The Human Resources Files: Chewing too Loudly in the Office

Full Disclosure: While names and locations have been changed, these stories are depressingly and hilariously true.

Few people seem to speak directly to each other in the work place. They send emails and Instant Messages to coworkers who sit ten feet away. Actual face to face interaction has become foreign and unsettling. And if there is any unpleasantness involved, if one coworker has a problem with another, forget it. There is no way anyone will confront the issue head on.

The fine art of telling someone that his or her behavior is annoying or bothersome in some way has been completely lost.

“Hey Jeff, when you microwave that piece of Haddock in the breakroom the whole office smells like someone gutted a fish in here.”

“Oh man, I didn’t even realize it smelled so bad. I’ll bring a sandwich instead.”

Problem solved.

But that’s not the way it works, is it?

My friend, Jon R., works in the Boston office of a medium sized company that specializes in helping publicly traded companies stay in compliance with SEC regulations. They employ around three thousand people with offices in New York, Boston, LA, Chicago etc. Jon describes the employees as white collar professionals, college educated for the most part. Their clients are Fortune 500 multi-nationals with global deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars that must be scrutinized in detail to be sure they don’t violate federal regulations, which could carry stiff penalties.

Pretty heavy stuff.

One of his coworkers, Dave, brought his lunch to work every day. He would sit in the breakroom and eat his sandwich or soup and salad or whatever. Then, according to unnamed sources, he would return to his desk and spend twenty minutes sucking his teeth, making loud smacking and slurping noises, occasionally issuing a low pitched belch. Apparently, a few of his coworkers found this behavior to be quite aggravating.

I’m sure it was unpleasant. No one wants to hear someone digesting a meal out loud. Obviously, Dave needed to learn some social skills. But it’s not like he was sexually harassing someone or making racist remarks or leaving pictures of his junk on the secretary’s desk (that had actually happened). His poor post lunch habits didn’t infringe on anyone’s civil rights. He probably wasn’t even aware that he was doing it.

You might think that, being grown adults, someone could simply make Dave aware of his behavior and ask him to stop doing it and that would be the end of it.

You might think that, but you would be wrong.

An email was sent the manager, Evan, who worked out of the New York office, telling him that Dave was sucking his teeth after lunch and that it was bothering everyone and could he tell Dave to stop. The manager of a company probably has more important issues to address than this. I can imagine his reaction to receiving such an email:

“Are you f**king kidding me?”

(It is against company policy to use profanity in the work place.)

However, times being what they are, Evan had to send Dave an email and inform him that this matter had been brought to his attention and that his coworkers were disturbed by his behavior and could he address the situation. Dave wrote back and apologized and said that he hadn’t realized that he was creating a problem and that he would stop. Evan felt really bad because Dave was a good worker and a good guy and would now feel really awkward at the office.

According to Jon, who talked to Evan about it during a visit to the New York office, he was really pissed at the people who had complained for:

A) Not focusing on the work for which they are being paid to do

B) Taking him away from his job to deal with crap like that

C) Needing their hands held to deal with every little annoyance that crops up

D) Forcing him to be the one to make Dave feel bad when they were the ones with the issue

“Christ”, he had said to Jon, “why can’t these people grow up? Every little thing is a f**king problem. Why can’t they deal with anything on their own? They always have to be little babies and run to HR when someone looks at them funny or eats too loud. And I have to deal with it!”

Later that day, he received a complaint about an employee in the Philadelphia office with offensive body odor. According to the email, the guy stank of BO and the people working near him just could not handle it. So, Evan would have to speak to the guy, a grown man, about his personal hygiene habits. Maybe he could give the guy a bar of soap and some tips. “Here you go. Rub this vigorously over all the parts of your body, even the “special” areas that your domineering mother told you not to touch. Don’t be scared, it won’t fall off…”

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