my coworkers make orgasm sounds while I’m on the phone

A reader writes:

My office prides itself on our fun, casual culture and how we are all a “family.” I’m not a fan of this, but I’ve been working there for almost three years and it’s been okay, if slightly annoying at times, until now. Two and a half months ago at an after-work happy hour event, a bunch of us were discussing movies when the conversation turned to When Harry Met Sally and from there to the scene where Meg Ryan simulates an orgasm. Some female employees –including multiple managers and people from several departments — then decided to have a contest to see who could fake it the best. I did not participate in either the contest or the judging and was a bit uncomfortable, but it also was pretty funny and after work hours, so I didn’t really worry about it too much.

If it had just been the one time, I would still have that attitude, but the department that works next to mine has decided to make this a regular event. I don’t think it’s a contest anymore and not everyone in the department participates, but “Fake it Friday” happens every week. This would be bad enough on its own, but to make it worse, I work in customer support and the noises are loud enough that I worry customers can hear them on the other end of the phone. Our headsets are very sensitive, and I know customers can often hear the sounds of people talking, though never clearly enough to know what they’re saying.

I’ve mentioned to my manager that the noise travels, and she asked their manager, Kate, to have them keep it down, but Kate doesn’t want to tell them to stop altogether because she thinks it helps them blow off steam. They did get quieter for two weeks, but then got loud again.

The real problem is less the volume and more the fact that it’s happening at all, but I don’t know how to address it. I know that I’m not the only one in my department who is uncomfortable, but everyone else seems to be writing it off as part of our “fun” office. As far as I know, no one feels sexually harassed, but it feels like something that could be brought up in a lawsuit if someone chose to bring one. For what it’s worth, no one in the other department seems pressured to participate — about half of them fake it on any given Friday, and I haven’t noticed any repercussions for those who choose not to, though I’m obviously not sure.

Our HR is generally not very effective (because we’re “all family”), and I tend to think that HR is usually not the answer anyway, but I don’t really know where to go from here. I’m not going to ask if this is normal or appropriate, because I refuse to believe that it is, but is there anything I can do?

What the F’ing F, letter writer.

A department in your office has a weekly orgasm-faking contest, and their manager doesn’t want to ask them to stop because it “helps them blow off steam”?? And you don’t think HR will address this ridiculous and obvious lawsuit liability because you’re “all family” there?

A family that fakes orgasms together.

For the record, no, this is not normal and it’s not appropriate. Your colleagues are creating a highly sexualized environment, which is undoubtedly (a) not welcomed by everyone there and (b) making at least some people uncomfortable/grossed out/infuriated.

It’s ludicrous that that hasn’t occurred to any of them, especially to their manager.

It’s also amazing that it didn’t get old for them after, like, week two.

It’s also a legal problem (what’s known as hostile environment sexual harassment), because federal law requires employees to be permitted to work in an environment free of repeated sexual comments / jokes / sounds.

And that’s before we even get into the fact that CUSTOMERS CAN HEAR.

You have a few options here. They’ll all require you making a bigger deal of this than you’ve done so far, but please know you will be on very solid ground in doing so, and you will probably earn the gratitude of at least some people in your office. Here are your options:

1. Break it up the next time it’s happening. Walk over there in the middle of the orgasm fest and say either of the following:
* “Could you please stop? My customers can hear this while I’m on the phone with them.”
* “Could you please stop? It’s really uncomfortable to have to hear this every week.”

If no one has told them directly to cut it out, this might actually work. It does risk you being labeled the stick-in-the-mud who ended their fun, but unless they’re completely clueless at least some of them will probably recognize they’ve taken it too far. But if you don’t want to do that …

2. Talk to your manager again. Say, “Totally aside from how inappropriate it is for customers to hear orgasm sounds during my calls with them, I don’t want to be subjected to sexual noises every week. And legally, we’re opening the company to liability by sexualizing our work environment so much. I’d like to avoid making a formal complaint about this that cites federal law, but I will if I need to. Can you help me avoid that by talking Kate again and making it clear it needs to stop?”

If you want, you could add, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t pin this on me in particular when you talk to Kate, because I’m concerned about retaliation from her team if they think I’m the reason it had to stop — when the reason is the company’s responsibility not to sexualize our work environment.”

3. Talk to Kate yourself, if you workplace dynamics allow that. This could be a more effective option if you don’t trust your manager to take a firm enough stand on her own. You’d say something like, “Can you please have your team stop Fake It Friday? My customers are hearing orgasm noises during my calls with them, which is reason enough on its own. But additionally, I don’t want to be subjected to sexual noises every week, and we’re opening the company to legal liability by doing that.”

And you could add a version of the language above about retaliation: “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t pin this on me in particular when you talk to your team, because I’m concerned about retaliation if they think I’m the reason it had to stop — when the reason is the company’s responsibility not to sexualize our work environment.”

4. Talk to HR. I know you think they’re not likely to act, but if you approach them in a serious manner and invoke the law, they might surprise you and do their jobs. You could try using the language I suggested above or you could go straight to a formal complaint — in which case there’s good advice here from Suzanne Lucas of Evil HR Lady about the exact wording to use.

I’d love to advise you to go straight to the formal complaint from the get-go … but the reality is, in a workplace that talks about being like “family,” you might have better results by trying the informal approach first (but can then escalate it after that if you need to). I’m annoyed to have to say that, but if this is a job you want to stay at for a while and if you can get the outcome you want in a way that will be perceived as less adversarial, that’s probably the route most aligned with your self-interest. That said, if you’re comfortable going straight to the formal complaint, do.

But also … how’s other stuff there? Because I’m guessing that a workplace that won’t stop this even after at least one request to cut it out is a workplace with a bunch of other problems too.

{ 376 comments… read them below }

  1. Archie Goodwin*

    “A family that fakes orgasms together.”

    Well. That’s not QUITE the way I expected to start my week.

      1. Jadelyn*

        That’s where I decided to get up and go get another cup of coffee. I was not fortified enough yet to read a sentence like that.

        1. Anita Brayke*

          I’m right there with you. Does anyone know what the eff the world is thinking these days? I mean seriously!! I can’t even…

    1. Le Sigh*

      Hey, a family that fakes orgasms together *stays* together…

      because they can’t get jobs anywhere else due to highly skewed notions of what is professional or appropriate.

    2. Classic Rando*

      My brain immediately went to that scene in Rome. Probably not the best workplace dynamic to shoot for.

      Octavia: *pointedly imitates Atia’s sex moans*

      Marc Anthony (to Atia): She’s got you exact.

        1. Quill*

          Look, I never saw the show, but I was 100% on board with the idea that HBO had goofed up and called him Marc Anthony

    3. theblackdog*

      This makes me wonder if there are sentences where Alison ends up thinking “I can’t believe I have to write [sentence] today.”

    4. nutella fitzgerald*

      Things I do with my family:
      Cook holiday meals
      Celebrate weddings and births
      Remember birthdays

      Things I don’t do with my family:
      Fake orgasms on a weekly basis

      1. Quill*

        I don’t even play Cards Against Humanity with family. There are levels of intimacy reserved for people who DON’T know you that long.

        1. Jadelyn*

          My family does play CAH together – we’re weird like that – but even for us, fake-orgasm-noises is not so much a bridge too far as an entire transcontinental highway too far.

            1. Quill*

              It would be fine if it were just the cousins close to me in age, but… at some point we went from explaining “YOU MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL PYLONS” to a bunch of people desperately trying to pretend to those either significantly older, or significantly younger, than them that they didn’t know what smegma was.

        2. Peaches*

          Same. Cards Against Humanity is definitely something I would NEVER play with my parents (or any other relatives, for that matter.)

          1. Doug Judy*

            Yeah my husband’s aunt wanted to play it one Christmas and I was like “Absolutely not” which was the same answer I gave when she want me and my MIL to watch OITNB with her.

            In her defense I don’t know if she really knew what either of those things entailed, other than those were trendy things to do. At least that is what I tell myself.

            1. PhyllisB*

              What is OITNB? I learned about CAH from this site, and asked my adult son if he had ever played it. He gave me a horrified look until I assured him I didn’t want to PLAY, I was just curious if he ever had. (I should have thrown him for a loop and said I wanted us to play at our next family gathering. Tee Hee!!)

                1. PhyllisB*

                  Of course. Thank you. I wasn’t thinking. Haven’t seen it, but can imagine it’s not a show that I would want to watch with my 89 year old mother.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              Me too. It’s perfect for those friends that you only see during drinking game nights and/or camping.

