Workplace slobs can take a variety of forms. Some are just messy – with their work areas so deep with paper and paraphernalia that it would qualify for an archeology grant. Others are dirty, and the only reason the rats and cockroaches haven’t moved in to eat the mountains of food scraps is that they’re afraid of the dust bunnies and other unidentifiable things in residence. It could be a personal hygiene issue, including stained shirts, unwashed hair, killer breath or body odor.
Slobs, as a rule, aren’t trying to drive you nuts. Most either don’t realize the extent to which their behavior affects the people around them, or they just don’t understand why a change their behavior might be important. Yes, occasionally they just don’t care – but that is rare.
If you find yourself with a workplace slob, and you just can’t take it any more, here’s an approach you might want to try:
Begin by acknowledging how awkward the topic is, eg: “John, this is really awkward, and I’m not really sure how to tell you, but…” or, “Lucy, there’s something I think you may want to know, and it’s kind of awkward.”
Explain the situation by presenting it in terms of their needs. So, for example, instead of saying something like, “All that clutter in our workspace is starting to get on my nerves,” you may want to say something like: “I’m a little concerned about the clutter in our workspace. People are going to get the wrong impression – that you don’t care about what you do…”
Reaffirm your respect for him. Let him know that, while you may have found something in his behavior that can be corrected, it hasn’t lessened your opinion of him. For example: “I know you care about the quality of your work – but other people don’t know you as well as I do.”
The benefit of this process is that, if you do it right, you can address potentially sensitive issues in such a way that minimizes the potential for offending or alienating people.
[This is from the Archive Project – where we are attempting to get 10 years of Winning at Work on the web! Original publication date: Dec 27, 2004]
Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience, employee engagement and workplace performance for 23 years