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I've had this happen in a couple workplaces. Today was my first day at a new job. I left my letter of offer on my desk when I went to an orientation. In the orientation we were told everything marked "protected" can't be left in plain sight when we're not around (this means putting things in desk draws as opposed to leaving them on top of the desk, even though the draws don't have locks). I admit after the meeting I stopped off to speak with a few people (regarding work) instead of heading straight back to my desk.

Latter, when I was at my desk my manager came in and said "where's your letter of offer?". I couldn't find it where I thought I left it and began looking around. During the time he was badgering me and I eventually said "I can't seem to find it at the moment but I have a copy of it in my email I could print off". Then he showed me he put it in a drawer, to teach me not to leave it out.

  1. I was only just informed of the rule
  2. I learn just as well if someone reminds me verbally instead of hiding stuff
  3. I'm not comfortable with others handling my belongings without my knowledge
  4. I find this sort of behaviour immature and am not willing to work in such an environment.

What should I say? I know if someone yells at you when something goes wrong you can ask them not to, but should I mention it to my manager that he doesn't have to hide things to teach me a lesson?

This has only happened once with the manager, but it's been my experience it's better to address any potential issues before they become full blown problems.

How do I get the people I work with to not do something I don't like?

UPDATE: It turned out it was a one off thing and generally at the work place it's acceptable to leave documents and papers one the desk. I guess there may be an exception if it says "protected" on it, but generally people don't check another person's desk.

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    If you have already worked at a couple of workplaces, why do you need to be told to not leave your offer letter in the open? – Masked Man May 5 '15 at 5:05
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    Down-vote if you like, but this seems like a very special case, and you are working in a clean-room-like environment. I would very much suggest "learn from this" or expect to get fired if you continue to leave things out. – user9158 May 5 '15 at 6:58
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    "they do nothing to resolve the issue" They clearly do, it's just that you seem to not like what they're suggesting. – Celos May 5 '15 at 7:27
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    Just because you aren't happy being told what to do does not mean the answers 'do not resolve the issue'. As an employee, you don't tell your managers what to do. You follow the rules. It's that simple. Don't like it, quit. – clairebones May 5 '15 at 9:25
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    You mention other people handling your belongings, but if this is a document with company protected information, how can it be your belonging? You are being trusted to handle sensitive information, which is why your supervisor chose to use this 'invasive' teaching method. This time it was your supervisor taking the document, next time it could be a janitor or a corporate spy or a client. – Cronax May 6 '15 at 9:56
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it's been my experience it's better to address any potential issues before they become full blown problems.

Yes, you are right, and this is what your manager is doing right now. Leaving out you letter of offer is a small issue, but had you left something more important, like tender documents, contracts, conflict of interest forms, or nuclear launch codes you could have opened yourself and the company to much bigger hassles.

Your company obviously has a reason for ensuring

everything marked "protected" can't be left in plain sight

Rather than getting mad at your supervisor, accept that you made a mistake and learn from it.


To address further, you've shown no evidence that your boss would move "non-sensitive" personal material, like a desktop bobble head. Until shown otherwise, I'd suggest you give your manager the benefit of the doubt and consider yourself lucky that they didn't formally write you up for breaking what seem to be clear and important intractable rules. Pressing the issue now will likely have the wrong result of your boss not giving you another friendly reminder and instead firing you for breaking company rules.

It seems like you want to be validated in your excuses, but:

  1. I was only just informed of the rule - You were still informed of it
  2. I learn just as well if someone reminds me verbally instead of hiding stuff - Your learning style is irrelevant to the message "don't leave things where other people can take them"
  3. I'm not comfortable with others handling my belongings without my knowledge - your boss probably isn't comfortable with staff leaving sensitive material out
  4. I find this sort of behaviour immature and am not willing to work in such an environment. - keep leaving sensitive material on your desk and you won't have this problem any more

If at some point in the future your boss moves things which aren't marked "protected" and left in plain sight then I'd suggest talking with them, but until then there is no way to say:

Hey boss, I know I keep broke protocol by leaving top secret documents on my desk, but it'd sure be swell if you stopped moving my stuff out of sight where it is meant to go.

without getting fired... or court martialled... or executed for high treason

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    -1 Most of this answer seems to consist of admonishing the OP for having violated a rule, even though the OP was not informed of the rule at the time he violated it. – user145 May 5 '15 at 15:06
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    I'm in agreement with @LegoStormtrooper. Who leaves an offer letter in plain sight? Everyone I know has a backpack, or briefcase, or desk drawer that all documents get locked in. How do you think other employees will feel if they see your offer letter and salary, and realize a newcomer is making more than them? This is the sort of thing they teach in the law and ethics courses in a technology program at universities. You made a mistake, and fortunately you get a chance to learn from it without damage being caused. Move on and remember this lesson. – Cloud May 5 '15 at 16:43
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    @LegoStormtroopr: 3rd and 4th Sentences of original question: "I left my letter of offer on my desk when I went to an orientation. In the orientation we were told everything marked "protected" can't be left in plain sight when we're not around" - so the OP wasn't informed of the rule until the orientation. "Latter [sic] , when I was at my desk" was the point when the OP was "only just informed of the rule". – user145 May 6 '15 at 6:25
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    @JimmyBauther What you don't seem to get is that this is not a battle you want to fight. I understand you're annoyed, but telling your boss you don't like the way he educated you on company policy is not going to end well. – user9158 May 6 '15 at 6:42
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    I did, in my answer, in depth. – user9158 May 6 '15 at 6:54
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Clearly it is an important rule in this company, as you are reminded of it twice on your first day.

Learn from it and don't let it happen again.


