update: coworker has drama-filled calls with his girlfriend 10 times a day

Remember the letter-writer who shared an office with someone who took 10+ drama-filled phone calls from his girlfriend every day, sometimes as often as every 15 minutes? Here’s the update.

It took a while for the whole situation to play out. Just after I wrote in, I wrote myself a script, based on the one you provided, and planned to ask Wakeen if he could take personal calls away from his desk the next time he took a personal call, but the personal calls stopped.

Weeks went by and I figured he had broken up with his girlfriend or otherwise got her to stop calling constantly. Then, the personal calls started again, with the same frequency as before. So I steeled myself to ask him to stop, but before I got a chance, HR called me in and asked if I had been having problems with Wakeen oversharing his personal problems to me. I said he tended to overshare and it did make me uncomfortable, and I also mentioned the many personal phone calls he was taking on his desk extension.

Apparently Wakeen was oversharing to other people who brought it up with HR and his boss, who told him he needed to not share so many personal details of his life (he was sharing really personal stuff), and they also told him not to take personal calls at his desk. Again, the calls stopped for a while.

One day he took an obviously personal call at his desk, and when he hung up I asked if he could possibly take his personal calls away from his desk. He apologized and explained that his new cell phone had gotten turned off, and the calls have since stopped. He does occasionally get calls on his cell phone, which he takes outside.

To be clear, I’m not of the opinion that one can never take or make personal calls at your desk, but you really need to use discretion when doing so. Calling the plumber or talking to your significant other about mundane dinner plans are way different than having fights on the phone in your office. I really appreciated your advice, and it was helpful to hear the readers’ perspective, because part of me wondered if I was just making a big deal over nothing.

{ 85 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Allison

    I’m glad the situation has been resolved, more or less. Honestly, even if he’s taking the calls outside, I’d question whether he should be taking these calls at all during work hours. I get needing to call certain service providers during work hours, if their phone lines are only open during business hours, and I get if there’s a special circumstance that might need attention during the day, but it seems like the two of them just have a habit of talking things out during the workday and you might want to see if you can put a stop to that.

    Reply
      1. Allison

        Sorry, misread the letter and thought OP was a manager, not a colleague of this person. Not their business, I get it. I’m a jerk.

        Reply
        1. Evie

          You’re not a jerk Allison! And it does make sense from a management point of view to want your staff to cut down on this type of behavior when they are being paid to work.

          And if the behaviour – even if the phone calls were now on a cell being used outside – meant that Sam and OP had to deal with extra work because Wakeen was on the phone so much then they would have a right to be bothered too. Not that that’s what the OP seems to be indicating!

          Reply
            1. Victoria, Please

              You just missed the bit about the OP being a co-worker, not a manager. You’re not a jerk or obnoxious because you made a teeny mistake.

              Reply
          1. Helka

            This is a really good point.

            I had a coworker a few years ago who used to spend a lot of time on very emotional personal calls during the workday. I understood — she was going through a difficult divorce, dealing with a lot of related money stress, health issues, etc…

            But after she moved to another department, I inherited one of her functions after about 20min of training and discovered a 9+ month backlog and zero documentation or job structure. So instead of moving smoothly into a new task, I was left with the shambles of what she had (not) done, and trying to rebuild a relationship with another department that had been pretty well trashed. It wasn’t pretty.

            Reply
            1. CADMonkey007

              Yes even if personal calls are taken out of earshot, it should be a given that someone who is dealing with that much personal stuff during the day is not fully engaged mentally in their work. I think everyone has those days when something else is distracting us from being productive, but day after day of personal life interjections is a problem.

              Reply
    1. Sparky

      I worked at a cafe in college, before cell phones. One of the employees broke up with his girlfriend, so she just repeatedly dialed the cafe’s phone. I think she was trying to get back together with him. By showing everyone that she was obsessive and not able to cope. I hope she got some therapy. We’d be jamming through a lunch rush and the phone would just be constantly ringing. The employee who broke up with her never answered the phone, by arrangement. The owner would actually talk to her, the rest of us just picked up the phone then hung it up. We probably hung up on some legitimate business calls.

