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My cubicle neighbor belches, farts, chews his food with his mouth wide open and makes moaning noises when he eats as if he was having some private time with himself. And he is about 10 years older than me.

I have told my boss about it. He replied that I should buy a pair of headphones and tune him out. So I cannot be going to go to HR behind my boss's back.

I am not even going to talk about the smells.

I never though of myself as a prude. Being the last of 3 brothers, I am pretty sure I can put up with a lot but this is too much.

What can I do?

11 Answers 11

42

If at all possible see if the office will buy the noise cancelling headphones. They are the ones refusing to fix the problem, so they should be on the hook for the cost. Make sure to make your request on writing, documenting the issues you have with the person. Documenting that you have informed your manager of the problem is key. Once something is in writing, the manager knows you are serious and that the problem will probably be escalated if he doesn't act.

Now they may or may not be willing to buy the headphones, but now you have documented the problems.

If the noise cancelling headphones don't work, then the next email is to your boss with a CC to the HR representative. Include the original email as an attachment. Point out the problem still exists and that the suggested remedy did not work and that it is affecting your productivity. If possible get others around you to complain formally too. Request formally in this email that either you be moved or the other person be moved. Copying HR is probably enough to get him to realize that there is a real problem that isn't going to go away. If your HR team is any good at all, they will follow-up and take action on their own as well. I would go to HR with this if he doesn't take action at that point. It is HR's job to handle such issues. It is better to let them know of the problem than to escalate to your boss's boss.

  • Sensible approach. It is definitely a PITA to have to go such extreme but I will make it work. Thank you. – user3207 Sep 18 '12 at 22:30
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    In addition to the headphones, buy a small fan to redirect smells, perhaps one with a deodorizer unit. I noticed several of these being sold on eBay by Chinese vendors. – jfrankcarr Sep 19 '12 at 1:41
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    @jfrankcarr, lol, redirect the smells back to the bad guy, brilliant :D – Vorac Sep 24 '12 at 5:10
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    I'm going to add a bit of a contrarian view to CC'ing HR on this. HR is usually there for the company, and putting the boss on the spot like that could come with unfair repercussions. It might be easier to request that you be moved to a different space if and when available. Good luck! – Keoma Nov 4 '12 at 13:55
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    Totally. Do not think that HR are on your side, as an employee. They are there to manage you for the company. – GreenAsJade Oct 14 '14 at 6:41
35

I would suggest having a firm, polite and direct conversation with your co-worker. I believe being passive aggressive (spraying air freshener,etc.) may not work. It may even encourage worse behavior. If you are on civil terms with your colleague, just tell him directly that his behavior bothers you and give clear examples.

Sometimes people are not aware of things that they do. There may also be cultural issues at play here. For example, I work with many Japanese people and it is very common to "slurp" when you eat noodles or have some soup. This is just acceptable behavior here in Japan, but may be viewed as "gross" somewhere else. So that may also be a factor to watch out for..

  • If I remember correctly, Japanese people slurp to actually be polite. By slurping, they mark that they are actually consuming the food\drink. – Sharain Jul 21 '14 at 14:02
  • @Sharain there are cultural norms to consider. The Book "Kiss, Bow and Shake Hands" is a great overview of this. ... But, some people eat like animals and are insolent about requests that they respect the comfort of others. Sometimes a direct approach works when the person is closer to you, but certain 'organizational distances' can complicate having a direct conversation. – New Alexandria Oct 14 '14 at 14:03
  • I can attest to the cultural norms, having worked together with a variety of especially asian nationalities(Indian, Chinese primarily) - specifically to the eating/dining part. Burbing, for example, isn't rude/disgusting in chinese culture as in the west(but of course, for some chinese, it still is, but in general) – cbll Jan 30 '17 at 10:32
  • There may be cultural issues, but they don't usually go that far. People moving to another country usually go out of their way to find out the differences and conform to them to some extent. And every culture has some gross pigs who pretend not to understand the norms. – George M Jan 2 at 21:32
  • While we're talking about culture, let me point out that the worst example I have come across involved a foreign man and an American woman. The woman was not the least inclined to discuss basic hygiene with the foreigner, and furthermore it seemed likely that he would take suggestions even less well from a mere woman. This is one reason managers are paid more - they're supposed to handle these unpleasant conversations, and see to it that basic standards are upheld, even if it means actually sniffing the offender for a minimal amount of upkeep. – George M Jan 2 at 21:36
14

I have told my boss about it. He replied that I should buy a pair of headphones and tune him out. So I cannot be going to go to HR behind my boss's back.

