my boss enters my office without knocking and interrupts phone conversations

A reader writes:

I work in a small private firm. I am not really happy with the way my manager does certain things, and I wanted to know if this is normal manager behavior or if I am overreacting. Two things:

1. I share a room with another female coworker. My manager always barges into our room even when the door is closed. He never knocks. I find this very rude. I understand he is my boss, but I do not think it is appropriate for him to do that. Also, he consistently interrupts our conversation when he walks in. (Sometimes our conversation is work-related and sometimes it is personal.) As an employee, I would stop my conversation anyway and hear what he has to say, but it is like he does not bother with the courtesy of even saying “excuse me.” Am I overreacting in thinking he needs to treat his employees more courteously?

2. Also, he has a habit of interrupting me when I am on a personal call. I make a special note to make or take minimum personal calls. However, I am just not an employee but I also have a family. Sometimes I have to tend to a 3-5 minute call. My manager barges into the room, sees me talking on the phone, and continues to talk to me like I am not on the phone. Every time, no matter who is on the other line, I have to put the person on hold while he chatters away about work for as long as he needs. I think common courtesy would be for him to ask me to come meet him in his office when I am done or ask me to make that call later. Again, I feel like he is very rude when he does that.

If this uncommon, how would you recommend I handle this situation?

Launching into a conversation with you while you’re on the phone is rude, yes. If he urgently needs to speak with you, it would be fine for him to say or signal that, but he shouldn’t just start talking away. (You, however, should probably tell the person you’re talking to that you need to call them back rather than putting them on hold for as long as it takes him to finish, which makes it look like you’re just waiting for him to finish so you can get back to personal business. Which I think you probably are, since you describe him as “chattering away about work for as long as he needs,” which is, um, appropriate for a manager to do during work time!)

As for the barging into your office without knocking … yes, ideally he would knock, but I can tell you as a manager that I would not be pleased if I found that you and your office mate were routinely closing the door to have personal conversations, and if there’s a lot of that going on, I can see how he might start just opening the door, walking in, and saying what he needs to say. And if he’s as busy as a lot of managers are, it’s not horribly unusual that he just announces what he needs, rather than standing there waiting for your conversation to stop.

And really, he shouldn’t need to — particularly if you’re discussing personal things. You should stop when he comes in and see what he needs. If you’re continuing your conversation while he’s standing there, I can understand why he’d just start launching into what he’s there for. (And yes, ideally he’d start with “excuse me” — but ideally you wouldn’t make that necessary, either.)

Frankly, if I were him, I’d wonder why you have your door closed so often and why you’re so often in the middle of personal conversations when I need you for work issues. And yes, of course, if he’s concerned by that, he should say something to you directly … but as has been well documented here, most managers aren’t perfect and yet it’s still in your best interests to figure out how to work well with them, for as long as you want to stay there.

In any case, this is this guy’s style. He sounds a little impatient and he’s someone who jumps right in and doesn’t observe all the social niceties that you might like in these occasions. But those aren’t terrible crimes.Why not just recognize that he doesn’t like to wait, wants to talk when it’s convenient for him, and isn’t inclined to be thwarted by a closed door? Knowing that, you can adjust your expectations accordingly. (And make sure not to ever change clothes in your office.)

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed*

    Yeah I’m going to second everything Alison said. Sometimes it’s weird to interrupt to say “excuse me” but I don’t always have time to wait for a break to do so, and sometimes I need an answer right then.

    I would keep the personal discussions/phone calls to a minimum. It sounds to me like you’re doing way too much of that in the office.

    1. Jessa*

      Honestly I was expecting this to be about a lot of interruptions of BUSINESS calls and conversations. IE you closed the door to have a talk to the Jones account manager and you keep getting interrupted by the boss which is just WRONG unless they are coming in to tell you something about Jones that you didn’t know.

      Every business conversation trumps a personal one unless that personal one is someone calling you to say that there is an emergency IE someone died, just got taken to hospital, etc. or you are feeling extremely ill and need to leave work or something. And that should be very, very rare to the point that your hand going up and an “OMG Boss, my father just had a heart attack, hold on a minute,” should stop the boss dead in their tracks with a shocked “OK, fill me in as soon as you know,” and a quick backtrack out of the office.

      To act as if being interrupted talking about something not work related is wrong, well is wrong. The boss has business to attend to and you’re getting paid to attend to business as well. And there’s no reason your door should be closed on a routine basis unless BUSINESS needs require it. Or some kind of reasonable accommodation requires it (IE your office is kept at a different temperature or loudness/business level because of a need you have.)

      1. dejavu2*

        Right on. Personal calls are generally inappropriate. Even at places I’ve worked where they were kind of lax about them, it would have been considered a big deal to take a personal call for an entire 3 minutes. I really think 90 seconds is about the max, unless it is something extremely important or pressing.

