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I work in a mid sized company. Due to company policy, we're usually not allowed to have personal electronics at work (all electronics in the offices must be tested every year, it's a licensing / auditing requirement).

This time of year, it is really, really hot. The IT office I work in has air conditioning, but the marketing and order processing offices do not.

Currently, our air conditioning is broken and is (sadly) not expected to be fixed this week or next week (the inspection today revealed more extensive damage). After this, a coworker returns from vacation that is allergic to AC anyways, so using the air conditioning this summer is pretty much out of the picture for my office.

Right now my country is suffering a heat wave, and temperatures aren't expected to drop appreciably for at least another 2 weeks.

Since I work in IT (we also do the testing of the electronics), I was able to bring and get tested a personal desk fan for myself. (It was a favor for me last year and has since been grandfathered in.) At the start of this heatwave (a week and a half ago) I lent my desk fan to the marketing department (2 people), since they're sitting in a particularly poor office for heat management. Due to lacking blinders and the facing of the windows, their office frequently gets 4-5C hotter then even outside temperature. I was in there shortly yesterday and came out drenched in sweat. It's bad.

Now, since our AC is broken, I'd really like to reclaim my desk fan. Current temperatures make working in my office a massive chore and productivity is at an all time low due to the heat.

My first (straightforward) attempt of asking for the fan back went predictably poorly.

I want to know if there's any way or angle from which I can make that request without completly and utterly souring the relationship with the marketing department (I can just take the fan back, it's mine). Before I make enemies of my coworkers, I'm prepared to instead just eat the heat for the remainder of the heatwave.

(Note that I'm not looking for legal remedies to the situation or outside remedies like "manage to somehow sneak in another fan")

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    What is their reason for not giving back your fan? What do you mean with "My first attempt went poorly" - how did they react? – Kaspar Scherrer Jul 31 '18 at 9:09
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    Are the marketing people aware that the fan is your personal item and not a company property? – Arsak Jul 31 '18 at 9:36
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    @Cashbee They reacted angrily to the first attempt and said that the fan was all that was keeping them from getting even worse headaches during the hot day. I backed off then as I understand their office is kind of the worst in the whole building for that. It's a small space surrounded by glass and not very well ventilated to begin with. – Magisch Jul 31 '18 at 10:58
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – Mithical Jul 31 '18 at 18:08
  • @JonKiparsky I used "AC Allergy" as shorthand for "gets splitting headaches from temperature difference between AC Areas and those without, and has to move around the building quite a lot (systems administrator). So while he's working, we can't use the AC in the office anyways. – Magisch Aug 3 '18 at 17:02
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My recommendation within the constraints set by you: Forget it - this is no longer your fan! (on an IPS level, sure you may have it back when its colder).

The reason is that the marketing department is wronged, on a daily basis. They do not have access to the same resources or conditions as other employees have, namely a halfway decently temperatured workplace - as mandated by law.

You, on the other hand, normally have both an AC and also special treatment regarding private electronics. As such you are a symbol of that unfairness. You've given them a little bit of equality in giving them the fan. If you take it back, they will resist. There is no way you can take back a privilege given once, without resistance.

It will not matter that you are not the one responsible for the problem - as long as there is no culture of discussing and solving such problems with management, you will serve as a scapegoat just the same.


(That statement reflects my personal working experience)

On a personal note: I'd want to frame-challenge your question. On the one hand you say it is not worth making a hassle with management - on the other hand you are clueless and asking strangers how to get your property back. Does not sound like a healthy environment to me. If you really want to improve things, get that communication problem solved.

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    @Tinkeringbell: Sure, when it gets colder nobody cares. But be prepared have an excuse ready once it gets hot again. – user6109 Jul 31 '18 at 12:04
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    This talk about "symbols" and "equality" seem fairly flimsy in face of the fact that it's his personal property. If I were in this situation I'd just go physically take the fan (after asking nicely). – John K Jul 31 '18 at 14:32
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    @John K: Did you read the question? OP already tried that. Goal is no upset colleagues over getting the fan back. – user6109 Jul 31 '18 at 15:07
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    as mandated by law, citation needed. I don't know about Germany. I do know that in the United Kingdom, there is no law on maximum office temperature and no legal requirement on air conditioning. – gerrit Aug 1 '18 at 16:28
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    @Daniel OP did not try taking the fan back. He attempted to ask for it back, which is not the same thing. If I were him, I would go and simply take it. It is absolutely still his fan. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Aug 1 '18 at 18:01
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The first step is to understand what problem you're trying to solve. You phrase this in terms of "getting your fan back", but what really matters to you is that you have some way of dealing with the heat. Trying to do this by moving equipment around is not likely to work. If you take away the marketing department's fan (that is, the fan they're using now) then they're not going to be able to do their jobs effectively, which means less money comes in and your paycheck is in danger. Also, you will have shifted some pain from yourself to them, which is not great from an interpersonal skills perspective.

