The Office how to negotiate the daily minefield

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LONDON, Nov 9 (Reuters) Sharing an office with my ex-lover is hell. I fear the cleaner stole my Nike trainers. I pressed ''Send'' without thinking. Help! Have no fear. Lucy Kellaway is here to steer bewildered workers through the minefield that today's office has become.

As the weighty voice of big business, the Financial Times seems an unlikely haven for an ''agony aunt.'' But Kellaway's newspaper column is bombarded by lost souls trying to find their way in the moral maze of office politics.

How do I tell my employee he smells? Do I have to fire a friend? How do I stop panic attacks before making a speech? Today's workers, as the letters reveal, are confused on how best to behave -- and get ahead.

''The workplace has become more of a minefield than ever,'' said Kellaway in a Reuters interview to mark yesterday's publication of ''The Answers: All the office questions you never dared to ask.'' It reproduces the most intriguing letters sent to the columnist followed by Kellaway's advice and then tips from Financial Times readers.

Confusion often reigns. ''Companies used to be very hierarchical and it was obvious what position people were in. Now it's much more fluid,'' she said.

''More women in the workplace means more problems and there is the whole political correctness thing.'' Then there are technological problems -- ''Sending the wrong e-mail, can my boss be my friend on Facebook?'' Romance can blossom too. ''The office is now the most likely place to meet the person you will marry. I married someone I met at the FT,'' Kellaway said.

But if it goes wrong, her advice is cut your losses -- ''When a relationship at work goes pear-shaped, the only answer is for one or the other to go.'' Transatlantic differences abound too.

''In the US, there is this brutal workaholic streak and the Americans are much, much more politically correct. The British deal with crises with more of a sense of humour.'' In her column, Kellaway offers down-to-earth advice but what amuses her most is how blunt Financial Times readers can be.

To the contrite executive cursing his drunken night with a young colleague after the Christmas party, one businesswoman curtly exclaims: ''You deserve many sleepless nights and a stress ulcer.'' And to the woman daring to contemplate a lunch break on Wall Street, one irate male director warned: ''You cannot go out to lunch if you work on the Street, period. Get used to it or find a new career.'' REUTERS AM ND1002

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