Okay, that sounds a bit harsh. So let me add the advice to always lock your screen when leaving your desk - after all your PC has access to lots of 'protected' info as well. I'm sure your supervisor will notice and appreciate it. This will erase any negative impression, if any at all, your first day will have left.


EDIT to answer the additional question:

Just to reiterate the question is how do I get the people I work with to not do something I don't like?

Don't do something they don't like! If you hadn't left the letter out in the open, it wouldn't have been hidden.

The handling of sensitive information matters to the company. If you fail to adjust your behavior to match the company's expectations, you'll be fired - and sooner than you might expect!

It's clear that this message is not what you want to hear. Ask yourself: do you want advice, or are you just looking for people that confirm your opinion that you were right? As the latter might make you feel better today, it certainly won't help you in the long run.

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how do I get the people I work with to not do something I don't like?

You can't get your managers to stop enforcing rules because you don't like them. That is a ridiculous attitude and will quickly create a lot of problems for you in your workplace.

What you do is accept that they are showing you how to act in this workplace. They are not going to change how they do this because one guy sulks about it.

You mention wanting to "address any potential issues before they become full blown problems." - if you follow the (very simple and obvious) rules, it will not become a full blown problem.

When the boss spoke to you, all that needs to be said is "Ah thanks, yeah they mentioned that just now at my orientation. I'll keep on top of it, don't worry."

You cannot tell a manager not to teach you about company policy. Not unless you want to make enemies and get fired, that is. You attitude is like a teenager sulking with their parents for being told to tidy their room.

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    There's enforcing the rules and then there's acting like a dork about it. His manager could just as easily have properly stored the letter and said "I stored your offer letter in your desk because we have a policy against leaving confidential documents in plain sight." – Blrfl May 5 '15 at 12:39
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    @Blrfl - absolutely. Couldn't agree more. I wouldn't make it the hill I was going to die on as a brand new employee though. – Rob Moir May 5 '15 at 13:09
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    @Blfrl Absolutely the manager could have done that. But they didn't, and OP can't tell his boss "I didn't like your tone". There doesn't need to be any escalation of this at all as long as OP follows the rules in future. Trying to raise a complaint that "I don't like the way my manager tried to enforce company rules" is only going to cause huge issues. – clairebones May 5 '15 at 13:22
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    Half of the questions on WP could be boiled down to "what do I do when I find the way X did Y is inappropriate?" and this one's no different. If the questioner's boss is showing him how to act in the workplace as you suggest, this means playing dumb games with people instead of treating them like grown-ups is part of the company's culture. Further, the rule that was violated here was not obvious. The company gave the employee a document that required special handling in the office and then failed to inform him of that fact before he brought it into the office. – Blrfl May 5 '15 at 15:03
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    Jesus, it is not 'a culture of playing dumb games', it's one act by one manager to force home probably the most important reminder in the company (and one that should be heavily obvious anyway). All OP needs to say is "Ah thanks, yeah they just explained that to me in orientation, don't worry I'll make sure I keep on top of it." and the whole thing is sorted. – clairebones May 5 '15 at 15:42
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You manager is doing "show, don't tell". Yes, you have trainings, policies, priorities, meetings, values but in real life people often fail to learn until they have practical feedback from the real world. Yes, you have a protocol for making sure certain documents are properly handled. Your manager wanted to show you that it only takes a single motivated person passing by your desk to make some of those documents well... disappear... This time it was your manager whos motivation is to keep the company healthy. Next time it could be someone secretly working for another company or a guest or a blogger invited to see and shoot the office with a hi-res camera.

I realize that you consider this way of teaching too harsh but if you compare what was done versus what could go wrong I guess you'll agree that all you've got was a bit of discomfort (you work was not impaired) and the manager was trying to make sure important policies are being followed. The document was moved into your desk, not to another room and not to a security officer (btw I'm sure you would not come here to ask "oh, I left a classified document on my desk and my manager handled it to a security officer, what do I say to my manager to prevent this from happening again?"). So I'd say the measures were within reasonable limits but no, that was not a pleasant experience for you.

So your actual question was what to say to your manager... You have two options. One is you say nothing because well, the incident is over and it's not necessary to bring it up again. Another is you go to your manager and say that you appreciate that he helps you learn the key aspects of your job and that you will do your best to follow the policies and not let him and the company down. Explaining that you only discovered that specific policy when it was "too late" won't hurt, just don't focus on it as if it makes the manager a problem. The second option will also suit in case this incident is brought up later by your manager (during a review perhaps).

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My interpretation of this situation is it's not so much a problem that the manager tried to correct the problem of leaving sensitive documents out in the open, but the method the manager chose to do this. The method he chose sounds combative (badgering you about it), and also passive aggressive, in that he had to make a staged production out of it, rather than simply telling you. I can definitely understand being very put off by having an experience like that on your first day, when it's usually more the norm to try to make the employee feel welcome when they first join.

Many companies like to have regular one-on-ones between managers and their employees, and that would be the opportunity to say something to the effect of, "Hey, thank you for reminding me about leaving out my formal offer, but I would really prefer if you just tell me when I need to do something, and on my part, I'll take any requests to change what I'm doing seriously." If no one-on-one is scheduled, ask him for a quick talk, or let him know by email or chat.

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It is really a judgement call for you to decide what has happened. There are two extreme possibilities: One, that your supervisor doesn't care one bit about confidentiality but just wanted to show you who the boss is. In that case, everyone else here is happy that person isn't their supervisor but yours :-( Two, that your company is handling seriously confidential information that could be highly damaging if it gets into the wrong hands, in which case what your supervisor did was absolutely fine and correct. A bit unpleasant for you, but better than losing some confidential papers at some point in the future. It also means that boss had no bad intentions towards you at all.

You'll have to wait until you get to know him better. Meanwhile assume that it was the second explanation and act accordingly.

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