        1. Daisy*

          Yeah, I really can’t imagine anything really necessary during the day that would take 3 mins. ‘Pick up the kids’ or ‘The car’s ready’ or whatever don’t take longer than a minute or so.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          I think it depends on the environment. I work stupid long hours so sometimes it’s the only time to catch me. And my boyfriend and I touch base for a few minutes every afternoon to say hi, see how our respective days are going, and whatnot. But it’s a couple minutes and I get off the phone immediately if someone stops by for work.

        3. TL*

          Where I work, we don’t have cell phone service (but we have trees!!!!) so sometimes it’s a lot easier/quicker to do appointments or whatever on the office phone rather than getting to a place with service. Sometimes that takes a while. And while I try to do it during lunch/official breaks, it is often easier to do it during down time, especially if I lunch from 12-1 that day.
          (mind you, this is like a 1x/month at max occurrence.)

          1. Anna*

            That sounds a lot like where I work. Since I’m salaried and frequently take short or working lunches, I’ll make personal calls when and if I need to. However, I know to hang up when work calls or walks in or knocks on the door (my office door opens to the outside, so it has to stay closed).

            1. Julie*

              My situation is similar. I take/make calls when I need to, but I don’t chat on the phone for any length of time at my desk (mainly because I share a room with seven other people!). If I need/want to make a longer personal call, I take my mobile phone to the area near the freight elevator (where there’s cell service) and talk there. It’s still not usually more than 10-15 minutes, and I more than make up that amount of time working late. And I miss the days when I had an office with a door!

      2. Vicki*

        One point I disagree with “there’s no reason your door should be closed on a routine basis unless BUSINESS needs require it.”

        Often, the business need is … quiet.

        The few times I’ve had the luck and luxury of having a door, it was always closed, or almost closed but not latched. After all, _I had a door_. I closed it to get work done without interruption. Getting work done without interruption is a legitimate business need.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree with that — but since he regularly walks in and finds them chatting, I think it probably means that’s not what’s happening here.

  2. Anonymous*

    I have to agree, it sounds like that’s this manager’s style. Sometimes we employees have to adapt to a personal style they might not appreciate in the interest of keeping a job. This is where personal preferences come into play: only the OP can determine if these faults are enough to make her be open to a new job.

    OP could learn to train dogs…the positive reinforcement techniques we use to train dogs today can be used everywhere in life. I have successfully applied these techniques to coworkers, the spouse, other’s children (particularly good subjects), and of course my managers. It’s really all about controlling your own response to provide useful feedback…okay anyway I will stop. Yes I am that girl that turns every conversation into something about dogs. ;)

    1. dejavu2*

      I think the manager is actually using dog-training-esque techniques here. I’m imagining a passive aggressive manager who stands there and talks longer than necessary just to make the OP look as stupid as possible to whatever poor schlump is stuck on hold. Eventually, manager potentially reasons, it will occur to OP to stop taking personal calls at work, or to at least acknowledge that work is more important from 9 to 5 than a personal call.

        1. Melissa*

          Docking a paycheck is P-. It’s taking away a reward to decrease behavior (i.e., taking away money to decrease personal phone calls). R- is when an aversive stimulus is removed in response to some behavior, which is thereby strengthened/increased. An example would be if the boss nags the employee to make more sales. The nagging is the aversive stimulus; selling more removes it.

      1. LCL*

        When training the dogs, don’t overlook environmental solutions to behavioral issues. EG the only foolprooof cure for countersurfing is to not leave food on the counters. So if this manager asked me for advice, I would tell him to have facilities remove the door from that office.

        1. Anna*

          Removing the door is…well, it’s crummy. However, if it seems the door is closed too frequently, why wouldn’t the manager say something to them? “Hey, I’d appreciate it if you guys would keep your office door open. I have an open door policy here both literally and figuratively.”

          1. Anonymous*

            You would not make a very trainable subject. Lol we were making some Skinnerian jokes. Nothing to see here just move along. ;)

      2. happycat*

        ha, that is funny. I would respond with undivided attention, even take notes to help you focus if need be, rather than act ‘put out’ or upset, or even irritated. Limit personal calls as much as you can, though, it does look bad to be taking 3-5 minute calls at work, a few times a day. I find the BEST way to be left alone to do my job, is to do my job. I do believe that part of doing my job well is LISTENING to my ‘boss’ and making him/her feel listened to. I think that the boss in question might be resorting to some seemingly rude behaviours, when they should address the problem head on, but that does not excuse reacting in an equally rude way. IMHO

        1. FiveNine*

          I have to admit, I am completely taken aback by the 3-5 personal calls a day. I currently work in a professional setting with cubes that have sliding frosted doors for some small measure of privacy, but of course everyone nearby can hear everyone else’s calls. And I mean MAYBE everyone takes one personal call — A MONTH. I can almost count it, it’s so infrequent: Guy next to me took a call to pick up his car from the shop; the person to my other side had one call this month, when his wife went into labor. That’s it.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            She said a 3-5 minute call, not 3-5 calls a day. She didn’t say how often the calls occured. Of course, it is hard to have a habit of interrupting personal calls unless there are adequate personal calls to interrupt.