      Reply
  2. voyager1

    Why would a girlfriend be calling that much honestly… LOL.

    Anyway like someone else said, guess it worked out!

    Reply
    1. CADMonkey007

      I feel like every office has one of these people who have way too much personal business going on during office hours.

      Reply
      1. Merry and Bright

        Yep.

        I thought current job was actually free of this person. But, true to form, she started a couple of months ago.

        I do not need to know the details of her personal medical tests. Or her husband’s.

        Reply
        1. Charityb

          I think there might actually be a quota. Someone in HR probably does walk-bys to see if there is someone like this in the office and if they don’t hear loud, teary conversations on three consecutive days they send someone out to the set of a reality TV show to recruit.

          Reply
      2. Noah

        Yes! I had an employee who ended up quitting when I told him he could not call his wife every 30 minutes to “check in”. I told him to limit it to once or twice a day, but that was unacceptable to him.

        Reply
          1. Noah

            He was a dispatcher, and the job required answering phones, so when he was on the phone he couldn’t perform his job and it required the other person on duty to pick up the slack. That was the biggest reason I told him to stop.

            His shift was 3pm-11pm. From about 5pm onwards (when his wife arrived home from work) he would seriously call every 30 minutes. He said he worried about her being alone at night and from the content of the calls he always wanted to know what was happening at home. They did not have kids.

            He was a rather overbearing person, so I can see how the situation could have been abusive, although at the time my 22 year old self didn’t. This was my first management job out of college. At the time he complained loudly about wanting to move to days, but there were no open shifts available and scheduling was done by seniority bids so I couldn’t/wouldn’t move him. I assumed “worried about my wife home alone” was just a complaint to try and get day shift. Then he quit and honestly there were other issues that made me happy that occurred.

            Like I said, one or two phone calls wouldn’t have bothered me or other employees. It was a 24/7 environment so it was common for people to call their children and say goodnight or significant other to make sure everything was ok. It was the every 30 minutes (no exaggeration there) that was annoying everyone and interfering with work.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              Good lord. Was the area overrun by rabid bears? That’s the only justification I can think of for being so concerned that something horrible could happen to her at any minute.

              Reply
        1. Allison

          Obviously we don’t know this man, or all the details of his life, but that sounds like a potentially abusive situation.

          Reply
          1. Camellia

            Yes, it could be an abusive situation, but my mind immediately went to ‘medical problem’ simply because occasionally my husband’s condition will flare, rendering him basically comatose. He needs to be awakened every couple of hours to make sure he drinks liquid to stay hydrated, otherwise it’s the emergency room for him. If I can’t work from home that day I have to call him every couple of hours to wake him up.

            But that is not every day on the half-hour, so I too am curious if he gave an explanation.

            Reply
            1. Noah

              He never mentioned a medical condition, and I never asked. So I don’t know if it was or wasn’t.

              Even if it was, it took him away from his job for too long to be considered reasonable. If it was a phone call every few hours, and it was a quick “hello, glad you’re awake, make sure you drink some water” it wouldn’t be a big deal. However, a 5+ minute long conversation twice an hour is not something we could accommodate in an environment where you need to be answering incoming telephone calls and radio traffic.

              Reply
      3. Evie

        I’m very lucky that for the most part the types of job I’m in this sort of behavior just can’t happen. But we did have a lady who was due at a team meeting, came in late to the meeting which had already begun and instead of quietly saying hi, apologizing and sitting down, she immediately began telling us in detail about why she was late and that there’s been a problem on her way over, and that she’d need to take a call to sort something. Then left the room to make the call, we got on with things, and she came back to give us a detailed blow-by-blow of the whole thing.

        I bet in another line of work she’d have been the multiple personal calls type.

        Reply
        1. Charityb

          Honestly, when someone gives me an excessively detailed account of why they made a mistake or were late or something, it makes me think that they’re lying. It’s like they stood outside the door of the meeting and quickly jotted down a cool-sounding story. “I was driving down I-81 in my blue– no, red– no, make it gray, sounds more serious — sports car when I got stuck behind a… 11-car pile-up. It was terrible. Why wasn’t it on the news? Um… the news crews couldn’t even get close because it was so brutal. The national guard was there and they even sent a tank to block off the interstate…. ”

          It’s even worse when the story is both excessively detailed AND confusing. Then it starts feeling like you’re watching an M. Night Shamayalan movie.

