My colleague lost it at a spam caller, should they be reprimanded?


I work in an office that receives frequent calls from a lot of different places and people. A reasonably large proportion of them come from time-wasters or scammers. Some of the latter are highly annoying, and particularly disruptive when they happen during our sacrosanct, all-staff weekly meeting. In an ideal world, we would just ignore them, but the nature of the business means it’s essential that we take all calls.

A little while ago we received several calls during this meeting and each of them was spam. The phone rang for a fifth time and a colleague who doesn’t usually answer the phone picked up and screamed something highly offensive at the caller.

It turned out to be a client. They’ve since accepted our company’s apology but the language was so severe that the relationship surely will be dented. Although I understand the frustration caused by these calls, I think this person went way over the top. Even if it had been a drainer call, there was no need for the gross words. I think they should be severely reprimanded. Others in the team think this person deserves some slack. What do you think?

Illustration by John Shakespeare
Illustration by John ShakespeareCredit:


We’re obviously not going to print what your colleague yelled down the phone but, whoa-whoa nellie – it wasn’t good. I don’t mind some good swearing every now and then, but this was just uncreative, joyless, howling profanity. I can see how you think the relationship between your organisation and this client is now irrevocably affected.

Should this person be reprimanded? Maybe. There’s a chance that your co-worker is, in fact, feeling awful about their own outburst and their self-censure probably doesn’t need to be accompanied by an official rebuke. If, however, this is part of a pattern of furious outbursts, or if the person appears to be showing no remorse, I think management should have a serious chat with them.

But even if this is the case, I have two bigger questions. The first is why is there no robust system in place for answering these calls? Surely, there’s some technology or procedure that could make this kind of interruption less likely, or at least less disruptive. And if there isn’t – if your organisation really does need to answer every single call that comes through, no matter when – why can just anyone wander over to a phone and holler whatever they like before anyone’s even said “hello”? That just seems sloppy; it’s asking for trouble.


The second relates to why someone would react so strongly to what, in the scheme of things, isn’t really a big deal. Yes, five spam calls in the space of a few minutes is annoying, but not so unbearable as to provoke that kind of response. I notice you used the word “sacrosanct” to refer to your all-staff weekly meeting, and I wonder if your organisation has embraced the idea of the corporate “ritual”.

I don’t like the term at all. I understand that some conventions or repeated practices are important in a workplace. It’s fun to pop down to the local cafe with workmates, for example, and pick up a coffee in the morning. It’s useful to have a regular meeting where everyone comes together and talks about their achievements and challenges.

These aren’t rituals.

A ritual is religious. Embedded in its meaning is a sense of solemnity and devotion. It implies that work is a spiritual realm in which worship is not just important, but expected – the deity being venerated may be productivity or profit or market dominance.

To me, that’s grotesque. It’s also dangerous. When you talk about a meeting as a “ritual”, you’re asking people to treat it with a seriousness usually reserved for matters of morality and metaphysics. Now, as in all workplaces, some people will wave it away as yet more laughable corporate drivel (this piece from the World Economic Forum mentions “firing a nerf gun toy to conclude a project” as an important and effective ritual). But others will take it somewhat earnestly. And some will become outright zealots.

If this co-worker flew off the handle because they thought they were preserving the sanctity of a “ritual”, I think management, acting as clerics, holds far more responsibility than the servile, foul-mouthed employee, acting as an acolyte.

My advice would be to remove the idea of work as a place of devotion, reverence and ceremony. This desperate attempt to equate the corporate with the divine is foolish and dangerous. The sooner we stop it, the better for everyone.

Send your Work Therapy questions to [email protected].

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