The problem: A new employee started at our company three weeks ago. We hold the same position. He’s 67 and married. I know this, because the first week in, he told me his wife sleeps in another room and they haven’t had sex in two years. Another employee told me the new guy talks to him about the sex he’s having with other women. He’s also a negative Ned, complaining about the cold, or that his wrists hurt, or that he has a heart stent, but then I see him smoking. When I say good morning and smile, he just shrugs. I want to say, “Where’s your smile?” or “Chipper up!”
Low road: Pin up a poster in his cube reminding him to “Turn that frown upside down!”
High road: Your new colleague is miserable. He’s lonely. And he’s likely lying or, at least, embellishing the truth. Consider: He’s dealing with a late life job transition — who wants to change jobs at 67? Heck, who even wants to work at 67? — a sexless marriage and health issues, some serious, some likely exaggerated. All roads lead to a man who is not going to chipper up, no matter how nicely you ask.
Since you work in proximity, you need to set boundaries and lower your expectations. This guy needs someone to talk to, so maybe your male co-worker would be willing to take him out for a beer. Regardless, his sex-tinged topics are highly inappropriate for the work environment and could land him in HR, or worse. If he starts, cut him off. If things persist, talk to your boss or HR for guidance.
But try not to make things worse by reminding him of what a grump he is (trust me, he knows). Say good morning, expect nothing in return and keep busy. Over time, he might warm up, or not, but it’s not your job to make him happy.
Send questions about life’s little quandaries to gail.rosenblum@ startribune.com. Read more of Gail’s “High Road” columns at startribune.com/highroad.