Q. I have a co-worker who is extremely gassy. Management has spoken to her and even moved her around the office several times. Because it’s considered a medical condition, nothing can be done about it. She has a can of fragrant spray at her desk that she uses when she needs to but sometimes that’s even worse. People avoid walking behind her or using the bathroom after her because it smells so bad. I’ve almost “anonymously” left articles at her desk in regards to things that can help with her problem, I’m almost tempted to quit my job because of this, but I shouldn’t have to because of another co-worker’s gas problem.
K. M., Appleton, WI
A. When an individual’s “personal issues” negatively impact co-workers, it’s important that the situation is addressed and resolved. You mention several options. Anonymous “anythings” are generally ignored and simply cause hurt and resentment in the recipient. Besides, you wouldn’t be making her aware of anything she doesn’t already know. Her use of the spray can and the fact that she has been moved several times show she understands that her flatulence is a problem in the office. Management appears to have made an attempt to deal with the issue and may even be the reason she has the fragrance spray at her desk. Another approach is necessary.
Unfortunately, this situation has progressed beyond an etiquette issue where the advice would be to have a trusted friend talk with her. Management needs to step in and find an effective solution. Her condition is causing a problem at the office that affects productivity, potentially profits, and retention—you and possibly others are thinking about quitting. At this point the employees in the office need to let management know the seriousness of the situation. Along with your colleagues, meet with management and request that an HR person be at the meeting as well. Express your concerns about the effect this problem is having on you, on the co-worker, and the company. Management then needs to address the issue more substantively than moving the person around the office or asking her to use an air freshener.