Her favorite topics involve how fat she feels, the consequences of her meals on her digestive tract, or what she ate, is eating or will eat.
Q: I work in an open-floor-plan office. There are fewer than 20 of us. One colleague, who is expecting a baby, initiates each morning with very vocal updates and chatter related to her pregnancy. Her favorite topics involve how fat she feels, the consequences of her meals on her digestive tract, or what she ate, is eating or will eat. She once even mentioned what the placenta weighed, as she theorized about weight loss after pregnancy.
I’ve tried to be friendly with her by engaging in small talk, but have found that her conversations are limited to her two small children, her pregnancy or food. And these conversations can get very personal and pretty gross very quickly.
And now a large, almost poster-size notice has appeared on the office refrigerator, inviting everyone to a gender-reveal party and baby shower. The way it was worded clearly solicited gifts, regardless of party attendance.
Am I obligated to give her a baby gift to keep the peace in such a small office? Do I risk seeming like the office Grinch because I don’t enjoy engaging in or listening to stories about babies, pregnancies, children and bodily functions on a daily basis?
I’d like to have the freedom to be who I am: a woman who enjoys small talk with colleagues but is naturally more reserved and would prefer to keep topics appropriate to an office setting. — Anonymous
A: I’d start by stopping any attempts to be falsely “friendly” with someone you find completely annoying. That’s not a winning strategy. She’s going to interpret everything you say as interest in whatever matters to her, which is exactly what you don’t want to hear.
It’s always tricky to balance personalities in such a small yet open office. But even with just 20 people, everybody can’t be best pals with everybody; it’s normal for some people to be more bonded than others. So try to start conversations with people you actually like, about subjects that genuinely interest you — and maybe do so first thing in the morning, before the baby talk stars.
You can’t plug your fingers in your ears and shout “la la la la la” when this colleague starts in with the pregnancy news. But you can certainly appear to be suddenly distracted by something on your computer, or take a bathroom break, or otherwise zone out and signal something well short of interest. Keep it civil and polite, but nothing more.
As for the gift: As I’ve written in the past, anyone organizing a gift campaign or solicitation in an office setting should make participation optional, and be really explicit about that.
Nevertheless, the kind of pushy request you’re describing remains routine. You don’t have to play along, and you should feel fine about it if you don’t. But depending on the dynamic of any given office, yes, some of your colleagues might judge you.
One strategy might be to try to separate the issues. Skip the shower, but give a gift as a gesture toward collegiality. Then maybe your co-worker will overlook it when you don’t engage in baby-related conversations you don’t want to have.
Peer review: responding to more work, less pay
Q: The recent column about the employee who was praised by the boss, then was asked to take a pay cut, reminded me of a somewhat similar situation I faced years ago. I was working as a secretary in a small company with nationwide offices. The head of human resources unexpectedly passed away, and his assistant then retired. I was given many of their administrative responsibilities, in addition to my existing duties. I asked for a raise, but was turned down.
I began looking for a new job within 15 minutes. It took a while, but I found one. When I thought about my resignation letter and how much to tell my boss, I decided on a simple “I am resigning on Date X,” two weeks from the date of the letter. — N.K.
A: I like pretty much everything about this. In relation to the column it responds to: I absolutely agree that anyone who feels underpaid should explore other options (even while weighing the potential longer-term benefits of staying put). But beyond that, I think the general attitude here is perfect. Just because you feel wronged or slighted doesn’t mean it’s to your advantage to say that in a detailed resignation letter.
Some might rationalize a more explicit response on the theory that you somehow owe it to your employer to explain the problems you had and how they might be addressed. I disagree. There’s no reason to leave in a burst of hostility; life is long, and maybe you’ll encounter these people again. But there’s also no reason to waste your energy and thinking on management tips for bosses you no longer work for.
Maybe they can figure out on their own why they lost a good employee, or maybe they can’t. That’s not your problem anymore. Move on.