my boss is infesting our office with fruit flies

A reader writes:

I work for a corporation with locations in 63 different cities in the U.S., but I am part of a two-person department. My office and my boss’s office are next to each other, with a door between them, but we do each have our own entrance door.

Our offices have become ground zero for a fruit fly infestation! He likes to have apples, grapes, bananas, etc. at his desk for snacks … which means there are usually a few apples or bananas on a shelf in his office. And remnants in his trash can.

I believe these are the source of the fruit flies, especially since they seem to appear nowhere else aside from our offices. It is 8:30 a.m., I have been at work for only an hour, and have so far killed 7 fruit flies. While I do keep snacks in my storage area, I do not keep fresh fruit or juices.

How can I handle this situation with a boss who is already an avid over sharer with a history of becoming defensive whenever I have tried to politely remove myself from his personal stories (such as health issues for himself or his wife, family tales, whining and griping about tasks assigned from above) and general negativity towards learning new skills or tasks?

Step one is always to politely point the problem out to the other person.

In this case, that would sound like this: “Bob, I’ve noticed we’re getting an infestation of fruit flies. I think they’re being attracted by the fruit on your desk and in the trash.”

Then, if your boss isn’t the type to figure out how to resolve problems of his own making, you can add a suggestion of what to do. For instance: “I think it might help to keep the fruit locked in a drawer and to throw away any leftovers down the hall.”

That’s really the only way to handle this. I understand the hope that there’s some easier way than just being straightforward, particularly with someone with a track record of defensiveness. But with any annoying personal behavior that someone indulges in that you want to stop — whether it’s loud gum-chewing, radio blasting, or taking all calls on speaker phone — you’ve got to just say it. Say it nicely, of course — you don’t need to accuse him of being a filthy slob — but you do need to just say it if you want the problem to go away.

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