how to tell a coworker to stop commenting on my hours

A reader writes:

How do I tactfully tell a coworker to stop commenting on my hours? I could do it, but I tend to be snarky, especially when I’m annoyed about something, and I’d like to maintain the appearance of diplomacy.

Here’s the background: I work in accounting. She’s the receptionist. She has to be there from 8:30 to 5 with lunch from 12-1 pm. I don’t. I’m sure her comments are because she’s resentful that she’s the only one in the office that has to work set hours, but that’s not my problem. She also barely fulfills her job functions, but that’s a different problem.

Every day, I’m in between 7 and 7:30 am and I leave around 4 pm. My boss doesn’t have an issue with it; I work better coming in early and leaving later. I take my lunch at 1 pm. Sometimes I don’t take my lunch if I’m busy or if I need to leave early. Usually I leave for lunch around 1 pm, but sometimes I leave later if I’m finishing something up. Some days at work I leave later than 4 pm if I’m finishing something up and I don’t want it sitting there when I come in the morning. Sometimes I leave earlier if I have an appointment or somewhere to be. I should add that my days are usually mostly the same — the times that I leave early aren’t that often. And I never short the company on working time. I get my work done. I know my boss doesn’t have a problem with it because he has told me so. He doesn’t mind as long as we (my other accounting coworker and I) get our jobs done and we are in the office a reasonable amount of hours. He doesn’t mind that we occasionally leave early; he knows that people have stuff to do. And he really doesn’t care what time we take our lunch at. He’s not a clockwatcher.

However, it never fails that every time I leave early, she says something. If I’m in the office after 4 pm, she says something. If I don’t go for lunch right at 1 pm, she says something. If I work though my lunch, she says something. If I come back from lunch earlier than 2 pm, she says something. She doesn’t see that I’m in at 7 am or earlier. And it’s really annoying. I hate having my every move commented on. And it’s not because I’m not letting her know when I’m in and out — we have an in-and-out board, and as far as I can tell I’m the only one that uses and she never updates it or remembers/knows where people are. I’m not sure if I’m the only she makes these comments to or not. Or if I’m the only one that it bothers. Any thoughts? I really want to tell her to mind her own beeswax!

I wrote back to this reader and asked what exactly the receptionist is saying. She replied:

If I leave early, she says, ” must be nice!” or “are you leaving already?”
If I don’t take a lunch, she asks why I’m not taking a lunch.
If I leave late for my lunch, she asks why I haven’t gone yet.
If I come back early, she asks why I’m coming back early.
If I leave after 4, she asks why I’m still there or how come I haven’t left yet.

Ok, now that I write them out, they seem innocent and they aren’t really underhanded comments, but I’m tired of my hours being commented on. I don’t ask her why she’s late every single morning.

I wrote back again, asking: “I could see these comments being genuine attempts at being friendly (although it’s still annoying) or it could be snide/snotty comments. Any sense of which it is when you think back on her tone/general vibe?” The reply:

I’d say it’s half and half. She’s already quite friendly with me and we talk often (too much in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there — she tends to be an oversharer!) so I don’t think it’s an attempt to be chatty/friendly (and she’s not like that anyhow; she doesn’t go out of her way to be chatty/friendly with people) and while there is no underlying or obvious snideness/snottiness, I still get the impression that she is saying it because she’s resentful (since I happen to know she really doesn’t like her job and her attitude and work ethic quite frankly stink) that I (and others) have the flexibility and she doesn’t. And she’s said comments to me about other staff — like, “I wish I had kids so that I could leave early and pick them up/go to a soccer game/take them to the doctor” Or “I wish I had kids so I could stay home when they are sick,” etc.

Okay, this is useful additional context to have. When I read your original question, I thought her comments were pure snottiness, but now it actually sounds like it’s a combination of trying to chat and be friendly (without realizing that she sounds like she’s judging your hours) and expressing frustration with her own job … but not intending to direct it you.

Regardless, it’s annoying.

If you want to address it, I think you could say something like, “I feel a little odd when you comment on my hours. I can’t tell if you’re implying I should be staying later or something like that.” Or, “I know you don’t mean anything by it, but I feel self-conscious when you comment on my hours.”

If it continues after that, the next time it happens again, you could make a joking reference to your past request — saying something like, “We’re going to need a contract agreeing that you won’t keep commenting on my hours.” (Okay, that’s not a very funny joke, but if you say it in a cheerful tone while smiling, it’ll come across as good-natured.)

