The toxic workplace is much in the news, but what exactly is toxic? A reader writes in through email to describe what she thinks is toxic and asks for some very specific advice. With her permission, I am bringing forth her dilemma…
“Dear Workplace Expert (If you really are one):
I CAN’T be the only one in the world with this problem. My boss is a pig. He belches and passes gas all day. The smells are really bad. We are in an open office environment so it’s not like he is in private or there is another place where we can go. There are no windows to open. My coworkers and I have discussed the situation because we all are affected. One of my colleagues thinks he doesn’t think anyone will notice – no way! No one wants to approach him. What would we say? He is a young guy, maybe his mother never told him anything. As a boss, he is fine and treats everyone fairly and with respect. We just don’t want to go near him. Maybe he reads your posts. I am open to ideas.
Suffocating in Seattle”
Ugh. Repulsive. I am not sure why anyone thinks this is OK behavior. It’s not. I assume you like your job so jumping up and quitting while holding your nose is not an option. Your boss is creating a toxic environment – literally and figuratively. Headphones and fans might be a short-term solution for you and the team. But a workplace culture that tolerates such boorish behavior is a bigger problem.
The typical Employee Handbook doesn’t address issues like this. Too bad, because if the handbooks were more current and focused on behavior, we wouldn’t have so many issues about “fraternity house” cultures. Forget the handbook; let’s explore all of your options…
- You could leave a book about manners on his chair one night when he is not around. Given what you’ve said, he might think it was meant for someone else.
- You could bear with it. If you suspect the offender will soon leave the company, this could be an option, but it is not a good one. Eventually, your own performance will suffer because you will be outside gasping for air all the time.
- You could quit. Why should you resign when you are the one who would leave a job you like based on the behavior of someone else? People resign all the time to get away from someone but it is the always the last resort.
- You could tell someone in management about the problem. This path is a slippery slope. Your boss will be embarrassed and might lash out at the team but this could be a good option if you have an all around supportive and collegial management team.
- You could set up an intervention. Someone on the team might take the boss aside and say something like, “Can I talk to you about something that will help you and the team? You are a good supervisor and we all appreciate your support. BUT, we want to ask you to make a few changes in your behavior…” And so on. If the boss is as supportive as you say, he should be thankful for the coaching.
The problem doesn’t need to be about belching. It could be about cursing or crude jokes or raised eyebrows or cracking knuckles. The workplace is full of quirky behavior. I once had a boss who clipped his fingernails constantly during meetings. Another boss chewed on hard candy all day and made cracking noises. The list of really annoying habits we endure is infinite. Sometimes we just have to deal with quirky.
Work shouldn’t be about suffering. Certain behaviors, such as any type of harassment or racism are worthy of immediate termination. Other behaviors range from annoying to disruptive. Know what you are dealing with and push for changes to make work better. Don’t suffer.