my coworker went through my trash can to get me in trouble

A reader writes:

I recently started on with a new company where the office/corporate culture is really negative but my director is amazing – he was the reason I accepted the position. I have been been there only three weeks, but it has quickly become apparent that several people in my department (small office, seven total on my team) do not like me! These women (late 20s, early 30s) are catty and unprofessional, seemingly for no reason whatsoever.

I also started at the same time with someone who I have built a rapport with and both of us have shared our concerns about the environment we work in.

During a conference call last Friday, fellow “new person” and I were sitting side by side and occasionally writing notes/commentary to each other in my notepad about things being said in the meeting (these notes were NOT complimentary toward the organization). It was poorly thought out on my part, I admit, but I assure you that we have every reason in the world to vent: we haven’t yet received computers or even phones for our desks (crucial to our work), corporate refuses to stock post-it notes because they are “meant to be thrown away” (?!), there’s public criticism of employees during conference calls, etc.

After the conference call, I crumpled up and threw out these notes in my personal garbage can. After I left for the day, one of the lovely ladies on my team went over to my cubicle, went through my garbage can and retrieved these notes!

I was called into my director’s office the following Monday morning. As mentioned previously, my director is amazing – he was only concerned if I was unhappy in my position (I’m not!) and wanted feedback if there was anything he could do (until he has more pull with corporate, there isn’t). Worse yet, he does not know who specifically got the notes from my garbage – because this garbage-rifling coworker went directly to corporate!

My boss and I addressed the issue head-on. I told him that I was frustrated with many things and concerned about my future there, but that I enjoy working for him. I also apologized for any difficulties that it caused for him, and assured him it wouldn’t happen again. He shared with me that he shares many of the sentiments expressed in the notes, and hopes to work together to enact positive change.

But none of this addresses the tremendous violation of privacy committed by my coworker. Nor does it cover how corporate now sees me and my colleague, who are both starting out and establishing our roles! I feel like the issue was put to rest between my boss and me, but I feel violated by my coworker and have concerns about what she may do in the future. Should I bring this matter up again?

What?! No, absolutely not.

You were majorly in the wrong here. Writing notes with a coworker mocking your colleagues and criticizing your organization? It’s incredibly juvenile, and incredibly poorly-thought-out. You’re lucky that it didn’t end in a far worse manner for you.

As a manager, I can tell you how I’d see this: as a sure sign that you’re not making an effort to acclimate, that you’re not giving others the benefit of the doubt, that you’re creating a toxic us-vs.-them dynamic, that you’re willing to attack your colleagues and the organization in the most unproductive of ways, and that you’re engaging in immature behavior (note-passing!) during a conference call that you should have been engaging in quite differently. That’s not someone I’d want on my team. (And frankly, that’s not someone who would stay on my team.)

And sure, of course your coworker shouldn’t be going through your trash — that’s totally out of line as well — but you’ve committed the larger offense here, or least the one that’s going to concern me way more as a manager. That means that you’ve really forfeited the right to complain about her going through your trash. I do think your manager should talk to her and find out what the hell is going on that prompted her to do that, but that’s his call, not yours.

Also, your manager isn’t doing you any favors by being so sympathetic here. It’s fine if he wants to tell you that he shares some of your concerns, but it sounds like he neglected to explain to you that your actions weren’t an acceptable way of handling your concerns, and that’s a real disservice to you and is allowing you to focus on the wrong pieces of the situation.

As for how corporate now sees you: Well, yeah. You’ll have to work to rebuild the trust there, but that’s really on you, not your coworker. Your coworker just reported something factual; it’s on you that the behavior happened at all, and you’re wrong to shift the responsibility for that to her.

Drop all of that, and focus on figuring out whether or not you want to stay in this environment. If it’s bringing this kind of behavior out in you, you’ve got to either pull it together and find a way to stay professional while you’re there or you need to get out before you damage your reputation.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 761 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    By the way, I imagine the temptation may be strong here to pile on the letter-writer, so here’s a request to try to keep comments helpful. Thank you!

    1. MJH*

      I wasn’t going to pile on the letter-writer; I was going to pile on the trash can snooper. What the actual f***? That is very not cool. Who does that?

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Not to justify the trash-can snooper’s behavior, but I doubt she’d have been looking if you two were acting professional during the meeting. Instead you were probably very OBVIOUSLY passing notes, giggling, etc. People notice those things. People can also tell when they’re the subject of ridicule in those circumstances. It’s not rocket science.

          1. Anna*

            No, no, no. Even if they WERE NOT acting professionally during the meeting, that is the biggest flag and the actual thing that needed to be addressed. If an employee brought notes to me that she said she had found IN THE TRASH I would wonder what the actual f*** was wrong with her. For all the manager knows, the person who went through the trash and found the notes is full of crap. It would be completely different if the employee had approached the manager and said she was concerned because she had seen this behavior at the meeting and suspected there was note passing going on, however as soon as that employee produced the notes, the conversation (for me) would have taken a much different turn.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              I feel like I’m being ridiculously petty on this, but was it really IN the trash, like crumpled up and covered with leftover pad thai, or was it just sitting there on top for anyone to walk by and see?

              1. Anna*

                I doubt very seriously she took the sheets and laid them carefully on top of her trash. Crumpled up is probably more like it, and even if it weren’t covered in old pad thai, crumpled means DO NOT OPEN AND LOOK!

                1. Apollo Warbucks*

                  I don’t agree with the co-worker snooping but I can imagine that something attracted the
                  co-workers attention and gave them reason enough to go looking if the ops behaviour stood out during the conference call the co-worker could have got the impression something untoward was going on and then gone looking to confirm their suspicions.

              2. Ted Mosby*

                idk if you’re being petty. there’s a creepiness line that you cross when you DIG into the trash.

              3. AnonAnalyst*

                I have to agree. Also, I feel like I’m missing something, but when the notes were turned in to corporate did the person say she found them in the trash? The way I’m envisioning this unfolding is OP and the other new coworker act unprofessionally in the meeting and noticeably pass notes, which the trash-can snooper then sees OP crumple up and toss in the trash. Trash-can snooper retrieves notes (this is still weird, so I’m not giving her a pass) and after reading them passes them on to corporate just saying that she saw or found them (without an explanation of where). Complaint is then forwarded to the director, who talks with OP. I’m assuming OP probably told the director that the notes came out of her trash once confronted, but I’m not seeing where it’s clear that everyone knew ahead of time that the person had retrieved the notes from the trash (thereby immediately discounting the other employee’s complaint)? If this is the way everything unfolded I can see why the person who went through the trash has gotten a pass so far.

            2. BRR*

              It’s bad to have an employee who is new and gossiping/complaining. It’s also bad to have an employee who is actively out to screw over other employees. It’s one thing to approach their manager and say something. It’s completely different to grab a note out of someone’s trash and contact the corporate office. I think this behavior is why we’re not minding the OP that much. The trash digging behavior provides an example of her perspective.

              1. Jen*

                Yeah, that’s my feeling. It sounds like a genuinely toxic environment. Negative unhelpful behavior from all around.

            3. JB*

              I don’t know. Normally, I would seriously doubt someone who is digging around in other people’s trash looking for something to get people in trouble. But it would be a little different in this case. My guess is that the LW and her coworker were making it obvious what they were doing, and that’s the very reason the person went through the trash. What the LW was doing was something that wasn’t wrong to bring to someone’s attention higher up (though maybe the director was the person who should have been told). And maybe the dumpster diver has been in too many “your word against theirs” situations where she thought it was best to dig out the evidence that was right there.

              Also, this isn’t piling on LW, just something I’d like society to do: can we please retire the word “catty”?

              1. Snork Maiden*

                Agreed, the only good part about someone using “catty” is that it immediately tells you a lot about whoever is using it.

              2. Miss Betty*

                Why would you like to retire the word “catty”? It’s a perfectly good word to describe certain behaviors and attitude. What word would you like people to use?

                1. LBK*

                  It is? I had no idea. I’ve used it about men that exhibit the same behavior, didn’t realize it had gendered connotations.

                2. Natalie*

                  @LBK – generally, I only hear it used to refer to women, and when I have used it to refer to men it still has this gendered “he’s acting like a girl” vibe. See also “strident” and “abrasive”.

                3. The IT Manager*

                  Is catty gendered, though? I mean cat versus dog really isn’t gendered? Is there another gendered origin?

                  Or is it just that this normally used to describe women’s behavior and not men’s? But I can’t see it the same as when women are called pushy but the same behavior in a man is called confident.

                4. Mallorie, the recruiter*

                  I think it kind of comes from the phrase “cat fight” which I’ve only ever heard used to describe a fight between two women.

                5. Ellie*

                  Or is it just that this normally used to describe women’s behavior and not men’s?

                  Isn’t that what the word “gendered” means?

                  Yes, “catty” is a gendered term. I have literally never heard it used to describe a man, only women.

                6. David*

                  I’ve used this phrase for years, and I tend to stay away from those that are too gendered. I will admit that it may have originated in reference to women, but I think it has evolved, and you’ll have a hard time convincing me to stop using it. It’s a commonly understood way to describe a specific type of behavior, regardless of sex. And cat’s are male, too, after all.

                7. Ginjury*

                  It’s a highly gendered word in that I’ve never heard it used in reference to a heterosexual male.

                8. 2horseygirls*

                  If the word fits, use it. Catty evokes a specific tone, regardless of gender.

                  My husband has a great analogy: all that happens when women get into a certain kind of contest is wet shoes.

                  Certain colleagues and friends know *exactly* what I’m talking about if I reference wet shoes ;)

                9. Koko*

                  I’m totally stumped by the riddle! What kind of contest? Are you making an illusion to a ‘pissing contest” and saying they pee on each other’s shoes? Something about stepping in a puddle? This one is going to drive me crazy.

                10. Pennalynn Lott*

                  I have always heard “pissing contest” in relation to two men, *never* women. I thought it was based on the actual, ya know, contests that little boys are sometimes known to have with their friends. I know my older brother and his friends certainly did. (The idea was to get maximum distance, or spell something in the dirt or snow).

                11. JayDee*

                  To Koko (since comments are too far nested to reply directly): I think the contest being referenced is indeed a pissing contest. Due to our anatomy, a pissing contest between women just results in us peeing on our own feet.

            4. Kelly L.*

              This, yeah. Absolutely OP was in the wrong to pass the notes during the meeting, and in the future, if she does, she should shred them instead as a CYA. But going through people’s trash is just whackaloony!

            5. Jeanne*

              I want to know why corporate automatically believes someone who says she went snooping through the trash! and found these notes. I would be just as inclined to say she made them up. The OP and the trash lady are both wrong. The director should tell them both to shut up and get back to work. (There were only so many people in that meeting. Narrow it down.)

              The director carries blame too. He should manage ALL his workers and find a way to focus them on work and not childish antics.

              1. Mary*

                Well said. I don’t have sympathy for the OP. For one thing, a trash can at work is not your personal property; even if it is, it’s still not private. I have no expectation of privacy at work and I’m the boss with my own office that locks. I don’t leave personal papers laying around to be found.

                OTOH, the trash snooper is wrong also. To me the best approach would have been for the snooper to approach OP first and then her supervisor if the issue didn’t resolve itself in future meetings.

                The manager needs to step it up, if this was his reaction. All around doesn’t sound like a good environment.

                1. Traveler*

                  “I have no expectation of privacy at work.”

                  Pretty much this. Even if you have a door or a desk that locks, or stuff is in your purse, assume anything you have at work is publicly accessible. People should respect privacy, and trash can digging is nutso imo, but it’s just not. I’ve seen people I felt were generally rational/well-meaning people do crazy things when they’re mad.

                2. Marcy*

                  The only thing I would add is that the trash snooper has possibly already approached the OP before and it didn’t do any good and now they are resorting to trying other methods. The OP has mentioned that the other people he/she works with do not like him/her so it sounds as though there have already been problems before this.

        1. Anna H.*

          It sounds like everyone there acts catty and unprofessional. It sounds like high school, passing notes, giggling, going through people’s personal things. I’d be quiet and stay focused during meetings and in general from now on.

        2. Anonsie*

          I don’t know. I mean, if you saw that in a meeting, would you go get the notes out of the trash later? And then take them to the corporate office instead of the local management? Probably not. Going into the trash for them is still really really weird and takes on an especially vindictive air considering they ended up with corporate instead of their own supervisors.

          I’m guessing terrible workplace egging on terrible behavior all around.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          No way. It’s on her that she went through the trash, no matter what the other people were doing in the meeting. She’s only responsible for her own behavior, not the OP’s.

      2. Anon Accountant*

        I was thinking back to the “who was your nosiest coworker” and thought now here would be an entry. My coworker goes through my trash can to see what s/he can find.

      3. Episkey*

        Yeah, I actually agree. Sure, it’s juvenile behavior to be passing notes, but I still think it’s some major WTF-ery to be going through a co-worker’s garbage can!!!

        1. Artemesia*

          My first reaction was about the snooping but then I thought about it and it is hard to imagine too many more corrosive workplace behaviors than giggling and writing derogatory notes during a meeting where others can observe this. It doesn’t sound like the co-worker routinely digs through the trash and just found these, but that she observed the behavior, knew exactly what it was and observed these notes being thrown away. This suggests that perhaps it was not a one off that the OP may be behaving in ways throughout that are alienating people and making the environment even more toxic.

          Or it may be a hopeless toxic environment. What good is a boss, no matter how congenial, who can’t even get his employees the basic equipment they need? May be time for strategic second thoughts about the job.

          1. Episkey*

            Well, the OP did seem to clarify below that there was no giggling going on — sounds like they were venting about the organization as a whole.

          2. Mirily*

            But as an adult, I have a hard time believing that – in response to something so obviously immature as writing notes and giggling (not that the OP did that) – I would then wait until they left work and go digging through their trash to see what they said about me. I mean … that seems absolutely looney to me. What normal, functioning adult just HAS to know what is said about them badly enough to go through the garbage??

          3. SG11*

            I took it this way, as well. If I saw someone engage in negative or damaging behavior then witnessed them throwing the proof in the trash, I wouldn’t think it was unreasonable to retrieve it. If the reporter had taken it from inside a notebook on OP’s desk or got onto OP’s computer and printed emails, I think that’d be way worse. Something being in the trash, at least, signals that the other person no longer wishes to have possession of the item.

            With this particular incident, though, I would think a conversation in which the reporter raised his or her concerns to OP’s manager, or even OP herself!, would be enough – though that’s assuming people are behaving reasonably.

            1. My two cents...*

              yeah, sounds like there’s a reason the trash picker didn’t go to the LW’s direct manager first… i wouldn’t dream of hassling a director/VP of our company for something so trite and petty.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Hmmm … I wonder. I have more sympathy for LW than trash can snooper. I suspect I might be in the majority.

      1. Heather*

        Me too.

        My only piling on would be that you’re supposed to erase or scribble over the note after your coworker reads it. Duh.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          1. Everything Alison said about LW being wrong is true. I am not disagreeing for a moment with the official response here.

          2. SHREDDER, maybe?! (Or burn bag? Or putting the pages in your bag and disposing of them at home? I wouldn’t just crumple up and throw out a credit card bill, much less something reflecting my poor opinion of my overlords.)

          1. Heather*

            I don’t think Alison is wrong, I was just surprised at how vehement she was about the OP being the bigger offender. When I read the letter I was expecting her response to be more like “You were wrong to do this, and you absolutely should not continue to bring this up. That said, seriously?! She went through your trash? That’s messed up.”

            And yeah, I would probably shred the note or bring it home even after I scribbled over it!

        2. Julia*

          I took Russian in college, and when I feel the urge to write something nasty (to myself) I transliterate my thoughts into Cyrillic. Given my bad handwriting as it is, I feel pretty safe about this.

          When I have written notes to a coworker, they remain in my notebook but scratched out. But usually the words refer to something just said and remain somewhat discreet to someone looking at it later.

          It doesn’t happen that often but it does at times.

              1. SG11*

                I also do this!!!!! I don’t translate into Russian, just the letters into Cyrillic characters/letters. For each reply, I moved my mouse to hit the “like” button…three times. The compulsion to “like” things is more deeply rooted than I realized…

        3. CPE*

          According to me, there are two things that letter writer did wrong.
          1. She should have shredded the paper which she did not want others to see.
          2. She should not trust the new co-worker so much. She is still too new to know how she will turn out.

          Though going through trash is crazy but legal, I wouldn’t want to work in that place and with such co-workers.

          1. puddin*

            Would you rather work with someone who goes through your trash knowing they will find a nasty note about them or someone who writes nasty notes about you?

            1. nep*

              (I guess we don’t know whether the notes were about a person or just the dysfunctional organisation. Still, comment above stands — who cares?)

      2. Cat*

        Same, not having a computer or a phone after three weeks is nuts. It basically means you are making your new employees sit around all day trying not to go insane. You can’t then be surprised they’re passing notes – what else are they going to do?

        1. kozinskey*

          Yeah, a lot of the negativity here sounds like it’s fueled by boredom. Busy people don’t have time to root through other people’s trash on a whim.

        2. Jax*

          The computer thing was a big red flag to me. This company sounds disorganized and terrible! If my fellow new-hire and I are already bolstering each other up with sarcastic “God I can’t believe this place” a few weeks in, than this job hop was a huge bust.

          I feel bad for the OP. No piling on here. Only sympathy.

        3. Sherm*

          I’m sympathetic, too. The OP admits to being wrong. I doubt that the trash can snooper is feeling any shame. (Can you imagine knowing that a coworker rifled through your trash, but you don’t know WHICH coworker?) If the company was a well-run place, and OP wrote “Stupid Jane bought the wrong type of caviar again,” then I wouldn’t be as understanding, but to me the OP was just trying to get through the day with sanity intact. I do think the OP should drop the matter and at least polish the resume, not because the OP made a mistake but because hope alone won’t turn this circus around.

      3. BRR*

        I don’t want to say that I have more sympathy for one or the other. I think they are two separate issues. I think the OP made an error in judgement and especially being new it doesn’t reflect well.

        Somebody digging in my trash freaks me out. It makes me wonder what else they’re going through, that somebody is out to get me, are they refiling through everybody’s belongings and it’s not acceptable behavior and that person needs to be disciplined. Unfortunate the manager doesn’t know who it was. Not to mention going straight to corporate with something.

      4. Smallest Red Chair*

        I’m a little in the middle. It’s one thing to find a confidant at work and to vent to them about issues you both see. It’s entirely another thing to do it during a conference call and then pass notes to one another about it. They should have saved it for home.

        I also don’t think anyone should expect their work trash to be private. It’s not. Typically someone else comes along to toss it and who knows whether some companies go through trash to make sure there isn’t sensitive data that should be shredded. Seems unlikely but you never know. If you don’t want someone to see something at work, don’t put it in your trash. Take it home, lock it in a filing cabinet, or something.

        I think its also fairly juvenile to go through someone else’s trash in order to get them in trouble too. Both were in the wrong, but OP was definitely more stupid. Who doesn’t know not to behave like that at work?

        1. Golden Yeti*

          I agree. Everybody needs to vent at least occasionally. On paper (and apparently being quite obvious about it, as others have pointed out) in the middle of a conference call is not the time nor place.

          The trash-digger obviously has her own agenda (and a whole other set of issues), but technically the garbage can is the property of the workplace.

          To me, the basic takeaway is there is not much team spirit/camaraderie going on from either side. OP either needs to see that the general attitude is toxic and get out, or find a way to make it work and stay. Whatever her final verdict is, though, she needs to examine herself make sure that she is doing her part to be a team player. You can’t always influence the actions of others (even if they’re way out there), but your personal behaviour is your responsibility.

      5. Miss Betty*

        I suspect you’re right. (I also suspect most people engage in passing notes or the equivalent at some point. I hope most people don’t engage in trash-can snooping. Both are unprofessional but while the first seems foolish and juvenile, the second seems nasty and underhanded.)

        1. Zillah*

          This is so true. I’ve definitely done note passing before – not at work, but certainly through grad school! It’s an immature but IMO understandable thing to do. Going through someone’s trash is just creepy and weird.

      6. Lily in NYC*

        Same here! I have seen so many people writing back and forth to each other in meetings over the years – from low level to the top bosses. From bad employees to superstars. I think the person who pulled the stuff out of the garbage was WAY out of line.

      7. The Other Dawn*

        I feel the same way. I’d be asking the trash picker what her purpose is for going through the garbage and bringing it to Corporate. And why does she have so much free time to pick trash.

        But I would ask talk to the OP. She shouldn’t have been passing notes in a conference call and writing such negative things.

        The manager had it wrong too. He should have taken both of them to task separately.

        1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

          I assume, though, that the trash-picker doesn’t necessarily do this every day. Again, an assumption, but I thought she probably knew there was something to find there. I’d feel totally differently about that person if I knew this was something she did on the regular (ie, “Hey Jane Doe, what are you still doing here so late?” “Oh, just going through people’s trash!” is totally different than “I want to know what those coworkers were writing about me/the company during that meeting”)

          1. Recovering Grad Student*

            OP did not indicate that she had written negative comments specifically about co-workers, but about the place – which sounds terrible, BTW. OP states that a computer and phone “are crucial” for her work and after 3 weeks still doesn’t have either. Is there a reasonable explanation? How do we know the notes contained any information about Trash Digging co-worker? Unless the OP states otherwise, to leap to that is an unreasonable assumption and error in logic.

      8. Mike B.*


        I’m frankly kind of horrified by Alison’s reaction. I would perhaps gently chide OP for not maintaining a professional attitude in conversations with a collague…but I’d more likely let it go, and focus on the fact that there’s a sociopath in the organization.

      9. EM*

        I can’t get over the fact that she doesn’t have a work computer. How can any legit business expect someone to get work done in this day and age (depending on the position, of course – I’m assuming it’s required here because she said so) without one?

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Seriously, y’all? I’m shocked by that. I’m actually fairly outraged by the OP’s behavior and the fact that she doesn’t see how utterly out of line it was. I’m stunned that other people don’t see it that way. Writing snide notes to a coworker during a conference call, about the organization and fellow employees? When you’ve been on the job three weeks? That’s so incredibly toxic.

      1. MJH*

        It’s definitely not mature behavior, but frustration venting is a thing we mostly all do, right? I mean, rolling my eyes with a coworker about someone, sending an IM saying “can you believe this?” while we’re on a call? I have done those things. My job is 75% good, but there are things that are dysfunctional, and they are corporate-wide issues. They can’t be solved simply by talking to my manager.

        I would be horrified if an unconnected coworker went through my IM history or trash can looking for evidence of my negativity…and then took it over my boss’s head. That just seems insane to me.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Would you really trade snide notes with a coworker about things your colleagues were saying on a call, three weeks into a job? I can’t imagine that.

          1. AMG*

            No, and it is unquestionably poor jusdgment. But she was venting about a frustrating situation. The worst offense IMO was the crazy person digging through the trash to get someone else in trouble, and the organization that supports this behavior. I would be apalled at the coworker bringing my trash with someone’s private notes, and disappointed at the note-writer. Both would hear about it from me, but the trash digger is far worse in my opinion.

          2. Kelly L.*

            No, but you also don’t snoop in people’s trash. Nobody was in the right here. And the whole place sounds like a train wreck and the OP should find a different job ASAP.

            1. Wonderlander*

              I second lighting a match to this whole situation and walking away… (figuratively, of course!)

          3. Ted Mosby*

            I could see being lectured on productivity and writing something like “hard to do that WITH NO COMPUTER” thinking it was funny.

            I know it was not a great move, but I do think it depends on what else was going on, if you were giggling vs pretending to be interested, who else was in the room, etc.

            1. Monodon monoceros*

              Yeah, I know it’s not particularly professional or adult, but one of the funniest things ever in a meeting was when the CEO was telling us about how great the org was doing despite a 50% cut in the major sustaining grant, and my coworker sitting next to me drew a sinking ship….

          4. Betty*

            I imagine if they actually had work computers they’d keep it to IM or email. Notes are not ideal, if she really needed to vent they could have chatted after work. Still, I think the trash snooper is the bigger offender.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          No, sorry. Have you ever been the subject of a mean-girl kind of gossippy attack? I have – I’ve seen people writing nasty things about me at work (years ago, but I still vividly remember how terrible it made me feel). Like, when you can tell two people don’t like you and happen to glance at one of their screens because your own name catches your eye, and see some really mean, vicious comments? That’s kind of awful.

          1. MJH*

            But where is it coming that she was writing mean-girl style gossip on the paper? We are reading that into it, but maybe it was more like this:

            PERSON ON CALL: Well, we expect everyone to do their best on [project]. This is going to require a lot of company time and possibly overtime.
            Note to colleague: HAHA, maybe if we had a phone or a computer we could actually work.

            The LW also says that “there’s public criticism of employees during conference calls” which she took issue with. The LW isn’t the one doing that; that’s ON THE CALL. I don’t think she was writing “OMG look at coworker’s ugly dress.”

            1. MJH*

              And I especially don’t think she was writing mean-girl style gossip if her manager said her criticisms about the org were valid. Which he did.

              1. Heather*

                Yep. As awesome as it would be for Alison to get a letter involving a workplace Burn Book, I don’t think this one is it.

            2. JB*

              But she still engaged in incredibly unprofessional behavior. If you want to vent to you coworker in the privacy of your office, ok. Passing notes in the middle of a meeting? I’ve sat through meetings like that, and I’d never allow it from someone who worked for me. It’s so unprofessional, whatever the person on the call was doing. As I said above, my guess is that the person went through the trash because it was *obvious* that’s what the LW was doing. LW doesn’t say this person makes a habit of digging through trash. If LW gave the appearance of diligently taking notes while discretely writing “I hate you all” over and over, maybe the trash-digging wouldn’t have happened.

              1. Melissa*

                It’s still insane and juvenile. If I saw two of my coworkers giggling and pointing at me while passing notes during a call (which a lot of people are assuming, but there’s nothing to indicate that OP and his/her coworker were being blatant), I would just make a weird “you are foolish” face at them and move on with my life. At no point would it strike me to dig through their trash to find the notes, much less take the notes to corporate.

            3. Smallest Red Chair*

              I agree. I didn’t think OP was writing mean notes about others. I thought she was venting about issues with the org and the fact that they were not managing well by doing things like criticizing employees publicly during conference calls. I didn’t get the impression that what she said was the problem, but when and how she chose to say it.

            4. Carrington Barr*

              I fully agree. I have a feeling this played out as you suspect, with the OP and her co-worker complaing about company resources and priorities.

              A good idea? NO. But inferring they were “mocking” people? “Passing notes”, when they were writing in a shared notepad? A director who says he shares the concerns (again, likely about resources and priorities)?

              Sorry, I think AAM’s response is a little much.

              1. Sans*

                I agree that the OP didn’t have the best judgment, but it is VERY common to IM during a conference call. I’ve seen directors and managers do it. IM is obviously more subtle — no one notices you doing it. I think the biggest mistake she made was being that blatant, especially three weeks in.

                But what the other person did? Going through the trash and going straight to corporate??? That’s insane. To me, that’s a way bigger violation. And it probably proves everything she was saying in her notes.

            5. GigglyPuff*

              Definitely agree that seems reading too much into OP’s behavior during the call. The way I imagined it, they were sitting next to each other, would write something on their notepad, the other would answer on their notepad and would just read it without being obvious at all.

              Hence, I couldn’t help but thinking, the co-worker had no idea what they were writing (unless they were being obvious and juvenile about it), for all she knew, they were taking notes and exchanging ideas they had (which something like that should probably wait until after).

              So was the OP making a poor judgement, yeah probably, but if they were things like “well we haven’t gotten our computers yet, any ideas how we could actually do this assignment?”, I wouldn’t think that was a horrible thing to do during a conference call (again, if it was subtle).

              It’s definitely way more of a red flag, that a co-worker, not even knowing what it was, was digging through another person’s trash.

              1. Melissa*

                That’s the way I envisioned it. I have a close colleague who I used to work with and we would occasionally do this during meetings if we wanted to convey a point/exchange ideas that weren’t relevant to the wider audience (we’re academics, and we work on several projects together. Although occasionally we were just being silly). There was no giggling and tittering – it was simply a shared notepad, and we were sitting next to each other.

            6. Ted Mosby*

              yup, the fact that the manager agreed made me assume they were snarking on their terrible work conditions, thinking it would be harmless.

