The Human Resources Files: Beware of Coworkers with Scrapbooks

Full Disclosure: While names have been changed, these stories are depressingly and hilariously true.

Some people really need to drag the drama of their personal lives into the workplace.

Several years ago my brother, Paul, was working at a Washington DC think tank. Their focus was to study issues related to nuclear technology and weapons development in parts of the world such as China, India and North and South Korea. The people working with him at the think tank were highly educated individuals, motivated by the pursuit of their mandate to see that responsible policies and strategies are implemented to prevent a nuclear catastrophe.

Of course, they had outside interests as well. It’s natural and healthy. However, not everyone understood the concept of keeping certain interests separate from work. Sometimes, most times, it is for the best.

One of Paul’s coworkers, Karen, was big into scrapbooking. She talked about it to the other people in the office; how she liked to sit down on a Saturday night with a bottle of wine and work on her scrapbook. (I don’t really know what that entails but I picture someone gluing pictures into a large portfolio with thick, stiff pages and crying.) She was rather proud of this hobby and would occasionally bring the scrapbook in to the office to show her coworkers.

At some point, Karen and her husband were getting a divorce. It was tough because they had two small boys and there had been disputes about custody and so forth. It was unclear as to why they were getting divorced; Karen wasn’t specific on the reasons but gave the impression that she was the victim and that her husband was uncaring and didn’t support her. (She hinted at some infidelity but didn’t come right out and say it.)

Even if all that were true (and there was reason for doubt), most people didn’t feel a great deal of sympathy for her.

The thing is, Karen was whiner. Even before she got married and had kids she was telling people how no one appreciated how hard she worked and she was so put upon and no one helped her. Whenever anyone asked her how she was doing her automatic response was, “I’m tired.” According to her, her health was never 100%; she was forever battling some mysterious ailment. Out of nowhere she would say, “I didn’t get any sleep last night.” or, “I can’t even eat.” Then the person she was talking to would have to come up with a sympathetic response.

Karen wanted everyone to know that, despite all the obstacles in her life, ill-health and lack of sleep, she soldiered on.

It was so annoying.

When the divorce came it was even worse. Never a go-getter to begin with, Karen didn’t do her share of the work on projects that needed to get done. If anyone asked her about it she would say, “I just can’t even concentrate right now. I just can’t…” and shake her head. Then someone else would have to do it. She would sit at her computer with this hang dog expression, wanting everyone to see how depressed she was. She would let out these long sighs while surfing Amazon and Facebook and look around to see who might be near to lend an ear. She loved it, she relished it. People avoided her like the plague but there are only so many places in an office to hide.

The coup de grace came one Monday when she brought the latest version scrapbook in to work. Apparently, she felt that her coworkers did not fully appreciate the depth of her suffering so she had to up the ante. She sat in the breakroom with it spread out on the table right next to the refrigerator and microwave so that anyone who came in could hardly help but be treated to a trip down Memory Lane.

During the afternoon, Paul wondered in to get a drink and saw a group of people standing around Karen. He managed to creep up behind them and grab a peek through between their shoulders. There was the scrapbook, open to a page with a single picture pasted in the center. In it was a station wagon parked outside of a light blue house surrounded by a well manicured lawn. The station wagon was full of bags and boxes; apparently, the house had been sold ( just behind the white picket fence was a FOR SALE sign slashed diagonally with the word SOLD in red lettering) and Karen had spent the weekend packing up their stuff; she and the boys were moving to a place in Arlington,VA.

The boys were sitting in the backseat, their little faces peering out of the side window. Underneath the picture, Karen had written a caption:

The Day Daddy Stopped Loving Us

“US”. She was implicating her children; they were part of the problem. According to Karen, not only had daddy stopped loving her, he had stopped loving the children.

I’m no expert, but from what I’ve heard, both parents are supposed to give the children every assurance that they are loved by both mommy and daddy and that the divorce has nothing whatsoever to do with them. There is nothing to be gained by telling them otherwise.

Why would anyone write that and then show it to a group of people? Loneliness, I suppose. Sympathy. However, after reading that caption, no one was feeling terribly sympathetic towards Karen; they were thinking about those kids having to live with a lunatic.

Don’t bring your scrapbook to work; there is rarely an upside. And beware of people who tell you how hard they work; they don’t.

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M. Francis Enright

Co-creator and cohost of The Working Experience Podcast. We explore what people do for work, how they do it and how they feel about it. Twice a week!