My first thought was that it was hard to believe that there are folks so unenlightened that they need the advice from Liz Ryan on Forbes contained in her piece, “Rude Things Never To Do At Work.” And then I thought about some of my work experiences over the years and came to the conclusion that her list was both too short and too tame.
On Liz’s must avoid list is participating in “a loud mobile-phone conversation while walking down a hallway.” I would add to that: participating in a mobile phone conversation at any decibel level while in a rest room. I once observed a colleague walk into the men’s room while yacking up a storm, and exit the men’s room a minute or so later, still yacking up a storm. One would hope that these were two separate conversations – one before, one after - but who knows?
In addition to not conducting business while conducting business, I would also advise colleagues not to leave the rest room in a mess. Unbelievably, I once picked a small turd up off of a ladies room floor. (Talk about a WTF moment.) And a colleague once told me that, in a men’s room stall at work, he’d found a row of dried buggers. Eww-that!
Liz also recommends not making loud eating and drinking noises, to which I would add not eating smelly foods – like multi-day old fish – while sitting in your cubicle. I realize that one person’s gag-reflexer is another person’s appetite whetter, but in general, strong smelling foods should be avoided.
And speaking of strong smelling. Liz suggests that the lunchtime warriors who get a workout in at lunch at least sponge themselves off before resuming their non-workout work. Smelling bad at work is just something you never want to do.
That goes as well for keeping smelly things in your office that aren’t human in origin. For a couple of weeks back in the day, we were all going berserk trying to figure out why our offices were smelling so foul. We did a nose count: no one was missing, so we weren’t looking for a body. What we did eventually find was a colleague who was keeping a 50 pound sack of yams under his desk. Unfortunately, some of those yams had gone bad, and there was a suppurating mass of festering yams just sitting there, suppurating.
No arguing on the phone, either. But we all know that arguments take place at work all the time, and handling them is especially tricky given today’s mania for the open office concept, in which everyone gets to hear everyone else’s everything. Note to office designers: open concept only works if there are ample, private places where people can hold an ample, private conversation without worrying about every word being overheard. (That said, it can actually be quite entertaining to overhear an argument, even if you’re only getting one side.)
Back on the olfactory front, just say no to applying or removing nail polish. Or wearing heavy aftershave or perfumes. That’s headache inducing for a lot of people. (I do have to ask who actually applies or removes nail polish at work? Aren’t there nail salons all over the place for that????)
Liz is also against trying “to engage one co-worker in a conversation focused on bashing another co-worker.” She’s right, of course, but, let’s face it, isn’t one of the most fun aspects of work getting into an occasional bash-out? I guess the operative word is “trying” to engage. Just pick your spots with your trusted network. No soliciting, no entrapment.
You should never walk into a meeting late and ask others to catch you up. I would add to this not to spend all your time in meetings pretending you’re more important than everyone else by perpetually checking your email, sending texts, etc. Unless, of course, it’s one of those giant, boring all hands meeting and everybody’s doing it.
Don’t “ask your co-workers about their financial status, or talk about your own.” My favorite stories in this arena all seem to revolve around a woman we nicknamed “Material Girl.” I once heard here complaining to another colleague that “you can’t furnish a foyer for less than $35K, let alone a living room.” Even by today’s standards, this is an outlandish comment, let alone back in the 1980’s when the comment was made. At a time – and in a company – where I don’t think the average employee made $35K a year.
I also observed MG perched on the desk of our admin, showing off a new ring she’d gotten, and asking “Does this look like it’s worth $14 thousand?” The admin didn’t make that, and she and her husband were both working two jobs – as were their kids – to get the kids through college.
You should never “invite one co-worker to lunch while ignoring another co-worker who’s standing or sitting right there.” Yikes! Shouldn’t that be something we all learn in kindergarten? And if you don’t want that other co-worker to join – perhaps she smells of nail polish, or likes to bash others – haven’t you heard of texting?
The final caveat is about not “pushing your political or religious view on your co-workers.” I can see where this one would be particularly key this year. It brings to mind a woman at Wang who, during the 1988 election, prominently displayed on the wall of her cubicle – where you couldn’t miss it walking by – a cartoon of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis with a target drawn over his face. Hmmmm. A little bit of assassination advocating, anyone? I didn’t have much reason for contact with this woman – who, by the way, was named Maureen – but in my few casual encounters, I was well aware that she was a real pill. Anyway, I guess the grownup thing to do would have been to go to her directly and tell her I thought her sign was inappropriate. But I just didn’t want an encounter with this nasty piece of work. So I dimed her. Wang had a line you could call to anonymously report bad behavior, where I left a message that someone had a sign up that some might find inappropriate. And the next day it was gone. I don’t know if the other Maureen ever figured out who had made the call. I did know some people who worked with her, and – political sentiments aside – they couldn’t stand her. So it could have been anyone.
This incident, in turn, reminded me of another colleague who, on the outside of her cubicle, posted an ad for men’s underwear – was it Calvin Klein? - that showed clear and present tumescence. Next to it, she had a photo of a naked woman’s foot, with a thong draped over it, being kissed by a sexy guy. Like the other Maureen, this woman was also a pill, but we all sort of liked her. And it was in a much smaller company where we all knew each other. So a couple of us told her that she might do better putting her soft-core up where she could see it, but where the rest of us didn’t have to.
What offends and what doesn’t is clearly a slippery slope. Assassination “jokes” and soft-core porn have pretty much always been on the other side of objectionable, but these days it seems anything can be considered a micro-aggression. (Who knew that saying “you guys” to a mixed group, or to a bunch of women, could trigger feminist outrage?)
As for other rude things in the workplace. How about not leaving food moldering in the communal fridge? Or taking everything but the last of the coffee and not putting another pot on? Leaving a mess in the kitchen? Leaving your dirty paper cups on the conference table after a meeting? Grrrrrr…..
I worked with one fellow who when he took “thinking breaks”, roamed around, stopping periodically to stand in someone’s doorway staring at them. (Not rude so much as loony, I guess.)
And with another guy who perpetually whistled the theme to “Gilligan’s Island”. He was in the office next to mine,and a couple of times a day I’d have to ask him to come up with a new ear worm.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that I could write a book about rude office behavior. And I’m betting most of us can say the same thing. Guess that’s what happens when you actually work with human beings.