          Reply
          1. Mephyle

            It could be lying, but on the other hand it could instead be the type of person who is quite tone-deaf to the concept that their personal drama is not as interesting to everyone else as it is to them. (From someone who sometimes has to be careful not to be That Person.)

            Reply
            1. teclatrans

              +1

              Furthermore (speaking from inside my head), I am crap at identifying the pertinent details prior to laying them all out and verbally processing. Something that makes me stressed and emotional is also like to make me forget to do that processing by myself or with a friend, and so I am pretty sure this has been me. (Not saying it is correct or professional, just providing a correlating data point in support of “not always lying. And my experience inclines me toward suspension of disbelief.”)

              Reply
    2. alter_ego

      I worked in a retail store with 100+ employees, and this one guy’s wife would call the main store line to talk to him at least once a day AND get super pissed if you had to ask who she was, or why she wanted to speak to the employee she was asking for (all part of the script for calls into the store). Like we were supposed to have every one of the 100 employees at the store remember her voice and know that she, for some reason, needed to talk to her husband at work at least once a day.

      I can’t imagine being in a relationship like that.

      Reply
      1. HR Recruiter

        Hmm did you work at the same store as me? We had several of those. The worst was a man who only owned one car. So his wife was stuck at home with no vehicle in a place with no public transportation. So every time she was bored she would call (at least 10 times a day). A few times a year she would decide she’d want to do something so she’d call and fake a medical emergency for one of their children so he’d have to leave work. When really he was just going home to give her a ride.

        Reply
          1. Ruffingit

            Possibly because it would have meant waking the children at too early an hour or something. That said, I don’t understand this woman. I can always find stuff to do at home if I happen to be stuck there with no transportation.

            Reply
      2. Artemesia

        I probably didn’t average two calls a month to my husband at work during our decades of work and vice versa. WE didn’t even have cells. There was the occasional need to coordinate logistics with kids or something but it was rare. It just seems out of line to me to intrude in one’s spouses work space.

        Reply
    3. Stranger than fiction

      Was and still is my question and also why does he take them and not say hey call me after work? But in reality I’m aware there’s people that seem to thrive off this type of intense dramatic relationship (codependence maybe?). Anyway, I’m glad the Op seems to have gotten a break from this for the most part, and I’m sure the boss was involved too if HR was.

      Reply
  3. Mena

    OP answered the question of what to say in the original letter: “Not only are the constant phone conversations awkward and embarrassing to overhear, it really breaks our concentration and is hindering our productivity during an extremely busy period for both of us.”

    Reply
    1. OP

      True, but saying that verbatim to someone you sit next to and work closely with seems unnecessarily formal. Alison came up with a great script that was casual and direct, and I did end up using essentially what she suggested. :)

      Reply
  4. Jill of All Trades

    When I got to the part where the calls just stopped the first time, I really thought the OP was going to say that the coworker reads AAM and realized there was at least a resemblance to him.

    Was I the only one?

    Reply
    1. YourUnfriendlyPhlebotomist

      I could see that happening to me, I think there was a post in an open thread asking if anyone read about themselves on AAM.
      I thought he was going to say that HR had read about the situation.

      Reply
    2. Cube Farmer

      I thought this, too. Then I thought maybe the OP had written the email to AAM on her company computer and Big-Brother-Company-IT-Security had intercepted.

      Reply
  5. schnapps

    Husband type and I have certain Rules About When A Phone Call to the Other At Work Is Appropriate. Specifically:

    Someone’s in an accident/on fire/in hospital.
    Kid is sick
    House is on fire/has blown up/is overrun by Angry Russians (or similar).
    There is an immediate need to change the schedule of the day

    If it’s not an emergency but urgent (pick something up on the way home, reminder of kid’s evening activities, etc), email and text (so that the other person knows to check their email for the details).