            1. Jessa*

              This is my thought. It can’t be a regular occurrence unless it happens enough to be noticed.

          2. Twentymilehike*

            The shower stalls! We must work in the same office or have the same cube company. Really, you hear it all. And because I’m more junior, I have shorter walls and no sliding shower door. Although we have a little room you can go in for private things. Some people use it to make sensitive client phone calls, others for personal reasons. I have to admit I’ve used it for personal calls on my breaks. Personal calls at my desk I keep brief and quiet because really, who needs to know what I’m making for dinner and what time I can expect my husband home?

    2. KellyK*

      I think the primary difference between training dogs and training people is that, for people, knowing that you’re trying to “train” them is an aversive that will reduce whatever behavior you’re trying to reinforce. (That and people have a much longer memory for cause and effect than dogs do.)

  3. bemo12*

    I always thought it was common office culture to stop personal conversations when a boss needs you. Sure, he is being a bit brusque, but at work, work needs to come first.

    I would just deal with it.

    1. Brenda*

      Yeah, this OP strikes me as being pretty out of touch. Based on the way she asks the question, I wonder whether she’s giving off a vibe that her boss is picking up on that she’s entitled to attend to these personal matters and that personal matters come first. As her manager, that would only encourage me to continue my “interruptions”. If she were to re-calibrate her idea of what’s normal based on the feedback here, I wonder whether her boss wouldn’t relax his monitoring a bit.

  4. Ruffingit*

    I would suggest tending to personal conversations on your break time or during lunch. And do it on your personal cell phone away from the office (in your car in the parking lot for example). You shouldn’t be receiving so many personal calls that it would be problematic for you to do this away from the office.

    Work calls are another matter. You could perhaps say to your boss “I’m on the line with Big Huge Client A, could I come see you in 10 minutes?” If it’s a personal call though, hang up immediately because you’re being paid to work, not deal with your personal issues.

    1. Mike C.*

      How does a manager barging through a closed door know if the employee is on a break/lunch to begin with?

      1. Ruffingit*

        This is why I’m suggesting she take care of the personal stuff on her breaks AWAY from the office because there is no way for her boss to know that. If she must handle personal stuff, she should do it outside of her office to avoid this problem of being interrupted and to make sure that what she is doing on company time is company business and not personal.

      2. Anonymous*

        Well my boss always knocks when the door is closed, but I only close the door when I am on the phone (usually work related but sometimes it’s my Mom letting me know about my Dad, who has cancer). We also use the instant messenger sites, so he can tell if I am “busy” or “be right back”. It’s those Mgrs who, need to close their doors but neglect to tell anyone for how long or when they will be free & just then someone “important” without an appointment shows up. Also, sometimes people think because the door is closed (means shhhh I am working hard to get things done) come & stand right outside & have a loud conversation. Really, has common sense gone out the window? There are tons of places to “stand around” and chat about the hockey game, but right outside of my door is not! Can you please spread the word to Managers, tell them, we are all trying hard to work, to do your work & mine, in a time sensitive world, where yes, I sometimes need to take a personal call, but I have always stayed late & come in early when necessary. Give us a break.

  5. Aunt Vixen*

    I have a selection of sticky notes I put on my door when I close it. (My office is next door to a conference room where there are often meetings that are apparently hilarious – so although the culture here is generally open-door, my office-mate and I routinely close the door as a noise-blocking, sanity-saving, concentration-enabling strategy.) They range from “come on in” to “migraine, please proceed gently”, but the idea is to make it clear to all comers that we don’t expect people not to come in and give us tasks, talk about projects, whatever.

    Senior people at my office happen to tend toward the is-this-a-good-time style of coming and asking for things, but as junior people we kind of understand that with rare exceptions, the only reason for it not to be a good time is if we’re in the middle of something else work-related. And even then, it’s better to finish (say) the sentence you’re in the middle of typing, rather than the whole document, before hitting “save” and asking what’s up, in case what’s up is going to bump whatever you’re in the middle of to a further-back burner.

    If I’m on the phone with my insurance agent, or my landlord, or my mother, my groovy boss is probably going to ask me to come by when I’m done with the call – but that’s going to be within about fifteen seconds, because I’m going to tell that person I’ll call back later. It would not be wrong of my boss to stand there while I ended the call and then proceed, instead of giving me a wave and asking me to come by her desk (though she does this partly because she’s awesome and partly because she wants to get back to work rather than standing here).

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Most people in my organization do some variation of this. “Conference call”, “budget”, etc let others know to either come back later or proceed with caution (especially at budget time).

