July 26, 2012 at 7:39 AM ET
Lori Hong was never particularly fond of the co-worker in the next cubicle, but there was one thing that really put her over the edge.
“He would freaking cut his nails at his desk,” said Hong, 32.
The nail clipping wasn’t just an occasional thing, either.
“I don’t know what vitamins (he was) taking, but he would clip his nails like two or three times a week,” she recalled.
After living in fear of a cuticle flying over the cubicle wall, or just of hearing that unmistakable clipping sound, Hong, who worked scheduling commercials for a television network, finally asked to be relocated to a new desk.
“No one should be doing that at work,” she said.
Workplace etiquette experts -- and much of the general public -- would agree. A survey of workplace pet peeves, released this week by temporary staffing firm Adecco, found nearly half of those surveyed are offended when people clip or bite their nails at work.
“It really elicits that gross factor because it is personal grooming,” said Jodi R.R. Smith, president of the etiquette training firm Mannersmith. “This is what I categorize as: Should take place in the bathroom, and preferably the bathroom at home.”
Public nail-clipping is such a common problem that Smith sometimes uses it as an example in a role play on how to get a co-worker to stop doing something that annoys you.
Her advice: Be direct.
For example: “I know that you probably have no idea, but when you clip your nails in the cubicle it totally grosses me out. I’m all for good grooming … but if you could do it in the ladies room or at home I’d really appreciate it.”
Smith started her Boston-area etiquette consulting business after dealing so often with issues like these while working in human resources. She said other common workplace gripes include people who floss their teeth at their desk or take off their shoes at work.
The Adecco survey also found that more than four in 10 people were offended by co-workers removing their shoes at the office. The telephone survey of 1,010 people, conducted in July, also found that the majority of those surveyed do not want to see you come to work in ripped jeans, flip-flops, strapless clothing or backless tops or dresses.
It can be tempting to slip off your shoes on a hot day, or even clip that offending cuticle without heading to the bathroom, but that can actually harm your career, Smith warns.
“People think, ‘Oh I’m a good worker, it’s not that big a deal,’ but I’ve had managers over and over again tell me, ‘Oh, Jodi, when we have to do another reduction I know who’s first on my list,’” Smith said. “These soft social skills really make a difference.”
Tim Gates has seen plenty of workplace faux pas in his 17 years placing temporary workers for Adecco. Nail clipping and shoe removal have come up, as well as people applying deodorant at their desks and those who show up in T-shirts with inappropriate slogans or logos.
Usually a quick chat about appropriate dress or behavior is enough to straighten things out. But a little common sense might help avoid such issues as well.
“Some things should be done at home and some things should be done at work,” he said. “Maybe keep those things separate.”
As for Hong, the cubicle dweller with the nail-clipping neighbor, she’s since left that job and moved from New York to Philadelphia because her husband was transferred.
She’s currently looking for work, and she jokes that one of the things she’s watching out for is whether her prospective co-workers clip their nails at their desks.
“Like, do you have that keychain with the nail clipper on it? That would be a turnoff,” she joked.
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