my coworker is angry that I complained about her many personal calls

A reader writes:

I sit directly behind a co-worker in my office who spends a good part of the day on personal phone calls. How does she get away with this? She slinks down in her desk, holds her cell phone close to her face so her indiscretions are not easily seen — or — the other extreme, she talks loudly enough to be very distracting. We get paid similar salaries for similar work. I always work for my paycheck, she sometimes works for hers.

Two years ago during my annual review I mentioned that a co-worker’s personal phone calls were distracting. The manager knew immediately who I was talking about. Nothing was done and nothing changed.

Finally, this week, after months and months of aggravation, pent-up anger and frustration, I went to a different person in management who is the only other person who can testify to this co-worker’s personal phone time. I asked him to discreetly tell our boss what both he and I go through each day. He said he should have probably mentioned something long ago.

Obviously, he wasn’t discreet, because now that the co-worker has been informed, she and her “friends” at work are cold and snide to me — the fink. I may as well have the word branded on my forehead. I wish I would have handled things differently, but it’s a difficult thing to do with administration who would rather neglect the problem than deal with it.

Finally my question — do I just go about my business and do my best to ignore the backlash, or do I somehow address my co-worker, manager, anyone?


First of all, let’s talk about the right way for your manager to have handled this. If she were a good manager, when you first mentioned the issue to her two years ago (two years! holy crap), she should have immediately addressed the situation — without involving you. But obviously, if she were a good manager, she wouldn’t have a staff member who has spent years not performing at a high level. (Which I’m assuming is the case, based both on your word and on the fact that it’s hard for me to imagine someone kicking ass at their job when they’re on personal calls all day long.) So we already know she’s not a good manager, because she either didn’t realize or didn’t care that she had a low performer on her staff.  Once you brought the issue to her, the problem expanded: Now not only did she not care that she had a low performer, but she also apparently didn’t care that another staff member was being distracted and demoralized by this person’s behavior.

Of course, maybe she cared — but not enough to face the awkwardness and unpleasantness of doing something effective about it. Which in my book is the same as not caring.

A good manager faced with this situation would have addressed it immediately. She would have taken a hard look at your coworker’s output and results, which alone probably would have given her something significant to talk with your coworker about. But she also would done her own investigation into the phone call issue — by spending more time in your office area, coming by unexpectedly, and so forth — so that she could see the problem for herself. At that point, she would have said something like, “Jane, I’ve noticed that you’re spending a lot of time on the phone, on what appear to be personal calls. I need to ask you to rein that in considerably, both because I’d like your attention focused on work and because I’m sure it’s distracting to people around you.” In other words, not mentioning your comments at all. And then she would have followed up through her own observation and by checking back with you to make sure that happened … and if it didn’t, she would have dealt with it the way good managers deal with any performance problem — by setting clear standards and enforcing clear consequences for not meeting those standards.

But she didn’t do that. Instead, she fumbled this and allowed you to end up being blamed — for something that in fact other people should bear the blame for: your coworker, obviously, but also your manager, for letting this go on so long.

So, what do you do now, given that she’s mishandled it? You have two basic choices:

1. You could address your coworker’s coldness head-on, by saying, “Hey, is everything okay? You seem upset with me.” She’ll either raise it or not, and if she does, you might be able to clear the air. If you go this route, I’d just be straightforward about the fact that all her personal calls make it hard for you to concentrate — although be prepared for her to say that you should have said something directly to her first, which is a valid point (although not the main point).

In fact, I actually think it’s reasonable to apologize for not approaching her about it first, if in fact you didn’t — don’t apologize for raising it at all, of course, but for not telling her it was bothering you before you took it higher.

Taking this even further, you could even open the topic proactively instead of waiting for her to bring it up — you could say, “Hey, I want to let you know that I mentioned to Karen that I was finding your personal calls distracting, and I realized in retrospect that I should have talked to you about it first and given you the chance to address it.”

2. You could ignore your coworker’s coldness and assume it’ll go away in time.

And actually, there’s a third option too, one that I’d push more strongly if we weren’t in the middle of a recession: You could look for a job where the manager actually manages — where she sets a high bar and holds people accountable to it, addresses it straightforwardly when people aren’t meeting it, and creates a culture where no one would ever be able to get away with two-plus years of low productivity.

Because overall, the real problem here is your manager. Your loquacious coworker is just a symptom.

{ 55 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I have to say I think this is way off base, or at the very least it isn't accurate for a lot of situations. There is nothing worse than an employee who is unable to keep her head down and focus on her own work without monitoring what her coworkers are doing. The right way for the OP to handle this would be to wear headphones when her concentration is failing, and not concern herrself with the activities of her coworkers. Unless she's admitting that her job is so entry level that anyone off the street can do it, she has to realize that her coworkers must do enough quality work during their productive hours that her manager accepts their shenanigans the rest if the time.

