I work in a shared office with about 15 other people. Our little cubicle farm is actually quite nice—the banter is usually either hilarious or helpful, and we are good at staying out of each other's business. That said, I have two issues I'd like advice on:
1. I have a co-worker who eats chitlins at her desk. Are you familiar with this Lowcountry delicacy? They smell awful, and what the hell is she doing eating that in our cubicle room?! That said, we also have a large population of boiled-egg-for-breakfast eaters (me included), so the room smells like farts for most of the morning. Still, I think chitlins are a step too far. Do I have any room to complain or ask her to eat them in our very nice, brand new break room? Also, she listens to Christian sermons every morning at her desk, without headphones.
2. I have another co-worker who recently has come down with an awful cough. It sounds like she's choking. She's a "health nut" and refuses offers of cough drops and tea bags—she even refuses offers of water. Honestly, the cough itself is disruptive, gross and seemingly never-ending. I can feel myself getting sick, and honestly, I worry that one day she's gonna pass out.
I hope this doesn't seem too petty to write in about. I don't want to be a jerk to my co-workers, but I also don't wanna smell pig guts while trying to get my work done or have to do CPR during one of those intense coughing fits.
My advice? Get a new job. Just kidding! I have no idea what’s wrong with your co-workers or what makes them think their behavior is appropriate for an open-plan office setting. I’m so sorry you have to deal with chitlins, full-volume sermons and a wretched cough. And I’m very familiar with the former, as is my mother. I can’t count how many Sunday mornings I’ve been awakened by the earthy, bloody and honestly poopy scent of chitterlings in the air. There’s no going back to sleep after that.
For co-worker No. 1, I recommend you confront both issues, if you’re the type who doesn’t mind that. It’s not inappropriate in any way, believe me. It’s very common for co-workers in open-plan offices to adopt a set of norms that would make sharing space more comfortable for everyone. I don’t know if your office has any written rules about using headphones or stinky food, but if not, this would be a great time to establish some.
The sermons without headphones is incredibly rude and disruptive behavior on her part, and I’m willing to bet that she feels like she’s somehow “witnessing” to her co-workers when she’s really just disturbing the work environment. Prepare for her to dig her heels in on that point when you bring it up, and I’d recommend talking about that particular issue with HR first, in case she tries to cry “persecution” at your very, very reasonable request.
The second lady ought to be ashamed of herself. How does she show her face? Coughing all over the office and getting everyone else sick! It’s not your job to bring her medicines or anything, but if the office already provides coffee, I recommend asking the office manager to order a box of Throat Coat tea for everyone, as well. It’s organic, so she can’t argue.
Above all, this co-worker needs to be confronted about this awful etiquette. Say to her everything you’ve written here, and use the same language. You are blunt when you bring up very valid points about the disruption, the germs and the noise of it, and she needs to go get herself some zinc lozenges or slippery elm or whatever if she doesn’t wanna accept a Ricola from anyone. It doesn’t sound like you’re interested in being her friend, so a certain amount of shaming should get her to self-correct.