Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
A few co-workers and I have been working really hard to support one another in adopting healthier eating habits. I am admittedly weak around tempting treats, so I don't keep these things on hand at home or at work. Our company recently hired a very sweet woman who is acutely obese. She has been bringing a lot (a LOT) of sweets, doughnuts, candies, cookies, and such into the office. Right now in the break room, there is literally a buffet of junk food, including doughnuts with Peeps in the middle, a barrel of cheese puffs, and a mixing bowl of candy. A few times throughout the day, she will walk around with a box or a plate of junk food and offer it fairly insistently. I politely decline, but I don't know how many times in a row I should have to say, "No, thank you."
Fully recognizing that my ability to control what I eat is not her problem, is it at all reasonable to at least wish she wouldn't bring so much junk food into the workplace? I know a lot of this is wishing someone would stop doing something that bothers me but that they have the right to do.
I feel like it's a distraction. A lot of attention is being spent on the food she brings in and the walking around offering it up to people. I know it's coming from a kind place in her heart.
Most folks are trying to eat healthier these days. I guess, at the end of the day, I wish she'd keep her unhealthy eating habits to herself instead of trying to make it an office activity. That sounds horrible and mean, and I feel bad about it. Any suggestions?
Alison Green responds:
It's not unreasonable to wish that she'd bring less junk food into the workplace, and it's absolutely reasonable to ask her to stop offering it to you.
But it's not reasonable to push the issue beyond that. It's also not reasonable to connect the food-pushing to her weight, because many people of all different weights do what she's doing, and this kind of aggressive food-peddling is a common office phenomenon.
The next time she offers you food you don't want, say, "No, thank you. I'd actually appreciate it if you didn't offer me sweets because I'm trying to eat healthy, and I'd rather not have the temptation." After that, if she continues to offer you food in the future, keep firmly reminding her. In fact, if it still keeps up after multiple reminders, there's no reason you can't stop by her office at some point and say something like, "I really want to enlist you in not tempting me with treats during the day. I think maybe you haven't taken me seriously, but I really am committed to this, and I'd be grateful for your understanding." And, frankly, I have no problem with your yelling out, "Keep that away from me!" if you see her coming to offer you something.
It's absolutely true that she's not responsible for keeping you out of temptation. If she wants to bring in a buffet of baked goods, that's her prerogative, and she's not obligated to stop on your account. But it's obnoxious to keep pushing food on people after she's been asked to stop, and you're entitled to politely ask her to cut that out.
As for the broader issue -- that there's now all this junk food on offer in your break room -- it's probably not your place to ask her to stop bringing it in entirely, especially if others like it. But given the amount of food you're describing and the frequency with which it's showing up, I think you could probably mention once that's it's tough to have so much junk food in the break room. From there, though, it's really up to her.
Meanwhile, could you and your co-workers bring in some healthier alternatives, like fruit? It won't solve the problem of constant cake everywhere, but it'll at least provide you with something else to snack on when the cake is calling out to you.
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