    Anything else is not acceptable.

    Reply
          1. schnapps

            Ukranians are fine. Husband type is of Ukranian descent – remind me to tell the story of his grandmother who grew poppy in Alberta and would receive regular visits from the police. :) See, the Ukrainians will rarely attack you – they’ll wait till you’re not expecting it, and then get you :)

            Don’t know any Moldovans. I knew one Romanian from grad school and she liked her vodka also.

            Reply
          2. Sara M

            My question is, does the house being overrun by angry Russians necessitate an immediate schedule change for the day?

            Reply
    1. Allison

      My family has embraced texting as a way to communicate non-urgent matters during the workday. Seems more convenient since my dad isn’t always near a computer when he’s at work.

      Reply
      1. Stranger than fiction

        Seriously I can’t even remember what my family and I did before texting because the last call I remember getting at work was in 2006 when my sister passed away. Other than that, I guess I just used to go home and check my landlines voicemail (which I no longer have).

        Reply
        1. Anna

          Yeah, I text my husband. The last call I got was in May when my husband wrecked on his bicycle and was on his way to the ER. Appropriate time to call!

          Reply
    2. Rebecca in Dallas

      Haha, my husband and I still joke about the time he called me about an “emergency.” I was a manager in a retail store, had left the building for lunch without my cell phone, so he’d been calling the store trying to get a hold of me. A co-manager (who knew I was at lunch) took the call since I was out and immediately met me at the door with, “Call your husband, he said it’s an emergency!”

      Of course, I’m panicking thinking someone has died or something. No, he’d found a stray cat and didn’t know what to do. I was like, “That does not qualify as an emergency! Give the cat some food and I’ll deal with it when I get home.” My poor co-manager was hovering nearby, thinking I was going to dissolve into tears or something. Hahahaha! We still have that cat (9 years later).

      Reply
    3. Kyrielle

      Texting is awesome. I lost my father in a car accident years ago, and I’m still a teensy bit twitchy about not hearing from my husband when he’s been driving (because, you see, I had expected an email from Dad and not gotten it, and it was because he was dead…). Anyway, it’s totally ridiculous, but it still sets me at ease if my husband just lets me know when he’s gotten to work safely, and so he texts me. We text if plans change or something comes up. Phone calls are reserved for the level of severity you list – and generally not the last item, unless a text message fails to get a response and we really need to make sure it got through.

      Reply
      1. Sara M

        This is why I ask my husband just to text me when he leaves work. He leaves at variable times. I don’t care so much when it is… I just want to know when I should start looking for him.

        Reply
      2. Marcela

        Yeah, we do the same thing, tell each other each time we are going anywhere, even if it’s just driving to the supermarket 5 minutes away. Although we use gmail hangouts instead of texting.

        Reply
    4. eplawyer

      This reminds me of the late great Erma Bombeck’s rules for calling Mom at work:

      1. Is someone bleeding?
      2. Are they bleeding on the couch that is not scotchguarded?

      Other than that, don’t call.

      Reply
  6. anonanonanon

    Calling the plumber or talking to your significant other about mundane dinner plans are way different than having fights on the phone in your office

    Yeah, but they can be just as annoying. I have a coworker who calls her husband EVERY SINGLE DAY to tell him when she’ll be home and discuss dinner plans. It drives everyone crazy and she won’t stop or do it elsewhere. No one wants to know what time you’re going to get home or what you’re having for dinner or what cutesy pet name you call your husband.

    Reply
    1. CADMonkey007

      I’ve got a coworker who does this, I’m not sure if his wife calls him, or he calls his wife at the end of the day everyday, but the conversation always begins with “Hello my love.” So. Awkward.

      Reply
      1. Ineloquent

        I have, on occasion, answered phone calls from my husband with ‘Hey honeybutt!” It’s an awkward habit to fall into while you’re at work for sure.

        Reply
    2. Allison

      Some people are completely oblivious to their surroundings when they make calls. Seriously. I hate making calls at my desk, or on public transit, or anywhere where people could potentially be annoyed with me talking on the phone. And maybe that’s too far in the other direction, but seriously, there’s a reason why public telephones used to be in glass boxes.

