Be Your Own Workplace Jerkface

Someone came to my office on Monday to complain about the smells and scents another employee’s lunch creates when it is heated. Apparently this woman’s lunch lingers in the breakroom and hallways, upsetting everyone with its horrible aroma. He said the smell makes him gag so he wants someone to do something about it.

I asked him if he’d said anything to the woman about it. He said no. They worked in the same department so I asked him if he’d said anything to their supervisor about it. He said no. I asked him why he wanted me to be the one to talk to the woman. He said because that’s what Google told him to do.

Huh?

Then he pulled a paper from his pocket. It was the article he found that said employees should bring annoying co-worker issues to HR to resolve. I couldn’t believe 1) it existed and 2) he actually took the time to bring it to me as supporting evidence for why I should take on this cause.

This post is a hurt on that article — and everyone who thinks it is HR’s job to resolve all of your petty workplace squabbles. Newsflash: HR is not there to be a jerkface for you! You have the authority to be your own jerkface.

When it comes to interpersonal conflict at work, the goal is always to resolve it at the lowest possible level. HR really should not have to get involved when someon’se lunch stinks or perfume is too strong or music is too loud. Employees should find a way to address and resolve these types of issues among themselves — or the manager in charge of the employees should step in and find a way to settle the problem.

Having HR send out an email or post a memo every time there is a conflict that employees are too cowardly to confront for themselves is not cool. It only cheapens HR and perpetuates the stereotype that the HR function doesn’t add real value to any organization. The role of HR is to assist the organization in reaching its goals by planning and developing employees and all the systems that support them. HR can never focus on those things when we have to take time out of every day to coach and counsel employees on how to be a proper jerkface or how not to be one at all.

So my advice to this employee and anyone else who is thinking of going to HR to ask them to enforce something arbitrary and trivial because it is easier to make HR the jerkface of the workplace than to take that title for yourself … GROW UP! If you don’t like the smell of someone’s lunch or cologne or clothing or music, find an appropriate, professional  way to tell the person that will not cause unnecessary embarassment or lingering resentment. Most people will be happy to adjust! However, those same people will be very unhappy when they find out a memo was sent to the whole company because you were too afraid to tell them that their lunch was stinky. And your HR department will definitely be unhappy with you.

Conflict at work is inevitable. Find a way to address issues without getting someone else to “do the dirty work” for you and without coming off like a total jerkface.

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5 Comments

  1. i just really like the word ‘jerkface.’ i think i might try to use it at least a couple of times today…

    a couple of thoughts: 1) why didn’t your employee know what to do with said complaint? it may not be your (HR) responsibility to resolve it, but it very well may be your responsibility to help other employees understand the appropriate process for solving it – and giving them the tools (i.e. communication skills) to do so. maybe they don’t have to be so much of a “jerkface” but could actually resolve like a super smooth communication/influence/negotiating ninja…and maybe you could help them get there. 2) one of the reasons that Google article exists – maybe the biggest reason – is that there are plenty of HR departments (and professionals) out there who are more than content to take these kinds of complaints and deal with them all damn day long. they relish the power…they like being the jerkface. that is NOT your job, HR. and if you like it so much that you think it is, then get the hell out of my profession and go be a disciplinary principle at some junior high school.

    thank you. that is all.

    • Buzz Rooney

      July 20, 2011 at 4:49 PM

      Glad I could add a new word to your vocab!

      Our Handbook says they should address the issue with the person they are having the conflict with in a calm, private and professional manner. There are a couple suggestions in there for verbiage. It goes on to say to contact your supervisor if you are uncomfortable directly addressing the person and/or need assistance in finding the right way, time and place. Then go on to the supervisor’s supervisor and up the chain. HR should be contacted after all those avenues have been exhausted and the problem still persists — except in cases of harassment or discrimination. Those are more serious and come straight to HR … Dude just bypassed the Handbook and went straight to Google. Before I sent him away, I printed off the appropriate Handbook pages and gave him some suggestions on how to talk with the woman about her stinky lunch. I haven’t seen him or her again this week to know if the conversation happened and how it went — but neither have come back so I know at least there were no fisticuffs.

      I couldn’t agree more with you about HR types who are content to handle minutia. I’ll never understand those folks. My time is better spent improving our processes, benchmarking talent, expanding our benefits and rewards programs, and investigating flagrant violations of conduct than writing memos about proper application perfume and lotion or cleanliness in the breakroom. And I think HR damages the role and reputation of themselves and other managers when we interject ourselves in low-level interpersonal workplace conflict. Nobody wins when that happens.

  2. Microwaved fish at 8:00am, sound good to me!

    • Buzz Rooney

      July 23, 2011 at 1:40 AM

      Ha! I’ve learned that microwaving fish at any time of day is a sure fire way to make yourself Public Enemy #1

  3. I believe this post deserves an Amen!

    We are adults in the work place and should take up our problems with people directly, and only escalate if it is worth it and the direct method failed.

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