Duffy’s going back to work. Awkward.

A specialist in dysfunctional workplaces on what awaits Duffy when he heads back to the office: ‘Can we all pretend that didn’t happen?’


Mike DuffyNow that Mike Duffy has been cleared of all 31 charges against him, he’s free to return to his job in the Senate. But in spite of Justice Charles Vaillancourt’s emphatic judgment in his favour, after a high-profile trial during which Duffy’s accusers held him up as a mascot of decadence and fecklessness in the Red Chamber, it seems like it might be a wee bit fraught for him to rejoin the fold.

But if research on workplace dynamics is any indication, what Duffy can expect is sort of like the plot of a 1980s sitcom in which the teen protagonist suffers some social indignity: it will be weird—maybe even painful—for a little while, but most likely, everything will settle down by the final commercial break.

“In the short term, you think. ‘Okay, this guy’s going down, we’re not going to see him again, and Heaven forbid I get associated,’ ” says Sandra Robinson, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. “But now this person’s coming back in and it’s, ‘Can we all pretend that didn’t happen?’ That’s the only way you cope.”

Robinson specializes in dysfunctional workplace behaviour (an awful lot of people she mentions this to insist she needs to come to their office), ostracism, trust and what’s known as “territoriality.” That’s the human tendency to demonstrate ownership of positive things—my team, my mentor, my friend with the cool job, my shiny new car—as a way to broadcast our identity to the world. “We know we get judged by the company we keep, in both good and bad ways,” she says.

But while the negative side of that phenomenon hasn’t been studied, Robinson believes “disownership” works similarly, in reverse. So if, for instance, your co-worker was hauled out on a very public carpet to answer for a bunch of issues that tied in pretty closely with how your own job works, you would probably try to distance yourself.

Another reason why there could be an awkward social hangover when Duffy initially rejoins his Senate colleagues is that people just don’t like conflict. It makes us feel all sorts of bad things, and one easy way to block that out is just to avoid the person at the root of it all—at least at first. “I could see how opportunities could disappear or connections might disappear,” Robinson says. “Everybody’s friendly to your face, but it’s funny—you don’t get invited to things anymore.”

However, human nature strongly suggests things will pretty quickly revert to normal for Duffy. Simply put, treating someone like a pariah is exhausting. We operate much of the time on social “scripts” we learn from the time we’re young, Robinson says: you pass a co-worker in the hallway, so you say hi and talk about the weather. “Those are automated, very easy to do,” she says. “When we engage in ostracism, we actually have to shut off those scripts and remember to avoid someone, to not talk to them: ‘Oh, I’m not gonna get off the elevator, there they are, I don’t want to see them.’ ” It just eats up a lot of energy, and when the initial emotion that motivated the blacklisting has faded, for most people, it’s just not worth the effort.


Duffy’s going back to work. Awkward.

  1. Attaboy Duffer Make them all squirm. Especially the backstabbers.

  2. Time to return the Senate to its English roots from whence it came.
    -receive no salary
    -per diem of 300 pounds ONLY if they attend
    -expense claims vetted and paid monthly in ARREARS
    -internal and external audits YEARLY
    -sign a code of conduct- break the code you’re OUT, no questions asked

  3. Of course,” things will pretty quickly revert to normal” because, from one extent to another, they all do it.

  4. It should darn well be awkward for senators Tkachuk, Stewart Olsen and Gerstein who at various time and through various actions attempted to suppress the so-called independent audit of senate expenses or failing that to influence and even script the auditor’s report. That must stand as a higher watermark of disreputable behavior. Senator Stewart Olsen deserves special mention for volunteering to directly transcribe scripts from the PMO into the auditor’s report. Ditto Senator Gerstein for working executives of the auditor with a view to influencing the outcome (Nigel Wright explains (email #296) that he has asked Senator Gerstein “to work through senior contacts at Deloitte and with Senator LeBreton”). Senator Tkachuk seems, judging by the written decision seems to have been totally entwined from day 1: ‘Nigel Wright, in his oral evidence, called this Senator Tkachuk’s “Steering Committee Proposal”’ i.e. the offer to stop or alter the audit as it applied to Senator Duffy, having originally been the source of Duffy’s understanding as to senate expense claims but also named as the person to meet with Deloitte. Senator LeBreton is in more of a grey area as having apparently agreed to follow through on PMO directives but failing to deliver or possibly simply not being as complicit: a cause for complaint from the PMO “despite agreement to this in advance from you, Marjory [LeBreton] and David [Tkachuk] no one on the Senate side is delivering.”. This from the decision “Following Mr. Wright’s explicit instruction, the Steering Committee majority (Senators Tkachuk and Stewart-Olsen) denied Senator Duffy the opportunity (that he and Deloitte and Ms. Jo-seph want) to meet with Deloitte, citing – with startling hypocrisy–
    Senator Duffy’s failure to meet with Deloitte earlier, the very thing they conspired with the PMO to prevent (emails #474-477; Exhibit 45b, Tab 30). ” … one wonders what fraction of the expression ‘independent audit’ remains ? Rather than what awkwardness Senator Duffy might experience by showing up, one may well wonder how these others could even show up.

  5. If I were Duffy I would buy a lottery ticket right away while the luck is still in effect. A more fortunate accused I have never seen.

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