A reader writes:
I am the manager of a customer service team of about 10-12 members. Most of the team members are right out of school and this is their first professional job and their ages range from 22-24. I am about 10 years older than all of my employees. We have a great team and great working relationships. They all do great work and we have established a great team culture.
Well, a couple of months ago, I noticed something odd that my team (and other employees in the building) started doing. They would see each other in the hallways or break room and say “quack quack” like a duck. I assumed this was an inside joke and thought nothing of it and wrote it off as playful silliness or thought I perhaps missed a moment in a recent movie or TV show to which the quacks were referring.
Fast forward a few months. I needed to do some printing and our printer is in a room that can be locked by anyone when it is in use (our team often has large volumes of printing they need to do and it helps to be able to sort things in there by yourself, as multiple people can get their pages mixed up and it turns into a mess). The door had been locked the entire day and this was around noon, and the manager I have the key to the door in case someone forgot to unlock it when they left. I walked in, and there were two of my employees on the couch in the copier room having sex. I immediately closed the door and left.
This was last week and as you can imagine things are very awkward between the three of us. I haven’t addressed the situation yet because of a few factors: This was during both of their lunch hours. They were not doing this on the clock (they had both clocked out, I immediately checked). We have an understanding that you can go or do anything on your lunch that you want, as long as you’re back after an hour. Also, as you mentioned in your answer last week to the person who overheard their coworker involved in “adult activities,” these people are adults and old enough to make their own choices.
But that’s not the end of the story. That same day, after my team had left, I was wrapping up and putting a meeting agenda on each of their desks for our meeting the next day. Out in broad daylight on the guys desk (one of the employees I had caught in the printing room) was a piece of paper at the top that said “Duck Club.” Underneath it, it had a list of locations of places in and around the office followed by “points.” 25 points – president’s desk, 10 points – car in the parking lot, 20 points – copier room, etc.
So here is my theory about what is going on (and I think I am right). This “Duck Club” is a club people at work where people get “points” for having sex in these locations around the office. I think that is also where the quacking comes into play. Perhaps this is some weird mating call between members to let them know they want to get some “points” with the other person, and if they quack back, they meet up somewhere to “score.” The two I caught in the copier room I have heard “quacking” before.
I know this is all extremely weird. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write you because of how weird this seems (plus I was a little embarrassed). I have no idea what to do. As I mentioned above, they weren’t on the clock when this happened, they’re all adults, and technically I broke a rule by entering the copier room when it was locked, and would have never caught them if I had obeyed that rule. The only company rule I can think of that these two broke is using the copier room for other purposes, preventing someone else from using it.
I would love to know your opinion on this. I tend to want to sweep it under the rug because I’m kind of a shy person and would be extremely embarrassed to bring it up.
The bad news is that I think you’re really, really off-base in how you’re looking at this.
This is not at all like last week’s letter about the coworker who had sex in a private hotel room after work hours. This is people having sex in the office while people around them are working. It’s not okay. It doesn’t matter if they were on a break or that the door was locked and you weren’t supposed to walk in. It’s totally, utterly unacceptable, and you absolutely cannot sweep it under the rug.
You don’t need to be able to point to a specific rule in order to be able to say a particular behavior isn’t acceptable. You’ll never be able to think of everything you need a rule for, and you definitely don’t want to work somewhere that attempts that. It’s enough to say that you expect people people to behave professionally and exercise common sense. And it’s perfectly acceptable to take people to task — or you know, fire them — for having sex in the office during work hours. (Or outside of work hours, for that matter, but it’s particularly egregious that it was during work hours, with people around.)
You’ve got to talk to them, and very soon. By putting it off, you’re signaling that you’re okay with it. You need to tell them in no uncertain terms that what you saw was unacceptable and never to happen again, and you need to take that sheet you found at the printer and find out what on earth is going on with that — and put a clear and direct stop to it too.
I would call them both into your office and say this: “I should have addressed this with you the day it happened, but I’ve been so shocked that this would happen in our office that I’ve been trying to think about what I can possibly say to you. What I walked in on the other day is unacceptable. You cannot under any circumstances engage in sexual behavior in this office. Doing that during that work day when coworkers are around — regardless of whether or not you were clocked in — is wildly unprofessional, and gives me serious pause about your judgment and professionalism.”
You also need to talk to your other team members, since you have reason to think that people are having sex all over your office. For points.
But before doing that — and in fact, possibly before talking to the two employees who you caught in the act — you need to talk to your own manager about all of this. This is messed up enough that any good manager would want to know about it and have input into how it’s being handled (or at least be in the loop about how it’s being handled).
I get that you’re embarrassed to have to talk to people about this at all. But you have to. It’s going to be far, far more embarrassing if your manager finds out at some point that you knew about this and said nothing. You will look complicit and you will look like you shared in your staff’s bad judgment.
You also probably need to take a look at who’s on your team, whether they belong there, and what kind of culture is in place that has allowed them to think this is (a) reasonable and (b) something that you wouldn’t notice. It is absolutely true that when you have a team of 10+ people who are all in their first professional job, weird pack behavior can develop. But part of your job as a manager is to shape your culture and your team’s understanding of professionalism. If it’s turned into a sex club, that’s a sign that you need to revisit all of this.