A reader writes:
I have a question about how to deal with a “hungry” coworker.
A little background: The coworker is junior to me (by a few years), but we’re the same as far as authority positions (i.e., neither of us is in management). She’s been working at the same company for about 2 years, but just recently joined my group a couple months ago. She’s nice and eager to learn and interacts well with the group. However, I’ve noticed a pattern emerging. We’ve been in several meetings that have gone a little (no more than an hour) over the scheduled time, and she has commented (both when asked and unsolicited) that she was very hungry. Like, someone will ask, “Does anyone have a commitment at 11 [meeting end time]?” She’ll say, “No, but definitely at 11:30. I’m SOOOO hungry.” Then later in same meeting, she’ll obviously “whisper,” “Seriously, SOO hungry.” When she’s not been asked, it’s more of the obvious whispering. She has even left a couple of meetings because she was so hungry.
She also packs up her stuff, puts it in her lap and moves away from the table, when the meeting is clearly not over. This is usually accompanied by the whispers.
I want to let her know that this is coming off as very unprofessional. This is her first job out of college, and I’m not sure she realizes how this is being perceived (by me anyway…maybe no one else cares). I’m not sure 1) if it’s my place to say something and 2) what I should say if it is.
I understand there may be some health issues that I’m not aware of, but I (being hypoglycemic) will step out to have a snack, if my blood sugar is running low. Any advice?
This is one of those behavioral norms that seem totally obvious to people who have been in the work world for a while, but aren’t always to people who are new to it. (It reminds me of someone’s comment last week about needing to tell interns that they shouldn’t hug and exclaim wildly when they run into people they like in the office hallway.)
I do think it would be kind to give her a heads-up, especially (a) if you can frame it as coming from a place of having had to figure out workplace expectations yourself just a few years ago, and (b) if you have the type of dynamic where you can do it in a way that won’t feel condescending.
I’d say something like this: “Hey, can I give you some advice? I know from my own experience that it can take some time to figure out workplace norms when you’re in your first job out of school, and I think you might not realize that people don’t usually talk so frequently about being hungry during meetings. I think it might be coming across a little less polished than people usually expect here — generally they’re going to assume you’ll manage your meals so that hunger doesn’t get in the way of you being able to fully focus on a meeting, even if it runs a little over.”
Depending on where the conversation goes from there — and whether she seems receptive — you could ask her what she thinks is going on. Is she not eating breakfast? Can she keep snacks in her desk and down a granola bar before 11 a.m. meetings? Or, if there is a medical issue that can’t be easily managed, it might help her to know how to better frame it for people.
Hopefully that’ll take care of this. If it doesn’t, then at that point you should let it go, since it’s really her deal (and her manager’s) to manage. But giving her a friendly heads-up is a nice thing to do.