Once a Schmuck, Twice a Pervert; OR Keeping Your Job AND Your Dignity

Kyle Bernstein

As humans in the world, interacting with other humans, it’s normal to sometimes feel like a “schmuck”.  Maybe you misspoke or inadvertently insulted someone or did something you’re not proud of to get your way and you feel like crap afterward.  Maybe it was PMS, deadline stress, or one too many Cosmos at the company holiday party.  It happens to the best of us.  For the most part, we are able to notice our missteps, remedy the situation if possible, and move forward relatively unscathed.  You’ve probably learned a valuable lesson at your own expense and are likely to be more careful next time.  People are generally forgiving and willing to overlook or maybe even not notice an occasional perceived humiliation.  However, if bad behavior becomes the rule rather than the exception, people will catch on pretty quickly and you will begin to lose your credibility. 

Say you accidentally walk in to the men’s restroom and catch a glimpse of that cute guy from payroll for example.  You feel like a schmuck.  You’re ashamed.  He’s embarrassed.  You avoid each other for a while, you apologize awkwardly, and eventually, at some point, the two of you can make eye contact once again and maybe even laugh about it together somewhere down the road.  D o this a second or third time and you’ve gone from a simple schmuck to a pervert.  Even if it’s a relatively minor offense like speaking over someone or taking sole credit for a group effort, folks will notice and before you know it, everyone’s locking their doors and hiding their wallets when they see you coming.

Of course, you know all of this.  You work hard, play fair, and respect others.  You turn in your assignments on time, never sneak out early and always clean up your own messes. So, what if your boss is the schmuck?  Or, worse yet, a pervert?! There is an old saying “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me”.

To that end, here is a good girl’s guide to keeping a pervert from making you feel like a schmuck.

1)            Deal with it.  Now!

Nip any potential problems in the bud.  Don’t gossip about the situation or whine to your     coworkers.  This is a good rule, not just for dealing with an out-of-control boss or a nosy cube mate, but in making your entire work life and personal life less stressful.


2)            Become very familiar with company policy and your job description. 

If you’re being asked to stay late every night because your boss doesn’t start working until noon, it’s best to be clear about whether overtime is a requirement before you complain or say no.  If you’re the passive-aggressive type, try photocopying the page in the employee handbook that addresses your issue.  Highlight the offense and leave it on your boss’s “in” box.

3)            Listen carefully, stay alert, and be prepared.                      

Once the pervert’s behavior pattern is identified, learn to recognize key words and actions in advance and have a response in mind.  If you are frequently asked to do something that is not your job, for example, know to expect that when the offender approaches and chose your words carefully.  Often times, we’re blindsided by a request and are so flabbergasted that we say yes in a daze before we fully understand what we’re signing on for. 

Then we’re angry with ourselves later for allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of.

4)            Be professional.

It is generally good practice to follow the climate of the office, but you also need to use common sense.  You are there to do a job, after all.  Just because the boss arrives consistently late,  hungover, and wearing last night’s makeup doesn’t make it right. 

Following a bad example can be more deadly than being one.

5)            Stand your ground. 

If you are within your rights to turn down a project and have said a firm “no”, don’t give in and do the work just because the file keeps ending up in your “to do” pile.

Be aware, though, that in this type of situation, you may be expected to produce proof that you are unable to take on one more project, or justify your rights of refusal.

6)            Be a good example and practice what you preach.

If you are offended by racial jokes or sexist remarks, it is more than okay to say so.  However, you are then setting yourself to that higher standard and must steer clear of unprofessional behaviours yourself.

7)            Speak concisely and get to the point.

A simple “that is inappropriate” or “lower your voice” can stop a foul-mouth mid-sentence or halt a yeller in their tracks.  You do not need to be subjected to any type of abuse.  If that doesn’t work, walk away.  Have a drink of water, excuse yourself to the ladies room, or go for a stroll. When you return, state your concerns. If your tormenter cannot talk rationally or doesn’t take you seriously, put it in writing, date it and give it to them.  Keep a copy of any correspondence in case you need to file a report with Human Resources.

Whatever actions you take, be professional.  Be nice and keep your composure, but be firm.  Stay in control of the situation and don’t allow your emotions to get in the way.

If, after all of this you are still unsuccessful in finding resolution, it’s time to get help. Consult that trusty handbook to find out what channels you should pursue.  Some companies require a formal written complaint and others call for a face-to-face meeting with your defendant and a mediator. Knowing what to expect may help you decide if you want to take your complaints to the next level, if these issues are something you can actually tolerate, or if it’s just time for you to move on. After all, you want to work for a company that shares your values and where you feel welcome, productive, and, yes, happy.