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Thursday, January 28, 2010

coworker brushes hair with fork, cleans false teeth at desk

A reader writes:

I work for a company that has the FDA (Food and Drug Admin) come in often for audits. Every single thing every employee does can be audited. Therefore, procedures are put into place that must be followed.

A co-worker takes many shortcuts and does not follow these procedures. I have pointed this out numerous times to my team leader and even went to Human Resources at one point. We have an employee handbook of sorts that states specifically that if an employee does not follow certain procedures, it is grounds for terminition. I have been told by my team leader and HR that this is none of my business and to "sit down and pay attention to your own work." Another co-worker and I have documented proof, but no one wants to acknowledge it. Each of us have our own customers and many of them have said specifically they do not want her even to touch their forms.

And as if that weren't bad enough, she has no sense of manners. She has sinus issues and snorts all day long. Ok, I know some people can't help it and yeah, I can probably let that slide. She also talks on the Literally, hours. These are personal calls. Calls to her mother, sisters, sons, friends from church. I know everything there is to know about who did what to whom, who isn't paying child support, who is cheating on their husband...Again, this has been pointed out by not only me, but many other co-workers and again, nothing is done. Supposedly, she has been talked to in 1 on 1 meetings with the team leader, sent emails and also "reminded" in group meetings to limit her personal phone calls. After such meetings, she gets on the phone and complains to every family member she can call about how unfair it is that she has been pointed out unfairly.

Then there is of course the fact she takes her teeth out to clean them while sitting at her desk. She also uses a fork to brush her hair as well as talks with her mouth full of food, even if she's on the phone with customers! She also listens to her radio (w/ headphones on) but has the volume up loud enough for everyone to hear anyway. And she makes these noises that honestly sound as though she's about to have a sexual experience. Most days I feel like I'm working in the porno industry.

She says that if you were to come to her and ask her to stop something, she will. However, whenever someone has, she blows up and pitches a huge fit. One day she came to my desk and was very upset because I asked her not to do something that was not procedural. I said it kindly and have witnesses. She stood over me (I was sitting in my chair) and yelled at the top of her voice at me. She and another co-worker got into a shouting match with each other and the Manager of the entire department had to come down and break them apart. Again, nothing is done. I was reprimanded for asking her not to do something against procedures.

I love my job, really I do! But working with her is taking its toll. When she isn't here, the entire mood of the department changes. She is a joke to everyone. Even my team leader has called her lazy in our 1 on 1 sessions. HR refuses to do anything. Management refuses to do anything. What can I do? Just grin and bear it?

I'm not sure what you can do if your managers are uninterested in dealing with it, and she herself yells at people when confronted.

Your real issue here is less about her and more about having management that won't address an obvious problem. It sounds like they've made a decision -- for whatever reason -- to live with it. They've also told you clearly that they don't want to hear from you anymore about it.

I don't know why they've made that decision. Most likely, they're wimps who don't like having awkward or unpleasant conversations with people. Or, it could be that they don't really care about having procedures followed. Or they do care but they're addressing it with her privately and aren't going to share that with you. Or maybe you work for a company that requires reams of paperwork to be assembled over many months before someone can be fired, and they're in the process of doing that.

On the issues of her personal habits, as opposed to her work, it could be that no one has presented this to your manager in just the right way. Framed in a certain way, it could sound petty. It could be more effective to explain that her constant personal phone calls make it hard for you to concentrate on your own work and ask if you or she could be moved to a different area. (You might get her moved and/or your manager might take the info about her phone habits more seriously because you made it impersonal.)

But overall, it seems like your managers, for whatever reason, have heard your complaints and told you to stop raising them. That's the reality you've got to accept.

And you know, you're often going to end up working with people who annoy the hell out of you. It's just the reality of having a job, most of the time. You can keep looking for ways to be direct with her about what she's doing that bothers you, and maybe trying to get your coworkers to weigh in too, but this woman really doesn't sound particularly open to feedback or personal change. Ultimately, you probably have to resign yourself to living with this, as long as you and she are both employed there.

But really, the best way to handle this might be to see her behavior as amusing instead of infuriating. You have someone brushing her hair with a fork and cleaning her false teeth at her desk, for god's sake -- are you really not entertained by this?

As I've mentioned before, my sister always advises me, when visiting annoying relatives, to pretend to be one of the many long-suffering characters in Jane Austen novels who have to be pleasant to and patient with irritating relations. It's remarkably effective; it reframes things in a much more amusing (and bearable) context. If you're not a Jane Austen fan, pretend you're on a sitcom. This advice is good for all areas of life.

