ask the readers: when a coworker is being picked on

Here’s another question I’m throwing out to the readers to help answer. A reader writes:

My office seems to be a huge fan of the snark. They are constantly ribbing each other, making jokes, having debates about whatever topic is in the news etc. I’ve kind of been ostracised by the main part of the office group, something I’ve come to realise is a good thing, as hearing the rubbish they go on about is draining and mean.

While I don’t mind a little bit of snark, it seems like lately it has all been directed at one team member. He’s the newest member to our team, though he’s worked in our department for over two years. He’s friendly with everyone and has been for years, and a nice guy. He’s significantly older than most of us (nearly 20 years older than me), and kind of has a tendency to say odd things that aren’t offensive, just a bit strange.

My team has jumped on this, and constantly pick on him for stuff he’s said. If he happens to make a comment about a band he’s never heard of, they’ll go on for ten minutes about how old he is. There is a running joke that he creeps around looking through people’s windows…it may have been funny the first time, but now it’s brought up everytime he says something silly. Often it starts off as friendly ribbing, but the length of time it goes on for can be ridiculous, and it’s not nice to listen to over the cubicle walls.

This is coming from a team with members that are disgusted by fat people, think depressed people should “get over it” and can’t understand how anyone could come to our country not speaking English. They are not perfect.

After a particularly nasty attack yesterday, I spoke up and said, “Wow, Bob, did you kick someone’s cat or something? Everyone is picking on you!” Everyone sort of piped down after that, but I’m sure they were muttering about me (given my own unpopular status in the team). I later emailed Bob to say I wouldn’t put up with it, and to check whether he thought it was funny, or if he was being offended. He’s such a nice guy, he wouldn’t ever say anything, but I wanted to make sure he wasn’t suffering in silence. He said it did get to him sometimes, but that was just a part of working, and at least he got to go home at 5.30 everyday. He also said that it was partly his fault for saying stupid things.

My question: How can I help? It’s not nice to listen to someone be the brunt of snarky attacks (especially when they think they are “hilarious”), but I don’t want to make a fuss, as I’m unpopular enough, I’ve complained to management about this lot before, and was essentially told to get a thicker skin. I know if it was me, I’d be grateful someone else didn’t find the joke funny. My team leader is recently promoted and generally quiet, and my supervisor seems oblivious.

This is sort of the counter to last month’s question about snark, I guess.

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