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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