DEAR AMY: I work in a small office with three other employees. They all smoke. If I had known they smoked, I would not have hired them. Studies show that smokers are less productive (due to time away from their desk on smoke breaks), and have higher rates of illness than nonsmokers. Perhaps I should have been more diligent at the interviewing stage and when checking references, but one employee admitted that she took great pains not to smell of cigarettes prior to her interview. My problem is my resentment and irritation toward them. All winter long, one or the other is coughing, hacking, sniffing or getting over an illness, which I believe is linked to their smoking. They are ill for longer periods and more often than I am. This winter alone, I sent two of them home because their state of health was affecting their job performance. They smell terrible! I resist the urge to move backward when they are speaking directly to me. One of my employees came into my office directly after a “smoke break” and leaned down next to me so we could both look at my computer screen. Having to breathe next to her made me feel ill for several hours afterward. I frequently have to sit next to them at their desks for training or other purposes. I dread this contact. I could ban smoking breaks, because they are not entitled to these in their contract or our employment standards. I know I’m not perfect, but I don’t believe I have habits that have such an impact on others. How should I handle this?
M, in Ontario, Canada
DEAR M: Cigarette smokers can take steps to mask the noxious smell, which can permeate their skin, hair and certainly their clothing. Smokers can wear hats, a glove (on their smoking hand), and a jacket or shirt over their clothing (a modern take on the “smoking jacket”). They should wash their hands and brush their teeth afterward.
Because you are the only nonsmoker in your office, you are the only person who notices and is affected by the smell — the smokers’ sense of smell is already dulled by their habit.
Your co-workers have the right to ruin their own health on their own time, but why should they do it on your company’s time, especially when it has such a negative impact on you?
If you are contractually able to, you should ban smoke breaks. This will cut way down on the impact to you (though they can still smoke before work and during lunch), and might inspire one or more to quit — either to quit smoking, or quit working for you.
DEAR AMY: I am a retired woman who regularly meets for coffee with three other older women. We’ve been doing this for about a year, and I thought we were all friends and having a good time. One woman in the group has recently been making comments about me after I say something funny. Everyone will be laughing, and she’ll turn to the woman next to her and say something like, “What a moron!” Yesterday she said, “You’re right, she is a squirrel!” That tells me that the other woman she’s talking to really isn’t my friend either. I feel like I’m back in junior high school and I need to back out of this group. I’m not sure how to do it without having to explain why. (I live in a small town and that always complicates things.) Any suggestions?
DEAR DISAPPOINTED: Adult life is often like junior high school, which proves that human dynamics don’t really evolve.
But the advantage adults are supposed to have over our junior selves is that we can react calmly, honestly and with maturity, even when we’re upset.
One disadvantage elders have, is occasional faulty hearing.
In your case, rather than awkwardly exiting from the group, you could say (in the moment), “Excuse me? Did I hear you right?”
Please hold out the possibility that you are not hearing these comments correctly. Either way, if you ask for clarification, you should receive it. Then you can better decide what to do.
DEAR AMY: “Feeling Protective” came off as very overprotective, in my opinion. Her reluctance to leave her children with her in-laws sounded ridiculous to me.
DEAR GRANDPARENT: These grandparents had health problems, the children were quite young and there was an unsecured swimming pool. I thought this parent was just the right amount of concerned.