But I think ultimately you probably just need to realize that her comments are really just another way of expressing dissatisfaction with her own job and aren’t about you at all. Your boss is happy with your work and your hours, and that’s what matters.

And frankly, since she’s friendly with you, it might be kind at some point to say to her, “You know, you seem pretty unhappy with your job here. Have you thought about looking for something else?”

{ 81 comments… read them below }

  1. Construction HR*

    Personally, I vote for “snarky”, but that’s just how I roll. It might also diminish the over-sharing as well, thus falling into the “two birds, one stone” category.

  2. Sascha*

    If you hadn’t of said “accounting,” I would have thought you were someone in my office. Our receptionist is EXACTLY the same. And she makes the same type of comments to me, though I don’t get it as often because I telecommute 3 days a week. These types of comments annoyed me less when I realized she was just a very talkative person who thought aloud, and didn’t really require a response.

  3. Yup*

    Yeah, I’d get tired of the broken record topic too. It doesn’t sound personal or passive aggressive, though – as AAM pointed out, it sounds like she isn’t happy in her own job, and is kind of flinging her discontent at passers by. Receptionists do have a genuine need to know where staff are (left early, at lunch, etc) so they can direct calls and manage visitors, but this doesn’t sound like typical please-let-reception-know-if-you-leave-early stuff.

    My approach would be to mention it once or twice directly. “You bring up my hours a lot. Is something bothering you?” in a sincerely interested tone of voice. If she keeps on, I’d make it a light joke. “I wish I had kids so I could leave early.” “Do you want mine? They all have the flu so you could probably get at least 2 days off!” or: “You’re leaving early again?” “Yup, I’ve been here since 7 and need to get home while it’s still light. Have a good night!” It’s annoying, but just think of it as an unfortunate conversational tic that has nothing to do with you or your work.

    1. A Bug!*

      This is how we deal with a similar person at my office. She’s not a receptionist and she only works part time (by choice), but it never fails that she comments on other people leaving for their lunch.

      So it’s a usual “Ha ha, Alice, would you like to trade? We still have four hours of work to do when we get back and you’ll be done for the day.”

      But I’m not sure it would work when the receptionist seems to have some sort of issue with her own work arrangement that she is unable to change.

      Some people just, well, communicate this way. They don’t always mean to be negative and they don’t mean to be snotty, but somehow they’ve just gotten so used to it that they don’t even see it any more. I notice it a lot more in people who’ve spent a long time working for bad employers, often retail, where everybody’s in the same boat and a sort of gallows humor helps get through the day.

      If you were close enough with the receptionist I’d say a heart-to-heart about it might help. But if this person’s anything like the one in my office it wouldn’t help at all and would damage the working relationship.

    2. Long Time Admin*

      [My approach would be to mention it once or twice directly. “You bring up my hours a lot. Is something bothering you?” ]

      THIS!! It’s not nearly as snarky as I’d like to be (but wouldn’t and would then fume all day), but it does address the issue. It’s gotten on your nerves, so you should do something about it.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Or, when she says “leaving already?” you could say “Yes, don’t tell my boss!”.

  4. Natalie*

    I get a bit of this, since when I moved from the receptionist position to the accounting position I was thrilled to take advantage of my newly flexible hours. (For the record, I always work at least 40 hours a week, and I’m hourly so my bosses know that for a fact.) Our new receptionist has occasionally made comments, but she is more wistful than anything else. Usually I just respond to something like “must be nice!” with “yep, it sure is. See you tomorrow” as I walk out the door.

    1. Anon*


      About the same happened to me and to tell you the truth I feel kind of bad walking by the receptionist if I leave too early. I know what it’s like – and receptionists sure do notice when someone isn’t putting consistent hours in at the office.

  5. jmkenrick*

    I would bet that she does not realize the impression these comments make.

    I’m a big believer in killing with kindness – I think you could definitely say, “You know, Jane, you always comment on my working hours. That’s something I have worked out with Boss; I hope you don’t feel like you need to keep tabs on them.”

    1. Just a Reader*

      I really like this. What a nice way to call her on the behavior without offending/alienating her.

  6. JM*

    I’d just smile and say, “have a nice day” when I left if she said something like “leaving already/must be nice”. Or, if she asked why I was leaving (or why I hadn’t left yet), I’d say, “oh, is there something you need from me before I go?”. It’s definitely an annoying situation, so good luck addressing it or ignoring it, whichever road you take!

