Cube Life

Navigating Complex Workplace Situations; Or: My Coworker Smells Bad—How Do I Tell Him?

We’ve all been there. Maybe someone in your cubicle row breathes loudly. Or someone on the assembly line just won’t stop talking. And then there’s the case of the coworker that smells … less than good.

These are all real problems, but you’re working with this person every day. How can you politely let them know that their behavior is negatively affecting your performance?

Honestly, it’s really a three-step process.

  1. Calm Down and Think Rationally

It’s easy for issues like these to fester and become bigger in your mind than they actually are. After behavior like this goes on for months on end, it can seem like they’re personally targeting you.

But in all honesty, they probably have no idea they’re doing whatever it is that annoys you so much. People aren’t going to have a reason to change their behavior if they don’t know it’s causing problems for other people.

Also, take time to consider the facts. Is this something that the person is even capable of changing?

Human behavior is complex. Most people aren’t setting out to bother the rest of the workplace every day. Perhaps they keep talking because they’re nervous and want to impress you. Maybe they just breathe oddly because that’s how they’re built.

  1. Don’t Speak to Them Directly

But don’t gossip about them either. Take their manager aside and talk to them about the issue. Don’t be accusatory. Let them know that it’s totally possible there is a cultural or behavioral reason for the offending behavior. You don’t want the coworker to feel called out for something they didn’t know was wrong! Put yourself in their shoes. Of course this tactic helps you as well; you don’t want to look like your complaining about what looks like a relatively small problem.

  1. Observe and Adjust

Okay, you’ve done all that you can do. You’ve let their manager know. If the behavior continues, consider changing your own behavior to block it out. If they talk to much, let them know when you have to work and put headphones on. If they emit an offensive odor, grab a scented oil dispenser or some scented spray. Though it may be annoying to change in a bid to adapt to someone else’s behavior, it’s far better than telling them they stink and dealing with the ensuing awkwardness for years.

Have you ever had to deal with an awkward work situation? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below!

Can You Be Friends with Your Coworkers?

Or will you only end up hurt in the end?

In a given year, many adults spend more time with their coworkers than with their friends or family. That lack of socialization can make it tempting to turn your coworkers into friends. A day spent talking about new projects and meetings can turn into a social outing after work; you can be productive and get your social fix at the same time.

But is it really the right choice to turn your coworkers into friends? Honestly, it depends on who you want to be friends with, where you work, and a ton of other factors. Before trying to start up a workplace friendship, ask yourself these questions.

What’s at Stake?

First, let’s define what we mean by “workplace friendship.” We’re not talking about the cubicle buddy you make fun of the dress code with, or that guy in accounting that told a great joke before the 8 a.m. meeting. A “workplace friendship,” as we define it, is a relationship that combines your personal life with your work life. Meaning that you meet up after work for meals or go to events together.

There can be plenty of benefits to having a close friend at your place of work. They can inform you of project progress in a different department, chat with you about your strengths and weaknesses, or help you figure out how to tackle a particularly difficult work problem.

However, whenever there’s a large group of people, cliques are certain to form. Whether it’s the playground, high school lunchroom, or the nearest breakroom, it’s hard for people to be friends with everyone. And cliques result in people feeling left out, feelings they might act on by gossiping about you or just being difficult to work with.

When you begin a workplace friendship, that means opening yourself up to the possibility of that friendship failing and still having to work with that person. Maybe you complained about a coworker when you were friends but then got promoted, causing jealousy and frustration. They tell that coworker you said something negative way back when and suddenly you’re the office tyrant.

Are They Your Boss?

How good are you at setting boundaries? Some people are able to separate work and personal issues to such an extent that talking to them about deadlines is like dealing with a completely different person than the one you planned an upcoming get-together with.

If you can’t be that person, it’s probably not a good idea to pursue a friendship with your boss. That opens you up to a whole world of criticism. If it goes well, you have to deal with other employees thinking you get special treatment. If it turns out you aren’t actually that big a fan of your boss outside of work and no longer want to spend time with them, you’ll be in the awkward position of feeling like you have to meet with them after hours to keep your job. And you’re not being paid to be anyone’s friend.

As noted by Monster, Dr. Jan Yager, author of “Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How It Shapes Our Lives,” said “Same-level friendships are the easiest to maintain. Problems can arise if one friend has to supervise or evaluate the other.”

But what about when your friend gets promoted and is now your boss? The key is to set boundaries. Gone are the days when you could make fun of upcoming training classes or analyze a recent managerial decisions together. If you value the relationship, keep overly personal conversations to after hours and weekends.

Do They Want to be Friends with You?

The Week is pretty clear on where they stand on this issue in their article, given that the title is Your Coworkers are Not Your Friends. And to be honest, they’re right. This quote best sums up what they’re trying to say:

“That is not to suggest we cannot or should not make friends on the job. But it is to say most of our coworkers will only ever be coworkers (take a moment to think about how many of your friendships with former colleagues have any meaningful existence outside of Facebook), and inside the office, they should be treated accordingly.”