    In other words, respect each of your coworkers and acknowledge that their skills are much more valuable than their ability to "look busy." If you're unable to do this that probably explains why you're not the boss.

  2. Anonymous*

    Of course people are going to be cold to you now.

    You just won the award as the "office snitch".

    Yeah, slackers aren't great but going over peoples' heads to complain about a co-worker isn't going to earn you the trust and confidence of your co-workers.

    Good luck – you had a rough road to hoe, but now it could be worse.

  3. Ask a Manager*

    I'm taking the OP's word in this case that the coworker is indeed a slacker; she said they do similar work, so I'm assuming she knows whether or not the coworker could be highly productive and still on the phone all the time.

    I'm also assuming that if this person were indeed performing at a high level, the manager would have explained that when the OP first mentioned it two years ago. Instead, it sounds like the manager acknowledged it was a problem and did nothing. The second manager also seemed to agree it was a problem.

    But more to the point, I'd sure as hell want to know if one of my staffers were frustrated by something like this (even if it just allowed me to explain that the person's work was great, which doesn't sound like the case here).

    I know it's popular to say "just focus on your own work," but good managers will appreciate a discreet heads-up about a problem, delivered professionally. (Of course, a good manager in this case would have already seen it on her own.)

  4. Anonymous*

    Headphones can be an option but there are some jobs that don't lend themselves to headphones.

    She should have talked to the coworker first but the coworker shouldn't be surprised that someone would have a problem with her phone calls.

  5. Anonymous*

    Alison's advice only addresses the part about the loud conversations. I think what really bothers the op is that they're working while the co worker isn't. And, frankly it should be addressed from a "does the co-worker have enough to do" workload perspective. It's likely the co-worker finishes all of their work and then gets on their cell phone. I mean c'mon, should you really tell someone get off of your cell phone if they have all of their work done? The only way I would say "get off of your phone" is if there's walk in customers. Otherwise it's about results not cell phone monitoring.

  6. R T*

    I disagree with the commenter who said "you should mind your own business" because of course watching this for 2 years is having a corrosive effect on the OP's morale. Of course it is. I don't doubt that some people could make themselves not care but I think for most people this would go from annoying to aggravating to infuriating. At some point it's reasonable to talk to your boss like a human being and say "this is driving me crazy and moreover if you don't know, you should".

  7. Anonymous*

    ummm hello? I'd be more upset I had to deal with their crap for 2 years. Seriously. They can be upset and work through it. I wouldn't address them, talk to them or go out of my way to be nice to them. They're playing the snitch hand? Lovely.

    Your co-workers? Lack maturity. They need to grow up and take responsibility for their own behavior or get shown the door. Your boss? They need a crash course on managing people out the door and the backbone to do it.

  8. Anonymous*

    Focus on your own work and let your manager do the managing! I used to work with a man who left his Facebook up all day and would check it throughout. He took long lunches and was usually late. My boss knew about this behavior and didn't care. Why? Because this coworker was innovative, smart, and produced very high quality work. His selective slacking was a way to blow off steam and my boss was good enough to be able to see the forest for the trees. Your coworker's habit may be annoying but there is a good chance that her boss lets it slide because she offers talents and ideas that others can't and don't. In other words, mind your own business.

  9. Anonymous*

    To the original poster:

    Different people have different methods of working. It is entirely possible that your colleague is on top of her work and gets on the phone between "bursts" of working. If her performance is otherwise generally satisfactory, then the manager clearly doesn't have a problem with her phone calls. If your manager is aware of a problem, it would be unprofessional and inappropriate to discuss any action with you.

    And frankly, you can't be that engaged with your own tasks if you are so bothered with this. Congratulations for alienating your colleagues too – you're now the office snitch.

    I'm afraid that you come across as a busybody. Get on with your own job and mind your own business. And if you're that dissatisfied with the company, then go and look for something else.

  10. Dawn*

    "I mean c'mon, should you really tell someone get off of your cell phone if they have all of their work done?"

    Um…yes! Letting someone talk on their cell phone all day at their place of WORK is just wrong. It leads to situations such as the one the OP raised. If someone works so efficiently that they have time to talk on their cell phone for a large portion of the day, they need to ask for more work to do. Or, they are ready to move on to a more challenging position. Or, even better, their manager needs to "manage" by having a talk with that co-worker to see why it is they have so much time on their hands. Letting an employee talk on their cell phone all day sends the message that the manager either doesn't care, is oblivious, or is showing favoritism.

  11. Dawn*

    Reading through all the comments, it's astonishing to me how many people are saying "mind your own business." I went through this early in my career.

