Q: How do I address a coworker who clips his finger nails at work? —Nancy Duray, Westbrook, Maine
A: The best way to handle this disgusting habit—which tops the list of workers' office pet peeves, according to a survey by temporary staffing firm Adecco—is to be direct. “It should be addressed immediately, politely, and privately,” says Tina Fox, a general manager at staffing agency Accountemps.
Start by asking your clipping co-worker to chat in a conference room, rather than trying to have the conversation at the person's desk. “That sets the tone that it’s a serious issue,” Fox says.
Your colleague probably doesn’t realize that the nail clipping is annoying you, says Fox. She suggests starting the conversation with that point: “You may not be aware of this, but when you clip your nails at your desk, it bothers me. I’d appreciate it if you did it at home or in the bathroom instead.”
If it happens again, ask your boss to send out a memo about office etiquette and to specify the behaviors that aren’t acceptable. As a manager, Fox says she deals with issues like this all the time. “Whether it’s wearing inappropriate clothing at work, flossing at your desk or talking loudly next to colleagues trying to work, people are often just unaware that their behavior is bothering others," she says. "Usually it’s just a matter of spelling it out.”
Half of workers in that Adecco poll said that nail clipping at the desk offended them more than other questionable in-office habits, including brushing one's hair, putting on makeup at one's desk and taking one's shoes off in the workspace. So, says Fox, it's very likely that “your co-workers will be glad you spoke up.”