    2. CathVWXYNot?*

      My boss in my old job would just put a sign up that said “GO AWAY” when he was working to a deadline. He was generally a nice guy, which made it pretty funny

      1. Jean*

        This brings back memories: the supervisor on deadline who blocked off her cube with a piece of “police line – do not cross” bright yellow plastic ribbon; and my own experience of posting a note on my computer about having joined “the Federal copyeditor protection program” (and then relocating to an undisclosed, quieter setting away from the cube farm).

    3. Cimorene*

      I got the impression, though, that the problem with the OP’s manager is that he doesn’t actually wait for her to finish typing a sentence. If you’re typing something and in the middle of a sentence, and someone comes in while you’re focused on the sentence and they start telling you stuff you need to remember (to pay attention to), it can be difficult to not be confused and make them repeat the first part of what they have to say. If the manager is really just barging in without even an “excuse me,” then the OP doesn’t have time to finish even the sentence that she’s typing, let alone the whole document.

  6. Joey*

    If this weren’t your boss Id agree with you. But this is your boss. Frankly, when i see my boss walking in I automatically cut the other person off and say i have to call back if she looks in a hurry.

    And usually when I have an urgent need (which seems like always) I knock and start opening the door because unless its a life or death situation I’m telling you that what I have to say is now the top priority.

    And I’m sensing that if he has a habit of interrupting personal calls you may have a habit of making personal calls.

    1. Yes*

      “And I’m sensing that if he has a habit of interrupting personal calls you may have a habit of making personal calls.”

      Exactly this. This perfectly sums up the entire entry.

    1. fposte*

      Alison has said that she generally doesn’t edit letters (I think she does sometimes clean up bad spelling or punctuation stuff that could divert focus from the question).

  7. Z*

    I agree with you that your boss’s behavior when you’re on the phone is rude and strange. However, I agree with Alison that it’s strange that you’re closing the door to your office so much. In most offices, I think it’s normal for people to keep their doors open unless they have a particular reason to close it (a serious conversation, a need to concentrate unusually hard, etc.). So I’d advise you to just start defaulting to an open door, and then you won’t be as bothered when your boss walks through it.

      1. Windchime*

        Me too. I can hardly imagine a world where I could close the door and block out all the chattering and distractions and work quietly all day long.

        1. SuzyQ*

          I have a door and I close it all.the.time. I have an office mate, and she likes the door closed as well. It does have a window, and we leave the curtains opened unless we are needing to concentrate super hard. We find that works well. If the curtains are open, people can just walk in. When they’re closed, they usually think we’re out and e-mail. (Our job means we have to leave to go to another site at times, so it’s not weird for us to be out.) I love it.

            1. SuzyQ*

              I did not ask if I could put them up. I just put them up and nobody’s said anything! :) We only close them when we’re at lunch, when we’re out of the office, and when we have a high concentration task.

              1. Twentymilehike*

                I think the curtains are a fantastic indicator to others if you’re available or not. Of course, doing this depends on what kind of job you have, but if you work mostly independently that’s great. It’s polite and simple! Maybe ill get one for my cube entrance … Sadly it will only come up to my shoulders.

    1. Anonymous*

      I have a door, and have had one for a while. I rarely close it, unless I’m having a meeting or conference call where I’ll be using my speaker phone.

      For one thing, it’s not the company culture to close your door ‘just because,’ and I would feel lonely and shut in.

      1. tcookson*

        When I HAD a door, I only ever closed it when I was either on a break, taking a personal call for longer than just a minute or two, or working on something either time-sensitive or that required concentration. That is pretty much our office culture . . . a closed door usually means one of the aforementioned things. Otherwise, we want to be available to one another.

        Now that we’ve moved back into our on-campus building (we were downtown for a couple years for renovations), I’m in a suite with 3 department heads and their 3 admins, with no door of my own.

      2. Rana*

        Yeah, in all the years when I had an office, I rarely closed the door. One, if you’re in a conversation with a student, it’s usual practice to leave it at least a bit cracked, to balance the need for discretion with the need to signal that nothing hinky’s going on. Two, I get a bit claustrophobic if the door’s shut, especially if it’s an office without a window. But it’s nice to have the option of shutting the door, for the times one really does need to shut out distractions.

  8. fposte*

    I think personal calls are an interesting workplace component because we hardly ever talk about them except in direct customer-service positions but we continue to have expectations about them.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yeah I think a lot of us hope for common sense, but there’s always someone who abuses it. I have little doubt this manager is concerned about this – otherwise why does he always interrupt only personal calls?

      I don’t really mind as long as the work is getting done. But people should know that their manager notices, just like I notice if you’re on facebook when I walk by every time. We know, even if we don’t say anything at the moment.

      1. Windchime*

        I’m always surprised when I see comments about people being on Facebook at work. That’s one of the domains that is blocked on our network; there is no way to get there if you are on a work computer. Same thing with Youtube, except for a handful of people who need it for work-related reasons. (I realize that not every workplace has an IT department and so maybe that’s why they are not blocked).

