A reader writes:
I work in HR for an insurance firm and have been called in to deal with a dispute that erupted on the contact centre center floor between two agents over a social media incident where an agent looked at another person’s screen “without consent.”
Both are early 20-somethings a good 15 years younger than my children, so I’m feeling a little out of depth as this is the first time I’ve dealt with anything like this with the social media element. I’ve been briefed on the situation by the team leader of the two agents who pieced together what happened from talking to them, people who saw the incident and what he himself saw.
Two agents in a team have been involved in a relationship for a couple of years. We’ll call them Sophie and Matt. From what I have been informed, Sophie and Matt are generally not too gross, but often do things like handholding/kissing each others hands/foreheads when sitting next to each other.
This is what they were doing last week when another agent (we’ll call her Charlotte) was sitting next to Matt. Sophie was coming over to his desk constantly throughout the day.
While on her work computer, Charlotte went on Facebook and wrote something to the accord of “people who can’t go a couple of hours without being all over their boyfriend are pathetic and gross. I can’t wait for this day to be over so I no longer feel the need to vomit.” She also sent a message through our internal messaging program to two of her good friends (Aaron and Nathan) saying “Sophie and Matt are about two seconds away from banging right here, I’m going to be ill.” About six colleagues liked the status, and Aaron and Nathan replied to the chat with messages agreeing that Sophie and Matt’s PDA is gross. (Sophie/Matt and Charlotte are not friends and don’t have each other added on their accounts.)
Sophie saw this on Charlotte’s screen and got furious at Charlotte about it. Based on the way monitors are set up, Sophie would have had to intentionally made a point of looking at Charlotte’s screen to notice it.
Charlotte told Sophie that she shouldn’t have been looking at her screen and that if she chooses to invade someone else’s privacy by reading their screen, she can’t complain if she doesn’t like what she sees. Sophie said that in a workplace, that rule “doesn’t exist” and that what Charlotte wrote “wasn’t very nice and she should be ashamed.” Charlotte replied that “*you* should be ashamed….because honestly, what I said is what everyone is thinking” and then they ended up in a shouting match about it. Charlotte apparently was particularly irate with the yelling.
I honestly don’t know how to handle this.
Charlotte wasn’t doing anything wrong by being on Facebook as the company allows the “reasonable” use of Facebook provided it does not interfere with working duties. Charlotte was not on a call at the time she sent the message/wrote the status. I think regardless of what you think about Facebook use and work, if the company says it is okay, I can’t get mad at Charlotte for being on Facebook.
But the rest is where it gets murky. Generally speaking, I do agree with Charlotte in that if you read something that isn’t intended for you or look over someone’s shoulder, you don’t really have the right to be mad if you don’t like what you see, but this was also in a workplace where the computers are generally accepted to be for working use, and I don’t know if that complicates it. Sophie is also saying what Charlotte did is “bullying.” There is nothing in the company policy that really covers an issue like this. Charlotte’s post is a bit of a grey area because it didn’t call out Sophie and Matt by name, but it was clear who she was talking about … but it was also intended for Charlotte’s friends, not Sophie and Matt.
If Charlotte wrote the status at 9 p.m. that night, it wouldn’t really be a work issue. Sophie is also upset with Aaron and Nathan for agreeing with Charlotte … but I feel I don’t have much to go in on them for when they just agreed with Charlotte, unless, of course, something should be said about them using the internal chat to talk crap about a colleague. But at the same time, that feels a bit like elementary school and trying to force everyone to be friends. I don’t want to venture into the territory of forcing everyone to be friends and policing conversations and opinions among friendship groups.
I also can see where Charlotte is coming from in that I also detest PDA and agree the office is not really the place for it, so I’m worried I’m getting a little biased towards Charlotte’s annoyance at them.
So. What is your take on this one? I have no idea how to handle it.
Good lord, are you managing teenagers?
First of all, you don’t need to sort out all these complicated threads. You can just tell everyone involved that you expect them to act professionally and civilly toward colleagues and that anything else is unacceptable.
As part of that, tell Sophie and Matt that they need to stop the PDA — 100% cut it out. This is an office, not a social event, and it’s inappropriate for them to be kissing each other’s forehands or hands at work (eeewww, just writing about that happening in an office is grossing me out). It’s entirely reasonable for you to say to them that they need to stop the physical contact while they’re at work; it’s distracting to and uncomfortable for others and doesn’t belong in an office. The fact that they’re dating doesn’t give them leeway to engage in behavior that wouldn’t be appropriate for anyone else. Surely they can handle not touching while they’re at work, but if they can’t, have them sit separately and tell them to stop visiting with each other during the day. (And seriously, for the comfort of your other employees, you really need have this conversation.)
Also, tell Charlotte that if she has an issue with a coworker, you expect her to resolve it by talking to that person directly (or to you if it’s serious enough), not complain behind their backs. And tell her that she has no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding her computer screen at work, particularly when she works in a room full of other people.
Tell both Charlotte and Sophie that yelling at coworkers is unacceptable, can’t happen again, and they’re expected to deal with disagreements with colleagues like adults. You’re not going to referee this kind of thing, and you’re not going to get into the details. Their personal feelings toward each other are their business, but when they’re at work, you expect them to behave professionally. Period.
That’s it. Don’t get distracted by the fact that some of this involved social media, or who liked whose Facebook status. Spell out your expectations for professional behavior, hold them to it, and don’t get sucked into the adolescent details here.
And possibly hire more more mature people? Even if the role tends to attract young candidates, there are plenty of people in that age group who don’t behave this way.