Office turns quirks into irritating habits

Our mothers might say our quirks are what make us who we are; they give us “character.”

Unfortunately, some quirks aren’t so charming and can sometimes manifest themselves as bad habits, which are notoriously hard to break. Sometimes, they are so deeply ingrained in a person’s behavior that turning them off is a nearly impossible request.

I’ve witnessed some people have habits in the workplace that are merely peculiar, like one seemingly sophisticated manager who found nothing disconcerting about typing with one finger in a professional environment. Other habits are so bad that they begin to affect, and subsequently irritate, the people around us.

We’ll call one particular attorney Chatty Kathy, because of her inability to respond in a traditional manner to the social cues that typically mark the normal end of a conversation.

Every morning, after a couple bottles of water and several cups of coffee, I would make my routine trip to the ladies room to break the seal. Seeing your co-workers in the bathroom is inevitable, but often annoying because it forces you to make small talk in one of the least comfortable environments imaginable.

While Chatty Kathy was touching up her lipstick in the company bathroom, I gave her a polite hello before making my way in the bathroom stall. I wrongfully presumed that once I locked the door, the conversation would cease.

Instead, Chatty Kathy took this as a signal to push the conversation into full throttle. At the very moment the stall door locked, she would start going off about where her three sons go to day camp and how this camp is a perfect match for them, but how she still feels bad about sending them off each day, etc.

But I had never met her sons nor had I ever been to summer camp, so I couldn’t make out what, exactly, made me a prime target for her rambling. With every drawn-out syllable she uttered I was one step further from relieving myself and getting back to work — such is the life of a shy pee-er.

But female bathroom-goers weren’t the only victims of her chatty ways. My cubicle was positioned directly outside her office so I witnessed many times her inability to end a conversation after a socially recognized cue — a co-worker’s “goodbye” or “thanks” or turning around and exiting her office. Often after the unknowing co-worker freed himself from her dungeon of prattle and made it halfway down the hall, Chatty Kathy would either resume the previous conversation or start up a brand new one.

The escaping co-worker would start walking back, finish the conversation, walk away and then begin the whole frustrating cycle once more.

Even the seemingly normal employees let their bad habits gets the best of them at the office. An attractive young partner was well-dressed and put-together, yet her secretary frequently complained of the boogers she had to chisel off of the woman’s paperwork before being able to send it to the court in good conscience.

But the most disgusting of all employees was a misogynistic, first-year attorney with a face not even a mother could love. Before earning his tenure and paying the necessary dues, he began treating his office like his own personal bathroom.

This man had no problem passing gas, picking his nose or scratching his groin — all with the door wide open. In fact, he cared so little about discretion that he’d even invite people into his office while engaging in one of his filthy behaviors.

With all of the stress that accompanies a career, it’s understandable that moments of heightened anxiety will sometimes cause these bad habits to rear their ugly heads. It is not easy to resist these regressions to childish behavior when under duress, but it’s important to do your best to prevent your co-workers from catching you in a moment of weakness.

If someone spots you sitting at your desk, plucking out eyelashes while racing to meet a deadline, they’ll understand. Just don’t forget to close the door.

Other times our so-called “quirks” have become such a part of us that we start losing the ability to recognize that they’re unusual at all. In these cases, we need someone with a little tact to tell us everything our mothers never had the heart to tell us.

In the case of best behavior vs. bad habit, it is the judgment of this column that you should be sentenced to a life term of office oblivion should you refuse to recognize, rather than address, your veritable vices.

Kelsey Borresen is a junior majoring in print journalism. Her column, “Laugh-Idavit,” runs Mondays.