DATE: October 2, 2001
TO: The Human Resources Director Person
CC: Jim, Franz, Joni, A Buncha Other People
This morning George, The VP of WTF, came into my office with an admin task for me to take care of.
As he was showing me how to import his list of contacts into Outlook, I mentioned that perhaps Cathlene might want to be involved in the training process, as I will be leaving The Totem Pole Company tomorrow and she will soon be taking over my duties.
At that point George made a derogatory comment about Cathlene, indicating that he doesn't believe she is up to the task, due to her youth and ethnicity. When I asked him what he meant by the remark, he responded with another, equally offensive personal comment about her.
Ever since George joined the company last summer, I've found it increasingly difficult to tolerate his routinely negative comments about co-workers ... especially when he is making comments about people for whom I feel friendship and admiration, like Cathlene. This morning, after he'd made the offensive remark, I told George that one of the reasons I've decided to leave The TPC is that I'm finding it tough to effectively support a manager who insults the people he works with, day in and day out.
"It's difficult for me to respect you when you do that," I explained to him.
He said that he 'understands' how I feel, and we went back to our conversation about importing contacts into Outlook. He was clearly very angry with me, though, and soon afterwards he left and went back to his office, slamming my door as he departed.
He has not spoken to me since.
For the most part, my experiences at The Totem Pole Company have been solid, positive experiences. I think that in the past month, however, I've become more sensitive to the need for courtesy and human kindness, in the workplace as much as anywhere else. George is not the only senior manager who indulges in this sort of behavior. Lately it's become a way of life on the fourth floor. George simply managed to catch me in the right place at the wrong time. (Or in the wrong place at the right time ... depending on how you look at it.)
I realize I may very well have overstepped by speaking to George in this manner. If necessary, I will apologize to him personally. But before I leave The Totem Pole Company tomorrow, I want to go on record as saying that I believe very strongly in what I said to George today. I believe that everybody -- most especially anyone in a position of authority -- has a professional (if not a human) obligation to avoid making personally disparaging, sexist, racially challenging or otherwise offensive comments about the people they work with ... particularly in front of other staff members. It's counterproductive, it's disrespectful (to both the person being insulted and to the person forced to listen to it), and it makes it difficult -- if not impossible -- to respect the person making the comments. And I would think that instilling respect among your staff members would be a high priority for someone in George's position.
Thank you for listening.
Executive Assistant to Jerry, Northern Regional Vice President
The Totem Pole Company
Jim barged into my office, two minutes after I sent the memo.
"Stand up!" he barked.
Obediently, I stood. "You're firing me, right?" I said, only half-jokingly.
"No," he replied. "I'm hugging you. I just read your e-mail." And he wrapped his arms around me, engulfing us both in another one of those big, sweaty bear-hugs he's famous for.
"Lunch tomorrow," he said into my shoulder as he hugged me. "You and me. Make the reservations."
And then he turned around and walked back out of my office, as abruptly as he'd come in.