Argument Over Lighting Level In Hallways

Question:

We have an older coworker who has been here forever and has an extreme sense of entitlement. Even though nobody seems to know what she does, all day, she’s still here — and because she used to work directly with the top person in our office, she seems to get away with things no one else would. We recently moved into a new building. Three of us moved into an office on one hall, removed from the main hall of the building. In the interest of energy savings, lessening the harshness of the overhead lighting, AND (to be honest) discouraging visitors from wandering down our hall if they weren’t really supposed to, we, from the moment we moved in, left 1/2 of the overhead lights in the hallway, OFF. We like it that way, and it’s been that way for months. The coworker was recently moved into an empty office in our hallway. Since she moved in, she has begun turning on ALL of those overhead lights, even though she knows that we don’t want it. She has no reason for doing so — she just likes it better and so thinks that it should be. To be honest, I think I’m the only one this really annoys — but it annoys me only partly because I hate wasting time/energy and hate fluorescent overhead lights. The main reason it annoys me is her arrogance. She never asked any of us how we feel about it, she just started turning them on. I started turning them off whenever I found them on (as has one other coworker in our hall, but not with the vigor that I do). It has become a literal on again/off again battle, almost. We said something to each other ONCE — I can’t remember exactly what, but it was left with, “Well, go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing, but I’m going to go ahead and keep doing what *I’M* doing…” It is juvenile, but I really don’t want to “let her win.” If she thinks it’s okay to make a decision by herself, like this, regardless of anyone else’s feelings, I’m afraid it will continue, and spread if left unchecked. HOWEVER, I admit I’m more than a bit passive-aggressive, and hate confrontation, and don’t know how to stop her. I guess I’d really like to let this go — but would like to find a way to do it where she doesn’t think she’s “won.” Any advice?

Signed,

Annoyed


Answer:

Dear Annoyed:

I have an idea for helping this, but I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to point out that the decision to turn half or even some of the lights out was not yours to make. How public areas are maintained is not in your area of authority, I’m sure.

Lights provide safety as well as being psychologically important–and they indicate that employees are working in the area. Rather than discouraging strangers, if that was your aim, you may encourage strangers who want dim areas in which to create a problem. No office building should have hallways that are dim or even that are only partially lighted, no matter how bright the remaining lights are. It’s a key concept of facility and staff security to keep all lights in public areas turned on.

Apparently someone allowed the low lights to continue, but if this was brought to a manager’s attention, I would bet the vote would be in favor of the employee who turned on the lights. If you think not, ask a manager to intervene about it.

My opinion is that once the coworker indicated she wanted the lights on, that should have been the end of it, since she may have had many valid reasons for that–from safety to security to simply wanting people to know that business is being conducted in that area. Or, she may have wanted to irritate you. But, it would have been easier to save face if you would have let it go right then.

However, having said that, let me also say that I can well understand how you feel now. You would just as soon not have anyone find out there is this kind of feud going on; you’re tired of dealing with it; you know it’s probably a lost cause. But, you don’t want her to chortle over it either–and if even you don’t see her do it, you’d feel as though she was chortling! Consider this solution: Contact the maintenance person and ask him to meet you in the hallway to talk to you about the lights. Time it when you know the coworker is in her office.

Explain that the lights in that hallway were very glaring and you had tried to help the problem by turning part of them off, but you realize that isn’t a long-term solution.

Ask him if he can replace some of them, if not all, with a softer tint or a slightly lower wattage, to allow for even lighting but reduced glare. Turn the lights off and on a few times to show him what you had been doing.

One of two things will happen and either way you can make it work for you: The maintenance person will either make some changes or he will tell you he can’t make any changes (or he will tell you he has to get permission and later he will tell you he can’t make any changes.)

If he makes changes, you can tell your coworker that you got the situation fixed. If he doesn’t make changes you have a couple of options: 1.) The next day come to work, look at the lights and happily announce you got the situation fixed by getting a slightly softer tint on a couple of the bulbs–probably no one will realize the tint is the same. In a similar situation I couldn’t tell! 2.) Tell the coworker you tried to get the situation fixed so you wouldn’t have to turn off part of the lights, but there are no comparably priced bulbs for those fixtures. As a result, you will turn all the lights on from now on, until maintenance can get another kind of bulb if one becomes available for a decent price.

Even if the last option is all you can do, you will be saying you aren’t being forced into leaving the lights on, you’ve made the decision to do it. BUT, you also will be saying that you had a good reason for your former actions and had reasonably tried to get it fixed. Now, you’re doing the courteous thing and, even though the light glare still is bothersome, you’ll leave them on until another solution can be found.

That’s not as good as having a manager order the coworker you don’t like to pack her bags and leave–and to turn half the lights off on her way out. But since THAT fantasy isn’t going to happen, this will at least put you visibly in charge of the situation.

You’ll be seen talking to the maintenance staff, discussing the problem with the lights and talking about options for tint and wattage. If you get a minor change in those, you’ll have a partial victory. If you get no change you can graciously decide to tolerate the glare in the interest of harmony.

I hope though, when this conflict is over, you will just accept that this long-time employee is probably going to be there for a few more years. Let her manager decide whether or not she does enough to justify her salary. Try to develop at least a civil relationship and get past this difficult time. You’ll enjoy work much more! I would very much like to know how this works out, so if you have the time and wish to do so, keep me informed about the outcome. Best wishes to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.