Career Q&A: Co-workers need to stop complaining about colleague

Dubious young woman standing thinking with her hands to her ears and a wry grimace as she looks up into the air to the side. [Shutterstock]
Dubious young woman standing thinking with her hands to her ears and a wry grimace as she looks up into the air to the side. [Shutterstock]
Published January 2
Updated January 2

Q: As the manager of a small office, I am not sure how to handle an ongoing complaint about one employee. Two women who work with "Jessica" keep telling me theyíre disturbed by the noises that she makes.

These co-workers say Jessica "grunts and groans" whenever she gets up from her chair, possibly because she is overweight and has a chronic back problem. They also complain about "loud chewing and slurping" when Jessica eats lunch at her desk.

I know they are waiting for me to solve the problem, and the tension is building. However, I canít figure out how to discuss this with Jessica. Rearranging the desks is not an option. What should I do about this?

A: I agree that you have a problem, but not the one you describe. In my opinion, your difficulty lies not with Jessica, but with her spiteful colleagues. By paying attention to these whining drama queens, you are contributing to the discord in your office.

If Jessica were playing loud music or singing at her desk, those would be valid issues. But the fact is that human beings are not silent creatures. They cough, laugh, sniff, sigh and produce all manner of other bodily sounds, so an occasional "grunt or groan" is just part of the normal background noise.

As for "chewing loudly," thatís simply ridiculous. I seriously doubt that Jessicaís food consumption rises above a normal decibel level. And besides, how long does lunch typically last anyway?

This mean-girl twosome has apparently decided to make Jessica a target, and youíre playing right into their hands. So instead of dignifying these petty gripes by acting on them, you should direct this disruptive duo to modify their attitude.

For example: "I donít know why you two are so focused on Jessica, but the sounds you describe are normal human noises, like coughing or sneezing. While you apparently find this irritating, you undoubtedly have habits which also annoy people. So I expect you to be patient with Jessica, just as I expect others to be patient with you."

Because this small grievance could signify a larger problem, you may want to dig a little deeper into the state of relationships in this group. Should you discover evidence of cliques, shunning, or intimidation, then you will have a much more serious issue to address.

Soon-to-be retiree seeks mentoring tips

Q: After an extremely rewarding career in health care, I plan to retire in about five years. During that time, I would like to find ways to mentor young people and share my acquired knowledge. In my job, I already have the opportunity to teach students, but I would like to do even more. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Your desire to assist the next generation is truly commendable. Since you are already an educator, another outlet for those talents might be found through your professional association. Speaking at conferences or writing for publication would enable you to reach a much wider audience.

As an added benefit, you should be able to continue these activities for as long as you like. Retiring from your job does not have to mean retiring from your profession.