    I started out as a bank teller. The branch I worked at had a good bunch of people…until the senior teller was promoted to head teller. She was best friends with the teller manager. She would spend most of the day on the phone or in "meetings" with the teller manager. 99% of the time she took an hour for lunch when everyone else got a half hour. When the teller manager went on vacation, she would hole up in the conference room with instructions to tell everyone that called that she was in a "meeting." She would be in there ALL DAY on the phone. For about six months I did most of the work the head teller was supposed to do, even though I was the part-timer. I did this without complaint since I knew it was benefitting me in terms of learning. Finally, my morale suffered and I eventually brought it to the attention of the teller manager, then the branch manager. Nothing was done. Eventually I applied for a teller manager position and moved to another branch.

    My morale really suffered towards the end. Had someone said to me, "X works very hard and does A, B, and C. That's why we allow her to take a longer lunch," that would have really helped me understand the situation. Now that I'm in a position to manage, there are things I let slide, because my employees are awesome in every other way. Obviously that wasn't true in the case of my manager and the head teller, but I'm just trying to make a point. OP's manager should have attempted to explain WHY she's allowed to be on the phone. All the employee sees is a co-worker who gets away with murder. Until someone gets into a management position, they don't understand that there are times when you let things slide because someone consistently puts in a few hours on the weekend,or helped with a special project, etc.

  12. Anonymous*

    I used to work with a woman who viewed herself as the office "hall monitor" and spent a lot of time monitoring the actions of her fellow employees and then reporting them for any and all infractions. She drove our manager nuts and didn't get much actual work done. Mostly, she just made everyone miserable. She isn't employed anymore, anywhere.

    A lot of people are saying "mind your own business" and "focus on your own job" because we have all worked with someone like that.

  13. Dawn*

    "A lot of people are saying "mind your own business" and "focus on your own job" because we have all worked with someone like that."

    I have, too, and people like that are a huge pain. But, OP doesn't sound like the hall monitor type. If she was, she would have reported it the very first time she saw it happen. She did report it two years ago, but she mentions "calls," plural, which leads me to believe it was happening for awhile before she said something.

  14. Anonymous*

    It is possible to tell that your slacking coworker is just slacking, not uber-talented.

    I am not saying that people are never wrong about this but some of these comments seem to be saying that people are always wrong about this. Why not allow for the possibility that the OP knows what they're talking about?

    I have trouble believing that no one here has worked with a colleague where there was no question that they were lazy and unproductive.

    1. Anonymous*

      It doesn’t really matter if your co-worker is productive or not. It doesn’t matter if your manager’s style is competent or not. The truth is, they may have valid, noble reasons for their behavior, or they may just be depending on you to do most of the work because they are best friends. They are who they are – and productive work environments can often exist with these personality types. The catch is, they usually need to work with similar personality types – or with a submissive doormat who will take what is dished out and not complain. It sounds like the OP has felt uncomfortable in the work environment for quite a while, and sounds like they don’t fit in with the culture. My advice to the OP: you work for your manager. The main person you have to make happy is your manager, because if you don’t, they have no reason to keep you employed. Without your manager’s support, it will become increasingly difficult to remain employed. If you can’t provide what your manager wants – which in this case seems to be doing a disproportionately larger percentage of the work than your co-worker, and not making waves with other employees – you will have more job security and be happier somewhere else. You don’t necessarily have to leave the company – you can try transferring to another department. If you are unable to transfer right away, or don’t want to for reasons of your own – you will be happier if you adapt to the current office culture. – Admittedly, it’s more difficult to take this attitude if you care about your company’s or department’s performance. But remember, your company/department hired your manager and your coworkers, as well as you. It was their job to do so. Now it’s you’re job to give them what they want – not what you want them to have. (I know my advice can sound like shirking responsibility. But work is not a democracy – it’s authoritarian. And, it’s what you agreed to do when you accepted the job – help them in the way they want to be helped for $X. And one more word of advice: if you will give this a chance, you may just find that their way of working can be as or more effective for these particular people than your way. Keep an open mind.)

  15. Louis*

    I had a employee that would spend 2-3 hours each day playing Sodoku on his computer.

    I realised that it was annoying to the rest of the team but that guy was such a high performer that I would probably have tolerated anything short of him cimming to the office naked. I only once told him to at try to be more discreat when he was doing non work related stuff because someone higher up could react badly.

    The guy could do a full day workload of any other guy in an hour and the quality was there too. Even slaking off 2-3 hours a day, he was still delivering more than everyone else on the team.

    The thing is I just didn't have more stuff to give him. He was not used to his full potential that's a given, but it's not like I had the ability to conjure up challenging work without stepping outside the scope of what my team is suppose to do.

    I always keept a good relation with him and gave him good review. After 9 month he got a promotion in another departement and I now have a strong allie there.

