The Life: We are all, after all, only human – how long does your own span of attention last without the need for a break?
Office food smells and some points to digest
Many people in the office eat at their desks. While I have no problem with this as it means they can eat and work at the same time rather than taking a long lunch break, I'm not so happy with the food smells that emanate around the office. I'm even less happy with the take-out boxes piled in the bins and the flies they attract. We don't have a canteen so what can I suggest to the management? ZA, Sharjah
Hi there ZA, oh dear, I couldn't empathise with you more. The lingering smell of fish curry is enough to turn me off my work for the remainder of the week - and that's when I'm in my own space, let alone that of others.
The first thought that springs to mind is where do your managers eat - if smells and flies are around you, why are they not around them too? Now there's probably many hypothesising rather comical reasons when reading this, yet I am wondering if the managers simply choose to eat out every day?
What worries me is that when there's a different scenario for some, varying degrees of empathy can exist. I've seen this for years when senior people had one canteen and were very happy with the food and their eating environment, and the junior people were to experience a totally different canteen. How is this fair and, more so, how can one 'feel' the other's viewpoint? Why not suggest to your managers that for one week, everyone chooses to eat takeaway inside the office, to gauge reactions. What's good for the goose is good for the gander - right?
The second thought is why is this being addressed only now; what may have changed that has made this a priority now? I trust that no highly productive employee with sensitivities has had to leave, or no prospective employee has chosen not to accept a job due to this environment.
ZA, while you have not communicated if your role indeed holds you accountable for the productivity of others, my third thought is whether you have your own priorities clear. You seem very happy for people to be sitting at their desks through what is their right for free time, if they could only do so without negatively affecting others through smelly food. Come on, you can't have it both ways. What is productivity to you - half-hearted focus on work and the other half on curry, chips and shawarma, or clear, sharp attention to detail and response? I'm really wondering if they could eat with no smell at all, you may conveniently even forget that they do have a right to an hour off - take time to reflect and be honest with yourself here. We are all, after all, only human - how long does your own span of attention last without the need for a break?
My fourth and final thought would be to look at options to change the situation. Consider:
• Is the business one that can afford to close down for a common time for all to move outside?
• Is there a way to contain the smell (like they do in the airport smoking rooms)?
• Is there room for a rostered system, for joint accountability?
• Is it time for an office helping hand to be hired?
• Is there room for a "consider others" campaign?
How about going for gold with this one - both productivity and refreshed afternoon attitudes. Notice when we looked at this issue closely, the problem we thought existed really isn't the issue after all.
Look beyond the smell to discover what's really going on.
Debbie Nicol, the managing director of the Dubai-based Business en Motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Workplace Doctor's advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague.