Who Stole My Lunch?

Handling sensitive issues in the workplace with colleagues (such as personal hygiene) is one of the most challenging conversations we will have. This article suggests five steps to make these conversations a little easier and less confronting.

I recently heard the story of Michael, who inadvertently (well, according to him), ate his boss’ lunch. Michael arrived for work one morning without having had breakfast. As the busy morning progressed, Michael’s stomach started to tell him (and others) that something was missing. Finally, one of his colleagues said “I’ll fix that for you”. Next thing, she returned to his desk with a nicely toasted sandwich, which Michael proceeded to thoroughly enjoy.

Sometime later, Michael heard his boos scream out “Who stole my lunch?”. You can probably guess the rest.

Have you ever had your lunch, snack or drink stolen by a work colleague? Or perhaps, you may have helped yourself to some food or drink that seemed to be “waiting for you” in the fridge?

While this might seem like a frivolous event (and yes, sometimes it can be), there’s also a serious side to stolen food. You may be surprised to know that a survey carried out in New York last year found that:

  • 71 per cent of employees have had their personal snack, drink or meal stolen out of communal-office kitchens
  • Not only that, but in urban areas, 40 per cent of employees admitted to having been the perpetrators of lunch theft.

The tough part about this situation if it happens to you, is confronting others (colleagues, bosses or employees) about such sensitive issues in the workplace. “Who stole my lunch?” is probably not the way to approach the situation.

So how do you raise sensitive issues with others in the workplace?

Let’s look at one of the most challenging – personal hygiene. How would you approach a colleague whose personal hygiene is causing issues in your workplace? Perhaps drop a hint? Confront them head-on? Allude to it through others?

I know of a supervisor who once left a cake of Palmolive Gold soap on a person’s desk who had bad body odour. It created a really bad atmosphere in the workplace. Hints do not work. Tackle the situation head on.

There are five steps to take:

1. Keep it private – one on one. On no account mention that “others have noticed” or similar. Make sure that they understand that it’s just between the two of you and will go no further – both now and in the future.

2. Be careful with your words – if it’s hygiene – avoid words like “stink”, “smell”, even “offend”. Instead of “odour”, use “scent”, “aroma”. Avoid trying to be politically correct such as “hygiene impaired”.

3. Make them feel safe – show your good intentions – “I wonder if I could talk about something that would help me out a bit. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s worth mentioning”.

Note here that you have:

  • Asked permission to talk, “I wonder if I could talk about something …”
  • Asked for their help, “… that would help me out a bit.”
  • Shown that you will not lose any sleep over it, “It’s not a huge deal …”
  • Shown that it is still important, “… but it’s worth mentioning”

(This process is similar to my recipe for handling performance problems covered in my book “What To Do When You Become The Boss”, the “I have a problem … recipe”).

4. Where possible, try to give the other person an out. “I get the feeling that maybe you’ve been exercising before work recently. In any case, we work so closely together that I’m wondering if I can talk about a change that’s affecting our working environment.” “I get a strange scent or aroma when I’m close to your desk and also when we meet in my office – could it be your deodorant?

5. Thank the person for listening. “Thanks for your understanding with this, I really appreciate it”.

Raising sensitive issues with work colleagues is one of the hardest occurrences any of us will have to face. Using the above five steps should make it a little smoother, although it can still be quite confronting.

And to return to the stolen lunch situation, as they say in the classics “prevention is better than cure”. So, you may consider (apart from eating out every day):

  • Get a cute bag, e.g. a pretty pink bag or cloth-covered coloured container.
  • Put your name on it.
  • “Please leave this in the fridge, as I’m coming back for it. Signed, John Smith”. This personalises it, so that the perpetrator is less likely to steal from someone (there are always exceptions, of course)

And if all else fails … someone suggested to me, “Lace your food with laxatives … then watch who runs to the toilet … that should flush them out!​”


The Train Story – a journey, an experience, and a feeling!

When people are happy in their work it shows in what they do and say. This story highlights the benefits that can accrue from thanking people for something they’ve done, particularly when it’s not expected.

I was travelling by train from Circular Quay to Central (in Sydney) one morning some years ago. Quietly sitting there reading, I found myself suddenly listening to the train guard’s announcements. Now train travellers reading this will readily testify that when the guard makes an announcement, rather than the recorded message, it’s often quite dull or hard to understand. Whether it’s the recorded message or the guard’s message, few people (apart from tourists) listen to these messages.

This one was different.

As I looked up from my paper, I noticed that other passengers (previously engrossed in their smart phones or tablets) were also looking up and appeared to be listening. Not only that, everyone was smiling!

Why was so much attention being paid to this message?

As best I can recall, the guard said something along these lines, “Good Morning Ladies, Gentlemen and Children, this is the 7.35am from Penrith to Central and you’ll be pleased to know that we are right on time. This means that we’ll get you to where you’re going in plenty of time. And what a lovely morning it is in Sydney today. The sun is shining, temperature is about 21 degrees, birds are singing, and all’s right with the world. I trust you have a great day wherever you’re going. Thanks for catching my train this morning and I hope to see you again soon. Have a great day.”

Wow! Have you ever heard an announcement like that? I certainly hadn’t.