              And Katie, this happened to me about 7 years ago and STILL HAUNTS ME. Lets hope OP’s boss wouldn’t validate that! Solidarity.

            7. Observer*

              Well, she clearly states that what they were writing was “NOT complimentary” (the caps are in the original.)

              The fact that others do that kind of thing on a call doesn’t make it better.

          2. Mirily*

            I mean … I have too, but I didn’t go through their inboxes/G-Chat/trash looking for the evidence and then send it to the Executive Director. I’m sure you didn’t either … because that’s strange. Yes, it’s reminiscent of middle school but the bottom line is that not everyone will like me and sometimes people are mean and rude for no reason. Oh well. They could write that I’m a purple hippopotamus — doesn’t make it true.

            It’s just a little weird to me that a fully formed adult couldn’t write this off as someone being snarky and immature and instead chose to go through garbage to find proof that someone was wrong. Especially since it didn’t seem like personal attacks in the notes given the manager agreed.

        3. Lola*

          “I would be horrified if an unconnected coworker went through my IM history or trash can looking for evidence of my negativity”. Actually, most companies have policies on appropriate use of IT resources, including random monitoring of such. Meaning that, yes, at any moment an employee (usually, a senior-ish IT person) can remotely check your IM history for any inappropriate content. Doesn’t mean they actually do it, but it’s in place to make you think twice about what kind of stuff belongs on your work IM and what doesn’t.

      2. Heather*

        If the atmosphere is as bad as she says it is (no computers after 3 weeks?!), I can see how she and the other new person would be commiserating. I think she’s way overreacting to the “privacy violation,” but the notes themselves? I think that’s pretty normal. Like I said above, her mistake was not scribbling over the notes as they were read. Forget coworkers going through the trash can, what if her boss had walked up behind her and read over her shoulder?

      3. Mike C.*

        There’s a huge difference between one’s personal feelings and how they explicitly act towards others.

        There’s also the fact that going through someone’s garbage to go way over the heads of anyone else involved is really, worryingly crazy both in terms that it was done, and that corporate took it seriously.

        1. Kelly L.*

          And on top of everything else, though the OP was guilty in this case of writing the notes, how easy would it be for someone to forge notes like this? I can’t say my co-workers see my handwriting much, and upper management sure as hell doesn’t know what it looks like. These people could just write up a fake note from OP and frame her for it; they’ve already shown they’re crazy enough.

          1. My two cents...*

            who’s to say the trash-picker didn’t add a few more ‘colorful comments’ to that crumpled piece of paper?

      4. Jake*

        I think its the difference between looking at it from a managerial view and a worker view. As a worker, I don’t see it as a big deal at all if a coworker did this, but if one of my reports was doing this, I’d have major issues.

          1. CaliCali*

            Also, I think you would have provided your people with necessary equipment to perform their job duties after three weeks :P And that might be the crux of it — in a competent, professional atmosphere, where people were equipped to do their jobs, this just wouldn’t happen. If I were three weeks into my job and I didn’t have business-critical equipment, couldn’t even get Post-Its, and where other employees were publicly criticized during conference calls…I’d probably be looking for another job.

            1. LBK*

              Yes, this, exactly. This would be outrageous behavior in a well-managed organization where employees don’t have justification for feeling extremely frustrated and angry about their inability to get work done. Now, I still don’t think it’s a great idea even in a toxic organization, but if you have someone who’s 3 weeks into the job and already sees that it’s a complete and utter mess…shouldn’t that be the biggest problem of all? In terms of hierarchy of concerns, I would see it like this:

              1) Organization is a complete disaster and new employees are ready to run for the hills because after almost a month they don’t even have computers or phones (!!!)
              2) New employee is exhibiting extremely unprofessional behavior
              3) Catty coworker is snooping in trash

              I agree that committing the sin is worse than the person who called the sin out, but this whole environment is a much worse work crime than either of those two.

                1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                  And I’ve always learned – toxic environments can create toxic people.

            2. Natalie*

              Yeah, this entire situation is straight up crazypants. How do you not have a computer after three weeks?

              1. LBK*

                I can’t decide if that’s more or less insane than not buying Post-Its. If you won’t spend $2 on an office supply I’m not confident you’re willing to foot the bill for an $800+ laptop.

              2. Joey*

                You’d be surprised how long it takes in a lot of orgs to purchase things. We’re talking months for some purchases.

                1. LBK*

                  Yeah, but presumably they didn’t open the position, interview and hire the OP within 24 hours. They had to have known someone would be in that role and require a computer for at least a month.

                2. Natalie*

                  I’m in a large organization, too, that is frankly just awful at logistics. And yet we manage to have a computer and phone available on everyone’s first or second day. If we can do it, their inability to suggests some process dysfunction, IMO.

                3. Monodon monoceros*

                  We had a new hire that was going to be doing some heavy duty statistical modelling. His first task was to give the specs to IT to order what he computer he needed. In the meantime, IT gave him one of the spare laptops to at least get started on emails, familiarity with the intranet, etc. And that place was pretty dysfunctional. So even that place could get it together to provide him with some basic work equipment. Long ordering times isn’t a good excuse.

                4. vox de causa*

                  And for some places, it’s not even the purchasing – it’s the loading of specialized software, the setting up of user IDs and passwords, the assigning of a phone extension, the programming of the buttons on that phone (for call center type places). Just a huge laundry list of things that need to be installed and set up, even after the machine itself has been purchased and delivered to the org.

              3. De (Germany)*

                It’s usual at the large, large corporation I consult for to not have a computer or account after a few weeks. You use someone else’s laptop for that time, usually. And we have a phone for four people anyway, not for everyone. As long as the OP can do their job in some way (they were on that conference call, after all), I am not seeing the big deal.

                1. Cat*

                  But it sounds like they can’t because the OP specifically said they couldn’t do their job. Having a loaner laptop is fine; not having a computer isn’t.

          2. Heather*

            Also keep in mind that you’re clearly a much better manager than OP’s bosses, so if someone did this after working for you for 3 weeks, it would probably indicate that they were going to be one of those people who’s never satisfied with anything. But if you really, really sucked as a manager and your office was totally dysfunctional – bad enough that it took less than 3 weeks for new employees to catch on to it – I think it could bring out the worst in a person who normally has a good attitude. (Not that I know this from experience, or anything. Nope.)

            1. the gold digger*

              Yeah, I don’t know it either. I started a new job – moved from one division to another at the same company – with a month’s notice. I went from the 7th floor to the 2nd floor and discovered that they didn’t have a place for me to sit, didn’t have a phone set up for me, and didn’t have a computer set up for me.

              They had known for over a month that I was coming. I had started interviewing a month before that. There was one IT group that served both divisions. All someone had to do was ASK IT and office services to get me set up.

              I never did get a name tag. I found out later that the director of the group stopped providing them as a cost-saving measure, which makes perfect sense when you look at the turnover.

              So I can understand being a good employee who is suddenly thrust into a crazy situation and wondering, “What the heck is going on?” and wanting to vent. However, I am very careful about what I put in writing.

              1. the gold digger*

                That is, what I put in writing when I can be identified. My crazy drunk in laws, as described on my blog, are not really named Sly and Doris and my real name is not Gold Digger.

                1. UKJo*

                  Yeah, I’m a big fan too. Wondering where Sly and Doris pseudonyms came from – homage to anything? :)

                2. the gold digger*

                  Thank you guys! I picked “Sly” because it sounded sneaky and mean and I picked “Doris” because it sounded passive aggressive and mousy. My apologies to any real-life Slys and Dorises who are nice people!

                  Heather, my old job was so dysfunctional that I think I have PTSD. After three months, I still flinch any time my new (wonderful) boss asks to talk to me. And when I hear a certain foreign accent on the radio – the one that Sergio from SergioLandia has – I feel sick to my stomach. I am very glad to be away from there! (And once again, give a lot of the credit to Alison and her great advice.)

                3. Pennalynn Lott*

                  I, too, am looking forward to the article on job-related PTSD. I’m four years out from my last toxic situation (there have been several), and I still have actual, real, wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-sweating-and-terrified nightmares about it.

                4. Not So NewReader*

                  @Alison, THANK YOU for doing that. I already know I will be passing the link to other people!

                5. Anon Accountant*

                  So excited for a job PTSD article. And 100% agree with a prior poster who wrote toxic job environments can create toxic qualities in people, to paraphrase.

                6. Melissa*

                  I have to say, your pseudonymous naming worked wonders. Reading your blog I associated the name Sly with sly/shady/mean and Doris with mousy/passive aggressive/submissive. Great pseudonyms.

              2. Heather*

                I had office supplies, but the group was so dysfunctional you basically had to vent to coworkers just to make sure you weren’t crazy. They were masters of gaslighting. 6 years of that and you don’t even know what’s normal anymore.

                My new boss (same dept, different group) sometimes apologizes when things get crazy. I just remind her where I came from and point out that if they wanted to scare me off, they’d have to start running around with their underwear on their heads. Maybe not even then.

                Oh, and I agree with Exception – your blog IS awesome.

              3. the celt*

                I can’t wait for the workplace PTSD article either, because my first job out of college was completely whack, and I still have issues so many years later with things that I never would have thought about before my irrational boss years ago.

        1. Melissa*

          Eh. I’ve managed a team before and if my employees were sharing notes during a conference call with complaints about the company, I would warn them not to do it again because things like this can happen, but I can’t say I would have major issues.

      5. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Is it a function of seniority, then? I’m fairly happy in my job, but I sometimes vent about minor frustrations to a few trusted co-workers. I’m not too worried because I don’t get juvenile or puerile, I usually IM things of this nature: “I wish the client would stop asking for changes after they approve something! What do you want to bet that this isn’t going out until Monday? (Wait, we should specify WHICH Monday! )”

        But I’ve been here well over a decade, and while my client would not be happy to hear that directly, they have made jokes themselves about being the source of delays, and while I hope they never hear that venting, I’m not overly worried about it getting out.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          I think it’s both seniority and where the frustration is directed. I think everyone has complained along the lines of “Ugh, if Client calls one more time asking for a change–that’s six times today!–I’m going to disconnect my phone!” or whatever. But if someone very, very new in the position is already bitching and moaning about it OR–worse–complaining about a coworker? “Can you believe that Lucinda said that? What a suck-ass. She’s just trying to get in Percival’s good graces when anyone can see that she doesn’t give a crap about anybody but herself.” That is toxic to have in an environment.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Yeah, getting really personal like that is much more toxic, but although the OP has issues with the more senior members of the team, I didn’t see anything indicating they were that personal and unprofessional in their notes, just that they aired their grievances, which could have been more along the lines of how I phrased my example.

            (Besides, if they were airing their grievances for Festivus, they might have a religious discrimination case on their hands! :D )

            1. Natalie*

              Eh, airing grievances in the office, during a conference call, at three weeks in is pretty unprofessional in and of itself. These are brand new employees, still making a first impression.

              Obviously trash-snooper is also way out of line, but they didn’t actually write in.

              1. Natalie*

                Also, OP may be shading things a tiny bit positively towards themself and a tiny bit negatively towards others. Not maliciously or even intentionally – this is just pretty common when we tell stories about ourselves, particularly when we feel like we were wronged.

              2. Mephyle*

                Mind you, these employees have been there for three weeks, but they haven’t apparently, been working for three weeks, hence their frustration.

      6. Judy*

        I didn’t see where the OP said the notes were about coworkers.

        I’ve done something similar, but it was really more writing down what was said and putting underlines and circles around words. But that’s because the brand of ridiculousness would be obvious to everyone.

        Teapot handle department should now also analyze the spouts ??!!??

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, that’s the kind of thing I originally pictured (in a “making notes about things I need to ask the director about” way), before I realized they were notes to each other.

      7. Helka*

        I think one of the things people are seeing is that going through someone else’s trash outside of work would be considered highly stalkerish behavior (and kind of unhinged; there’s a level of social taboo about garbage being unclean, even if it’s just paper trash). So why would it be different in the office? You’re less likely to encounter gross kitchen or bathroom garbage, but that doesn’t necessarily change the social taboo.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But she didn’t necessarily “go through” it; she clearly knew exactly what she wanted to grab from there and did. Again, not defending that, but I’m picturing it as a fed-up coworker thinking, “Screw this, I’m going to show someone what she’s doing” and grabbing the paper right off the top of the trash can.

          Maybe I’m wrong. But that’s how I’m imagining it playing out.

          1. JB*

            Exactly. As I said above, LW doesn’t say that this person has a habit of looking for incriminating evidence in the trash. It’s almost certainly LW’s behavior that prompted it.

          2. esra*

            It still feels really off. If the person saw it happened, and they were really fed up, then wouldn’t talking to OP about it be the first step, rather than going to corporate?

            I’m picturing the other person writing in, and I just can’t imagine you recommending she go trash-wading to find evidence.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You’re right that I’d never recommend that :) And I keep saying that the trash-grabber was in the wrong too. But I think the OP’s take on the whole situation is way off.

              1. esra*

                Definitely agree that the OP made several very bad decisions, I just think the trash thing is so reprehensible.

              2. puddin*

                I think one indication of the OP’s mis-calculations are that she wants to bring this topic up again to make sure someone understands how hurt she is that someone went through her trash.

                I would not advise re-visiting a situation that made everyone uncomfortable if not down right angry and where you were the person who was deemed to be cause of said discomfort to make sure they all know how inviolate the contents of a trash can are.

              3. Jeanne*

                My problem is that it appears they took the word of someone who claims to go through the trash. And that woman did not go to her peer or her boss. She jumped however many levels. They believed her and sent the reprimand without even finding out who wrote the notes.

                To me, this plus what the OP said about computers and phones, this organization is quite a cluster. I agree the OP should let it drop but I also think that this is going to be a crummy place to work.

            2. Joey*

              Sure. It would go like this. “Jane, I appreciate you telling me about it. I will deal with it. but why in the world are you going through Janet’s trash?”

              1. Michele*

                Corporate may not have told the director of the department who brought to their attention in the first place.

            3. Observer*

              Well, I don’t think that anyone would consider this environment highly functional, to say the least. And, based on what she writes, it’s quite possible that the LW has already made people believe that she’s not about to listen to anything they have to say. So, while I do NOT think this is the way to go about things, I can understand it. Not, that I’m excusing it – the fact that she went through the trash does say a lot about the place. So does the fact that the person couldn’t go to the director, though.

              1. mirror*

                I’m also surprised at Alison’s reaction. While the notes are not professional, I think the trash can person was the bigger offender here. The notes were addressing things everyone in the organization already knows, and were simply vents. Taking the OP at their word that these women are catty and unprofessional, I sure as heck would bet they are also bitching about their work to each other. The trash can person was deliberately starting drama–adding to the already horrible working environment and creating a division among co-workers! I feel that is a WAY worse offense than someone venting to another co-worker about things that are justifiably vent-worthy.

                1. My two cents...*

                  to me, it sounds like the trash-picker might have assumed the lw’s manager already agreed, and took it upon themselves to ‘out’ this to some director in the org…which is ridiculous. this is petty venting at best, especially since the lw is SO new, and the director shouldn’t be getting hassled by the trash-picker. it’s very likely that the director barely remembered the lw’s name, being there only three weeks.

                  the trash picker at least needs a reminder of what the director’s role really is for the org… and that they shouldn’t be wasting the director’s time and energy on something that could/should have been handled at the management level.

                  also, the idea that the lw’s manager agreed at all with the comments in the note kiiiind of implies that the statements were mostly true.

                  i can’t imagine why any of my coworkers would feel compelled to dig through my trash. they wouldn’t “need evidence” of me goofing off in some meeting… they could have said “these two new-hires are acting like children in meetings…passing notes and giggling and causing a distraction” and left it at that. the trash picking, to me, sounds like that person is just trying to start more problems, rather than simply fix the behavior. SEE HERE OMG THESE NOTES ARE SO MEAN I KNEW IT THEY’RE OUT TO GET ALL OF US is much more polarizing than just telling the manager (or maybe even the director, if they’re hell-bent on going to the top) that they’re acting up in meetings.

      8. AdAgencyChick*

        I was all up in arms on OP’s behalf until I saw the part about what the notes were ABOUT.

        I think we’ve all done it one or more times — an interminable conference call, you start bitching to the people you’re in the room with. Goodness knows there wouldn’t be any internet memes about what happens when you think a call is on mute and it isn’t, otherwise.

        But, you do it at your own risk. And if you’re a new employee, you don’t do it at all.

      9. Juni*

        Actually, while I was reading the letter, I was feeling a lot of sympathy for the OP, but when I read Alison’s reply, I thought, “Yup, that’s what a boss would say, that’s how a reasonable organization would treat this, and she’s right.” Even though I would feel like it was totally unjustified at the time, and the trash-picker was the tattletail who got me in trouble and it would have been fine if she hadn’t been pick-pick-picking on me to find anything I would do remotely wrong.

        And in the workplace, it’s helpful to remember that it often doesn’t matter who was more wrong, it matters who was wrong first.

      10. HeyNonnyNonny*

        I think the ‘three weeks’ is important to remember too. I started one job and didn’t get a computer until the end of the second week– and it was due to crossed wires, not necessarily a bad workplace. You just can’t tell after only three weeks!

        1. Melissa*

          I just started a job in August and it took me 3 weeks to get a computer, and it is a very functional place. I got to order my own custom computer; it took two weeks to ship from the company and our wonderful IT department installs all of the software you ordered and sets it up so when they come to deliver it to you, all they have to do is plug it in and turn it on. But given that I came in August – when all of the other new faculty and staff arrived – there was a backlog, of course, so that’s why it took 3 weeks. (It was totally worth it, as my computer is totally awesome.)

      11. Pam*

        It’s funny that this has come up now. I was at a board meeting of a local charity this week, and another member sitting beside me wrote notes on her pad and showed them to me, twice. I ignored her. I couldn’t believe the incredibly juvenile, negative behavior from her! That kind of thing has no place in an adult setting.

        1. LQ*

          I don’t know that it is always bad to write a note. I do this quite a bit in some kinds of meetings. Like if I don’t know if I should speak up about something and someone next to me would have better perspective. Or if I missed context, if it’s just me I’ll ask later, if the person next to me also has the confused face I’ll ask for clarification. I think the content of the note does matter, is it “Why are we talking about tea pot handles now? I thought this was a tea pot lid meeting?” or is it “Joe’s shoes don’t match his belt” or is it “I hate Frank because he’s always on time to work!”

          1. Judy*

            I was in a meeting at church last week, and they asked a 2 years out of college freelancer do the minutes, she was using her computer sitting next to me. Someone started talking about SMART goals, as in “the best way to do this is to set a SMART goal” in a pretty much everyone should know that manner. She typed SMART?, and moved her hand to get my attention. I wrote the acronym vertically on my agenda and then filled in the words.

            I don’t feel it was out of line, especially considering the personalities in the room, and extrapolating what would happen if she had asked.

          2. AnonAnalyst*

            We do this on my team, too. Sometimes we’re not sure if a question has already been answered at another point, or if we’ve received material from a client that they’re referencing, etc., so we’ll try to confirm so that we can address it before the meeting ends if necessary. But our notes are typically just ‘yes/no’ questions, so the exchange is pretty quick (and we’d usually only do this one time at most during the meeting).

          3. Pam*

            Oh, I realize I now didn’t specify this: She was writing snide things about the person speaking. That’s why I ignored her attempts to suck me into it. And will make sure I’m not sitting near her at the next meeting.

      12. Mena*

        Completely agree. No one is looking in my trash can becaues I’m not giving them any reason to look in my trash can.
        I’m surprised OP’s manager was not more disturbed by her conference call behavior.

      13. Anonicorn*

        I think, though, that OP does recognize she wasn’t behaving in the greatest way.

        It was poorly thought out on my part, I admit,

        Given the entire context of the situation – preexisting workplace toxicity, lack of job-critical tools, etc. – I’m inclined to sympathize a bit more with the OP and approach it more as a behavioral aberration for her that, while still bad, isn’t quite as egregious as many of the other things going on.

      14. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Honestly, I’d strongly consider terminating the note writers. I’d explain why it was a bad thing to do and if the employee(s) making me believe they understood how toxic their behavior was, it would probably be their last day.

        The trash picker, meh, busy body. Busy bodies are way less problematic than toxic complaint spreaders.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          should read:

          *if the employees couldn’t make me believe they understood how toxic their behavior was, it would probably be their last day.

        2. FloridaNative*

          Yeah, but in this case the busybody was not only being a busybody, but also took an issue and went above their manager’s head with it, directly to corporate.

          I think both parties look equally bad in this workplace telenovella.

      15. KimmieSue*

        I think the LW and the peer’s behavior is outlandish. I completely agree with AAM on this one. I too am shocked at the other opinions. Reminds me of sixth grade behavior.

      16. HM in Atlanta*

        Me too. The OP’s behavior and sense of outrage makes me want to question the facts presented (even though I know we don’t do that). The big takeaway – even if a coworker went through a giant dumpster to get the notes, the notes and behavior in the meeting themselves are so unprofessional that those are a much bigger deal.

        There’s enough blame to go around. The OP has been employed less than a month (there’s a professional way to handle frustration at a new job, even a horror story of a job, and this wasn’t it). The OP’s boss’ actions actively cultivate an us-versus-them. The idea that the boss didn’t see anything wrong with the OP’s behavior, and instead focused on the OP’s unhappiness with work, even commiserating, are both huge red flags.

        The other red flag – the person shared the note directly with corporate. Since they shared it anonymously (and probably could also have shared it anonymously with the director) points to a bad situation. My guess is that if this org is as dysfunctional as the OP wrote, and the OP and boss are both relatively new, OP and boss will not be successful. What’s worse, is that stuff like this will have tainted corporate’s view of them.

        Also – trash is never a confidential, safe space, even in your personal life. When you put out the trash at your home, the authorities no longer have to use a warrant to pick it up and go through it. Trash can snooping is done by law enforcement, by corporate security, and annoyed coworkers. In your place of employment, the business owns the trash until the business ‘puts the trash out.’ There’s no personal trash (like there’s no personal email, like there’s no personal desk drawers, etc.).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s probably not insignificant that there seems to be a divide on this post between managers and non-managers (in that a lot of the people saying that the OP’s actions are the bigger problem seem to be managers, based on their user names and past posts).

          1. NK*

            As a manager, I’d be pissed all around. If an employee came to me and said, “I’m concerned with what went on in the meeting today. New coworkers were clearly note-passing and gossiping during the call, which made it difficult to participate and is more broadly affecting morale”, I’d think that was a totally reasonable thing to bring to me and I would take action. But bringing me their notes that were clearly crumpled up and from the trash? That would strike me as crazy and of questionable judgment. I’d wonder what lengths this person would go to in the future if they were unhappy about something. So instead of having one employee issue, now I’d have two. I would not be happy.

              1. adohrfarms*

                Could you please expand? As a non-manager myself, I find the trash-picking to be more offensive because they took it to another level. I’ve worked with a toxic person that did secret things like this (including deleted files off the server), and it was just so scary and anxiety-provoking because of the secrecy and you didn’t know what she would do next!!! You would give the trash-picker the benefit of the doubt, and assume it’s a one-time behavior?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Nope, I’d have a real issue with the trash-snooper too. As I said in the post, it’s totally out of line and the manager should talk to her and find out what on earth would prompt her to do that. But the OP’s behavior strikes me as the more toxic of the two. Both are messed up though.

                2. Koko*

                  If the standard is “more toxic” I’d be more worried about somehow who is actively gunning for their close coworker than someone who is inappropriately blowing off steam about corporate with a close coworker. Agreed that they’re both toxic, but the LW wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. Her coworker was. Malice trumps poor judgment.

                3. adohrfarms*

                  Thanks for the reply, AAM!
                  Koko, I think you explained what I was feeling, which is malice vs. poor judgement. (and because I’ve only worked with a malicious person and not a “poor judgement/negative” person, I can only say that we were all very unhappy with the malicious person around)

          2. Snork Maiden*

            Hey, that’s interesting. I’m not a manager (but I sure enjoy telling people what to do.) AAM’s secret manager-potential test?

          3. Cat*

            I also think a lot of them are managers who never would have fostered a situation like this in the first place. Though perhaps, also, they haven’t been in an employee in a situation where they utterly lack control for a whole either.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’ve been an employee in that situation, early in my career. I behaved badly and I know that I behaved badly. That’s the thing — you need to take responsibility for your own actions.

              1. Not OP*

                Could this also be a reason you’re reacting strongly to OP’s transgression? The fact that you committed similar (?) mistakes early on, presumably worked hard at it and got out of it? It’s quite common that people who’ve worked hard at something tend to be more critical of others who they perceive aren’t working hard enough.

                FWIW, I’m a manager, and I think the snooper’s deed is worse. While I certainly don’t pass around notes, I *do* have opinions about other employees’ actions and don’t find anything wrong in discussing them, so long as it’s about the actions and not about the person. Perhaps it’s the industry I’m in (software).

          4. AMG*

            That was my next thought, and the thing that is making me think I need to re-frame my stance that the trash digger was the worse offender. I have had direct reports but this delineation (as far as I can tell) has me questioning myself.

          5. Dan*

            I think another thing with the manager/worker-bee divide is how many managers are willing to admit their workplace is toxic? Don’t forget, the OP claims that her manager supports the OP’s position that the workplace is toxic. That’s huge.

            Others have noted above, and you’ve concurred, that this workplace reaks of toxicity, and that’s kinda what started all of this. Hard to blame any given player when the when the game is screwed up.

            If I were the OP, depending on how my job search was going (aka “the leads are still pouring in”) I may not even care if I got fired and have to move on.

            1. HM in Atlanta*

              One of the things I routinely see when an employee gets critical feedback or a warning, the person will point out the foibles of someone else. Like it’s a get out of jail free card. “Jane comes in late all the time. You can’t write me up for attendance!” It doesn’t work that way. I’m seeing a lot of that reasoning in the comments. Trash digger was bad, so it negates the bad of the OP. I doesn’t work that way.

              Trash digger is one issue. OP’s behavior is on OP.

              Knowing OP was in a toxic workplace with awful people, why on earth would OP think it’s a good idea to badmouth anyone (company or coworker) via handwritten notes in a meeting? Toxic companies aren’t known for their reasonableness in situations like that.

              1. Heather*

                But I don’t think OP was saying “trash digger is worse, so I should be off the hook!” She acknowledged that what she did was wrong too.

              2. Biff*

                Okay, but the problem with that is that if Jane and Jerry and Jody all show up late all the time… why can’t Eileen? Or if George, Geoff and Ginny get to take failed chocolate teapots home to their kids for a treat, why can I take one home? I can see where this actually is more of “hey, if we’re not holding people to standards, you sure as hell ain’t holding me to one either.”

                1. My two cents...*

                  it could be that the trash-picker has recently gotten terrible feedback about trash-talking (pun!) in the office, and was trying to offload the blame onto others…more of a “see, this is WAY worse than what *i* did.

              3. Dan*

                Sure, but when the game is rigged (toxic environment), I don’t blame the players for the outcome.

                AAM’s advice for those in a crappy work environment is to leave. You can’t fix it from below.

                1. HM in Atlanta*

                  “AAM’s advice for those in a crappy work environment is to leave. You can’t fix it from below.”

                  Exactly!! That’s the answer. The answer isn’t to behave unprofessionally. The OP isn’t responsible for the horrible situation, the OP is only responsible for himself. He’s trying to justify his actions by pointing out everyone else’s bad behavior. We all agree – everything about this is bad, but the OP’s bad behavior doesn’t excuse the trash snooper and the vice versa.

                  Stop playing the rigged game, and you won’t be part of the outcome.

          6. IndieGir*

            I’m a manager, but I side more with OP, probably because I had a highly toxic employee in the past who would have done exactly the sort of thing dumpster lady did. My toxic employee left a swath of destruction in her wake, from tale-telling to screaming to rumor spreading. (If you are wondering why I didn’t fire her, my boss wouldn’t let me. ) From my perspective, anyone vile enough to dig through the trash is probably doing a whole pile of other crap as well. She’s probably just better at not getting caught at it.

            I agree that OP was unprofessional and stupid, but she seems to know that she messed up big time. I’m just confused as to why so many are saying she hasn’t taken responsibility, when she says she knows it was poorly thought out and she apologized to her boss and won’t let it happen again.

