What can I do about someone wearing annoying jangly jewellery?

Question: I’m a manager who recently had one employee come to me complaining about how another employee’s jangly jewellery is driving him up the wall. I politely said something to the jewellery wearer — she wasn’t thrilled and I felt uncomfortable. If she keeps wearing it, what should I do?

Answer: When I started doing this column, I framed a market (in my head) on various questions and subjects I anticipated receiving. How to resign without burning bridges was even money. Calling out bullies was 3/1. Coping with the vicissitudes of a global pandemic was 150/1. “Jangly jewellery”, I have to admit, was 500/1. I received a question on it in January!

How to manage a colleague who wears noisy jewellery.
How to manage a colleague who wears noisy jewellery.Credit:Louise Kennerley

What would the odds be for two questions on jangly jewellery in the space of 11 months? Put it this way, you’d be a millionaire if you backed it with a fiver and it came in. Which it just did.

On the surface your question is uncannily similar to the first one, but there are important distinctions. You’re the boss, for a start, and that puts you in a completely different position to the January questioner, who sounded as if they were concerned about a jangler at the same level as them.


The first thing I’d say is that being an arbiter or an umpire is rarely a fun part of a manager’s job, but it’s a hugely valuable one. The employee who came to you has very likely done the right thing and so have you by having a quiet word to the tinkly offender. The alternative is for managers to step back and let everyone sort out disputes between themselves. But unless you have the most civil and magnanimous group of people under you, that’s a dicey course of action — or inaction.

The fact that your gracious encouragement hasn’t gone down well adds an extra and, I agree, uncomfortable dimension to the whole story.

Illustration: John Shakespeare
Illustration: John Shakespeare Credit:

There are all sorts of ways to deal with this and, as always, the best one will really depend on specifics. If you get on well with the jangler but just happen to have clashed on this occasion, you might try broaching the subject again, but this time from a different angle. Consider what in particular might have caused the angst and see if you can avoid that part of the conversation this time.

If you don’t get on well with Tinkles Kafoops but have a good rapport with the complainer, you might consider asking whether he’d prefer to move away from the noise-maker to maintain office harmony.

If the two employees get on well, but are unknowingly divided on this problem, there’s also the option of bringing the two together and making sure the discussion remains good-natured.

Of course, some people will tell you that to be perfectly fair, only a blanket ruling — a policy that applies to everyone or no-one — will do. While I think it’s extremely important that leaders refuse to let bullies, big-noters and brooders get special treatment, I also think workplaces (or anywhere that humans are forced together) are complex places that don’t often lend themselves to one-size-fits-all remedies.

If you can appeal to the good sense of one party, there’s no shame in opting for a more nuanced approach. Your decision may not be strictly equitable, but it could be more likely to solve the problem and avoid long-term resentment.

If both employees are standing their ground, you might need to consider something more indiscriminate or even blunt in the interests of not seeming like you’re singling one person out.

Whatever you choose, keep in mind that while this is annoying for at least one person and has caused some chagrin — so it should never be dismissed as trivial — it’s also not a sheep stations problem.

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