Dear Amy: In an effort to build team spirit, our office had a group outing. My friend, an administrative assistant in the firm, had a meltdown, cried and panicked about the group activity we were going to do.
Seeming to come to her aid, an elderly male principal in the firm calmed her down and offered to go for a walk in lieu of the outing. He then proceeded to persuade her to be his guest and visit the local women’s art museum.
Rather than view the paintings, he spent the entire time ogling my friend’s behind. Every time she looked at him, his eyes were on her backside. She told me it was creepy and made her feel very uncomfortable.
When they rejoined the group, this man’s face was so full of lust that he was dripping in it. As her friend, I’ve recommended she report this sexual harassment to the human resource office. But she’s afraid this man, given his position in the firm, will retaliate. He is still ogling her behind whenever he thinks no one is looking.
Should I report what I know? How can I help my friend? — Worried in D.C.
Ok, OK, I’m not really suggesting that without the opportunity provided by a day of corporate Whirlyball, this guy wouldn’t be a creepy lech. I’m sure that he still would–in fact, Amy says in her response that he may be a “known ogler,” and I agree that that’s likely. But the whole situation is just screwed up!
First, if you do your job well–the job for which you were hired–and you’re collegial with your colleagues, you should not be required to also play softball/do a high ropes course/go whitewater rafting/put on a giant padded sumo wrestling suit and attempt to tackle your co-workers. That’s not what you were hired for. It has nothing to do with your job. It’s a waste of company time, talent and treasure (as it were). And it clearly totally failed to build team unity because…..
…an employee flipped out, and she got out of the activity. OK. Well, she probably wasn’t the only person who didn’t want to participate. She’s clearly the only one who had an irrational, visceral reaction (I actually totally get where she’s coming from. Softball gives me heart palpitations.) but there are probably plenty of others who found the activity unpleasant and/or a waste of time–and they still had to go. I think it’s ridiculous to require participation in this kind of thing, but if it is required, it should be for everyone. If she absolutely could not participate without having a breakdown of some kind, she should quietly seek to be excused. A company higher up, obviously, should not take her on a private field trip to the local art museum (conveniently getting himself out of the group activity and alone with her).
So she’s doubly at a disadvantage: in addition to being ogled by her superior, she’s going to be resented by her colleagues for getting out of team building and stepping out with a heavy hitter–they may even question what went on between them when they disappeared all afternoon. So just as she’s looking for support to report what’s going on, her colleagues are probably looking for an explanation for the special treatment…and it seems unlikely to be a positive one.
So much for team-building!