Workplace behavior involves more than just company rules and regulations. It includes those unwritten expectations that create a culture that leads to both high productivity and a pleasant work environment. It often seems, though, that even the best spot has that one person whose inappropriate workplace behavior puts everyone else on edge. Since management is unlikely to approve locking that individual in the supply closet, colleagues have to find other ways to deal with the annoying behavior.
Focus on personal professionalism in the workplace
Before working on someone else’s irritating traits, take the time to eliminate any of your own. It’s not a simple matter to change another person’s behavior, but it’s always possible to change your reaction to that individual. Try these steps first:
- Identify the behavior that’s irritating. Sometimes, what appears to be the cause is just a symptom.
- Determine why the behavior is bothersome. Naming the problem is mentally soothing, and it focuses on the solution over blame.
- Use reactions as personal feedback. Compare the behaviors to decide if they reflect strengths or insecurities. Then, mentally highlight the strengths or find ways to work on the fears.
Find other ways to change responses to unprofessionalism through relevant psychology books and podcasts.
Dealing with unethical behavior in the workplace
Unethical behavior is more than just annoying, and it requires a different response. If a co-worker engages in illegal or unethical behavior, it warrants swift reporting to a manager or to the human resources department. While it isn’t pleasant or popular to be the one to tell, protecting the company and its customers sometimes makes it necessary.
So, what about that inappropriate workplace behavior that doesn’t rise to the unethical level? Get specific to the issues involved.
Unprofessional behavior of noisy neighbors
Listening to voicemails on speakerphone, shouting conversations, or sharing music with everyone, whether or not they want to hear it — are all annoying behaviors that may also create negative impressions of the company by customers. Repeated sounds, like crunching snacks or ice, or popping gum are also irritating.
Start by asking the individual to please speak at a lower volume, turn down the music, or snack more quietly. It’s possible they don’t realize how loud they’ve been, and a simple reminder may help. Point out that customers may be able to overhear the loud conversations, and it could be embarrassing.
If that doesn’t work for the phone loudmouth, suggest using headphones to listen to messages and calls. Drive home the point by using the office gift exchange to present the person with a new set.
Handling smelly workplace behavior
And then there are the unpleasant odors, whether from stinky foods, lax personal hygiene, or overloads of cologne or perfume. For the latter, asking the offender to apply less is just about the only solution, but approach the conversation gently – perhaps from the angle of sensitivity to all strong smells so that the other person doesn’t feel like they’re being targeted.
Personal hygiene issues can also lead to touchy conversations, and food odors can drop co-workers deep into cultural differences. Encouraging eating away from work desks won’t eliminate the odors, but it can help corral it into one part of the building. Beyond that, placing air fresheners and odor control products in strategic locations can help a lot.
Discourage unacceptable behavior by the space invader
The touchy-feely colleague, the co-worker who bursts into a private office without invitation or warning, or the secret office supply “borrower” — they can all grate on your last nerve. Some are more easy to handle than others, but there are solutions to the issues.
When the office hugger or toucher comes around — not the creepy, sexual harassment one, but the person who doesn’t quite understand personal space — maintain your distance and stay just out of reach. The slight distance won’t be obvious enough to hurt feelings, but it prevents those extra touches.
For that office intruder, make the space less welcoming. Fill up extra chairs or desk space where they might sit to encourage seeking a more congenial environment. If they don’t take the hint and continue that non work-related conversation, lead off with, “I have to take a call in X minutes.” Then, when that time passes, pick up the phone, hold up a hand, and mouth, “I’ll catch you later.”
The office supply appropriater is a bit tougher. Locking the supplies in a desk drawer, storage cabinet, or file cabinet is the easiest, but, if that isn’t an option, make a basket or small box of the supplies that disappear most often, and give it to the offender. Suggest that they can always ask for access to the supply storage closet — politely, though, rather than with any snark.