            I’m guessing maybe the last paragraph makes people think she’s not taking responsibility, but frankly, I’d be completely freaked if I knew a co-worker had gone through my trash.

            1. Observer*

              I don’t know if she really does get it. Te most she can say about her behavior is that it was “poorly thought out”.

              The trash digging is toxic. no doubt. But, so is the note passing – and so is the behavior of the director.

              1. IndieGir*

                I’m probably a horrible person b/c I don’t think the note-writing was all that bad, assuming it was fairly low-key, complaining about legitimate beefs with the company and not trashing people. I pass notes in meetings all the time, for a variety of reasons, and some of them are a bit acerbic. But then I’m smart enough to toss them in the shred bin afterwards.

                To me, the worst part about her behavior is that she caused her boss embarrassment with his/her boss, and that’s where she seems the sorriest.

                I think all of us are projecting a bit here — if you are someone who has passed notes in a fairly normal and professional manner, for normal and professional reasons (like, showing the person seated next to you how the numbers being discussed would work out or discreetly alerting your boss that you don’t have resources to do what he’s about to commit you to), you are tending to side with OP b/c you imagine her complaining notes to at least be passed somewhat discreet. On the other hand, if you’ve been on the receiving end of a giggling, eye-rolling, and obvious note-passing directed at you personally, that’s what you are imagining. I’m hoping OP will come back and clarify, if she’s not scared off!

              2. Melissa*

                …what else should she say about it? It *was* poorly thought out. She’s not wrong for being frustrated that she hasn’t been able to do any work for 3 weeks, nor is she necessarily wrong for sharing her frustrations with a work friend. The wrong part was the time and place. That translates to poorly thought out in my book.

                1. Observer*

                  It was stupid, immature and unprofessional. Sufficiently so that raising the issue again can only hurt her, even if it also hurts the trash picker, because it will keep the issue of her significant misbehavior in people’s sights. And also, sufficiently so that trying to deflect criticism by pointing out what someone else did wrong is utterly inappropriate. It comes of as “I wasn’t so smart, but really it’s no big deal because someone else was MEAN.”

                  The trash picker was wrong, but that’s simply no excuse for the LW’s behavior, and she shouldn’t try to use it to excuse herself.

            2. mirror*

              Yeah, it seems a lot of people are assuming OP made it really obvious about their note-passing. But OP just as easily could have been very discreet about it–or the notes could have been innocuous things and trash can woman was seeking drama and got lucky.

              In the end, one person is new and vents about the horrible first impression they are getting. On the other, a co-worker who has been there a while and presumably knows about the toxic workplace, focuses on continuing to make it toxic (she could have just as easily gone to the OP and shared her frustration about the workplace and warned her it’s not a good idea to pass notes!). I’m much more concerned about the latter.

              1. HM in Atlanta*

                I’m struggling to understand why it’s an either/or situation. I don’t want either of these people on my team.

        2. puddin*

          I was thinking along the same lines as far as who the trash picker went to. Instead of going to the OP’s boss, they went to corporate. This could mean a lot things including the director does not have the respect, the trash pricker has more pull with someone at corp, the director is part of the problem…

      17. Ted Mosby*

        I write notes in meetings all the time to my closest coworker. It doesn’t seem ok to interrupt, and the meetings are huge.

        -Do you think it’s worth bringing up the Nov proj?

        and she’ll write Y or N

        SERIOUSLY second guessing this practice now.

        1. kozinskey*

          I think what you’re describing is perfectly reasonable. There are definitely large meetings that could take forever if everyone said everything on their minds, so I don’t see anything wrong with using a friend as a sounding board first. On the other hand, I can think of a lot of notes that would not be reasonable:

          – 30 min till lunch!
          – Omg can you believe her dress?
          – Let’s count the number of times he says “um, well…”
          – I hate everyone here
          – Three accountants walk into a bar….

        2. Sarahnova*

          I’d avoid it if you can. Even though those notes are largely innocuous, the people who can see you doing it don’t know that, and it doesn’t exactly foster trust or productivity.

          If the meetings are so big that they’re not able to be used for actual dialogue, maybe you could tackle things at that end instead, i.e. tell the meeting organiser or raise it during the meeting? Or just make your own call on whether it’s worth bringing something up and see how that goes.

        3. puddin*

          If you know that your reputation will be safe if anyone in the company reads your notes, then fire away.

        4. LQ*

          I do this, especially since I don’t always trust my own judgement in certain groups as I’m still feeling out some of the undertones of things between business areas. But when I’ve been called out on it, it has always created productive discussion. “LQ you look confused about this…” “Yeah so I’ve got a serious problems changing the way the teapot handles are made without discussing it with the teapot body makers.” “Oh, yeah, we’ve already had that conversation, they are totally on board, did I forget to mention that?”

      18. Karowen*

        I may be missing something, and I haven’t read all 320+ comments, but I didn’t see any indication that she was talking badly about her colleagues, which mitigates a lot of it for me. And personally, I can totally see writing notes during a conference call like “gee, I wish I could see this on my own computer screen – oh wait, I don’t have one!” (which could easily then lead into “haha, I know right? What’s up with this place that it takes a month to get a computer?”).

      19. Anonsie*

        Since I don’t know what the nature of those notes are, I guess I can’t be that outraged. Were the comments snide and judgmental, or merely thoughts in disagreement with what was going on, or what? I’m more hesitant to comment on the LW’s behavior because there’s a massive spectrum of comments here that vary from innocuous to terrible.

        I was once reprimanded for using the term “waiting on” in my own notes for times I wanted to keep track of the fact that the ball was not in my court. I had a number of notes to myself that said things like “Get [thing]. Send [thing] to [person]. Waiting on [other thing] from [person]. Do [something] when you get [other thing].” This was determined to be too unflattering for the people I said I was waiting for. For all I know, the LW’s comments were similarly low key.

      20. Elizabeth West*

        I agree; it wasn’t professional behavior. But if my coworkers were doing middle school mean girl sh*t like going through my trash looking for notes, I’d probably just shake the dust of that job off my boots. That on top of all the negativity and not even having the equipment to do my job would tell me I made a very bad judgment call working for them, excellent boss be damned.

      21. Mary*

        You have nailed this on the head. Venting with a coworker outside of the conference call is one thing. Who knows maybe the coworker turned her in. I wouldn’t abide this in an employee.

      22. Meg Danger*

        Also, OP threw notes in the *trash*?!? Come on, hasn’t corporate America been recycling since the 90’s? Writing the notes contributes to a toxic work environment, and not recycling them contributes to a toxic world environment.

      23. Anonathon*

        I think the issue is that no one looks good here. It would be easier to criticize the OP if he/she wrote a nasty note and then left it on the conference table after the meeting, or something careless like that. But the fact that the OP got rid of it AND the co-worker found it by pawing through the OP’s trash is just weird and immature.

        Plus the company seems to be a mess, plus the OP’s manager seemed to drop the ball on discussing proper work behavior … Yeah, everyone acted poorly, so it’s hard for me to come down on any one person.

      24. Marcy*

        I’m with you, Alison. The trash digging was minor in comparison. I’m surprised others don’t see it that way, too.

      25. Chloe*

        I was really surprised by the level of your reaction. In my opinion both parties were at fault, and made errors of judgment. But that is what being human is, and when you’re frustrated (three weeks and no computer? For goodness sake that is ridiculous) I think you can give someone a little leeway for those errors of judgment.

        It seems you would actually fire someone who did this, which, honestly, is unbelievable to me. To me this is really, on the scale of things, perhaps an immature and thoughtless act, but a firing offence? I don’t think so.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I stand by it 100%. If you’re the manager of this team (and are halfway competent), there’s no way you’re not going to be having serious concerns about the OP.

        1. UKAnon*

          I don’t think that there’s any indication that the manager may not now be concerned; but he also seems to have approached this in a very calm way. What I am seeing is a manager who has:
          1) Identified that there is a problem
          2) Asked for further details and discussed possible solutions
          3) Accepted an apology and an assurance that it won’t happen again
          4) Shielded the other party (manager says they don’t know, but that could be politic)
          I think that both parties were in the wrong, but I also think that when the Director hired OP, they must have seen something to make them think that OP was going to be an excellent employee. If Director therefore understands, and even shares, concerns voiced by OP, to me it makes sense to give them the benefit of the doubt (stressful situation) and try and help to calm the situation and ease tension by not giving OP more cause for “Jane went through my bins, I just can’t work with her” feelings (keeping it anonymous) and reassuring OP that they are being listened to.

          I think it would be prudent for OP to assume that they are now on serious probation, but I also think that just because the Director didn’t come down heavily that makes them a bad manager; in a stressful, us v them v corporate situation, not making this into a major incident, putting the OP’s back up against coworkers by coming down hard on them and not the coworkers or treating it as a huge massive deal *should* help to stop it adding to the tension (which is why your advice to OP not to take it further is, IMHO, spot on)

          tl;dr I think the Director acted as they did because they want to keep OP and accept that this is a bad environment and they might be struggling to retain two people who they think have the potential to be stellar employees (why else hire them?)

          1. A*

            If the work environment is so chaotic it’s possible that the OP wasn’t a great hire for this position/company.

        2. Dan*

          If you had serious concerns about the OP, would you mislead them by saying to their face that you actually agree with the OP’s assessment? The OP asserts the manager said that to her.

          This whole thing screams “toxic workplace.” As far as the OP goes, if she got fired, the timing is perfect. Her leads are likely still hot, and she’s been there such a short time that she will never have to admit to working there for three weeks, or have to explain an excessive gap on her resume.

          I guess that’s why I support the OP here — I see the situation from a much larger context.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But it’s not even about whether he agrees with her assessment; it’s about the fact that you don’t engage in the toxic meeting behavior that happened here. Agreed that it sounds like a horrible workplace though.

            1. Dan*

              Yes, but if the OP’s behavior is inappropriate, her manager is doing her no favors by saying she agrees with her. Unless the conversation was a very clear “your points are valid, but your method of addressing them is something we need to talk about.

              Honestly, the actions of any of the worker bees don’t bother me. It’s the work place. Fix that, and you fix the underlying problems.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          If the manager in that situation had written in, what would you have added to your answer?

        4. Jamie*

          Wow I missed a lot yesterday! Couldn’t believe when I saw almost 700 comments but I’m really struck by how shocked I am that opinions are so divided on this. I read Alison’s response and couldn’t think of anything else that one could say – I agree 100%. If I agreed with every single complaint I’d still be livid about the behavior. On both sides, but if the behavior in the meeting was egregious enough for people to know there was nasty stuff on those notes that’s the much bigger offense for me.

          Yes people have to vent. To friends outside of work, to pets, to family…but not to other co-workers in a meeting with other coworkers and in writing.

          Anyway – just thought this would be one of those issues where everyone would pretty much have the same POV. Totally called that wrong!

      2. Mena*

        Um, no. OP if foolishly ruined any possible credibility in this new role. Your #1 job when starting any job is to get along, foster communication, and learn the ropes as a team player. Fail, Fail, Fail.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        See, if the OP’s comments were anything like yours, Chuchundra, then management intervention was probably warranted, as just airing out negative feelings without any context is never constructive or helpful.

        If the OP was able to specify what exactly they didn’t like, why it was a problem, and what they wish they or their company could/would do to fix it, as you failed to do, then it could be considered a fairly constructive form of venting, though.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        (But I will add that it’s genuinely very interesting to have a post that raises so much disagreement! And one where I hadn’t seen it coming at all.)

          1. TNTT*

            What gets my hackles up is the idea that you have some right to privacy to what’s in the trash can under your desk at work..

            1. Tinker*

              To me it’s a bit like the bathroom — yes, technically it’s entirely possible to observe what’s going on, so it’s not wise to do something there that you really wish never to come to light, but in order to maintain the social flow there is a tacit agreement that we don’t pursue people into that space unless there is a profoundly compelling reason.

              I think the OP’s behavior was dumb as all hell and agree that they should do some notable reexamination of their actions, but going through the trash in order to reveal what is ultimately a petty stupidity violates social norms in a way that writing notes that complain about conditions in an overly direct way (which sounds like what happened here) and then disposing of the notes in a way that did not reveal them to incidental viewing does not.

              1. Karowen*

                To me it’s a bit like the bathroom — yes, technically it’s entirely possible to observe what’s going on, so it’s not wise to do something there that you really wish never to come to light, but in order to maintain the social flow there is a tacit agreement that we don’t pursue people into that space unless there is a profoundly compelling reason.

                This, 1000 times. And for me, people writing notes during a meeting sounds like an annoyance, not a compelling reason

              2. puddin*

                Interesting, my personal norm for work trash is that people will see what is in it and make judgments accordingly. This is why I sometimes hide candy wrappers.

                1. Natalie*

                  Same here; I always stay a little late if I have to pitch my old lunch or something. Don’t judge me, co-workers!

                2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                  It’s also why I shred stuff with confidential information. Anyone call pull a piece of paper out of the trash.

                3. Koko*

                  This is truly fascinating to me. I’ve always just figured custodians fall into the same category as the people who work third shift at 7-11: these people know my deepest secrets and there’s no room for shame between us.

                4. Marcy*

                  I’ve been hiding candy wrappers all week. I got into the Halloween candy I brought in for my co-workers kids coming in tomorrow…

              3. Zillah*

                Yes, I agree with this analogy. No, you shouldn’t assume privacy, and the OP showed poor judgment, but going through the trash? Really? Just… No. I’m not sure how this is different from a coworker sitting down at your computer and reading your emails or browser history and then reporting on them. Should you have locked your computer? Sure. But really? Just really?

            2. Jamie*

              I don’t get the privacy thing with the trash, either. I would find it off putting if someone dug through mine because it’s think they were weird, but if you want to see some scribbles about weighted averages, hard drive packaging, and several empty coffee cups it’s all yours.

              I expect privacy exactly two places at work – bathroom (ours are individual) and my purse or whatever tote I bring in with me. That’s it. And I’m pretty territorial by nature, but it never extends to my trash.

          2. Cat*

            Not mine – going through the trash is, objectively, insane but I don’t think it’s a “privacy” violation per se. What bothers me is what I see as an expectation of perfection from workers who are put in awful situations. In reality, employees are human – when you put them in a situation where they have nothing to do all day but listen to corporate insult them, of course they’re going to behave immaturely. It feels like a set up.

            1. littlemoose*

              +1. You nailed it. Nobody behaved well here, but the OP seems to have a lot of legitimate frustrations, even if she did not express them in a good way.

            2. Heather*


              Nobody is perfect, people get frustrated and do things they shouldn’t. But to me it’s the same logic behind a premeditated murder getting a harsher penalty than one committed in a moment of passion. The OP got pissed off and vented in the heat of the moment, while the coworker saw the OP writing, waited until she had the opportunity and intentionally searched her trash.

            3. mirror*

              Yep, nothing about privacy! It’s about a co-worker who is deliberately trying to make the workplace even more toxic instead of sympathizing with OP and helping her (whether that be by sympathizing or even a friendly “hey that’s not smart” heads up).

            4. Traveler*

              Yep. I can agree with this. While the onus is certainly on the OP here because they are new and need to be giving best impressions and conform to the culture, where is the responsibility for the organization and for the existent staff? Bringing people on, treating them horribly and poking and prodding them incessantly – obviously the only person you’re going to turn to is the person in the same situation as you. And you’re going to bond over the mutual exclusion you’re feeling. I don’t think the bonding should have taken place in such an immature way, but I also don’t think OP created the Us v. Them situation. I think they fell for a trap that was laid for them by the org/grumpy workers (who may have every right to feel that way, but shouldn’t be furthering on the toxic environment themselves either).

            5. Melissa*

              This. And I think issue with the response is that while I would give an employee on my team the benefit of the doubt if three weeks of pent-up frustration made them behave immaturely (although we would have a talk about professional expectations), I would think it much more odd and petty if someone who worked for me dug through the trash and then went over my head to talk to corporate about what they found.

          3. ExceptionToTheRule*

            That raises the question for me of why do we still think we have any privacy in the workplace?

            1. Michele*

              I agree with you. I have had many a conversation with employee’s that are new to the work force to remember that nothing company provided is “theirs” and the company can go through any thing they want. Including their desk drawers.

          4. Episkey*

            It’s actually not a privacy violation for me — I just simply feel that going through someone’s trash is a huge flashing red sign that the person is insane…unless you are going through a dumpster because you accidentally through out a winning lottery ticket…which my father has done heh.

        1. Dan*

          You didn’t see it coming when the OP claims her coworker went through her trash and took this pretty high up the corporate food chain?

        2. John*

          I think people were probably taken aback by not just where you fell on this issue but the force of your response.

          But I think your alarm is warranted because OP has gotten off on the right foot. And I’m not talking about the notes and trash can incident. The bigger issue to me is that OP has gotten off on the wrong foot with her colleagues; may not be her fault — sometimes the vets like to take batting practice on newbies for whatever reason, perhaps resentment of some sort — but her survival there requires that she win them over to some degree. An office divided is bad for the company; it’s also misery for most of the people involved.

        3. MaryMary*

          My takeaway is that many of us (may) write snarky notes or IMs to coworkers, but very few of us would rifle through our coworkers’ trash. Lots of personal bias in this one!

          1. Marcy*

            I think it is interesting that so many do that. I have not written notes since high school. I wouldn’t dream of putting anything negative about my employer like that in writing. I’m also very careful about who I vent with. Maybe everyone else is more trusting than I am. That said, as a manager, I would have serious concerns about the OP doing something like that three weeks into the job (or ever) and I really would not have a problem with the employee who retrieved the note from the trash.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          “(But I will add that it’s genuinely very interesting to have a post that raises so much disagreement! And one where I hadn’t seen it coming at all!)”

          It could just be me. But when I read it, I saw a manager who was getting played by the trash picker. I think the manager’s real problem is the trash picker because the trash picker by-passed the manager and went to corporate. This is a huge no-no. Among the many problems with not going up the ladder one rung at a time, is that trash picker is trying to dilute and maybe even void the manager’s authority. I suspect trash picker feels that she does not have to respect the boss’ authority and it could be that she is trying to discredit the boss with the higher-ups.

          I have seen a few managers fall into this pit. So what happens next is trash picker realizes that she can MAKE the boss do things simply by calling corporate. Or she can threaten, “I will call coporate again, unless you do x.” This is not a good road to start down and it’s up to the manager to address that. I know the manager is not asking the question here, this is just my tilt on why I feel the way I do.

          I would have gotten trash picker in the office and clearly told her that corporate is on notice. I have asked corporate to check with trash picker to see if she has discussed the matter with me first. And if the answer is no, then she is to hang up the phone and come talk with me.

          As far as our OP, I would just want to know that OP understands what is wrong on her end, and she understands not to do it again.

          To OP, my next question to my boss would be “Someone called corporate? Is that usual around here? People see something they don’t like so they just pick up the phone and call corporate???” I would ask that in the context of “help me understand the work environment I am in”.

    4. nep*

      Brilliant feedback and counsel from Alison to the letter writer. Incident’s a bit of a wake-up call, I’d say. True, a person should reflect on whether s/he wants to work in this kind of environment. But once s/he decides yes, s/he must be the adult, act in a professional manner, and see how to make things in an organisation work for the benefit of the overall team and mission.

    5. Mickey*

      Who digs through the trash? Yeah, I think it’s time for her to leave. Enviroments like that don’t change until a new manager is brought it or the dumpster divers are fired. Maybe I am high maintenance but I don’t dig through the trash. Period.

    6. Kaz*

      My #1 criticism here is directed at the leadership style of the manager. The manager’s laid back attitude has allowed “the inmates to run the asylum”. The manager should enforce some codes of conduct, whenever inappropriate conduct is observed, he/she should constructively criticize the employee(s) at fault in a private 1 on 1 meeting. Allowing employees to get away with this type of conduct has resulted ultimately in the situation that the OP described.

    7. Ray*

      I’m not sure I agree with your assessment. Perhaps some managers would agree, but I think gathering more information (as her manager did) and investigating the facts (how the information was obtained, the two co-workers writing the notes) and ethics of both parties is pretty critical here.

  2. CD*

    “And sure, of course your coworker shouldn’t be going through your trash — that’s totally out of line as well — but you’ve committed the larger offense here, or least the one that’s going to concern me way more as a manager.”

    I totally disagree that she committed the larger offense. Going through someone’s trash to get them in trouble? Bananas.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Going through someone’s trash is weird, of course. (Although consider that the possibility that it might have been totally obvious to the coworker what the OP was doing during the meeting, she’s fed up with the OP’s attitude and the incredibly disrespectful behavior during the meeting, and she decided to show someone what’s going on.) But of the two offenses, what the OP is doing is way, way more damaging. And someone who’s only been on the job a few weeks? I’d be seriously thinking about firing her.

      1. CD*

        Not bringing up concerns to your manager is definitely a problem, especially when you don’t have a computer or phone weeks into a job. However, I would be just as concerned that my more veteran employees are going to such lengths to get someone in trouble. It’s just as juvenile and just, if not more, petty.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Think of it from the coworker’s side: “My new coworker, who’s only been here three weeks, has made it clear she’s not happy. Today she spent a whole conference call openly trading snarky notes with another new employee about things that other people were saying on the call; it was pretty obvious what was going on, and pretty frustrating for those of us who were actually trying to engage on the call, and it made people hesitant to even participate in the call. It sucks to work in an environment where someone is so openly mocking your colleagues and the company. I was so fed up with it that I grabbed the notes afterward and showed them to a manager I have good rapport with in the hopes something can be done.”

          Again, going through someone’s trash is lame, but I could absolutely see it playing out this way and being way less unreasonable than the OP’s stance.

          1. CD*

            But essentially the coworkers are tattling.

            In so many of your other posts, you talk about how when you see something your colleague is doing that annoys you or bothers you, but you have no authority and it doesn’t affect your work directly, ignore it. Truly, we all don’t know if the note writing was completely obvious to the other coworkers and directly affected their ability to interact on the call.

            What the OP did was not smart. Documenting your frustrations rather than telling your boss directly was a mistake. But from the limited amount we know, it doesn’t appear that the workplace is the gold standard for a healthy work culture.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Someone sending mocking notes about things being said during a conference call is a legitimate thing to raise. That has a real impact on the environment in your office.

              1. J-nonymous*

                I couldn’t agree more. If the OP had had a computer and had used it to write the same mocking/derogatory messages in company Instant Messenger and the company had found out about it, not a single one of us would even bat an eye about this because there is very little expectation of privacy in those.

                I’m not saying the co-worker who went through the trash had motives that were Entirely Good (I have no idea what her motives were), but the OP’s assumption that the notes she writes during a company meeting and thrown away in a company trash can are private is pretty off-the-mark.

              2. CD*

                Eh, agree to disagree I guess. I do agree with you, however, that the OP should just work hard, never ever repeat anything like this again, and possibly start looking for a new job.

              3. Melissa*

                But how would she even have known they were mocking if she didn’t find them in the trash can? We’re assuming that the coworkers were being obvious about their disdain during the meeting, but perhaps they weren’t.

                I think that there’s two ways to look at it, but even if the trash picker was super fed up with the coworker’s attitude, I still don’t see (personally) how that would follow to trash picking. Probably because I can’t see myself as bothered enough by someone else’s attitude to dig through their trash to find evidence. If it were really that bad, I would simply raise my concerns to our own shared manager.

            2. JB*

              There’s no such thing as “tattling” at the office. If you do something that your manager should know about, your coworker isn’t “tattling” on you. If you do something your manager doesn’t need to know about, it’s making a problem where there isn’t one. Neither is “tattling.” And in this case, this WAS something a manager should know about, so definitely not tattling.

              1. Natalie*

                IMO there’s no such thing as “tattling” once you’re out of elementary school. I’m not even sure the concept is that useful for children.

                1. Aunt Vixen*

                  For a moment of levity, though, my friend’s kids were into a sort of meta-tattling a couple of years ago. “Momma, she says she’s going to tell on me!”

                  You can’t laugh in their little faces, but my friend said was a close thing.

                2. Anon Accountant*

                  My nieces say “snitches get stitches”. They’re 7 and 8 and it no idea where they heard it!

              2. dawbs*

                See, I’ve seen tattling in offices, and I’d still call it tattling.

                Me telling my boss “Hey, Jim Bob isn’t making his people wear safety goggles in a lab” (<something I have told on someone for), I'd find that significantly different that "hey boss, Jim Bob told his students they could leave at 4:55 instead of waiting until 5:00".

                If it's something your manager needs to know about, it's not tattling. But if it's something the manager doesn't need to know about, it could still be tattling.

                The OP's situation is something I could argue from either side; I'm inclined to say not tattling simply because of the egregiousness of the screw up and the newness of the employee–it being a 'we should nip this NOW' situation.

              3. FloridaNative*

                Sure there is. But, like most complex human behavior, the context of the situation is key. Tattling is when someone witnesses a problem and their entire motivation behind reporting it is not to be constructive or avoid a larger issue, but to take pleasure in getting the other party “in trouble” which is clearly toxic behavior.

                Witnessing a procedural violation and reporting it because you are worried that the violation could create a legitimate issue for the company is just due diligence and being responsible.

            3. Laufey*

              Appearing to create (or amplify) a hostile atmosphere that prevents people from sharing on conference calls, etc., does affect the coworker’s work, though. I know that OP said the culture was already there when she got there, but she’s encouraging it, not helping to defray it or work through it.

          2. LBK*

            I disagree with this scenario insofar as you’re giving the other coworkers way too much benefit of the doubt. I see zero indication on the OP’s letter that her coworkers were trying to engage in the call, that people were hesitant to participate, that the OP is openly frustrated/unhappy (aside from the note writing)…I see plenty of indication that the OP’s coworkers have already exhibited negative behavior towards the OP, though.

            If the OP hadn’t said that these coworkers were gossipy, catty, etc. I might be willing to agree with your reading of the coworker’s actions. But to me, it caps off the other passive aggressive, negative behavior the OP indicates they participate in.

            If anything I see this as the OP getting roped into the negative environment she’s forced to work in, not her showing up and bitching about a workplace that doesn’t merit such criticism.

            1. Whippers*

              Yup, that’s exactly what I see in this post too. Alison seems to be reading positive behaviour into the coworker’s actions and reading negative behaviour into the OP’s actions, even where there is no indication of either. There seems to be a lot of presumptions which is really not typical of Alison.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t read anything positive into the coworker’s actions; I think they’re way out of line (which is in the original post too) — but it’s the OP who’s writing in and the OP who I’m talking to.

                1. Whippers*

                  I suppose I meant positive motivations, rather than actions. Like when you said that the coworker may just be fed up of the OP’s toxic behaviour and decided to show someone what was going on (in the comments not the letter). But maybe the coworker doesn’t really care about the coworker’s toxic behaviour because hers is worse and she just wants to get the OP in trouble. She clearly was more interested in getting someone in trouble than resolving issues; otherwise she would have went to local management.

            2. Mickey*

              Exactly. Obviously the trash digger is threatened by the newbie in someway, shape or form. Gossip is not ok, but unfortunately it’s inevitable. “Oh no, so-and-so is talking about me”, what is this, high school? Grow up and get over it, because someone is always talking about someone.

              If OP was really goofing off during the conference call, I’m sure someone else noticed and would have reported it to the manager.

          3. Dan*

            The OP paints a picture that nobody is happy. The OP gives enough detail in her letter to lead me to believe she’s credible and not out to lunch.

            Happy employees don’t go digging through other people’s trash and sending those notes to “corporate.” They tell the OP’s immediate boss that they have concerns about the new employee who clearly isn’t adjusting well.

            I agree with the others who suggest that you are giving the OP’s coworkers way too much credit here.

            1. Jax*

              Happy employees also aren’t suspicious and fed up with the new girl by week 3! Especially a new girl who has been sitting at an empty desk and can’t do anything other than observe and twiddle her thumbs.

              This sounds like an office from hell.

            2. Mephyle*

              “…concerns about the new employee who clearly isn’t adjusting well.”
              And just imagine how this would play out in a healthy environment. Concerns about the new employee who isn’t adjusting well to not being supplied with the tools needed to do her job? Duh.
              (This is my roundabout way of agreeing heartily with what you said here.)

          4. Elizabeth West*

            I guess I just can’t see someone who goes through other people’s trash to prove this point as being that mature. The trash thing is so middle school that I just can’t even. She could have totally gone to corporate and said something like this and it would have been enough. Scavenging the notes is like that Amy Poehler little kid sketch on SNL: “RICK! RICK!! LOOK RICK!! LOOK WHAT OP DID, RICK!”