    1. Just Laura*

      I agree with this suggestion. Pretend she says, “Have a good day!” or whatever. It’s not about you; I’d ignore it.

    2. Julie*

      I agree on the whole, “Was there something you needed?” approach. Because, in the end, unless your leaving early is impacting her ability to do her work (which it probably isn’t), it’s none of her concern when you’re physically at your desk.

  7. Anonymous*

    I totally get that it’s annoying, especially hearing it day after day after day. But at the same time, it sort of falls into the category of it’s only annoying if you let it be annoying (since it’s not done to undermine you). Depending on your own temperament, I’d handle it a couple of different ways: 1. Don’t even acknowledge it when she says. Pretend she’s talking to someone on the phone and don’t look at her or respond (pretending you didn’t even hear it). If she’s just babbling, she will stop eventually without an audience, meanwhile you’ll be training yourself to tune it out and thus stop being annoyed. 2. Make a glib response while exiting out the door: “Well it’s 5 o’clock somewhere;” “My poolboy awaits with my martini;” “Of course!” “Heck ya!” (in response to ‘Leaving already?’.

    1. fposte*

      I like the jokey responses–I think it is responding in the vein that she thinks she’s working in (but really isn’t).

      I think there’s a lot of overlap between this question and the last one as far as what’s appropriate for passing pleasantries. Good receptionists walk a line; they’re friendly but they don’t make people who walk by them feel scrutinized (when I was a receptionist, people had to pass by me to go to the bathroom, and they really didn’t want to talk to me every time they did that). This person is basically engaging in what academics call “phatic communication” and Miss Manners calls “blather,” meaningless social noises that are about connection rather than content, but she’s both doing it too often for a receptionist and letting her own dissatisfaction color what she says. So she’s unhappy and performing poorly in a way that’s particularly awkward for the OP, but I don’t think she’s deliberately being snotty to the OP.

  8. Anonymous*

    I had someone doing this when I was at a job where I was working close to 75 hours a week. One day when I’d been in since 6 and had just cancelled weekend plans to work the person doing this made a comment (I was often leaving for lunch, and sometimes a nap around 2 so I could come back and work til 10, but to him it looked like I was leaving at 2). I came back with an explanation of how much time I put in and why. It was a really bad idea. I want to say that no matter how much it seems like a good idea to lay it all out and explain it you aren’t doing anyone any favors. Especially yourself. AAM and some of the other commenters have suggested really good things. Stick with that.

      1. fposte*

        In my view? It’s likely to be overreading a casual comment and it’s operating defensively about something that doesn’t need to be defended–justifying yourself implicitly suggests you think she has the right to request justification.

      2. Anonymous*

        fposte was entirely correct here. It wasn’t something that that person needed to know about. He wasn’t my boss. By explaining it to him, I led him to believe that it was something that he had a right or a need to know about. He didn’t. Explaining it didn’t resolve the situation at all. He continued to ask but now he felt like he deserved to know so it wasn’t a harmless comment, it was a demand for an explanation.
        Not that everyone would react this way, but I think that it opens the door to having your work schedule judged. The other issue here would be it would have been really easy (especially at that point in time for me) to have come across as really vile because I was pointing out how much more time I was putting in than he was and how much harder I was working. Nothing good comes of this from what I can see.

          1. Anonymous*

            No, though I did wish more than once I’d just snapped out a really mean comeback at him. (Like “oh I’m just leaving because I don’t care about keeping my job or the business running”, or “Oh off to have a rendezvous at a fancy hotel on the company dime” (which the boss had been doing and was the reason I was working those hours!)) But the comebacks never came til days later and they wouldn’t have been very helpful either. I’d explained it hoping for sympathy and him to be quiet, I got neither.

  9. Anonymous*

    LOL. I constantly get this. I work 30 hours per week and get here at 7am every day, so I leave at 1pm. I always have people comment on my hours…. when in reality, I would LOVE to work full-time, but since we are a non-profit they can only fit me in the budget for 3o hours a week!!!!! So when they are “Well it must be nice,” I’m thinking, “Well, I’m only make 3/4 of what I want to be making so no, it isn’t nice!!!!! Must be nice to have a full-time job, buddy!”

  10. Minous*

    I used to work with a couple of people like that. I used to think it odd until I figured out the motive for both of them was to get someone’s attention in order to start up a conversation where they could “dump” once again, about how they were being “victimized” by having to come in to work — unlike the rest of us who had the “world by the tail” and came into work for the shear joy of it. I found the best response in my situation was to smile and nod, conveying agreement,
    while not stopping or pausing.

