Co-workers pass gas in our eating area.What can I do?




Dear Disgusted:

Since you use the plural “co-workers”, I assume you think or know more than one individual is guilty. What have you done so far? Held your breath, moved, give a dirty look to the co-workers you knew or thought passed gas? I assume from your “What can I do? question that whatever you did, did not stop the foul flatulence.

I think you must know your options and have written us because you do not want to directly confront the individuals about this personal offense, and it is an offense. If you cannot hold your breath or temper longer and are serious about solving this problem, you have options.

Six options, as far as I know, are: 1. Stop eating in the place with the guilty co-workers. If the eating area is not large enough to move to the other side of the room, when the weather is good eat outside or on the steps inside or some vacant place. 2. Frankly express your displeasure at the moment you hear or smell a “fart.” Say something like, “Phew! (Grab your nose.) Please control yourself, John or Jane. We’re eating. Such smells and food do not go together.” If you know the co-workers have a habit of such, you might add, “Please, this has been going on too frequently. Stop it. Go to the restroom when you need to let out gas.” 3. Speak privately to the offenders. Kindly but firmly tell them that you are offended and ask them to please excuse them selves the next time they need to expel gas. 4. Write a note to the individuals you think are guilty. Make it anonymous or sign your name (I prefer not hiding). 5. At a staff meeting, without mentioning names, express your unhappiness with the problem. Just as you would describe what you find unmannerly to specific co-workers, say, “While we were eating last Friday (or whenever), I did not enjoy my food because someone expelled gas. I know that occasionally an accident of this sort will occur, but this has happened several times this month. This has got to stop. Need I say more? I don’t mean to condemn anyone, and I apologize if whomever is guilty feels upset. But this kind of smell is not acceptable in our eating area.” Chose your own words, be firm with anger in your voice, but not out of control. You can be both pleasant and firm. 6. Speak to your supervisor and ask him/her to deal with this problem. This is one of the unpleasant kinds of confrontations a supervisor should handle. As a manager, I have not had to deal with this sort of problem, but I handled a similar problem privately with an individual who consumed so much raw garlic that others did not want to be in the same room with him. I had to speak to him about it a second time. It was a habit of his culture. Also I scheduled a follow up date to tell him when the room smelled better and that others and I appreciated his restraint.

Please consider the pros and cons of each of these options, or if none of them suit you, put on your thinking cap and find a more creative solution. Will you get back to tell us what you chose to do and what worked or failed? It might take all the courage, tact, and persistence you have. And the guilty might react defensively and retaliate by finding something about which to blame you. So be sure to wash your hands before leaving a restroom, be on time, do good work, and keep a sense of humor. Do not be obsesses with what is wrong, focus most of your thoughts about what can make work easier for your work group and more effective for your customers. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden