1. Business

Get co-workers to join your complaint or drop it

Q: The woman in the next cubicle is driving me crazy. "Helen" is a heavy smoker, so she coughs all the time. Her cellphone rings constantly with calls from her kids, and she conducts these conversations in a very loud voice. She also eats breakfast and lunch at her desk every day.

I have started wearing headphones to reduce the noise, but I can't escape the smelly food that Helen brings to work. Since we don't have a break room, there's not much I can do about her desktop lunches, but I feel she should be required to eat breakfast at home.

Now I'm trying to decide whether I should discuss this issue with our manager. I have already told her about Helen's frequent personal calls, but she doesn't seem to care. The two of them are friends outside of work, so there may be some favoritism here.

What do you think I should do?

A: Given that Helen and your boss are buddies, you should be careful about complaining too much. Although manager-employee friendships are generally ill-advised, that's the reality you are dealing with. You will therefore have to weigh your desire to gripe about food odors against the risk of aggravating your manager.

Fortunately, however, you are not the only one capable of lodging a complaint. If Helen is as annoying as you say, other co-workers undoubtedly have problems with her as well. If a couple of them would be willing to join you in this protest, then it becomes a group issue, not a personality conflict.

On the other hand, if no one else seems to share your exasperation with Helen, then perhaps you are overreacting. In that case, you should shift your attention elsewhere and stop wasting so much emotional energy on this talkative and hungry woman.

Examine motives before job change

Q: Although I have been in this job for several years, I checked out mentally a long time ago. I feel alienated and unmotivated, but I'm not sure what's wrong. I just know that I'm never very happy at work.

I have stayed with this company because the pay is good and I like the flexible schedule. However, I wish that I could feel some excitement about my job. Should I try to improve my current situation or just start over somewhere else?

A: If your disillusionment is being triggered by this particular workplace, then finding another employer would be the logical solution. But if you have personal issues which interfere with your overall adjustment to work, changing jobs will only shift your problem to a different location.

Sorting this out will require some careful self-examination. Review your work history and recall how you felt in previous positions. If this is your first job, then think about school. If your prior experiences were generally positive, relocating may be the answer. But if you have always felt dissatisfied, talking with a helpful counselor or career coach might be a better strategy.