SME Agony Uncle: Bobby Kerr answers all your business and work-related questions


This week, as the sun bakes down on the country, many people might be considering chucking it all in and starting a new life driving a deckchair.

For those of us who have opted to stick it out however, the heat has brought its own workplace woes.

In fact, for our first texter, the ongoing sunshine has brought nothing but an unbearably stuffy office – and a disheartening battle with an unusually frugal accounts department:

“Bobby, our office is unbearably hot at the moment. My boss, who is out most of the time, refuses to buy a fan. The heat is unbearable and it is affecting my productivity. What should I do?”

“I think this is pretty miserable from the accountant’s office,” says Bobby. “An employee asking for a fan - I really think it’s poor form that this is not being provided.”

“If the boss is out and about, he is clearly not there - why would you not want an employee to be comfortable?”

With the price of a personal fan somewhere around €30, Bobby reckons any decent employer should stump up to cool their workforce down – but if your complaints are getting you nowhere, there is always power in numbers.

“I would say at the next management meeting, if two or three people could be pretty vocal about this, it might help,” he said

“I would also go and borrow a fan and bring it in myself - and make sure it is not blowing over in the boss’s direction.”

Where there is heat there is sweat and where there is sweat, there is often an unfortunate whiff in the workplace. But how to approach a colleague when the pong becomes a problem?

Ask Bobby what to do about smelly co-workers when the weather gets warm.

Bobby warns that hygiene can be a sensitive and often highly volatile issue in the workplace.

“I have come across it over the years,” He says. “I have actually seen situations where somebody has been sent home to freshen up.”

“There is a question mark over how cruel is that? But I have seen it happen.

“I remember dealing with an employee once who was so unaware of it that even when somebody said it to them - they just didn’t accept it.

“So, what do you say then? If you say to somebody, ‘well sorry you have got really bad BO’ and the guy says back, ‘I don’t?’ Like where do you go then?

There are many ways to address the issue and over the year’s Bobby has seen it all – friendly jokes, strategically placed office deodorant – and even the odd anonymous letter.

At the end of the day, it is all about diplomacy – Bobby’s advice is to make sure you tailor your approach to the individual and, as far as possible, avoiding hurting anyone’s feelings.

Our next text comes in from a self-described “middle aged, relatively conservative” man who generally wears a shirt and tie to his work at an IT consultancy firm – where dress-down Friday’s have become the norm.

“I think the whole thing has got to a ridiculous state. Today one girl arrived into work in what I can only describe as a bikini – and two of her male colleagues looked like they were ready to go surfing in board shorts, flip flops and Hawaiian shirts.

“I think this individual may be in the wrong company,” says Bobby. “With any policy or with any sort of cultural thing in a company, there needs to be a policy about what is acceptable and what is not.”

From an employer’s point of view Bobby reckons it is important to communicate exactly what the dress-code policy is so that nobody is left feeling awkward or unsure of themselves.

“I personally think that if you deformalize work to that extent it is actually a bad thing,” he says. “I think if customers come in or a client comes in and that sort of stuff is going on, it is just not good.”

Our final texter gets paid for three afternoon shifts per week – but stays an extra hour every day to help full-time staff clean up.

“I don’t get paid for that hour,” she writes. “But what is your opinion - because I would feel bad leaving.”

There are workers all over the country facing similar dilemmas to this one and for Bobby it is all about making yourself available, while remaining firm in your own rights.

Talk to your employer and politely explain that you need some form of compensation for your time. If there is no give from your employer, there is no give from you.

“You stay initially because it is the right thing to do,” says Bobby. “You don’t want to let anybody down that you are working with.”

“You ask to see if you can get time in lieu and if that doesn’t happen, you have to explain your situation - that you are out of there.”

You can listen back to all of Bobby’ employment advice from Tuesday’s Newstalk Drive here:

If you have a business or SME related query you would like answered - you can get in touch with Bobby each week by simply sending a short mail to [email protected]

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