Office Coach: Get co-workers to join your complaint or drop it

Psychologist Marie G. McIntyre writes the workplace Q&A column "WRK-COACH." (Handout/KRT)

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, 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 already have 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 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 woman.

Author: Marie G. McIntyre

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at

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