  11. DA*

    I work in accounting. She’s the receptionist. She has to be there from 8:30 to 5 with lunch from 12-1 pm. I don’t.

    You could also try treating her like your coworker instead of someone who is beneath you. That might help your relationship with her.

    1. fposte*

      I’m not reading that in the quote you use. And honestly, the receptionist’s commentary is inadvisable regardless of how the OP feels about her.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t get that sense from the letter at all — it seemed like the OP was simply laying out the facts in a matter-of-fact way so that the context for the situation was clear.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      I don’t see it either. She’s just stating the facts. It doesn’t appear to me that she thinks this person is beneath her.

      1. Scott Woode*

        I don’t think it’s that the OP is necessarily looking down on the receptionist, but I DO think that the receptionist’s behavior is encouraging a substantial amount of negative thinking regarding her and her position, which could be coloring the OP’s letter a smidge. The only thing that I read out of the letter when it came to attitude was a severe amount of frustration from the OP, something akin to “Just leave me alone already!” which would probably be best addressed by following the advice from the commenters above.

      2. Seal*

        Exactly. The reality is that not all jobs have the same work schedule requirements or expectations.

        Comments from others – snarky or otherwise – about my work schedule has long been a peeve of mine. At one job, we were allowed to set our own schedules within certainly parameters. Most people chose to come in early and leave early. Because I wasn’t (and still am not) a morning person, I chose to come in late and leave late, all with my boss’s approval. Work-wise it was great, because I had the place to myself for an hour or 2 a day and could get more work done. But based on the reactions from my coworkers, you would have thought I had committed a felony. I got comments and inferences on a daily basis that I wasn’t putting in 40 hours a week, all because I came in later than the rest of the staff. Never mind that I was more than pulling my weight and getting outstanding reviews, or that my boss approved my schedule. No one every questioned people who left early because they came in early; only those of us who came in late and stayed late.

        Many years later, I’m in a managerial position that regularly requires me to attend meetings outside the office as well as conferences all over the country. I STILL get the occasional snarky comment from colleagues about my work schedule, generally along the lines of “must be nice to set your own schedule.” Never mind that I regularly work upwards of 50-60 hours a week, and take work home with me evenings and weekends. People seem to think that if you don’t work the same hours they do, you must be getting away with something. Maddening.

        1. Kat*

          ” People seem to think that if you don’t work the same hours they do, you must be getting away with something. ”


        2. Jamie*

          Yep. Must be nice to “come and go as you please.”

          It is – nice enough that I’m willing to put up with the weekends, off hours, working from home and sometimes 16 hour days when there is a crisis to be able to wander in and do my 11 hours whenever I see fit.

          I really hate the implied criticism which I would initially combat by making sure I worked on certain people’s issues at the end of my day so they’d see the time stamp on the email. That was years ago back when I used to be weird about that kind of thing – now if there is any criticism I haven’t heard it so I don’t worry about it.

      1. DA*

        Just because I interpret something different than you, doesn’t make me a troll. The OP opened her explanation of the situation with this line and as a result, it set the rest of the tone of the letter for me. Coming to a different conclusion than Alison doesn’t make me a bad person ;)

  12. OP*

    I’m the OP. This isn’t the first I’ve read this blog. I was trying to lay out the facts so that I wouldn’t get a lot of comments that weren’t related to the situation. But apparently I wasn’t thorough enough. It’s laughable that you think I treat other people poorly based on that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hey, don’t get frazzled by that. That’s one person out of thousands who will read this post — not representative of the vast majority of us.

    2. A Bug!*

      There’s always one or two, OP. For what it’s worth, you can add mine to the pile of votes for “I didn’t get that impression at all.”

    3. Julie*

      Hi OP! Hope everything works out for you! And, as others have said, there’s always a troll or two floating around. Don’t feed them and they’ll generally go away.

      Speaking of not feeding the trolls, that might be an approach you could take for your receptionist. If you think of her schedule-related comments as troll-bait, you might be more inclined to brush them aside without investing too much emotional energy into them. (Her: “Leaving early again?” — WARNING: TROLL ALERT — You: “Yup, have a nice day.”)