            I still agree with you, however; the OP and the new person should not have been writing notes / mocking in the first place.

          5. Anon Accountant*

            I can see someone taking this stance although I agree going through someone’s trash isn’t right.

          6. Koko*

            She didn’t just “grab the notes.” She watched LW to see what she did with the notes, watched LW and waited until she left for the day, and then dug through a trash can to get them. There was clearly either some low level espionage going on for the coworker to have known to look for the notes in the trash, OR the coworker had no idea what she might find in there and was digging through look for something incriminating. Either way, such calculating malice horrifies me a lot more than some unprofessional/poor judgment.

          7. Andrew*

            Although the OP did say that her coworkers were being overtly unprofessional and hostile towards her. I think that is one of the reasons that people are coming down on the side of the OP more, since the assumption is that whoever did this wasn’t so much concerned about the company, as they were in making the OP look bad.

          8. Observer*

            No. If she really had a good rapport with the manager she spoke to, she wouldn’t need the note. If the manager asked her it should have been enough for her to explain that the notes were in the garbage… If the only way the manager would take it seriously is by getting the note that had been thrown in the garbage, then is speaks volumes about the credibility of the complainer, or the workplace is even more toxic than described and dumping on a new coworker who is obviously not doing well with that kind of toxicity is pretty awful.

      2. Whippers*

        I don’t see how the OPs behaviour is way more damaging. What’s the difference in writing notes and venting verbally to a coworker? Which I’m sure mostly everyone does from time to time.
        Going through someone’s rubbish, and then using that information to get someone in trouble, is crazy territory.
        I’m kinda suprised at AAM’s respone here.

        1. Phoenix*

          One difference is that most people have the sense to vent verbally where others can’t hear you – it’s entirely possible that passing notes during the meeting was causing disruption for their coworkers. Otherwise, how would the snooper have known to go through OP’s trash in the first place?

          1. Smallest Red Chair*

            Plus, if you are venting at work and a manager hears it, you can/will be held accountable for what you say. People may do it all the time, that doesn’t mean its a good idea.

            1. tesyaa*

              In another life, I once referred to a higher-level accountant as a “bean counter” out of the side of my mouth. He noticed and spent the next several months trying to get me fired. In retrospect, I don’t blame him.

              1. Smallest Red Chair*

                Yikes! That’s especially difficult when it’s not something you’d normally do. You say something off the cuff, one time, because you (oops) lacked judgement in that one moment, and then you’re kicking yourself for it forever.

              2. Apollo Warbucks*

                I’m an accountant of sorts and use the term bean counter or bean counting, to mock stupid decisions made solely based on finical metrics rather than a more balanced score card. Trying to get getting fired for saying seems like an over reaction.

                1. Whippers*

                  That’s exactly what I was coming to say! Bean counter seems like a fairly innocuous thing to call someone. That they would spend months trying to get you fired because of it doesn’t speak too highly of their judgement.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        There’s a whole lot of weird in this workplace. You’ve got OP being immature, OP’s coworker weirdly going through her trash, and OP’s boss weirdly handling the whole thing by being overly sympathetic. It’s like some kind of bizarro world.

          1. nep*

            Get out while you still can, perhaps — but stay or go, reflect on your part in that toxic mix of behaviours and grow out of that.

        1. Marcy*

          I think it explains why the coworker resorted to going through the trash and sending the evidence to corporate- she knew the boss wouldn’t take care of the problem.

      4. Rose*

        I think you are making a lot of assumptions here Alison. It just sounds like high school to go fishing for ammunition on someone. Why does the trash digger care what was written on those notes? And why would someone go all the way up to corporate?
        I definitely think what the trash digger has done is more damaging. Being a tattletale is not always looked kindly upon, and seems like petty reasons to rat on the OP. Even the director admitted the problems. No one likes a trash digging rat.
        The OP didn’t mean to hurt anyone and wasn’t trying to make trouble for anyone and although she should not have done it during the meeting, she was venting about a situation that was clearly terrible.
        As a manager, I would tell the trash digger to stop stirring up shit and go back to high school if that’s what she wanted to do.
        Give me a break.

      5. Observer*

        From experience I have to disagree that the LW’s behavior is MORE damaging. Trash picking in this context is not just “weird”. It’s actively damaging in most cases.

        Have you ever actually had to deal with someone like that? Or dealt with an organization that had to deal with someone like that? Talk about morale busting!

        In this case either someone went digging for dirt on someone she didn’t like. That speaks for itself. Or the behavior was so egregious that it was clear what was going on. In that case, why did the trash picker need to go through the trash? The fact that the trash picker would feel the need for this kind of “documentation” for her reporting speaks volumes and is as much a red flag to me as the LW’s behavior.

    2. Steve*

      Going through someone’s trash looking for something to get them in trouble IS bananas. But the fact is that everything in that office, including the trash can, is company property, I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that the coworker invaded her “privacy.”

      1. tesyaa*

        Also, when you throw something away, you’re basically abandoning property. If you want to throw away something personal or sensitive, use a shredder, or at least do it at home.

      2. Mike C.*

        I think you can make a reasonable argument that your personal trash can is expected to be private – these aren’t regularly searched for “evidence” nor does anyone usually catalog the exact contents of the materials thrown into them, outside of general material composition if you’re worried about recycling efforts.

        1. tesyaa*

          Would you use your cubical wastebasket to throw away a credit card statement or a piece of correspondence containing sensitive data like your SSN? I wouldn’t.

          1. Mike C.*

            No I wouldn’t, but there’s an area between “random scribbles during a meeting I’d rather people not read” and “personal financial information”.

            1. tesyaa*

              Both you and I are making the assumption that the wastebasket is not secure. If you don’t want to risk someone seeing the notes – shred them or dispose of them in a safe location.

              1. Mike C.*

                I think it’s more useful to focus on the crazy person causing the actual harm here, rather than the OP who didn’t harm anyone but acted in a suboptimal but reasonable manner.

                1. tesyaa*

                  At the very least, the OP may be perceived as a negative influence on the other new hire. How can you say that’s not causing harm?

                2. Smallest Red Chair*

                  I agree that the person who went through the trash was weirdly off base. I think it would have been wiser and more professional to just speak with her manager about what happened. However, what you are saying is like “I know there are people out there who steal identities and we should be focusing on fixing that problem. But since the problem isn’t with me I’m not going to worry about leaving my social security card out.” Yeah, it’s ridiculous that someone went through her garbage, but you still have use common sense and protect yourself. I actually would never toss something in the garbage at work that I didn’t want someone to see. Even if it was silly.

                3. Zillah*

                  How is the OP a bad influence on the other new hire? They seemed to be doing it together, from the letter.

            2. ExceptionToTheRule*

              If you need to dispose of something you’d rather people not read, then you shred it. Whatever it is.

      3. chump with a degree*

        After 20 years, I still occasionally write notes to my coworker buddy during dull meetings (of 50 + people). However, these notes never leave my little paws, and yes, the trash does belong to the company, not to the employee.

      4. JB*

        Plus, there’s no indication that the person is blindly searching through bins in the hope of finding something bad. She knew or thought she knew exactly what was on those notes, and she retrieved those specific notes.

    3. Grey*

      The headline, not the OP, claims the coworker went through the trash “to get me in trouble”, and many of the comments are feeding off of that. I think it’s more accurate to say the coworker went through the trash to confirm suspicions that the OP was writing negative things about the coworker and her workplace. I don’t think the motive was “let’s see if I can get her in trouble”.

      1. My two cents...*

        …until the coworker circumvented the local manager and went straight to a director…

        that seems kind of ridiculous and a lot like ‘tattling’ to me, cause the coworker felt compelled to ‘gather evidence’ that the LW was goofing off in one meeting…after three weeks…without any equipment to actually DO real work.

  3. Muriel Heslop*

    Don’t bring it up again! Work your tail off to show corporate that you are a great hire and try to make them forget everything except that. Good luck.

    Also: separate from your new friend a bit if the temptation to vent is too strong. That will only keep you in a negative mindset.

  4. fposte*

    I’m reminded of Miss Manners’ version of the diplomatic pouch rule, which for here would be “We’re not allowed to search your garbage, and if we do and find nothing we’re in deep trouble, but if we find something, too bad for you.” There’s just no way to complain about this that doesn’t sound like “I shouldn’t have been caught.”

    1. some1*

      Thank you! This is like saying you can’t dump your significant other if you found evidence of cheating by snooping in their phone.

    2. Elsajeni*

      Yeah, this is basically what I’m thinking. True, the garbage-searching coworker’s behavior was nuts! She should not have done that! But, as many of us learned in junior high school, when you pass notes, the risk you take is that you’ll get caught and held to account for the contents of your notes. Trying to argue that the coworker is the one really in the wrong is equivalent to trying to convince the principal that, yeah, maybe you shouldn’t have written that your math teacher smells funny, but the real issue here is that the math teacher had no business looking at what you were writing.

      1. Zillah*

        I disagree – the coworker isn’t in a position of authority the way a teacher is. It’s not a good analogy.

        1. Elsajeni*

          Okay, then change it to, “Yeah, I shouldn’t have written that the math teacher smells funny, but the real issue here is that my classmate Wakeen had no business intercepting the note and showing it to the teacher.” The point is the same — the coworker’s behavior is legitimately obnoxious, but because the coworker’s obnoxious behavior revealed the OP’s obnoxious behavior, as fposte said, there’s no way to complain about it without the boss hearing, “She had no business catching me behaving badly.”

  5. KJR*

    OP, I feel for you…it sounds like you are in a no-win situation. I am only chiming in to say that none of us should have any expectation of privacy at work (with the obvious exceptions of bathrooms and changing rooms). You referred to your trash can as your “personal” trash can, which it isn’t. Granted, what your co-worker did was supremely crappy, but just bear this mind going forward. Computers, desks, lockers — none of them are off limits. Good luck, I hope things improve sooner than later!

    1. svb*

      This reminds me of a supreme court case long ago where a drug deal said the police were infringing on his privacy when they went through his trash, so the evidence was found in an unconstitutional way and the case that landed him in prison should never have been launched in the first place. Court said once your trash hits the curb it’s no longer your private property, so they upheld the conviction.

      That said, the office is not federal law, and everyone was equally in the wrong here. What a toxic environment.

  6. The IT Manager*

    I sympathize with you LW. Legally you don’t have a right to privacy in your office trash, but I would certainly not expect anyone to go through my office trash can. The fact that it did happen screams dysfunctional office.

    I don’t agree with Alison that you’re more in the wrong than crazy trash lady/man, but her advice is right. You’ve got to stop commiserating with your other new colleague (that only makes it seem worse for both of you as you each complain and multiply the percieved issues), and you need to start trying to fit in with the office. You’re creating a us versus them enviroment which will only harm you.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      Does anyone find it a bit odd that there should be such an us vs. them dynamic only 3 weeks into a job? I could see that building up over a few months after everyone gets to know each other more and learns how their idiosyncrasies line up but only 3 weeks in? Unless the OP complains at the top of her voice, constantly about how horrible it is or is otherwise egregiously nasty, I don’t really see how they could form such solid opinions so quickly.

      It’s definitely a bad workplace if your boss openly sympathizes with you about how bad it is.

      1. the gold digger*

        My first day at SergioLandia, there was no desk or computer for me. My boss put me at an open desk in the middle of the workspace, right by the radio. I took my reading materials into the conference room to read.

        My boss: Why are you in the conference room?
        Me: So I can have some quiet.
        Boss: Why don’t you just turn off the radio?
        Me: It is my first day here. I am not going to tick off everyone in the office by turning off the radio and trying to change the culture.

        Two minutes later, boss returns: I turned off the radio. Go back to your desk.

        I return to my desk.

        New co-worker: Why don’t you like music?
        Me: What?
        Co-worker: Boss turned off the radio and said it was because you don’t like it. We like having the radio on.

        And that, my friends, is now you can – through no fault of your own – get into an us vs them dynamic right away.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Or management is working a “divide and conquer” strategy. Seen that happen, too. Works well , they used to teach that in management back in the days of unions.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think that going ONE week without the tools I need to do my job would put me on the brink of an us vs them mentality. I cannot imagine three weeks. Many places do not understand a simple rule: “Keep your employees supplied with what they need to do their jobs.”

  7. Anonasaurus Rex*

    You screwed up, OP, and so did your nosy coworker. But this place sounds too toxic to stick around and see what happens, even if your manager is a great manager. I would keep my head down and work hard on trying to find a new job.

  8. Joey*

    Ouch. This is a great lesson in pausing and looking at what you could have done differently before you point the finger at others.

  9. Mike C.*

    I see a momentary lapse in judgement regarding the private notes – that was then handed and even agreed with by the manager – a much, much smaller sin than a coworker rifling through trash and going straight to corporate with the “evidence”. That’s absolutely crazy. I don’t scare easily, but if a coworker were going to that effort to find information about me, I would be worried about my personal safety.

    This idea that people can never ever ever be frustrated with their jobs is getting to be a bit much, especially since the manager agreed that these were reasonable complaints. I mean really, the OP wrote down their frusterations in a moment of weakness – a technique I might add is often advised to many people, young and old – as a reasonable, professional way to deal with problems you cannot immediately do anything else about. It’s no different than keeping a journal or diary that was then stolen and reported to the authorities.

    1. Swarley*

      “This idea that people can never ever ever be frustrated with their jobs is getting to be a bit much, especially since the manager agreed that these were reasonable complaints. I mean really, the OP wrote down their frusterations in a moment of weakness – a technique I might add is often advised to many people, young and old – as a reasonable, professional way to deal with problems you cannot immediately do anything else about. It’s no different than keeping a journal or diary that was then stolen and reported to the authorities.”

      I absolutely agree with this. But writing down these frustrations while at work and during a work-related conference? It isn’t the place to do this kind of thing.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Of course you can be frustrated with your job. I’ve never said you can’t, let alone in this post. The issue is that you don’t trade snide notes with a coworker about other people during a conference call — that’s incredibly disrespectful and toxic. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to work with someone who does that.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yes, that was a big strong, I apologize for that.

        I think it’s orders of magnitude more toxic to “search for evidence against a coworker and report them to corporate”. That sort of “report your neighbor” is the hallmark of dictatorships and dystopian novels rather than a productive workplace environment.

        Yes, I wouldn’t want someone writing snide notes about me or being distracting during a conference call. But that’s in the context of a normal, typical work environment. The OP isn’t working in one of these places. Which leads me to ultimately believe your advice that she look into leaving may in fact be the right thing to do, but for completely different reasons.

        1. Cat*

          Yep, and I bet that’s what her manager is thinking to. If I were in his situation, I wouldn’t be thinking “I can’t believe I hired someone who complained about not having the basic tools necessary to do her job.” I’d be thinking “I can’t believe I went to work for someone who is putting the sharp, eager-to-work professionals I hired in a situation where all they have to do is talk about the fact that they don’t have the basic tools they need to do the job. What a clusterf*ck.”

      2. Ted Mosby*

        Allison, why do you think she was writing mean things about coworkers? Was there something you didn’t post in her letter, or am I misreading? I understood it as she wrote about the organization. Would it change how you feel at all if she wasn’t writing bad things about other people, more just general “how can i do that with no phone?!” I know it’s still not smart, but to me it’s way more egregious to be writing personal attacks about people. The fact that her manager agreed with her made me think it was more just general office grumps.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          To me, “notes/commentary to each other in my notepad about things being said in the meeting” sounds like it’s about things her coworkers were saying.

          1. Heather*

            But wouldn’t the coworkers have been talking about work matters, so the notes would have been about what coworkers were saying about work?

            Would there be a difference between OP saying “OMG, I can’t believe X just said we make marzipan teapots when we only make chocolate” vs. “X is such a freakshow, I don’t even know how anyone can stand to deal with him”?

              1. Rose*

                So what if they are snarky? I mean really? No reason to seek out notes in a garbage and rat on the OP. It’s so juvenile.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’ve said repeatedly that the trash-snooping wasn’t okay. But as for “so what if they’re snarky?” The “so what” is that I don’t want that crap on my team.

                  I don’t want the trash-snooping either, but the trash-snooper isn’t the one who wrote in and the manager apparently doesn’t even know who did it.

          2. Anonathon*

            Hmm, I didn’t read it that way. She said the notes were “not complimentary towards the organization,” which suggests that they were gripes about the company in general, not her co-workers. (I was imaging something like: corporate says they need to work faster and OP writes, “Kinda hard to work fast when you have no phone or computer, LOL!”) Again, not professional or appropriate. But there isn’t anything to indicate that the OP was writing mean things about individual people.

        2. Zillah*

          This is my impression, too. I didn’t get the sense that the OP was writing nasty things about her colleagues – just the situation.

        3. Chloe*

          I agree, I think Alison has read WAY too much into what was going on. She makes it sound like hours of giggling, chortling, passing loads of notes. It seemed much less than that to me, not the federal offence Alison seems to be making it!

      3. RecruiterM*

        I suspect there are different kinds of conference calls.
        The one in my past jobs were usually very boring and hardly ever informative, unless they were talking about changes in vacation policy or other benefits. If you are in a conference room, I saw people nodding off, it was too hot or too cold, chairs were uncomfortable, etc.
        Some people were listening in on their computers or phones in their cubicles, while doing their work.
        Now, there could be some very useful conference calls, and in those cases exchanging notes is quite common, in my experience – I’d sit next to my manager, and when a question comes regarding my part of the project that my manager needs to answer, I’d write him a note if I am aware of some information that he is not. Or, if a decision needs to be made that I am a part of, I’d write a note asking to clarify something for me before I commit to a goal.
        So exchanging notes by itself is not disrespectful, in my opinion, especially since a person who was leading, it seems, was not in the room. BTW, it seems that OP’s Director was not in the room either.
        And why do we assume she was giggling? And why do we assume there were snarky comments about co-workers?
        All in all I do not see the situation as severe, but, as was pointed before, a manager’s perspective could be different. And then again, I would not want to work in such an uptight environment where a note-writing during a conference call could be a reason for termination.
        I once worked at a company, which was a subsidiary of a very famous gadget and software making company, when a very famous leader of a parent company had initiated a 60% reduction of force in my company. I had survived, but when this famous leader came over to participate in an all-hands following the ‘restructuring’, and chewed out publicly somebody who was taking notes during this meeting (for a friend, who could not be present that day), demanding to see them right away – that was the day I had had no doubt left that I want out of there as soon as possible. I had started a new job within a month.

      4. Recovering Grad Student*

        Again, it’s an illogical assumption about the notes being snarky, snide and directed toward other people. Further down in the posting I see that the OP has clarified and that the notes were not about coworkers. The string of assumptions here mischaracterize the situation completely: Believing that the OP’s notes warrants sanction or firing means that you have actually read the notes and I don’t think any of us have – other than OP of course. OP did not commit any grave offense worthy of sanction or firing, but what the other coworker did is. Unfortunately being in the right does not change the toxic nature of the workplace for the OP, and the best thing to do is take that good reference from the boss and look for another place to work.

    3. Joey*

      Frustration is okay. its the way she handled it that was a problem. Venting/gossiping with co workers about other coworkers is poisonous, hurtful, and does absolutely nothing productive except give you a moment of satisfaction at someone’s expense.

      1. Cat*

        But she doesn’t have a computer or a phone or post-it notes and apparently corporate is making fun of employees on conference calls. That’s a whole new level of dysfunctional. Complaining about that is not toxic; pretending that it’s normal is toxic. I’m not saying the OP handled it great – much better to go to her boss – but good lord, I can’t imagine any good employee I’ve ever worked with not being driven out of their minds by this situation. You don’t hire good people and then subject them to those kinds of conditions and expect it not to be enormously demoralizing.

        1. Swarley*

          But complaining about these behaviors in this way is toxic. OP is right to be frustrated, and I’d have serious concerns about the work environment if people were complaining about their coworker openly in a conference call. Writing them down during the meeting is unhelpful and doesn’t solve anything. Talk to your manager about your ability to be productive in the absence of your computer equipment. See if you can shadow a coworker/receive any training while this stuff is being set up. Also consider if this role is really a good fit for you given the thing you’ve already experienced. Recognize the situation you’re in and commit to doing something constructive to change whatever is within your control.

          1. Cat*

            Pretending to be happy to be shadowing someone for no other reason but the fact that you haven’t been given the tools to actually do your job may be what the world’s most ideal worker would do, but I don’t expect most people to fall into that category. Nor do I think that acknowledging basic reality is toxic. Not a good idea, in this case (do it after work at the bar), but not toxic.

            1. JB*

              There is a wide world of behavior between “pretending to be happy” and “trading snarky notes about my job and coworkers in front of other coworkers at a meeting/conference call.” She doesn’t have to pretend that she loves the situation. But the professional alternative isn’t what she did, and I wouldn’t want someone on my team who doesn’t see that.

            2. Swarley*

              I didn’t write that OP should pretend to be happy. But I think that an expectation of professionalism in the workplace isn’t asking too much. Even if those around you aren’t acting that way, why stoop to their level? What’s to be gained here?

              1. Cat*

                But nobody is defending what the OP did. Of course passing snarky notes in full view of co-workers is a bad idea. I just am not willing to extrapolate much about the OP from that lapse given the crazy circumstances they’re operating under.

        2. Joey*

          im not sure you get the managers perspective. I would be wondering why the hell the employee hasn’t voiced her concerns with me so I could either try to help or explain how things work around here. Hell, for all we know it’s a bureaucratic organization where things don’t happen quickly. Bitching about how sucky things are only further poisons your own experience and other people’s experiences. If it sucks so bad give your boss a chance to address it, accept it, or don’t and move on. It’s absolutely unproductive to just complain about things without taking steps to resolve them.

          1. Cat*

            I don’t think we disagree that the LW should have talked to her boss. But I get frustrated with the idea that complaining about awful situations is somehow toxic (though as noted, you should do it outside of work; this was a misstep). Sure, sometimes people get stuck in negativity loops but sometimes they get confirmation that what’s happening is actually terrible and that spurs them to take the steps they need to get it changed (or get a new job).

            1. JB*

              It’s not that she complained, it’s how she did it. It creates an atmosphere in the meeting that is indeed toxic.

            2. Joey*

              When someone is uncomfortable raising issues with the boss while being comfortable gossiping with other co workers about those issues it doesn’t really make for a productive relationship for either party.

              1. Cat*

                Of course not, but one also wonders why the boss didn’t comment already on the blatantly obvious fact that the OP didn’t have a computer or a phone, for instance. When stuff like that appears to be affirmatively ignored by your manager, it isn’t really going to create an atmosphere of honesty either. You can kind of see why the OP might not have felt comfortable raising it given that. It obviously wasn’t the right decision, but not always making the right decision in really bizarre circumstances doesn’t actually say that much about you in normal circumstances, I don’t think.

              2. Whippers*

                Maybe there’s a reason people feel uncomfortable raising issues with their boss? Like the boss may not listen to them and in fact hold it against them for raising said issues.

              3. Melissa*

                Well, there’s really no indication that she was uncomfortable raising these issues with her boss or that her boss wasn’t already aware of how she felt.

          2. Kelly L.*

            The LW says “we have both shared our concerns,” which could mean that they’ve shared them between themselves, but the wording sounds more to me like “we’ve each shared our concerns with someone higher up.”

          3. cuppa*

            I agree with this. Venting can be healthy, but it’s best to do that outside of the workplace. Inside the workplace, it has to be constructive and to the right person.
            I had a staff person once who complained about everything in the middle of the office to everyone except me. Was some of it valid? Yes. But it got mired in all the negativity she was spewing, clouded her performance, and made everyone dislike her. She created her own negative environment and then wallowed in it and contributed to a toxic, negative workplace. It was unprofessional and unproductive, and it only ruined her.
            Yes, there was another boundary crossed by another employee, but that really doesn’t negate what happened here. What the OP did was unprofessional, inappropriate, and didn’t contribute anything productive. I’m not saying that I’ve never rolled my eyes when I shouldn’t have, or said something unprofessional in the workplace, or whatever. But if I get called on it, that’s on me no matter how it gets found out.
            I agree with Alison’s advice.

        3. Kerry*

          But she doesn’t have a computer or a phone or post-it notes and apparently corporate is making fun of employees on conference calls. That’s a whole new level of dysfunctional. Complaining about that is not toxic; pretending that it’s normal is toxic.

          Yeah, this is where I’m getting hung up.

          The OP:
          doesn’t have a computer after three weeks
          doesn’t have a phone after three weeks
          doesn’t have basic stationery and apparently never will
          does have corporate criticizing employees on conference calls
          does have colleagues rifling through her trash

          The OP responded to this by:
          writing snide notes about the company’s situation during a conference call

          I mean, it’s by no means the height of professionalism, but neither is anything else about this workplace!

          1. nep*

            One has to rise above, be the adult, and handle things professionally if one wants to be taken seriously and thrive as a competent professional.

            1. Dan*

              Yes, but that’s assuming OP wants to keep this job. This workplace does not look like a place that views *anybody* as a competent professional.

              1. nep*

                Right — but whether OP wants to stay here or move on it stands: Be that competent professional, whatever the circumstances or workplace. Sure we all have lapses in judgment and make mistakes — but even in a seemingly dysfunctional place, the aim should be not to be pulled into the muck of unprofessional behaviour.

            2. Mirily*

              I feel like this should be applied more to the person who went rifling through other people’s trash and then went to corporate. Ultimately, they’re the ones who failed to be an adult, handle things professionally and rise above … in the oddest way possible.

          2. Chloe*

            Exactly! Why doesn’t Alison get this? OP is working for a bunch of idiots and got frustrated, and somehow its a firing offence?

        4. nep*

          No one’s saying to pretend it’s normal. But the LW acted so unprofessionally and only fueled what sounds like an already toxic environment. Even with all the missing supplies, the toxic conference calls, and the like, one can decide to be a professional, rise above the crap, and address things in an adult manner.

      2. Melissa*

        But her letter doesn’t say that she was gossiping about other coworkers. She said she said some things that were not complimentary about her *organization*, and the list at the end of that paragraph makes it pretty clear that she was complaining about organizational things (Post-Its, computers, public beratings) and not necessarily specific coworkers.

  10. Gene*

    According to SCOTUS, (California vs Greenwood, IIRC) trash that has been abandoned is not protected. And the protections in your workplace are even lower.

    One thing OP has learned about this workplace, anything she doesn’t want others to read must be shredded.

    I’ll admit to passing notes during conference calls and meetings, but they are so we can share thoughts on the call/meeting without disturbing the call/meeting.

    1. alma*

      I’m not sure the argument being made is that the trash-snooper did anything illegal (not even by OP), just that they did something socially inappropriate.

      It’s not illegal to go through my neighbor’s garbage if they leave it at the dumpster, but if I start digging out their grocery receipts and asking them detailed questions about what they bought, that’s still fucking weird and invasive.

      1. OhNo*

        I think this comment was meant less to discuss the legality, and more as a heads-up about having an unrealistic expectation of privacy and right vs. wrong. The OP referred to it as their “personal” trash can, and stated that as part of the reason the trash-digger’s actions were so heinous. This is just pointing out that you don’t even have a right to trash-related privacy when it’s a trash can that you bought exclusively for personal use.

        In an office, where the garbage cans and service are provided by the employer, there should be no discussion of “personal” trash cans or the expectation of privacy for anything that is thrown out/left around. That’s like throwing a brand new, 900 dollar laptop in a public dumpster and saying that whoever digs it out is “stealing” because it’s still yours. By any recognizable social contract, you demonstrated that you didn’t want it anymore, and you left it in a public place (because let’s be real – your office/cubicle at work is pretty public), and then complained when someone else took your social cues at face value.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes! And even if it were illegal by law enforcement standards, as you say, this isn’t a court of law where evidence is supposed to be ignored if it was obtained by illegal means. The employer isn’t bound by the same laws as a court.

      For an extreme example, if my employee A stole items from the office and B found out by breaking into A’s house and taking pictures of the items there, I would fire both A (for stealing) and B (for having such terrible judgement). I wouldn’t be required to pretend I hadn’t seen the photos of A’s house because B obtained them illegally.

      A could then press charges against B, of course, and rightly so – and I would even testify against B willingly – but A isn’t made right by B being wrong.