    All in all, it turned out good for me, good for him and good for the company.

    I would definitly have told someone who complained about his behavior to worried about their own work.

  16. Anonymous*

    I worked as a contractor at a government site and sat next to a woman that spent most of her day on the phone, loudly discussing personal details of her life. My group could do nothing about it because she was government and we were not so I understand how the OP feels. Even if the person is doing a lot of work (which it does not sounds like they are!), it is awful to try to complete your own work and listen to someone on the phone all day long. I'm sure part of her problem with it was having to listen in, through no wish of her own, to all sorts of personal conversations. People saying she should mind her own business obviously haven't been in a similar situation!

  17. Anonymous*

    Frequent personal phone calls are UNPROFESSIONAL and INCONSIDERATE � performance level and workload are COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT. I really don�t want to hear all the details of your kidney stones or custody disputes.

    Also, is it just me, or does it seem like all the Anonymous posts saying "mind your business" are from the same person (and that maybe he was describing himself when referring to the "innovative, smart facebook-checking coworker")?

    1. Marie*

      “Also, is it just me, or does it seem like all the Anonymous posts saying “mind your business” are from the same person (and that maybe he was describing himself when referring to the “innovative, smart facebook-checking coworker”)?”

      I agree!

  18. Jamie*

    I'm surprised at how harsh many of the responses have been.

    Granted, those people who monitor co-workers out of spite are irritating – but there's no evidence presented that the OP is one of those.

    She had a problem and mentioned it to her manager. When her manager did respond she went to someone else after two years. That's a long time lag for an office snitch.

    Of course she was irritated by the personal calls. Hearing them is annoying, but the continual reminder that she's slacking off is worse…that's the kind of thing that gets more irritating as time passes (like a pebble in your shoe) and can be really hard to ignore.

    There have been studies proving that under performing (lazy) colleagues when tolerating by management actually add negative value to their work places (from a financial perspective) because they either lower the morale and productivity of others (why kill yourself working when there are no consequences for coasting) and higher turnovers of your high performers.

    There can be a reason for perceived favoritism – but that should be made known in brief – and it shouldn't extend to anything that impacts others.

    For example – I'm IT so sometimes I come in an hour or so after everyone else. Someone commented to the owner that it seemed I come and go as I please. This person didn't know that due things I needed to do after hours (no users in system) I was working until 10:30 – 11:00 at night…which is why I was wandering in at 9:00 am.

    I didn't have a problem with that being explained – with no explanation the resentment would have continued to build.

    It doesn't sound like there are extenuating circumstances in the chatty co-workers performance.

  19. KellyK*

    While I'm usually in the "mind your own business" camp on people's breaks and phone calls, the problem here is not about the LW trying to monitor the coworker's behavior–it's that the coworker is distracting the LW, so that they can't get their work done.

    We're not talking about checking Facebook or doing a round of Sudoku (or a dozen) to clear your head; we're talking about being loud enough to keep others from getting their own work done.

    If we were talking about when/how/if to bring it up to the manager, I'd suggest focusing on the fact that they're being distracted, not that the coworker is making personal calls, but we're past that point, as it's already been brought up. It might have been worth asking her to be discreet about her calls earlier, since she has shown that she can "slink down in her desk" and have the conversation quietly.

  20. Jamie*

    I rarely disagree with Allison, but I personally wouldn't apologize for not going to the co-worker first.

    It can be dicey bringing up issues involving rule breaking to a peer – the attitude of "you're not my boss" can rear it's ugly head here. Then you may have to go to the manager anyway which would feel more like tattling to me.

    If it can be done in a conversational and cooperative way, then it's better to confront them directly. But if not it's safer to go to the manager and let her handle it as she should have – as Allison said, by investigating for herself and addressing the issue without bringing the OP's name into it.

    Lazy co-workers and passive management is a toxic combination.

  21. Anonymous*

    To the anons who take the side of coworker:

    I have ZERO sympathy for the coworker. The only thing which would pause me from firing/managing her out that coworker is that she's using her own line.

    I feel for the OP. I dealt with similar issues — I worked in a doctor's office where I monitored the phones, and my coworker would use the line to conduct her personal life. You use your personal time to conduct your personal life, not office time. I don't care that you're friends with the manager, or if you have to go to the doctor's or you're married or whatnot. Big deal. I managed to talk to my family and schedule my doctor's appointments on my own time. Her daughters, who were several years older than me would call on the main line and tie it up. And they weren't emergencies at all. This woman once freaked out on me because I got distracted by a fire alarm sounding in the building (last office on the last floor, didn't want to burn to a crisp if there was an actual fire). But oh no, I was not supposed to notice she was affecting my job, or that patients who might be in the middle of a heart attack were getting busy signals or anything like that. As far as I'm concerned, if you conduct your personal life within earshot of your coworkers, you void the idea that they're being nosy hall monitors, and if you freak out about your personal calls not being immediately forwarded to you above everything else (I was NOT this woman's secretary and she did NOT sign off on my performance reviews) then you give up the idea that I'm not supposed to monitor that, especially in a three person office.

