The Vulture Swoops In

Our department is great about sharing food with each other. What we hate are colleagues from other departments grabbing our food before everyone on our team has had a bite.

Q: I read your advice about the food pushers, those colleagues who always bring in food and insist you eat it. Fine, whatever. Our problem is different. We have a real-life vulture in our office, swooping in from the cubicles three departments down before the plastic wrap is safely removed from my Nana’s mochi. This woman’s like a pigeon at the park, swooping in to get the first piece then coming back for seconds before everyone in our department can elbow their way to the table. She’s even the first to show up for someone else’s birthday cake! I’m all for office camaraderie, but she and her department never set out food for others. This is a one-way street and a battle of eat or be eaten. How can we save ourselves?

A: I read and talk a lot about etiquette; it’s my job. There are some real doozies when it comes to common complaints, with nail clippers and smelly people often topping the list. But nowhere have I found food to be such a common area of concern as it is here in Hawaii. We like our food and we like to share it. But don’t you dare steal it away from us. That’s war.

I’m guessing you’ve tried the obvious things – maybe a handwritten sign that says “Accounting Department Only” or taking the hint from catering companies that pass the tray by each person. (Caterers swear by it. No one wants to endure a server’s stink eye while piling a plate with the wontons and poke meant for the entire room.)

When it gets this bad, I revert back to the opening line my old boss finally said to me: “I’ve tried to be subtle and that’s failed. So I’m giving it to you straight.” It’s time to call her out on her incessant swooping. Be polite initially, intercepting her before her talons strike and reminding her that your colleagues deserve first dibs; it’s their nana’s mochi, after all.

If she shrugs that off – which she may – then you dial it up, explaining that your department has rules about its food. If she persists, it’s time to counter the vulture with the herd. There’s one of her and an entire department of you. Channel your inner animal kingdom. You and your co-workers form a tight circle around the food and hold there until everyone gets time at the trough. She’ll feel left out, but you’ll be well fed and vindicated. And nothing makes a day at the office better than vindication and the taste of sweet success on your lips. Bon appetit!

Q: I recently made a career shift, trading my office job to y solo, doing freelance IT work for several clients. It’s my first time working from home, but so far I’ve avoided the pitfalls. I get up early, shower and dress, and I’m at the kitchen table pounding away by the time my office buddies slide behind their desks. The problem is my wife. Now that I’m home, she hands me a “honey-do” list on her way out the door – everything from laundry to yard work to starting dinner. She’s got a big job too, and I’m happy to help, but I’m not home to do housework. I know this may be more of a relationship question than a career one, but if I don’t x it soon, I’m going to be an unemployed single guy. Help!

A: Welcome to the wild and messy world of working from home! And congratulations on getting up, showering and dressing every day. I have this secret theory that the work from-home posse scuttled two-way video conferencing years ago because they didn’t want co-workers to know about their fuzzy slippers and sweatpants life.

When I first struck out with my own freelance biz almost two decades ago, working from home was code for unemployed. Today, it’s having a moment. Telecommuting has skyrocketed 115 percent in the last decade, according to a recent report from Global Workplace Analytics and FlexJobs, with Uncle Sam leading the parade with over 3 percent of its employees in their fuzzy slippers. And these numbers focus strictly on telecommuting staff jobs. Add in the freelance gig economy workers like you, and the numbers go even higher. What hasn’t changed, however, is the proximity to the washing machine, dishwasher and the myriad chores. And by being at home, you are contributing to the mess. Your coffee cup comes out of the cupboard, not the office stash. Your lunch is in your home fridge, not the office one with the green gunk growing on the stuff in the back. You overtake the kitchen table, meaning that your mess needs cleaning before family life can safely resume.

While Pew Research reports the trends are improving, with almost as many men feeling the stress of household responsibility as women (56 percent working moms versus 50 percent working dads), the physical burden of the work still falls largely on the woman’s shoulders (32 hours/week of home-related work for women versus 17 hours/ week for men). And these numbers don’t include the “invisible labor” – the time spent thinking about what needs attention, planning and organizing, and making the lists and ordering the gifts that are inevitably part of adult life.

But back to you. You’ve got work to do and clients to bill. First, clean up your own mess. Assess the impact you’re having on your shared home and make sure it’s not over owing onto your wife. If the kitchen was tidy when she went to work, she wants it to be that way when she gets home. And don’t ever, ever use up all the coffee without replacing it before tomorrow’s alarm.

I don’t know your wife, but I’m betting she’s worried that your new commute will mean more work and responsibility for her. Think about what you can do now that you’re working from home and propose a workload that takes that into account. You no longer commute, for example, so maybe that leaves time to start dinner. Moving that load of laundry while you heat up lunch shouldn’t be too much to ask. Rather than get frustrated with the honey-do list, ask her about it and listen to what she has to say. Then find a middle ground that works for both of you. Marriage is a master’s class in communication. And almost inevitably, there’s a field experiment in laundry, dishes and making the bed. Get that stuff under control and your relationship – and career – can revel in the big jobs and the occasional fuzzy slipper day.



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Categories: Careers, The Careerist