to help him with his projects and work (show documentation), but feel it would be inappropriate for him to interact personally with us on our breaks. We would like to keep the relationship professional"

At most places I have worked, your break/lunch is personal time no matter where you take it. If you were shunning him while working, then yes, that would be an issue, but that doesn't seem to be what is happening here.

I have never had a boss say "make sure you interact with so-and-so on your break/lunch". You are not and should not be required to give him whatever social attention he asks for just because he doesn't feel welcome enough on break time.

Your right to feel safe/comfortable during personal time > him feeling included, and you are allowed to say that to HR if asked. It is not at all unreasonable.
posted by Shouraku at 9:21 AM on March 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am ASTOUNDED at most of the responses in this thread. I, personally, spent a chunk of my life being a weird, socially awkward, shunned guy - it's called high school. And coming from that background, I can unequivocally say - THIS GUY IS A CREEP, KEEP HIM AWAY.

This isn't about some lonely but otherwise perfectly nice fellow who just isn't up to the poster's tough standards of coolness - he is an absolute prick, treating everyone in the workplace like an asshole, demonstrating flagrant incompetence that flies in the face of his 'credentials', and blaming others for his failures. THEN, after being just about as shitty as a coworker can be, he starts creeping around and trying to jam himself into other people's personal conversations, and persists after being politely rebuffed? FUCK THAT.

The poster isn't holding the entire lunchroom hostage, there are multiple tables. The creep is specifically asking for a formal invitation to sit right up in their business and make everything as spectacularly awful as possible, after behaving like a total douche in every single other facet of work-interaction.

DEFINITELY shut him out, and if he continues weirdness in any other fashion that makes you increasingly uncomfortable, report the SHIT out of him. You have no obligation to make your own sphere of existence miserable just to accommodate creepy assholes.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:38 AM on March 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


"...we don’t want to pre-emptively speak to our managers or HR about him, because he really hasn’t done anything worth reporting..."

Au contrair! You have quite the litany that any manager worth their salt should be very interested in knowing about:
"...despite extensive experience and impressive qualifications in this field, he has no clue how to do the work. He has difficulty grasping simple, basic concepts that should have been second nature to someone with his credentials. He is very, very slowly coming along, but he is developing at the pace of someone who has never done this kind of work before.
We have tried to be patient with him, and we help him whenever he asks for it, but he doesn’t take advice well. He is stubborn, defensive, and argumentative. He has a tendency to demand our help before he has given any critical thought to the issue he is having, and omits or misstates crucial details when relaying his problems to us. He misinterprets instructions and suggestions in perplexing ways. He often doesn’t understand why his mistakes are mistakes. He needs to be taught simple administrative tasks repeatedly before he retains them.
"


You have justification for why this has become reportable:
"All of this is a drain on our time and we have heavy workloads of our own to manage."

You have a reason for why you have waited this long to report it and why you will be going to such lengths to offer an accurate report:
"He also reacts poorly to criticism from our managers, and is not above deflecting blame onto coworkers (when we have done nothing but try to help him)."

You'll need to do a couple of extra things before shouting it up, though, because of this:
"...and we don’t want to escalate this unnecessarily or come across as a bunch of hysterical women."

Gods, this sucks, doesn't it? What you'll each need to do is document, document, document.

Use any word processing software you like that has timestamps for creation and modification inherent to the properties (Word or notepad, whatever) and note the issue presented by co-worker and the time spent explaining/solving/directing, then type out the date/time and save it. Make it a numbered list. If it's a repeated issue, note the prior number(s) in the list. Do this each time this happens, but not when he's at your workstation. Again, you each need to do this.

After a suitable period of time for examples to accrue, tell your manager you'd appreciate some time to make them aware of a growing performance issue that's impacting team productivity and effectiveness (you can tailor this to the culture of your org). Then approach it like, "[succinct version of litany with no tangents], [examples], [justification], [reason you waited until now]." The manager may ask if anyone else will have similar feedback, but, if not, you can say something like, "we felt weird doing this, but we wanted to document why our efficiency was going down; you can talk to [names of co-workers with recorded examples] for their experience."