  22. Gimme a Break*

    Oh Please.

    Try "minding your own business" when you are sharing a 10' x 10' space with a woman who uses the phone in your office (she had no cell phone) to call her husband upwards of 5 times per day to tell him stuff like, "no honey, I didn't see your Facebook post today."

    Through no fault of my own (other than the misfortune of having to share an office with this woman), I got to hear all the intimate details about my co-worker's fertility treatments, domestic squabbles, financial troubles, plans to go to the shotgun target range, you name it.

    Luckily she started working from home after having a baby and I got the office all to myself until they fired a year later for (guess what?) poor performance.

    We all make personal calls at work from time to time, but no one is SO AWESOME at their job that it somehow makes it professional to spend hours of company time on the phone talking to friends and family.

  23. Anonymous*

    I take offense to the notion that the manager was "bad" because this person ASS-U-MEs nothing was done.

    We had a similar situation happen in our office, with the notable exception of the offender being one of our top performers! They even out performed the "fink"(OP's word, not mine)according to our statistics.

    How does the OP know nothing was done? There could be a write up ten pages thick in the offender's file.

    When something is brought to my attention,I respond "Thank you, I will look into that" and leave it at that. I do not make it a habit of disciplining employees and then reporting back to their co-worker. It is none of the co-worker's business how another employee is disciplined.

    I've been in management for several years and one thing I continue to notice about these situations:

    1)The offender always suspects their closest neighbor or cube mate. Why? Because they are in a position to see each other most of the day. Regardless of who the whistle-blower may be, those in close proximity are often the suspect.

    2)More times than not, the whistle-blower is often just as guilty as the offender. By casting a light on someone else, they are free to fall in the shadows for a while.

    3)Results speak for themselves. Just because two people have the exact same job, doesn't mean they will put out the exact same results. True, I don't pay my employees to spend their whole day on the phone, but I also don't pay them to spy on their cube mates either. And my company doesn't pay me to walk around seeing who's on personal calls.

    The OP needs to worry about their own performance.

  24. I've Fired People Over This*

    If the "mind your own business, suck it up and deal" posters aren't just trolls, then they certainly wouldn't last long in my department.

    I don't mind you taking a little quiet break to clear your head. Far be it from me to tell my employees they can't read the sports page, take a quick call, or do a crossword when I do it from time to time myself. I mind when you're not getting your work done and when you start pissing off your neighbors (or me) to the point where it affects their (our) work.

    I've fired two people in my working lifetime (18 years) over personal calls. One had no sense of boundaries about what his coworkers overheard, to the point where neighboring coworkers were getting uncomfortable hearing his plans with his girlfriend for the evening. The other for some reason felt compelled to yell everything she said and shriek at the top of her lungs with laughter whenever she was on a personal call (2-3 times a day for 10-30 minutes a call), disrupting coworkers on BUSINESS calls in neighboring cubes.

    In both cases, I gave two clear and explicit warnings and chances to fix it before firing. In both cases, they challenged me for unemployment benefits and failed. So, the state agrees with me that you don't have the right to act like a 13-year-old girl all day at work if that's not what I'm paying you to do.

    Everyone else? They could manage their personal lives and get all their work done without slacking and without annoying me or their coworkers. If these comments are anything to go by, this is apparently harder to do than it sounds, and I should be grateful I have a group of employees who actually work as a team instead of as a bunch of individual selfish jerks.

    1. Anonymous*

      Yes, you should absolutely be grateful for your team. There are plenty of offices of individual selfish jerks out there; I’ve had to work with them. I just left as soon as possible and found myself a better place. But I know the selfish jerks are still out there, huddled in offices around the country, making everyone’s lives miserable. — Your team should also be grateful to you for making sure that workers who don’t “go with the flow” don’t stick around making their lives a misery.

    2. Theba*

      Can I come work for you? Apparently I’m the one who’s out of step with the times. Most studies state that it’s “normal” to waste 2-4 hours a day (not including work/breaks). I’m embarrassed if someone walks by my cube and I’m surfing the internet or on the phone. Still I’m pretty new at my job and I don’t want to violate the culture of work (or non-work) that exists in my office. I have no interest in being an army of one. I want to fit in and stay focused. (And BTW, while the phone thing would drive me nuts, I wouldn’t have complained – the OP had her answer when the manager didn’t do anything about it.)

  25. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous 2:08, the OP knows nothing was done (at least nothing that made an impact) because the problem continued for another two years.

