A new office mate, a new set of challenges

Q: I am an executive assistant to a VP and I share a very small office with the assistant to another VP, the space was workable for a while with two assistants in here but then other woman left and I got a new office mate. She has some new habits that I have to get used to, but she eats hard boiled eggs and the smell makes me gag, how to I overcome this? Can I do anything about it? I love my job in every other possible way. But I can’t live with this office mate.

A: First, congratulations on loving your job in almost every way. There are some of us who really and truly love what we do. How very lucky we are.

You have to seize the moment and nip this in the bud while your colleague is still relatively new! It is easier to discuss and then set ground rules early on.

First, be helpful, cooperative and supportive to your new office mate. She is probably still trying to learn the ropes of her new role, her new manager and her new environment. Explain that the two of you are working in tight quarters but you are both lucky enjoy a bit of privacy with an office. Many companies would probably assign you to cubicles.
I suggest that the two of you meet and discuss “ground rules” and “things that drive me nuts.” Using this approach, you also give your office mate the same courtesy – perhaps she has some gripes about how you chew gum, your new perfume or your tuna fish sandwich? It is a good idea to talk about these issues early on rather than letting them fester. When annoyances fester, they no longer become annoyances, they become conflicts! It would be unfortunate that you have to leave your job because of the odor of hard boiled eggs.
Specifically on the odor of her lunch, you may try something like: “Mary, one thing that Elizabeth and I realized about sharing an office is that it is better to use the lunch room for eating meals and sandwiches. Otherwise, the odor of the food really hangs on in this tight office. We found that she didn’t like the smell of my lunches and I didn’t really appreciate smelling her famous steak and cheese sandwiches for the whole day either. Is this something you could live with Mary?”
It is much easier to address these types of concerns early on. Proactive managers will often address ground rules with new employees. There are lots of unwritten rules and norms in our workplaces. It often makes a new employee’s orientation to a new company or a new role easier when someone takes the time to explain the way things work to a newcomer.

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