I’ve recently been seconded into a professional position within a Logistics Company in England, working with a team made up of management from my company and management from our customer, in an office environment.
One of my colleagues (works for the same company as me, not the customer), who sits beside me, is constantly talking to people on a web forum. This in itself is acceptable as use of social media is encouraged, however I have recently learnt that the forum is for escorts and their customers. This includes graphic pictures. In the UK it is illegal to browse such content where others can see it (we had a meeting about this after another colleague was fired for something similar), so it is something I should address, but at the same time I’m in an awkward position to address this issue.
I don’t currently believe that anyone else is aware of what this forum actually is, despite it being something that the colleague discusses openly (though leaves the escort part out of his discussions). I only came to learn of what it was because the way our desks are laid out, mine and his are in a secluded corner where only we can see each other’s screens. Our screens are purposely positioned so that we can see each others because our parts of the project are so closely tied together. I only took note of specifically what he was up to after I became aware that he would begin acting suspiciously and take careful note of what I was doing whenever he loaded the site up.
This is where it gets tricky: I want to address this, it’s something that has potential to damage the project we're on. At the same time I can see there being some rather serious consequences to bringing this up. I’ve thought of three potential courses of action, but each one has significant potential drawbacks that I would like to minimise.
- Scenario 1: I go to his manager or HR and discuss this. This kind of thing has happened before in the company, all times resulting in dismissal. Within the company rules it is strictly an instant dismissal. As much as I want to deal with this, I don’t want to get the guy fired. Other than the whole hiring escorts thing, he’s actually a nice guy who spends nearly all of his time raising money for charity and organising charity events within our workplace (his latest having already raised over £18,000 and still has a few more weeks yet). I don’t think my conscience would let me sleep with that outcome.
- Scenario 2: I speak to him about it, off the record. I’ve already attempted this with a light-hearted comment about being on the forum during work time, without including any indication that I know what the forum actually is. He brushed this off. It is risky to be more forceful on the matter because despite being his equal now, my secondment ends in three months and I will be under him after that. As nice as he is, I don’t want to risk being under someone that knows that I know their secrets, especially since he has a reputation as being unpredictable during conflict. He once drove from our Nottingham office to the one in Southampton because someone found an error in his work and he wanted to challenge it in person. This was how he dealt with conflict with someone a few levels higher, so I dread to think how he would deal with conflict with someone lower down.
- Scenario 3: I send him an anonymous email. This has no risk to me and no risk to his job, but highly likely to freak him out. I feel sorry for the guy, he’s mid 30’s, lives with his mum and claims to have never had a friend, let alone a girlfriend. I can kind-of see why Escorts appeal to him, so suddenly making him afraid of what he likely sees as his only social interaction seems incredibly cruel. There’s also the risk of more extreme reactions.
There’s a few other things I’ve considered:
- A) Asking to move desks away from the colleague, which unfortunately isn’t possible as my current position and what he does is tied together. We do need to work together rather closely.
- B) Talking to my manager, but unfortunately she is underneath him so it won’t be a great position for her either. (To clarify, I’m temporarily above my own manager).
- C) Just putting up with it, which I might not be able to stomach after inadvertently discovering his more extreme sexual preferences. I could probably put up with this behaviour if it was occasional, but I’ve noticed it 6 times today alone (he’s actually on there as I type this sentence) and it makes me feel ill to think he’s engaging in something sexual in nature right at the side of me.
- D) Putting up with it also runs the risk that our customer discovers this behaviour, which would undoubtedly damage relationships there. He's high enough that they could use that to pull contract. This is probably likely as one of their higher managers is actually sat on the other side of the desk and he regularly comes around to check how things are going. Not to mention the entire IT infrastructure is theirs also.
I’m well aware that during a situation like this, there is no winner and no easy solutions. I’m aware that someone’s going to be upset at the end of this. What I’m looking for is, how can someone deal with situations like this with the least amount of collateral damage? Can anyone share some expertise on Conflict Resolution that might apply to this kind of situation, or perhaps even know of some kind of way to help the guy? I'd preferably like a to find a way of resolving it where everyone keeps their jobs.