    If the coworker is actually a great performer, then the manager needs to use this opportunity to fill the OP in — by explaining that, so that she has a better understanding of the situation. It's unrealistic to say that she should just mind her own business; morale is real. So is the concept that a coworker like this — or someone who APPEARS to be a slacker coworker — can change the culture and the standards of performance that other people perceive.

  26. Anonymous*

    To those who say "mind your own business," how can the OP mind his/her own business when s/he hears her co-worker loudly say on a personal call, "Oh My God, my son just got over the flu in which he was constantly puking, and my mother is still in the hospital from her gallbladder surgery. And my brother and his wife are on the splits." The OP doesn't mean to eavesdrop, but it's kind of hard not to get the entire family tree and who-did-what-to-whom when the caller is allowing the entire office to hear the whole thing.

    I've worked in a cubicle-type office, and the woman next to mine just wouldn't leave it about her trips and family problems – and she was NOT on the phone! Granted she was sharing it with someone who apparently sounded like they cared, but I couldn't care less about her situation. My supervisor knew she was a problem, and I don't know if she ever said anything to her. Luckily, she left her desk a lot to go to other offices in the company so I didn't always have to put up with her nonsense chatter.

  27. Kat*

    So poorly handled by the management. Instead of addressing the issue about disruptive behavior, looks like the manager took the heat off themselves placing the blame on the OP. Perhaps indirectly, but enough info was disclosed that this small minded coworker knew who it was. An appropriate measure would have been if the supervisor/manager made their own observations and then took action. When you work with high school minded people, they truly suck the life out of you, making an otherwise pleasant workplace one of hardship and unnecessary stress.

  28. Anonymous*

    To anon @2:08…yes, you do get paid to watch your employees. As a manager it's your job to make sure your employees are doing their jobs and doing them well.

    If an employee is complaining that she's being distracted by the numerous personal calls going on 10 feet away and it has continued FOR TWO YEARS, that reflects poorly on the manager, unless he/she can make a real case for letting that behavior continue. A few personal calls are fine in my book, but when these calls are going on all day long and other people are so distracted they can't get their work done, there is no reason I can think of that would justify this.

    As managers we have the expectation that our employees know their boundaries, but unless we keep a lookout, a situation such as OP's can be brewing right under our noses without us knowing it. We can't be in all places at once. I'd rather an employee bring it to my attention than see her leave because her morale has taken a beating.

    If someone complains about another employee, I will either say, "The problem is being addressed," or, "Yes, she does come in 15 minutes late several times a week, but she contributes XYZ and stays much later than everyone else."

  29. Anonymous*

    (The anonymous from the 1st comment)

    Some work requires you to put your nose to the grindstone and get a task done. Creative work is harder to force. I can understand why you'd resent someone getting away with slacking off as a receptionist or bank teller, because she could be easily replaced. But in a job requiring creativity, the manager probably values the ability to innovate more than work ethic, and shouldn't have to justify it.

    Most offices have jobs of both types, so I think problems arise when an employee starts comparing herself to everyone else, even though their manager isn't holding them to the same standards.

    No one has to sit you down and explain to you that the founder/CEO of your company has accomplished a lot and deserves your respect. Why is it any different with the person in the next cubicle over? Respect every one of your coworkers by default and you will find it is a lot easier to get along with everyone, and be well liked yourself.

  30. Laura*

    I'm with AAM (as per usual) on this issue. I'm certainly a "mind my own business" gal – it really doesn't matter to my job if people slack off as long as I'm recognized and their poor performance doesn't affect my job or my time at work. Clearly this is hindering the OP's ability to focus and work at her best.

    I find it hard to believe that (if we take the OP's word) this person could be such a high performer if she is truly taking up so much time with personal stuff. At my workplace there is an individual just like this; I get to hear her personal stories as she talks to her mother for hours each day. I find it more amusing than annoying, but it DOES affect her work performance. A good manager would deal with this, but my passive-aggressive manager just lets it slide and then complains later that X isn't getting stuff done.

    This isn't a case of a Sudoku game or a little online shopping or Facebook checking. This is very different, and was very mishandled.

  31. Anonymous*

    Anon at 4:01, you are right about respect and all that… but that still doesn't matter with a co-worker who is creating a distracting work environment. OP went and told her manager (as she should have) that there was a distraction to her work. And it was not dealt with.

    There's a big big big difference between having to hear about someone's personal business day in and day out and working with creative co-workers who may work in an unorthodox fashion.

  32. Anonymous*

    Anon @ 4:01: She isn't comparing herself to everyone else. She's comparing herself to someone who has a similar job with similar pay.

