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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Men Behaving Badly

Dear Sue: I work in a small office with four men. I am a 23 year old woman--they are all in their forties. You should hear the way they talk to each other; they use profanity, make sexist, lewd and derogatory comments, gossip and talk bad about everyone, including their customers, wives and girlfriends.

My goal at my job is to do my job, be kind and polite to customers and co-workers. So for the sake of keeping my job and not being hated by everyone I keep quiet about the things I see, hear, and endure. I don't say much when someone is rude to me because I don't want things to escalate into an argument.

I make these guys fresh coffee everyday and clean the bathrooms each week (although it's not in the job description). I thought this would show them that I care about them and I just want to fit in - but I want to fit in without having to compromise my own dignity.

Why do I have to put up with this type of behavior? Isn't this my workplace too? Don't these grown men realize what's acceptable and what's not appropriate in an office/business setting? Do they not think some of their comments and references offend me? I feel like they do not value me and my position here, they see me as a dumb little blonde, hired just to appease people because I have a nice disposition.

I am smart, competent, a hard worker, dependable, efficient AND nice. One thing I lack is the ability to handle confrontation as I don't want to upset people. I like everyone to be happy.

My true boss works several hours away and is only here every few weeks. I'm afraid if I complain to him that he'll just replace me. I'm the third office assistant they've had in less than a year.

I like my job - I like my benefits - It's very hard for me to find another job with this kind of flexibility. What should I do?

Sue Says: You've asked a number of important questions, which I will address, but you don't need me or anyone else to tell you what you already know. You know when you are respected and being treated well and you know when you are not.

You ask why you have to put up with this type of behavior. The answer is you don't.

You wonder, isn't this your workplace too? The answer: Yes, it is.

You assume these grown men realize what's acceptable and what's not appropriate in an office/business setting. The reality is they haven't a clue.

You wonder if they know some of their comments offend you. It's unlikely--after all, you've never said anything, so how would they know when you are upset?

You say you want to fit in, yet I am not sure what you will gain by fitting in except to become more like them.

You're trying to show you care in ways YOU think matter, but you aren't getting through to them and it won't happen if you remain silent and continue to do things you hope they will notice like cleaning the bathroom.

You want everyone to be happy, yet you remain unhappy.

Only you know when you've had enough. Only you can decide how much more important the benefits and flexibility of this job are than the type of environment you work in. Only you can decide when you will stand up for yourself and stop allowing others to mistreat you. You don't have to be confrontational; you just need clear and strong boundaries. You don't have to be confrontational, just be assertive.

Talk with your boss. Tell him you like the job but not some of the things going on. Ask for his help. Don't assume he'd rather replace you; he may be willing to work with you.

I encourage you to take action and work through this now. You need to develop new skills that will follow you wherever you go, otherwise you may find yourself in the same situation again down the road. Good luck. Let me know what you decide to do.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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