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Dear colleague, about your breath...

Dear colleague, about your breath...
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First Published: Thu, Jul 31 2008. 11 26 PM IST

(Illustration: Jaya Chandran/Mint)
(Illustration: Jaya Chandran/Mint)
Updated: Thu, Jul 31 2008. 11 26 PM IST
Suppose your co-worker has bad breath. Or maybe your cubicle mate talks too loudly on his phone. Or you just can’t take another day of bad lunch odours drifting your way.
For many folks, it’s too embarrassing to say anything. And it seems silly to complain to the boss. Or maybe it’s the boss whose behaviour is irritating you. What do you do?
(Illustration: Jaya Chandran/Mint)
One website that has popped up recently may be able to solve your pet peeves at work.
NiceCritic.com will forward your anonymous comment— picked from a list of pre-written email remarks—to the offender. You can chose from hygiene issues like “Please consider using a stronger deodorant” to general health and safety concerns such as “If you don’t feel well, you should think about going home.”
Website founder Erik Riesenberg said he tried to write the suggestions in a “British accent”, mimicking a proper English butler. That way the email comments are polite and helpful, he said, rather than snarky. And to avoid cyberbullying, senders can make only one comment per month to each co-worker, said Riesenberg, who spends his days working as the marketing director for a publishing house in New York City.
Some of the most common? People are annoyed by loud personal conversations, smelly food, loud cellphone ringers and the showcasing of collectibles. Another popular topic is personal hygiene, he said.
“This is the 21st-century way of writing an anonymous note,” said Riesenberg, who hit upon the idea after one of his own co-workers approached him in a bar after work and whispered something embarrassing: “You know Erik, you can stand to trim some of that nose hair.” It took three drinks, said Riesenberg, who figured there could be an easier way.
Riesenberg said most responses he receives are positive, assuming once the initial embarrassment evaporates.
One human resources expert doesn’t believe email is the way to go. Brenda Hahne, director of performance consulting in human resource consulting and training firm, prefers a one-on-one conversation about something as sensitive as a hygiene problem.
That’s what Hahne used to do several years ago when she helped displaced women return to the work force. In addition to teaching them how to fill out job applications, Hahne took them aside to discuss the importance of frequent bathing and the use of toothpaste and deodorant.
She’d often start the conversations with, “I’m not sure you are aware of this but this is something I noticed.” Many times the women were not aware of the problem or lacked the products they needed, so Hahne would ask local retailers for donations.
“People often feel blindsided by an email,” she said, especially when it’s such a personal subject. And she says it looks worse in print.
There could be another problem with sending such tips to co-workers: They could run afoul of corporate Internet policies. Many firms have rules against using the Internet beyond specific business purposes, said Scott Jones, who runs a corporate communications consulting firm.
Jones easily imagines a scenario in which an employee receives an unwanted message, especially one that borders on harassment, and complains. It’s pretty easy for a company to figure out which office computer logged into NiceCritic.com or another site.
“Why do you need a website to resolve a cubicle noise problem next to you?” Jones asked. “You can go to human resources if it’s that bad.”
©2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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First Published: Thu, Jul 31 2008. 11 26 PM IST