Good luck.


Anonymous said...

I would just like to chime in here, as a fellow sufferer of this co"worker." All of your responses and ideas were very good. The problem is, we have approached management from all of theses angles. Several employees have complained about this individual, starting years before we (the 2 posting to this blog) started working here.

We work in a production-based environment, which I would think would be enough cause for her to be disciplined for talking on the phone 6+ hours per day instead of working. That is no exaggeration.
I personally have approached my supervisor about her constant yammering on the phone, and did so from a completely objective, non-emotional, "I cannot concentrate" standpoint. I actually had data to prove how much more productive I am on the days when she is absent or I am in a different office. (I am the only one lucky enough to visit a satellite office twice a week). All of this did absolutely nothing.

And the option of moving us or her is non-existent. We are a huge company that is very structured, with employees crammed like sardines into groups of cubicles based on their job function. There are 4 of us that perform our particular task, and we must all sit together and "work as a team" which is completely impossible when one of your "teammates" is so rude and selfish and inconsiderate to annoy the hell out of her coworkers every minute she is in the building.

Kerry Scott said...

So it sounds like you have two choices:

1. Suck it up
2. Find a new job

Because the thing is...they're not going to fix it. You can have 20 more co-workers chime in here. It won't matter. We can all take a vote and agree that this woman is a wackadoodle and should totally be fired. It won't matter. You could produce photographic evidence and a signed petition. It won't matter.

You've told management, repeatedly. She's still there. That's your answer: SHE'S STILL THERE. I can't explain it, but there's no sense looking to the internet to fix it, because the people who can fix it...aren't.

I don't know why this is the case, and I'm not saying it's fair. But I do know that you're just making yourself crazy here.

Suck it up, or find a new job. Those really are the choices.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you do or what the FDA audits, but can you report any of this to the FDA? Can they come in and say "Sally's work habits need to change or we're going to fine you/shut you down/etc." then it might make a difference. It might make more work for you too. I'd still do it anonymously though.

I used to work with a woman who had her own annoying habits. She had a hard time getting work done because she never shut up. She had to talk to everyone, coworkers, family/friends on the phone, the barista at the Starbucks downstairs, didn't matter, she was chatty Cathy with them. Drove the rest of us nuts because of course we had to pull her bacon off the fire all the time since she was too overloaded to do it herself. The only thing we could really do was turn it into something entertaining. "Oh did you hear what Becky did today..." I know some people don't like to gossip but it was better than stressing over it.

Finally, I hated it when I had a HORRIBLE job when people would say "At least you have a job in this economy." But it's true. Unless your safety or morals are at risk here, I think you should be glad to have a job at this point. (My safety was at risk which was one reason why I hated that job)

Anonymous said...

Changed from my normal posting name to anonymous for this one.

"I work for a company that has the FDA (Food and Drug Admin) come in often for audits. Every single thing every employee does can be audited. Therefore, procedures are put into place that must be followed."

I'm an inspector, though not for FDA, but in another Federal program. It's not that unusual for me to have an employee of a company I'm auditing come up to me or mention in my interview with them and say something like, "Take a look at X, it's an issue that management won't fix." About half the time, it's a problem and just mentioning it in the post-audit meeting, and including it in the oblervations section of the report gets it taken care of. If it's serious enough, the fine I can levy ensures it gets fixed.

I suggest that the OP and coworker talk with the auditer the next time s/he comes by, or if you have the same auditor regularly give herm (how's that for gender-free? ;-) ) a call on the phone and voice your concerns. If it's truly something that can affect the product, the problems that can do so will be noted. Otherwise it's just annoyance that your ineffective management can't/won't fix.

Anonymous said...

+1 in the 'Suck it Up' camp.

Management has stated their position. If you keep complaining you are likely to end up with the black mark on your record.

Get a white noise machine, or get your own headphones.

Anonymous said...

Given a choice between a coworker who doesn't pull their weight, is inept at the job, or careless, and a coworker who brushes their hair with a fork and cleans their false teeth....I'd choose the latter.

Get your own headphones and tune her out. Arrange your workspace so you don't have to look at her. Don't sweat the small stuff.

Anonymous said...

I've got a co-worker who doesn't ever stop talking about computer hardware and a particular video game.

