A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Dear Sue: I am a receptionist at a front desk in a very upscale
corporate office. My work area is large enough that no one needs to invade
the area in order to facilitate anything, but I constantly have people at
my desk. Coworkers will pick up paper work from my desk and read it, and I
have caught people reading the screen of my computer. When people help
themselves to things by going through my drawers, I am exposed to ‘morning
mouth’, after-lunch garlic breath and late afternoon coffee fumes. It is
disgusting. I need to know what kind of personal space I am entitled to so
that I can erect a sign that states, ‘no admittance beyond this point.’
Sue Says: The front desk you work at sounds like a universal
gathering place for everyone in your office. Perhaps you have unknowingly
created a very friendly and open atmosphere, which is good – to a point.
While posting a sign informing people to keep out isn’t a bad idea, it
probably won’t go over very well since you are in the reception area. To
outsiders it may send the wrong message and be perceived negatively. You
could, however, have a smaller sign on your computer or desk requesting
respect for your time and privacy.
Your coworkers probably assume that whatever you are doing is work
related and something they are entitled to see. If you make too big a deal
about it, it may appear as though you are trying to hide something, so the
burden is on you to say something and establish boundaries with those who
have none of their own.
To help you deal with everything from the morning breath to the garlic
breath, consider investing in a candy dish and mints. If mints are
offered, you will probably have takers and solve some of the unpleasant
smells you encounter. If you don’t want to supply all employees and
visitors with mints, you may want to see if your company will provide you
with them or keep a few in your drawer and offer them on an as -needed
Dear Sue: Sue, I was hired at the end of January to work part
time with the understanding that I eventually go full-time, but I decided
not to and have maintained part-time status. This is a family run
business, and I have never been treated as one of the team. The family is
from another country, and no one makes any attempt to carry on a
conversation with me. I have worked in the business world for 30 years and
have never felt rejection like this. I never hear a “hello”, “good-bye”,
“please” or “thank you”. I choose to work to stay busy; however, I do want
to feel included. Do I look elsewhere, request a raise, ask for more hours
(I am available to work all day) or bite the bullet as I have been doing?
Help! - Lorraine
Sue Says: I am a bit mystified as to why, under the poor
circumstances in which you work, you are reconsidering your decision about
working full time. If you are unhappy there now, imagine how miserable you
will be if you are there all day every day.
Is it possible that the family was disappointed when you decided you
didn’t want to go part time and have been cool toward you as a result?
There are many possible reasons you are treated as you are; perhaps it is
due to cultural differences or a lack of communication and understanding.
I am not convinced that you are being rejected. If the family is
close-knit and you are one of the few outsiders, you may never feel
included. After all, these people see each other frequently and spend much
more time with each other than with you, making it difficult to break into
their tight circle.
Only you can decide whether or not you want to stay. If nothing changes
and you go full-time, chances are that the things that irritate you now
will become intensified. If you like the job, don’t leave before you have
made an effort to improve your working conditions. Although it may be
difficult, if not impossible to become closer to the family, you don’t
have to wait for someone to initiate a conversation with you. Reach out to
others and see how receptive they are to you.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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