10 Really Easy Ways to Avoid Being the Office Jerk

By Abby Wolfe

A few years ago, I worked at a company filled with a bunch of brilliant individuals. These people accomplished impressive feats every single day. And yet, many of them seemed to not know how to wash their dishes. Despite having state-of-the-art kitchens on each floor, the sinks would almost always be full. Like, completely full.

A co-worker decided to clean up for everyone one day (I know—he deserves an award) and the dishes were so crammed in the sink that when he pulled one out, it shattered. He spent the rest of the day getting stitches. Yup. This really happened.

A lot of time is spent at work, meaning a lot of time is spent sharing common space. Whether you like your colleagues or not (and I sure hope you do), you have to coexist. Out of respect for each other, you should take steps to ensure all this time spent together is as pleasant as possible—no matter how busy you are.

The following 10 ways are a great place to start.

1. Wash Your Dishes

Bet you didn’t see this one coming!

Nobody likes chores—I get it. And it probably “technically” isn’t part of your job description to keep the kitchen sink clean. But it is in the definition of being a decent human being. Piling your dishes up gets super gross really quickly and it really only takes approximately 27 seconds to clean a plate well—and even less for a piece of silverware. I promise you that it won’t decrease your productivity.

2. Keep the Smelly Foods at Home

Listen, I’m all about bringing lunch to work. But, the bottom line is that some types of food just stink, especially when you warm them up in the microwave. And it’s just not very nice to make your colleagues sit in a cloud of stench as they try to get their work done. Number one on the list of culprits? Fish. (Sorry, Nemo.) You can get all the Omega-3 healthy fats you need when you eat it for dinner. At home.

3. Use Your Inside Voice

I know—you’re not in kindergarten. But sometimes people just can’t really grasp how loud they’re being. Not everyone needs to hear what you’re saying. So, for the sake of those around you (and those on the phone), keep it down.

4. Keep Your Space Clean

It should go without saying that you shouldn’t let your stuff creep onto your neighbors’ desks, but you should try to keep your area clean, too. On top of it not being pleasant to stare at someone else’s mess all day, when you don’t keep a tidy space, it can actually breed things (I’m talking about real live organisms, here).

A colleague once left a dirty cup on his desk for weeks—weeks!—and mold was growing out of it by the end. Here’s the thing—that may be your desk, but I work in this office, too. And I don’t feel like breathing in mold spores on a daily basis. Or ever.

5. Clean Out Your Section of the Fridge

What happens when your fridge at home starts to stink? I bet you find the culprit and dispose of it as soon as possible, right? Well, that same principle should be followed at your office, too. In fact, you shouldn’t even let it get to the point of “What died in here?”

I understand it’s easy to forget when we put things in there—we’re human. As a reminder, place a sticky note on your computer that lists each item you have in the fridge (and when you put it in). This may seem a little over the top, but it will help to prevent the communal kitchen from smelling like a dumpster and help you avoid letting your food go bad. You spent hard-earned money on that—don’t let it go to waste (literally).

6. Use Your Headphones

Sometimes all we need to get through the day is a little bit of music. But not all of your colleagues want to listen to Taylor Swift singing about her romances all day (because then you’ll have bad blood—get it?), so pop in those ear buds. This also goes for your phone calls as well; when you’re not in a conference room, put in your headset and turn off the speakerphone. No, I’m serious. Turn. Off. The speakerphone. 

7. Save the Chitchat for the Common Spaces

It’s pretty great if you have co-workers you get along with—that alone greatly impacts your satisfaction at your job. But when you’re taking a break from your projects and catching up on the latest gossip, make sure you’re not interrupting others’ work. Take your convo to the kitchen, a quiet corner of the office, or outside for a walk. Believe it or not, not every single one of your teammates is just itching to hear about who did what this past weekend.
 

8. Remember How to Share

Ah, one of the essential lessons for a five-year-old. Don’t hoard the office supplies. Don’t hog the conference rooms. And if your office is cool enough to provide you with free food some days (or every day, lucky duck), leave some for everyone.

My first company out of grad school provided us with snacks throughout the week, and I once saw a woman take the entire serving bowl of grapes to her desk. Are you serious? Those grapes are for 150 people, lady. Calm down.

9. Don’t Spray Perfume (or Cologne) in the Restroom

Because I don’t want to suffocate when I’m trying to go to the bathroom.

10. Stay at Home When You’re Sick (if You Can)

What’s worse than spending the day listening to someone hack and sneeze nonstop? Getting sick because you were sitting less than three feet from him for the entire day. If you’re able to work remotely, do so when you’re not feeling well. If you have enough sick days—take them. There’s really no point to hoarding hundreds of hours when you’ve earned them.

The common theme here is this: You’re not the only one in your office, so you should try to refrain from anything that will unnecessarily disrupt the work flow of your co-workers. It’s the right thing to do, and hopefully it will make for a more harmonious (and less smelly) work environment.