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With all due respect: Holy smoke

Every Issue

Cite as: July 2014 88 (07) LIJ, p.82

“Hell is other people” according to Jean-Paul Sartre. And nowhere is it easier to find evidence to back up his observation than in an office.

Walk into the office of a large corporate law firm and it appears to be an oasis of calm diligence, with happy, well-dressed employees going about their work in an atmosphere of cooperation and good manners.

But, if we are to believe stories shared in blogs and on internet forums, for some office workers that calm open-plan space disguises a sordid underbelly of microwave wars, serial stapler theft, inappropriate dress, food pinching, personal hygiene issues, toxic gossip and constant bad language.

And that’s just for starters.

A survey by office space provider Servcorp, found that among the top offensive workplace annoyances were not saying hello or good morning, not offering office guests a beverage, speaking loudly across the room, swearing and talking loudly on mobile phones.

Another survey found the worst offences were smelly food at the workstation, desk clutter, loud music, inappropriate dress (thongs, exposed midriffs, plunging necklines, board shorts), body odour, lack of personal courtesy and the office know-it-all.

One of WADR’s pet hates is the office martyr who crawls into work and spends the day doing a dying swan impression while coughing and sneezing all over colleagues. Putting up an umbrella can convey your disapproval.

Your correspondent once had the misfortune to work in an office where a workmate used the same toasted sandwich machine every day without cleaning it. The cheese that was welded to the hotplate may not have started out as vintage but after being re-heated dozens of times it could have knocked over King Kong.

A highly scientific study conducted with a colleague in a pub after several drinks came to the conclusion that some of the top office etiquette breaches centre on office machines and devices.

Is there anything more annoying than a colleague removing your lovingly prepared chicken cacciatore as it is re-heating in the microwave and replacing it with a vile Pot Noodle thingy and telling you “it’ll only take one minute”?

Your correspondent could go on and on about disputes caused by photocopiers and printers. There is the colleague who jams the printer and walks off to leave someone else to try and remove shreds of paper with a tweezer or the smiling time assassin and part-time uni student who decides to photocopy their entire Phd at 11am.

For female employees one of the most annoying workplace fails is the office jock who walks round the office with a Sherrin and instigates impromptu footy games with male colleagues across your desk, accompanied by a hysterical radio-style running commentary.

But there may be worse to come.

The latest potential Weapon for Office Disharmony is the e-cigarette, a battery-powered gasper lookalike that emits a vapour mix of nicotine and water. The legal status of the e-cigarette is still hazy and it may get round smoking bans.

This conjures a nightmare vision of a soap-dodging colleague with an e-cigarette dangling from their bottom lip, talking loudly into a mobile phone while jabbing their index finger on random buttons on the printer.

There’s a lot to be said for the life of a sole practitioner.

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