Can you make colleagues do the right thing?

By Karla L. Miller

What should you do when a boss doesn't thank you, or a colleague - ew - doesn't wash their hands? Photo / iStock
What should you do when a boss doesn't thank you, or a colleague - ew - doesn't wash their hands? Photo / iStock

Q: Last year, my boss worked very hard to open new offices and salvage jobs from closed offices. I suggested we all sign a card thanking him for all he does and chip in for a decent gift card, but no one was interested because the boss has a history of being unkind. His attitude toward me was very insensitive when I had to take time off to care for my mother.

I decided to send a card along with a six-pack of his favorite soft drink. The boss never acknowledged receipt of the card or gift! I started thinking maybe he didn't get the items. But co-workers said, "Told you not to do it" or "You shouldn't have expected a 'thank you.' " Why wouldn't he say thank you? Should I ask him about the items? My feelings are kind of hurt.

A: Stop me if you've heard this one: Old woman finds a snake half frozen, nurses it back to health, gets bitten for her trouble.

"Why?" she asks. "You knew what I was when you picked me up," says the snake.

How much sharper than a serpent's tooth is a thankless boss. But if even basic kindness is out of character for him, why would you expect otherwise?

In his defense, he might fear that acknowledging your gift would expose him to charges of favoritism. Or maybe he feared thanking you for a thank-you would set off an awkward perpetual-gratitude feedback loop. Or maybe reliable, hardworking subordinates are all the thanks he wants.

This isn't to say you were wrong to thank him, but a simple note - "I noticed what you did, and I appreciate it" - would have left you less invested in getting a response.

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Q: Is there a professional way to ask a colleague to wash their hands after using the bathroom? One individual in my office never does. Most of us in the office have witnessed it firsthand. It's gross and a great way to spread disease. We don't have an HR department, and asking the boss to address it isn't an option. Trying to avoid every door knob, copier, refrigerator door, etc., the person touches isn't realistic, either.

A: "Sweetie, did you wash your hands after going potty - Oh! I'm so sorry.We're toilet-training our toddler, so I'm in the habit of saying that every time I hear a flush."

Honestly, I don't have any magic words for calling out another adult for haphazard basic hygiene. You might put your mind at ease by placing sanitizing gel pumps and wipes in shared workspaces for everyone's use. That would also defend against the microbial menaces even your most fastidious colleagues have likely picked up from subway poles, or their shoes, or the change they received with their morning latte.

- Washington Post

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