          1. Mike C.*

            Or work in places where they don’t care if you watch something on YouTube because you’re getting your work done anyway.

            1. Laufey*

              Exactly. My company allows/permits/encourages us to listen to music while working, especially those of us in cubeland (we all use headphones). It’s much nicer to be listening to our music of choice rather than stress over the loudness of coworker phone calls. Most of us use pandora/spotify/etc, but we also set up playlists on youtube.

          2. Windchime*

            True, but sites can be blocked for some departments and not blocked for others (like our workplace does for YouTube). It doesn’t have to be all or nothing; but again, many workplaces don’t have an IT department.

        1. Joey*

          As long as bandwidth isn’t an issue and the work is getting done who cares?

          Blocking sites because you’re worried about productivity is pointless. Employees will just use their phones to access those same sites. And if you implement a personal cell phone policy you’ll never actually catch the problem. Slackers will find a way to slack. Its much easier just to focus on the work and bandwidth.

          1. Colette*

            Agreed. I can access Facebook from work and have done so … twice, maybe? Once my manager was asking about a colleague’s new granddaughter, and once one of the girls from a youth group I work with posted something time-sensitive to our Facebook group.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            Like I said, as long as the work is getting done, it’s not a big deal. But if you’re missing deadlines, we’re going to need to discuss time management, and I might mention that I also notice you spending a lot of time surfing the internet.

        2. tcookson*

          I’ll pop onto Facebook briefly at work from time to time, like if there’s a friend notification in my email inbox, I go on there and accept it as I’m processing my mail. Funny thing is, I’m facebook friends with a lot of my coworkers (faculty and staff), and I always see several of them on there, too.

        3. Naomi*

          A lot of businesses have a Facebook page, so people have to be able to access it to update it. At one of my previous jobs I was put in charge of posting stuff to Facebook and Twitter. This involved logging into my own account, which was an admin for the page. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at my personal stuff, of course, but I did take 10 seconds to look at my messages now and then. I also had to manage the boss LinkedIn account.

          1. tcookson*

            None of us are on Facebook for business reasons (except the communications director), but we’re all getting our work done and not on there excessively. I used to go on there a couple times a day while taking a snack/coffee break to tend to my Farmville crops. That game was really addictive for awhile, until all of a sudden it wasn’t.

  9. Mena*

    You manager’s style is abrupt, for sure. But, you are on his clock. Personal conversations cease when he arrives. And we all have to take the occasional personal call during work hours but 5 mins may be pushing it a bit. I wonder whether your behavior is triggering his aggession (i.e. not waiting for you to end a conversation but simply moving forward with his wants and needs) – he needs you to be available to him and perhaps he’s sensing that you are not and this is his method of dealing with it.

  10. PJ*

    My personal feeling is that your office is not your office — it is a resource of the company, and you have been assigned to sit there. You have no claims on it, and no right to privacy from your manager, even if there is a door on your office and even if it’s closed. It’s not the same as it is at home, where you can require your sibling to knock before entering your personal space. Your office is not your personal space.

    And I think that based on what you’ve said about how your manager is acting, he may be suspicious that you are spending far too much time on personal conversations. Whether or not that impression is based on fact, it might be in your best interest to work hard to change how he views you.

    Step one might be to never, ever have your door closed unless you are actually in a confidential work-related meeting, in which case your manager would know about it already. Step two is to never be caught having a personal phone call during work time. Try hard to manage your personal life on breaks and lunch hours, except for emergencies.

    1. dejavu2*


      I cannot even begin to imagine how mind-blowingly rude and disrespectful it would be to walk into a subordinate’s office, catch them on a personal call, and then have them put the personal call *on hold* to make it as incredibly obvious as possible that they’re just waiting for me to shut up so they can get back to their personal call. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but if that happened to me more than once as a manager, I would write it up.

      So, yeah, the manager sounds kind of rude… but the OP is beyond rude. Like, all the way to hubris: “However, I am just not an employee but I also have a family.” Unlike the rest of us, all unmarried, sterile orphans dragged in from the streets to work for the pure, unbridled joy of it? It’s not like every day the world is full of people saying, “Oh, yippee! 8 hours of office time! I wouldn’t even know what to do with all of these hours if I didn’t have this super fun job to while away the best years of my life!” and the OP is the one special snowflake with an outside life.

      Y’all know I don’t normally lay into people, but this letter, to my mind, is really beyond the pale.

      1. nyxalinth*

        This. I was somewhat sympathetic until I read that line about having a family, blah blah. yeah, so that makes you a better human being than the rest of us OP? It doesn’t make you entitled to anything except in your own head.

        You’re lucky. You have a job that seems pretty good, and you aren’t stuck in a call center, where you can’t EVER make personal calls (sometimes not even on breaks and lunches) and sure as hell don’t get a nice office where you can close the door.