        3. Soultoast*

          Boyfriend’s family told me a story at Thanksgiving last year about how they once used “Aunt Dee’s* big black dildo” to emcee a family gathering.

          I sometimes wonder what I’m getting myself into…

          *names have been changed to protect the guilty

        4. Mine Own Telemachus*

          I’ve tried just playing Apples to Apples with family, and they don’t understand that it’s supposed to be funny. “Why’d you pick that!? It doesn’t fit.” “That’s why I picked it. It’s funny.” It’s like beating my head against a wall to get them to liven up a bit and play it as a joke. I’d die if they ever tried Cards Against Humanity.

  2. Seeking Second Childhood*

    There are no words.
    A customer calling in will think the company allows its employees to view X-rated movies on the clock.
    How did management not immediately tell them to hold this for happy hour!?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For what it’s worth, it wouldn’t be okay at happy hour either, if those are attended by a bunch of employees — raises the same concerns about overly sexualizing the environment for coworkers.

      1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

        Does this fall under sexual harassment since she’s asked them to stop and they won’t?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It would likely fall under what’s called hostile environment sexual harassment, which requires that the behavior be either severe or pervasive, and this sounds pervasive.

          1. Holly*

            Agree that this sounds pervasive! Just flagging that New York City, and starting this year New York State, no longer require conduct to either severe or pervasive to be sexual harassment.

              1. Holly*

                Yep in 2018 mandatory annual sexual harassment training also became the law and it should be happening now.

            1. Snack Management*

              Also California. The laws are lagging behind the social movement on it but I’m betting New York and California are leading where a lot of states will end up over time (and court cases).

              1. Not a cat*

                Our SH trainings have been so bad. The example scenarios come straight out of a telenovela which in no way represent the incredibly nuanced nature of real scenarios. I’m glad we do them…but we don’t take them very seriously

                1. Wintermute*

                  That’s my issue, I just had to take ours because I went from contractor to company man (the old rent-to-own plan). These situations are so obvious I can’t see any human being engaging in them and in today’s day and age if you’re engaging in obvious quid-pro-quo “sex favors for promotions” or hanging up centerfolds in your locker, you know what you’re doing (and I commend your persistence in finding a centerfold in this day and age).

                  There were a few things I was glad they covered, they did cover third-party reporting (you don’t need to be the target for it to be a hostile workplace). They covered the fact everyone is a member of a protected class (the classically privileged version of an attribute doesn’t make you immune / you can sexually harass a man, racially harass a white person, nationality-based harassment applies to European countries as well as developing ones, etc.). They covered customer harassment (the actions of a customer could create sexual harassment, if management doesn’t remove and ban someone that is harassing an employee). All of those are things that people often mistake, ESPECIALLY customer harassment, which a lot of business owners are grossly negligent about especially in call centers (and though I don’t work in one we do run call centers). They also went over how people intending to be positive or even respectful can be being discriminatory– focusing on a tenured employee’s age may be discriminatory if your intention is highlighting their experience and history with the company but could be discriminatory.

                  I was disappointed they basically said “we go only as far as the law requires” rather than saying “any harassment is unacceptable, we can and do go beyond the legal definitions of protected classes to address all targeted behavior and all situations of negative workplace environments” which other employers of mine have. Here they gave the strong impression that if it’s not legally protected, they’re not interested, which leaves massive gaps especially in some states that don’t protect sexual orientation.

                  Also, on the other side, I’d like to see some real-life stuff. How do you negotiate conflicting values. Also I’d like to see examples with some more nuance. I know they want to avoid drawing “a line” which may not be legally sufficient but in the real world it’s not a bright line and using such hyperbolic examples, I feel, gives a terrible precedent that only behavior that is truly beyond the pale is actionable.

                2. Gazebo Slayer*

                  @Wintermute – sadly, quid pro quos and other really blatant forms of harassment have still been prevalent in recent years, as many of the #metoo stories demonstrate. Some people are just unrepentant assholes, and very bad things happen when those people end up in positions of power.

                  That said – I am THRILLED that companies are getting trained on customer harassment! It has been such an overlooked aspect of harassment law for so long.

            2. valentine*

              Does this fall under sexual harassment since she’s asked them to stop and they won’t?
              She merely asked them to keep it down. And maybe it was more, “The Puritans next door are being whiny babies about our family fun Fake-It Fridays, so let’s keep it down for a bit and, hopefully, they’ll get over themselves.”

              1. Wintermute*

                In a case like this it probably doesn’t matter. It’s a fact-based decision (one a jury would make not a matter of law a judge decides) but for pervasive, repeat behavior you telling them to stop is not necessarily a prerequisite, also her language was probably sufficient.

                It would be up to a jury, or the EEOC decisionmaker, but I don’t think “oh but she was vague about stopping” would wash here.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Hard agree with Alison. This is textbook for a hostile work environment claim. It’s so weird.

          3. tamarack and fireweed*

            This sort of abysmal judgement leads to people going for no-tolerance, super-restrictive policies. 5 min office joke after hours about a famous (and in fact very feminist) scene in a famous movie — I have no issue with that. Even if it involves briefly pretending to fake an orgasm.

            Regular orgasm-faking sessions within hearing of workmates? Good lord, no!

      2. Drew*

        “We’re going to happy hour. Are you coming?”

        “No, just faking it.”

        BRB, updating my resume for Hell…

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      What the F’ing F is right. It wouldn’t even be ok to hold for happy hour—this whole thing is so obscenely ridiculous (and such a textbook sexual harassment lawsuit) that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the “blowing off steam” excuse.

      I have nothing to add to Alison’s device and can only say OP, I am so sorry. This is absolutely banana crackers with a side order of batshit crazy.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        It really is. In no workplace have I ever worked has this kind of thing been considered acceptable, during or after work hours with colleagues, and I’ve worked in some seriously unprofessional offices. This is beyond the pale, and I would bypass every other option Alison gave and go directly to HR with it. This is disgusting.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Yeah, I had one employee try making jokes similar to this back when I was a retail manager. It felt pretty good to shut him down on it, despite his attempts to manipulate / guilt me into being ok with it.

      2. juliebulie*

        I mean, if “blowing off steam” is a good excuse for bad behavior, how about punching one another? That would blow off even more steam.

            1. AKchic*

              That would be the best F club. Especially if the company footed the bill (man, so many F and duck references!).

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

          I’ll be honest “blowing off steam” took my mind to a completely different 100% NSFW territory…

        2. Jadelyn*

          “You keyed my car!”
          “Just blowing off steam! :)”

          “You stole my wallet!”
          “Just blowing off steam! :)”

          “You released an entire hive of bees in my office!”
          “Just blowing off steam! :)”

          “You put Jake in the hospital!”
          “Just blowing off steam! :)”

          Like, if that’s the justification, just how far can we take this?

          1. YetAnotherUsername*

            Check out wolf of wall street to see how far “blowing off steam” can be taken

          2. AKchic*

            “you were dragging his corpse through the hallway singing 70’s Saturday morning cartoon theme songs!”

            “Just. Blowing. Off. Steam.” *pointed look*

      3. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I think the manager should tell them to “save the fake orgasms for their bedrooms, but if you really want to blow off steam don’t fake it.” /s

      4. MistOrMister*

        MAYBE if this happened at happy hour as a one off it could be a blowing off steam thing. Personally I would still think it was incredibly inappropriate and uncomfortable, but I get that sometimes things like that might happen when people are drinking and unwinding. How ANYONE at all thought it was an appropriate thing to start doing in the office AND on a regular basis just blows my mind. Even if no customers and clients were ever in danger of overhearing, this is gross and inappropriate. I would definitely escalate my complaints!! Since OPs manager did listen before, I think that could be a good starting place with them including the language about the legal aspect. The only reason I wouldn’t suggest asking the offenders or their manager to stop directly is because I think people this immature and clueless would refuse and would potentially get louder specifically to bother OP. Or else act in a retaliatory manner. This is juat nuts, though. I cannot believe people are acting like this in the work place!! It is mind boggling.

        1. Cafe au Lait*

          That’s my take — at the end of happy hour I can see how a group of coworkers could end up having a fake orgasm contest. Laugh at the time, and leave it there. It never should have migrated to work and the NEVER EVER should’ve been allowed to happen on a regular occurrence.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          My advice to the OP would be a) update your resume, b) go to HR, c) GTF out of that toxic waste dump.

