Petty Annoyances at Work

It’s often the little things, not the big ones, that end up causing disharmony in the workplace. In today’s office environment, it’s not simply enough to get your work done. People want a pleasant work environment in which to spend eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks of the year. And, frankly, that’s reasonable. Herewith are four petty annoyances that, with a little care and thought, can reduce friction and lead to a more pleasant and productive work environment.

Smoking. It used to be, back in the day, that the non-smoker was the exception, but that time has passed. For the smoker, the issue goes beyond where it is okay to smoke to the lingering smell of the smoke. Smoker’s breath can bring the scent inside the office, so a breath mint or a quick brushing can help alleviate the issue. Smoking in well-ventilated areas can help reduce the odor on clothing. So, too, can a brief walk in fresh air after finishing a cigarette. As much as the burden has shifted to the smoker, the non-smoker also can help by not complaining about how much he or she simply hates the smell every time a smoker returns to the office.


Body odor or bad breath. Either of these personal issues can be a game changer for you if you’re afflicted with one of them. And, unfortunately, you may not even realize it’s a problem. However, others notice, even if they don’t say anything, they notice. It may sound strange but the best way to find out is to ask a friend. Better to find out ahead of time from a friend than a boss or, worse yet, when a person from HR has a little talk with you.

Too much scent. Almost as bad as body odor is the person who douses him- or herself with cologne or perfume before coming to work. One way businesses are dealing with this problem is by instituting a “No Scent” policy. When starting a new job it’s a wise idea to check your company’s employee manual to see if there is a “No Scent” policy in place. If there’s no policy, less is best.


Chewing gum. It amazes me how many times I’ve been asked about gum chewing in the office. Chewing gum may be reasonable at your desk when working alone, assuming your company doesn’t have a policy against it. However, the moment someone joins you in your office or before you leave to meet others, toss the gum in an appropriate manner. And remember, while chewing may be okay, loud smacking or popping bubbles is not.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected]

Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at


Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.


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