Beware the stapler stealer!

We all have annoying colleagues. Here’s how to handle them, from the perpetually grumpy to those with sticky fingers. By Christa Choo

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

We all have annoying colleagues. Here’s how to handle them, from the perpetually grumpy to those with sticky fingers. By Christa Choo

Photography Vee Chin art direction Alice Chua
Photography Vee Chin art direction Alice Chua

The office robber

Okay, they’re not really thieves; they just have a penchant for “borrowing” stationery from your desk, and then you never see it again. This may instil happiness if it were to happen with, say, some men in your life, but never for a beloved stapler or holepuncher that goes AWOL.

The antidote: “This is easy to fix,” says Jolene Yee, manager of corporate and secretarial support at Randstad Singapore, who looks after HR solutions. “When you first notice an item missing – and you know for certain that your colleague is the culprit – just be direct with them but make it light-hearted.” If you see them taking it, give them a cheeky “Don’t forget to return that to me!” to demonstrate that their actions haven’t gone unnoticed.

“If you spot your stationery on their desk, simply say: ‘That looks suspiciously like my pen/clipboard/stapler! I’ve been missing it sooo much! Please can I have it back?’” continues Jolene. “And if all else fails, mark your initials on your goods so there’s no doubt about what’s yours. You can also cellophanetape your stationery to your desk one day as a ‘joke’. This will definitely get the message across!”

The lingerer

You’re deep in concentration in your cubicle, but you can’t shake the feeling that someone nearby is watching you, waiting for a break in your concentration. And the moment that break comes, it’s going to be The Lingerer who pounces and launches into a conversation about their dodgy leg/sister’s marital problems/latest home air-con disaster.

The antidote: “The best defence against The Lingerer is to always be prepared for their presence,” warns Jolene. “If you have a cubicle with a door, then you’re sorted; but if not, putting your earphones in can deter others from interrupting when you’re wearing them.” However, if this doesn’t work, let them know you’re rushing to complete a document for a meeting in half an hour, Jolene suggests. If they still don’t get it, do not engage with the conversation. Instead, politely excuse yourself to “go to the bathroom”. As a last-ditch attempt, tell them that if they’re light on work, they could take a few tasks off your hands. You won’t see them for dust!

My Reading Room

The toxic type

What’s that you hear? An ongoing, ranty-esque din from someone who appears only to speak in the language of “moan”. You name it, they’ll gripe about it – their bad day, bad week, bad life… none of which are bad, by the way.

The antidote: They say that misery loves company, and nothing brings down offi ce morale more than the offi ce whinger. If they’re constantly complaining about the company, the boss, your co-workers, the canteen, their chair and everything else, Jolene says: “Don’t agree! Appearing to side with their dissatisfaction may end up being a career-limiting move as people will associate you with them. Combat this by stating: ‘I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t feel the same way.’ Once they understand you’re not an ally, they’ll find someone else to listen to them. Extra tip: Mention a relevant, tragic news story to put their issues into perspective.”

The DJ

This is a work environment, not a place where you should be all loud, shouty, or replicate being in Zouk, circa 1998. Shush. Please.

The antidote: Few things are as annoying as being subjected to other people’s ramblings about what they ate for dinner last night, the list of ingredients and the cooking method. You can tell the direct recipient of all that information doesn’t really care, and you – seated five cubicles away – certainly don’t. Jolene recommends acting disengaged and refraining from making eye contact. As for the overenthusiastic headphone wearer who’s subjecting you to tinny versions of Kenny G classics along with their own personal Dubsmash, approach them and explain nicely that you’re having trouble focusing. If music at your workplace is the norm, suggest an office roster – and agree on the volume level.

The glory taker

You have great ideas, and you don’t mind sharing them. After all, you work in a team. But there’s this sneak who takes your brainwork and gains the glory – a wrong ’un on all levels.

The antidote: It takes courage to speak up when this happens, but nip it in the bud. “When they steal your thunder in front of your colleagues, say something like ‘It’s interesting you raised this because...’, then continue to talk through the suggestion so others can see you’ve been involved,” says Jolene. “If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up in front of everyone this way, confront the person and ask for an explanation. Saying ‘I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I contributed on that project too’ should do the trick.” Jolene adds: “As a last resort, raise the issue with your boss, and copy your team on e-mails so they can see who’s doing all the work.”