      5. sparty07*

        Just imagine if this was more like the duck club, where instead of quacking the employees would moan at each other while passing in the hall

        1. PhyllisB*

          Y’all have got to stop. I’m reading this at the public library and people are looking at me strangely because I’m trying so hard not to break out laughing.

        1. Marthooh*

          Nope, I had the same thought. The OP should tell their manager the steam could building up to dangerous levels here.

      6. Emily K*

        I feel like I might cringe so hard my entire body turns inside out if I had to hear, let along play along with, this game in any kind of work setting.

      7. Curmudgeon in California*

        I’m just trying to imagine the people in our university’s open office engaging in that activity, and I get a brain short. Seriously, WTF? Plus, the idea of doing it near the help desk call center fills me with existential “NOPE!!”

    3. NotTheSameAaron*

      I was thinking more like “The company rents the copy room to an adult film production company on Fridays.”

    1. Peaches*

      I wasn’t, but I love that you brought this up. Any letter writer that says their company has the “we’re all family” mindset reminds me of the office though, lol.

    2. Nephron*

      A friend had coworkers who were much more conservative than her reading and talking about it at work. They got so upset when she told them she did not care what porn they liked, just please don’t make it part of work. They honestly did not understand it was porn.

        1. LGC*

          Iirc, it was actually original fic that got turned into Twilight fanfic for Teh Clicks and then got the serial numbers filed back off.

          (Interestingly enough, I was going through my Google Drive a week or two ago and came across a PDF of a blog post E. L. James wrote – under her fanfic nom de plume – attempting to clear the air when THAT little imbroglio hit. Why yes, I am a well adjusted adult. Thanks for asking.)

          1. Anonny*

            Oh, so that’s why Edward turned from a creepy beige-wearing volvo driver to a creepy kinky dude.

  3. SwingingAxeWolfie*

    “Helps them blow off steam” is an excuse and a half if I ever heard it; more like Kate doesn’t want to “ruin the fun”. Get an effing ping pong table if that’s really the case.

    1. Lucia Pacciola*

      I think that if your workforce has so much pent up steam that they need a weekly group orgasm faking session, then you have some serious morale problems that you should be discovering and addressing.

      The goal should not be to let them blow off steam in this way. The goal should be trying to figure out how your employees got into this state, and how to help them get out of it, so that this activity no longer needs to happen.

      1. ampersand*

        “I think that if your workforce has so much pent up steam that they need a weekly group orgasm faking session, then you have some serious morale problems that you should be discovering and addressing.”

        This is both hilarious and spot on.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        It does sound like a call centre. I lasted exactly one day in a call centre in high school – there’s few environments more stressful. I went on to BigLaw and it was a walk in the park compared to that one day in the call centre.

        But faking orgasms is certainly not helping!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I’ve been avoiding call center environments for the same reason, but just think–I could have written a crazy AAM letter, lol.

  4. Rey*

    I’ve been on a conference call where we could hear the rest of the department playing bingo in the background, and that was annoying, and definitely made us question why they were doing it when we could clearly hear them. I can’t even imagine my boss’s response to this kind of inappropriate background noise.

    1. JoJo*

      OMG it’s been incredibly rude to be on a long-scheduled important call and have coworkers hover RIGHT AT MY CUBE and talk very loudly, ABOUT WORK, nevermind holding this contest. (For some reason, some people congregate ONLY when people are on calls, it’s become that rare in my office, where most exchanges happen by email. I don’t know if it’s a subconscious thing but it happens remarkably often.)

    2. an infinite number of monkeys*

      I read “bingo” as “banjo” at first. I think all my inappropriate alarms are going off.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I want to work in a department that plays banjo instead of bingo for team-building activities. Not on conference calls, though.

        1. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

          Me neither. I heart music like nobody’s business, but don’t want it interfering with a phone call.

    3. Arctic*

      The growth of open office space (many of which don’t have enough conference rooms or space for calls) means that kind of stuff is bound to happen. Office bingo is a fairly common team building activity thing.
      But what OP describes is completely unacceptable even if there wasn’t a conference call!

  5. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    WHAAAAAAT.

    WHAAAAAAAAAT?!

    Good lord, OP, this is absolutely bonkers. How on earth does anyone get the idea that this is an okay office environment??

    1. EPLawyer*

      In 2019. After the MeToo movement and everything.

      How does ANYONE even remotely sane think sex noises is an office appropriate way to blow off steam?

      I can see not wanting to go right to a formal complaint. because if the soft approach doesn’t work, you still have that option. It’s not one shot here. Try explaining. Then do a formal complaint IF necessary. Then go for EEOC if that STILL doesn’t work.

    2. WellRed*

      I’d be seriously questioning whether this manager is actually fit for managing and what other issues they have.

      Also, I agree with Alison: Why are they STILL doing this? So called jokes that keep going on and on are rarely funny after the first time.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        100%. I’m actually questioning the manager more than the employees actually doing it! This is the kind of thing that says you should not be in a management role.

    3. Liane*

      Yeah, this might’ve been too far in:
      *the real-life 60s Mad Men-esque companies
      *the ol’ timey sexist auto mechanics shops wallpapered with hottie-female-pics
      *the Federal Agency office my mother-in-law (mid-high level GS) worked at in the 70s, with a Motor Pool supervisor who was obvious about his disapproval of her using those vehicles to do her job.

      Well, I am hoping it would’ve been too far

  6. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    WHAT.

    Sexualised environment aside (which is bad enough…) it’s the fact that they’re making ANY noise that is inappropriate for customers to hear on the phone – whether they’re playing F-bomb strewn music, having political rants, talking about how much coke they snorted at the weekend or making orgasm noises, that’s not something a company should want its customers to hear on the phone. I genuinely don’t get why management isn’t shutting this down.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Right? Back in my phone days I saw multiple people get fired for things they said while their own line was muted but loud enough that their neighbors’ lines could pick it up. And none of it was NEARLY as bad as this!

      1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        Yep! The coke snorting one comes from experience (when I worked in retail and someone picked up the phone to a customer, who overheard the drug-bragging and quite rightly complained, and the staff member concerned was disciplined)

    2. AuroraLight37*

      EXACTLY. And, really, if it’s loud enough for customers to hear, it’s going to annoy them, whether they’re calling you to do $500,000 worth of business or get technical help. The fact that it’s leapt into 50 Shades territory just makes the offense that much more egregious and creepy.

      1. Jdc*

        I’ve called call centers before where I could hear conversation in the background to the point I could barely hear the person I was talking to. That’s bad enough!!

        1. AuroraLight37*

          Same here. I’d be annoyed if this was just someone loudly discussing their fantasy football league. Hearing this would make me look at whether I needed this service enough to have to deal with such nonsense. I’d also be complaining loudly to management.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I hate that. It happened to me recently. I don’t think the employee could hear me either, since every time I gave him information he would say it back and get it wrong. I kept having to repeat and it drove me nuts.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      I got a fundraising call from my college once, in which the student worker was clearly in the middle of a conversation when she picked up, “…and I was so f’n stoned, omg, I f’n fell down the stairs!” [laughter in the background]. I hung up.

      My husband thought it was pretty funny, but he went to a college that kind of prided itself on its counter-cultural rep. I work with college kids, I know they mess up, but the next morning I called the development office and had a nice chat with their manager about re-emphasizing the need for professional behavior and suggesting she point out to the students that that sort of behavior might cost the school a substantial donation.

      I can’t even imagine that professionals making sex noises in an office could ever be ok. That’s really a one-strike offense because the potential consequences are so substantial.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Owww…my stomach hurts from holding in my laughter. I had to duck down behind my monitor so no one saw me turning purple.

  7. AppleStan*

    OP, you have my deepest sympathies, because this is some crap.

    I’d probably be right there with them for Fake It Friday….AT HAPPY HOUR.

    Damn sure not on Company Grounds and damn sure not during the work day.

    Oh the lawsuit that will hit (and it’s just around the corner, you’ll see) will be juicy indeed.

    Oh, and Allison…”The family that fakes orgasms together?” – this is a new classic.

    Again, OP, my sympathies that you’ve been subjected to any of this.

    1. mark132*

      Sounds like another good reason to not go to ‘happy hour’ (though to be fair I would look for almost any reason to avoid happy hour if it’s a regular thing. I’m a diehard member of the going home after work club.)

    2. WellRed*

      And they actually did this in a bar where other patrons could hear this? (Personally, I can always tell when it’s an employee happy hour, they are the most obnoxious).
      I”m so embarrassed for them.