And how contagious was it? As well as getting everyone smiling, there were quite a few people (obviously previously strangers) who started talking to one another. They were all talking about the guard’s fabulous message and how good it had made everyone feel.

I started thinking about this and as I exited the train at Central, I approached the Guard’s cabin and started to thank him, to which the guard replied “Don’t know what you’re talking about mate, I’ve just come on”. So I asked where the other guard had gone and he pointed to the exit stairs.

I raced down the stairs, taking them two at a time, and caught the young guard at the bottom. He had obviously finished his shift and was on his way home.

I tapped him on the shoulder and said “Were you the guard on the 7.35 from Penrith?”. The guard seemed a bit stunned at first replying, “Yes, yyyyes.” (In hindsight I think I too would have been a bit stunned if someone had approached me like that). Pressing on I said “Well, I just wanted to thank you for your fabulous message this morning on the way from Circular Quay to Central. The message was so upbeat and pleasant. Most importantly, it got everyone’s attention and had everyone smiling. Thank you so much for giving me and the other passengers such a good start to the day. Please keep doing it.”

There are two messages for me in what happened that day. Firstly, when people are happy in their work it shows in what they do and say.

Secondly, the story highlights the benefits that can accrue from thanking people for something they’ve done, particularly when it’s not expected. Can you imagine the conversation that guard would have when he got home … “Guess what happened to me today – a customer actually thanked me!”

Bob Selden, author “Don’t: How using the right words will change your life”. Bob often asks the question “Have you thanked someone for what they’ve done today?”. He’d be very pleased to hear your “praise” stories at www.therightwords.co


Remember it’s a period of challenge for young adults as they frequently question parent authority. They can go to great lengths to remind you that you aren’t the font of all wisdom as they once thought.

The Top 6 Ways to Communicate With Your Teenager

How can you engage, really engage, with your son or daughter?

By Bob Selden, June 2016

“Why do I have to get stuck with such dumb parents?”

And you know what?  They’re right!

It’s not that we parents are “dumb” it just seems that way to some teenagers.  Why?  During the teenage years, people are very black and white in their thinking – there are no shades of grey as can be seen by older adults. People do not mature emotionally until their mid-twenties.  The limitations of the teenage brain have been well publicised, helping parents, teachers, and others understand why it may be difficult for them to meet our expectations for managing emotions, handling risks, responding to relationships, and engaging in complex school work or employment. In early and mid-adolescence the brain undergoes considerable growth and pruning, moving generally from back to front areas of the cerebral cortex. Continue reading “Teenagers”


If you assiduously follow these three steps, I can personally guarantee you’ll become more positive in your outlook, your self-image and self-esteem will greatly improve and you’ll start to see many opportunities that other less positive people will miss.

How I beat cancer
by Bob Selden, July 2016

On the 12th April, 2015 I decided I needed to do more exercise and get fitter – ride my bike more.  By 16th April 2016 I had completed 369 days straight on either the road bike or the home trainer.  My starting mantra was “I’m now riding my bike regularly each day”.  Notice how this is expressed in the present tense rather than “I am going to start exercising (today/tomorrow)”.  Science has proven that the brain responds by at least 25% more actively to words that are expressed in the present tense rather than the future – it seems to think that the action is already happening, so it visualises us having already started the new regime.  Clever brain!

All of this is by way of introducing the 17th April 2016 when I got out of bed feeling unwell and did not want to exercise.  I’d had a dry cough for about three weeks without any other symptoms. My astute GP said “I cannot find anything wrong, therefore there must be something wrong, I’ll send you for X-rays”.  Short answer – I had cancer, lymphoma and before I could make it to the specialist appointment some days later, was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. Continue reading “Cancer”


Over recent weeks, there’s been a spat of comments in the press (mostly on ABC radio and TV) about “labelling” of people and groups. For example, how are people seen when over a certain age they are labelled as retirees? This has a particular impact on their employment prospects and their potential (lack of opportunity) to pass on years of knowledge that will otherwise be lost.

Labelling of people, genres and groups – what does it mean and what does it do to people’s behaviour?

Over recent weeks, there’s been a spat of comments in the press (mostly on ABC radio and TV) about “labelling” of people and groups.  For example, how are people seen when over a certain age they are labelled as retirees?  This has a particular impact on their employment prospects and their potential (lack of opportunity) to pass on years of knowledge that will otherwise be lost.

The press reports around labelling (which is often negative) started with: Continue reading “Labelling”


Researchers have provided substantial evidence of the Pollyanna Principle. They found that people expose themselves to positive stimuli and avoid negative stimuli, they take longer to recognise what is unpleasant or threatening than what is pleasant and safe, and they report that they encounter positive stimuli more frequently than they actually do.

Has Australia become too negative?
by Bob Selden, June 2016

Since returning to Australia after living overseas for seven years, one of the things that has struck me is the negativity of our language.  “No problems”, “No worries” (I’m even getting these in emails and texts now) have replaced “That’s Okay”, “It’s fine”, “Sure thing”, and in shops “My pleasure” and “You’re welcome”. The country sayings of “She’ll be right” and “She’s apples” have virtually disappeared although I’m told you can still hear these occasionally outback.

Although I’ve heard “No worries” referred to as “the national motto” of Australia, it is extremely negative.

Continue reading “Negativity”