  13. The Other Dawn*

    We have someone like this in our office. One person has the freedom to come in later, whereas he and a couple other people have set hours. Even though I’ve explained to this person several times that this person has worked out an arrangement with her manager, and she’s in a department that doesn’t require set hours, he will still make comments. Although, the comments are directed to me and to others, never to the supposed “offender”.

    I think a lot of people are just still in the mindset that work is from 8:30 to 5, or whatever the office hours are. Someone coming in at 10 and leaving at 6:30 once in awhile is seen as getting away with something or having special privileges or slacking off. It seems to me that the receptionist in OP’s letter is either of this mindset or is just unhappy that she doesn’t have that flexibility. She’s likely jealous. Being a receptionist usually means being there during the established office hours since that person is the first contact for clients calling or stopping by. There’s usually little room for deviation from those hours.

  14. JLL*

    It’s not personal. She’s probably bored. There’s only so much conversation to be had as the same people walk by you every day, and it does feel weird to pretend people don’t exist when they walk by. Add some frustration with her position, and it’s a bit annoying. But a fleeting smile and keeping it moving is a pretty simple solution.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. To me, the receptionist sounds like she is bored out of her mind. Fposte also mentioned blather- that is the idea I had as I read along. She would probably like to move on to a job that would be more interesting to her.
      I think that you, OP, are the one friend she has in the place. I would try the softer approaches first and see how much ground you can gain.
      It may be that in the end- you have to bluntly tell her to stop asking you about your hours.

  15. Louise*

    I worked with a dynamic, successful business owner (of several popular bars and restaurants) once, so she dealt with a lot of different employees. I once heard her on the phone telling a manager she was going to Mexico for a few days. It was obvious the manager on the other end of the line said “must be nice”, because I heard her say “Yeah, actually it IS nice. Now anyway, here’s what I’d like you to handle while I’m away…” And I always thought it was great, because she was friendly, and she owned it. Not quite the same situation, but OP could just own it, too.

    1. jill*

      I agree. I think there can be such a tendency to get caught up in the mindset that you “have no choice” but to do the work you do, the way you do it (“I REALLY have to take this 7am meeting,” “I REALLY can’t take a day off,” etc.) that we both overlook the control we do have over our work lives, and view others who are able to exercise that control with suspicion. My equivalent of “Yeah, it IS nice” is usually, “Oh, have you asked your manager about doing this too? Mine was really responsive!” Where “this” is adjusted work hours, declining some subset of meetings, etc.

      While I imagine the receptionist has little latitude to negotiate her working hours, I wonder if she’s maybe gotten into a little poor me funk and is feeling resentful that everyone else seems to have so much more control over their working hours?

  16. Lana*

    Just tell her next time you see her. Tell her you feel uncomfortable when she comments on your hours and you would rather she stopped.

  17. Neeta*

    Oh this brings back soooo many painful memories.

    My very first boss was prone to commenting like this.
    Why are you not taking a break?
    You’re two minutes late.
    You should not be working during your lunch break.
    You’re smoking again… (this was to my colleagues, I don’t smoke).
    I saw you met your boyfriend during lunch break, when’s the wedding?

    and so on and so forth.
    On the one hand, I knew he was doing this to everyone, so I didn’t feel like I was being singled out. And most of the time, the remarks seemed like a joke. Problem is, that he would do this EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. at least 5 times. After a year of hearing this, I was literally scared when I saw him. Still avoid him when I see him at the mall.

    What was even weirder, was that we didn’t miss any scheduled meeting, we finished our tasks, smokers would usually stay 1-2 hours more to make up for the breaks… Also, this company never paid overtime, so it shouldn’t have mattered to him what I did during my break. Plus, it was supposed to be free time, so mine to do whatever I want with.

    My current boss is much more reasonable. Yet, I still sometimes feel a pressing need to write a report every time I stay over 5 minutes during lunch break, which he finds extremely weird.

    1. the gold digger*

      I am sensitive about this issue as well, as I have been (figuratively) slapped by my boss for my hours before. I had a job where I got to work at 7:15 a.m. and usually didn’t leave before 7 p.m. or even later – I was there past 10 p.m. several times.

      One day, I left work at 6 p.m.

      I was counseled. I hadn’t missed a deadline, left work undone, anything like that. They just didn’t like people leaving at 6.

      Another time, I’d had to work through lunch doing yet another report where I looked up stock prices from old annual reports to figure out what the company would look like today if they had never sold the aircraft engines division (how this information was useful I still have not figured out). At 4 p.m., I went to the on-site gym for an hour.