  33. Jean*

    I'm the OP who no longer could take the daily distractions of personal phone calls from the co-worker who sits in a desk directly in front of me. Am I a busybody? Far from it.I couldn't care less what she does in her life, just as long as she doesn't force me to hear it. (and FYI..I tried cotton, earplugs and headphones….nothing worked, she can be THAT loud.)
    I appreciate the advice and comments and am actually bouyed by those who have shared a similar situation and described exactly how I felt. Thanks to all.
    Here's the update…my co-worker and I now are politely talking and her personal phone time has somewhat decreased. Overall, it helped the situation, and though,in retrospect I may have done it somewhat differently, I am very glad I finally decided to speak up. Recently I was told that I am being promoted and my seat is being changed. Hallelujah — there is a God and a different manager who actually cares.

  34. Cassie*

    Having to deal with a nearby coworker chatting on the phone all day long is frustrating – I have to spend all day listening to people chatting with other staff (people don't walk into offices anymore – they just stand in the doorway and talk so from my cubicle, I can hear just about everything).

    To the OP: stop worrying about how your coworker and her friends feel. Continue being professional and courteous. Unless any of them are in a position of power (which would suck), it kind of doesn't matter if they like you or not. So they think you're a snitch – so what?

  35. Sarah G*

    I just want to weigh in on a couple aspects of this —

    To the "mind your own business" people, your missing the point that the OP was distracted and having difficulty doing her own job. Loud personal phone calls are not comparable with quietly surfing facebook all day.

    Also, I just went from a job where I was one of the few people there who worked really hard, to a job where almost everyone works really hard. The boost in morale is unbelievable. It DOES make a huge difference!

  36. Anonymous*

    I'm going to take a different slant. Some people are just more sensitive to sound and noise than others. The office I currenlty work in is split–the majority of my coworkers are in cubes down a row of offices. While I sometimes feel a little isolated, I know I would go bonkers if I worked around the others because one has a radio on constantly. It would distract me to no end. At my former job, my cube was near the copier. Even the sound of this would really distract me and make it hard to concentrate. I think people should be able to speak up and ASK for things that will help them to work better. It's not a case of mind your own business, or even pointing fingers, but what can we do to create our own most productive work environments. It's different for everyone. A good manager will understand that, and will have to balance the needs of their whole team to find/create the best place possible for all members.
    So glad to hear about the promotion and change of chairs!

  37. Anonymous*

    I just wrote about being sensitive to sound/noise. I wanted to add, we all know people who talk loudly, whether it's due to being hard of hearing (too much loud music), poor cell phone connections, the desire to appear important to whomever may be listening, or whatever. I would have a hard time sitting next to someone who talked loudly on the phone, regardless of whether it was work-related or personal. Volume is volume.

    Again, congrats on the move and up.

  38. Anonymous*

    Personal cell phone calls do NOT belong in the office – this is unprofessional. And what was wrong with the supervisor for allowing this situation to fester for two years?

    The OP of this thread was right to complain; it's not possible to "mind one's own business" when some childish co-worker insists on behaving in an EXTREMELY unprofessional way – in this case, making incessant personal phone calls on company time.

  39. Anonymous*

    "To the "mind your own business" people, your missing the point that the OP was distracted and having difficulty doing her own job. Loud personal phone calls are not comparable with quietly surfing facebook all day."

    Then you ask to be moved. Simple as that.

    The original poster complained to management. And then she should have asked to be moved or she should've let it go. Subsequently it's an issue between the colleague and the manager and is indeed none of her business. And she can't handle that, she can look for another job.

    I'm glad the poster is happier but frankly there's something that doesn't ring true here. I laugh at the idea of "months and months of aggravation, pent-up anger and frustration". Go to the manager, insist on being moved and if this doesn't happen, look for something else. Don't put up with it with two years.

    Some people enjoy banging their heads against a wall – no matter how many times they say ouch.

  40. Jean*

    To the last poster….
    No, I didn't enjoy "banging my head against the wall for two years" and yes, I should have gone to the supervisor much earlier. But I just kept hoping and believing that at some point administration would realize and take care of the situation. It wasn't easy reporting negative information about a co-worker. In fact, I hated doing it. But I refused to give up a job I actually enjoy because of one person who doesn't know when to draw the line on personal yapping. Believe me, if any situation resembling this were to occur again, it would take much less time for me to seek a solution.

  41. WC*

    Oh please.. I agree with the OP and I don’t think she’s trying to be a hall monitor. There’s a big difference between a short personal call and having to put on your headphones just to blur out someone’s ridiculous and POINTLESS personal calls. These loud talkers need to grow up and get some respect for the people around you AND YOUR CAREER!

  42. Marie*

    The OP did the right thing – her co-worker was being extremely unprofessional to chat on the phone all the time. When you show up at your job, you’re getting paid to work, and not slack off and chit-chat on the phone all day. The OP was NOT being a “snitch”; telling her supervisor about the co-worker was the right thing to do.