  11. BRR*

    The office rule is never have anything in writing you want to surface later and have everything in writing if you might need to reference it.

    Are you positive they don’t like you? Sometimes it just take a little time to become part of a team. Even if they are all horrible people to work with, complaining about them just adds to the negativity.

      1. BRR*

        Me too. Email, on paper, personal emails written on company computers (this comment I’m writing right now), messages from company phones.

        1. Chris*

          +1 so much! I am so paranoid about this type of thing. I assume that anything that I say or write at work (with the exception of confidential discussions w/ HR and/or my supervisor) can and will be repeated.

  12. A.*

    I may be in the minority here, but I find the trash snooper to be the bigger offender. Going through someone’s trash to get them in trouble is incredibly stupid and petty. I honestly couldn’t care less if I had a coworker writing notes about me. So what? We’re coworkers, not friends.

    1. Apostrophina*

      I kind of agree with this. I understand everything Alison’s saying, too, but unless I had recently done something that could be construed as possibly illegal (that would lead a coworker to think I was stealing or abusing drugs or something, maybe), going through my trash for evidence would seem so disproportional, so far outside the confines of normal adult behavior, that it boggles the mind.

    2. nep*

      I think everyone agrees going through a colleague’s trash is the height of stupidity and pettiness. It’s not about someone taking those notes personally [‘couldn’t care less if I had a coworker writing notes about me’] — it’s the very act of writing snide notes during a conference call instead of being focused on the matter at hand. Unprofessional and immature.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        I don’t agree that it is the height of stupidity and pettiness in a toxic workplace. I think it is just another survival strategy. Any information you can get is valuable in the daily battle.

        1. nep*

          Right. Poor choice of words on my part — I cannot assume ‘everybody’ agrees. (For my money, that would be an awful way to go about one’s days in the workplace…but to each his own and everyone’s got his/her view and mode of operation, of course.)

    3. Anonathon*

      I’m inclined to agree. The trash-snooper’s behavior really bothers me, and I’ve just realized why: the way that she chose to respond to the OP’s behavior in no way indicates that she actually wanted a productive resolution. If she genuinely wanted that, she should have spoken to OP directly or to OP’s manager. But instead she went through OP’s trash (?!) and reported her to Corporate. Come on. You go that way when you secretly like the idea of getting someone in trouble — not when you want to make a positive impact. This was about the co-worker feeling righteous, not about her doing the right thing.

      (That said, the OP behaved quite badly too. I’ve had a relatively new team member be judgemental and negative without having been around long enough to have any context, and it’s very toxic. But I still think trash-snooper was a touch worse …)

      1. Nobody*

        Exactly! Now, I was raised to believe that two wrongs don’t make a right, so neither party’s actions justify the other’s, and it’s not about who is “more wrong.” Looking at the actions individually, I think the issues are minor until the point when the trash digger took the notes to the corporate office. The OP admits that the note-passing was in poor judgment (and probably not as discreet as she thought), but who among us hasn’t said something uncomlimentary that we didn’t intend for others to see or hear? That doesn’t make it smart, but it’s understandable. I can even understand the trash digger’s desire to find out what the two new employees were writing to each other. At my last job, we had two new employees form their own little clique, and it was quite annoying to see them whispering and texting each other all the time. That type of thing can make even a reasonable person wonder what’s so secret. It may be weird to take the notes from the trash, but I wouldn’t call it a violation of privacy (after all, very little in the workplace is truly private).

        The part that concerns me is that the trash digger brought the notes to the corporate office anonymously. There are numerous problems with this course of action:
        1. The trash digger did not address the issue constructively — say, by telling the OP, “I found it a bit distracting to see you and Jane writing notes to each other during the conference call. These calls are important, and we need the whole team to be attentive to them.” Instead of trying to resolve the problem, the trash digger chose to cause drama.
        2. The trash digger went over the director’s head and brought the corporate office into it, instead of handling the issue within the department. I imagine that the corporate office has better things to do than intervene in every petty conflict of every department.
        3. The trash digger handed in the notes anonymously, which seems a bit underhanded — another indication that she didn’t want to correct the OP’s behavior as much as she wanted to create drama. Having people making anonymous accusations like that can really undermine the trust among team members.

  13. Eric*

    Vent to your colleague over beers after work. Not in writing during a meeting.

    However, I’m on the side that says the trash-can snooper is in the wrong more than the letter writer. Personal, private thoughts are perfectly acceptable to have as long as your performance does not suffer. Everything comes back to performance.

    Of course, the other question I have is if you love your director so much, it seems she should be pretty decent manager. Why is there such division in the office?

    1. Joey*

      I would rather have someone on my team that will bring problems to my attention than someone who will just gossip with co workers about all of their complaints.

      Going through the trash is obviously going overboard, but I’d be more concerned with someone whose unhappy, whose actions are potentially poisoning other employees, and hasnt brought the issues to me.

    2. JB*

      I would agree if the LW went to her cubicle after the meeting, wrote down her thoughts about how the call went, and then threw them away. That’s not what happened. She traded snide notes with a coworker in front of other coworkers in a way that made it obvious what she was doing.

    3. Marcy*

      If the director is so wonderful, then why isn’t the OP speaking with him/her instead of complaining to another new person in the middle of a conference call?

  14. Diet Coke Addict*

    OP, have you considered that this job may not be right for you? If only three weeks into it, you’re so frustrated that you’re passing angry notes to coworkers, complaining to your manager that you don’t feel good about the future, and you’re already feuding with the coworkers….I think you need to consider that no matter how awesome your direct boss is, the organization and culture may not be for you. You’re going to have an uphill road from now on–is it going to be worth it to you?

    1. Ezri*

      I found the OP’s opinions about the job to be strange. She says she’s aware of the dysfunction but wants to work for the particular director, but is clearly annoyed enough to be passing angry notes and venting with her coworker on company time. Then she tells her director that she’s not unhappy in the position. My response would depend on whether OP is really happy in her job – it seems to me like she’s acting one way and thinking another.

      If she really is okay with her position despite some annoyances, I’d say it’s time to back off from expressing them at work. Venting happens – I love my job, but I still need a ten-minute vent session after some days. But you have to get the venting out and then drop it, if you can’t do anything about it. Otherwise it just escalates into situations like the one OP encountered, where everyone thinks you are much more unhappy than you are.

      If OP is really unhappy, she needs to get out. I really don’t think she can fix the dysfunction, and in my opinion a great boss wouldn’t make up for not getting the equipment I need or dealing with trash-snooping coworkers (let alone both issues at once). If you can’t endure this place without losing your professionalism, you need to leave; if you can, you need to keep it cool at work (see the above paragraph). But I really don’t see from your comments that this is the place for you.

      1. cuppa*

        Also, I find it odd that the manager asked the OP if they were unhappy when the notes were discovered. If the issues were so blatant or if the OP had brought them to the manager’s attention before, wouldn’t they be aware that they were unhappy? As a manager, if I knew that going in to the note discovery, I would have approached the conversation with the OP totally differently. There may be a disconnect here.

      2. Jax*

        I found that odd, too! Did the director warn her in the interview that her coworkers could be rough, or that policies are currently pretty bad, but he has plans to make changes? Her wording that her director didn’t have the pull to change things YET led me to assume that he’s new to the company/position, too.

        It sounds a bit like the director sold the OP on the possibilities of this company and his big ideas for improving it. If the director confided in her that current coworkers/policies are holding the company back with a YOU & ME AGAINST THEM conspiratorial wink, then OP sitting back observing the dysfunction and thinking it’s okay to make fun of it with another newbie makes sense. It would also explain the crazy anger of the Trash Digging coworker skipping the director and going right to corporate, as if her problem is with the director, too.

        Either way, I’m failing to see the awesomeness of this Director. He can’t even get his new hire Post Its.

  15. Rebecca*

    Good rule of thumb: Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see posted on your office bulletin board or on the company’s intranet page. This includes hand written notes, instant messages, emails, computer files, etc. Every single thing.

    1. Vancouver Reader*

      Exactly! Written notes are the old fashioned version of social media, don’t put it out there unless you don’t mind running the risk of having someone find it.

      I used to write notes to a friend during class in high school, but I took every single one of those notes home with me.

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          Or after you die, your kids can write in to Dear Prudence about the gut-wrenching secrets they found when they read it. =)

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          And if you do, for whatever reason, keep a diary at work, you shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy if it isn’t locked. Although why a professional is writing in a diary with a lock and key at work is another question.

          1. Tinker*

            …because otherwise people would read it? ;)

            However: those little novelty locks that are used in diaries and such can be opened about as fast without the key as with, if you know the trick.

          2. ExceptionToTheRule*

            Great, now I’ve got a mental image of Delores Umbridge sucking on a pink feather pen while hugging pink, locking diary that details all the misdeeds of the Weasley Twins.

          3. LV*

            I often carry my journal in my purse, which I keep in a desk drawer when I’m at work. If a coworker decided to snoop through my things while I was away from my desk, found and read the diary, and told my boss she had found writing of mine in which I criticized the organization, would that be acceptable? Would it be my fault for writing it in the first place?

            It is so weird to me how many people here seem to think it’s A-ok to go through someone’s things because they’re in a semi-public area or because they’re frustrated with that person’s behaviour (no matter how legitimate that frustration may be). Unless you have grounds to believe your coworker is trying to dispose of evidence of illegal activities, keep your hands out of their trash.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yeah, this. Just because someone didn’t secure something in Fort Knox doesn’t make it right to go digging into it. It’s such a terrible slippery slope.

            2. fposte*

              I agree that people should pay more attention to their own work and not snoop, but I think the point that the workplace isn’t yours and you should remember that treating it as such could make you vulnerable is a legitimate point too.

            3. Helka*

              I don’t know about other people’s workplaces, but part of the security audit at my company means that at a minimum of twice a year, I can expect people to come and go through everything at my desk that isn’t under lock and key, and if they see a notebook, they will go flipping through it. Papers in the recycling bin, items in my inbox/outbox, notes on my calendar, any bit of writing that they can access without a key, they will read. I have zero expectation of privacy because my company is way more worried about people walking out with a bunch of sensitive information than they are about our privacy at work (where everything is owned by the company anyway).

              So while I absolutely don’t think it’s A-ok of the coworker to have done this, I do recognize that there is very little expectation of privacy at work outside of maybe the bathroom.

            4. chasingmyself*

              If anyone went through my purse, for any reason, without my consent, I’d be pissed. (Unless I had, say, passed out or been horribly injured…)

              Even if my purse is at work, I expect those boundaries to be respected. Is this not the norm?

              1. Aunt Vixen*

                a) Digging through my bag and finding a journal and reading that I’ve said snarktastic (or worse – since we’re thought-experimenting, how about threatening or murderous?) things in there is several steps removed from witnessing me do something snarktastic/threatening/etc. and casually dispose of the evidence and then slipping in behind me to recover that evidence and alert someone to it.

                b) tl;dr Your purse is not your trash can.

              2. Maris*

                A lot of companies will have documented somewhere (policy manual, employee agreements, notices on doors etc) that any personal property you bring onto company premises is subject to being searched.

            5. Not So NewReader*

              I am a fairly cautious person. I would not advise taking your journal to work and leaving it in your desk drawer. In answer to your question about fault, yeah, it would be your fault for bringing the journal in to work in the first place.

              I am not saying it’s right or it’s wrong, I am just saying that is probably how that cookie will crumble.

              I worked for a company that made it very clear, whatever is in my desk is theirs to inspect at any time. Thank you for the heads up, I said. I made sure there wasn’t one ounce of anything personal in any of the drawers. Additionally, of the papers I kept, I made sure there was nothing there that could not be pinned to a bulletin board in a common area for all to see.

      1. Pam*

        Forgive me if I’m just not catching sarcasm here, but I’m certain Rebecca meant anything at the workplace, not a diary or journal. And if it is sarcasm, I find it unnecessary and unhelpful to the discussion.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Or handed over for the discovery phase in legal proceedings, if your company ends up in court with another company/entity.

    3. Anonsie*

      Past this, I don’t even say things I wouldn’t want everyone to hear. I don’t even write gchat messages or text stuff I don’t want seen at work.

  16. CaliCali*

    The thing, to me, is that these were notes written venting about circumstances probably outside her control. I’ve known lots of people — admittedly, myself included — who have done great work for the organization, support my colleagues, follow the business decisions of those above us…and engage in some much-needed venting because of the environment (not in the middle of a conference call, but certainly after it!). That being said, if you’re three weeks in and already noticing this level of dysfunction, I’d be looking for somewhere else to go.

  17. alma*

    Wow. This is kind of an alien vs. predator situation in terms of who committed the bigger workplace offense. OP’s behavior in the meeting would seriously aggravate me, but I also think digging in the trash (and then going to corporate!) is BONKERS. What’s flabbergasting to me is that I think the coworker would have had a perfectly valid complaint if she had gone to the boss and said, “I noticed OP and her friend passing notes in the meeting, and it was very distracting.” Trash-digging is just… taking it to a different level.

    However…OP, I don’t mean to ask this in a pile-on way, but I noticed that you described your female coworkers as “catty” and sarcastically referred to “one of these lovely ladies.” That, plus your behavior in the meeting, conveys to me that you have a lot of contempt for your workplace/coworkers. Based on the fact that you work with garbage-digging loons I’m not going to say your negative impression is totally misplaced, but I do think you might want to consider whether the attitude you’re giving off at work is part of the problem.

      1. alma*

        Like I said, I don’t assume OP’s negative perceptions are wrong. I’ve been in toxic workplaces and I’m normally inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to letter-writers. But a couple of things in this letter gave me the vibe of someone who says “I don’t like drama” being oblivious to their own role in it.

        I could be totally wrong and I don’t want to come down on the OP too hard, because I do also think the trash-snooper is a major piece of work. I just think OP would serve herself best by at least attempting to take the high road and do better (and I *know* how hard that can be in a toxic workplace, so I don’t offer that lightly).

        1. Ezri*

          The question is, should OP stay in a place where she is tempted to behave badly just because the director is awesome? I’d be concerned about her reputation if she can’t reign it in. I think ‘I resigned due to fit issues’ would serve a future job search better than ‘fired for being rude to coworkers’. Sure it wouldn’t be completely justified, but background checks don’t always get both sides.

          1. IndieGir*

            And that’s the final analysis — does it make sense for OP to stay, regardless of whether or not she could repair her reputation. I worked for a very toxic environment once, and I knew by the second day on the job that I’d have to find a new one soon. This was the job where I got screamed at for breaking a rule I’d never been told, even though the screamer knew I hadn’t been told about that rule.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              This. I keep going back to the no-equipment thing. What kind of place doesn’t give you a phone or computer to do your actual work for three damn weeks?

              I also had the screamed-at experience, on my third day of a job, when I made a mistake. I offered to rectify it but was told no, it was too big a deal (it wasn’t that bad). I went to the other manager (Screamer’s husband) and resigned on the spot. I could tell that working for that woman (who seemed so nice at first) was going to eventually become a nightmare. There were other things, but that was the big one.

              1. IndieGir*

                Or post-it notes? Who doesn’t give you post-it notes?

                Good for you for immediately resigning. I suffered through for 18 months b/f I found I new job, and it got worse all the time emotionally. Although professional, it was the best start in my industry I could have had based on what I learned there and the cred I got for surviving that place as long as I did.

              2. Jax*

                I didn’t have a computer for 2 weeks, and I finally got my own desk (not a crappy work table!) at 6 months. My coworker had to work on a laptop out of a bookcase for 1 year, and it was really awkward because she had nowhere to put her knees. We’re both project managers now with our own offices.

                Sometimes dysfunction in the beginning can just be signs of a growing company rather than impending doom. :)

                1. Treena Kravm*

                  Yea, in a start-up. But this place has a corporate they reported to, and conference calls. I could be wrong, but I’m imagining a bigger set-up than a start-up.

          2. alma*

            Absolutely a great question. Sometimes no matter how great the captain is, you still have to face the fact that you’re on a sinking ship.

        2. IndieGir*

          I can see where you are coming from, but I’ve been on the other end. In particular, at one job I had trouble with two co-workers who didn’t have college degrees, and who thought I looked down on them because of it. I didn’t look down on them at all, I just disliked them b/c they made my life hell from the day I arrived. I actually didn’t even KNOW that they didn’t have college degrees until my first review, when my boss brought it up as something I needed to “work out with them.”

          Yet for a long time, when I would tell this story to others, they would tell me that *obviously* I looked down on these two co-workers for not having a degree b/c I mentioned that they didn’t have a degree. Not sure how I could tell the story without putting that bit in, so I stopped telling the story altogether (until now!).

          But that’s why I’m inclined to give OP more slack — dumpster-diving is out and out nutso, and OP may just not be good at expressing herself.

          1. Armchair Analyst*

            Hahaha, I have an uncle who thinks we hate him because of his sexual orientation. No, we hate you because you’re a jerk!

          2. alma*

            Oh believe me, I know there’s not always two sides to a story. Sometimes you’re contemptuous of a coworker because they’ve fully earned it. I worked with a chronic liar for a couple of years and I know. I’m glad you were able to get out of the workplace you describe.

            But I think it’s also not quite analagous because OP describes actual poor behavior on their part (even if trash-digger was more wrong) and doesn’t really take responsibility for it. To me, someone who passes snarky notes in a meeting after three weeks on the job… even giving benefit of the doubt and assuming the workplace is really that toxic, I’m going to question their professionalism. I’ll also admit that “catty” is one of those descriptors that always instinctively makes me raise an eyebrow at the very least.

            1. IndieGir*

              But see, this is what I don’t get. To me, she does seem to take responsibility — she says she knows it was poor judgement and apologizes to her boss and says it won’t happen again. Not sure why some others are saying she’s not taking responsibility. As I say further upstream, the only part which might come off that way is her last paragraph, where she still feels violated. But heck, if my co-worker did that to me, I’d feel totally violated and even freaked out.

              “Catty” doesn’t bother me so much, although it seems to bug a lot of people. I’d be open to an alternative, but all the others I can think of are either too vague (grossly unprofessional behavior), too long (gossiping, backstabbing, and being generally petty), or just as gendered (b*tchy).

              1. alma*

                I was put off by the “It was poorly thought out on my part, I admit, but I assure you that we have every reason in the world to vent” statement. To me this comes across sort of like “Yes, I hit you, but I was really mad.” I think OP has some legitimate complaints and it could be a matter of them not phrasing things well in the letter, but to me that seemed like a deflection.

                1. IndieGir*

                  I see what you’re saying about deflection. I guess I’m on OP’s side b/c the place sounds so horrible (no post-it notes? SERIOUSLY?) and b/c I think the dumpster-diver went beyond the pale. I colors all the rest of it for me.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                Yeah, I am leaning in favor of OP, too. She wrote Alison for advice. This means that she is still thinking through what happened and she is seeking an opinion of someone with knowledge and experience (Alison). I think there is hope for our OP. I don’t see much hope for any of the other characters in the story.

    1. Christy*

      +1. It also read as a little misogynistic. Women hating women isn’t good by any means, but if LW is male, I’d be concerned about his attitude about women.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        It reads as a little misogynistic no matter the gender of the LW.

        The way to handle this clusterfuck of a work environment is to find another job – not to pass snarky notes only 3 weeks(!) into the role.

      2. Natalie*

        LW doesn’t have to be male to have troubling attitudes about women. Plenty of women absorb cultural misogyny too.

    2. Beyonce Pad Thai*

      Yep. As soon as I got to the line “These women (late 20s, early 30s) are catty and unprofessional, seemingly for no reason whatsoever.” I thought, oh, this is one of THOSE letters.

  18. Apollo Warbucks*

    Think yourself lucky that you Director reacted well to it, and take it as a harsh lesson that there are some sneaky manipulative people in your office. What you co-worker did sucks and shouldn’t have happened but the only thing I can see that will help you is dropping it right now, you can’t complain about someone else’s bad behaviour when you’ve misbehaved as well, it will only reflected badly on you and make you look like you’re not accepting responsibility for your actions.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      +1 to this. OP, I think you’ve learned some really important information and potentially valuable lessons from this. At least one of your co-workers really is that nuts, so at least you know that impression was not inaccurate.

      So I would consider pulling way back in your relationship with the other new hire. Keep it strictly professional in the office, and do your level best to be polite to everyone. Try to see something they’re good at, if only for your own sanity. If you must vent (and I understand the impulse!), do so with a trusted friend outside of work, outside of work hours. Or in a personal (not online) journal at home.

      (Seriously, no computer/phone after 3 weeks? What the heck is up with that?!)

      Find an outside of work coping mechanism that works for you. Exercise can be good. Baking bread (if you enjoy baking) can be therapeutic (kneading bread dough by hand is really good for working out anger). If I’ve had a frustrating day, I sometimes boot up “Diablo 3” and go to town slaughtering electronic monsters.

      I’m sorry you had to learn this in a pretty harsh way, OP – it sucks, no question. But in the kind of environment you’re in, sometimes the best you can do is your best to be on neutral terms with the majority, try to do the best work you can, try to stick it out for a year and then get out as quickly as you can. Hopefully you can learn some great management lessons from your awesome director, and some red flags to look for before accepting a new position.

    2. The Earl Marshal*

      I agree. Drop it and focus on solving the internal issues to increase the functionality and morale at the office.

  19. Swarley*

    I think the healthiest thing to do at this point is to let this go. Focus on producing stellar work and leave negative emotions out of the workplace. It’s likely that your coworker went through your trash with the intent of getting you into trouble. If so, mission accomplished. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to not engage in anything that would put you in a similar position again. If your coworker(s) are “out to get you,” don’t give them anything negative to say about you that’s factual.

    Also, you don’t want to find yourself in a future he said/she said situation with a damaged reputation. It’s hard to take the word of someone that’s already shown a lack of good judgment. I think you can come back from this!

    1. nep*

      Good points and advice.
      If there are enough positives to make you want to stay in this job, move on and do your damnedest to be competent and an asset to the organisation.

  20. C Average*

    I have worked with people who behaved badly in meetings. I have worked with n00bs with obvious bad attitudes. I have worked with people who were, I suspected, writing notes to one another rather than focusing on a presentation.

    I didn’t approve of any of this behavior and definitely drew a few negative conclusions about the perpetrators.

    But I cannot, in any parallel universe or this one, fathom then thinking to myself, “Oh! I know! I am going to DIG THROUGH THEIR TRASH, assemble evidence of their transgression, and hand it over to corporate.”

    If I worked with someone who thought that was a remotely logical course of action, I think complete paranoia would set in and I’d be so busy watching my back that I’d never get any actual work done.

    I’m with many of the other commenters. The OP’s behavior was juvenile and unprofessional. The trash-digger’s behavior was pathologically creepy.

    1. themmases*

      I agree with you. The distinction I see is, even people coming down hard on the OP acknowledge that their behavior might be acceptable outside of work, in private. The trash-digging coworker’s behavior is not OK in any context outside of maybe a legal one. The OP didn’t act right as a professional; the coworker didn’t act right as a person. If I were in that office, I would dislike the OP but feel unwilling to work any longer with the coworker.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I agree, C Average. I would be thinking “wth” and “how soon can I get out of this place?”

      But until I did get out, I think my trash can might suddenly become an intersting place.

      See, if you know that people do things like go through your trash can, you can come up with ways to make that work for you. ;) I would have partial applications to grad school, instructions on how to pick up large winnings for a lottery ticket… oh yeah. My garbage can could get reallllly interesting.

    3. JC*

      +1 Agreed! Actually this is the first time I’ve disagreed with Alison’s take. Not the the OP wasn’t wrong, but she or he seems like a normal person. Reacting unproductively to work frustrations and I can see that it would be a red flag since it’s within the first 3 weeks of work, but it was easy to relate to. I think the trash-digger is far more toxic and very creepy.

  21. Chocolate Teapot*

    At a previous job, it took almost 6 months to get a computer. I knew the office was being set up, but you would have thought the powers that be might have taken it into consideration.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        We didn’t. Well, the earliest items in the correspondence file were written in my best handwriting.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Back when there weren’t computers, everything was set up so that you could work without computers. It’s just not feasible in this era when so much of the info you need for your job is stored online (for example, today I’ve spent most of the morning doing things in a database), and where email communication is such a huge thing. You can’t say use the phone instead–they don’t have phones either. And a lot of communications are too time-sensitive now to just do everything in snail mail. Back in the day, longer delays were acceptable. Like it or not, the current working world is structured around the assumption that you have the use of a computer and a phone.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Ah, sorry, I took the “How did anyone” comment as a sort of “kids these days” thing, and on a second look, I don’t think that’s how it was meant. Sorry LV.

  22. MaryMary*

    I think the entire workplace is toxic, and a good example of how dysfunction creates more dysfunction. If I was three weeks into a job, had no computer, no phone, and coworkers who were hostile from day one, I might do something unwise like vent to my one friendly coworker in writing. Is it healthy or professional? No, but I see how it could happen.

    Going through your coworker’s trash is a different level of dysfunction. If I was the manager and someone who reported to me brought me something they’d pulled out of their coworker’s trash, it had better be evidence of a felony or ethics violation. Anything else I’d shut down immediately. So the manager is perpetuating another level of dysfunction, both going to OP’s manager and in allowing this kind of behavior to be acceptable.

    OP, unless you like working in this kind of environment and playing these kinds of games, get out now. A small group of people isn’t going to be able to change a toxic workplace, and it looks like it’s already pushing you towards bad behavior.

    1. Ezri*

      I’m also curious as to whether the corporate manager knew where the note came from. I just can’t imagine that conversation.

      Snoopy: ‘Our new coworker is so mean! She wrote this about us!’
      Manager: ‘Oh, this is just terrible! Where did you find this?’
      Snoopy: ‘I went through her trashcan after she left.’
      Manager: ‘Seems totally reasonable!’

      More likely the coworker lied about where she found it or was disciplined quietly for creeping around other cubes, but if not… oh boy, the dysfunction of that.

      1. TNTT*

        Probably because it really doesn’t matter where she found it, so the manager didn’t ask. It’s more likely that the conversation went:

        Snoopy: ‘Our new coworker is so mean! She wrote this about us!’
        Manager: ‘Oh, this is just terrible! I’ll take it up with her.’

        1. fposte*

          Or it went: “Don’t go through people’s trash. That’s not reasonable behavior.” However, the manager then had information that needed to be acted on. The OP isn’t likely to be informed if the manager had reproved the co-worker.

        2. MaryMary*

          Ok, I could see that maybe the trash retrieving coworker was repremanded and OP isn’t aware of it. But I don’t understand how “new coworker is writing mean notes about us” doesn’t include a “and how did you find this out?” conversation (especially if the “evidence” is a crumpled sheet of paper)

            1. MaryMary*

              True. At my current job, there are some people who constantly “tattle” on their coworkers (dress code, PTO police, “she doesn’t say hello to me” etc) and it drives me crazy that their managers allow it while simultaneously complaining about how much gossip and negativity there is in the office. I’m not even one of the people they complain about (to my knowledge?) and it makes me insane. I shouldn’t assume OP’s management gave the trash picker a pass just because my tattlers do.

  23. teclatwig*

    Years ago I worked in a toxic workplace, and my particular boss was a controlling jerk. The only way I could stand to get through my day was to commiserate with and vent to another of his direct reports. Man, it was addictive! Every little slight was stored up for the daily (or hourly) validation sessions.

    Once I left that workplace, I was able to see how warped it had made me, and how much energy I had exerted to make myself believe things were anything other than “unacceptable, time to quit.” And those venting sessions? They made things so much worse.

    OP, take this as a wakeup call: The situation at your workplace is driving you to juvenile clique formation. Yes, it may feel like the others are the clique while you and your coworker-in-arms are simply victims, but the snarky note padding suggests that you have formed a counter-clique. Stop that!

    Along these lines, I see the nasty note-writing and sniggering AND the garbage rifling to be reprehensible. For all those sympathizing with the note writing, please remember that they were making fun of and dissing their coworkers who were presumably sitting around the same table. I guess I can’t imagine there weren’t some accompanying eye rolls, smirks, etc. how toxic! I can really sympathize with someone who was on the receiving end of these judgments. I can even see being so livid that I would go through their trash to triumphantly rip them a new one. Of course this would be toxic, and I would be pretty deranged in doing so. But, given the context of a toxic workplace and a 2-person clique mocking me, I would not be my best self, either.