      Remember I had worked through lunch.

      Counseled. Again.

      This group had over 100% turnover in the year and a day that I was there, so I don’t think it was just me who found it a crazy place to work.

      1. Neeta*

        Ouch… that is mean! I can totally sympathize.

        The final straw that made me leave the aforementioned job, was my evaluation. It went something like this:

        Boss: I wish you’d dedicate yourself more to the job.
        Me: I come in at 9am and leave at 9pm. I don’t even take a lunch break. *cries* I literally don’t have a life outside work.
        Boss: Perhaps you should talk to HR.
        Me (confused): Why?
        Boss: Well… she’s a woman as well…

        I think I’d have preferred a slap in the face. :(

        1. fposte*

          Wow, he sounds horrible. Unfortunately, with a boss you’re kind of screwed, and you may indeed have to justify it because they are actually entitled to justification. I’m glad your current boss is much more reasonable.

          It’s that kind of interaction that may be in the back of our minds when we hear a random co-worker say “Heading out early, eh?”, but usually they aren’t thinking in the slightest of our work commitment, it’s not a snipe, and it’s advantageous to just to roll with it. It just takes a while to learn to switch gears.

  18. Ashley*

    I’m not the receptionist, but I often get asked “Where is so and so?” (usually by the executives, so I can’t really just say “Oh I don’t know…”), so I do sort of keep tabs on where people in my department are. I’ll sometimes ask “Are you headed out for the day?” and I don’t mean it in a “I’m resentful” kind of way, but I do ask just in case someone needs to know. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case here, but it’s possible that she’s just trying to keep tabs but it’s coming across the wrong way.

    1. Non-mouse*

      This is a good point and might be the case (a lot depends on tone and facial expression, etc. which we obviously can’t know). It can be awkward for a receptionist to have to answer someone’s question about where so-and-so is with “Ummm… I think she went to lunch? Hold on, let me ask around…” Whether or not anyone judges her for it, it feels a little embarrassing, like she doesn’t really have it together. Also can irritate clients, etc. It always feels much cooler and slicker as the receptionist to have a quick solid answer to questions.

      I wonder if the OP can ask the receptionist, nicely, the next time she’s questioned about her time, if her whereabouts have been asked about –and by whom– and if she’s been put in an awkward position about it. The “by whom?” is important, because then she can verify with that person or those people (“I heard you were looking for me and couldn’t find me earlier?”). The receptionist will either know it can be verified and be truthful (it may be the truth) or not think about it being verified and be caught in a lie if she’s lying. If she’s caught in a lie, if I was OP I wouldn’t confront her or make it any big deal with who she verified it with. (“You weren’t looking for me? Oops, I must have mis-heard” as opposed to “Well, *receptionist* definitely said you were looking for me!”) No need to cause conflict or get anyone in trouble. It would at that point just be a matter of OP knowing she can politely disregard the need to feel her time’s accountable to the receptionist unless there’s a real reason for it to be, and just be cordial.

    2. Rana*

      Although in this case the OP says that she uses the In-Out board, but the receptionist (and others) don’t seem to pay much attention to it. So there may be a miscommunication, but it’s not like the OP’s trying to make it hard for the receptionist to keep track of her.

  19. Chrissi*

    If she phrases it as a question, I always like to say “Why do you ask?” I’ll do that for any overly intrusive question. You say it in a nice tone like you are honestly interested, but there’s no terribly classy way to answer because they would have to admit that it’s none of their business.

    For instance:
    Her: “Why haven’t you left for lunch yet?”
    You: “Why do you ask?”
    Her: “Ummmm…”

    It’s not like they’re going to say “Because I like to keep track of your hours and compare them with mine” unless they’re just clueless about general social conduct.

    Rinse, wash, repeat as necessary.

  20. anon*

    I lost a job over something like this. When I started the job (as a junior attorney) I asked if I could work earlier hours, like 7am-5pm instead of the 8:30 or 9 am to 6 or 7pm I saw some associates work. They said “as long as you meet your billables, we don’t care.” I was the highest biller in my office for 3 quarters straight, and they gave me all of their industry clients since they tended to be very, very earlier risers and loved to be able to get someone in the office at 7am.

    A year later, I was let go. One of the reasons was “you always leave so early, it was bad for morale.” I learned later it was specifically secretary morale, not other attorneys. I was let go after billing 2300 hours in a year, grossing the firm over 7 times my salary.

