Spotlight on: office irritations

by Natalie Cooper

Do you sit next to the office clown, who constantly cracks unfunny jokes? Or endure a noisy eater, serial sniffer or terminal bore?

Here are just a few of your office gripes about colleagues who exhibit anti-social behaviour at work, taken from a posting on Personnel Today’s new Work Clinic blog:

– “My pet hate is mobile ring tones – the last refuge of the attention-seeker. It shouts: ‘Look at me – I have a witty and/or ironic theme tune from some long-forgotten game-show or 1980s pop song as my ring tone. Therefore I have a personality’.”

– “I sit next to someone who sucks his teeth four times a minute – delightful.”

– “I can’t stand people who send you an e-mail, and then come over to tell you they have sent you an e-mail. This implies ‘what I have written is far more important than anything else you might be doing, so open it right now’, although this is almost never the case.”

Serious stuff

Complaints or rumblings by colleagues should be taken seriously, as this type of behaviour can have a detrimental impact on office productivity and even morale.

Harry Sherrard, principal of Sherrards employment law firm, says: “First check that you have a ‘Dignity at Work policy’. This deals with not just the more serious issues that can arise in the workplace, such as racial or sexual discrimination, but also more generic areas such as bullying and unwanted behaviour.”

Even irritating habits, if done deliberately, knowingly and with the intent of causing some level of distress to a colleague, can be a form of bullying.

A Dignity at Work policy will enable you to invoke the policy by asking the perpetrator of the unwanted behaviour to attend a meeting, based on employee complaints, and the policy will set out a procedure for the employer and employee to follow to resolve the situation.

“You could face difficulties if there is a lack of clear, specific, dated and timed instances of the unwanted behaviour,” warns Sherrard. “An unspecific ‘whinge’ by one employee against another is difficult to deal with.”

Written evidence

Bear in mind that if a complaint is put in writing, which includes an e-mail, this constitutes a legal grievance, triggering the grievance procedure.

“Although it might seem like formalising the matter, if a complainant puts the matter in writing, you would be in a much better position to deal with the problem, because the written grievance is specific about the complaint,” says Sherrard.

“You will be legally obliged to investigate and try to resolve the matter. Without the written grievance, the temptation is always to sweep these things under the carpet,” she adds.

key tips for employers

n Make sure that you have a Dignity at Work policy in place.

n Encourage your employees who want to make a complaint to log specific, dated and timed instances of the unwanted behaviour.

n Tell your staff to put the complaint in writing.

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