Amy Joyce
Life at Work

Some 'News' Should Be Left at the Door

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By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 8, 2006

So how about this nasty scandal?

And yes, it's so salacious, I won't even reiterate the details here.

So does that mean you also shouldn't talk about it at work? Can you not talk about it at work? What about reading these instant messages that you received via an e-mailed link on your company computer? Or accepting or passing along stories about this scandal from your work e-mail?

When someone else has apparently crossed the line in a big news way, where do we, as workers, draw the line in discussing it?

"It's hard not to get into a conversation about this at the office," Brad Woodhouse, communications director for Americans United to Protect Social Security, a coalition of labor and liberal groups, said as he stood around a bar after work discussing with co-workers the scandal involving former representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.).

Welcome to this month's uncomfortable water cooler conversation.

"The line on what people discuss in the office keeps getting moved back," Woodhouse said. It doesn't matter what your political persuasion is either, he said: He talked about Monica Lewinsky and the infamous dress, too. "Now, we're willing to go farther. But that's not because of what happened at work but in life."

Connie Bertram, a labor and employment lawyer, said that when the Clinton-Lewinsky reports came out, she told her client companies that they had to let employees know that "just because something is news, that doesn't mean it's appropriate to talk about" -- at least on some level.

And while the nation's capital has been home to more than one scandal mating sex and politics, it by no means has a monopoly on salacious tidbits.

A little more than a week ago, a video made its way to the computers of Brazilian workers, showing a Merrill Lynch banker having a beachside hookup with Daniella Cicarelli, an MTV host and the ex of Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo. The video crashed computers on trading floors in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, according to news reports. It became the hot topic at work -- much hotter than the election of the Brazilian president.

The thing is, people will talk, particularly when our workplaces are also our lives, said Kim Kretschman, a legal recruiter in the District. "We're good friends outside of work too," she said of her co-workers.

But as recruiters, they also must get recent graduates ready to handle personal e-mail and conversations at work. "We prepare them," said Karen Snider, a fellow recruiter. Those personal e-mails and instant messages they were used to sending and receiving as undergrads don't work in the workplace.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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