    The point? Beware. She may have the ear of someone you don’t want her complaining to.

    1. Anonymous*

      The secretary in question and the receptionist in OP’s post need to learn to mind their own business.

  21. Grey*

    You’re there when she comes into work in the morning? Look at your watch and say something like, “Must be nice. I’ve been here since 7”.

    When she leaves for lunch before you, “Must be nice. I still have a project to finish”. She can’t get offended, and maybe she’ll get the point.

    1. Non-mouse*

      This is funny, and I think a great way to nip it in the bud if the receptionist is actually being bitchy. The perfect counterpoint conciseness really drives the point home. But I would save it for after making sure the receptionist is really bitchy.

      If she’s not really bitchy, just unhappy in her job and a little envious, a nicer version of this could be said instead, like: “I know it probably sucks to be chained to the desk and watch us come and go. I feel you on that, girl. But honestly, if it makes you feel any better there are some crap aspects to my job too. You don’t see it but I’m here at 7, and dragging my ass out of bed that early every morning has never gotten easier– it’s torture every single morning and sometimes I also have to stay insanely late to finish projects. And you get to go home, so be glad for that. Everything’s got its ups and downs, seriously.” Smile sincerely, wish her a good weekend, exit stage right.

    2. Grey*

      I meant to suggest saying it in the same tone she uses so she realizes how she sounds to others. If she says those things with a smile, do the same.

  22. MA*

    Is there a shared calendar you could point her to? At my office we can view everyone’s calendar and its encouraged we look to the calendar first before probing into someone’s whereabouts. If she does have public access to view your schedule, you could always say something like “I noticed you have had a few questions about my schedule, you’re welcome to look at my calendar if you have any further questions.”

    1. Rana*

      The OP did say there’s an In-Out board they use; the problem is the receptionist doesn’t seem to pay attention to it.

  23. Cassie*

    In our office, some of us have flexible schedules (like I do) while others have set schedules (8-5 with lunch from 12-1). I know the others are a bit wistful that we have flexible schedules and that’s why they make the comments they do, but I hate that – my bosses are fine with my schedule, I get my work done, so I don’t like feeling scrutinized when I walk out the door. I actually try to avoid people when I walk out because I don’t want to hear their comments.

    The few times someone does say “going home already?”, I just answer “Yep! Have a good day!” and keep walking. Or if I have to stay late to finish work and they ask “still here?”, I simply say “Yeah, I have to finish this today” or something. I wouldn’t bother addressing these comments otherwise (they don’t occur as much as in the OP’s case, but also, I figure the person is just bored and doesn’t have any work to do – that’s why they have time to track my schedule).

  24. Sara*

    I had someone point out every time I left at 5pm and referred to it as “early”. They’d say things like, “oh are you leaving early today?” My contracted hours were 8-5pm so when I left at 5pm I didn’t consider that leaving early, so I finally just pointed that out to them. The OP could do the same in a matter of fact tone, maybe something like “Yes, leaving before 5pm but that’s because I’m not on set daily hours like 8-5.” Or “yes, I decided to take lunch at a different time since I have that flexibility in my schedule.” If the receptionist doesn’t have a lot of work experience, it’s possible she just doesn’t realise different roles have different needs etc, and while it might sound like she’s irked, it could be that she just thinks everyone has to work the “same” hours.

  25. Cruella DaBoss*

    So glad to see this topic here. We have a similar situaton here at my office with a few of our exec’s who work unusual hours.

    “I chose not to comment, because that situation is above my pay grade” has become my standard reply.

    If the manager is okay with the situation, that is all that matters.


  26. Tiff*

    Ugh – this letter just reminds me of how much I truly hated sitting at the reception desk. I wonder if I came across like that. I would suggest OP brush it off, because it doesn’t sound like this woman has anything against you. Frankly, I’d rather deal with her than some of the other scary characters I read about here.

    Just ignore her. When she’s tired of the rut she’ll do something different.

  27. Alysia*

    As someone who has worked as a receptionist and still works a front desk, there might be one thing you haven’t thought of. When people walk by my desk, I usually feel the need to say something to them. If I don’t I feel rude. After the usual “Good morning!” and “See you tomorrow!” have been said, you start running out of things to say, so you comment on where they’re going to lunch or the weather or wonder why they’re back early. I always try to be cheerful when saying things like this so no one thinks I’m being resentful or rude, though. I try to make sure everything I say is said with a smile, and when I say “Why haven’t you left yet?” it’s more in a sympathetic way than an accusatory way. Now I’m worried I’m being rude!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is probably just me, but I’m not really a fan of “why haven’t you left yet?” because (a) if I’m still there, there’s a reason and at that point, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is, and (b) it implies there’s something wrong with me being there, when in fact I might be in the middle of a project I’m really into. But again, probably a personal pet peeve and not a general rule.

