Setting: Having lunch outside of work, casual place, all 6 guys in our team, the 2 ladies skipped it.

We've had a new starter (I know) who's been working at home since he started and he asked "which building do we work in?" There's a few and we ended up talking about which building we preferred and after a few comments I said, "I'd prefer to work in building X because of the location and talent".

Now the talent obviously refers to all the marketing and advertising women in that building. In Australia, to say "he/she is talented" is a colloquial saying rather than "he/she is hot".

My manager brought it up in our 1 on 1 perf review and said: "about that comment liking another building, be careful about what you say and that's borderline unacceptable.", my reply "what do you mean?", response "the comment about the talent in another building, don't let it happen again."

Is it bad conduct to admit you like a few women in another building and you'd prefer to work there? Or could this be construed as inappropriate workplace behaviour?

This is gender neutral and I'd expect an answer to address if a women said the same thing with equal outcomes.

My take is that it isn't racist, sexist or anything other than fact that I think there's attractive people.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Dec 9 '20 at 16:36

I think it's deeply sad that even one innocent remark about the looks of some women said in a rather civilized way and in a guys-only setting can also be considered sexual harassment nowadays in some parts of the world. Thank god I live in a country which still is a bit more normal in these matters.

To counter an argument found in another answer, just because you think a women is hot/talented does not mean you think she isn't at good her work (vice versa if you say a woman is good at her work, doesn't automatically mean you think she isn't hot/talented).

So summarized, I don't think you said something wrong, rude, sexist or impolite. However, unfortunately I don't make the rules at your workplace. So it's probably still better to heed your manager's warning.

I also would make a mental note that some guy in your team is definitely not to be trusted if he tells on you for a tiny little thing like this. So definitely don't confide in him when you want complain a bit about your manager, the company or a different colleague.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Dec 9 '20 at 17:52

If I'm not mistaken, it's important to remember that things that you say do not necessarily have to be taken in context, or said to the person who felt offended, to get you in hot water. It's clear that your superior is in your corner by letting you know that comments like that aren't above board in their workplace.

My opinion on the matter is that saying you would prefer to work at <location> because of any kind of sexual characteristics, implied or otherwise, isn't going to pass muster. While I don't think it's bad, since that is a value judgement, I think it's not appropriate. The fact that it was referred to as "talent" rather than "attractive women" shows that coded language was required to say in the first place.

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    Saying it's "bad" means that it's objectively (or at least societally) a negative thing to do. It's a judgement on your values. I think it's just not appropriate for the audience, coworkers. – Malisbad Dec 9 '20 at 7:33
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    Nothing superficial about it. It just means that I don't think it was a "bad" thing to do, it was inappropriate for the audience. It was a "work function" and would likely be handled as one as well. You should always be on your best behaviour when around/in the presence of coworkers. Even 1:1, your actions could have consequences, especially if there is a power dynamic. – Malisbad Dec 9 '20 at 7:39
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    I agree with this answer. What is appropriate to say with colleagues during work hours or at workplace organised events (even on a lunch break or office party) is not the same as what is fine to say if you're just down the pub with your buddies. Getting personal when discussing fellow employees in these settings (be that through gossip, judgemental statements or in this case sexualising* them) would be considered unprofessional in most offices I've worked. *Yes, that word makes it sound worse than it is, but that does sort of describe what happened – DoctorPenguin Dec 9 '20 at 14:30
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    Your manager also has a responsibility to those women to make them feel safe and well-treated. In that respect, it doesn't matter so much where you say anything about them. – Azor Ahai -him- Dec 9 '20 at 15:03
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    There is an additional aspect to this, where it isn't just the content of the comment itself (already inappropriate), it is that the comment is an invitation to others to go even further over the line. the manager is visualizing an out-of-control discussion possibly leading to disciplining multiple team members and is trying to head it off. – Nathan Hughes Dec 9 '20 at 17:30

Or could this be construed as inappropriate workplace behaviour?

You were already told by your manager that it was inappropriate:

"about that comment working in another building, be careful about what you say and that's borderline unacceptable.", my reply "what do you mean?", response "the comment about the talent in another building, don't let it happen again"

Between calling it borderline (which likely means "I do not want to make it an HR issue out of it just yet") and literally telling you to not let it happen again I cannot imagine how it can be clearer that it's not an appropriate thing to say about your coworkers.

My take is that it isn't racist, sexist or anything other than fact that I think there's attractive people.

Correct, this isn't about sexism, or racism - it's about possible sexual harassment. You may find the article on sexual harassment on Australian gov website interesting.

And yes, comments on someone appearance in terms of sexual attractiveness, or making work-related decisions (which building I would rather work in) based on those characteristics can constitute sexual harassment. Although in fairness making a big deal out of it over a single joke would likely be toeing the line, which is likely why you got a warning and stern "don't do it again" instead.

