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Smell the Coffee: Obnoxious office offenses

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Have you ever done a column on office pet peeves?" I was recently asked. "Because if you haven't, you should."

They went on to tell me about a woman they worked with who cleared her throat constantly, driving everyone nuts.

"It isn't like Tourette's or anything," the person said. "She can shut it off when she wants. Can be on a conference call or in a meeting for hours and never once do it, but all morning before and all afternoon after, it's like she's gargling yogurt."

Every office seems to have its share of offenders -- the chronic popcorn burners, those who endlessly clip their nails at their desks, who jam the copier and sneak away, who leave exploded food in the microwave and stinky, rotting lunches in the shared office fridge.

I had my first experience with office obnoxiousness right out of high school, when I was working as a secretary for a commercial construction firm. The engineers I worked with were a quirky but mostly well-behaved bunch. Except they loved to steal each other's lunches.

One of the engineers, Owen, brought the best sandwiches, thick with lunch meat and fresh tomatoes on what often appeared to be homemade bread. His were the supermodels of the sandwich world, but a few times each week, when Owen went to retrieve his lunch, he'd find someone had either taken his entire sandwich, or half, or a couple large bites.

So Owen went on the offensive.

He had a Doberman pup he had to take to the vet to get its ears docked, so he asked the vet to save the ear trimmings.

Which he made into a sandwich.

Effectively ending his problem.

I'm not sure solutions exist for some of the predicaments that exist in most workplaces. I posted a question to my Facebook friends the other day asking about their office pet peeves, and the responses, both public and private, quickly surpassed what I could've covered in a single column. And unfortunately, I found I could commiserate with many.

There's the friend from Texas who posted about the people in her office who "sneeze like they're throwing a lung across the room."

The same friend has trouble with noisy chewers and those who laugh far too loud. Obnoxious laughter is something several mentioned. One said there's a woman in her office whose "tittering" laugh sounds artificial, as if it were practiced in front of the bathroom mirror.

"It's like nails down a chalkboard, like a fork skitch-screeching across a glass plate."

Wrote another, "My peeves are when people have the keystroke sounds turned on or have awful text/email alert sounds on their phone. A co-worker has a bird chirp sound that goes off every time she gets an email or text, and if she texts/types an email to anyone, I can hear every keystroke."

One wrote about a co-worker who was a Post-It note nut.

"He would leave a note on my computer telling me what to do, and then put 'Please see me' at the bottom. When I went to his desk to see what else he wanted, he told me exactly what he had already written on the note. He did it to everyone. When he left, we gave him a stack of Post-It notes as a going-away present."

Lisa wrote that she is bothered by "the person who leaves one drop of coffee in the pot and walks away. I know the saying is 'good to the last drop,' but I'm guessing Maxwell House meant the one coming from your cup, not the pot!"

The problem Dana wrote about was one I used to experience daily at my last job. "When someone puts something down in front of you and proceeds to tell you about it, even though they can clearly see you are talking to a client on the phone."

Many wrote to vent about gum snapping, finger- or pen-tapping, those who hum or whistle or sing, and those who abuse speaker phones.

"We work in a cubicle farm," said one emailer, "and there's this one lady in the middle of the room who uses the speaker phone for every one of her personal calls. Those of us sitting around her -- we know way more about her than we should."

Amy posted that she doesn't mind if people at work read her newspaper, "but why turn the sections inside-out, and leave the sections out of order all over the break room?"

Another oft-mentioned peeve regarded those who come to work when they're sick, and even though they're clearly hacking and germy, they make the full circuit of the building so everyone can witness their extreme dedication.

Finally, there was one former co-worker who wrote, "It used to drive me nuts when this one prankster in our office would put a big Absolut logo on the water cooler, which caused the daggone cooler to be drained dry in no time."

The nerve of some people.

Oh, wait. That was me.

Never mind.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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