my employee is on personal calls all day long

A reader writes:

I have an employee who is always on personal calls. She manages to deliver all required and assigned tasks. It’s just the fact that she likes talking on (her cell) phone while she is working. Perhaps it is the mutli-tasking capabilities of a younger generation.

Nevertheless, her neighbour found her whispering of conversations disruptive.

Any recommendations?

Yes. Tell her that her conversations are too disruptive and she needs to keep it to a minimum.

Her and her coworkers’ ability to get their work done trumps her desire to make personal calls during the day. You say it’s not interfering with her own work (although I’ve got to wonder how much more productive she’d be without being “always” on the phone; doing the basics is not the same as wowing you, and you want someone who will wow you), but it’s interfering with her coworker’s — hence, the calls need to be reined in.

And don’t be this manager.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Slaten*

    Yeah, go ahead and tell her that her co-worker finds her distracting. Nothing like an office war!

    Don’t shift blame to the other person just do your job and tell her to get off the phone and keep personal calls to a minimum.

    1. Anonymous*

      AAM didn’t say anything about shifting the blame to the co-worker, just telling her the conversations are disruptive. In fact, if you read her link to “don’t be this manager” she’s saying NOT to shift the blame to the co-worker.

  2. Rose*

    Or, you could ask her to take on new responsibilities, but let her choose which ones. Maybe she’s stunted in her job….

    1. Mike*

      This right here. If she can do all over her work while on the phone, you need to give her more meaningful/interesting/difficult work.

      This isn’t really a big deal, but employers need to understand that the mind needs to be occupied in some way or they’re going to find a way.

  3. Anonymous*

    She might challenge you “But I get all my work done!” And to this, you can reply any or all of the below:
    – “Yes, but you also give me the impression that you’re not ready for additional responsibility, so when I have extra tasks to get done, I take them to other people.” (“… and they’ll get promoted and not you.”)
    – “I find your phone calls distracting.” (This won’t work if your office isn’t anywhere near her desk or if you’re never physically around, obviously)
    – “This is an office environment and it’s unprofessional for you to be on the phone making frequent personal calls.” (Mean-but-true followup: “I don’t pay you to make personal calls”)
    – “If you have time to make personal calls, then you have time to do more work.”

    Also, it’s pretty funny that she’s whispering. Maybe she thinks no one notices that she’s on the phone!

    1. Mike*

      None of these passive aggressive responses addresses the real issue and instead enforce the “I’m the boss, do what I say” attitude. It’s obvious to me that this person has more to give the company and I say give her the chance to do so!

    2. KellyK*

      Also, it’s pretty funny that she’s whispering. Maybe she thinks no one notices that she’s on the phone!

      Or she’s trying to politely minimize the distraction to others.

      1. Kelso*

        Or in my expereince with office mates, she is whispering because she is talking about others in the office or complaining about her job.

  4. Phideaux*

    I’m with Slaten. Place the focus on the fact that personal business is being conducted on company time, regardless of the fact that she gets her work done. Most companies have some sort of “no personal business” rule in place and one would be hard pressed to claim it was their right to take personal calls, surf the net, or whatever.

  5. Joey*

    Focusing on how the personal calls impede work is the right approach, but I think it’s pretty weak to say “You’re bothering your co workers by whispering” unless the co workers are surgeons or something.

    1. JessB*

      I agree Joey, how much of a problem can it be?

      If she’s getting all her work done, I’d be telling the co-worker to get some headphones.

  6. Bohdan Rohbock*

    I think the ‘you’re doing personal work on company time’ bit is weak. It’s weakest if the employee is an exempt employee and ‘company time’ begins to get fuzzy.

    I think it’s best to do what AAM suggested and be direct. This does not require any naming of names, though the employee may well try to hunt out the ‘rat’. It’s also probably worth explaining that her behavior creates an appearance that is unprofessional and undedicated and will effect her raises and chance for promotion.

    If you start trying to police ‘company time’ you’re just becoming a constant cop and that will kill your own effectiveness.

  7. Anonymous*

    Why are people so certain this employee has more to offer to the company? Has she asked for more responsibilities? Offered to learn new tasks? She’s simply doing what she’s expected to do–which isn’t the mark of a great employee.

    If I were the co-worker, I’d lean over and make it clear I was listening. After all, if she’s taking personal calls in the office she can’t have an expectation of privacy. Maybe that would make her uncomfortable enough to take the conversations outside.

  8. Dawn*

    I don’t care whether work is getting done or not, the office isn’t the place for excessive personal phone calls. I have no problem with a couple quick phone calls . If it’s impeding another person’s work, it’s a problem.

  9. Laura*

    There is a time and a place for all activities including phone calls. I see a couple of issues with this particular situation. 1st; The workplace values or lack of clearly defined strategic values have created an environment that allows the behavior to grow. If you truly want to correct the behavior of difficult employees, you have to start be creating an environment that can sustain a culture, that only grows what you want it to. 2nd; There is clearly a breakdown in effective communication. A communication training seminar could offer some assistance with this.
    3rd; This employee needs to have expectations clearly outlined and her purpose within the organization defined.
    4th; There is a a meeting point in between, restrict her phone calls in a harsh and authoritative way and just tell her colleague to deal with it. When dealing with Generation Y a different approach may serve you better. First clearly state your expectations, then explain the why to justify your expectations, and finally offer a solution that meets both the needs of your company and the needs of your employee. An example might be, allow her to make calls from her desk for 10 mins of every hour, perhaps from 9:50 to 10 and again from 10:50 to 11. A conversation about a respectful “inside voices” should also be had. This type of a solution allows the employee to feel important and valued but also gives the same courtesy to the other members of the office. Her productivity will go up when she feels important and is provided with purpose within her job. You could take it one step further and allow all office personnel to have the same privilege. After all, happy employees are engaged employees. I hope some of these suggestions may offer some relief to the office talker!