  8. astronot pants*

    And to think, I shuddered when the search button on a company’s job board said “join the family!” I would not be able to work in this environment, I would be so mortified.

  9. blackcatlady*

    Did this office never mature beyond high school or early college frat boys? Dear Lord almighty the manager has NO CLUE what a professional work place should be. If I was a customer calling in I would hang up, cancel my order and write a higher up as to why. Hey, I appreciate off color humor as much as the next but there is a time and place.

    1. AuroraLight37*

      Same. I would be so uncomfortable at the idea that calling this firm means I’d have to deal with what sounds like an X-rated movie soundtrack playing in the background.

  10. Alton*

    When I read the headline, I expected this to be a situation where the co-workers were intentionally doing this while the OP was on the phone as a “joke.” On the one hand, I guess it’s good they’re not doing this specifically to bother the OP. But in a way, the reality, that they’re doing this as a regular social activity to “blow off steam,” is even more bizarre. What the hell?

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I expected the letter to go like that as well and was, like you, pleasantly surprised for OP but also immediately took a sharp right turn to Bizarro Town instead. What a world we live in!

    2. EddieSherbert*

      +10. I definitely assumed one or two people were doing this to the OP as a “joke.” Which of course isn’t okay, but would also be less bizarre than a whole department making this a weekly thing and their manager explicitly refusing to stop it (what the what?).

      I would agree with Alison that this company probably has other red flags as well. OP might just have to decide what they’re willing to put up with for this job.

      My job has a similar “casual” attitude and I 100% could see this situation popping up here… for now, I’m very good at ignoring and brushing off weird comments, and I’ve decided the trade-offs work for me (I can work from home, there’s no dress code, flex time, I have a lot of friends among my coworkers, the work is interesting) *for now*. I also don’t talk to customers on the phone regularly.
      But I also know I probably don’t want to stay here forever *and* I’ll likely have to work harder at “normal office norms” when I do leave.

    3. Doug Judy*

      I expect it to be a coworker that was making involuntary sounds that sounded like orgasm sounds. Not a weekly contest! Who in the hell would do this???

  11. Observer*

    A family that fakes orgasms together

    Yup, this is going down in AAM lore, along with the duck club. I’m honestly not sure which is worse, both in terms of the behavior and the reluctance of management to address it.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Right – they at least understood the importance of discretion and faking propriety even if they were heathens in private.

        1. AKchic*

          Okay, but they weren’t quacking their orgasms, merely quacking as a signal to let everyone know they were in the club.

          Now I’m imagining them all acting like furries and quacking during the actual act. And now my breakfast and coffee are undrinkable while I have the giggles.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            It’s not truly furry activity unless they’re wearing feathers while quacking ….

      1. Rexish*

        At least they were getting some and didn’t fake it. There was a benefit for them while this is just dumb and not funny after a week.

        1. whimbrel*

          I’m way late to this thread but I just loudly guffawed at your username, so thanks for that :D

  12. WoodswomanWrites*

    Oh hell no. Who in the world would think this was a good idea and said, “Let’s do this every week”? And who would agree to participate. The mind boggles. OP, good for you for being the sane one in that place.

    1. Jamie*

      Who isn’t bored by this? Honestly, I would be bored the first time much less repeatedly.

      It’s like those people who make a joke once and get laughs either because others are drunk or it was maybe kinda funny the first time and then beats it to death ever after.

          1. valentine*

            I figure there’s a bully ringleader who’s seized on this as a loophole and even Kate is afraid to tell him no.

    2. Alton*

      The more I think about it, the more I wonder how it starts every week. Does one person just start doing it, and then everyone else joins in like a bunch of wolves howling at the moon?

      1. LaSalleUGirl*

        Ohhh, I am SO glad that I wasn’t drinking coffee when I saw this comment. Howling at the moon!! HAHA! That’s all I can see now.

        1. AKchic*

          Who’s dropping trou at the office for that “full moon”? Maybe it’s only a crack of the moon? What’s the signal? When the water cooler guy comes in and replaces the tank?

      2. Mockingjay*

        This harks back to the open plan middle school I went to in the 70s, when as dorky 7th graders we would all cough at 1:00.

        We grew up and out of that behavior.

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        I’m thinking recurring Outlook reminder? Obviously with the usual 15 minute warning.

  13. Amber Rose*

    So, we have a plank challenge every Friday, where everyone who wants to can come to our secluded office and do a plank for a couple minutes, with the goal being to either beat your own previous time or everyone else’s.

    THAT is blowing off steam.

    This is just 10 kinds of bonkers and 100 kinds of OH HELL NO. As much as I hate to be the Buzz Killington at work, sometimes that’s the better option.

    1. starsaphire*

      …yeah. In Toxic Ex-Job, I instituted Guerrilla Yoga, in which three or four of us would take over an empty conference room for 10-15 minutes, do stretches, and breathe mid-day. And sometimes, a few of my former colleagues and I would go for power-walks around the block and get all the kvetching out of our systems.

      That, like the planking challenge, is a great way to blow off steam.

      There are so many more healthy and not legally actionable ways to blow off steam in the workplace!

      1. OtterB*

        I must have had the lunch-stealing post on my mind, because I first read this as Guerilla Yogurt, and now I really want to know how that would work.

    2. rayray*

      Agreed. I go on walks to get fresh air and blow off steam. I think there are other fun ways to do so. I think the plank challenge sounds fun, and it would motivate a lot of people to get better at it.

    3. Theophania*

      I just rage-stomped over to the cafeteria to get a fancy coffee to blow off steam at a cow-orker who literally did not read an email and forwarded it to me and asked for the information contained within said email. It would never occur to me that we should have a fake orgasm contest in the office to blow off steam. NEVER.

    4. JustaTech*

      If they really need to blow off steam on a Friday, why not air drum?
      A local radio station had a thing Friday afternoons where they would play “I don’t want to work, I just want to bang on the drum all day” and people would call in and verbally air drum. That was funny.

      This? This is not funny at all.

      1. Goldfinch*

        I have to know what “verbally air drum” entails. Like beatboxing, or just saying on air “You can’t see me, but I’m wildly swinging my arms about!”

        1. Amber Rose*

          I assume it’s like when In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins plays on the radio and we all immediately sing the “duhduh duhduh duhduh duhduh duh duh DUH” bit in the middle. xD

          1. Classic Rando*

            THANK YOU! It’s not just me that does that!

            And that’s where my brain went when I saw this comment hours ago, but then I got pulled away by work stuff and forgot it lol

        2. E*

          I too was wondering what verbally air drumming. And I am having the hardest time not laughing hysterically at someone sitting at their desk yelling into their smartphone, “You can’t see me, but I am wildly swinging my arms about!” while flailing. Thank you for this image.

        3. JustaTech*

          Yes, it’s saying “bang bang bum bum bang bang boom ba dum” (shouting really) and presumably swinging your arms around.
          It is hilarious, and very energizing/stress releasing.

  14. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Must be nice to have a job where, you know, you don’t really have to *work* for one day out of the week.

    1. Amber Rose*

      :D

      I overheard a manager telling a couple guys that they were having a meeting last Friday because they didn’t want to work.

  15. MicroManagered*

    I would put a customer on hold, walk over, and say (whether this is true or not): “You need to stop. My customer can hear you.”

    1. rayray*

      I think this is a good idea. Might catch them odd guard. It would probably embarrass a normal person, but I wonder if these coworkers are actually some frat boys? Or maybe the type of people that peaked in Jr high school and probably wouldn’t be phased. Who knows, but I think this could actually bring them to reality if the OP does this.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I like this idea as well, though I’m concerned that they wouldn’t interpret this to mean, “Please stop doing this in the office period,” but would instead only interpret this to mean when OP’s on a call.

      1. MicroManagered*

        That’s true. Hopefully a repeating as needed would get enough of them to knock it off that it would fizzle out? My main thing is the “this needs to stop” phrasing vs. a softer “hey guys can you stop?” phrasing.

    3. AKchic*

      Yup.
      “My customers can hear you all. I am no longer going to pretend that I don’t hear it. I will be giving out the complaint line if they ask to complain because I won’t lie anymore and say I don’t hear it.”

      A “grow the f up” would be coming out of MY mouth.

  16. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    What.

    This is so outrageous that I can’t even think.

    I’ve had “family environments” my entire career and nobody is this vile and inappropriate.

  17. Yvette*

    Please, if you do approach them, or talk to HR, document it, date, time, who you spoke to, what was said.

