Q: How can I work with a co-worker who is always gossiping and being negative?
A: If shes talking about you, you need to have a calm and rational discussion about whats happening. Workplace psychologist Maynard Brusman, PhD, suggests telling the person something you appreciate about them. “Then tell her that if she has any conflict with you, youd love to have an honest discussion about it,” she says. No matter how tempting, dont gossip about the troublemaker behind her back or be drawn into the gossip fest. “The key to working with someone like this successfully is to not engage in her behavior,” say Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio, authors of The Girls Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch). In fact, other than an attempt at a heart-to-heart, Friedman and Yorio suggest minimizing your contact with that co-worker as much as possible.
Q: If my baby is sick, I have to say Im sick or take a day off. What else can I do?
A: This is sticky. Lying jeopardizes your reputation. But you dont want to be hurt financially for doing your duty as a parent, either. One option is to ask your supervisor if you can work from home. “The important thing is to talk about how youll handle the situation before it ever arises. Bosses hate surprises,” say Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, co-authors of the book Working With You Is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself From the Emotional Traps at Work. You can also build a list of daytime babysitters, research sick-kid day care in your area (check the National Association for Sick Child Day Care at www.nascd.com), or lobby your human resources department for a change in policy.
Q: Am I a poor team player because I avoid going to the company gym with co-workers at lunchtime?
A: Getting undressed or working up a sweat in front of co-workers is not mandatory, nor is it necessarily a good career move. “You have to respect your own boundaries,” Elster says. She suggests letting your colleagues know you take care of personal errands during your lunch hour, and try to find another activity you can participate in with the group. “You really dont want to miss out on all bonding experiences, or youll alienate yourself,” Crowley says. “So try to find some other commonality with them if youd rather bypass the locker room.”
Q: There is a strong smell in my renovated workplace. Should I be worried?
A: That new-office smell can be hard to take, especially if youre sensitive to chemicals, says Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home. The smell could be an oil-based paint or wood finish or formaldehyde being released from synthetic carpets or particleboard, “The fumes can dissipate over time, but were talking years, not days,” Dadd says. “In the meantime, all these chemicals mix together, creating a chemical soup that can affect your health.”
The list of ailments from breathing in formaldehyde and other chemicals includes skin rashes, watery eyes, stomach and muscle aches, depression, headaches, and difficulty focusingdepending upon the chemicals involved, their strength, and your sensitivity. According to Dadd, your main line of defense against these toxins (if you must be around them) is good ventilation and air filtration. A central filtration system can help air the place out. Its also possible to get a small filter for your desk; Dadd recommends one from E.L. Foust Co. (around $250; www.foustco.com). If your office is making you sick, tell your employer and request a visit from an environmental expert who can check chemical levels.