    (Alison, small note: In your last paragraph you recommend not focusing on the coworker who went through the trash, but I think the LW meant that s/he was concerned about the reputation of both coconspirators.)

    1. Snork Maiden*

      I left a toxic manager to go work for a good one and it was a long time before I realized the good manager was actually good and not just “mean” or “controlling”. That’s how warped I was. I feel ashamed.

    2. dawbs*

      This is part of where I land.

      The OP is working for a company where:
      1-three weeks in she doesn’t have basic tools to do her job
      2-coworkers are unprofessional and problematic
      3-employees are publicly humiliated
      4-where others are willing to engage w/ her in juvenile note writing stuff with sneering
      5-where ‘awesome boss’ is your only perceived ally
      6-where when a co-worker had a complaint, the co-worker felt compelled to go through trash to have proof.
      (Because while digging through trash *may* tell us something about the person who dug it up, it also might reflect on the larger corporate culture–where the coworker knew she wouldn’t be believed or listened to without hard ‘proof’)

      OP, I’d say you definitely need to gird your loins and own that you screwed up…but I’d also say the time to start looking for a new job is probably already past.

    3. Natalie*

      I think someone has posted here before that research suggests venting is only helpful in moderation – anything more than a few minutes has the effect you described. I’ve certainly noticed that in myself and I’ve tried to cut back on the endless bitching.

  24. LV*

    As a manager, I would be at least equally concerned with the fact that one of my employees went through another employee’s trash and brought their findings to the director. That’s inappropriate and beyond bizarre, in my opinion, and it would raise serious questions about boundary issues.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      There are so many issues with that, I totally agree. And I am concerned that trash picker is playing the boss, manipulating the boss.
      Where the OP fits into all this, is that it is important for OP to see what kind of work environment there is here. See it as it really is.

      I think OP is trying to overlook stuff and at the the same time all this stuff is actually grating on her badly. So that looks like “Oh this will be a great job once I get my computer. Is my computer ever going to get here?” This is dual thinking, that sometimes we try to just ignore and push through when what we really need to do is stop and deal. If OP were supplied adequately to do her job, then there would be no need to scrawl notes during meetings.

      So far, OP, this company seems to be very good at extracting poor behavior out of people. Pause for a moment and consider “Is this going to change? Do I see solutions on the horizon?”

  25. Elli in Cali*

    As my family says, two wrongs don’t make a right (usually while a parent is separating quarreling kids).

    What really worries me is the toxic culture the letter writer feels she’s working in. LW, what are you going to do if your awesome boss leaves? Your situation reminds me of a job I left less than a year after I started. The awesome boss I came to the company to work with had trouble securing his political pull. They left the company eight months after I came onboard. If you’re this unhappy and unsupported three weeks in, my unsolicited suggestion is to ask whether it’s realistic to expect things to get better, and to question whether this is the right company for you right now.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Good point–if the manager is agreeing that the situation sucks, he/she might be already job hunting. I don’t think even a stellar manager can make up for a horrible workplace.

  26. Helka*

    I’m gonna be honest, OP — if the environment is already toxic, then your stunt sounds like it fits in perfectly, cause holy hell was that a toxic thing to do.

    I’m not a stranger to toxic coworkers, but honestly — the only good way to handle toxic coworkers is absolute, complete professionalism, not the opposite. It’s tough to try and be a paragon, but giving them absolutely no handle to try and get you in trouble is really the best way to protect yourself (and a lot of times it drives them batty, which can be a fun bit of revenge that won’t get you in a closed-door talk with the boss).

    That said, digging through your trash is pretty nutty, and I’d keep a really, really close eye on this person in the future if I were you. Lock your drawers, don’t leave anything personal just sitting out when you’re away from your desk, go full protection mode. Assume anything you leave at your desk or in your trash/recycling can and will be used against you. While you don’t get any kind of real privacy protection in the workplace, there’s a reasonably strong social taboo against digging through the garbage, and if your coworker is willing to violate that in order to get dirt on you, what else is she going to do?

  27. Alix*

    Two points – I’m not sure where the writer gets the impression that there is an expectation of privacy with regard to the garbage can in one’s cubicle. Second, the Director described here sounds – and I’m making an assumption – a lot like a conflict avoider, and he’s “agreeing” with her because he doesn’t want to address performance issues. This is the type of manager that the writer may like now, but will likely find down the road agrees with Corporate when push comes to shove. The kind of in-fighting and toxic environment described, followed by “I secretly agree with you” from the manager, sounds like a sign of a weak leader to me.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Or a leader who knows the ship is sinking and there’s not much he can do about it. Really, THREE WEEKS without equipment. I can’t help wondering if the manager checked up on that and what he was told.

  28. The Earl Marshal*

    I’m going to agree with Alison 100% on this one. I am currently unemployed and was furious reading the OP’s incredibly unprofessional behavior barely three weeks in the job. Incredibly childish. If I had a new job, regardless of the issues I observed, the LAST thing I would do is act out during this time. Passing notes, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This in NOT the third grade here it is a professional environment that has major internal problems. The people at the company all need to find a solution to work together to make the company work better and have a more open dialogue as to what can be improved. The OP is adding to the dysfunctional workplace. I would have serious reservations about the OP. She is lucky this wasn’t escalated further.

  29. Karyn*

    Has the art of journaling been lost on everyone except me? Maybe I’m the weirdo, but whenever I have office frustrations, I take them out on my poor journal, not on pieces of paper that are IN my office. I understand doodling during meetings, or even not taking notes at all (although this also makes you look bad in most cases – just write down gibberish if you don’t feel notes are important, just for the sake of appearances)… but obviously negative comments “about things being said in the meeting (these notes were NOT complimentary toward the organization)” (emphasis added)? Not a smart idea.

  30. Various Assumed Names*

    This rarely happens, but I actually totally disagree. I think someone going through a coworker’s trash is the way more concerning behavior here. What is she, in high school?

    Also, I think there may have been some confusion about what the note said. I thought the LW was saying that they were criticizing the organization for criticizing employees on conference calls, not that the notes were criticizing employees.

    1. Kelly L.*

      This. It sounds like the higher-ups criticize employees during the calls, not that OP was personally criticizing a co-worker.

  31. Snork Maiden*

    As someone who has worked in several toxic workplaces, you have a responsibility to yourself and others to remain professional, even if you feel you are being wronged by something like three weeks with no computer. That’s a reactive attitude and reflects poorly on your character. I know a lot of people (like me) who work in bad environments are drawn to AAM to commiserate, but I 100% agree with Alison here. In the long run, the high road is always better.

    As for the rifling through the trash, I view that in an office as on par with going through your trash folder in your work email. Yes, it feels like a violation, but it’s not private, and I would not expect it to be. You are using work resources on the clock. Save it for home.

    1. Snork Maiden*

      Also, three weeks in is not enough time for me to figure out everyone’s character. Your work buddy can turn on you just as quick as you bonded.

  32. some1*

    For everyone saying the coworker is in the wrong for going through the trash…what if the coworker had found customer checks or a lawsuit or something important…should the LW still not be in trouble because you shouldn’t go through people’s trash?

    1. Elizabeth West*

      No, the LW should absolutely be in trouble. But the coworker could have brought the objectionable behavior to corporate’s attention by simply telling them, “Hey, this happened in the meeting and it really made us uncomfortable.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The coworker had other choices on how to handle this problem. For example the coworker could have gone to the boss and said “OP and cohort were giggling and passing notes between each other during this meeting and it was very distracting.”
      OR Coworker could have said “Can you two keep it down over there, I cannot hear the speaker.”

      In your example of lawsuit papers or checks, that is a different horse. That rescuing that paperwork from the trash would be absolutely essential to presenting a problem to the boss.

      In my mind the coworker did the equvalent of using a sledge hammer to kill a housefly. What will it be next week? Coworker will call corporate because OP was three minutes late for work?

    3. Melissa*

      Nobody said she shouldn’t have gotten talked to about this; most people’s reactions were more along the lines of “it is insane to rifle through people’s trash”.

      Also, I find the question a little bit strange. No one has the expectation of privacy at work, even in their work trash can. But at the same time, how would a coworker find something like that in the trash unless she was going through it? Obviously, if she has some reason to be snooping through the trash – like she witnessed the OP carelessly tossing customer’s checks into her unsecured trash bin – that’s different. But even if she turned up with “I found these customer’s checks in OP’s trash” without any explanation, I would still wonder “…so why were you going through OP’s trash again?” And if the answer is simply that she does it as a matter of course, I would still be creeped out by it, even if she found the Hope Diamond in there.

  33. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Not unusual for people to go through trash. One place I worked, we had some pretty sleazy people who would do just that. They would feed the information back to management.

    How do you handle that? From “Dinner Table Stories” …

    Leave info in your trash — info that ISN’T true – info that is misleading. Or, better yet, mix it up. Some good, some bad (“haggis baggis”). Now , in this fashion –

    – the brownie bin-diver, stool pigeon, whatever you wish to call him/her will be carrying misleading info from your circular file, into the manager’s office.

    – Brownie Scout will go in and tell the manager what he-she knows. “I heard this, I heard that…”

    – When it doesn’t turn out to be true – when it’s INaccurate – and it derails a sleazy manager — the stoolie serves no further purpose to management, and is cast to the curb. Now – the mole being called out by his/her peers – life will be miserable, because not only will the working staff not trust that person – neither will management!

    Another place to discuss bogus stuff – the rest room. Nothing is more effective at stopping an office snitch hiding in a toilet stall by bogus rumors spoken within the bathroom.

    My father taught me this = “Never get into a game of dirty pool with someone. One, if you’re outed as a dirty pool player, you lose your advantage of playing dirty. More importantly, if you resort to dirty pool, you’re probably doing so because your adversary is smarter than you. BUT — he may also be a better DIRTY pool player than you are.”

    So don’t play dirty. Except with other people that do.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      … but I also don’t consider it to be “dirty” in setting up a snitch who’s burned you with bogus info.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I posted my version of a similar thing above. Whatever I put in the garbage I would try to keep it as benign as possible. I would print out directions for locations in the area that would cash large lottery tickets, something like that.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          We had an office stoolie who used to do that – snoop around.

          We threw him off the trolley tracks a couple of times – notes about planned vacations that weren’t to be, diagnosis from the doctor which wasn’t, all sorts of things.

          And when a manager confronted us with things from what his stool pigeon pulled out of the trash, we could only say “huh? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t go to any doctor. Who told you that?”

          Unfortunately, he didn’t realize he had been “punked”.

  34. Elkay*

    I’m curious to know if you were the only one called in front of the director or if the other new person was too.

    Sounds like when you were having the discussion with your director a few comments about the “mean girls” behaviour towards you. Your manager needs to know this is a bigger issue.

  35. Katie the Fed*

    Let this be a lesson to all: snarky notes go in the Vitamix with a bit of milk, kale and blueberries. Delicious and anonymous.

    1. LBK*

      Mmmm, I always wondered if there was a way I could consume my snark directly instead of absorbing it aurally. Great idea!

    2. Abradee*

      Clever and delicious!

      The movie “Election” taught me a very important lesson: don’t throw anything in your work trashcan that could get you in trouble (or in Matthew Broderick’s case, fired).

  36. Eliza Jane*

    A few years ago, I was on a 4-hour conference call with my team and 2 people from outside the team in the room, and a handful of international folks dialed in. One of the dialed-in people was talking, and he was pronouncing a word really, really strangely. It took me 2-3 repetitions to realize what he was saying, but I adjusted. One of my coworkers, though, sent me an IM saying, “Is he saying ??” I choked back a laugh, sent back saying the actual thing he was saying, and added a bit of context. My coworker got it, grinned over at me, and we turned our full attention back to the meeting.

    Later, my manager called me in to say one of the outsiders in the room was really offended by our behavior, because the speaker at the time was answering his question, and he knew that we were laughing at his ignorance, and it was totally disrespectful and rude. I explained the context, and my manager said he understood, but I should go apologize anyway. I did, and told the complainer that I was not intending to be disrespectful, and that we were amused not by him, but by my coworker’s misunderstanding of something being discussed. He proceeded to lecture me for 15 minutes about how insulted and offended he was.

    The experience made me extra cautious of how I present in meetings, particularly when it comes to any sort of “under the table” communications.

    I’m bothered by the going-through-the-trash thing more because it might have been totally innocuous behavior, even though it wasn’t. But really, I’d look at this as a low-cost learning experience: it could have been a lot more expensive.

  37. Diet ginger ale*

    How does the OP know that the person who brought the notes to management didn’t get into trouble for doing that?

    The issue of digging through the trash may have already been dealt with by whomever the notes were turned into. If one of my co-workers got into trouble with management for bad actions, I would hopefully never hear about it. You don’t know what is going on with that co-worker relationship with the management.

    Focus on what you can change about the situation. Don’t focus on how someone else is doing or not doing.

    1. Ruthan*

      Hmm, that’s a good point. In any case, it doesn’t seem like there’s much to be done about trashdigger, other than documenting everything — that’s a big old red flag.

  38. Haleyca*

    I agree that the trash-digger’s offense is way worse than OP’s. To me it comes down to the amount of thought that was put into it. Writing mean/sarcastic/negative notes about your company (especially during a conference call where other people can see what you are doing) is definitely wrong. Super wrong. But I can see someone impulsively writing a note to a friend after something particularly ridiculous is said on a call, the friend responds, and it snowballs from there. Again, wrong, but done in the spur of the moment to vent frustration.

    Going through someones trash involves watching them throw away the notes, possibly waiting for OP to leave their desk to retrieve them, and deciding who to report them to (seems like there was some thought put into this if the coworker went to corporate instead of the director). That is just so incredibly weird and uncalled for to me. People make really stupid decisions on impulse sometimes and it is understandable, but the trash-digging doesn’t seem impulsive like the notes, it seems creepy and obsessive and extremely petty.

    1. Sadsack*

      I agree with you, especialyl since the notes were not abotu any coworkers, just organizational issues. I would expect a coworker to empathize with a new person who has been in the office almost a month and still has no pc or phone. The only reason to take the new person’s complaint notes to corporate is to make trouble and not to resolve anything.

  39. Paloma Pigeon*

    I think what’s throwing me off a little this morning is that Alison’s response seemed more emotional than usual to me. You are right that it was incredibly unprofessional; but you seem angry about it, as opposed to your reaction toward the unprofessional behavior of the trash collector, (which was also unprofessional). I wonder if this is bringing up something personal for you – or if you consider disrespectful behavior in front of peers to be especially egregious, which I understand. But surely the urge to fish through someone’s trash and call the Home Office rather than calmly discuss your concerns with your manager is the less professional way to handle a grievance? Just sayin’ .

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Interesting. People who spread toxicity are definitely a hot button thing for me, and I also think I have a pattern of being less sympathetic when a letter-writer downplays their own bad behavior, doesn’t take responsibility, and tries to shift the focus to someone else, so it’s possible that the two are combining into a stronger than usual reaction. I was (and remain) pretty irked by the whole thing.

      1. A Bug!*

        My non-manager takeaway from the letter is basically that the OP is very upset with having her privacy violated, but she is lacking insight into her own behavior. Because her boss agreed with the sentiments of her notes, she appears to not see any issue with what she was doing during the call except that she did it in a way that got her caught. And since the OP is the one who wrote in, and not the trash-snooper, it makes sense to me to focus on what the OP did to contribute to the situation.

        I’m particularly perplexed with the opening paragraph that notes “catty and unprofessional behavior” followed by the straight-faced description of her own, well, catty and unprofessional behavior. It just kind of smells of the kind of person who says “I hate drama” but who seems to always be at the center of it.

      2. Sarahnova*

        I expected you to call the LW out to some degree, but the strength of your reaction did surprise me. It does seem this letter hit a couple of your personal hot buttons, Alison.

        1. KarenT*

          It’s funny–I actually was impressed by Alison’s restraint! I’m so shocked by the number of people in disagreement with her advice.

      3. Anonsie*

        I don’t want to needle you here– or even imply this is something you do regularly, because it’s not. But I do see it in the comments frequently where people focus more on the letter writer’s transgression, real or speculated, disproportionately because they don’t seem to be taking enough responsibility or repentant enough about their own contribution to the problem.

        This really frustrates me, because a large chunk of people’s letters here shouldn’t have to be devoted to proving to everyone here that they are indeed extremely remorseful, self aware, etc etc. It should really be sufficient to say “I get that I was wrong(and/or I know this wasn’t caused by me), that’s a separate issue, I’d like to get advice on this other part of it” and have the discussion go in a constructive direction from there.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I can see that. This particular letter really struck me as the letter-writer having little real awareness of how she was in the wrong, and to then want to re-open the issue to blame the coworker just seemed really wrongheaded to me.

        2. The Strand*

          This is a late comment but – great point. Many times you can tell someone is writing into AAM in order to bolster what they already think, but often they are asking for advice and providing context. There’s some good faith we should all assume on their part.

    2. IndieGir*

      I think you’ve put your finger on it here. I’m also puzzled by Alison’s reaction, and also the assumptions she seems to be making. She seems to be assuming the most egregious form of behavior from the OP, and then takes the best possible behavior from the dumpster diver. She’s assuming the OP was passing notes in a really obvious and snarky manner, with the dumpster diver merely reacting to that behavior. Yet it’s also possible that OP was discreetly passing notes, and dumpster diver has been looking for dirt in OP’s trash every day since she arrived. Like you, I’m wondering if this is pushing some specific button for Alison, whether because of someone she’s worked with in the past or some pet peeve.

      1. LBK*

        She seems to be assuming the most egregious form of behavior from the OP, and then takes the best possible behavior from the dumpster diver. She’s assuming the OP was passing notes in a really obvious and snarky manner, with the dumpster diver merely reacting to that behavior.

        Yes, this is exactly what surprised me about Alison’s response. I envision the OP feeling crushed by the negative environment and bad behavior exhibited by her coworkers and looking for an ally in her fellow new hire as a way to stay sane. It seems Alison took it as a new person coming into a office with a slightly troubled but overall normal office and taking that opportunity to blithely trash her coworkers with no remorse.

        I’ve written here before about my feelings on venting (that is, to say I find it unproductive), but I was surprised at the lack of sympathy for the OP about the crappy situation she’s been put in. I find her reaction understandable, albeit ill-advised.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think it’s, as Katie says below, the fact that the OP isn’t really taking much responsibility for her role. That tends to drain much of my sympathy.

          1. LBK*

            Interesting. I was satisfied by the level to which she acknowledged her role, but looking back I think it was less what she actually said and more the overall tone of the letter that made me feel that way. I felt sympathy for the OP being put in a crappy situation as a whole, so I think that led to me read more deference into it than is actually put in words (since I agree that, based purely on the words used, the OP doesn’t seem to realize the seriousness of the offense).

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yeah, I don’t think OP is that much different from 75% of the people out there. Very seldom do I work with people who do not talk about others. I have heard some really intense stuff. So it could be that I have been trained to lower my expectations?
              I love that Alison takes a stand on this matter but if OP has this going on all around her, all day long then chances are no, she is not going to understand her responsibility in this mess. It’s tough to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys. If no one around you is role modelling professional behavior then how do you learn to reach for it?

          2. Chloe*

            But Alison, you are really, really taking the worst possible view of what OP did. Honestly, your reaction is only really justified if your (extreme) interpretation is true. What if you are wrong? What if it was one or two notes saying something like, gosh this will be hard to do without a computer, I can’t believe I don’t have a computer, this organisation is crazy if it thinks I can do my job this way.

            From my reading, this could be all it was.

            Read that way, I honestly think your reaction is unjustified.

      2. Craeg an Tuire*

        My read on Alison’s response is that her primary job is to address the OP’s behavior, which absolutely was unprofessional (and make no mistake, even the most “innocuous” form of venting to your crony during a meeting is seriously unprofessional).

        Most other commenters are focusing on the other signs of serious dysfunction at the company, and it does sound terrible, but there’s little to be said about that except “Your Employer Sucks So Much It’s Making -You- Suck By Osmosis, Get Out.”

        1. Kelly L.*

          Now, I do see the point in that. The LW can’t change this whackaloon she works with, so Alison is advising her about her own mistake instead,

    3. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t know, I think it’s a weird letter because the OP seems to have no idea she did anything wrong, and sees herself entirely as the victim. Those are really infuriating to read sometimes, and sometimes it takes some blunt talk to get the point across.

      1. Ruthan*

        I’m not sure I buy “no idea she did anything wrong”:

        “It was poorly thought out on my part”
        “I also apologized for any difficulties that it caused for him, and assured him it wouldn’t happen again”

    4. Apollo Warbucks*

      Total unrelated but your use of the phrase home office made me smile because in the UK the home office is the Home Office is the government department responsible for immigration, counter-terrorism, police, drugs policy, and related science and research, and I imagined the snooping co-worker calling then to report the incident.

      1. Paloma Pigeon*

        Like! I was actually thinking of old David Letterman: “The Home Office in Lincoln, Nebraska.”

    5. Mister Pickle™*

      I confess that I was surprised at Alison’s response. It wasn’t what I expected. Which is not a bad thing, because part of why I participate here is in hopes of learning a few things, and if I ever get to the point where I can perfectly predict what a teacher is going to say, then I’m probably not learning anymore.

      That said – I understand AAM’s point, although I’m inclined to go a little easier on OP because I don’t know what actual remarks were made. Perhaps it speaks badly of my work culture, but over the years I’ve become accustomed to a certain amount of low-level “Out Of Band” discussion via text chat during phone meetings (recall that I work from home). And even in the office, it is not uncommon for two or more people to be ‘attending’ a phone conference and for one of them to hit the MUTE button in order to make a comment to the other person or persons present. But it’s rarely out-and-out snark. In my profession, we attend many phone conferences where we’re hearing about new things and evaluating them, and so there is some level of background discussion. It’s never anything like “I’ll bet that guy is fat!”; more like “I’m not sure this technology is mature enough for us to trust it”. Although sometimes such opinions are communicated rather more bluntly. I’ve never really considered these kinds of comments to be divisive or disruptive, but if they cross a line – maybe I should?

      So I’m going to chalk this one up as a “learning experience”.

    6. Student*

      I think she was right on. When someone comes to you to have bad behavior justified, that needs to be put down hard and put down clearly. Remember that Passing-notes is the one that wrote in, not Trash-rifler, so the advice has to be targeted to Passing-notes instead. Passing-notes did something stupid and is now seeking validation from AAM for doing something stupid because Trash-rifler also did something stupid. Passing-notes needs a wake-up call.

      I imagine that if Trash-rifler wrote in about Passing-notes, asking for validation about trash-digging for dirt on co-workers, then AAM would’ve come down pretty hard on her too. But Trash-rifler didn’t write in and will likely never see AAM, so all additional discussion of Trash-rifler beyond acknowledging that this is pretty darn crazy behavior is not really going to help Passing-notes figure out what to do next.

  40. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    One of the places I worked – some managers were really sleazy / catty and some employees would fall into following that direction.

    Wild but true, but the best way to handle that is as I said above = trip up the snoop. And watch your back.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Well, fer starters…

        Management will likely not have stool pigeons/ spies / moles — in the mix.

        It might lead a management team to change its ways.. and it also will discourage anyone from “helping” management like this in the future.

        In other words, yeah, it’s low — but it’s designed to stop the bin-diver, and bigshots using them as a management tool (for lack of a better word).

  41. Mary*

    Wow. This is a long thread.
    I read that she wrote unfavorable comments about the organization. I have made snide scribbles when corporate suggested we were not using efficiency tools..I.e. CRM systems properly if when in fact the systems were not fully functioning, (we were beta testing systems that management did not use). I read this post from that point of view.
    Hind sight…”if you don’t have anything nice to say…doodle it illegibly “

  42. MR*

    The OP flatly admitted what s/he did was wrong. But beyond that, I have to side with the OP.

    I’ve walked into placed where I knew that on the first day, the place was awful. After three weeks? I could see reasonable people slipping into this type of behavior. Trust me, it will only get worse…never better.

    I can only suggest getting out on your own terms, before they force you out. Start looking for a new job right now. Good luck!

  43. Ruthan*

    Things that actually concern me about what’s going on here:

    1. LW is incautious with sensitive materials.
    2. Coworker doesn’t try to solve issues locally.

    1. Laufey*

      I actually wonder about the “going straight to corporate” issue. How many directors/members of management exist at their location and how high up is “corporate” on the food chain? OP mentioned that she is working at this company solely because of her new director, so presumably they have a good rapport.

      If I’m the trash-searching coworker, my train of thought would go something like this: I have evidence of bad behavior against a coworker that I presumably don’t like. I’m going to hand those papers to…the OP’s chum, the director at my location? Well that won’t solve things. I should give it to my boss’s boss/ director’s boss/my director at another location, so that 1) I get treated fairly and 2) someone knows what’s going on other than the director that hired this newbie who’s writing hurtful, snarky notes about my coworkers and company.

      So, knowing the management structure of this company would help a bit, methinks.

      1. Editor*

        I wondered if the trash-picker simply faxed the notes to corporate anonymously instead of dealing with the situation locally, with some block lettering or something to clue corporate in about context.

        I do feel an active effort to go above the department head without handling the problem locally, plus going through the trash to begin with, is a more egregious offense than the notes themselves, because it is an active effort to cause trouble at several levels (for the co-worker and for the director).

  44. Mimmy*

    Honestly, I think both OP and the trash can snooper were in the wrong. OP and her coworker for passing notes during a meeting, and the snooper for going into the trash. Aside from the (imo) inappropriateness of doing so, I am a bit squicked out by the mere idea of sticking my hand in ANY trash can.

    Anyway – someone else above stated it perfectly: move forward and work hard to prove to the corporate office that this was just a momentary lapse in judgement on your part and that you are an otherwise awesome employee.

  45. Rita*

    The OP said “(these notes were NOT complimentary toward the organization)”. Does that mean that these notes were about actual colleagues, or just the organization? I feel like this is an important distinction, and some people are assuming one way and some are assuming another.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I interpreted “commentary to each other in my notepad about things being said in the meeting” as being about colleagues (who were presumably the ones saying the things she was reacting to), but it would be interesting to get clarification.

      1. Jessica*

        Given the details the OP provided in explanation — not getting a computer or phone or being able to use Post-Its — I imagined it being something along the lines of, “Please review such-and-such documents by next week…” ::writes note:: “If this stupid company would give me a damn computer then maybe I could!”

      2. Us, Too*

        I actually saw nothing in OP’s message that indicated she was writing about her colleagues rather than the organization or the project or something else entirely. I’m not sure what the basis for an assumption that she was writing about colleagues would be.

  46. jhhj*

    I don’t see that she was snarking on coworkers in the notes. She was snarking on a company that refuses to provide phones, computers or even post-it notes. I can’t bring myself to find that so very terrible. (I’d love more details about what the notes said, which I think would clarify stuff.)

    I’d be most worried about a company that refuses to provide computers, and then secondarily worried about someone who doesn’t say “Anastasia and Drizella were not paying attention during the conference call but instead passing notes and giggling” (appropriate) but who goes through the trash to find the notes (way inappropriate). An employee who passes notes to another employee during a conference call is much lower on the list.

  47. AMG*

    I just really hope that the OP weighs in on what exactly the notes said, and also that we get an update.

  48. Mister Pickle™*

    If nothing else, there’s a good lesson here about how much you can (or cannot) trust a trash can. I learned this early, as I was something of a wild child growing up: my mom busted me when I disposed of [item] by just putting it in the trash can and putting the lid back on.

    True story: Fast forward to 1986, I’m working at my first real corporate job out of college, and it’s tax time. I went into the office on a Saturday, found an empty conference room, and started work on my tax return. This is 1986, remember: it was all paper and pen and pencil, no online forms or “e-filing”.

    I screwed up my first attempt somehow, I’m about to crumple it up and throw it away and then I thought “hmmm …”

    I put the form back down and proceeded to fill out the first part of it and put down figures like “$3,122,453.84” for “Interest Income”, along with salary figures corresponding to approximately 4x what I really made. And then I crumpled it up and tossed it into a trash can.

    I proceeded to do my taxes (taking special care to not leave any waste at the office) and completely forgot about it. Until Tuesday morning, when one of my peers (call him S) appeared quite agitated. I asked my office-mate C, who suddenly got all secretive, closes the door, and says to me, really quiet and serious: “are you really rich?” I’m like “what?” and C says “S found one of your tax forms and he’s really upset.”