  18. Dust Bunny*

    WHAT DID I JUST READ?

    I don’t think I even made it through the headline without going WTAF?

  19. rayray*

    I admit that I often have the humor of a teenage boy… But this is just something I would have been totally uncomfortable with even at the happy hour. These people need to grow up.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Same.

      Farts are funny.

      But even teenage boys would be uncomfortable if they walked in on their moms bridge club doing this sh*t.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I have a juvenile and crude sense of humor, but I’ve learned over the years that it just isn’t appropriate for work. They haven’t.

      These people seriously need to grow the F up.

  20. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    If a direct, honest conversation doesn’t work, this is where a Vague Anonymized Customer Complaint works.

    “My customers can hear Fake It Friday and are asking questions about the noise, they keep saying they can’t hear me and some said the noises were gross and weird.”

    1. Quill*

      OP needs to update when management realizes that they’re actually dropping customer calls due to this stuff.

    2. Observer*

      The good thing is that the people on the other end probably don’t quite get what the noises are supposed to be – most people’s minds just would NOT go there!

      However, even without that, the noises WILL sound weird, so that’s a really good line to use. Because if people want to argue about whether anyone knows what it is, it still doesn’t matter – these are noises that are bothering people and they are WEIRD noised that you absolutely CANNOT explain to people.

    3. CrissyA*

      My only concern is that this is the type of system that records the calls and mentioning calling customers are commenting may not be able to be verified. That said, it’s outrageous that this had to even be asked.

  21. Teg*

    God I feel bad for LW to have to even say the phrase “orgasm sounds” to their manager. What a shitty situation to be in

    1. ACDC*

      Good point. I’m such a prude I know I would be trying to tip-toe around and find any other words to describe what I was trying to say without saying “orgasm sounds.”

      1. OP*

        I actually made a point of using the word “orgasm” when I spoke to my manager–I was kind of hoping that if I came out and said exactly what was going on, no cute euphemisms or giggling or innuendo, she would hear how ridiculous it was and understand that it had to stop, not just get quieter. I don’t think she was quite as blunt with Kate though, which may have given her a bit more confidence in the whole “blowing off steam” thing. I feel like it’s hard to pretend like it’s okay to fake an orgasm during the workday when you actually say that that’s what you’re doing, you know?

  22. You can call me flower, if you want to*

    Wow. Just wow. This is unacceptable-full stop. I know it can be nerve-racking to be the one to ruins the fun, but this is so far from acceptable. You are on such solid ground here. What are they going to say, “My coworker is so lame, she had a problem with us making sexually explicit noises every week.” They seem so unreasonable because they are. I wouldn’t feel bad about speaking up about this. I wouldn’t consider myself overly prude but hard pass on all of this nonsense. Grow the hell up coworkers. Yikes. You have my sympathy.

  23. Stone Cold Bitch*

    Sounds like the games industry.

    “We’re like family” usually means all kinds of issues…

  24. AuroraLight37*

    Good grief. This needs to stop now. Customers are going to talk to each other, and it’s not going to reflect well on your firm. “We had to stop using Chocolate Teapots, Inc., and I’m sorry because Sansa was such a wonderful person to work with. The problem was, calling her meant my staff was subjected to what sounded like an X-rated soundtrack in the background, and it was so uncomfortable and gross that I didn’t want to put them through it.”
    Also, I can guess that someone in that office is really creeped out at this going on and doesn’t feel like they have the support to get it to stop, so will be job hunting to get away from it.

    1. EPLawyer*

      This. People won’t speak up because they don’t want to “ruin the fun.” They will just leave. And then they wonder why no one is left to do the work and its all just people grunting at each other.

      1. Secret Identity*

        Yeah, what gets me is what is actually “fun” about faking orgasm noises in the first place?? I was sitting here at my desk, at work and thinking about what it would be like to just spontaneously burst into a fake orgasm and it’s just not hitting me as something that would be fun to do, ya know? It actually gave me the willies because it just makes me sooo uncomfortable to imagine doing that in front of my coworkers, or hearing them do it…just no. Absolutely not.

      2. AuroraLight37*

        Yeah, I don’t think I’d feel able to tell my manager why I wanted to leave. I’d probably choose to move on and not say anything, since I doubt I’d get any support about making it to stop.

  25. ChemistryChick*

    Just when you think you’ve read it all. Holy crap. At least we know this isn’t going on in the same office as the Duck Club.

    Totally agree with Alison’s advice, OP. I think I can speak for most all readers when I say pleeeeaaaaassseee give us an update on what happens.

  26. Delta Delta*

    Since management likely doesn’t care what employees say, maybe they care if it comes from a customer. I suggest if OP gets a comment or complaint from a customer, that OP put the customer on the phone with management right then and there. Something like, “would you be willing to mention this to our management team? We value you as a customer and I’m sure they would appreciate this feedback.”

    1. theelephantintheroom*

      I was thinking this, as well. Too bad OP couldn’t tell us where she works so we could all send in “customer” complaints on her behalf.

  27. Lil Sebastian*

    Wow, just wow. I’d bet good money that others in the office are uncomfortable too. Maybe they’ve spoken up, maybe they haven’t. Either way, by you speaking up you’d be doing them a huge favor too (beyond the fact that this is just plain inappropriate and needs to stop).

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This could make for one of those “push back as a group” issues. OP, if you get to the point of making an official written complaint, see if any of your coworkers will sign on with you.

  28. blink14*

    Wow. I would be horrified and embarrassed by this, and it would NEVER happen in my workplace without a serious crackdown. I do find it interesting that group seems to be all women? It’s like a female version of frat guy Friday behavior, and I wonder if this is some kind of behavior response to similarly inappropriate male behavior in your workplace or off hours between co-workers.

    You have to try to stop this – no matter how you look at it, this is so inappropriate that it could cause some serious repercussions for the company, and that’s how you need to frame it. I would directly report it to your manager and to HR – asking them to stop may actually make the behavior even worse, out of spite or taunting. Share your concerns about how this could put the company in a seriously bad spot, and also the absolute horror of a customer over hearing this. And how are you supposed to do your job with this kind of behavior going on in the background?

    1. Anononon*

      Shockingly, women can be and are just as crude as men. We’re just more socialized to pretend we’re not, especially in mixed groups.

      1. blink14*

        oh 100%, I just find it interesting, its not something I’ve seen often or read about much on here, in a workplace setting.

      2. many bells down*

        I walked by a meeting at my new job the other day and overheard a woman talking about her large box of sex toys. But the meeting was about a sex ed class, so it was actually topical and relevant! Still got a giggle out of it, though.

    2. Quill*

      I’ve met sororities, this is EXACTLY the kind of performative grossness that a group of women with no filters because “we’re like sisters!” get up to if nobody in the group pushes back on what is and is not appropriate.

      When people *do* push back, however, we have a merry time burning the binder of slut shaming sorority songs out on the beach and then running from security. (I wasn’t even in the sorority, just friends with a bunch of the sisters and they figured I knew someone who could find matches or a lighter… they were right.)

        1. Quill*

          It says something that during junior year half a dozen girls knocked on my door and said “Quill, you wanna burn something?”

          And I went “Sure, let me get my RA, she’s an art student so she must have a lighter.”

    3. emmelemm*

      Yeah, I doubt any of them consider themselves to be making an actionable hostile environment because “we’re all women!”

  29. Bagpuss*

    Who are your clients?

    Is there any possibility of encouraging a cient to raise it as a concern?
    If I could hear that on any kind for professional call I would be shocked and uncomftable, and a client making a complaint might carry a lot more weight than OP flagging it up, and hopefully also reduce the risk of retaliation.

    Obviously, OP should be able to raise this and have a manager deal with it immediately but if management if poor and HR ineffective, an outside peron raising it might be an effecitve way of adressing it.

    I appreciate that you probably can’t engineer a fake client call for the purpose of making a complaint, but if it is audible to callers, have any of them commented or asked about it?
    If so, then that may be a major part of how you raise it with your boss “I’ve had 4 callers in the last week comment on it, and I am very uncomfotable having to try to explain it or gloss over it, and I am concerned that it presents an incredibly unprofessional view of our company to our clients “

  30. Notafan*

    Beware of workplace “families.” A family is a family. A workplace is a workplace, not a family. While I’m at it, beware of family run organizations.

    1. Jamie*

      I know there are exceptions and well run family business out there, but I’m biased from my own experiences and I’m with you. Any family owned business is a deal breaker for me unless I was desperate.