      1. Dawn*

        I totally disagree with telling someone it’s OK to make personal calls every hour. Personal calls should be for those times when you need to make an appointment, check on your car which is being serviced, etc.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree with Kara and Dawn – personal calls should be infrequent when needed.

          IMO if someone has that much time to chat and is getting their work done then they either need more work or the job should be restructured to part time.

          This is one of those annoyances that seem petty – but it really can be disruptive to those trying to get their work done.

  10. Syd*

    I have a situation with a co-worker who talks a lot on her cell phone for family-related issues and plays on Facebook, and receives and calls for her husband’s business. I have another co-worker who is more problematic because she is a good friend with the boss and likes to hang out in the boss’s office to talk (some business issues, but seems more personal because they are laughing out-loud). This is difficult for us because she has become her confidant, and it looks like they make decisions together for our department and this create a friction. When she is in the office she types a lot (60+ words per minutes–distracting keyboarding in a quiet area because what we do is more ordering and receiving witch is something we don’t have need to email friends or use Facebook). They are both multi-taskers; however, it’s a distraction for me and others and then I found myself receiving new assignments that could have been given to those two individuals who are busy multi-tasking with work and personal activities. My biggest concern now is that there is a job position that will pay more as a supervisor in our department. The rest of us are not happy with the boss’s friend applying for the job because of a real conflict of interest. What will be three good questions to ask for the supervising position (for an internal candidate and outside)? I would like to ask the same question to the candidates, but to make it difficult to the co-worker who is the boss’s friend. What would you suggest as a good behavioral or competency based questions to better understand the candidate’s motivations for my concerns?

    These are some examples of computer usage that could result in disciplinary action in my company:
    Using computing for a commercial purpose; playing games on the network or shared computing resources; using talk, write or inter-relay chat resources for non-academic purposes or in a frivolous manner.

    Thank you for you time and I appreciate any help!

  11. Anonymous*

    I tripped over this article, because I am trying to deal with one of my direct reports who has a “phone” issue. I decided to address it with my team as a whole and advised that while I wasn’t telling them personal calls weren’t allowed I was telling them, they should be kept to a minimum in both frequency and length. That worked for a day. Next week we will have our monthly one on one meeting, where unfortunately I will be telling her, occasional personal calls are acceptable, but the frequency and lenght of her calls is not, it is unprofessional and at the end of the day, this is where you “work”. I don’t want this to be a performance issue for her, but if this behavior doesn’t change, I may have to take it to the formal disciplinary level.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If the problem is just this one person, deal with her directly — don’t scold the whole team. Your plan to meet with her one-on-one about it sounds like the right one!

  12. Penny*

    How about, “Making personal calls during work is unprofessional and annoying. Please either stop, or go find somewhere else to work.” Other people should not be forced to wear headphones because one person lacks the self-control and common courtesy to shut her yap in the presence of her colleagues. No one cares about her personal business. Believe me — I’m subjected to this on a daily basis by my incredibly annoying boss, who spends literally hours yakking away on her cell. She doesn’t even have the courtesy to get up and carry the phone to a private area. It’s incredibly inconsiderate, her conversations are asinine, and the sound of her piercing voice has become the bane of my existence. I hope she retires soon. Jesus.

  13. js*

    All I have been able to find on the web is articles and comments about noisy co-workers. I recently discovered I need hearing aids. I have also had an unusual amount of personal calls at work the past week or so regarding my finances and found myself getting emotional about them. They were not overly lengthy conversations but I did have them (during my lunch hour). Some of the people that work near me complained to their supervisor that I was disruptive and crying. I probably was because I was upset and embarrassed when all was said and done. This is not a regular occurrence. I didn’t initiate the calls and had no idea I was going to be emotional until it happened. We sit in cubicles. I hear some of them on the phone and otherwise having loud conversations on a regular basis. I realize it comes with the territory. I have never thought to complain about it. I have learned to work with it (my choice). Why am I so upset about their complaint? It’s not like I am unaware of what happened and on top of it embarassed. Not sure if I should apologize or what!

  14. Sam*

    Get headphones, really? My co-workers and I are subjected to another employee’s hourly phone calls. She ranges from being loud and obnoxious to quiet whispering (obviously talking about other co-workers). Nobody should be subjected to this. We are a small busy company and it is incredibly distracting, especially when we are busy and working and you hear someone yapping away. I personally used to ignore it but it is now impossible as this employee makes a big deal out of how much work she has and how she stays late to finish it in front of our bosses. She would be done her work with no problem if she got off the phone. NOBODY should have to deal with this. It is rude and inconsiderate.

  15. DBL*

    I have a co-worker at the office who is a contractor. She spent 2-4 hours a day on personal phone calls dealing with her husband’s and mother’s death. Everyone thought it would end after their passing so no one said anything. At one point, she was sent to report to someone else to get “whipped in place”. Under that person, she did well but when she returned, it was the same routine. And even after their passed, she’s still on the phone 1 to 2 hours a day. She talks about “poopy pants” on the phone as if people in the office should hear that. She comes and goes as she pleases, ALWAYS late. Her response is, “I make up my time.” Unfortunately, WEAK MANAGEMENT is to blame. You need to put work rules in place for people like this. It’s sad because this person is almost 60 and she still thinks she’s right!!

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