Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: Shut Up About Your F**king Diet
I’ve worked in offices. Temporary offices, open floor plan offices, home offices — even OTHER PEOPLE’S home offices (the joys of being a personal assistant…). I’ve had cubicles and shared desks and in one job I even had my own windowless room to enjoy. It was next to the kitchen, so I smelled everybody’s lunches as they rotated in the microwave. You learn a lot about your colleagues by watching their kitchen habits (“I know the person who took that last Bagel Friday bagel was you, Karen!”). So anyway, whenever we get officey-type questions in the ol’ advice inbox, I get excited. And this week we got two to tackle!
[Reminder: Even if you don’t work in an office, your life questions are valid. Probably. Or maybe not! Only way to find out is to send them to us at [email protected] and see how we respond!]
First up: Ugh, fucking dieting.
I’ve been wrestling with this and would love to get some feedback. I worry about not doing enough and I worry about doing too much.
I have a new co-worker that I have worked with for about 6 months. Let’s call her NC (New Coworker). NC is quite a bit younger than me and just entering the workforce. During our short time together, she has confided in me about her life and experiences. I know she has suffered for more than a decade from anorexia. I know it was so severe that she was put into in-patient treatment facilities. She was upgraded to the highest level of mental health treatment for her condition. She still goes to meetings and considers recovering an ongoing process. My mother has suffered for much of her life from anorexia, and so I am aware that it carries with it life or death consequences. My problem is that other co-workers, including the the Human Resources (HR) person, are going on extreme diets and being veeeeeery vocal about it. Our HR person is on a diet so extreme she’s limiting herself to 500 calories per day. NC and HR are friends, and I know with certainty that NC is definitely hearing about every detail of HR’s extreme diet. HR has been on one extreme diet or another for all of 2018 (sometimes it’s no carbs, other times it is restrictive calories). Another co-worker on a diet told NC the other day, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” a la Kate Moss. I feel very protective of NC, and I don’t think the others are aware of the impact they are having on her. She relays conversations to me about their dieting, and I can tell it makes her really struggle to not get pulled into it. Some days I can tell that she is only eating fruit during our 9 hour work day. In a normal situation I would ask HR for advice, but as HR is one of the repeat offenders, I don’t think I can go to her. I absolutely do not want to betray NC’s trust, but I also worry that she’s in a dangerous environment. I’ve toyed with saying something like: “some employees may have health matters that are seriously impacted by chatter about extreme dieting, so perhaps it would be a good thing not to discuss extreme diet plans with employees?”, but because I don’t work with that many people directly, I think if I cloud the issue in vague terms, they’d still know who I was talking about. Or, perhaps doing anything at all would be invasive, so maybe I should just leave the matter alone? I have been struggling internally for weeks with this question. I’d appreciate your thoughts! Thank you!
You’re a good person, and very right to be (Ms.) Concerned in this case. Shit is INAPPROPRIATE. Even just generally. Like, a common misconception is that people give a shit about what you can, can’t, or shouldn’t be eating. Maybe your doctor does, but nobody else gives a shit. But in a work environment, where you could make people uncomfortable with unnecessary and possibly triggering talks?
Shut. The. Fuck. Up.
Dustin would hop up on a soapbox and put it thusly: “Can I have your attention please. Yes, everyone in the office. Please give me 30 seconds of your time. I understand that many of you are on diets. That’s cool. You do you. Your bodies, your lives. But please, for the love of all that is holy, NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOUR DIETS. Seriously, NO ONE. Please shut the fuck up about what you are eating or not eating, so that the rest of us may live our lives in peace. Thank you for your time.”
So feel free to pull a Dustin, but there are other options. Even though you said one of the HR folks is involved in these diet talks, I still think talking to HR is valid. Or talk to your manager, and have them address it. And there is no need to bring New Coworker up at all — provided you’re comfortable saying that… well, you’re uncomfortable? Sorry, what I mean is that you can take the fall for this if you want. You don’t have to lie or divulge any details, but you can say that hearing about this makes you uncomfortable, and you’re worried that it makes other people uncomfortable, and explain why it could be triggering and is inappropriate in a work setting. After all, it’s fair to say that hearing this stuff IS making you feel uncomfortable! Just not for the reasons they may expect.
You can also directly address people when you hear them in the midst of these kinds of conversations, and point it out to them (shame them! shame them!). There must be a nice way to convey something along the lines of “I’m sure you want to share your war stories of not-eating with each other, but could you do that privately where the rest of us don’t have to hear it? It’s distracting, off-putting, and making me hangry.” You know — like that, but nicer. Use the fact that you don’t interact with them much to your advantage! You can be the mysteriously strict co-worker that nobody wants to mess with.
It also might be worth continuing to check in with New Coworker, and encouraging her to open up to HR or her manager about her struggles. You’re right that it’s not your place to speak for her, but it seems like it is definitely an unhealthy situation for her and maybe you can help her find ways to address the matter herself. If nothing else, letting her know that you see what she’s going through, that you support her, and that you are concerned for her well-being could mean a lot.
