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A Piercing Look at Privacy


Unless your job description involves mountaintop philosophizing or cloistered prayer, you probably are working with other people.


And that will inevitably lead to on-the-job predicaments that go way beyond the fax-machine-is-out-of-paper-again level. Here are a few such dilemmas, as well as some suggested solutions or coping mechanisms.


Dear Ms. Work Wise: One of my employees has managed to pierce virtually every visible orifice and protuberance. I find this unappealing, and because she deals with the public, I'm afraid my customers will too. What should I do?

--Grossed Out

Dear Grossed Out: Unless her piercing has some religious basis (in that case you're stuck, so to speak), have pity on this poor fashion victim and talk to her honestly. Explain gently that you realize piercing is considered stylish in some circles and that she has the right to do whatever she wants with her body parts. But a professional environment must be maintained through a code of dress, particularly in companies with customers or clients to please. Perhaps she can be reassigned to a less visible position. If that is not an option, your employee needs to choose between piercing opportunities and job opportunities.


Dear Ms. Work Wise: A colleague of mine has developed an extravagant body odor problem. Help!

--Holding My Breath

Dear Holding: This is a tough one. If avoiding your co-worker isn't possible, speak to a supervisor and ask him or her to deal with the problem. Even though the subject is a difficult one, managers need to deal with it frankly and tactfully so it doesn't degenerate into jokes and hard feelings. The employee could be unaware of the odor or could have a medical or emotional problem that needs addressing.


Dear Ms. Work Wise: My boss has the most atrocious table manners. Should I say something to him?

--Knows Which Fork Is for Salads

Dear Knows: Are you crazy? This person is not your pal or your cousin, he is your supervisor and holds your fate in his hands. What's more, he has managed to attain his position of authority without the benefit of your etiquette tips.

If you find his habits physically revolting, do your best to avoid being around him when he is eating. If he likes to hang around your desk while athletically gnashing Corn Nuts and chatting, make an oblique excuse along the lines of "Well, gotta go back to work now to earn more money for the company!"


Dear Ms. Work Wise: My colleagues are always hitting me up to buy whatever their kids are selling at the moment to raise money for schools, clubs or athletic teams. I'm starting to feel put upon but am unsure how to tell them to knock it off.

--Single and Happy

Dear Single: Extracurricular fund-raising has become common in many workplaces. Some companies have put a moratorium on such selling, contending that it distracts from the job and puts pressure on co-workers to spend money. Such decrees seem extreme, because most parents simply develop an informal buying cartel. ("You buy my kid's stuff and I'll buy your kid's stuff.")

Since you have no children to make your participation in this underground market worthwhile, and presumably have no interest in consuming the candy/cookies/gift-wrap/magazines/etc. that are being peddled, then there is really only one course open to you. Try saying, "No, thank you." Your colleagues will get the message eventually.


Dear Ms. Work Wise: I keep a dish of candy on my desk and I enjoy sharing it with my co-workers. But some folks are always taking and never even think of bringing in something to refill the dish. Am I being too sensitive?


Dear Bitter: Probably. Your colleagues are taking advantage of your implied invitation to help themselves to your candy dish. But they are being rude by forgetting the age-old rule that you should return a kindness. You have a few options. You can suffer in silence. You can put away the candy dish and offer it to select people as an occasional treat. Or you can gently remind your fellow employees that the candy does not magically reproduce in the bowl. Try setting a clever sign next to the dish to elicit refills. Or threaten to charge frequent offenders.


Dear Ms. Work Wise: I'm going for a job interview that will involve a lunch. What should I order, or avoid ordering?

--Appetite for Success

Dear Appetite: For goodness' sake, stay away from the French onion soup, unless you enjoy wearing cheese strings. Some career counselors suggest avoiding having lunch altogether. But you don't always have that option because some employers include lunch in a serious job interview precisely to see how you cope with social situations. So here are some suggestions:

* Use the correct fork and knife. Hint: Work from the outside in. That is, the outermost fork is for salad and the next fork in is for the entree.

* Don't order alcohol. This can only get you into trouble.

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