  • Buy a token set of headphones and see how it goes for a week.
  • If things don't improve, tell your boss that things haven't improved.
    • Let him adjust the seating plan, talk to the coworker, talk to HR, etc.
    • There's no need for you to take it any further. It's his responsibility.
  • Wait two weeks. If your boss hasn't taken any steps to fix the problem, fire your company and find a new job.
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    Fire my company? In this economy? – user3207 Sep 18 '12 at 22:36
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    @Chris: Definitely. Who knows? It might take you six months to find a new job. OTOH, it might take you six days. The point is, life is short. If you reach a certain point, fire up the engines, it's time to find a new job. – Jim G. Sep 18 '12 at 22:45
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    And fire the company doesn't mean you have to quit on the spot, just that you look for a new job. – HLGEM Sep 9 '16 at 18:56
9

I would address this issue at it's source.

Tell him that when he moans, eats loudly, belches, farts, and comes to work smelling horrible, it is very distracting and makes it difficult to work.

See if he is even aware of these behaviors.

I would do this before other escalations.

The caveat here is, if you would like this to be anonymous, go to yours or his direct supervisor and file the complaint there.

The supervisor can anonymize this and address the situation by talking to him about these behaviors. This is good if you are worried about retaliation, hurt feelings, or confrontation.

7

Try the headphones.

Ask to be moved.

Ask the person to fart somewhere else so you don't have to smell it. Do him a favor and suggest he learns how to act in public.

If things don't improve, talk to your boss again before going over his head. He needs to understand your requests are reasonable and affect your productivity. This isn't going to be resolved over night. If making noises and disrupting people is acceptable behavior, skip the headphones and play your music outloud.

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    I never had trouble telling people what I think but it very much goes against my employer's philosophy. Thanks for your input though. – user3207 Sep 18 '12 at 22:35
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    How bout just keeping air freshener in your desk? If it's ok for him to fart, it should be ok for you to spray air freshener. – Amy Blankenship Sep 18 '12 at 23:57
  • @AmyBlankenship I even saw an ad a few weeks ago(a joke, probably) about ingestible pills that actually make your fart pleasant to smell. Maybe slip a powder of those in his food or something? – cst1992 Apr 16 '16 at 7:00
  • "Skip the headphones and play your music outloud" -> Perfect example of unacceptable aggressive behaviour. Putting gasoline on fire will make only problems worse – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Jan 3 at 17:40
5

You can record him and play his own sounds back to him. Most people are unaware of the sounds they make.

If you are polite and he is nice about it he'll try to adjust and try to be more aware of it.

  • I can attest that this works with some people, but not with others. Still, worth a try. – user10483 Oct 28 '13 at 19:44
4

Try the headphones for a week and if (sorry, when) they don't work go back to your boss and explain that they aren't working.

If he won't/can't help you at this point then you can go to his boss or HR. You should tell your boss that you need this problem sorting out and need to talk to someone who can help. Obviously don't make it sound like a threat.

  • I understand what you're saying but I always thought of going to my your boss's boss for a problem was a big no-no. I don't want to get sacked over this. – user3207 Sep 18 '12 at 21:45
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    @Chris - if your boss can't/won't help then there's nowhere else to go. It's his boss's job to sort it out. – ChrisF Sep 18 '12 at 21:47
  • Headphones do not hide smells... :-) – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Jan 3 at 17:41
  • @usr I assumed that the question was mainly about the noise. – ChrisF Jan 3 at 20:19
2

This was happening to me, most of the above, and some inappropriate touching (Hands down trousers)!

