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Part II: Clerk “M” is spying on us

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Dear Office-Politics,

I work in a government law enforcement office. My staff and I have recently relocated to a new area in our building due to the needs of our information technology department needing to expand.

I am responsible for six staff members and another manager is responsible for existing staff already in the area of five. Here is the problem I am inquiring about.

There is a civilian clerk who works at the front desk and is responsible for answering phones, directing the public, completing paperwork and other duties of an administrative assistant. This person who I will call clerk “M” has been the primary point of contention for all of us on the floor where we work.

She collects information on everybody openly and brings it to our superior. We are not doing anything wrong. It is the constant eavesdropping and spying that is unwanted. The person whom she provides information is not to our knowledge asking her to do these things but he does not turn it away. Everyone on this floor is concerned with this and nobody wants to tell her to “bug off”. Clerk “M” has built a strong relationship with our superior and he believes what she tells him. The perspective in which she views what we do is very jaded.

How do we approach this problem for the benefit of all involved?


Mr. I want privacy

timothy johnson

Dear Privacy,

Having volunteered for some local law enforcement agencies, I have learned that your profession lends itself (rightfully) to a certain level of paranoia. To be effective in your jobs, you have to suspect everybody to a certain degree. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt on this one and assuming that M has crossed the boundaries.

I don’t believe M is as much of a problem as her boss is, though. As I’ve always said, “should rolls downhill.” If you want certain behaviors from M, her superior needs to be communicating and modeling those behaviors. The fact that he allows her to publicly spy on you does not speak well to his leadership skills. While he is not asking her to spy, he is also not asking her to stop, and that is where you and your co-supervisor can make inroads.

Your letter did not indicate that you have already raised this issue with the supervisor, so he may not be aware how you, your peers, and your respective staffs feel about this intrusion. Her loyalty is obviously to him, and he rewards it, so approaching her directly may have unwanted repercussions. She might go back to him and tell him that you all ganged up on her or that you threatened her. That would not be good. No, for the behavior to end, it’s going to have to be a directive from her own boss.

Your approach with him will be key. If your departments handle sensitive information such as investigative material (informational or evidence), then you have a very valid business reason for sharing your concerns. You can let him know that her actions are creating a hostile environment that are affecting the quality of the investigations. But here is the real kicker, regardless of the work you do: tell him that in order for your department to do your jobs effectively, it requires a team effort. If there is a weak link that is undermining that team effort, it affects everybody.

Because you are a government law enforcement office, I’m guessing that there is a union presence and that there is also protocol. You can let the superior know that you are writing up the situation and handing it over to the union steward. That way there is documentation. If the incidents continue to occur, continue documenting them and elevating them. The supervisor will not want his name dragged through the mud over something so seemingly trivial, and I am guessing he will put a stop to it, especially if it becomes evident to his superiors.

That’s my serious answer. However, because I am playfully mischievous and just like to have fun, I will give you my “if I could get away with it” answer as well. I would take some covers of old Nancy Drew mysteries and ‘Photoshop’ her face onto the cover and make some new titles (we’ll assume M’s real name is Martha Meddlesome): Martha Meddlesome and the Mystery of Too Much Toner, Martha Meddlesome and the Case of the Eavesdropper, etc., etc. She might just get the hint. However, this demonstrates why I just volunteer for law enforcement and never became a cop. I would be the type to break too many rules and would be in trouble constantly.

I hope this helps. Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.com.


Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant

Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.

An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.

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