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April 4, 2017

How My Amazing Stupidity Turned Fun Into Bad Behavior at Work

Ian Moss


When I was an intern on a small-town newspaper, I found a perfect recipe for disaster... or at least some very bad behavior in the workplace.

I didn't tweak the overnight lending rate to make billions of dollars, or plunder the pensions of my co-workers to buy a super-yacht. No, the ingredients for this particular act of folly were a tennis racket, a furry toy mouse, and a bottle of correction fluid.

But first, some background information: about 10 of us worked in the cluttered office; we were all quite young; and we all had fairly short attention spans. For younger readers, correction fluid is a white, paint-like liquid that's used for masking mistakes on paper. It comes in small plastic bottles and it's still available today. But I can't imagine that many people use it any more.

Plain Bad Behavior

This was in the pre-internet days when newspaper reporters would use typewriters to produce stories on small pieces of paper that were then dispatched on an arduous journey, via the printing presses, to the reader.

We all worked hard and were ambitious, but we also liked to have some fun. A game we liked to play when the chief reporter was away was a variation of baseball, but without the bases or ball. Instead, someone would throw the furry mouse; someone else would hit it with the tennis racket; and another would try to catch it.

It was a pretty harmless, if childish, way to spend a bit of down-time. The problem, or more specifically my problem, came when I was "batting" and decided it would be a good idea to replace the mouse with a bottle of correction fluid.

My "accomplice" pitched the fluid. I hit it. But the fielder missed it, and the bottle struck the wall, splintered and sprayed white liquid all over the office. Word of my crime got back to the editor, and he summoned me to his office. He was, rightly, not happy and explained why in sharp detail.

Time to Reflect

He pointed out that my act had not only been stupid, but it could also have been been very costly. The company was about to replace its typewriters with computers, he said. And if I had done such a thing then, who knows what the damage would have been? He added that he had been on the verge of firing me, but chose instead to banish me to an even smaller district office. I worked there in solitary confinement for several months and had plenty of time to reflect on my bad behavior.

The real issue, I decided, was how my actions had affected my colleagues and jeopardized the cohesion of a small team. For instance, the person I persuaded to "pitch the mouse" may well have felt threatened by my behavior and likely had not really wanted to join in at all. Also, had a member of the public been visiting the office and witnessed the scene, it would have been, well, less than ideal.

What Constitutes Bad Behavior?

But sometimes it's difficult to decide what constitutes unacceptable conduct at work, and Mind Tools can help on this subject. In this case, however, there's little doubt in my mind that what I did fell into the "bad" category.

This incident is obviously a very blatant example. But unacceptable conduct can come in many forms, which, likely as not, will be far more subtle. Bullying is one that springs to mind. Another is manipulative or passive-aggressive behavior. Colleagues who are constantly late, or who consistently fail to follow accepted guidelines, are also a source of trouble. And it is often difficult to deal with the problem.

It is important to not let bad behavior go unchecked both for the team and for the person involved. The manager needs to take appropriate action, and be seen to be taking it. Even it is only over a furry mouse.

Have you witnessed bad behavior in the workplace? What did you do and how did it make you feel?

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