Workplace gossip nears modern tabloid sensationalism

When a number of people are confined to the same workspace, the office rumor mill starts churning out gossip at a rate that puts professional blabbermouths like Perez Hilton to shame.

While the gossip is occasionally made up of harmless, passing comments like, “Oh dear God, did you see what so-and-so wore to that meeting?” the office buzz tends to be much more bizarre than that.

And, for whatever reason, the gossip in a law firm — mine in particular — is especially juicy. Maybe it’s the high-strung attorneys hyped up on excessively caffeinated java or a few bored secretaries who oh-so-enjoy stirring the proverbial pot. The only thing that’s certain is that the combination of colorful personalities generates water cooler conversation so enthralling that it brings co-workers back time and time again to refill their ridiculously impractical cone-shaped cups.

One secretary — who my co-workers nicknamed “Brit Brit” in (dis)honor of tabloid train wreck, sometime-pop sensation, Britney Spears — was the source of the office’s most entertaining rumors.

It all began with Brit Brit coming into work and picking at the blisters on her palms that resulted from a bout of scabies. She then began putting her contagious paws on the copy machine, the fax machine, the filing cabinets, the printer — no office equipment was spared. Needless to say, many of the other secretaries were disgusted by her unsanitary indiscretion and decided to approach the human resources manager in hopes of preventing an office epidemic.

When human resources came to Brit Brit, she reacted in typical Brit Brit fashion. Suddenly, she no longer had scabies. What then, you might ask, were the festering sores on her hands? Maybe she chalked it up to a heat rash (it was December) or calluses from too much weightlifting, but her matronly shape rules out any possibility of this being the case. We never did get a straight answer on that one.

Against all odds, Brit Brit was proposed to during the 2008 holiday season. Like so many brides-to-be, she walked around flaunting her new ice for all of the office — or at least the ones who could muster up a few minutes of feigned excitement — to fawn over.

By the time spring rolled around, she added another ring to that scabies-ridden finger of hers, which led many of her colleagues to the conclusion that she had tied the knot on the utterly romantic Cinco de Mayo holiday. When confronted about the addition of a second ring, presumably a wedding band, she stopped wearing it altogether.

Unfortunately, Brit Brit made the mistake of telling at least one of her colleagues the real reason why she stopped wearing it: She wanted to wait for the next company newsletter to officially break the news of her nuptials.

Now on the surface, most would consider this decision a little on the unusual side. Upon further investigation, anyone — with the exception of maybe Jim Cramer — would see she was in need of a good therapist.

After conducting the required legal research, I gathered some interesting and compelling facts to help me substantiate the claim that she was indeed crazy.

One piece of information being that in the decade-long history of the company, there had only been one newsletter and it didn’t even have an official name. Just how long would she be willing to wait to unveil the details of her holy matrimony?

Luckily for Brit Brit, the never-ending rumors circulating about her mental instability didn’t seem to damage her career professionally. But socially, she was very much an office outcast. At times it got so bad that human resources had to step in and hold a meeting threatening the other secretaries to “be nice” to Brit Brit or risk losing their jobs.

Unfortunately, office gossip is about as inevitable as the next celebrity meltdown and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Work can be difficult, boring and frustrating at times, so if inane news about a co-worker is what keeps you going through your day in a way a cup of joe cannot, then hey, do what you’ve got to do.

Maybe the real moral of the story is we all need to be a little bit better about disguising our inner Brit Brit. If you don’t give the gossipers something to work with, chances are, you will be spared.

In the case of loony versus lawyerly, it is the judgment of this column that you shall be sentenced to a life term of office scrutiny should you behave more National Enquirer than National Geographic.

Kelsey Borresen is junior majoring in print journalism. Her column, “Laugh-Idavit” runs Mondays.