    2. anon9*

      Not sure if you are familiar with AITA on Reddit but the only thing I can say is: “The Iranian yogurt is not the issue.”

      That is, family branding or not, this behavior would probably still exist.

      1. valentine*

        “The Iranian yogurt is not the issue.”
        Laughing at the simple addition of the all-caps “Jerry,” which I heard in Kramer’s voice, gave me cramps in both legs, yet I continued to laugh helplessly.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      I work for a family-owned business (software), and this company would not put up with this kind of behavior at all (they’re super conservative). Everybody doing this would be fired on the spot.

  31. The Rat-Catcher*

    I read this post and literally said “what the f***” in the bathroom at work. Quietly, but still.
    OP…I’m so sorry. I think addressing this in the moment is the way to go.

  32. Heidi*

    This may not be a viable option, OP, but I would seriously quit my job over this. The contest is bad as is, but even worse is the lack of safeguards (like assertive management, helpful HR, colleagues that aren’t idiots) that are supposed to keep things like this from happening. It’s really only a matter of chance that more inappropriate stuff hasn’t happened already (I’m guessing it has).

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Same. There are no boundaries here, and people’s comfort and safety are completely disregarded. This is environment where problems are allowed to fester and escalate because no one with authority wants to do their jobs. It’s a classic example of how a one-time joke can easily get out of hand (although the joke probably shouldn’t have been made in the first place). I agree with you that more inappropriate behaviour has taken place but it’s been ignored or swept under the rug.

      So sorry you’re dealing with this, OP, and I’m really glad you wrote in because it’ll hope give other people the courage to speak up about similar problems in their workplaces. Good luck with your manager and I really hope things work out for you. Please do give us an update if you can.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I would job search for sure if I reported this issue and nothing was done. OP just needs to take the extra steps Alison outlined above before taking that nuclear option.

  33. animaniactoo*

    Evil Me™ says if you really want it to stop but do not want to be associated with getting it stopped… you can go the totally manipulative route of having someone call in and ask for a supervisor to complain that they can hear that mess going on in the background.

    But really – I’ve found it’s easiest to stand up and own being the party pooper in a relatively cheerful manner. “I know I’m the party pooper. Hate on me all you want. But this goes too far over the “unprofessional” line, and it’s a legal problem to boot.”

  34. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    What the unholy hell.
    And who the hell is participating in this garbage? Particularly as a long term thing? I would love to know the gender and age breakdown on this, as right now I am picturing a section filled entirely with 12-13 year old boys in adult sized suits.

    1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      Wait, I just remembered that it mentioned it being women at the beginning of the letter (sorry, my mind was so blown that I guess it shoved some of that info out temporarily). WHAT the UNHOLY HELL.

  35. MOAS*

    JFC WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE!??!?!!!!!!!!!!

    A few weeks back, one of my coworkers who sits near me was talking about his favorite porn star. I told them to cut that sh*t out. The world did not explode. I’m still a little conflict averse up but IT”S my JOB TO TELL THEM TO CUT IT OUT.

    WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Just…

    WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Buttons*

    A couple of months ago I had to have a talk with one of my direct reports about when we are on a conference call to make sure her dog was in a different room and doors were closed (we all work from home) that it is unprofessional to have her dog whining and barking during a meeting. I was pretty shocked I had to tell an adult THAT!

    1. all I got is road work*

      Oh there’s an epidemic of this on one project team I’m on. Barking dogs galore. It’s amazing since before this, I worked on tons of projects with coworkers with dogs and never heard a single one. But now somehow, three different people on this team apparently enjoy having dogs being pests on every single call. And they know it’s a problem. And they still don’t stop it.

    2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

      ugh, look at that BBC interview. Everyone thought that kid intruding was cute. Dog can’t be worse. On AAM, we have people defending interviewees bringing kids to interviews, work, lectures. Highly inappropriate but people do it all the times

  37. President Porpoise*

    Well, um, this is disturbing.

    OP, I know you said that as far as you know, no one feels sexually harassed – but you are clearly being made very uncomfortable by continued and pervasive sexual behavior forced upon you and your coworkers by another department. That IS sexual harassment. That IS what your discomfort is signifying to you. Don’t downplay it to yourself or your management team/HR – no one has to be making sexual remarks directly to you or physically touching you for it to count. If you wanted to raise it to the EEOC, I bet you could and have it stick (especially since you’ve already raised it to your management and nothing has been done) but I would still try one more time to get them to cut it out before pursuing the nuclear option.

    “Blowing off steam”… I just can’t even believe that someone would be so clueless as to think that this was ok, much less a whole department and their manager…

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Yes, exactly! Maybe no one’s afraid of being physically touched (as far we know, at least) but sexual harassment includes verbal and vocal harassment and abuse, such as catcalling. OP and others are being made uncomfortable, that’s enough for it to have to stop.

      And in this kind of workplace, I’d absolutely be concerned for my physical safety, regardless of it just being women doing this.

      I’m also stunned at the ‘blowing off steam’ part, that’s something you do outside of the workplace, good Lord.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Agreed. I had the exact same thought re: sexual harassment.

      OP, is there an anonymous Ethics hotline you can contact?

  38. Spectra*

    I choked on my drink reading this…..

    WHAT???????????????

    I work in an industry notorious for gutter brain moments. But this is NEXT LEVEL. What. The. F’n F!

  39. Arctic*

    Honestly, OP, the thing that bothers me in the letter is that you need to tie it to customer calls, at all. It seems like you are looking for a good excuse to ask for this to stop. When the fact that it makes you (and others) uncomfortable should be reason enough. You shouldn’t even have to point out the customer issue, imo.
    And they STILL don’t listen when you tie it to customers!!
    Obviously it is unprofessional to do this when a customer could overhear but employees working in an environment where they don’t feel harassed constantly is more important to me.

  40. Rexish*

    I’d be tempted to comment about how sad it is that they have to fake it. Where as op has no need to participate cause she can do the real deal at home.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      My inner asshole suggests putting vibrators on everyone’s desks with a note that says “now you don’t have to fake it in the office anymore”.

      Obviously that is not a good solution for a number of reasons.

      1. OP*

        One of the women makes the most bizarre noises you’ve ever heard in your life when it’s her turn to fake it, which leads me to believe that either she has never had an actual orgasm or she is deeply sexually dysfunctional. On the day that I win the megamillions jackpot and get to say whatever I want to everyone in the office without having to worry about my future employment (please let that day be soon), I’m going to give her a card for a sex shop and a card for a sex therapist, so she can get help either way.

    2. Recreational Moderation*

      Well said, Rexish, and I share that temptation. Wouldn’t it be fun to say to the noisemakers, kindly, “Aww, that’s so cute! You’re practicing just in case someday you DO get somebody into bed!”?
      (With apologies to Alison and the comments crew if that last phrase is rules-inappropriate.)

      1. AKchic*

        I share in that same temptation… but I am much more adult in the office unless I plan on burning my bridges.

        1. Recreational Moderation*

          Agreed, AKchic, you’re absolutely right—I wouldn’t actually do it either. (Probably.) Sometimes, though, Evil Me just has too much fun thinking about it.

          1. AKchic*

            Evil Me has so much more fun that Adult Me. Adult Me is lame. I don’t like Adult Me very much but she has bills to pay so Evil Me has to take a backseat most of the time.
            Evil Me pouts a lot.

            1. Recreational Moderation*

              Thanks, AKchic; you just provided my best out-loud laugh of the day.
              Along with the pouting, my Evil Me also stomps around muttering, “How come we never do anything IIIIII want to do?”

            2. Rexish*

              I wish the actual me was as gutsy as the petty evil me. I’ll aspire to be evil me when i grow up.

  41. UKCoffeeLover*

    Kids need to blow off steam.
    Adults should be able to control themselves at work and if they have extra energy they can do something to use it up in their own time!!!

  42. cwhfstl*

    I am suddenly feeling so much more positive about my work environment, so that’s a plus. That is completely beyond the pale.

  43. Eternally Sarah*

    Oh heavens, no no no. OP please march right into HR. You are not a stick in the mud. You are a sane rational individual who is being subjected to what is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard of happening in a professional work environment. I have been in call centers for over a decade, 4 of those years as a unit manager. Any of my reps who were caught participating in this insanity would receive one warning that they must stop this effective immediately. If they persist, I would not hesitate to move straight to termination next. This is beyond anything I’ve seen and I’ve worked in some pretty dysfunctional call centers. OP please try to speak up and I am sure your colleagues will thank you for it. Good luck!

