He Who Smelt It Dealt It: Farting Etiquette In The Workplace

06/22/2017 04:31 am ET Updated Jun 23, 2017

It seems like whenever I turn on the television I see a commercial for colon health, fiber supplements like Metamucil, and probiotics. I didn’t think I was anywhere near old enough to need that much fiber, but Bulletproof Your Job on this topic. I have loyal readers who follow me on social media and I invite them to write me for workplace advice. Estelle from Chicago wrote me and asked me this:  

I work across from a lovely woman who is a wonderful coworker. She is smart and articulate, and we work well together. I love working with her as much she loves her fiber! I bet you can guess where this is going. What happens when you work near someone who passes too much gas? Sometimes audibly! It’s a gross topic, I know, but it is a real workplace issue I am dealing with. At first, this woman was very straightforward and mature about her gas. She would acknowledge her flatulence, excuse herself, and apologize. Over time though she has become increasingly more comfortable passing gas. What do I do?

This message really got me. So much so that I needed to share it. Of course, passing gas is something that everyone does, but the office is clearly not the place for it. Please, everyone, keep it in the bathroom. It did not occur to me, but I am sure Estelle is right that, with all the emphasis on high-fiber diets today, passing gas is a natural by-product. Come to think of it, I do see lots of ads for GAS- X and Beano and it sounds like that is exactly what her co-worker needs. This woman’s gas isn’t really the issue though, it’s how comfortable she feels in the office. The answer to this question is a lot more simple than you may expect. Estelle just needs to have a very direct conversation with this woman. She needs to explain to her coworker that she is a friend and loves working with her, which is why she needs to bring this up. Then she needs to tell her to cool it with the gas! She does not seem to be too embarrassed by it, so there would be no reason to mince words. Her complete comfort with the subject should allow Estelle to speak her mind in clear terms.

If someone’s gas is making you uncomfortable, then the way that person handles her farting is an issue that they should have to deal with. This is definitely not a “go to the boss” issue. This is a “go to the source” issue, especially if you have a relationship with the particularly gassy person. People push limits in the office and we need to assert ourselves when those limits are pushed too far and begin to make us uncomfortable. I worked with a woman once who created a similar problem. I really believe she wanted to normalize farting in my office and I was having none of it! I said: “Maureen (not her real name!) stop farting up a storm! Please go buy some beano if you need to eat so much fiber.” Even if the conversation is embarrassing, it is one that you need to have. If there is a medical condition they can’t control it may be a different story, but if your coworker is simply farting because she can, then that is incredibly rude. I would not accept behavior like that.  If we normalize farting then what’s next? Picking your nose or cutting your toenails in the office? We need to reassert office decorum! Start here and now, for your sake and for mine.

Has this ever happened to you? Were you the gas-passer or the unlucky one who had to deal with the after-effects? Share your story with me!

Stephen Viscusi is the author of the bestselling book “Bulletproof Your Job” (HarperCollins). He is a sought after speaker on global workplace issues and a frequent TV guest. Follow him on Twitter @StephenViscusi. Follow Stephen on Facebook and LINKED IN and please “Like” and share this article. You can write to Stephen at Stephen@Viscusigroup.com. www.viscusigroup.com

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