        You’re there to work, not get paid to do work between personal calls and conversations. Start treating your job more seriously, before your boss decides you’d be happier elsewhere.

        I don’t go off on people much either, but the Entitlement B vibe is strong with this one. But maybe it’s his/her first job of this nature, or they’re lacking in “This is how jobs work” common sense and maturity.

      2. Ruffingit*

        +100 for this “Unlike the rest of us, all unmarried, sterile orphans dragged in from the streets to work for the pure, unbridled joy of it?”

        RIGHT ON! Someone, those of us with families find a way to deal with our personal issues and not let it continually disrupt our work lives. Not always easy, but it’s called being professional!

        1. some1*

          Jumping on this one, too. Just because I’ve never given birth (or adopted) doesn’t mean I don’t have a family.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Same here! I don’t have children, but I do have a fiance, a dog, friends, a father who lives nearby, a mother who is ill in another state…we all have personal responsibilities we must take care of.

      3. Cimorene*

        Except that I don’t have kids…but I still have a family. The OP didn’t say, “I also have kids, whose needs trump work.” She said that she also has a family. That could mean many things. Sure, it probably means kids, but not necessarily.

  11. Worker Bee*

    I know it sounds rough, and yes you do have a family, but a lot of people who work have families. You have to try to keep personal phone calls down to a minimum, especially if they happen every day. I used to work in an office where people would constantly interrupt me when I was on the phone (all work related calls, mind you- I wasn’t even the receptionist!)

    But if I was on a personal call, I would step out on my break or even take a 2 minute break to the bathroom to take the call. I wouldn’t do it using my companies phone. I worked in a large organization but a small private firm that you describes could mean your boss is paying for you to basically have non work related conversations. I’d be annoyed too.

    You need to have a conversation about this. He shouldn’t be passive aggressive and just interrupt but rather directly address the issue by asking you to keep your personal conversations to a minimum. You should also directly address the issue with him by saying that you are on work related calls and can’t address him at that moment. We all wish we had jobs that would let us go on Facebook all day or spend time chatting with our kids or online shopping but we have to work with what we’ve got.

    1. FYI*

      Um, please don’t take your call in the bathroom.

      — Cosigned, Your Co-Workers and Person On Other End of the Phone.

  12. Rose*

    The last sentence of the post made me think of The Office episode where Pam walked in on Michael changing. I don’t have anything substantive to add to this conversation. ;)

  13. Steve*

    “I have to put the person on hold while he chatters away about work for as long as he needs. ”

    This cracks me up!

    1. Ruffingit*

      Yeah, it’s totally outrageous that the boss would interrupt her personal call time with work talk. HOW RUDE!

      1. KarenT*

        I know, right! How dare he!

        I had quite a bit of sympathy when I read Alison’s title for the post. This the line that changed my opinion.

    2. Lily*

      I understand someone who chatters away as someone who can’t stop talking about inconsequential subjects. So, OP, are you taking seriously what your boss says?

    3. Jazzy Red*

      Yup. With this attitude, she’s not going to have a boss to interrupt her for much longer.

    4. A Bug!*

      Me, too. I mean, I could sort of understand if the boss were the type to over-explain things, and that he took up a lot of OP’s day with stuff that didn’t need going over. But if that were the problem the wording (and focus, really) of the letter would be entirely different.

      I just can’t see a leg to stand on when the complaint is “my boss tries to cut my personal conversations short”, except that the boss could go about that a little better, since it’s clear the subtle/passive-aggressive route isn’t getting the message through.

      (Tomorrow there’ll be a letter saying “My boss gives me looks when I walk in 30 minutes late, how can I make her stop?”)

      1. Jen in RO*

        Well – it really was annoying when the ‘boss’ (not my direct manager) gave me a look when I was late, because my job means that I have deadlines and, as long as the work is done on time, my manager doesn’t really care what I do. And yes, that includes personal phone calls that are longer than 5 minute and even Facebook!

        1. A Bug!*

          Fair point. I was thinking more jobs where there is the expectation of a particular start time on a daily basis. Maybe going more vague would be better: “My boss keeps expecting me to do the job I’m paid for, what’s up with that?”

  14. Rebecca*

    I share an office with a few others and we would think it was weird if a manager or co-worker knocked before entering. The only reason we have our door closed at all is because we work in a public space (library). And we definitely stop any personal conversations right away if a manager enters since that just seems like the appropriate response.

    As for the phone calls, I agree with others that personal calls should take place over lunch/breaks with a cell phone and if the boss is interrupting a work call, to put the client on hold and ask your boss if you can come by his office in 5 minutes or however long.