Now whether you will follow what your manager told you is up to you, but be aware that there may be consequences if you continue making such remarks, as now you are no notice that they are not an appropriate thing to say. My personal recommendation would be that if you want to make such comments about your coworkers, keep them entirely out of your working circle.

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    i hate it when i come to write an answer and someone already wrote the answer i wanted to write – bharal Dec 9 '20 at 13:46
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    @bharal I like that. – Michael McFarlane Dec 9 '20 at 22:07
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    Your right, sexual harassment is the core of this issue, describing work colleges in terms of sexual attractiveness is unkind even if well meant. I think your use of the phrase "toeing the line" is a little idiosyncratic - normally it is used to means to stay within established rules or customs. – Clumsy cat Dec 10 '20 at 9:22
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    I think its very telling that the answer the OP accepted is the only one to agree with them and the one that's massively downvoted. OP didn't want to know whether or not he was in the wrong here, rather dudebro wanted another dudebro to tell him he was totes cool bro. – Rob Moir Dec 12 '20 at 11:06

I'd like to address your thoughts on the matter directly. You say:

My take is that it isn't racist, sexist or anything other than fact that I think there's attractive people.

Saying you'd like to be surrounded by attractive people is appropriate in many contexts. You are right that what you said is neither racist, nor sexist, nor otherwise wrong in general. However, the lack of those qualities alone doesn't imply your comment was professional or acceptable in a work related context.

Your comment implied that you'd like to work in a specific building so you can ogle coworkers or otherwise derive sexual pleasure from their appearances. Even if someone wanted to be ogled by a coworker at work, it's still not acceptable workplace behavior, since they're both expected to be working.

However, most people don't want to be ogled at work in the first place. People's response to being ogled at work will typically range from tedium to extreme discomfort. It is unprofessional to cause these feelings in people at work if doing so is avoidable.


Your manager's take is the one that matters.

You do not make the rules. It was evidently inappropriate enough to your manager that your manager thought it worth bringing up. You do not want to be playing these kinds of games in the workplace, whether or not it is subtle or kind of whatever. If they have decided it is inappropriate, it is inappropriate.

  • And I think this is the thing, during or at work, agreed. However this was outside of work and not a formal "work" lunch, it was a catch up after the pandemic with the guys n the team. Which is why it's borderline. – user439 Dec 9 '20 at 6:54
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    @JeremyThompson it doesn't have to be a formal lunch to be considered a "work function". Any gathering with coworkers can be legally considered a "work function" and that will include issues with power dynamics, sexual politics, etc. – Malisbad Dec 9 '20 at 7:36
  • @Malisbad and this is probably where I've evaluated the "setting" as more friends than colleagues. – user439 Dec 9 '20 at 7:44
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    @JeremyThompson Incorrectly, at least according to your manager. If this is a dealbreaker for you, started polishing the CV. – Anonymoot Dec 9 '20 at 14:48

I believe it is inappropriate behaviour, because it indicates that you are making some workplace judgments (with whom you would like to work) with regard to your judgment of your colleagues' attractiveness, and that you're willing to share those judgments with a colleague you don't know well.

A colleague that observes you making this comment might infer:

  • You observe and judge colleagues based on their attractiveness to you, and share those judgments with the team (even if you consider them positive).
  • You treat the presence of attractive people as a workplace benefit.
  • You might make comments that (further) objectify your colleagues, or make personal advances to them in an environment where they'd just prefer to work.
  • You might give preferential treatment to colleagues based on their attractiveness, or make your own work decisions based on your proximity to them.
  • Any of those behaviours or possibilities are company-endorsed, or that the company does not treat them as an issue.

Though I'm sure that not all of those possibilities apply to you, it may be more respectful and appropriate to keep thoughts of attractiveness to yourself.

  • Maybe this is the context that political workplace incorrectness has come to, you say a team has attractive people = you judge people by their looks, value eye candy as a workplace benefit, may make advances and provide preferential treatment based on looks. It's a bit of a stretch... – user439 Dec 9 '20 at 7:16
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    @JeremyThompson I can't make you empathize with colleagues who would rather be remembered at work for their expertise than their attractiveness. I can only observe that your manager has given you the gift of a consequence-free warning, and that you may find more success in heeding it than in reiterating your view to answerers trying to help you understand. – Jeff Bowman Dec 9 '20 at 7:31
  • Yeah, I think you've taken this completely out of context, my fault I should have explained it better. – user439 Dec 9 '20 at 7:39
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    @JeremyThompson you said that attractive people = preferred treatment when you said attractive people = preferred building. You would prefer to work around them. They have your preference. Jeff is not making a stretch or a jump in logic. You didn't just call someone attractive; you said you have business preferences due to their attractiveness. – Rorschach Dec 9 '20 at 16:13