  43. Penny*

    The people in the “mind your own business and suck it up camp” are most likely people who are in love with the sound of their own voice and love to spend hours of their workday on loud personal calls, inflicting the minutiae of their lives upon their coworkers, who couldn’t give a fig less about any of it and just want the peaceful work environment they deserve. These people obviously believe it’s their right to do so, and are attempting to defend their discourteous and rude actions. Employees goofing off at work is one thing — disturbing everyone else while they do it is unacceptable. Learn some freaking manners.

  44. Anonymous*

    I have same coworker but she uses her cell phone to talk with her boyfriends in a very disturbing type of conversation including sounds. also she fakes perfectly when the supervisor is around she is in the computer “working” .. I sit behind her and I feel disgusting about her behavior, four members of our team reported and it is in an investigation with HR… Is that this type of people survive and live like parasites>

  45. Sid*

    have an issue. I am a manager for a department, and have had many, (as well as myself), complain to the general manager about our office manager bringing her disgusting dogs to work. Not only are they always in the way, they litterally shit on the floor in the office. The whole accounting office smells like a n outhouse. One of the office girls a few days ago actually had to run to the bathroom to throw up. And when she walks them throughout the day, they shit all over the property, some of which she cleans. They have even crapped in the showroom. I know this sounds crazy, but I am softening it up. The GM does nothing, in fact, he just blows me off and gets pissed when I bring it up. They are friends. Enough is enough. We have over 40 employees, and I really need to do something. I know what I need to do, but I guess I just need to hear it from the outside. What is my next step?, The owner?, OSHA?, theres more, but this is enough.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If the company is willing to allow it, and it’s not a food service place where regulations about animals would come into play, then it’s really their call to make.

      1. Sid*

        Thats kind of sad. I would think it would fall under some kind of unsanitary work condition. I would hope that most employer’s would think of all there employee’s, not just one.

        1. Raging Dragon*

          I’d suggest digging up the laws about having a sanitary workplace in your state, there might be some kind of regulation your employer is violating, or talk to a labour lawyer.

  46. Anonymous*

    I think that it is just unporfessional that this company allows their employees talk on the phone all day. Don’t people unstand that you should be professional at work; whether or not your are done with your work? This sounds like it can also become a possible lawsuit in the fact that no employee can trust their Manager with a complaint. Now with other collegues getting involved and giving the OP cold shoulders doesn’t sound a bit hostile? Like really? We live in this day and age and there are no work rules?
    Those who are calling this person a snitch wouldn’t you want to trust your manager with your complaint?

  47. Gm*

    There is a small study which has proven that persons exposed to someone else’s phone conversation actually “fill in the blanks” whether they want to or not. Overall, they were on the order of 30 to 70 percent less productive depending on the task than the control. With that statement I preface my reply through the paradigm that we humans are distractable creatures – whether we want to admit it or not.

    The trick is -on some days, some people are less able to cope with the distraction and mitigate the impact on their own productivity. Further, some individuals are significantly less-secure in their own lives, and certain “tee-toataling” behaviors can surface as a result perhaps triggered by the offended person’s presumption that her coworker does nothing but talk on the telephone all day long.

    The assertions on both sides of this argument are equally compelling. On the one hand, this “offended person” ideally should not have to put up with unsolicited verbal diarrhea. On the other, it could be said that coworkers offended by (what could be considered) petty issues like this must not have enough to do.

    It really comes down expectations. Managers have expectations of their staff, but it is possible for staff to have expectations among themselves. These are usually established through trial and error. For example – smelly food…my co-worker cannot stand the smell of Chinese or Indian cuisine, so out of respect for her preferences-and because she has shown similar considerations for me on matters of the temperature of the room- I simply do not bring these foods into our space. These actions (me not bringing the food – her not boiling me out of the room) speak louder than words, and form a strong basis of mutual respect through “give and take”.

    Along these lines, I would pose the following question to myself FIRST before taking offense and reporting it to my supervisor: What might I be doing all day long that could be considered distracting? Have I noticed any non-verbal cues from my blabbermouth coworker which might indicate she is offended by something I’m doing? Do you tap your fingers, clear your throat, sigh constantly, type loud, squeak your chair, tap your feet, constantly snack, or perhaps do anything else which may even be considered remotely annoying? If so, focus in on what that is – and if you can find something that annoys her…stop it. Specifically with the phone, however, I’ve found it helpful to lead by example by taking personal calls “off-the-floor” without fail.

    Good Luck

    You may find that olive branch – no matter how small it is – will eventually register as a show of respect…and will hopefully form the basis of a mutual understanding between the two of you.

    Never mind “trying to be nosy”, or “office snitch”, or “hall monitor”.

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