      1. Alysia*

        I usually follow it up by asking if there is anything I can do to help them finish up. Maybe that helps it a bit?

      2. OP*

        And if I haven’t left for lunch yet because I’m trying to finish something first I really don’t want to have to take time to explain that. It really doesn’t need to be commented on. I’m a big girl; I can manage my time. If I want to work through my lunch why does it have to be commented on?

    2. Anonymous*

      That’s what I was wondering, if she was just trying to make conversation and going about it sort of awkwardly. This is a little different, bur cleaning guy comes into our offices at the end of the day (6-6:30pm) and always wants to strike up a conversation around one of two topics:
      1. You’re still here! Busy day?
      2. You left early yesterday! Not busy?

      It doesn’t really bother me because I know he is not keeping tabs on my hours (not being employed by my company) but it gets a little tiring sometimes. But really, we don’t have much else in common I guess!

      But I do hate it when my coworkers comment on how late I am working, because the reason is we are not replacing my supervisor who left six months ago and I’m doing double the workload with way more responsibility (at the same title and salary, natch). So, DUH, yes, I work too much. Unless you want to help with my work, don’t ask!

  28. OP*

    After mailing back and forth with AAM I’ve decided I’m just going to ignore the receptionist. There’s no point in doing anything else since she’ll never get it. I know she’s bored; she’s complained about that endlessly but she’s a nightmare in this position. She either won’t do what she’s asked or she makes so many mistakes that its not worth it. Her attitude is horrible and all of it absolutely has affected how I have reacted to this. I have suggested a few times she should look for another job since she so clearly hates her job but I’ve been told its too much work.

    When she says stuff to me I’ll just ask if anyone is looking for me and then leave it at that. Currently she seems to not be talking to me so maybe my problem is solved.

  29. Tara*

    I know im late to the game but I couldnt resist commenting…Im in a position where I recently found out Im going to be laid off….therefore I have been taking time (allowed) to search for other jobs and interview. Our temp receptionist never commented to me about how I have been out of our office so much but found out today, she called my supervisor and told her they only see me in the office an hour a day!!! Watch out for some of those snarky comments, it may be backstabbers trying to steal your job *even if they arent qualified for the position*

  30. Anonymous*

    I agree with Tiff, and…

    It can go both ways – I’ve found myself at ‘the desk’ and sometimes staff traipse by on their way to meetings/events asking “Are you ‘allowed’ to go?” or if I can leave the ‘mothership’. They come by and complain about their day and then leave early. How often do staff stop and have their conversations at the reception desk? When you have an office, you might not notice how much Reception gets interrupted throughout the day just because they’re ‘there’ (borrow a pen, fax, mail, random questions).

    I have met gossipy Receptionists that commented on everything I did (and told everyone in the office) when I had the freedom , but Reception has its own pitfalls – you probably see more people than anyone in the office, yet it is isolating, it is one of those jobs that can be busy and boring at the same time, the contact you get from other staff can be very impersonal at times and some staff look down on you. Also, today many Receptionists are doing two or three other jobs (security/hr/finance etc. support) while expected to stay tethered to that desk and phone.

  31. Trudy*

    The truth is…..the receptionist is seeing poor work attendance and holes in people’s work schedules….people do not like that at all.

  32. Trudy*

    Another sad truth: The receptionist is probably putting in more hours than any of these people are…..that is sad!
    The “flexible hour” thing is a volatile subject…..8-5 is a typical work day … the real world….I’m sure these people are working for smaller companies…..

  33. Gary*

    I was accidentally copied on a message between my manager, and one of my co-workers (non-manager). My manager mentioned how that some of my questions were annoying her greatly, as of late. My question is, is it right for a manager to disclose this to another coworker who is on my level? I would think personal feelings should be between my manager and myself No one else.

  34. Susan*

    For someone who has flexible schedule and whose supervisor is fine with everything, you sure invest a sh*tload of energy and time into defending yourself and writing all the details to explain yourself–yourself who apparently isn’t doing anything wrong…..

    Why do you care? Why don’t you ignore it?

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