  15. Andrea*

    Your “room”? Do you mean your bedroom or something? No, you’re talking about your office or your workspace. Calling it a room sounds odd. It reminds me of when I used to complain to my parents about my sister wanting to come into my room. And honestly, maybe that’s why the OP came across as really inexperienced to me. Yes, I tend to think that barging in anywhere is rude, but eh, he’s the boss. Maybe he’d rather you keep the door open and just doesn’t want to say it, and unless there’s a reason why you can’t do that (noise or something), they maybe you ought to. And we all have families and personal stuff that needs to be tended to…calls that have to be made during working hours, appointments that need to be scheduled, etc., etc. But it kind of sounds like you’re doing a lot of personal talking at work, either with your officemate or on the phone, and that’s likely a problem for your boss.

    1. Aunt Vixen*

      Anh, different dialects have different words for different things. In British English, a company or business or agency (or whatever) might well be called a “firm” even if their business isn’t law or accounting (the only US business I’d call a “firm”, off the top of my head, though of course there may be others); and an individual office inside the building *is* a room, super-generically speaking, and it’s usual in that dialect to call it that rather than anything more specific. (Professors conduct advisory meetings and tutorials with students in their rooms, for example, by which they mean their offices and not their living quarters – though these might be attached if they happen to live in.)

      But OP used “behavior” rather than “behaviour”, so I don’t think that’s what’s going on here – just want to inject a note of caution that sometimes what looks like ignorance or inexperience is actually a matter of a cultural difference or language barrier.


      1. Daisy*

        I’m British and I don’t see that either of those is true. I’d find it odd to call a non-law or accounting business a ‘firm’ , and equally so to call someone’s office a ‘room’ (possibly the academic example is more true, but personally I’ve mostly heard that in Oxbridge colleges).

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          I had taxi firms and advertising firms in mind (both of which I’ve heard, as well as room-for-office), but it was my mistake to suggest that there’s only one British variety of English – no more true on one side of the Atlantic than the other. Sorry!

      2. Layla*

        We are ex British colony and we call such “rooms”
        Office, to me refers to the general area , not the specific place where you work in ( with a door )

        1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

          I was born and raised in Britain (age 0-23) and moved to Canada 13 years ago, and I find it really strange to call it a room rather than an office. The distinction you mention would be between “the office” (general area) and “my office” (specific work place). I therefore don’t think this difference in wording is at the national level – maybe the region / field / specific workplace?

          1. Jamie*

            Hate the room thing. We have someone who does that here and I cringe whenever I over hear someone asking for me and the answer being “Jamie’s in her room.” Makes me think I should be laying on a pink bedspread thinking about boys and staring at Van Halen posters and stuffed animals.

            It’s my office. My room is at home. With my stuffed animals and tastefully framed Van Halen flyer.

  16. Anony*

    I’ve recently been dealing with a request (an “anonymous” request, so there’s your indication of how reasonable this is) to keep my door open so I was inclined to side with OP at first. I agree that it’s always rude to burst into someone’s office without knocking, and if your boss thinks you’re up to something in there, he should just ask you to start keeping it open. But if your boss is only interrupting personal calls of yours, OP, then obviously he’s not just coming in and immediately starting to speak– he’s heard enough to know that you call is personal, at least.

    In my situation, my coworker and I basically worked in a hallway for two years and were constantly interrupted by people asking for directions, asking how to fax, interrupting us when we were on the phone (for work), etc.– none of this our job, we are researchers– and most people seemed to agree when our employer moved that we deserved the office with a door that we got. We also have three people now in an office size that most people get to themselves, so the noise just from each other is plenty without keeping the door open. When we got the request to leave our door open– from one anonymous person who pretty much just doesn’t like to knock but won’t talk to us about it herself, and with no complaints about our actual work from anyone– it was pretty much a warning sign that my manager won’t stand up for his staff even when they get requests that are counterproductive and insulting.

    When you get a request or behavior like this regarding how you use your office space, always look for the problem with your work that might have prompted it. If there is none, then you have a legitimate complaint– but if your boss is always hearing personal stuff when he comes in your office, it sounds like there is a real problem that somewhat justifies this.

  17. Ann O'Nemity*

    I have to wonder how often the door is shut, how often the office mates are having personal discussions, and how often the OP is taking personal calls. If the answer is “frequently,” I can see why the boss is acting the way he is.

  18. Mishsmom*

    i’m on OPs side here. we have a manager here that will barge into my office, or others’ offices with work related things, so they are legitimate interruptions, it’s just the way he does them. for example, last week i was on a business call that was taking some time and this manager barged in, brought another person with him, told that person to sit in my office and wait for me to finish – while i’m on the phone. he could not know if this was sensitive business (we discuss financial matters sometimes) or otherwise. so this person he brought in, just sits there and stares at me while i’m finishing up my call. i can’t always just cut people off and say “i’ll call you back” – this is their time – and their time is important to them.

    also, the thing is, he does not know beforehand if i’m on a personal call or not. and while we all try to keep our personal calls to a minimum it’s not always possible. the manager here might be coming in during the only 2 minutes the OP is spending on that personal call. while he is the boss, it’s still rude in my opinion. sure, he’s the manager and the boss and the OP is on his time, but i’m sure he could say “excuse me” or another polite form of interruption.

