Picking Scales Off Feet in the Office


I work with someone who picks skin off her feet at her desk when she thinks no one notices. Paperwork does get transferred to others within the department and she also eats lunch at her desk. I have approached the manager regarding this issue but she seems to be at a loss as to how to approach the subject. Any suggestions without the employee taking this personally? We work in an office environment within the food services sector. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


Picky About Picky


Dear Picky About Picky:

You can’t approach a criticism of a topic like this with a coworker without having her take it personally. Nor can the one who broaches the topic remain anonymous. Even if you send an unsigned note to her, the odds are that she will suspect it was from someone near enough to observe her. Topics such as body odor, nose picking, and scratching dry skin off one’s feet are very personal. So what might your manager or you do?

Here is a suggestion that you might present to your manager because this is a topic that should be handled by a manager. But it also is one that you as a coworker can handle. First determine if and why picking skin off one’s feet in the work area is a problem; a problem of annoyance or a problem of cleanliness and potential harm. Your mention that you work in the food service sector presents a special need for prevention of any possible transmission of disease. However, what’s occurs in the office might not seem to apply to what happens in the area where food is prepared, except symbolically. The symbol and practice of cleanliness in the food sector is of special importance. Second, prepare the words and tone of what will be said to this woman. The language should be clear, firm and empathic, such as: “Kate, it has come to my attention that you have a habit that might do harm to your coworkers or at least it is seen as unprofessional. To be specific, it is scratching and picking skin off your feet with your hands while in the office. I’m asking that in the future if you need to scratch and pick skin off your feet that you do so only at home or in the restroom and that you wash your hands afterward. Each of us might have some personal problems like yours and there are times we need to speak to one another about them. I hope you can appreciate that. Incidentally, dry skin is a common problem and here is a jar of cream the pharmacy recommends. If applied at night and morning it can reduce this problem.”

Of course, the manager should use her own words. There are other ways to approach this and my suggestion might prompt you to think of another way. Most importantly, think of how you would like to be told something of this nature. Would you like for the manager to come to you and say a coworker has complained about your habit of blowing your nose so loudly, or rather than complain about you to the boss, would you prefer for that coworker to come to you? Once you can answer this question, you will know what you want to do about this question you have sent us. This is problem that can be worked through without hurt feelings. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. And this applies also to feet! Do keep us posted.

William Gorden