Steel Advice: New worker must tolerate cubicle slob

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DEAR STEEL ADVICE: When my current opportunity presented itself I was relieved to finally be working again after 41/2 years. I recently started a 20-hour-per-week part-time position and have to share a cubical space and computer with another individual. This individual has been there for almost four years and has made the space her own with a wall of personal pictures, and religious and inspirational messages everywhere in the cubical. That isn't what has me upset.

She works in the morning, and I take over in the afternoon. She comes to work to a clean work space that I leave behind, while I have to endure a space where she has been eating at the desk. There is always litter on the floor, coffee stains on the desktop and paperwork and grease stains on the keyboard, wrist pads and telephone. The desktop is littered with paper clips, empty cups with ice or cups with coffee still in them and sugar packets and "used" utensils in the pencil holder. I found cups of salad dressing in the overhead storage area. Who knows how long that had been there. The worst was when I witnessed her sitting at the desk, reading email and eating potato chips, some of which had fallen onto the floor. She promptly got up from the chair when it was time for her to leave, stepped on the chips crushing them into a greasy mess, noticed they were there and promptly left for the day without cleaning up the mess she had made. I finally figured out what all the debris is on the desktop EVERY day. She has a passion for lottery tickets and scratches them off at the desk and over the keyboard and leaves the shavings behind. The desk area is stacked with papers, files, notebooks. Nothing seems to have a place out of sight!

I have only been there for a month, but this is such a frustrating situation. I don't want to say anything to anyone for fear that I will put myself in a bad light since I am the new kid on the block. I don't understand how someone can be so inconsiderate and clueless to what they are doing in a shared space. I'm tired of cleaning the space first thing each time I sit down at the desk. I feel helpless and hope you may have a suggestion on how to cope with this unbearable situation.


DEAR DISGUSTED: You are in a sticky situation but you need to realize you are operating office equipment, not operating on patients. Things do not have to be sterile. Do not make an issue over slovenly housekeeping. A 41/2-year employment hiatus necessitates some resourceful thinking. Stock a bag with alcohol wipes, a dusting wand and keyboard cleaner. Spend 10 minutes cleaning the shared equipment before you begin your shift and accept this duty as part of the new job. Prop a hand mirror on your desk to help you focus on your goals when you are talking on the phone. Do not let the surroundings distract you. The cubicle mate sounds like a real slob but she does have seniority and as the new kid on the block you should not mess with the old dog's dish or desk.

DEAR STEEL ADVICE: Working in a retail environment my co-workers and I regularly have situations where we are somewhat demeaned by customers and in the name of professionalism, we do the polite thing and let it roll on by. However, I have a particular pet peeve that occurs both at work, on occasion, as well as in my personal life. It's certainly a consequence of my Catholic upbringing, but I have a real reaction to someone saying, "Shame on you." It has been used by customers on several occasions when a piece of clothing isn't pressed correctly or some other level of their retail expectation isn't being met. It's shocking to me because it's such a mean and personal attack that I'm left speechless.

At the base of this issue, I know that it is my own sensitivity that I have to overcome, however, I'd be happy for a retort to deflect the statement until I come to a level of maturity that allows me to ignore the rude behavior of some people.


DEAR PEEVED PROFESSIONAL: Working with the public does require tolerance. A disgruntled customer who makes a snarky remark may not be having his/her best day. Refrain from making a cutting reply or reaching over the counter and choking the person. You could ignite an outburst. The "she said, then I said" conversation with your personnel department will be unpleasant.

"Shame on you" is a put down. Whether said at work or at home, it is an unpleasant censure and you should not smile and swallow it. In a flat voice, with direct eye contact and furrowed brow, grimace and say "excuse me?" Be nonconfrontational but send the message with your delivery and serious expression that you are not accepting the comment.

Need some Steel Advice? Email questions to: or write to Mary Ann Wellener, Steel Advice Column, c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Follow Mary Ann on Twitter at @PGSteelAdvice. First Published August 27, 2013 4:00 AM


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