Thursday 19 November 2009

the wrong impression....

My 22 year old colleague was this week the inaugural recipient of a "Plonker of the Week" trophy from some of our colleagues. His mistake was to get a bit confused about the meaning of the word "harem", thinking it was an all-purpose collective noun for a group of people, and then using it to describe someone's new - female - employee. A touch embarrassing, perhaps, but a harmless enough mistake you would have thought.

The plonker of the week is apparently going to be chosen from a shortlist of nominees in a team meeting, with the winner then receiving a little trophy and having their photo taken receiving the award displayed somewhere in the department. It's all pretty harmless and, as he usually does, 22 y.o. took it all in pretty good spirit, even when he then spent the rest of the evening explaining to everyone who asked about the trophy at his desk what he had done to warrant the award.

Apparently the award will be a little like the World Cup, and if you win it three times, you get to keep the trophy. The joke was that bookies had already stopped taking bets on who was going to keep the trophy even though it had only just been awarded for the very first time....

All very amusing.... but 22 y.o.'s boss got in this morning having been working at home yesterday, and she found the whole thing far less funny. She stormed off down the office to take the picture down, and then proceeded to give her young apprentice a long lecture about how he needed to think about how he was perceived by his colleagues and by other people. What kind of impression is this going to make on people who haven't met him before? How much more difficult could something like this make it to be to be taken seriously by these people? This, she said, was nothing more than workplace bullying.

To some extent, I can see what she means: even when marveling at the things that 22 y.o. doesn't know (like the names of three of the four Beatles), I've tried really hard to not make him feel stupid. He may not know loads of things - some of them quite alarming - but that doesn't make him an idiot. I'm not sure that everyone has troubled to make the same distinction between ignorance and stupidity. The Plonker of the Week award is intended, I'm sure, to be taken as a light-hearted bit of banter with no malice. I'm also pretty sure that 22 y.o. won't be the only person to win it (I reckon I must have been a candidate for this). But does my colleague have a point: is he being bullied? Or does her intervention - a little like your mum wading in at school on your behalf - make it all the more embarrassing for him?

Or is it all just political correctness gone mad?


  1. As I was reading, I became more and more startled. I wonder if his boss is more sensitive to bullying than those who may luckily have never been bullied (or maybe are the bullies and just have never been pulled up on it)? Because while your resilient young friend might be just laughing it off, it might not go down too well with someone else, and your department could find itself in some serious hot water.
    I don't think a persons sensitivity to having their mistakes heralded in such a manner could seriously be seen as being bad sport on their behalf. Or political correctness gone mad. You can't possibly know what a person has been through on a personal level to make them less resillient than others, and I think the young fellas boss is wisely doing some forward thinking on behalf of everyone, so should probably be thanked for being so wise. Perhaps theat's why she's a boss and the others maybe aren't? Just sayin'.

  2. the team that came up with the award is one that works quite closely with our little team, and actually includes some very senior people, many of whom are managers.
    As I said, I'm quite careful with the banter we have around our desks to make sure I don't make 22 y.o. feel stupid or inadequate, and I'm not sure that everyone else does the same.
    I actually think his boss's point is less about the bullying and more about the way he is perceived by his colleagues, but I actually think she's got a point on both counts.
    On the other hand, I don't necessarily have a problem with the award - as long as it's not consistently given to the same people. I do think it's a bit juvenile, mind.

  3. She has got a point on both counts, and she is doing some good mentoring there. It's actually commendable that she even cares, as many wouldn't, and while it might be a little bit uncomfortable for all involved, I think it's good of her to actually do the right thing for the lad.
    The 'award' itself is juvenile to use your own term, and really doens't have a place, especially if it could be given to someone who might take it really badly. Not to be overly dramatic, but some people are actually clinically depressed, but don't exactly go advertising the fact. Something like this could do untold damage to someone like that, and there's not much anyone can do about it after the fact.
    Much better not to do it to them in the first place.