Young woman with finger over lips

The Ick Factor: Creepy Coworker Confessions

by Kimberly Horton, on February 11, 2020
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, office romance is a hot topic, and with everyone writing about love contracts and dating policies, we thought we’d talk about a different side; what happens when things aren’t so warm and fuzzy?
There are grey areas that leave plenty of space for uncomfortable situations, and it seems like everyone has a creepy coworker story. What about that coworker who consistently won’t step out of your way, making you brush up against them to get by? Or the one who makes cringe-worthy offhand comments? We call these the ick factor. It makes you uncomfortable and unsure of what to do, but probably feeling like things aren’t bad enough to say something. You might think you are alone in that feeling, but you aren’t. After talking about this topic, we found this feeling is, unfortunately, pretty common.
Here are some real-life, anonymous examples of the ick factor from some of the people we talked to:
I once had an IT vendor leave a child’s Valentine's Day card and sucker on my desk while I was at lunch. The card had a cheesy “Be mine.” tagline on it that made it worse. I’m sure he was just trying to be nice, but I was married!
After my supervisor found out I was gay, he started joking that one of the hiring decisions I had made was based on how the woman looked, embarrassing both of us. I eventually left the company without saying anything about it. 
I once had a supervisor who insisted if we were going upstairs, I would go first.  He always said, “ladies first” and then would comment how nice my pants, or whatever I was wearing looked. He did that with all the women in our department.
I had a supervisor who was just generally too tactile and close for my taste. One time, my collar was popped, and he proceeded to fix it himself, running his index finger on the inside of my shirt. I should have said something, but my fear was my coworkers would think I was making a big deal over nothing.
So what do you do if you find yourself facing a coworker with the ick factor?
First and foremost, no matter the kind of behavior, ask them to stop. Have a professional and respectful conversation with the person, or persons, to explain what made you uncomfortable and ask that it not happen again. Most times, a conversation with the person will cause the behavior to stop. Whew!  But if it continues, check your employee handbook to find out who to talk to at your company, as it might not be your direct supervisor or human resources professional. Speaking up can be intimidating, but remember that you might not be the only person feeling uncomfortable.
If you are a business owner or HR professional, remember to keep your sexual harassment policy up to date, with all reporting procedures clearly defined. Additionally, make sure all employees are properly trained (and retrained) on a regular basis.
Here’s to an ick-free Valentine’s Day! <3
Have questions or need sexual harassment training for your business? Contact LandrumHR.
Kimberly Horton

Kim Horton has nearly 20 years of Human Resources experience in corporate, financial, manufacturing, customer service and consulting environments, collectively. She currently serves as an HR Manager for LandrumHR. Her experience in the field has been acquired through focus on employee relations, training and development, team building, employment law compliance, strategic planning, high-level talent assessment and succession planning, employment law compliance, and employee compensation and benefits. Kim holds a Master of Arts degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. During her course of study, her primary research and thesis focused on procedural and distributive justice in both formal and informal mentoring relationships and perceptions of fairness. Her work was selected for presentation during a poster session at the national Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conference. She has also taught at the college level for both graduate and undergraduate courses in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Kim is a member of the national chapter of Society for Human Resources Management.

View more blogs by Kimberly Horton