The manager should be savvy enough to take interest in this and observe the co-worker more closely while also requiring him to take less of your time, but that might not happen. So, ask how you can best prioritise your time between your workload and the co-worker's requests and do that, how much longer the co-worker should be given to adapt to his tasks, and what you should do if his demands maintain their current pace after that point. Again, you're positioning this (rightfully) as protecting your own efficiency.

There is a possibility that you might gain more traction by having everyone who has examples meet with the manager at once, but you're a better judge of your work culture and would know how doable that would be. Consider it, though, so the manager doesn't have to chase everyone down. If you do meet in a group, pick one person to do the summary, go through examples factually and without tangents, and divide up the take-away questions so each person gets a chance to extract part of the forward plan.

No matter what, I'd continue to track his requests as a back-up metric to support any reduction to your own efficiency and negate any claims he may have of not receiving help.

Having all of the impacted team members following the same plan will be invaluable at actually getting something done.

I hope he's not some treasured bit of nepotism, as that could complicate things. If your manager is unresponsive but your work begins to suffer and/or the creepiness heightens at all, you should consider going to HR. Documentation of incidents will be very important if you do reach that stage, so take that part seriously.

No matter what happens: good luck!
posted by batmonkey at 11:39 AM on March 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I suspect that the most profitable way for you to deal with this is also rather counterintuitive. I'm thinking that the best way to manage with feeling uncomfortable when he's around during break times is to actually respond to his conversational gambits. This gives you a little more control over conversation flow, and might actually make the interaction with him rewarding.

The benefits of opening up mean it's easier to say "no, I'm afraid you'll need to work on that yourself, I'm busy doing X" when he asks you for help, and it'll mean that if he does have the intention to overstep boundaries, this will happen in a more explicit fashion: if he's thinking creeper's thoughts, speaking to him will mean that there will be something in writing to report. If he's not a creeper, then you'll be reassured on that side.

It's a situation which I can't evaluate, and most of MeFi's jumped down on either side, but I think that turning yourself to face his behaviour and either stare it down or find out it's OK would be the easiest solution.
posted by ambrosen at 12:32 PM on March 23, 2012


This is not about being a woman, or being a dude, being older, being younger, any of that. If you make it about that, you are being unprofessional. Part of working is learning to operate in with lots of different kinds of people in lots of different kinds of ways. The lunch issue and the attitude issue are two wholly different things, and from my experience being able to efficiently manuever these kinds of situations will get you far.

Graciously allowing him to sit with you and his other COWORKERS in your shared lunch space is just plainly appropriate. It is not invinting any abuse. If you all sit together in the break room and he also takes lunch there it is beyond rude to purposefully exclude him.

This doesnt' mean you have to be buds, or confidants, or anything of the sort. Its work. If you would like to leave the office for lunch, do it, you have no obligation to invite or alert him. Some people don't see how being what you interpret as jerky translates into people not wanting to eat lunch with them. Its obvious to you, but the fact is, its not obvious to him.

So that takes cares of the lunch room thing. Do it or you will be perceived as a bunch of mean girls.

Next is the buisness side of things, if he can't figure something out and you've already showed him, don't help him again. Just say, "I'm sorry, but I'm swamped. Can you just look up that email I sent you about how to do that last week?" You didn't email him? Start. This is handy handy documentation! Can you talk to your boss? Do you have lots of managers, its unclear. If they approached you about welcoming him, take that as a big sign that you need to communicate with everyone a little better. If he is having trouble w adminitrative/work flow issues, maybe there is a way to demonstrate this. See if there is a procedures manual around and give it to him. Do you have to document time spent on different projects? Put "15% of time spent getting Bob up to speed" This will look you are an awesome team player, but when they see that line item month after month, they will worry that see that dear old Bob just isn't getting it.

So, as you see, you got to do what you got to do. Create an absolutely unassailable image for yourself by being seen doing all the "right" things but also making sure that you are documenting where your productiveness is taking a hit becasue of a poor hire. Remember, this isn't personal, this is business.
posted by stormygrey at 1:01 PM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Letting him participate in your lunch discussions also opens up a way for him to have more information that could be used to blame you for his lack of knowledge and/or professional skills in the workplace.