    1. Kendra*

      One of my college jobs was also at a call center, and they had a zero tolerance policy for anything a customer could possibly find offensive anywhere on the premises. I saw them let people go for saying a single mild swear word out in the PARKING LOT, for goodness’ sake; I can’t even imagine how any of my managers there would have reacted to this level of nonsense!

  44. Camille McKenzie*

    This might be the most insane letter I’ve ever read here.
    Why do managers always seem to be either tyrants who fire you for any little thing or slackers who let you get away with anything?

    1. Quill*

      Nobody with a decent manager writes in to AAM unless their problem is with something not related to management. (See: the bird phobia car accident letter, various conflicting accomodations needs letters, intern shennanigans.)

  45. J*

    Workplace aside, I can’t figure out why this is even funny or relatively amusing to do repeatedly, and I have a pretty broad sense of humor. Maybe the first time it got some laughs, OK… But to do this EVERY WEEK? I feel like this should have lost its appeal long ago.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      That’s the real question!

      (Although, I suppose we should be glad they’re not pursuing the real thing at their work stations…)

  46. voluptuousfire*

    I’m picturing this like a line of people lined up at the front of a theater showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with a Vd drawn in lipstick on their foreheads. I think faking an orgasm is the initiation ritual for virgins of the shadow cast of RHPS.

    In that context, it makes sense. At work, ew, NO.

  47. Rachael*

    Ummm…I’m not a prude *at all*, but I wouldn’t even do this around my friends, let along coworkers. I think what this conversation is missing is that it is weird to do it AT ALL, LOL….and it is extremely inappropriate around coworkers.

    1. Quill*

      How does anyone even watch the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene anyway? Especially with other people around? The secondhand embarrassment alone would kill me.

  48. CynicallySweet*

    This honestly reminds me of my roommate (who didn’t think something through, not being gross). He used to have GOT on as background noise, until I reminded him he’s on the phone w/ customers all day…. HIS FACE LMAO

  49. OP*

    Wow, what a lot of responses to this one! I didn’t realize this topic would get everyone so, shall we say, hot and bothered. That’s probably a sign in and of itself that I’ve become a bit too accustomed to my workplace, that this doesn’t seem as egregious a thing to me as it does to all of you.

    To answer some questions/clear up some misconceptions:

    The department is entirely female, and our office in general is predominantly female, though my department has a few men. None of the women who regularly participate are very young—I’d say they all fall in the 30-50 range or so.

    I didn’t realize this would qualify as sexual harassment because it isn’t directed at a specific person or group, and to the best of my knowledge, no one has complained explicitly about it being explicit—my complaint was disguised as being about the volume. It is definitely pervasive, though, and I’m uncomfortable and I can imagine that others are even more uncomfortable.

    This doesn’t go on all day Friday: it starts at 3pm and goes on for about half an hour, until everyone has gotten the chance to fake it. I don’t really understand why they still think it’s funny, but apparently they do. The department does do work for the rest of the day, and most of them actually do good work—one of the loudest fakers is really, really good at her job and is always willing to step up when someone needs a hand.

    For those asking about the general professionalism around the workplace…it’s not great. Nothing like this has ever gone on before (as far as I know), but there’s a lot of clique-ish and immature behavior. Being friendly with the managers is a much more important quality than being good at your job or being professional: if you’ve been here long enough, it doesn’t matter if you regularly make racist comments, if you lose track of important documents that need to be forwarded to customers, if you blatantly pass your work off on someone else, and so forth. I want to get out of here, but for a variety of reasons I’d much rather stay at this job until January, so my job searching at this time is more passive.

    I’m planning on discreetly going around and seeing how many of us are really disturbed by Fake It Friday so we can make a group complaint. There are definitely some people who would be angry at me if I were the one who got their fun shut down, but if a whole group of us complain, there’ll probably just be some grumbling. Again, until I saw all your responses, I didn’t realize how outrageous this behavior is—I had it filed in the “very annoying and not okay, but something everyone else is living with” category, but now I’m thinking there are probably more people like me who really want this to stop. Will let you all know how it goes.

    1. Quill*

      LW: Your workplace isn’t so much full of evil bees as it is full of extremely inappropriate termites chewing down your boundaries, but best of luck leaving the colony!

        1. valentine*

          it doesn’t matter if you regularly make racist comments
          The orgasms pale in comparison to this, but you’ll probably be successful in stopping them.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      There’s your problem: “there’s a lot of clique-ish and immature behavior. Being friendly with the managers is a much more important quality than being good at your job or being professional” That comes from the top, and is a huge risk in the ‘we’re family’ style of management.

      I’d go with ‘hey, Karen, customers on the phone can hear that, I’ve gotten comments.’ I wouldn’t bring up that it’s illegal (though it is), that’s just going to get you in trouble in an org that clearly doesn’t care. I wouldn’t even try for a group, because ‘customers’ should give you the back up you need.

      Good luck on the job hunt!

    3. Allypopx*

      I just want to flag that this is a huge major example of how a toxic environment at work can screw with your ideas about what’s normal and appropriate. Obviously you know this is bad but I’m wondering if there’s smaller things that are slipping by you or burrowing into your subconscious. Try to do a good brain scrub of all the office norms you’ve picked up from this place before interviewing/working somewhere else. It can really bite you in the butt!

    4. emmelemm*

      I’m sure you feel “prudish” that this is bothering you, but you really shouldn’t. I’m not much of a prude, and I have a pretty thick skin, but I would find this annoying and, yeah, uncomfortable.

      It’s not normal office behavior, and it’s not OK.

    5. I'd Rather Not Say*

      How obnoxious of your coworkers.

      We’re required to do annual sexual harassment training, which involves watching a video and taking an online quiz. One of the scenarios presented involves employees asking suggestive questions to an Alexa-like device. Even though the employees were all willing participants, it was still considered inappropriate because it’s always possible someone overhearing it objects, but will not say so to those involved.

      The overall point of the training is to always err on the side of caution with your own behavior, because you never know if someone might object, but is afraid to speak up. Also, if you can, speak up, because you’re probably not the only one who objects.

      Good luck OP!

    6. Observer*

      This is a perfect example of something that Alison says a lot – when you spend to much time in a dysfunctional workplace, you sense of norms gets warped in a fairly unhealthy way.

      I think you are smart for trying to see who else is bothered – I’d be willing to bet that you are not the only thinking “annoying but everyone else is dealing”.

    7. El Esteban*

      Honestly, even if you want to stay there till January, it’s probably best to start looking now. January’s less than three months away.

    8. Qwerty*

      If you are concerned about looking prudish (not that there is anything wrong with that!), a side door into this conversation could be to bring up another company that has been in the news for an outlandish sexual environment. Something like “I was reading some of the stories about X company and it made me realize that Fake It Friday could get us into trouble. We should probably find a new way to blow off steam that’s less likely to have legal implications”.

      A lot of people I know use the litmus test of “Does a woman approve of this joke/comment?” to check if something is appropriate or not. By extension, this can lead to the belief that women can’t create a hostile environment based on sexual comments/actions because they are the gatekeepers of what is appropriate. This reminds me a lot of the stories about Thinx, where it was a woman creating an uncomfortable over-sexualized environment for other women. (I’m sure there are a lot of better examples, none are just coming to mind at the moment)

    9. Gumby*

      Half. an. hour.

      I actually assumed it was a 5-minute thing of… simultaneous faking. Which was gross and completely inappropriate. Taking turns? 30 minutes? Every Friday? I mean, 5 minutes would be insane and wrong wrong wrong. The whole 30 minutes thing? No. A thousand times no. Ugh. Everyone else takes the time to watch and appreciate their coworkers’ performances. I am nauseated thinking about it.

    10. LGC*

      one of the loudest fakers is really, really good at her job

      …I can imagine! (I also can imagine her neighbors don’t need to and yes I am a thirteen year old boy thanks for asking.)

      Okay so – you sound like you’re a pretty reasonable person (that is, you don’t think faking orgasms at work is generally a good idea). And yes, getting out is a VERY good idea – it sounds like Fake It Friday is the least of the issues with the workplace! (If they’re OK with racist comments and the like.) You probably should start ramping up now, just in case.

      Also – is this a small company? Because I feel like most large companies do sexual harassment training where this very thing is covered! (Well…not an office that fakes orgasms for half an hour every Friday. But like – people talk about hostile work environments and this is the definition of hostile work environment. Even if it’s all women.