Don't get me wrong, I work in IT, and of course have an interest in computers, but I like to vary my subjects within IT, and understand that if people aren't particularly interested in my topic of conversation, then talking to them is a waste of both or our time and patience. This guy however, will talk all day about things that we have all made very clear that we don't care about at all. He doesn't seem to care, and will literally talk for over an hour about a subject if you even pretend to feign interest. It's like he's socially inept, but in a manner that rather than not being social at all, he goes right to the other end of the scale and talks at anyone who's available.

Obviously in this situation, you can't complain to management, as he's not breaking any rules - he gets his work done, and it's certainly not against company policy to be social - so the solution was to suck it up, ignore him, or engage in his chatter.

I found that the easiest solution in this case was to buy a nice pair of noise cancelling headphones: When he starts to talk, I initially make it clear that I don't care for his topic of conversation, and if he continues, I pop on my music, even if he's in mid-chatter - he can't really blame me for being rude if I've told him that I don't want to talk about something I don't really care about, then he continues to do so anyway!

The headphones are a godsend: I went for a set of Sennheiser PMX200 headphones - they keep my loud music in, so no-one else can hear it, and any external sound out, so I can't hear him talk any more. Hell, it might be worth your co-worker getting a pair of these if she likes her music up loud - maybe a birthday present from the office? ;)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 9:29 pm, it sounds like your chatty coworker has Asperger's or high functioning Autism and is very smart, not good at social cues and interaction, but only interested in one or two things. Your technique is about the best you can do, unless you can find a second topic you both can obsess about together ;-).

Suzanne Lucas said...

I love the advice to consider yourself in either jane Austine novel or a sitcom. I mean, we may just see Dwight combing his hair with a fork soon.

Anonymous said...

I have been in exactly your position. Our "problem" was a dry drunk with serious anger issues. He would scream at customers. He would throw things. He would try to physically fight other employees. And of course, there was all the minutia that you complain about: He would hijack meetings with boring stories, keep the "public" radio on the same station all day, make extremely racist and sexist comments all day. Ditto with my management.

Most of my coworkers took the "high road" and formally resigned after such incidents as the rant about "sand ni$$ers" or the time he shoved a table into a woman in rage.

Me, not so much. I switched the pre-set of his favorite radio station to gangster rap, and for an hour he became more and more enraged and finally stood over my chair screaming at me and then threw a stapler at my head.

Management asked me to leave and offered me some severance and not to block my unemployment.

Ultimately, you should probably do what one of the non-insane senior managers did. Get your clients and colleagues who know she's bonkers to be effusive references for you and get a better job.

Anonymous said...

I think there are a lot of managers who are scared to discipline people with disabilities or people who they percieve to have disabilities. We had a similar situation with a women who hard a hard time breathing and made noise like the women you describe. No one wanted to discipline her for her performance because they considered her to "be protected" for her diasability. The disability is protected; the performance and behavior are not. Managment is inept in your company and won't do their job so get out of there.

Anonymous said...

I would a step further than Evil HR lady. Write this stuff down and write a book about sounds much funnier than anything I've ever seen on "the Office".

Things could be worse. I had a supervisor who was late for her staff meeting every week. When she'd finally show up, she'd brush her teeth, put on her make- and put her feet up on her desk and begin to clip her toenails. Yes, I'm not lying, she actually clipped them in front of about 5-7 of us! Sometimes she would also apply new polish to them. (yes, you can use these in your book too!).

Let us know when you sell your script so we can watch it on tv! Grape

Anonymous said...

I might sound like the unsympathetic one here, but I think this person should be happy to even have a job. So many of us are unemployed (and have been for quite some time) that we would give our right arm just to have ANY job, even one where we had to "put up" with minor annoyances. I agree with the above responses: suck it up, or find a new job. Give your position to someone who actually WANTS to work there, and won't make a big deal about something so petty. Count your blessings.

Anonymous said...

I want to hear more from anon. at 4:34 a.m. with the stapler-throwing co-worker. How the fudge did this happen??? You and others were physically assaulted and YOU were asked to leave? How is this even remotely kosher? Did anyone bypass mgmt. and simply call the cops on this guy? I'm baffled.

Anonymous said...

No one should be terminated for something that doesn't have to do with their job performance. The extensive personal telephone calls are a performance issue. Everything else isn't.

Anonymous said...

this is amazing- cinematically comical- but also deeply disturbing.

you all should read this post on workplace rudeness- it speaks to how people's productiveness suffers, even from seemingly minor infractions: