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Layoff lists, tax returns, personal dating ads among things found lying around workplace
Before you toss your mistress’s love letter or that
pregnancy test in the workplace trash, remember that the garbage doesn’t empty
Instead, custodians empty it, and it’s those
employees—along with security guards, receptionists and maintenance workers—who
are often the eyes and ears of workplace secrets, according to a new survey
The confidential information that support staff come
across at work includes a pretty strange list of items that employees
leave behind. In fact, more than one
in 10 such workers say they have information that could get someone fired, said
CareerBuilder, a company thathelps organizations attract and
“Over the years, we’ve heard enough stories around
workers stumbling upon items or information that—for whatever reason—didn’t
belong in the workplace that we wanted to see how prevalent these instances
were across industries and companies of all sizes,” said Rosemary Haefner,
chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.
The survey, released Feb. 26, 2015, was conducted online
by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder from Nov. 4 to Dec. 2, 2014. It
included a representative sample of more than 500 employees who classified
themselves as custodians, janitors, mailroom attendants, security guards,
receptionists, housekeepers, administrative assistants or maintenance workers.
The survey had a sampling error of +/- 4.35 percentage points.
More than half of respondents said they’d overheard
confidential discussions at work, including conversations about job dissatisfaction
and backstabbing remarks made by one employee about another.
• Sixty-two percent heard people complaining about the
boss or other workers.
• More than one-third overheard conversations about
pending layoffs or firing someone.
• More than one-fifth heard discussions about someone’s
• One-fifth heard people talking about romantic
relationships between co-workers.
• Nearly one-fifth heard people talking about lying to
• More than one in 10 heard employees talking about
setting up a co-worker to fail.
“These findings serve as a good reminder for managers to
work toward creating an environment where employees feel comfortable coming to
them with concerns or complaints, enabling them to address these issues head-on
and find resolutions before they snowball into something larger,” Haefner said.
In that Trash Can?
One in 10 support staff workers said they’d found
something in the trash or lying around the workplace that could get a worker or
the company in trouble. A similar amount said they had knowledge about an
executive or co-worker that could be grounds for that person’s dismissal.
Among the curious workplace discoveries were:
• A list of employee salaries.
• A picture of a partially dressed co-worker.
• Layoff and compensation paperwork.
• A diagram of an upcoming reorganization.
• A love letter from one person in the office to another.
• A predetermination request for a breast augmentation.
• A short story about the boss and several co-workers
cast in an unflattering light.
• A pregnancy test.
• An employee’s response to a personal dating ad.
• An employee’s resume on the copier.
• A letter from the boss’s mistress.
• The boss’s ex-wife’s bank account statement.
• An employee’s tax return.
• A full set of keys for the facility.
Despite having discovered such sensitive items, almost
all respondents said they would never reveal the information to
Organizations “likely put a great deal of trust into
their support staff, and for good reason,” Haefner said. “The vast majority of
support staff workers, 95 percent, who have found material that could get a
person fired said they have no intention of revealing that information, with
most saying it’s none of their business or that they do not want to get the
person in trouble.”
Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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