    11. AKchic*

      I’m trying to imagine that “really good worker” trying to justify why they need 30 minutes on a Friday afternoon to fake orgasms at all.
      “Sorry, but I produce a lot of work (quality or not) for this company, so I need to be able to alienate customers and put the company in a precarious position of sexual harassment lawsuits so I can prove how good my fake orgasms are. I have a reputation to uphold!”
      Yeah… that’s not gonna fly. Or it *shouldn’t* in a sane world.

      There’s so much wrong here that you should be actively looking for work now. January is less than 3 months away. Don’t worry about the other people who might not appreciate the Fake It Fridays and worry about how you’d feel if the company were to close up shop before you got a job because they had to quietly pay out a sexual harassment lawsuit they couldn’t afford and you got laid off because of it. Because that’s actually a scenario that could happen.
      Time to face this. Even if you are planning on leaving.

    12. tamarack & fireweed*

      Yeah, that’s totally the kind of sexualized behavior that can creep over into sexual harassment, regardless of the gender of the perpetrators. This is not ok, and neither is the “it doesn’t matter if you regularly make racist comments” bit. At all.

  50. KayEss*

    Last paragraph is 100% truth. I worked at a place where this could easily have happened (I’m actually kind of surprised it never did, in hindsight), and it was a never-ending swamp of dysfunction. This is NOT a healthy workplace, I guarantee it.

  51. Jaybeetee*

    Allison touched on this, but seriously, how has this stayed entertaining week after week? I can see it being funny once or twice, but how many times can you watch/hear your colleagues having fake-orgasms, and still find it hilarious? Or are they grading each other on technique and honing their “performances”?

    For those in relationships, is there an ulterior motive here?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Well, we all still smile about duck club…

      It’s a signal that they’re a group. Even those who don’t spout off probably do some judging. Note it’s an all-female group; I bet there’s some discrimination in the hiring.

      1. Quill*

        But Duck Club was, you know, on the same level as gossip about other people, not us being inappropriate!

  52. Nephron*

    Remember those letters of people nervous that it would be weird if they didn’t drink during office happy hours? Or the ones nitpicking their choice in clothes? And there is an office that is doing this weekly.

  53. Twill*

    Just about that point when I think ‘Ok, now I’ve heard it all’, someone sends in a letter regarding faking orgasms as a team building exercise.

    1. fogharty*

      “ faking orgasms as a team building exercise”

      You made me hurt myself trying to contain my literal LOL when I read this!

      I’m trying to picture the logistics; does everyone go into the conference room for a half hour and compete, or do they stay at their desks and the grunts and moans waft gently over the cubicle half-walls, or what?

      Or is it fake-orgasm Marco Polo?

      The mind boggles.

  54. Senor Montoya*

    Alison’s advice is spot on. I’d just add, keep a record of when it happens, and what you do in response; dates, names, what you said to the perps and/or their manager, what they said in response, etc. Every time. So that if you do have to make a formal complaint, you have documentation.

    I personally would make sure that there’s someone else around to hear me making these requests; if you think a discrete talk with the manager is more in order, ok, but if that doesn’t solve it, be loud about it. Return the awkward to the sender.

  55. HRGirl*

    I work in HR and when I’m having a particularly challenging day I come here to read horror stories that make my HR problems seem manageable. This is the one today, holy hell!

  56. csoz*

    Customers can possibly hear this and the managers and/or owners condone it??? I can’t even fathom it.

  57. Marny*

    This letter is so much worse than I expected from the headline. I figured it was one immature co-worker who just needed to be spoken to by HR or something. But for it to be a company-encouraged group activity? Wowsers!

  58. LGC*

    A family that fakes orgasms together.

    I’m so glad I read this during lunch (which for the record I DIDN’T STEAL – I might be a flawed boss, but I’m not a lunch-stealing one) because I made some rather inappropriate noises myself at this line.

    Anyway, this is all good advice (especially the note at the end – the last time I saw this many red flags was my senior year marching band championship). If I were LW, I’d lean more towards customers being able to hear, but that’s my personal approach. (Like, the fact that this is illegal in the US is probably the bigger issue. But also, I get the feeling that they would probably go, “well people who have a problem with it shouldn’t be here!” and possibly escalate in the short-term. Which is messed up, but also you want them to stop having what she’s having.)

  59. Database Developer Dude*

    Interviewer: “Why did you leave your last job?”

    Interviewee: “They wouldn’t stop having a fake orgasm contest every week.”

    Interviewer: “…………………………………………..”

      1. J.B.*

        I bet you do. YIIIIKES!!! One thing I will say about my more conservative office that had little judgements for working moms – is that this would never have gone down.

  60. jamberoo*

    W H A T !

    I recall participating in something similar… WHEN I WAS THIRTEEN, not AN ADULT IN THE PROFESSIONAL WORKFORCE.

    That’s all I have. I can’t even.

    1. Allypopx*

      Yes shouting PNIS as loud as we could in public was a favorite of ours back in the day. But. As children.

  61. bluephone*

    You know, sometimes it’s okay for a company to be ruthlessly bought by a mergers and acquisitions group, broken up, and heartlessly resold at a profit that definitely will not trickle down to the now laid-off employees. Sometimes, these things just have to happen.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      LOL! Agreed, especially since OP updated above about their casual racism and the like.

  62. Rainbow Roses*

    It’s “harmless” now but what happens if a new employee gets hired, see the culture of the office, and crosses the line further? How can they fight this new employee when they can defend themselves with what is currently happening? Yes *we* know there’s a difference between bad and evil why make it difficult to judge?

  63. Jaid*

    Y’know what I’m reminded of now? At the IRS, there was a CSR who called in to the Howard Stern show…while working. As he was waiting, he got a work call and was speaking to a taxpayer when the line to Howard picked up. The show was broadcasting live and the hosts didn’t hang up on him when they realized what was going on.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/02/15/howard-stern-sued-for-airing-confidential-call-between-irs-agent-and-taxpayer/

  64. ToS*

    Yes, bring this to people’s attention and make the sexualized stuff STOP.

    How to finesse this – start an Actual Contest with Something Else that is funny. Take all of the steam out of “we can’t” and move it into We Can Do Something Else. Funniest SFW Internet Dog meme. There are so many movie scenes that can be re-done. Monty Python’s “Ain’t Nothing But a _____, What’s it going to do [verb] me on the [location]”

  65. Elizabeth West*

    This may pass into the AAM Hall of Legends, displayed prominently in the “You People are Naaaasty” exhibit, right next to the Duck Club.

    In fact, I wish I hadn’t packed all my miniatures stuff, because I just had an epic idea for a room box.

  66. Scarlet*

    “Two and a half months ago at an after-work happy hour event, a bunch of us were discussing movies when the conversation turned to When Harry Met Sally and from there to the scene where Meg Ryan simulates an orgasm. Some female employees –including multiple managers and people from several departments — then decided to have a contest to see who could fake it the best. ”

    THAT’S. SO. AWKWARD.

    Omg I’m cringing just imagining that. Were ya’ll in public? I can’t imagine. My sympathies, OP.

  67. Luna*

    When they start the fake orgasm sounds (and you are not on the phone), start with your *own* ‘fake orgasm’ sounds… and have them be nothing but the most feral, loud, aggressive screams. If anyone feels uncomfortable, you can tell them that Kate said it’s considered blowing off steam…
    I know this may end up in a ‘one person ruins it for everyone’, but this is just *not* appropriate, at all. I would even say, drop this job and get out. Go find some place where people don’t have to do fake orgasm sounds to get through the work day.

    But I would take this to HR so fast, there’d be the road runner-esque cloud shaped my body left behind in the chair. Not only is this not appropriate, it’s also pretty tasteless in my opinion, and as someone who has audial triggers, this would make so physically uncomfortable at work. HR would hear one complaint from me, and then realize they need to stop this or risk a very big, open-and-shut case of (sexual) harassment at work. (If not something about not accomodating a ‘disability’, which I think triggers count towards, if they are known…?)

  68. Sirah*

    For the record, nothing turns me off a job more than seeing “we’re like a family”. All I think of is, “Oh, okay, so….full of backbiting, control issues, ineffective or absent management, too open about some things and too closed-off about others, an expectation to sacrifice for the sake of ‘the team’ – with heavy guilt tripping if you don’t comply, while at the same time not really giving all that much in return, because that would be ‘selfish’ of you to ask.”

    There’s a reason soap operas are based around families – an automatic and believable source of non-stop drama. I don’t want that at work!

Comments are closed.