Bad habits need good talk

WORKING WOMAN

July 04, 1993|By Niki Scott

*TC Snuffle. Wheeze. Snort. She's at it again, sitting at her desk with an inhaler of some kind and a mound of Kleenex, fighting her constant battle with sinusitis, hay fever, allergies -- whatever the heck it is. Every hour of every day she snuffles, wheezes and snorts, ignoring the glares of co-workers and the consternation of clients.

If you tell this employee what her mother forgot to tell her about coping in public with this sort of affliction, you'll come across as an insensitive witch. If you keep trying to ignore her honking and wheezing, you may lose control one day and wring her mucous-filled neck.

The fair course of action is to confront her in a tactful and discreet manner and give her a chance to change her annoying ways -- which sounds easier than it is.

"I have two people working for me who simply reek. They don't bathe or use deodorant, and I get complaints every week from the people who have to work with them," said an office manager.

"How do you tell two mature adults that they smell bad? Every time I rehearse what I'm going to say -- and imagine what they may say in return -- I get cold feet."

And an executive stopped me after a speech and said: "If my secretary fusses to me over one more detail that we've already settled twice, I may commit mayhem! She creates crises and complications where there shouldn't be any, and it's getting to the point where she's more of a hindrance to me than a help."

If you have to confront an employee about a personal habit, be sure to arrange a meeting in a private location, at a time when you're not likely to be interrupted. Then start your sentences with the word "I": "I need this from you," or "I must ask you to make these changes" -- and keep the issues clear:

"Susie, you do a good job and I'm truly sorry that you're plagued by sinus problems every summer, but the manner in which you handle them has become distracting to everyone in the office. I understand that you're having problems, but I'd like you to take care of them in private.

"From now on, I want you to use the ladies' room when you have to blow your nose or use your medication, and please, take your time. No one will hold it against you if you're away from your desk a few minutes."

Or: "Mary, I'm genuinely glad that you're an employee here, but it's important that all our employees bathe and use deodorant every day. Are you willing to do this?"

Or: "Harriet, I appreciate your attention to detail, but I want you to take on more responsibility without consulting me because we can't afford so many interruptions. I also want you to meet with me twice a day for 15 minutes so I can answer any questions you might have."

Whether or not your employee changes, your conscience and legal record will be clearer if along the way you've been honest and discreet, and given her the information she needs to change her ways.

) Universal Press Syndicate

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