      Reply
        1. blackcat

          My new building as closet sized rooms on each floor labeled “Phone room.” These rooms have no phones, but they are soundproof and the perfect place to go to make/answer calls. I think they are the minimum sized room allowed by building code (like 3 ft by 3 ft) and have one chair. I love them.

          Reply
    3. Stranger than fiction

      Why can’t these people learn to text?! Or make the call on break if you need to hear their voice. Sorry but that would drive me batty.

      Reply
  7. OriginalEmma

    I had a few coworkers in an old job make multiple personal calls a day. In fact, one kept a Bluetooth in her ear just for that purpose. She would take a call on the Bluetooth WHILE I WAS TALKING TO HER. Another one had intense arguments with her children’s father. It was awkward all around.

    Reply
    1. Going Anon

      At OldJob, I sat near a bunch of the salespeople (my function was writing). They all seemed to have drama — the department was made up of late middle-age women — but one in particular was my favorite. She had two daughters: Sweetie Face and Honey Buns. I’m not sure which one, but one day, I got treated to three separate phone calls (one to Daughter A, one to Daughter B, and then one to Dad/Husband) about Daughter A’s YEAST INFECTION and how she needed to go to the campus health clinic, and oh, how sad for her because she just didn’t know how she got it. 1 hour of gynecological phone calls. At a volume I reserve for flagging down friends in crowded airports. Oh, the joy!

      Reply
  8. Anon Accountant

    My old coworker used to take personal calls all day long. She took between 3-6 personal calls a day. When she left we discovered her work had very high error rates that had went undiscovered. I can’t help but wonder if she hadn’t been on the phone so much and had been concentrating on doing her job if she wouldn’t have had such mistakes.

    Reply
  9. OP

    Thanks again for all the helpful comments on my original post, everyone! I left this out of the update because it’s not entirely relevant, but I think my coworker’s personal life was basically exploding at the time of those phone calls. He is thankfully in a much more stable situation right now, and I don’t think he’s taking tons of calls any more (we’ve hired some people and I moved offices).

    Reply
    1. Charityb

      That’s a good sign then hopefully. I think if his personal life was in turmoil then that at least means that it’s not a permanent situation. It’s hard to walk that tightrope between being compassionate to a fellow human while still in a work setting . You did a great job handling this situation with AAM advice so there’s that too.

      Reply
  10. Anonymous in England

    My old boss who was also the owner was constantly on personal calls with his significant other, siblings, parents, children, and friends. Not just here and there a phone call; it was like 6-7 calls a day back-to-back on his cell and work line. It was so insane. I knew waaay too much about his personal life. I usually just tuned it out, but there were occasionally full-on meltdowns and arguments . It really interfered with the business. I did have to talk to him about one family member who was particularly nasty and would swear at me on the phone if the boss wasn’t there because the family member thought I was lying. Also, the boss asked me to call the police if this particular family member came to the workplace when he wasn’t there while they were having a huge fight. I am very glad I am far, far away from there. Ugh.

    Reply
    1. Panda Bandit

      I know what that’s like! My current managers are a married couple that own the business so there are constant phone calls to each other and tons of arguments and drama.

      Reply
  11. JuniorMinion

    I had someone slightly above me in level book herself a BIKINI WAX complete with details on what shape she wanted from her desk phone on a trading floor

    Reply
  12. Christine16

    One of our favorite family stories is about the time my dad rushed me and my two brothers to my moms work around 8 pm one night. She was a nurse in a hospital who worked the 3-11 shift at the time. He told the receptionist that it was an emergency with one of us kids and to get my mom quickly. My mom rushed out, scared to death something horrible had happened. My dad said “Christine’s tooth is loose and is about to fall out. Can you pull it?”

    Let’s just say he was painfully (and loudly) educated on what constituted a “real” emergency. Lol.

    Reply
  13. AnonForThis

    He was annoying coworkers with calls, and filling in the blanks by discussing his personal business with them. A good reminder to keep your personal business to yourself at work. Glad he pulled it together.

    Reply

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