So instead of thinking of this as a zero-sum game (there is one fan, we're trying to decide who gets to use it) think of this as a matter of working with your co-workers to fix your broken workplace. All of you are suffering, so you need to determine what it is you all need, and use your collective skills to get those things.

Some things you might want to require would include blinds for the the windows to reduce the heat in the marketing space, fans for all workers in hot weather, and some way to get AC that doesn't cause problems for your allergic co-worker. I'm sure that you and your co-workers can refine and add to this list until you come up with something that you're all willing to support. Having done that, you all go together to management and have the conversation.

This will give you two opportunities to develop your interpersonal skills: first, in bringing your co-workers together to present a unified set of requirements to management, and then in negotiating those requirements with management. Since you are a reasonable person presenting reasonable demands, you have a reasonable chance of success.

  • Restoring a comment deleted for no apparent reason: My original answer pointed out, and it's still true, that if this negotiation fails then the other option is to find a way to leave this toxic workplace. There are many places to work in this world, and if employers do not lose employees as a result of abusing them, then they will never improve. – Jon Kiparsky Aug 3 '18 at 16:08
  • As the OP of the answer, feel free to edit your relevant information and advice into the answer. My main goal with that edit was really to reduce the (perceived?) snark. – Em C Aug 3 '18 at 16:29
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I appreciate that this situation is a little challenging as far as interpersonal situations go:

  • Your seemingly advantageous position regarding whole fan situation
  • The lack of definitions about the basis of the loan before hand
  • The (mutual?) perceived need they have for the fan.

Basically it is the 2nd and 3rd issue that is causing the most problems here. They feel the loss acutely and you feel empathetic and back off.

A simple trick would be to lower the interpersonal discomfort but reducing opportunity for resistance. Go to them one day and say you have been doing some very hot work and need to use the fan again, perhaps use hyperbole like, 'you feel you might faint' without it. Don't wait for a response and directly start taking the fan. Psychologically the most uncomfortable position is the fear or loss and hope to prevent it. If they have opportunity to dwell they will quickly reconcile themselves to the new situation. If they object again you can apologize and say you are really need it, without stopping. Or you can back off. Depending on your relationship/style joking that they really owe you/ if you are ill they are doing your work/ or just says oh alright but you hope they recognize you are being kind to them. Allowing you to back out if need be

If possible, do it when only one of them is around. (Ideally the most passive of the two).

This may not feel like the most 'mature' thing to do but you have already intimated you feel like you tried asking nicely and they resisted (i.e didn't accept your legitimate claim to the fan. Instead, my suggestion aims to use social cues to change the balance 'cue health / severity of your situation referencing fainting' 'cue this isn't open to debate, so stop resisting and start accepting this change'.

All said and done, given your willingness to eat the heat to preserve the peace. And a distinct lack of ill will against them, you appreciate why they didn't immediately return the fan perhaps other solutions is the best solution.

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I would suggest you:

  1. Approach the testing guys about the potential of testing ~6 fans
  2. Look up the price of buying 6 desk fans, maybe 2 large floors stand ones and some desktop ones, whatever works (about £100 in UK for basic stuff)
  3. Go to the managers and explain, it is hot, for £100 and 30 minutes of testing time, which IT had said they are willing to do, everyone could have some fans.

Hopefully, as it is not a small company the £100 and 1/2 hour of employee time is not going to be a huge deal and the manager will agree.

Asking the test people first will mean you do not surprise them with extra work, which may be unwelcome. Instead, you are offering them the opportunity to get a fan in return for some work. If people can opt into a scheme or work package they are sometimes more positive about the work relating to it. The possibility of getting something from the work and the act of being consulted makes them more likely to agree to the potential testing. People who get consulted about their tasks can feel more empowered, valued for their opinions and will be in a more positive mind when presented with extra portentical work (so the chances of them accepting it increase).

This proposed set of actions would result in everyone getting a more comfortable summer. People are usually more irritable when they are uncomfortable so inter-personal interactions should go smoother if everyone is more comfortable.

You would stop being the special one with A/C & their own fan. People can become jealous of someone that receive special treatment (as you hint at in your question). By making the availability of fans universal, you will no longer be a target of fan envy.

By helping get everyone fans you become the person who helped improve the level of comfort in the environment at work. People are often grateful to those who improve their situation or environment. This often means you receive nicer treatment from those who you aided.

By going to your managers with; an outline of the problem "everyone is too warm", a potential solution "fans would make people cooler" and a plan for implementing that solution "these would cost, they can be tested by X (who has said they could make time to do it), we can purchase them from..." you stand a good chance of getting a positive result. People who just bring up problems can be seen to be negative. People who give solutions are positive and are considered nicer to deal with by many. People who can take the initiative to work on a plan and costings for a solution can solve problems and keep the burden on management of coming up to the plan at a minimum, can be seen as helpful. A helpful person is often more popular than an unhelpful one.