Nobody in the workplace is there to make friends. At the end of the day, most of us are here to make a paycheck. Liking your coworkers gives you more of a reason to come in every day (and those that like their coworkers enjoy their jobs to a much higher degree), but it’s not the base reason you work.

What that means is you shouldn’t assume your coworkers want to be your friend just because you do. If they do, great! But if they don’t seem comfortable with high-fives or keep rejecting your invitations to get dinner or hang out on the weekends, don’t take it personally. Although being friendly is often a must to thrive in the workplace, being friends is not. People are free to have their own interests and spend their personal time on their own terms.

Do you have any experiences with friendships gone wrong (or right) in the workplace? Let us know in the comments below!

Workplace Gift-Giving Guide

The do’s and don’ts of workplace present exchange

Who doesn’t love the holidays? Delicious eggnog, shimmering trees, and, of course, presents bound in cheerful wrapping paper. This time of year provides a wonderful opportunity to bond with your coworkers. Exchanging gifts that are a bit more personal enhances your workplace relationships

But not too personal. A happy occasion can be ruined by an inappropriate or strange gift.

DO: Office Supplies

Unique and fun office supplies make great gifts. If you have a friend who loves bulldogs, spring for a dog-shaped eraser, pen, or calendar. If someone’s a writer, maybe they would appreciate a typewriter-shaped pencil cup or a calligraphy pen. The gifts don’t have to be particularly quirky. If you want to get April from accounting something but aren’t sure what she wants, you really can’t go wrong with a numeric keypad!

DON’T: Anything Offensive or Inappropriate

Stay away from anything that includes swear words or lewd images. Even if you have an inside joke with your buddy Bob, giving him an inappropriate gag gift in front of the entire office is a bad idea. It makes you look unprofessional, and could even put Bob in a bad spot when he has to figure out what to do with your gift. Also, take care your gift won’t be offensive due to an individual’s religious or personal beliefs.

This is all still true even if the actual gift exchange isn’t happening at the office. People talk, and your boss is sure to hear about it one way or another.

DO: Personalized Items

It’s inexpensive to order customized items online these days. You can get a coffee cup made with an inside (and safe-for-work) joke plastered on the side for a few dollars, or a few pens monogrammed with someone’s initials for a similar price. Some Etsy sellers even create custom keychains or stickers for under $10. Search online and use your creative flair to design something memorable.

DON’T: Jewelry, Perfume, Flowers, Cologne, Etc.

Steer clear of any gift that could be romantic. Although your intentions might be entirely platonic, you have no idea how your coworker might feel upon receiving such a gift. Not to mention the gossip that could start because of it.

And personal items like perfume and cologne are a bad idea anyway. You don’t really know a person’s scent preferences, and could end up giving them something they don’t like or are even allergic to.

DO: Gift Cards

Although gift cards can be a bit impersonal, they are by far the safest workplace gift idea. It’s hard to get offended by a gift card to your favorite restaurant or retailer. Just ask around beforehand to make sure they don’t have a vendetta against any one chain or supermarket. A fun holiday card can add a personal touch.

DON’T: Alcohol

Although there’s nothing wrong with bringing a nice wine to a dinner party, it is usually frowned upon to bring such libations into the workplace. It might be alright if your gift exchange is happening at a restaurant or coworker’s home, but consider your company culture before deciding.

Looking for more workplace gift ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

Poll: Are You Over or Underemployed?

Despite the current job market trending in favor of job seekers, many workers find themselves trapped in positions that don’t align with their experience and abilities. Some find that their skills and expertise are not fully utilized (underemployed), while others are treading water in positions that are over their heads (overemployed). Both are tricky situations that can quickly lead to frustration and burnout if left unchecked. So this month, we want to know where you sit on the over/underemployment scale. Are You Over or Underemployed? Let us know by voting in our poll.

Given your skill level and experience, how would you describe your current employment situation?

 

 

Poll Results: What’s the Worst Food Your Co-Workers Bring for Lunch?

Spoiler alert: microwaved fish isn’t a favorite.

Last month, we held a poll asking all of you, “What’s the worst food your co-workers bring for lunch?” It was one of the most popular polls we’ve ever held.

Why? Bad smells are bad. Bad for our minds and bad for our noses. A fiendishly fishy aroma or the undesired scent of an undercooked egg can ruin a workday. It’s distracting! But we can’t always blame the person that brought the smell in—frequently, they don’t even know how their food affects the rest of the office. But when you share this blog, they can! Here are the results:

“Fish of Any Kind” took the top spot, earning over 50% of the vote. So stay away from salmon, tuna, flounder, catfish, and anything else with fins. “Other” came in second with 9% of the vote. The biggest alternate answer? Broccoli, especially if it’s steamed.

“Eggs” was next with 8%, and “Raw Onions” followed at 6%.  “Reheated Chinese,” “Kimchi,” “Popcorn,” and “Fast Food” squared off at around 5%. Everything else ranked 2% or lower.