    I milked it for a few weeks, and then ‘fessed up. But it was great.

    1. fposte*

      That’s hilarious.

      My paranoid overthinking version of a crossthrough is to randomly write a bunch of different words over what I’ve written so that nobody reading could sort the real writing from the camouflage writing.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      GOOD ONE! That’s the type of thing I’d do (back in the 1970s).

      We did have stock then – small holdings which are now substantial, and I used to leave the annual reports on my desk.

      They did rifle through my stuff once — I had a graduate school application in my lunch box – I was working the overnight shift. The resident rat saw it, told the management, who panicked and wanted to have a meeting with me to discuss my future.

      I told them “as the sun now sets, this place is not part of my long-term future plans, unless there are changes…” and we went from there.

  49. Scloam*

    OP here.

    I want to clarify two things: the notes did NOT
    at any point discuss my fellow coworkers. ONLY corporate practices/the organization as a whole.

    And there was positively no giggling.

    Thank you! Carry on. I appreciate all the feedback.

    1. Joey*

      So you’re a new employee who’s bashing the org and the person who turned you in is taking offense? Obviously she went about doing it the wrong way, but can you see why you’re a bigger issue in a managers eyes? You’re tearing the org down and the other person is trying to prevent that.

      1. LBK*

        But is there any leeway here given the fact that the org is bash-worthy? I mean, come on, it’s not like this is a fantastically run organization with a positive environment and the OP’s snark is grinding against the gears of the culture. I don’t believe for a second that the coworker brought this to corporate’s attention as a noble way of trying to prevent the OP’s negative influence on the org. First off, because they did it in such a passive aggressive way, and second because there is no existing high standard to be upheld here. The coworker can’t be preventing the org from being torn down because it’s already down.

        1. Joey*

          No. Either take steps to fix the issues, accept the issues, or leave. Staying and whining about things that can’t or won’t be fixed will grate on people to the point that your days will be numbered.

          1. LBK*

            Doesn’t that apply equally to the coworker, though? Imagine the coworker wrote in and said “I have a new coworker who’s really negative and seems to be buddy-buddy with our new manager. I admit our company is not the most well-run, but I’ve noticed really bad behavior on her part in reaction to that. For example, I saw her writing notes to another team member during a conference call, and it seemed to be about me or other people on the team. I’m thinking about going to corporate and reporting her.”

            Would you say “Great, that’s the right way to address the situation, you sounds like someone who wants to solve problems”? No, you’d say “Stop being passive aggressive, go talk to the coworker directly and if that doesn’t help, speak to your manager.”

            My point is, the coworkers have initiated the system of not taking appropriate steps to fix issues. I do NOT believe that exempts the OP from the blame of also taking an inappropriate step, but I think you’re pinning too much of the negativity of this situation on her.

              1. LBK*

                I understand. I’m still just frustrated by what I see as a lack of empathy for the OP’s situation. I don’t think it makes the actions acceptable. I don’t think it excuses the OP from being chided taking out her frustrations this way. But I think some empathy could have helped temper the severity of the response and the way it was delivered (not just from you, but from other commenters like Joey).

                As I’ve stated on here, I an very anti-venting. I don’t think it’s productive. But I think that if I were in the OP’s shoes, it would be REALLY hard to fight that urge, moreso than in a normal, healthy environment. On an intellectual level, I concur with Joey’s statement that if you see problems, you try to solve them or you accept that you can’t and determine if you’re able to continue working there knowing that dealing with those problems will continue to be a condition of your employment. And I exercise that in my daily life.

                But we’re talking 3 weeks of employment here. We’re not talking 6 months or a year of continued frustration that you can’t bear anymore. I think even the most seasoned and rational among us would find our compass spinning if we realized we might need to start our job search over just weeks after ending it. I don’t believe that even the readers of this site would be able to maintain a fully even keel and be able to calmly try to address issues after that short a term of employment.

                Maybe I’m just too emotional, and you guys are able to keep your head fully about you regardless of your circumstances. If so, that’s probably why we can’t see eye to eye on this. I just think given the circumstances I would’ve written to this OP like she was a good employee who made a grave misstep out of frustration and helplessness, rather than a clueless newbie who was blithely assuming she was in the right.

                1. Joey*

                  The three weeks makes it worse for me. If it’s so bad this soon that you’re already infecting other employees with your negativity it’s not likely to get better, and you may take someone down with you. And to boot you didn’t even give your boss the courtesy or opportunity to address your issues.

                  Personally I’d have accepted it better if I’d have seen a track record that showed it was out of character.

                2. Heather*

                  I’m with you, LBK, especially your first paragraph. I mean, is everybody *that* perfect that they’ve never made a snarky comment about the company to a coworker?

                  The solution to a bad workplace is obviously to get out, but until you find something new you still have to be there. I’m really having trouble understanding how little empathy there is for the OP. If you took out the references to what the OP actually did, you could seriously get the idea from the comment thread that she stole from the company or told someone to go fuck themself in the middle of the call.

                3. MR*

                  Agreed. Every single person commenting on this is throwing stones from inside of their glass house.

                  We may not have all written notes about how crappy our company is, but we have all thought it and at some point, said something to someone.

                  Every so often, there is a letter that receives 100s of comments where the hypocrisy is dripping from most comments. This is one of them.

                4. LBK*

                  If it’s so bad this soon that you’re already infecting other employees with your negativity it’s not likely to get better, and you may take someone down with you.

                  Who is left for her to infect that isn’t already infected by the negativity of the whole company!? That’s what’s driving me crazy about your responses – you’re acting like she came in and poisoned the well, when based on the evidence, the well poisoned her. She can’t be “spreading toxicity” when that is already the culture of the office.

        2. Nina*

          The OP also mentioned that the boss agreed with a lot of the sentiments in the notes. This doesn’t excuse the foolish act of the note writing itself, but it does imply that the boss is aware of the problems, which may have been why he was so easy on the OP. He could be thinking that the notes were written out of frustration rather than malice. Especially when the OP was going on three weeks without the much-needed work supplies.

          Had the OP just been complaining about coworkers, I doubt the boss would have been so understanding.

      2. Episkey*

        I sincerely doubt the co-worker did this to prevent the org from being torn down. Clearly, she did it to get the LW in trouble, and not for a more noble reason. I’m not trying to defend the LW here either, but let’s be realistic.

        1. Joey*

          I doubt that was her intention also, but it doesn’t change the fact that she took an action that combated company bashing. I’m not defending rummaging through a co workers trash can, but this is why her actions are less severe in the managers eyes.

        2. Fruitfly*

          This is what I hope future managers can think about:
          If an employee is telling you that they are upset, someone is upsetting them, someone is doing something wrong, etc. Don’t get too excited thinking that you have employees who are being professional and are directly speak to you of anything wrong that happens at work. Think about are there any other motives. Clearly the OP’s corporate level did not think this through. I know it can be hard to take into consideration of so many things, but you cannot just move anywhere that someone pushes you to go.

      3. Whippers*

        You’re making out like the coworker is some noble defender of the company when there is absolutely nothing in the OP’s letter to indicate that.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      Thanks for the clarification, OP – and kudos for reading all the feedback here. Some of this stuff is hard to hear, I know!

      1. Kristen*

        Curious on this too. I found AAM’s response to be overly harsh and, very uncharacteristically for her, reading waaaaaaay too much into the situation in a way that assumed the worst of the OP.

        Not that the OP is totally off the hook IMO, but like many I disagree with the severity of AAM’s reaction here.

        1. Carrington Barr*

          ” I found AAM’s response to be overly harsh and, very uncharacteristically for her, reading waaaaaaay too much into the situation in a way that assumed the worst of the OP.”

          Absolutely, 100% agree with this.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It doesn’t change the substance of my response (in that the behavior is still toxic and highly problematic and not something I’d want on my team), but it’s certainly better that the notes weren’t about specific coworkers.

        1. Henrietta Gondorf*

          I think it may be the term toxic that’s throwing me. Immature and poorly considered? Sure. Toxic? Not without more evidence.

  50. Alliej0516*

    I totally agree that the LW was way out of line. However, from word one, she did own what she did; to herself as well as her manager, and realized the error of her ways. HOWEVER; at the beginning of her post, she mentioned that there is already a very negative environment going on, though she claims that her director is amazing.

    I don’t believe he is. If he was, he should be addressing the divisiveness and the morale issues with the team. He could do it one-on-one, or as a group; create team-building activities (no, I’m not talking about ’80s retreats or trust-falls!!). Assign projects that allow the individuals to shine, insist on a decrease in the negativity in the office, provide an option for people to vent to him rather than to each other. I’m sure someone will disagree with me on any or all of those suggestions, but if he is the highest-ranked in the office, it’s up to him to delegate to managers on down to team members to create a cohesive environment where old-timers as well as newbies are made to feel welcome and part of the team. Then recognize those who do not step up to the plate and call them on their attitudes individually. But to just let that negativity fester is not the sign of an amazing director to me.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I wonder if the manager is feeling as frustrated with the organization as the OP is. If it’s that bad, he might have just given up trying to do anything about it and is just riding it out until he can get out of there.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Which is another reason for the OP to restart the job search. A frustrated but helpless manager is not going to be great to work for, no matter how much the OP likes him/her, and if the manager leaves, where will OP be?

  51. Seal*

    Aside from the juvenile behavior of passing notes and going through trash, two things about this letter stand out for me. First, the OP didn’t toss her notes in a trashcan in a public area – she tossed them in the trashcan in her personal cubicle. So her coworker came into her cubicle when she wasn’t there and went through her trashcan. Who knows what else this coworker went through while she was there? Regardless of what was found, I would be furious if I found out that a coworker had gone through my office digging for dirt!

    The other thing is that the complaint about the OP’s behavior was taken to corporate rather than to their immediate supervisor, particularly for a new employee. That seems petty to me.

    1. Observer*

      Well, in many offices, the custodian takes all of the bags from the individual baskets and puts them in one place – and it can be very easy to get at that bag before the custodian is done. So, it’s quite possible that the trash picker didn’t go into the LW’s cubicle.

      1. Zillah*

        So instead the coworker went blindly reaching in trash bags to read random crumpled up pieces of paper? I’m not sure that’s any better.

        1. Observer*

          No, it’s more like. “Oh, there is Jane’s bag. She was really busy with her notes at the meeting, even though she can’t have anything to add. Let’s see what’s in there.”

          Still a wild leap – In a reasonably functional workplace, this person would be digging her own termination pit.

  52. soitgoes*

    I actually kind of understand why the coworker went over the director’s head on this – the director is known to agree with the OP’s complaints about the company.

    I once had a professor get upset when I went to the department chair over some pretty crucial issues (deviating from the syllabus without distributing new ones, failing to hold office hours, saying inappropriate things in class) instead of going right to him. The answer was that 1) I had gone to him in the past over similar issues and nothing was resolved, and 2) the nature of the issues meant that he wasn’t the right person to speak to anyway.

    Even though the OP’s director is seemingly the only reasonable higher-up in the whole company, he’s actually THE problem in the chain of command – he’s getting in the way of how the VPs want the company to operate. The OP should stay there as long as she can, but seriously look for other jobs while collecting those paychecks. She also absolutely must internalize the lesson here, which is that her behavior was horrid as well. No one comes out looking good here.

  53. Rex-a-ford*

    Maybe I’ve missed something, but isn’t it possible another member of management, (or possibly a more senior member) saw the note-writing and retrieved in from the garbage? OP hasn’t said who exactly was in the conference call, so we only have the possibility of whoever she said thinks did it. Also, if I was responsible for training a new co-worker, I wouldn’t have any qualms about picking up her notes from the garbage.

  54. TheTemp*

    Okay so, I haven’t got the time to get into this discussion the way I’d like (I started a new job this week!), but ALL of this is a super hardcore mess. Just give us some funny details and this is an episode of The Office; and as much as I love both series, I’d NEVER want to work in those situations. Like never ever.

    1- I think the note passing thing was equally as bad as the garbage diving. OP, you need to take the high road here. By engaging in that kind of behavior, both you and your new coworker are adding to the toxic environment. You admit that it was a bad move, and that’s great, but going forward you need to look at your workplace with a new set of eyes.
    2- Your manager is NOT a good manager. I suspect that because he’s amiable or pleasant to work with that you think he’s a good manager, and indeed amiable and pleasant are good things for a manager to have, but not at the expense of actual management skills – being objective, being able to take action when it needs to be taken, etc. I wouldn’t want to work for him.

    If you want to stay there, you need to grit your teeth and be better than those around you. Or you should take steps to leave, which I would do POST HASTE like SNAPPY.

    1. LBK*

      2- Your manager is NOT a good manager. I suspect that because he’s amiable or pleasant to work with that you think he’s a good manager, and indeed amiable and pleasant are good things for a manager to have, but not at the expense of actual management skills – being objective, being able to take action when it needs to be taken, etc. I wouldn’t want to work for him.


      1. Diet Coke Addict*


        Because he is pleasant and genial and nice to you does not make him a good manager. I wonder if the other coworker have twigged onto that (identifying the manager as not willing to take action in a crappy situation) and that’s why they went higher-up–to kill two birds with one stone.

    2. LawBee*

      Good point re the manager. I wonder if OP loves him because of his managerial skills (which seem to be lacking) or because he’s just such a nice guy to work with, never makes waves, etc.

  55. cuppa*

    Upon reading the letter again, I think (and hope) that OP realizes what a grave misstep this was. I do agree that the trash snooper was inappropriate, and that should be addressed with them, but it’s not up to the OP to bring it up, it’s the director’s or corporate’s job to do that. To me, it’s really two separate issues that should be addressed and dealt with separately, and the OP probably won’t be privy to that. In the meantime, I would watch my trash and everything else.

  56. AE*

    I pulled up stakes and move 1,000 miles for a new job and landed in a negative, dysfunctional environment once. I didn’t have any allies though. The negative nellies expected to drive out or outlast the boss and any non-conformist coworkers who didn’t go along. Expecting a newbie to get along in a dysfunctional environment is wrong – the boss should expect the newbie to be on board with the boss’s priorities, not the priorities of the narcissists and divas and negative nellies that need to grow or go!

    If the environment is irredeemably hostile and negative, both the boss and the letter-writer should get out ASAP!

  57. Beebs*

    . . . do we know for sure it was one of the “lovely ladies” who retrieved the note? OP asserts that it was, but unless I’m missing something we don’t know for sure who did it. Now, dumpster-diving in the office is weird no matter what, but it might have been anyone in the meeting. And if the meeting was so small that only a couple of other people might have seen OP passing notes, then that means the behavior was even more disrespectful than I thought.

  58. David*

    So I’ve read the letter and AAM’s response twice now, along with many of the comments, including the suggestion that we not pile on the OP. And I gotta admit that this time around, piling on AAM is where it’s going to go.

    First off, we’re always saying around here that we need to give the OPs the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think a lot of people are doing that, and are assuming more about her behavior than the letter conveys.

    People sitting next to one another in meetings (conference calls or otherwise) and exchanging notes on a notepad passed between them is something I see almost every day. It’s a respectful way to have a side conversation without interrupting the speaker or flow of the meeting. It may be a question, reminder or simply commentary. I’m surprised by how many people aren’t seeing this happen at their jobs.

    As I read, and re-read, the letter, here’s how I pictured that conference call going down:

    Conference Call Speaker: We’ll be sending out the new marketing plan for our teapots after this meeting. Please be sure to read the attachments and get me your feedback by close of business tomorrow.

    Notepad 1: Sure…I’ll just use my imaginary computer to read that attachment.
    Notepad 2: No kidding!

    Conference Call Speaker: Just so everyone is aware, we’re denying any purchase orders for post-it notes. We’ve determined they’re inherently disposable and therefore a waste of money. If you wish to take a note, please use the post-it note feature on your computer.

    Notepad 1: OMG! The computer I don’t have?
    Notepad 2: No post-its? Are we low on money around here? Maybe that’s why we don’t have computers.
    Notepad 1: Should we be worried?

    Conference Call Speaker: I was hoping to be able to present that PowerPoint to all of you today, but your dumba$$ admin Martha still can’t figure out how to get the projector set up in your conference room. So, you know, thanks Martha for the bang up job.

    Notepad 1: Did she really just say that?

    So maybe the notes weren’t constructive. And I get that the OP may only be three weeks into the job. But giving the OP the benefit of the doubt, and understanding that being there only three weeks doesn’t mean the OP isn’t capable of recognizing massive organizational dysfunction and experiencing tremendous frustration at not being able to do the job they were hired for because of that dysfunction, I’m willing to take the OP’s side on this one entirely. Her director’s response to the situation supports that. The person digging through the trash and corporate’s willingness to accept this behavior just adds fuel to the dysfunction fire.

    OP: If it’s worth anything, I’ve got your back on this one. But my suggestion is that no matter how much you may like your director, run. Run now. The problems are bigger than a great director will ever fix.

    1. TheTemp*

      Even if sharing notes during a meeting is common (and indeed it is, I’ve seen it plenty of times), and even if the content of those notes is totally innocuous, it can go very poorly and whether or not to do it can depend on the culture of the workplace. In a large meeting of say, 20 people in a room on a conference call where the person leading is actually on the call and not physically present? Okay. In a small meeting of 5 or 6 where the person leading the meeting is right in front of you and maybe a bit of stickler for attention? Bad idea. It being a common, usually harmless practice doesn’t always make it a good thing to do.

      I think any concerns you have about your workplace, your job, and your ability to do your job should be brought up to your manager and your manager only. OP has LOTS of perfectly valid reasons for their unhappiness, but I think even in a functional environment you should lay out your concerns with your manager privately, because airing them out with coworkers (while understandable) can go really bad really fast. Here we have an office full of sixth graders who turn out to have a garbage diving (and probably brown-nosing, too) psycho their midst. I think you should always play any unhappiness about your job close to the chest, and especially so in an environment like this.

    2. Us, Too*

      This is where I think I’m landing on this as well. This may not be ideal behavior, but in the grand scheme of things I wouldn’t label it as “toxic” under the circumstances.

    3. soitgoes*

      The thing is, the OP actually did write disparaging notes about the company that were not relevant to the content of the phone call. You’re not proving that she did nothing wrong. You’re giving reasons for why she should have gotten away with it. Had she and her friend been writing notes about the call, or discussing something else about the project, the snooper would have seen that when she picked the note out of the garbage. Then it ALL would have been the snooper’s error. But the snooper discovered that the OP did something that she hadn’t been doing. And even if she hadn’t been caught, well, it’s still not the right way to act.

      1. Karowen*

        The thing is, the OP actually did write disparaging notes about the company that were not relevant to the content of the phone call

        That’s actually not true – It’s stated in the letter itself that the OP and her new co-worker were “occasionally writing notes/commentary to each other in my notepad about things being said in the meeting” (emphasis mine).

        But that’s besides the point – haven’t we all been in a conversation that starts in one (sometimes innocuous) place and leads down a totally irrelevant (sometimes not-so-innocuous) path? Haven’t we all been in meetings that we have no business being in? Or meetings that last hours instead of minutes where even the most disciplined employee starts drifting off into a happy place?

        Point is – I’m with David on this.

      1. Heather*

        Then I’m even more on your side than before.

        You did something mildly stupid. Your coworker did something totally insane.

        1. Zillah*

          Ditto. And it doesn’t shock me that OP’s manager reacted the way he did, if that’s essentially what the notes were.

      2. AMG*

        Me too. I really believe this is blown out of proportion by a person out to make trouble for others. Regardless, you may want to consider a new job. and don’t write anything. All verbal from here. Because you know one of those crazy women will pull your stuff from the shredder, tape it back together, and bring it to HR.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t see anything toxic in your examples of written notes, David. Matter of fact, I think that is pretty tame compared to things I have heard through spoken conversation.

      Perhaps we are pondering where does a conversation turn toxic? I consider threats of any sort toxic. Name calling, berating individuals – that to me is toxic.

      The conversations you illustrate here comes under the heading of “just another day at work”. I don’t think this is toxic. I think it is a fairly normal conversation between coworkers who understand each others predicaments.

      1. Fee*

        “Matter of fact, I think that is pretty tame compared to things I have heard through spoken conversation.”

        Given the examples above seem to be fairly accurate, I’m curious to know what AAM’s/others readers’ take would have been if this scenario didn’t involve written notes. For example if the two co-workers had come out of the meeting and were making these kind of comments while making coffee in the staff kitchen, not realising someone passing by had stopped to listen in. I think someone going to ‘corporate’ and reporting that conversation would be seen as completely weird and to be honest I don’t really how the notes are any different.

  59. The RO-Cat*

    Well, this is one of the very rare situations where I wholeheartedly disagree with Alison regarding her take on the whole mess (it’s a mess, undoubtedly). I put that on the cultural differences, nevertheless.

    One, exchanging notes or whispers in conference calls – heck, in in-person meetings – isn’t a major no-no here, we Romanians being of Latin origin, thus quite voluble and chatty. Snark and negativity *are* things that might draw attention, but not the level of reaction I saw in some comments. I get that OP’s behavior was unprofessional and childish; but if the atmosphere is half as toxic as she says, the notes exchange bears little to no weight in the big picture, other than as an alarm to OP that toxicity is highly contagious and also highly damaging.

    Two, the dumpster diving raised my heckles up high. I lived in a society where Thought Police would go to any lengths to get you, including – but not limited to – having coworkers snoop, dig in trash cans or even make up things about you. So, to me the coworker who retrieved the notes is no better than our own “Securitate” snitches – and just as despicable. This deed alone makes OP’s mistake almost laughable.

    So, OP, no advice here, beyond “run, don’t walk”. But you have my sympathy.

  60. C Average*

    I’ve been pondering the question of whether one should expect one’s garbage to be a secure and/or private location, as this has come up in a few comments.

    I don’t expect my garbage to be secure or private in the sense that I wouldn’t discard something that might create legal issues for me or my employer. I wouldn’t put financial documents or company documents under an NDA or personal correspondence in my trash.

    But this is because I don’t want meth-heads to steal my identity or corporate spies to steal my company’s secrets. I worry about this stuff happening in the dumpster or the garbage truck or the town dump, but it wouldn’t occur to me to worry about it happening under my desk in my badge-access-only building.

    I guess my point is expecting my colleagues not to be rifling through my trash ≠ expecting privacy with regard to my trash. I don’t expect the creepers and the criminal element to respect social norms, but I do expect my co-workers to generally do so. So if I had something to discard that had no personally identifying details and no value to a criminal, I wouldn’t think twice about throwing it away. I think this is a pretty normal viewpoint.

    1. Joey*

      I had an employee bring me a garbage can a long time ago to report a male employee. Guess what was in it. A tissue with a white slimely substance. Of course I wasn’t going to perform any testing of the substance, but I was about 95% sure of what it was. The guy said milk made his snot look white. He wasn’t sick that I could tell so I fired him. The employee said she felt like she had to bring me proof because she was concerned I wouldn’t believe what she suspected because it was so outrageous.

        1. Joey*

          It was a terrible place as you can probably imagine. It was the same place I worked where the poop smearing on the bathroom walls happened. I don’t know why but the poop was worse.

          1. ryn*

            At least the ~white substance was already IN the trash can. With the poop, someone has to clean that up. That’s just awful. And also with the ~substance, you know who did it, but the poop, unless you caught them um…brown handed, you don’t know who did it. Ugh. Gross. Ew. Ugh.

  61. LawBee*

    I’m 100% with Alison here.

    And I’m wondering about the OP’s work behavior. Three weeks in and already everyone hates her? Writing snarky notes in conference calls? If it were me, I’d be taking a close look at how I’m presenting myself to everyone else.

    1. David*

      There’s a contingent of people in my department that automatically dislike any male or overweight female that’s hired. So I wouldn’t be so quick to say that it’s necessarily the OP’s fault co-workers already dislike her. Heck, she could be outperforming other folks (even without a computer), and they’d dislike her. Or maybe they dislike her because she’s always asking to borrower their computers. Or phones. Or post-it notes. Or trash cans.

  62. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I am now tearing myself away from the Internet, but I just wanted to say that I really appreciated this whole discussion. I found it pretty fascinating to hear such divergent viewpoints so cogently presented, and it’s made me think harder about my assumptions and my assessment. I ultimately still come out in the same place that I did when writing the original post, but I really appreciate being pushed to challenge my thinking like that, and it’s totally fascinating to see that perfectly reasonable people can disagree so strongly on the issues in this letter.

    It’s nice when people agree with me, but it’s cool in a whole different way when this sort of discussion happens.

    1. Sandrine (France)*

      That’s the thing though. I haven’t participated in the rest of the discussion, but at least you are someone we can discuss things with.

      So all in all, to me it doesn’t matter whether I agree with you or not: what matters is that, if I am, I can express it, and if I’m not, I can discuss it.

      Thank you Alison!

    2. Ineloquent*

      Alison, I like that you’re like this. I’ve known a blog or two where the admin will just refuse to allow posts through that disagree with whatever their opinion is.

        1. Heather*

          I don’t think that’s the case at all – he only deletes comments when people are obviously trolling or are dragging the conversation totally off topic (and when it’s the second one he puts a note explaining to the person that they weren’t out of line, just off topic). The Mallet of Loving Correction is one of the reasons I like reading there.

    3. Melissa*

      One of the things that I love about your blog is that you invite discussion and different perspectives, and you respect other people’s opinions as much as your own – and allow them to challenge and sometimes shape your thoughts. That’s pretty awesome!

      1. Kerry*

        I agree! This is one of the generally most constructive comments sections I know of, and that’s a really difficult thing to achieve.

  63. Cheryl Becker*

    I’m surprised at the number of people who think the trash can snooper is in the wrong here. I mean, yes, she is, but I agree with the person who said she probably wouldn’t have done so if it hadn’t been so obvious that where was some pretty juvenile note-writing going on here. Trying not to pile on the OP, but yes, don’t try to rationalize your actions and complain about your privacy being violated. Agree with everything Alison said.

    1. Enjay*

      I don’t think I’ve ever been in a meeting where I haven’t seen someone show their notebook to the neighbor or slip a note to someone else at the table. It’s common and normal. It’s not common nor normal to see someone pass a note and decide that you just have to know what it said, then enter that person’s office/cube and go through the trash to try to find it. Then, after finding the offending note, it is completely out of line to bypass local management and take the note, written by a brand new employee, to someone at a much higher corporate level.

      The snooper is a million times worse than the note writer.

      1. soitgoes*

        The snooper is worse if it turned out that the notes hadn’t been particularly inflammatory. But she showed the notes to the higher-ups, who decided that the notes really were that bad.

    2. Human Resources Manager*

      I also agree with Alison, I am very surprised by many of the responses. We all vent and make snarky comments but doing it in a meeting or conference call, in front of co-workers, putting it in writing (!) and then not seeing any fault in yourself, those are all bad things. The trash snooper is not the kind of employee I’d want either but the OP is, in my opinion, much more in the wrong. Especially having only been with the company such a short amount of time. I would expect my employee to come to me about their concerns, not act in such an immature manner and then complain when they are called out about it.

      1. Fruitfly*

        Maybe the OP did talked to the company about her concerns, such as not having a computer, but the company was not responsive. But I still think she should not have written notes at work to complain. If she wants to complain, she should have done that outside of work. If she did write notes, she should have used a pen to scribbled out all her writings before she put it in the trash, so the mean coworkers won’t know what she wrote even after searching through her trash.

        Hmm….I also wonder if the trash-snooper is actually the co-worker that she vent to. She Some people can be so malicious that they pretend to be your friend in order to get your “dirt” and used it against you. How can she be so sure it is the two mean ladies that are at her office. Sometimes things are not what you expected.

        1. Fruitfly*

          I also feel that the trash-snooper is the most heinous co-worker one could have. I do feel sorry for the OP in some ways. I hope next time she scribbles out all her writings when she throws out written notes so she can be more safe. We all need to vent, but we need to learn safer ways of doing so.

  64. Allison*

    OP, you say you like your job and your boss, and that one co-worker, but you don’t like the company or the other people there. I hate to say it, but even though what you do and who you report to directly seem to outweigh the negatives, they won’t for long. What’s gonna happen if/when your boss leaves, or the company gets restructured, and you’re surrounded by people you don’t like, and who already dislike you? Even if that doesn’t happen, the bad stuff is gonna wear at you bigtime, and it will impact your performance and overall attitude, which can really hurt you. Start looking for a new job now, and find a place where you fit in better.

