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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 13, 2006

You're not just stealing a pen you're rebelling

By DANA KNIGHT
Indianapolis Star

What is it about the office that makes good people do bad things?

People who would never think of swiping even one grape from the grocery store can be found darting from the office, pockets bulging with company pens and computer paper.

People who preach honesty to their children at home can be found early one morning with clothespin firmly attached to nose (for the stuffiness effect), calling in sick because of a "terrible cold."

People who live the rest of their lives under the golden rule can be found screaming profanities at a co-worker for an honest mistake.

Heck, even I, who am not a terrible person by any means, once walked through the newsroom (at another paper) and "nudged" a co-worker with my elbow.

Maybe all the bad stuff has to do with the fact that no one really, truly wants to be at work. Sure, we can love our jobs, but of course it's relative love. It's like picking the best spouse out of a group of toothless, beer-bellied losers. We have to work, so we make the best of what we have.

But we shouldn't be expected to behave as we do in the normal world, because the office isn't even close to the real world. Come on, we voluntarily walk into a place every day where another human tells us what to do all day long. A place where we go to lunch with people we never would talk to otherwise. A place where being allowed to wear jeans for Indianapolis Colts pride day puts us in a glorious mood.

So a little bad behavior has to be expected. Of course, the degree of workplace sinning varies greatly from a heated office affair to purposely not notifying a co-worker of a meeting.

"What's interesting is no matter what bad thing it is, I will begin to justify myself," says Duane Boyce, author of "The Anatomy of Peace."

If you choose not to share helpful information with a co-worker, you justify that he is incompetent and wouldn't put it to good use, he says. If you fudge your hours, you justify it with, "I should be getting paid more anyway."

Boyce has a few simple tips to solve it all. When a bad thing happens, step back and recognize that you are the problem. Don't justify. Find a way to fix the bad thing, whether it's returning the stolen goods or apologizing for leaving a co-worker out. And the next time you think about doing something bad? Don't.

"Most people don't need to be told what to do," Boyce says. "They know what is right."

So just for fun I sought out some bad things workers have done at the office. Can you believe almost no one would tell?

I did get two e-mailed responses anonymously, like Worker One, who once took the company car out for a sales call and scraped the white car on a concrete pole. She bought white paint to cover it up and never told the company.

Worker Two, who despised a co-worker who was always getting praise by taking credit for others' work, decided to get even. While the co-worker was at lunch, she stole several important manila folders from her desk and threw them in the bin behind a fast-food restaurant.

Wow. That's bad. Makes my little elbow nudge seem almost good.