So play it safe and don’t bring any of those high-ranking items to your workplace!

Any other lunch smells that bother you? Let us know about them in the comments below!

 

How to Survive Your First Day on the Job

Your first day at a new job can be one of the most stressful. Sure, a new job is exciting, but it can also be incredibly nerve-wracking when you don’t know anyone and aren’t sure what the office culture is like, or what your job will entail. All of that combined with a shiny new workload.

So what can you do?

Ask Questions

Most problems that pop up early in a job are due to lack of communication. Maybe you assumed something worked the way it did at your last job, or your boss forgot to add you to an email list and you missed an important deadline.

Avoid these problems by asking questions. Don’t pester your co-workers needlessly, but do politely ask for help when needed. If they seem busy, send them an email asking if you can schedule a time to ask questions. The company is new to you—nobody expects you to know where everything is and how the company systems work on day one.

Prepare

It’s much easier to handle the stress of a new job when you’re ready for it. So start preparing the night before. Pack a lunch and pick out an outfit (make sure you know the dress code) before you hit the hay. If your job requires equipment or safety gear, prepare that ahead of time as well. That way you won’t be in a rush looking for a favorite pair of socks minutes before the workday begins. Think about packing a healthy snack too—you don’t want a growling stomach to annoy your coworkers.

Go to bed early. A healthy eight hours of sleep ensures that you’ll be bright and eager to work on day one. A good night’s sleep also makes it easier to get to work a few minutes before you’re scheduled to arrive. That can give you a bit of time to mentally prepare for the coming day.

Plan

You should already have a good idea of what the company is like after your initial research and interviews, but take a few hours before that first day to research even further. Make sure to at least know the basics of the products or services the company is selling. Bonus points if you can obtain an organizational chart for the department so that you know who the players are. If the chart has pictures, get started on memorizing those faces.

Make Friends

Imagine you’re back in first grade. What did Mom say when she handed you your lunchbox outside the classroom? “Make friends!” Or maybe “play nice!” That advice applies to your working life too.

After you’ve been given the tour and filled out any needed forms, seek out your coworkers. Introduce yourself, and get to know them. A new job can be much more manageable when there are work friends to support you when the workload gets tough.

Feeling proactive? You can also try to coordinate a pre-first day lunch or coffee meeting with the boss and the team. That can make breaking the ice on your first day much easier.

Ever had an anxious first day? How did you overcome your jitters? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Pros and Cons of Technology’s Impact on Work-life Balance

There are very few parts of life that remain untouched by technology in one way or another. From medicine to autonomous cars, we’re advancing at breakneck speed, and in many ways, our lives are greatly improved because of it.

In the workplace, advances in technology allow us to work in new ways that weren’t possible in the past. Constraints, like location, have become more of a non-issue, and we are more connected to the office than ever before. However, when it comes to balancing those capabilities with our personal lives, it presents several pros and cons for work-life balance.

We’re always accessible
With an entire suite of communication tools found on a single, pocket-sized device, it’s easier than ever to get in touch with just about anyone these days, no matter where in the world they may be. And that includes your boss or employees. According to a Workplace Trends study, “65% of employees say that their managers expect them to be reachable outside of the office.” However, such easy accessibility, when taken advantage of, often comes at the expense of work-life balance.

The key is to set boundaries and expectations to find a happy medium. Easier accessibility isn’t always a bad thing. Smartphones have become a communications hub, and research from Accenture found that 77% of professionals believe such technology enables them to have more flexibility in their schedules.

It’s easier to work remotely
Technology that helps make us more accessible has also made it easier for many employees to work remotely—an organizational structure that has only increased in popularity in recent years. Working from home, a coffee shop, or on the road is commonplace for many companies, and according to the Workplace Trends study, such arrangements are being more openly embraced by employers because of benefits including improved employee satisfaction, greater productivity, and increased retention.

Of course, the ability to do many jobs from anywhere there’s an internet connection or phone signal also makes it easier for work to intrude upon personal lives. Research from Accenture found that 75% of professionals report they work “frequently” or “occasionally” during paid time off, which can significantly affect work-life balance.

So, despite mounting deadlines and work commitments that show little mercy, it’s important to learn how to draw a line between where the office ends and personal life begins.

We’re becoming more efficient
Advances in technology are also making the workplace more efficient. From time-saving apps to digital storage options that help reduce clutter, workplaces are adapting in ways that let employees make better use of their time. Many everyday tasks are being automated, leading to increased efficiency that allows us to work smarter and focus attention on the most important aspects of work while getting rid of redundancies and wasted effort. And with better efficiency comes more time to devote to passion projects, take a vacation, or spend time with friends and family.

We’re getting more done than ever before, but it’s getting done in a way that also helps enhance work-life balance.

But, only time will tell what the workplace of the future will look like as technology continues to advance and our work and personal lives become even more entwined. Regardless, it’s a pretty safe bet the ongoing struggle of finding work-life balance will always be a priority.