Even if he was a shining rock star in his career path, he's creepy, period. As others have suggested, document, document document. Don't go after him with a pitchfork, just be as cordial and professional as possible and let him dig his own hole.

I say this as someone who will be cordial and polite with someone that I work with, even if I hate their guts and despise their very existence. If there's a "group lunch" with the members of a department or such going on (where the company is buying), sure, I'll sit across the table from them and make small talk about non-work-related subjects. Doesn't mean I'm going to invite them along or strike up a conversation while waiting for fresh coffee.

(disclaimer: I am a late 30s white male in the IT industry)
posted by mrbill at 2:57 PM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with everybody above who thinks that this guy is dodgy in one way or the other. Unfortunately, regarding the lunch thing, he has he upper hand. In every company I worked for the unspoken rule seemed to be that as long as you are on company premises, you are available/approachable by everybody. Even on your own time (and, if your lunch break is not included in the number of hours/week you are expected to work, you are on your own time). Actually, particularly on your own time, and some companies actively encouraged interaction with all co-workers in your down time. Basically, you had to show yourself to be a "team player" in the most inane and irrelevant sort of ways, or else you had a black mark against your name (I did end up with a black mark, but that was OK as far as I was concerned - I needed that lunch break like water).

My worry is therefore that this guy is about to set you up quite badly. He already blames you/your co-workers for his incompetence, your work is suffering, and you already have been told off by management for excluding him. And now he has written documentation to prove that he is excluded!

And management seems to be really weird about this. As I understand it, the situation is this:

- you all have worked there for a while, and proved yourselves to be good workers (good enough to sort of mentor this much older, ostensibly more experienced person). New guy comes in, is clueless and sucks up a lot of your time. Does management not get involved? Why are they not aware of this? And if they are, why don't they do something about it? Did the guy go through a formal training period? Are you/one of you explicitly his mentor? Can you talk to management about how your own work-load should be adjusted, given that you now regularly have this extra task? Etc. Sounds like you are all female (helpers) to his male trainee, as it were, and from your post I get the sense that he is more readily credited/listened to than you. I don't want to invent gender issues where there might be none (even if I read this correctly, it might be that management favours him because of superficial/apparent qualifications - he is more qualified and experienced than you, at least on paper, so he gets more credence). Either way, do you feel there is something to this?

- you take a lot of time out of working on your own tasks to help new guy, and yet you get approached by management to include him more. Again, is your manager aware that you spend a lot of time helping him out? Should they be aware, even if they have no explicit knowledge (say, they can see you talking to him frequently etc)? Why exactly did the inclusion issue come up, and in what context? How come your manager considered bringing this up with you guys - did new guy complain?

- new guy does a lot of blame-shifting when called on stuff by management. How do you know this? Did management bring it up with you? Did someone overhear him say it? Is it maybe obvious from how management have approached you lately on occasion that they thought
some problem or the other was due to you?

etc. Basically, the point here is not just your new co-worker, who does indeed seem extremely aggravating (without crossing a clear-cut line, at least not yet, as you have pointed out as well), but also that management seems a bit asleep at the wheel on this one. Maybe they cannot be bothered with this whole situation, and deal with it via the first clichee that springs to mind with no need to be mindful about the whole thing - bunch of "mean girls" versus new guy, girls without much experience versus very qualified experienced guy etc. Or maybe it's just a problem of poor communication practices which this guy exploits, consciously or not.

I also agree with other posters that it would probably be best in the long run to become active about this issue, since nobody else besides new guy seems to be at this time. I'd do this on 2 fronts: 1. inclusion issue and 2. taking time away from your own work to train/help this guy. You've got really, really good advice on both above, some of it very detailed. Oh, and yes, document everything.