After that, you could ask Marketing to swap back your fan for an equivalent or better one. You will have just bettered their conditions by providing a more agreeable temperature and making others in the workplace more comfortable and nicer to deal with too; this may make them more receptive to discussions. If you can offer them a trade of equivalent or better value (i.e. a bigger fan) they are likely to take the good deal.

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    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. – Mithical Aug 1 '18 at 9:49
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    There's some kind of editing mistake at the end of the second paragraph (around "People who get consulted..."). – jpmc26 Aug 1 '18 at 22:39
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I would try to agree with the marketing department that you're happy for them to continue to use the fan in the short term but point out to them that the heat problem in their offices is a problem between them and their management. Find out what they're doing to address this problem through the correct channels.

Have they requested relocation/work from home during this period? Find out what they're doing to properly address their problem, and ask them to acknowledge that, whilst temporarily obtaining your fan during this period has allowed them to continue working, it should never have been viewed as a permanent fix to the environmental issues within their office (I.e. even if you don't get it back for a couple of weeks, they cannot assume that the next time the temperature rises that they'll be able to assume a re-loan of the fan)

In short, try to get on their side as a "us workers vs. the management" rather than "you vs. marketing department" situation.


(I realise that most of this answer is workplace oriented rather than IPS, per se, but I feel it's the professional approach to take in a professional workplace)

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Saving face

Having treated you poorly, the people in the other department stand to lose face if they back down from their stance by returning your fan. Even though they understand that it belongs to you and that you're authorized to use it at work, returning it to you now would mean that they were wrong to not return it when you first asked, and that would be embarrassing for them.

Peace offering

Since their frustration is with their working conditions and not with you personally, they may respond well to a gesture of camaraderie and sympathy — a container of ice cream, perhaps, if that's appropriate for their office. Nothing expensive; it's not a bribe, it's an opportunity for them to save face.

Misery loves company

If you think that the others would not respond well to a peace offering, you could tell them when you reclaim your fan that you need it at home. Although you've already told them that you need it for your office, I don't think anyone could fault you for saying — as the hot weather goes on and on and on — that you're having trouble sleeping.

The others don't need a convincing argument; they know they have to return your property when you ask for it back. As long as you don't immediately benefit at work from the others' loss, their pride might not require them to resent you for reclaiming your fan. After a few days have passed — when the others can pretend that the dispute never happened, when it would be more embarrassing for them to continue treating you poorly than to let the issue go — you can bring the fan back to your own office.

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Most of the upvoted answers here are already great, I won't retread the same ground; particularly, the top answer here already has to say what I would.

However, I would like to add that you should apologize to the marketing team for the original request for the fan back. While, ethically, we can agree that it was your fan and you are well within your rights to ask for it back, doing so provoked an aggressive response from them. Because of that, your marketing co-workers might feel uneasy or worried that you're eventually going to try to take the fan from them, which could sow discontent among them.

I think it would be worth your while to go back to them and apologize and make clear that (if you do end up no longer pursuing the fan) you are not going to attempt to take it from them any longer and realize their conditions are unfavorable. In doing so, you can build rapport with them again, and they may recognize the favor you have done them (which they may not have made clear with their previous response).

Essentially, apologizing may end up with you gaining some benefit out of this sticky situation: the benefit of a recognized favor from your co-workers, and rebuilt rapport with them. In the future, they may even return the favor in a way they are capable of; however, if they remain uneasy about your attempt to retrieve the fan, this may override their gratitude for the favor with disgruntlement from the possibility of losing their coolness.

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Is there any chance that you might be able to switch to working evenings or nights during the rest of the heat wave? If this would be a problem for team collaboration, discuss the idea with your team and see if some or all of them would be willing to shift working hours for this short period of time. I realize it won't be an option for every team or on a regular basis, but to deal with a temporary heat problem, it could be the best solution.

This is what many construction crews do during heat waves in the hotter regions of the US. The work still needs to get done, but the heat is too dangerous for the workers in the mid-day sun. So instead of taking off until the heat wave is over, they will wait to begin the work day until the evening or even after the sun has gone down.

If it's still hot enough at night that you would like to have your fan, you should be able to take it back, and lend it back to the marketing department during the day. You should tell the marketing department about your plan, though. Tell them that if you forget to return it for their shift, they're welcome to come borrow it off your desk, as you'll be at home during the day.

Under the circumstances, I think this is the closest thing to a compromise you're going to find. I agree with other answers that the best course of action is to get management to provide a better solution to the heat wave, but if that's not possible, seek out any solution you can to keep yourself cool or avoid being there during the hottest part of the day.

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