This question brought up a lot of anecdotes from the Overlords, especially stuff about wellness vs. weight-loss challenges in the workplace (wellness is great! weight-loss is dangerous!). One person said that coworkers who were sharing their fitness goals together did so over a Slack channel so nobody else would have to listen, which seemed like a great idea. Another great idea?
Bear traps. Always bear traps. Figure out what these fuckers are currently able to eat, and bait the traps with it.
And finally, let me just say that EVERYTHING TASTES BETTER THAN SKINNY FEELS, DAMMIT. Especially anything smothered in cheese.
Next up: lazy people!
I have a boss whose behavior makes it very difficult to have a good work ethic. He’s very hands-off, which to an extent I don’t mind, but it means he doesn’t notice when people aren’t getting their shit done. Because he’s so lax, people tend to come and go as they please during the day, and I frequently hear people in other departments making pointed comments about how they can never find someone when they need them.
The reason that everyone does what they want is that he has allowed a manager to “work from home” ever since she returned from her maternity leave 10 months ago. There is no allowance for working from home unless it is a medical issue, though since our company doesn’t have parental leave (outside of FMLA), I didn’t mind much. That is, until her daughter started daycare six months ago and there’s no longer any reason for her to be home. It’s clear that “work from home” really means having Fridays off but my boss can’t call it that without reducing her pay. When she comes into the office the rest of the week, she often doesn’t get in until 10 or 10:30 and leaves around 5, generally taking a lunch in there. I’m pretty sure she told our boss she wasn’t sure about coming back to work after her maternity leave and he struck this deal with her that I don’t think anyone above him knows about. I have no idea when these allowances are going to expire.
I’ve brought these issues up with my boss since I’m the HR clerk (just administrative, no managerial role), and this is a real morale issue for many people. They freestyle their schedule as compensation for this manager getting special treatment. He comes up with excuses and says he’d do it for anyone who needed it. People get away with so much. I would push my luck with leaving early or taking long lunches, but I always feel like I’m going to get caught, and anyway, I just don’t want to be that kind of employee. I feel like a sucker, though, for working exactly the hours I should. I want people to follow the rules everyone else has to. I’ve been burned by going above people’s heads at previous jobs, and I don’t know how to handle this. What should I do?
A Rule Follower
Dear Rule Follower,
Weirdly, our advice to you is gonna be the opposite of what we said above: Don’t get involved. Stay out of it. Until you’re the manager, this shit isn’t your responsibility. Now, that isn’t to say that I don’t sympathize with your frustrations. I don’t think you can speak to the morale issue this behavior is causing others, but it’s clearly a morale issue TO YOU — and that’s fair! It sucks to feel like you’re living up to standards that don’t apply to others, or working harder than others for the same amount of dough. But the fact is that you can only control your behavior at work, and you’re the one choosing to follow the rules to the T. You could enjoy the same flexibility in hours and work less, maybe take a long lunch or oversleep every once in awhile, but you aren’t. That’s your call.
There are a few aspects of this kind of behavior that may not be immediately clear from where you’re sitting. You’re right that your boss may have worked out a deal with that work-from-home manager you mentioned. Which means that her hours and allowances are likely agreed upon, for reasons that might be very personal and private (postpartum depression?) — or maybe she really is scamming the system. Either way, it’s above your pay grade. The upshot is that if you ever need special consideration, they may do the same for you.
Some companies prioritize arrival and departure times, and attendance, but others may prioritize whether or not the work gets done. And I think that’s my big question here: are these people getting their shit done? If other departments can’t find them at their desks, then they’ll email or leave a message, right? But presumably if stuff really started slipping through the cracks, they’d be reprimanded. Or your boss, the one letting this behavior slide, will catch flack for it. But so far it doesn’t seem to be rebounding onto your own reputation, and that’s the important thing.
Sometimes salaried employees are offered considerations that hourly employees aren’t, simply because salaried employees are expected to take trips without overtime, or respond to emails outside of work hours, and that is all stuff that’s determined between them and their boss. Could that be a factor here?
Working with and for other people means abiding by their quirks. I had a boss who literally owned 7 alarm clocks because she had a hard time waking up. She’d roll into the office at 11 am, but she’d leave every night at 9 or 10 pm. She was allowed that flexibility because she was good at her job and got her work done — and working for her meant I had flexibility in my hours as well, though it also meant that I had to be just as on the ball as she was when it came to my tasks. So while I don’t think you’re unreasonable in your workplace habits (you’re the ideal employee!), I do think that it’s unreasonable to expect everyone else to work the same way you do. If their schedule is impacting your ability to do your job, then that should be addressed to your boss. But if it’s simply a matter of them not following rules, I’d say let management deal with it.
If nothing else, just sit back and enjoy that feeling of superiority that comes from knowing these people will be in for a rude awakening if they ever leave to go work somewhere else — somewhere that isn’t as lax as your current office is. Or you can find a new job yourself, somewhere a little stricter where you won’t be the overachiever — you’ll just be normal. Or work that corporate ladder and get yourself into a position of power, and set the rules yourself!
Or set bear traps. Can’t go home early if your leg is stuck in a fucking bear trap, can you?