Louise Pomeroy figured she lucked out on her first job in 1967: great company, good salary, plenty of room at the top.
What she hadn't counted on was dealing with her co-workers' idiosyncrasies.
She discovered that getting a job is like going on a blind date: Nobody can guarantee that workers' chemistries will click.
What riled Pomeroy most during those early years wasn't the usual complaints of overpowering cologne, not sharing the workload or getting too many personal telephone calls.
"It really bugged me when little groups of people got together and bad-mouthed management," she said. "They would gripe, gripe, gripe to each other instead of complaining to someone who mattered."
Today, Pomeroy is president of her own company, Abigail Abbott Cos., a California employment agency with Orange and Los Angeles county offices. And she regularly pounds into her workers those lessons she learned early in her own career.
"We as human beings have the ability to decide not to allow someone to disturb our peace of mind, or we can let those awful little habits and quirks undermine our attitudes and productivity," she said. "I say confront the offender or pull down the shade and get on with your work."
Putting on blinders to a co-worker's annoying habits is sometimes tough. Cracking chewing gum, unbridled body odor, inappropriate jewelry or clothing and bringing personal problems to work topped the complaint list people mentally keep on their co-workers.
"We have this woman who must think she smells great, but all of us who get stuck in a conference room for two hours with her wind up with a big headache," said Sandy Steadman, a Fullerton, Calif., accountant at odds with her co-worker's choice of cologne. "I really should say something."
Trouble is, most people said they suffer in silence rather than make a stink about somebody's behavior -- unless it's drug- or safety-related; then they complain, but anonymously.
Madeline Scottini, an Anaheim, Calif., office manager, said people who take extra time to smoke and those who insist on eating at their desks -- without manners -- upset her the most.
Another woman, who asked not to be named, said she is annoyed most by people who bring personal problems to work. She stopped asking one man how his day was going, she said, because he told her in precise detail.
Sheila Carter, spokeswoman for McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Co. in Huntington Beach, Calif., said smacking gum, men who call women "girls" and people who talk too loudly in a crowded room are chief complaints among the 8,000 employees there.
Larry Ball is president of Merchants and Manufacturers Association, a 4,000-member California organization that provides counseling to employees about stress and problems in the workplace.
He said the importance of employee relations has increased in the past decade as people look to the workplace for their emotional and social needs.
People are reluctant to confront the offending party about a problem for fear of causing an unpleasant scene or ruining a friendship. But dealing with the issue clears the air, he said.
Richard Rappaport, a psychiatrist who calls himself the Corporate Doctor, said the simplest, most direct and effective way to address others' annoying habits is simply to ask them to stop the behavior.
Said Salvatore Maddi, a psychology professor at the University of California: "Confront yourself as well. Ask why a particular behavior bothers you. If you can't stand somebody who is super-rigid, maybe it's because you're overly flexible. Then you can ask the other party how you both can best work it out together."