ouija board decor at work, coworker nags me about drinking diet soda, and more — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

I’m off today. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. Ouija board decor at work

I share an office with two other coworkers who seldom see — I work nights, they work days/my days off — so I don’t know them well. One has slowly been adding decoration to the office that is very understated fandom, that you wouldn’t recognize unless you are also a fan (which I am). That’s fine! But today I came in and they’ve replaced the mousepad with a ouija board one and I am weirdly uncomfortable with that. How can I object to it to people I barely know or see, especially without coming off as super religious (since that seems to be the most common objection to it, but I could not possibly be less religious)? Or am I being way too sensitive not wanting it at work?

Nah, you get to be uncomfortable with it. Some people are uncomfortable with ouija stuff for religious reasons, others because it just creeps them out, and others because they don’t believe in what it represents and don’t particularly want symbols of it in their space. All of those are legitimate, as is any other reason you might have.

Do you see this coworker at all, even just in passing? If so, you could say, “Hey, I really like the (name one or two decorations they added that you do like), but I’m weirdly creeped out by the ouija board mousepad. Would you mind if I brought in a different one, or if we just switched back to the other one?”

Worst case scenario, you just switch it out yourself at the start and end of your shift, but a reasonable coworker will get this and be fine with changing it. Reasonable people will not insist other people use objects that are known to bother others (even if she overlooked that originally).

2019

2. My coworker keeps nagging me about drinking diet soda

I have a coworker, a retired doctor from Colombia, who wont stop badgering me or making comments when he sees me drinking diet soda. I am unsure of how to approach the situation because he is a director of an overlapping group to the one I work in, which is much higher up than my position (I’m practically entry-level but I’ve been here for almost a year and a half). Although he was an MD before coming to the U.S., he is no longer practicing and is very into alternative medicine and makes it a point to comment on the things that he believes are bad. One example is that he is strongly against microwaves and will comment if he sees anyone heating up their lunch.

His office is very close to where I sit, and it all started about eight months ago when he struck up a conversation about why I was drinking diet instead of regular soda. I have a lot of reasons, some personal taste and others because I have an insulin sensitivity to carbohydrates and sugar. I know diet soda is not great, but I will gladly drink it instead of risking pancreas failure and diabetes before I am 30. Although none of that information is anyone’s business except my own, I don’t feel like I should have to justify my choices even if I didn’t have to take my health into consideration.

My problem is that nothing I say seems to deter his comments, even explaining my health reasons. He’s even gone so far as to question if I want children or not (because he thinks the artificial sweetener will affect my fertility). He seemed taken aback when I told him that I’ve never wanted kids, and even if it did have fertility side effects it wouldn’t change my mind. After my initial rebuttal where I made my stance clear, he has resorted to only quick comments like “Still drinking diet?” or “What’s that on your desk?” when he passes by my desk about once a week, but it is frustrating nonetheless. I’ve tried to explain myself, ignore it, laugh it off, and act like it doesn’t bother me, but it has really begun to get on my nerves the longer it goes.

Ugh. He’s being rude. It doesn’t matter that he’s not practicing medicine here; even if he were, he’s still not your doctor, and thus he’s butting into business where he doesn’t belong.

On the other hand, you may have inadvertently signaled to him that you’re fine with all this — the laughing, explaining, acting like it doesn’t bother you, and engaging with him about your fertility all may have reinforced for him that this is a topic you’re okay discussing. So I think you’ve got to make it clearer that you’re not.

I get that there are hierarchy issues in play, but is this the kind of office where you can just directly say to him the next time, “Hey, can you stop commenting on my soda? Thanks.” Or, “I think we’re done with this debate, so can we put the soda comments to rest?” Or, “I have a ban on soda comments now. The window of opportunity has closed.”

If your office culture is such that you really can’t do that, then I’d try to ignore the offhanded comments (looking slightly incredulous that he’s still talking about it might help, though) and only address it if he starts another real conversation with you about it. If he does the latter, then you can say, “You know, I appreciate the info you’ve shared, but I don’t want to keep talking about it.” And then stick to that — if he keeps trying, keep declining to engage.

2017

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Changing into biking clothes in the office bathroom

I’m in my first job as an HR assistant. Many people in the organization are similarly young and we’re generally pretty casual. I have been wondering about the social norms around changing outfits in the bathroom.

One of the great joys I’ve found since starting my job is biking home from work. I usually put my bike on a bus in the morning (wearing my work clothes) and change to bike back. We don’t have another space I could change other than the women’s bathroom. There is a bike room in the building, but anyone can enter at any time and I normally run into a male bike commuter every time I’m there.

People definitely change sometimes in the bathroom (I notice someone doing it like once a month), but if I had my way I’d be biking 2-3 days a week. Are there any tips for what I should and should not do? Am I overthinking this?

Changing in the bathroom is fine and normal! Use a stall so that coworkers aren’t walking in on you in your underwear (don’t be these people), but it’s totally fine to change in the bathroom.

2019

4. Our new office toilet paper is terrible

The company I work for had a change over in president recently. This president has a much more significant financial background. Computers went from being upgraded on a certain timeline to only if they break and office supplies all got cheap, including tissues and toilet paper.

The toilet paper we now use is very rough single ply, and it’s causing havoc with my body. Over the weekend when I’m not at work, everything starts to feel better, but then I go back at the beginning of the week and it goes back to hellish uncomfortable conditions. I’ve always been super sensitive to things in that area but I’m a loss what to do. I really don’t want to have to carry toilet paper back and forth between my desk and the bathroom in our open office plans. Do you have any other suggestions for what to do?

You can try talking to whoever orders the supplies and asking if it’s an option to switch back to the previous toilet paper, but chances sound pretty good that you’re going to hear no. If it’s truly terrible toilet paper — like less sensitive people are also dismayed by it — then you might have more luck approaching it as a group. (Which will require you to discreetly ask coworkers you’re close to if they hate the new toilet paper too, which is exactly the kind of conversation I would enjoy but you might not.)

But otherwise, yeah, unfortunately I think you’ll need to bring in your own. Rather than carrying a roll of toilet paper about the office, you could put it in a bag or purse, although I realize that’s still not ideal.

2018

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