    Oh, and writing snarky notes in meetings won’t help you at all. How are you gonna get a good reference (now or ever) if that’s how you behave in meetings?

  65. Sue McCrory*

    This brought back memories of a former supervisor who used to search our trash cans at night and leave anything he found “suspicious” on our desks in the morning, with interrogatory notes. They included gum wrappers (we weren’t allowed to have “food” at our desk), “to do” notes to ourselves (“did you REALLY do all these things?”), why other items were thrown away – say you were writing a note for a file, realized you needed to reword or misstated something, and it was easier to start over. You would find it on your desk the next day, with demands to know why you were “throwing work away” because you must be hiding something. We took to writing on anything – ANYTHING – we threw away with things like “trash”, or asking him if it was okay to throw away notes, and then writing on the notes “XX said I could throw this away” and DATING them, because otherwise, you’d find them on your desk.

    1. the celt*

      I don’t know if I could handle this. I’d probably get a large handbag for work and then throw my trash in there to throw away later. This is ludicrous! Who has that kind of time?

      1. nursingnotes212*

        It’s probable that he lacked the ability and/or the inclination to do real supervisory duties, which is how he has the time and energy to go on these midnight trash raids. Managers like this are just attempting to over-compensate for not knowing how/being too lazy to do their real job. You generally don’t find good managers pulling these bizarre stunts, anymore than you find promising job candidates trying to pull off gimmicks in their job search.

  66. Elle*

    Sorry to be harsh but if I worked somewhere that was incredibly dysfunctional and everyone was unhappy and a new hire arrived and was harshly punished for reacting poorly to that dysfunction, I would have no respect for the manager who punished them. In other words, I have less respect for Allison reading this answer, because she cares more about superficial adherence to “the law” than motivation and ethics. The other co-worker “technically” didn’t do anything wrong. Sure it was sneaky and nasty, but she didn’t break any “rules” except those of integrity and a decent character.

    I work in an environment right now FULL of people like this. They spend ALL of their time trying to make themselves look good by dragging other staff down. There is lots of bcc-ing and forwarding of emails, lots of trying to trap people, lots of CYA, lots of politics. They never break any rules. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bcc-ing a manager. Of course, you should take your concerns up the chain. Of course, it makes sense to CYA. But when people are using these daily as weapons: it’s a horrible place to work.

    A manager that accepts this is not one I want to work for. I agree with the other commentators: OP, get out. This place is a hellhole. I’m job hunting and will be exiting asap. I’ve had to go on anti-depressants and start using a therapist in order to deal with basically the daily reality of people aggressively willing you to fail and being unable to trust people for even small things. It’s completely destroyed my love of my industry and it’s totally burned me out on my profession. It’s not worth it. Leave.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My stance here isn’t about adherence to “the law.” It’s about toxicity, what it says about an employee willing to engage in this kind of thing, the fact that she’s new so I don’t have any existing track record to ameliorate it, and the fact that I don’t want that kind of thing on my team.

      I don’t want the trash-snooper on my team either, probably, but I want to know more about what happened there.

      But I agree that she probably should get out. The company sounds horrible.

      1. Whippers*

        Alison,just as a matter of interest; do you think writing notes to eachother is really so much worse than verbally venting or do you have the same attitude to this?
        Is it the actual negative note writing in someone else’s presence you take offense to or just being negative about the company in general? Would it have made a difference if it were not obvious to anyone what the OP and her coworker were doing? (In which case you could argue that it’s not any different than venting in private)

          1. Yogurt*

            I don’t understand how is writing notes worst than verbal venting. Negative info is going to spread as equally as fast and the sentiment is as equally as bad. Both are also as equally as deceitful because people can use both methods to hate and sabotage you privately. I have been bullied and teased by people before, and I feel as equally as unhappy when people verbally attack me or attack me by privately writing stuff about me.

            1. Iro*

              I see the OP’s behavior to be a lot like those ridiculous “slam books” in middle school where children wrote gossip about each other. I totally agree with Alison that putting grievences in writing and sharing is worse than verbalizing.

              Alright, in the heat of the moment maybe you said something slightly off color at the water cooler. It happens to all of us sometimes. But to write something down takes more effort and forces you to think about the words you use as you write them letter by letter. Then after it’s written, you have the active choice to not show it to someone and instead discard of it (preferably in the secure bins). There are simply many more chances to “rethink” a poor choice of words when written which is why, in general, I find that our HR department takes innappropriate emails much more seriously than a one-time off-hand comment.

        1. Joey*

          To me it’s the act of being so new and thinking bitching about work with a coworker is more important than a conference call. When you’re three weeks in I expect you to be a sponge, soaking in as much info as you can. It would make me think you’ve already checked out.

    2. Nan*

      “In other words, I have less respect for Allison reading this answer, because she cares more about superficial adherence to “the law” than motivation and ethics.”

      I don’t know if I agree 100 percent with Alison’s answer here (although I lean toward agreeing) but really? Alison posts, what, over 1000 posts a year? That’s an extensive track record. I don’t expect to agree with everything anyone says when they’re generating that much material but I also don’t see anything in her track record that would make me say she cares more “cares more about superficial adherence to “the law” than motivation and ethics.” Quite the opposite.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I disagree with Alison on this one, but I think she genuinely means the behavior is toxic, and she has a point.

      But toxic cultures breed toxic behaviors – very, very literally, according to research – and so I feel some sympathy for the letter writer, who is in a spot where their “normal” is being calibrated by what clearly is (on other barometers) a dysfunctional organization.

      And the same is true of the trash-can searcher.

      So, given the LW acknowledged they should not have done that, I feel it’s overly harsh to come down hard on them. I also feel the other coworker was out of line, but again, we don’t know enough about this environment and what is expected to fully analyze it. (Maybe it has been a “you knew X and didn’t tell us? string you up!” environment and the other coworker knows it well. Maybe it’s a “prove it or you’re responsible” environment. Ditto.)

      But I know Alison always does her best to be thoughtful and straight-shooting, and I believe that her point here is not about “the law” but what she thinks of the behavior.

      That said, I would suggest the OP take this as a barometer of how far -out- of normal this environment is letting their views get, and get *out* of an organization that dysfunctional. It not only will be a hard place to work, it will actively degrade the OP’s sense of what is right, proper, and normal – even with constant attempts to remain alert to that, though that would help.

      (This is especially interesting to me because I’m taking a course on unethical decision-making in organizations, which is all about strong contexts and how they mess up people’s ability to see all the dimensions of a decision/behavior, especially ethical dimensions.)

    4. Observer*

      That’s totally not what Allison said. And, here is the thing. It’s true that the trash picker is toxic. But so is the note passer. What makes it worse is that instead of focusing on how she recovers from her own misbehavior, she wants to make it about the person who exposed her.

      I agree that a good manager in this situation should not have punished her harshly. But, what he should have done was to tell her that although her frustration is understandable, her response was utterly inappropriate, and once she apologized, close the discussion. Also, perhaps point out that if she has any issues that she thinks he can help her with she should come to him. But he didn’t seem to have any concerns about it, instead telling her how toxic HE finds the workplace. That’s an iffy conversation, and misplaced under the circumstances.

      As for telling her that can’t tell her who the trash picker is because he doesn’t know himself?! Honestly, he’s as much part of the problem as the solution. As a manager, he SHOULD want to know, because that kind of behavior is generally trouble, and he needs to know where that kind of thing is coming from. On the other hand, it is actually NOT the LW’s business. There is no practical reason for her to know (it’s not as though she has respect for ANYofher coworkers to destroy, anyway), and there is no reason to allow her to blow up an issue with a coworker. If he knew and she asked, he should have answered “That’s not really relevant. You need to be more careful and discreet. I’ll deal with the snooping.” As it is, his response should have been “I don’t know but it’s not relevant to this discussion.”

    5. CorporateAnarchist*

      Alison has been this way since day one. There are too many examples and instances for me to go through here but she comes across as someone who does not value labor unions, employee rights, and empowering the worker. This is why I’ve never understood the following her blog gets, but c’est la vie. If you are the kind of person who buys into the stiff and cold corporate culture she peddles, you would find her posts relevant because she talks convincing like a boss. Personally, I find her to be a corporate shill, and I don’t care for her rhetoric. In addition to her posting my question without my permission, she’s never consistent and contradicts herself such as in posts like this. Sorry, just calling it like I see it.

      “I’m job hunting and will be exiting asap. I’ve had to go on anti-depressants and start using a therapist in order to deal with basically the daily reality of people aggressively willing you to fail and being unable to trust people for even small things. It’s completely destroyed my love of my industry and it’s totally burned me out on my profession. It’s not worth it. Leave.”

      Honey, if you have a safety net at the moment that can hold you up while you are looking, use it. Your unhappiness is not worth the pain you are putting yourself through. I worked for a con artist once and whenever I smell a toxic environment, I either run or destroy and spare no mercy. Burn bridges if you have to. Please do not allow these people to take away your energy. Always remember: they represent a very small fraction of what you’ll encounter outside of your field. I am sure you are talented and I would hate to see someone give up what they love because of an exceptionally bad job. I know because I’ve worked them.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Dude, the site clearly says that any questions submitted may be used for publication. If you don’t want it used for publication, you should state that up-front; otherwise the whole point of the site is to publicly answer questions.

  67. Observer*

    I haven’t read all of the responses, but I did see the clarification of content from the LW.

    My thoughts on this whole mess.

    I think that Allison under-estimates the problem with the trash picker. Sure, it’s legal, but I’ve yet to see on that is not trouble in other ways as well. But, that is NOT *your* problem. YOUR behavior IS your problem.

    Simply put, you messed up, and it goes way beyond “poorly thought out”. Focusing on the misbehavior of the person exposing you is never the way to deal with that. At best, it just makes you look bad. And, it’s not going to win you any point with your boss either, as it’s likely to make him look bad and cause (more) problems between him and his superiors AND reports.

    It’s a mess. I would strongly suggest actively and aggressively searching for a new job. But, take some lessons away.

    You manager is NOT all that great. On the one hand, there is no reason he should have been blind-sided by your unhappiness – that should have been obvious to him. After all, three weeks in and you still don’t have a phone or computer, the org has some fairly weird policies, and you clearly are not getting along with your co-workers, and it seems like you’ve given up trying. On the other hand, totally letting slide your misbehavior, and engaging in a conversation with you on how bad the place is, is NOT the way a good manager behaves. It’s really not surprising that the diver went above his head.

    Also, if you really must vent about your workplace, be very careful where and how you do it. Do not do so at work, and don’t do it on social media. Even if your privacy settings are set high, you don’t know what can get reposted, and facebook, at least, has been known to make changes that break the privacy settings.

  68. Sunny*

    I guess the real takeaway here is that just because someone else is acting unprofessionally does not mean you should join them.

  69. Ruth R*

    I haven’t managed to read every comment so dunno if this one’s been brought up… I did see it mentioned wondering whether the notes were on top of the trash or not… but with regards to how weird I find the actions of the person who went through the trash…

    Really depends on what sort of trash this is.

    eg. in my office under all our desks, we have a bin. Generally speaking, the waste in these bins is almost all paper (with maybe the occasional crisp packet or tissue). ie. they’re fairly ‘clean’ bins. They’re small waste bins and if you went rooting about in one, it’d be mostly paper and nothing gross.

    When I read the post, I was imagining a bin of this kind and therefore not finding the behaviour quite as odd as it could be (though still a bit on the odd side).

    If it was a full on bin including food waste etc it’s be super gross…. I think this really makes a difference when assessing the crazyness levels of our trash-searching friends…

    1. Cheesecake*

      I guess it is not about the bin ass such and if it is “clean” or not. It is about how much can a person piss you off (in 3 weeks) to go through his/her things? Let it be desk, drawers or the absolute wtf – trash bin. I guess if OP left that page in her notebook, colleague would take the notebook to boss?

      I agree it was inappropriate for OP to pass condescending notes.This is one of those silly things that can jeopardize everything. But if i was on the “receiving side” of this behavior, i’d just raise concern to the boss….without collecting evidence from trash bins. It was said already that everything in this story is wrong and OP should get out of there. I just don’t get why AAM only targeted OP

  70. Dmented Kitty*

    I agree with AAM — I can’t seem to find no blame in everyone in this picture. LW should have not done the note-passing when they should be focusing with work, trash-can digger should realize that the digging through the trash can isn’t a professional way to validate concerns about another coworker (I doubt she did it out of concern for the company), and manager should have handled this better.

    But hindsight’s 20/20 — so the only way here is to either try winning their trust (let the clique-y people make fools out of themselves) or look for another opportunity that has a better office culture than this one. I hate to say this, but the note-taking kind of enables that clique-y, drama culture you’re already in. You’re not in high school, act like it. If the others want to act like so, fine, just try to avoid being fodder for their drama.

    Personally, I’m already paranoid enough with my personal info, so if I was stupid enough to write those notes that I know may possibly be out there free for all to rummage into, I would take extra measures to get rid of anything incriminating like that.

  71. Mephyle*

    In a lot of the discussion, I saw many things read into the situation that were not there in the original description. OP wrote: sitting side by side and occasionally writing notes/commentary to each other in my notepad about things being said in the meeting (these notes were NOT complimentary toward the organization).
    From this, various people have extrapolated:
    • they were passing pieces of paper back and forth to each other
    – all the time throughout the meeting
    • the notes said things about specific people
    – snarky things about people
    – angry things about people

    For the people who assumed those things, if you take them out (because they weren’t in the description of the situation), does that colour your opinion differently at all?

  72. Mirily*

    OP was definitely wrong. I cringed as soon as I read the situation regarding note passing — it’s unquestionably immature, dumb and foolish. And yes, OP will have to deal with the negative professional consequences that come from the mistake. That said, I don’t know a single team or office where absolutely no one complains about other coworkers, higher-ups or the organization in general, at least once. That place doesn’t exist. And I’m willing to bet that we’ve all made the mistake of disparaging our employer at one point in our career, either on a notepad, in an IM or G-Chat session, after hours over cocktails or in general conversation away from the office. Most of us have probably had the good fortune not to get caught and realized afterward that it is in fact, not a good idea.

    It’s a mistake and totally unprofessional. But we all make mistakes and as long you acknowledge that, learn from it and move forward, there’s not much more to be said.

    What’s not a mistake is taking time out of your day to go through someone else’s trash, just in an effort to get them in trouble. Writing a not so nice note isn’t illegal or immoral and didn’t really have an adverse effect on them — it was just bad behavior. So it strikes me as malicious, childish and strange to dig through the garbage for evidence of something so immature. That seems like a person who has no boundaries, isn’t trustworthy, can’t let things go and is unable to solve problems through conversation. It’s intentionally adversarial. And it seems like that’s who’s spreading toxicity throughout the team. In my mind, this person has a character flaw … which is a way bigger deal than the initial mistake.

  73. Maggie*

    The passive-aggressive bitch in me would leave a crumpled note in the trash saying: “One word” mouthwash. Her breath could kill a dragon.” But I’m oh so much older than the LW and, as you get older, you generally give less and less of a f…

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Mine, too! Every place I’ve worked in the past 20 years had separate bins for paper and garbage. If you had a piece of paper you don’t want anyone else to see, you put it in the garbage, poured a little water or coffee on it, then buried it under the rest of the nasty trash.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          But it’s so much more fun to think about these nosey parkers having to dig through nasty wet trash to find something like that.

          Always make it harder for someone to do the wrong thing. And more tempting, if at all possible.

  74. Jonathon*

    The way I see it:

    A) The director shares concerns with the OP.
    B) The organization doesn’t take care of its people to ensure that they can even do their jobs.

    Therefore: The OP is righteously upset, just expressing it in the wrong way.

    If the director hadn’t said that they shared the letter writer’s concern, I would totally probably fire them on the spot if I were him. But, it’s entirely possible that the organization is new and that they may have prematurely hired employees. The director probably sees this and understands the OP’s frustration.

    Frankly, an “us-vs-them” dynamic is a very common workplace dynamic, and it very well may be the organization’s fault. It’s impossible to undo in every circumstance. It’s not necessarily intentional, but some people ascribe to the authoritarian viewpoint and perhaps take it a bit too far. For instance, I’ve worked for people that believed that their employees should just “shut up and work.” This isn’t kind or welcoming, but oftentimes the owners of a company are just as much to blame for the circumstances as the employees (if not more).

    The people who have more control over the office’s culture are, in fact, the managers.

    So, while I agree that the letter writer should have been more careful and a lot less immature about the situation, there’s usually always a reason for acting out in such a way. I’ve found that to be the case more often than not, and it seems to me that the director was trying to assess the situation. That’s something that any manager should probably do, first, especially if this is the first unpleasant incident involving an employee (and particularly if they’re generally well-behaved and valuable).

    1. Iro*

      Here’s a completely different take on the whole scenario since we only have the OPs perspective.

      You are the trash digger, your new co-workers, who seems to be friends with your boss, frequently make passive-aggressive and innappropriate comments to you and are especially disrespectful during conferance calls. You tried to bring this up to your boss once before, but got told not to be so “sensitive”. Then on Tuesday you are in a meeting with said co-workers and you notice that they are passing notes back and forth per usual and not paying attention during the meeting. However their behavior leads you to believe you may be the subject of said letter as they keep frequently looking at you and giggling. You angle yourself to get a quick glimpse and notice that YOUR NAME does indeed appear on said note repeatedly. You noticed your co-worker tossed it in the paper bin, and when she left curiosity got the better of you and so you opened the letter just to see how they really see you.

      What you see there is HURTFUL, and since your boss has already seemed to side with her, you take it over his head since you can’t stand this sort of behavior towards you being ignored any more.

      In that light I don’t see the trash digger as so innappropriate. We really have no way of knowing the situation up until that point since we only have the OPs perspective.

      1. Ann without an e*

        OK, as trash digger I told my boss she is a back biting hurtful little snipe, I was told not to be “sensitive”. Situation above happens, so I bring my evidence to my boss and say now that it is no longer my word against hers/his do you think you could have a word with her/him. Perfectly reasonable. That’s not what she did. She dug in the trash and went over your head, you had to find out about all of this out of the big broad blue sky from your manger or higher, she went to corporate. Imagine coming in one morning and being called into your boss’ office to be shown a crumpled up piece of paper with petty complaints regarding how your new hire thinks your team is catty and you can’t get her a computer………. If my subordinate did that, and my boss called me in to his office and I found out that way……. I would be livid.

  75. Bunny*

    A few things about the “toxic work environment” really stand out to me on this, and it’s making me more inclined to sympathise with the OP.

    1- LW mentions that the co-worker did not take their concerns to the department manager – but up the chain. That, to me, is a huge breach of workplace rules etc. The chain of command exists for a reason. I have been in workplaces where people broke the chain of command, and in every single one the person raising the complaint was a known workplace bully, who had been previously warned by their manager to stop picking on people/creating a toxic environment and knew that by going directly to management NOT familiar with their bad habits, they’d be able to circumvent that.
    2- I have worked in departments with workplace bullies, and given the first thing, I can interpret what happened here in a different light to Alison. At an old job, a colleague I’ll call Bobbi was having a lot of sick time for reasons that were not disclosed to the department at large. Now secretly, the “sickness” time off was actually Bobbi getting her children safe from an abusive partner, move to emergency safe housing and attending legal proceedings, as well as occasionally having to leave urgently when her violent stalker ex did things. Work knew about the situation and had authorised her to take as much unpaid time off as she needed. A group of very snippy busy-body bullying co-workers started making notes on her behaviour in and out of work – and trying to bring their “reports” to management. The trash-pile digging in this instance sounds exactly like something they used to do. It sounds like someone trying to get another person fired.
    3- Especially if the content of the notes OP wrote was indeed frustrated but accurate commentary on the way the work situation was preventing OP from being able to do their job – in a meeting or conference call where individual staff are being called out for shortcomings that may have been caused by the lack of resources rather than that individual’s poor performance.

    Based on the letter content, OP appears to have been making notes specifically about work frustrations, not personal comments about individuals. Now, I can see this being an understandable reaction depending on environment. Like, I know people hear “toxic work environment” and “poor/no equipment” and hear one thing, but at the extreme end of things those statements can mean something WAY more awful than anyone would think possible. I could describe my partner’s current work environment with those terms and – while accurate – it would not even come close to giving a full picture of the situation he’s trapped in right now.

    All in all, the picture I’m getting is of a seriously toxic and unpleasant work environment that is turning out to take a lot more strain on OP than they expected – they say they knew it wasn’t a great environment going in, but it sounds like that’s an understatement!

  76. Smilingswan*

    Next time put the notes in the shred-it bin! (J/K, note passing is totally inappropriate unless you’re in middle school.)

    1. AB Normal*

      After an incident like this, I’d have to fight hard my instinct not to finish each day of work with a very public process of emptying my trash can into a plastic bag to take it with me home, and locking my drawers after making sure there was not a single piece of paper in view. Working with the same coworker in the future would be extremely hard for me!

      1. Vicki*

        Or, finish each day by throwing away a “very interesting ” bit of creative fiction writing… and then wait to see the results.

  77. Poe*

    My first thought when I saw this headline was “WTF? My coworker has a second job?!” I have a coworker that is not a fan of me because part of my job includes being the second set of eyes on work she does, and if I catch issues, I have to highlight them in the reports, which go to my boss. The person before me used to quietly fix them and re-run the report, but I don’t do that because I’m not supposed to. Run the report, highlight, fix, run report again, send both to boss. One day my coworker spotted me ripping paper in half and dropping it into my garbage can. When I went to a meeting she pulled it out of the can (we work in an open-plan office with 8 people, FYI, so everyone saw her), then when my boss and I came back from the meeting she asked to speak to him privately and showed him her evidence that I was doing bad things! She had found invoices torn in half in the garbage can. I was called into the conference room. As soon as I saw the ripped pages, I realized where they were from (in fairness she wasn’t there at the time, but boy was she pleased when I got called in). I went and pulled our files and showed…those exact invoices. Some of our suppliers email AND snailmail us invoices, so when I get invoices via post, I check if they’re already in the system. If they are, we have already got a hard copy on file, so I rip them in half in case I leave a stack on my desk for a while, I don’t try to re-enter them (have to walk down the hall to the recycle, I try to do it, that day it just seemed too far). The whole thing was just ridiculous. When I asked why someone had been in my garbage can, my boss was quite annoyed–that part of where the torn invoices were from hadn’t been explained. So…yeah. Going through people’s garbage for evidence of wrongdoing is weird. Unless you are the cops.

  78. Liv*

    I’m going to side with popular opinion here. While I agree that exchanging personal notes during a work meeting of any sort where you’re expected to be professional is highly inappropriate, immature and a serious lack of judgement (not mention not disposing of the notes in a more secure manner when you know almost everyone in the office dislikes you is even more ridiculous), it’s the trash-snooper that’s the least popular with me. Being that she went directly to corporate, sidestepping the director who likes the OP, it is clear the objective here was trying to get her fired. And being that the OP feels as though no one likes her, it was probably a group thing. But if I was corporate, I would have fired the dirty snitch on the spot. And put the note writer(s) on probation.

    And sure, there is no expectation of privacy in your trash, but it’s still a MASSIVE invasion and I would not want a busy-body like that on my team. Of course, I doubt she mentioned she found it in the trash…

    This whole situation sounds more high school than a professional business environment though.

  79. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Hey ever have a job where they hired private detectives to spy on YOU? Or contact your neighbors asking questions?

    Try working under those circumstances — a “Dinner Table Story” explains how to handle that. You call the police, report that someone’s crankin’ you and your neighbors and relatives — THEN tell the company that you filed a police report.

    Watch the fun occur!

  80. Vicki*

    OP –

    What you did is not unheard of. In fact, I’d say it’s common practice. We all write notes to our friends in meetings. We all vent quietly in our cubicles.

    But you let someone else get a copy of your notes. Someone you cannot trust.

    This is what the confidential materials bin and the shredder were created for.

  81. Super duper anonymous*

    I want to tell you a little bit about my recent experience. I work in a cubicle setting, and about 6 weeks ago, I had a falling-out with a coworker who was also a friend. She told me that she did not want to be friends with me anymore, keep in mind we are in our 30s, and we agreed that there would be no hard feelings since we have to work together. We apparently she had some hard feelings because she and the person who sits between us began passing notes on the regular. I started to pay closer attention and realized that it was usually occurring when something was said, by me. After several snide comments were made by her (ex-friend) under her breath, or just loud enough for guy in between us to hear, I had had it. I stayed after work for 3 days straight, and dumped their trash into my trash can, and pulled all of their post-it notes out. I was the topic of discussion for every one of those days. I did not say anything to them about it at first. I also began getting some of their “inside jokes”. They were mocking me, and it all came to a head yesterday. I let my supervisor know that I would like to file a grievance and what steps did I need to take in order to do that. He asked to meet with me, and we spoke with our acting manager. I let them know what was going on, and they appeare d to be more appalled at their childish behavior than at what I had done. One of the questions asked was if those notes were being written on company paper. Yes, my company had purchased the post-it’s that they were writing on, and without realizing, that in and of itself was a big no-no.
    With all this said, I am not a stalker or creepy. I am simply a person who had reached her limit, and when I knew that I would have a tough time making a case when it was two people’s word against mine, I became desperate.
    I have not gone to corporate yet, but was told my supervisor and acting manager that I had every right and reason to.
    I work for a very large corporation, and they do not and will not put up with this nonsense. I laugh and joke with my other team members all of the time, and I am a very well-liked team member, but I take professionalism seriously. They were not being professional. I did what I had to do for my own sanity, not because I was trying to get someone in trouble. What’s wrong is wrong. I am not a malicious person, but because I felt that I had no other options, I took this route that so many people here are horrified by.
    If you think what I did was horrific, creepy, weird, etc., that is okay. I would do it again if I had to. I am simply trying to offer a little bit of perspective.

    1. Yogurt*

      We do not have evidence (at least I don’t think) that the OP wrote comments in the notes targeting a specific co-worker. I think she just complained about how the company operates. If that note was not targeting that co-worker or something illegal, then she should not have brought in to corporate. There isn’t any evidence that the OP wants to tease or mock a co-worker.

      But your situation was a bit different from what is observed in the OP. You had to find evidence that co-workers were being nasty to you, while the OP’s co-worker just want to find evidence to get the OP in trouble even if it is not something that destroys interpersonal relations with collegues/management.

    2. Sandy*

      Sounds like a distressing situation! What do you think may had happened if you had approached them directly instead of looking at the post-its?

      1. Super duper anonymous*

        That’s a good question, Sandy, but I did not feel that was an option as a hostile environment had already been created.

  82. Editor*

    I have a question for people who think the note-writing was wrong (as described by the OP, meaning without giggling and with remarks targeting corporate not individuals — even though corporate targeted individuals in a conference call).

    How, when and where do you expect prospective employees to learn this kind of stuff?

    Alison asked some time ago about the differences between white collar and blue collar families. I think knowing not to complain too much at work and not to write notes or exchange critical remarks about corporate where co-workers or supervisors or corporate can see or hear them is not instinctive to everyone, including a lot of people who might be college graduates from white-collar families.

    Alison’s response totally blindsided me, because I pictured a fairly new worker (new to work and to this particular workplace) coming in with limited experience and perhaps no mentoring at all. Whether or not my assumptions were correct, the question still stands. Before AAM, where would people have learned workplace standards of conduct? Those standards aren’t modeled in any U.S. public school I’m familiar with.

    Companies talk about what they want workers to learn in school or college (group work…), but they don’t seem to be aware of the many skills it takes to navigate work that aren’t specifically taught. The issue of proper office behavior and office culture is a huge iceberg just waiting to sink a career without warning, it is important to success, and it might help companies succeed if it was taught early.

    I guess I’m recommending Alison produce a sort of etiquette guide for the office, complete with mini case studies from the AAM archives and perspectives from the employee and the management sides (misappropriated theme song by Judy Collins, “I’ve looked at [work] from both sides now…”).

  83. Kaz*

    My #1 criticism here is directed at the leadership style of the manager. The manager’s laid back attitude has allowed “the inmates to run the asylum”. The manager should enforce some codes of conduct, whenever inappropriate conduct is observed, he/she should constructively criticize the employee(s) at fault in a private 1 on 1 meeting. Allowing employees to get away with this type of conduct has resulted ultimately in the situation that the OP described.

Comments are closed.