After speaking to my immediates, I was told to either speak with him myself, or "bring HR into it".

A polite email saying that he might not know that I can see - and it all stopped! No need for HR, no need to cause any embarrassment.

2

If your boss said get headphones, emphasize that it's not just the sounds. It's also the smells. It's also that you feel offended, distracted or uncomfortable having your personal space violated by gaseous releases. Emphasize that the whole combination of sensory experiences is not just making you uncomfortable but it's distracting you from your work and agitating you in a way that makes you less effective at your work.

Tell your boss that you don't want to, but it's important enough to you that if they don't take effective action, that you will have to go to HR to come up with a solution. Then give them some time and do so. Your boss likely wants to avoid the unpleasant conversation with your coworker (maybe they'll put a post up here soon asking how to deal with the disciplinary problem!). Recognize that it's not easy for them. It is their responsibility though. Give them a chance to do something and let them know that if they fail in that obligation, you will go to somebody else.

If they have a good sense of humor, if they downplay your needs again you could always leave noise cancelling headphones on their desk with a note that says, "Since you don't think it's a big deal, I figured we could trade desks?"

1

I had an issue like this once, and found an interesting solution.

Our monitors were visible to other people, so I displayed on my monitor a blog article about the issues of people chewing with their mouth open. It had a big picture of someone, mouth agape full of food. Very visceral. I left it up anytime I walked away from my desk. I also increased the font size, slightly, to make it easier to ready the headline and such.

The mood changed palpably in the coming days, as everyone got on vibe.

It didn't take too long for someone else to openly start a discussion with me about people who chew with their mouths open. That pretty much sealed it.

This was a PA approach, but it was ultimately effective. YMMV.

  • This is passive-aggressive and I'd say has a low chance of succeeding. – cbll Aug 29 '16 at 10:41
-8

something caught my eye in the original 'complaint' question:

"... And he is about 10 years older than me ...."

I am a very experienced manager of different environments, from a dozen of prima ballerina developers to discontent support teams.

Your complaint would be OK if it were not for that quoted phrase.

Your issue is not his behavior, it is his behavior 'at his age'!

If you would come to me with that I would solve your problem with a good cure of fresh air (disturbing the peace at the work place is a legal reason to get you some fresh air)!

Because, as others suggested here, that's actually a start to do some team building on your part: talking to him from guy to guy "man, are you aware ... I know, sometimes I don't notice when I...."
However, looking at your writing, you don't seem to be interested in team building but more in getting rid of 'the old guy', right?

If you were good at what you do the guy would be a goner,....

Go look for a new job, if you get one at all with that baggage of attitude that seems to shine through your mails.

Do I know you??????

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    -1. Did it occur to you that the age difference may have nothing to do with "behavior at his age" but rather something that makes it harder for the questioner to confront him? Also, If I came to my boss with these (very legitimate) work-environment issues and he told me to "get some fresh air" and "see it as a team-building opportunity", I would be severely disheartened and I would conclude that my boss is a spineless, good-for-nothing paper-pusher. Just saying... – pap Sep 20 '12 at 8:14
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    @pap - While I agree this is a poor answer, I would not agree that he age of the person, has anything to do with the solution. The solution is simple make the person aware of the fact he is a rude, noisy, smelly person in the most polite way possible. – Donald Sep 20 '12 at 11:42
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    If the asker is young, an older coworker can be intimidating. I assumed it was something like that, not a "he's old enough to know better" comment. Really, anyone old enough to get a work permit is already old enough to know better! – Monica Cellio Sep 20 '12 at 17:32
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    @sirhelpsalot With an answer like that, it's hard to believe that you were actually a manager. On the other hand, considering the managers I've dealt with, maybe I can believe it. – Fernando Nov 5 '12 at 19:27
  • Yes, it's not unheard of that elderly people over 60 might toot by accident, it's because it often gets harder for them to "keep it in" with age. But 10 years... I am 24, so a person 10 years older than me would be 34, as in, still not old. – Sharain Jul 21 '14 at 14:07

protected by Monica Cellio Jan 29 '17 at 21:37

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