So what I'd do next: write a letter to management which is very diplomatic and worded just so, in which you propose one team lunch a week in the cafeteria. Make it explicit that this is related to the need to be more inclusive. Mention other team-strengthening activities which could be included in the team;s routine (weekly catch-up meeting during which you can discuss the week's tasks and potential support needs - you can use this space to discreetly draw attention to the fact that new guy still needs an inordinate amount of support; some other of the activities proposed in this thread, or others, about which you can brainstorm with your friends during lunch), and maybe offer to organize them with your friends. Depending on what team activities you decide upon, organizing could be fairly low-grade - send an email reminder re. team lunch, maybe the venue if it's not the company's cafeteria. For team-meetings - maybe at the start of the working week, each team member can take it in turns to lead the meeting, one of you takes notes (just "activity", "person responsible", "supported by", time-frame), which can then be updated with "comments" and "status" on Friday and saved to a dedicated folder. Once you have the system set up, meeting and notes should not take more than 30 mins a week, unless you're a very big team. Etc. - Basically, write to your manager with some ideas of how the team as a whole can be more inclusive of each of its members, and present it as something your group of friends have thought about in order to strengthen professional bonds between team members etc.

I think this has some distinct advantages besides weakening the accusations re. not being inclusive enough. The most important ones are that it might open lines of communication with management which don't seem to exist, and secondly, if your manager agrees to your proposal, you do gain CV-worthy points - you can add a host of team-building activities to your skills and achievements, which may well come in very handy further down the line.

The second topic I would address in my very diplomatically worded mail to my manager is the training issue. I don't know how formalized your training this guy was, but it seems to me that it is time management knew just how much time is spent on him - otherwise you may well find yourself called on your slipping output, and if you then try to defend yourself it will look like blame-shifting. So, in addition to the team-building/team-inclusion, I'd say that you also would like some advice on how to balance your own work-load with the new training/support task, and maybe guidance on how to formalize the process a bit. Prepare a plan for training, based on your past experience. Make a list of all the support activities you engage in on a regular basis - introduction to process x or software y etc., refresher sessions for all of the stuff you have already introduced new guy to etc. Note the average amount of time these activities take up in your week, and re-state your objective to balance the time needs of your usual tasks and these new ones. Propose a way of integrating these mini-training sessions into your work week. Make sure your tone is absolutely neutral - you are not trying to dig a hole for new guy, you are just asking for guidance on these issues. Again, I think there are several potential positives to this approach - formalizing the training and re-adjusting your task load means less stress over not being able to perform properly on your actual job description. Also, if you have a documented exchange between you and a manager which officially entrusts you with training & support that is something that can later go into your CV (and for this purpose I would document more interesting example/training sessions etc - it's always good to be able to reach back to real stuff when demonstrating your skills/experience). If you are not, in fact, supposed to spend so much time helping this guy, this is a good way to let your manager know what is going on (in the absence of more normal lines of communication) and for him/her to set the record straight re. how much autonomy this guy should have gained by now.

This is all a bit passive-aggressive, but I feel you are not really left with a choice: new guy is both rather creepy and will potentially undermine you (consciously or not - I mean, he is already doing it), and management is sloppy, at least on this issue. Together, these two facts might add up to a lot of stress, tension and even damage to your career with this employer, unless you manage the situation well. Don't blow him off in writing any more, unless you can be sure that he will go to places that are clearly considered inappropriate/ harassment by HR. Unfortunately, in many workplaces what matters is not what actually happens, but rather how the situation comes across and if you have legally actionable evidence to substantiate your complaints. Good luck.
posted by miorita at 12:21 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've made a couple of comments earlier that were sort of sympathetic to this guy, but one other thing has occurred to me after reading the excellent suggestions to bring this up to your supervisor.

I've found, with almost 100% reliability, that when something or someone really bothers me, it is really bothering everyone else too.

Sometimes, though, it takes someone bringing up the noisome behavior to get it out in the open, to burst the bubble of people's reflexive toleration of, and adjustment to, someone's obnoxiousness. Often when nobody is being outspoken about a problem, they assume the people in power are okay with the problem.

I think it's wrong to freeze the guy out in the lunchroom. And I think gritting your teeth and sort of tolerating him can sometimes result in him suddenly "getting" the culture and not being so weird (I have seen weird, abrasive people somehow integrated into office settings when people were kind and tolerant ... and suddenly the weird person isn't so weird.)

But anyway, I agree that bringing this up to management is a great suggestion and will likely result in the resolution of this problem.
posted by jayder at 9:34 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seems like getting him fired for being utterly incompetent for his job is killing two birds with one stone, and neatly sidesteps the issue of him being creepy and unpleasant to be around.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:05 AM on March 26, 2012


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