Dear Prudence advises a miserable employee, a shell-shocked girlfriend, and a scabies-wary hostess.

Dear Prudence advises a miserable employee, a shell-shocked girlfriend, and a scabies-wary hostess.

Dear Prudence advises a miserable employee, a shell-shocked girlfriend, and a scabies-wary hostess.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 24 2010 7:04 AM

The Daily Bump and Grind

My employer forces us to dance when we do well at work. I'm sick of it!

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Prudie will not host a live Web chat at Washingtonpost.com on Monday, June 28. Due to the July Fourth holiday, she'll be back to chat Tuesday, July 6, at 1 p.m.  Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudie,
I have a question about employee recognition. At my company, when a colleague does something great—secures a new account, exceeds a goal, etc.—everyone is called into the lobby. The person's supervisor announces what she did, and she has to dance in front of everyone. I've heard that public speaking is the most common fear, and public dancing has to be up there, especially when you're the only one dancing and everyone is watching you. I've been with the company for three months, and I have been forced to dance three times. How can I let the company know that public humiliation is not a valid form of employee recognition? Let me take an afternoon off, get me a Starbucks gift card, or just give me a handwritten note. This forced dancing is encouraging me to fly under the radar and aim for mediocrity.

—Ballerina Not in Job Description

Dear Ballerina,
You're such a stellar employee than in your short time working at this nuthouse, you've been bullied three times into performing Salome's "Dance of the Seven Sales." The curtain must fall on this show. Someone, or preferably a group of you, needs to take off the dancing slippers and explain to the people at the top that motivation is not a synonym for mortification. This should be done before management announces that if employees want to get paid, they must wear a G-string so the bosses can shove cash into it. You leave the impression that this honor falls disproportionately (or possibly exclusively) on female employees. This adds to the case that what's going on at your workplace is not only sick; it's potentially actionable. In Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener, the office copyist, faced with a dreary task, says, "I would prefer not to." Take a page from Bartleby. As long as you're employed at this office-cum-disco, continue with your outstanding work performance but simply decline to engage in any more dance performances. If you get pressured, then calmly explain to your supervisor that dancing in the lobby isn't for you, and while you'd hate to waste valuable work time taking this issue up the corporate ladder, or even going outside the company, you will if you must.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I could not be happier with my boyfriend and the way he treats me. My one concern is that he has an outrageous temper—but only toward inanimate objects. For some reason, if something goes wrong with his computer, or the clock, he freaks out. He yells, swears up a storm, and almost always punches a hard surface. I would never fear for my physical safety, but his venting really scares me sometimes. He seriously damaged our desk by punching it so hard because the computer was slow. His knuckles feel the rage, as well. I have asked him to tone it down, but he can't seem to remember in the heat of the moment. Since he's Mr. Perfect in every other way, should I just let this anger-toward-inanimate-objects issue go? Or is this something that I can legitimately ask him to work on?

—Rage at the Machine

Dear Rage,
Have I got a diagnosis for you. Maybe your boyfriend suffers from intermittent explosive disorder, appropriately abbreviated IED. It's characterized by a rage-filled, often physical response to minor frustrations. The people who have this can feel they are under a spell as their anger builds, then after the explosion they can be filled with remorse and embarrassment—especially when surveying the damage. I suppose it's good that your boyfriend limits his rage to objects (at least so far), but you say his temper scares you, and that is a huge, waving, red flag. You need to be seriously concerned about someone who regularly gets completely out of control. Worrying that he might smash up the house because the clock doesn't work is no way to live. Let's say you get married. I'm sure you wouldn't want your children to see his explosions or think that's what you do when something goes wrong. Fortunately, cognitive therapy and possibly psychopharmaceuticals can help—if your boyfriend actually wants to get a handle on why he flies off the handle. And unless he addresses this and you see serious change, I'm afraid you need to realize that Mr. Perfect is dangerously defective.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
My dad, who was employed and fully engaged with life, had a stroke last summer and now requires 24-hour care. Thankfully, his mental facilities and speech were not affected. Two months ago, my mother died very unexpectedly. After reviewing her medical records, my siblings and I discovered that her physician ignored test results and treated her for an illness she did not have. If she had received proper care, my mother would be alive today. This being Canada, we don't intend to sue, although we do expect an apology from the doctor and the hospital. We have yet to share this devastating news with my father, even though some friends and relatives know. Two siblings want to tell my dad, and two don't. I just think he has a right to know what happened to Mom, no matter how difficult it is to hear, and I would hate for someone other than his children to inadvertently spill the beans. But my older brother and sister think he has suffered enough, and knowing won't bring her back. The last thing we want is a big family fight. What to do?

—Distressed

Dear Distressed,
Your family has endured so much recently that, you're right, the last thing you siblings need is a wrenching fight over this news. I can understand both sides here. But since your father has retained his mental faculties, and since so many people know, the danger of someone slipping and mentioning it will leave him feeling as though you all think he's incapable of being treated like an adult. However, your father's world has collapsed. He's lost his independence, and now he's lost his wife. He probably feels guilt that caring for him must have contributed to her untimely death. Finding out her death was unnecessary and preventable will be a devastating blow. (I will leave to others the policy implications of a system in which a physician-caused death merits only an, "Oops, sorry I killed your mother.") I'm wondering if you can tell him the truth, but do so in a way that allows him to decide whether to explore the full implications. Maybe one of you should say, "Dad, we've gotten some new information about Mom's death. It turns out the doctors were wrong and she didn't have X, but she actually died of Y." Then follow his lead about how much more information to impart. It's also fair to ask friends and relatives, when talking about your late mother, not to dwell on the cause of her death (which they shouldn't anyway!) with your ailing father.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
Last weekend, my boyfriend and I hosted a small get-together, which our friend "John" attended. The next day, we discovered that John had scabies! We learned this from another friend who also got it and posted the information on Facebook. She and John had both visited someone in another city and slept in the same apparently scabies-infested bed. I am outraged that John came over knowing he had this parasitic infestation, sat on the furniture, and never said a word that he was possibly putting us at risk for catching this highly contagious mite. Should I confront John about what I feel is completely unacceptable behavior, or am I overreacting? Doesn't John need to quarantine himself, or should I let it go unless we actually end up with scabies (in which case, I don't think I'll be able to stand being around John again)?

—Skeeved out by Scabies

Dear Skeeved,
Before I get to your issues with John, and while acknowledging I once wrote a story about being infested with lice, I'm trying really hard to understand why someone feels the need to announce to everyone she knows that her "status" is "covered with scabies." Here's a CDC fact sheet about these pests. While scabies is, as you know, contagious, the CDC says usual transmission is through "direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact with an infested person." This doesn't mean you won't start itching, but unless you were rubbing against John on the couch, there's a good chance you won't have to update your Facebook status to include "pestilence." You can certainly understand John not saying, "Look, I'm covered with mites, but I want to come anyway—you don't mind, do you?" And I'm hoping John saw a doctor who gave him the OK for casual social contact. But if he just decided on his own that spending the evening alone (well, except for the scabies) wasn't as much fun as hanging out with you guys, then I agree, it would have been more considerate to stay at home until he had no need for the Orkin man. But if you continue to remain itch-free, let it go. If you get scabies, you're entitled to call up John and tell him he's a little bugger.

—Prudie

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