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A new boss has been parachuted into my department, who sits right next to me. He is a decent guy, but at least 10 times a day he goes outside for a cigarette, which is annoying if I need to ask him something. He returns with stinking clothes and breath. I find the smell absolutely repellent, particularly while I’m eating lunch. More annoying still, another smoker in the team has used their shared bad habit to suck up to him. It’s all unfair, inefficient and revolting. What can be done?
Associate, male, 20s
You are right. Your smoking colleague has an advantage with your boss that you don’t, as there is nothing like shivering on the pavement and being pariahs together to form a bond. Yet that advantage is hardly unfair as he is paying for it with a layer of tar in his lungs, bad breath and lower life expectancy.
Your boss sits next to you. That strikes me as even more unfair. The smoker has to put his life at risk to spend a few three-minute breaks with the man, while you have him all day. If you can’t bond with someone at such proximity, you need to wonder what you are doing wrong. Wrinkling up your nose and edging further away in your chair might have something to do with it.
You then complain that his smoking is inefficient. Is that because he has the audacity to leave his desk from time to time? Everyone needs breaks from work and I bet you take lots of them to buy things online or to check Facebook. If so, your boss’s breaks are healthier as at least he gets up and walks about and escapes the tyranny of the computer screen every now and then.
What really worries me is that you feel such a powerful need to have your superior by your side every minute of the day, and get agitated every time he goes away. If you are going to survive in the rough world of work that means being self-sufficient enough to take your own decisions for five minutes while the boss nips out for a quick ciggie.
Your final complaint is that his habit is revolting. I’m with you on this. But working with other people in open-plan offices simply is revolting. They smell of all sorts of unpleasant things. They click their knuckles. They cough. They break wind. The workplace is a human zoo; the good news is that in time the senses deaden.
You are already doing the only thing possible. You are retaliating by doing something even more revolting than an occasional gasper outside. You are crunching, slurping and masticating at your desk, doubtless looking, sounding and smelling revolting to your colleagues – though all too tempting to the mice that will surely come along and clean up behind you.
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