    1. Anony*

      I somewhat agree because I’ve had people do the same thing to me, especially in my old office. Even now when I can close the door, my coworkers and I sometimes (with our boss’s blessing) just leave and use a different empty office where people can’t find us if we need to make a call without being interrupted. The tendency of a few people to burst in and talk over an ongoing phone call is just that bad in my department.

      I think the OP and the manager both sound a bit immature really. If the manager has walked in on the OP on a personal call even once, then he’s justified in meeting with her and asking her to keep her door open, stop the personal calls, or both. Continuing to burst in trying to catch her doing something is just childish. And since the OP obviously sees nothing wrong with the number of personal calls she takes, it’s clearly ineffective as well.

    2. Layla*

      I think there is a distinction between a office room with 2 persons or just 1.
      I’d be more likely to knock if it was just 1 person in the office.
      The person could be picking her nose !

  19. Elise*

    I’m not sure if my experience is clouded by having worked mostly in customer focused companies, but work talk always trumps personal chit chat. At my current job, even if it was the president and a VP chatting, I would be comfortable interrupting the chat to ask a work issue. And they would be glad I did. We aren’t going to leave a customer with a problem any longer than necessary.

    I wonder if the OP is maybe new to the workforce or recently returned after caring for a new family.

  20. The Other Dawn*

    If he’s frequently doing this while you’re on work-related calls then you should speak to him about it. But if it’s frequent interruptions during personal calls or chit chat, I don’t think you have any room to complain.

    1. workinmom*

      So we are expected to tolerate a boss that just inserts themselves into any interaction, at anytime? Rude is rude, I worked in a hospital with REAL life and death issues, and people still managed to say excuse me. Please.

        1. workinmom*

          I believe Miss Manners would have a good answer, such as not responding to passive aggressive interruptions. Either the manager needs to address excessive personal calls or the employee needs to act oblivious to the manager- unless of course they are an insufferable bully. I did that, it worked. I am on a call, you’re not on fire- I am sure you can wait. Plus, unless the employee is on a marathon personal call, EVEN a half hour won’t kill anyone. I have an exaggerated startle response and poor hearing on one side and find abrupt interruptions jarring. People who can’t even knock, literally make me jump. I end up feeling foolish, but really it’s the jerk who never learned any manners.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Workplace etiquette is different from social etiquette in this regard. Ignoring your boss and continuing a personal call would generally jeopardize someone’s job, and rightfully so.

            And expecting the manager to wait half an hour for something time-sensitive so the employee can finish a personal call? Unless someone is in the hospital, I don’t know many managers who would be okay with that.

            1. workinmom*

              I did not mean wait 1/2 an hour to finish a personal call.
              But, at least in my field and experience, no one likes to be put on hold especially someone you are trying to get business from or help.

              Treating an employee with respect regardless of the nature of call also matters- if personal calls are problematic, speak to them…don’t pout and glare.

              Relationships matter at work, and boorish behavior does not foster good work or respect.
              Nothing has made me change faster than a professional reprimand given with facts in private.

              1. Brenda*

                Sure, but the person who wrote in to AMA was asking for advice about what she should do, not just validation that what her boss is doing is wrong. That kind of validation might feel nice but ultimately it isn’t enough and can even be damaging (especially in this situation when the poster seems out of touch). What you are suggesting she do borders on insubordination and would likely put her job at risk if it isn’t already.

                1. A Bug!*

                  Further to this, there is an important distinction to be made that I think sometimes gets lost in the discourse.

                  AAM is an advice column, and she gives advice to people who write in. Sometimes both the writer and the subject are blameworthy to some extent or in different ways. AAM can comment on both sides’ behavior, and she does. (So can, and do, the commenters.) But she can only give advice to the person who wrote in, even if the other person desperately needs a swat to the side of the head.

                  If AAM’s answer to the OP’s question was “Ignore him until he learns to say ‘excuse me'”, then OP would be on the fast track to the unemployment line. It would be terrible advice. There is no reasonable way for the OP to make her boss be more polite without hurting herself professionally. If there is, it hasn’t occurred to me and I missed it in comments.

                  The boss did not write in for advice. The employee did. And since the boss’s behavior is a bit rude but not illegal or even that egregious, and because it’s behavior that only seems to happen when the employee is engaging in personal conversations (at work), the only reasonable advice is “deal with it or find a new job, and maybe cut back on the personal conversations because he may well be trying to tell you something here”.

              2. Jessa*

                This too. If you have a problem with the employee making calls. You deal with that issue, you don’t interrupt the employee, and act passive aggressive about it or rude. You’re right about that. It’s bad management. Because unless you’ve had your ear to the door you have no idea if you are interrupting a personal call or a business one. If the problem is the door is always closed and you don’t think it should be, deal with it. If you’re the manager, manage darn it.

  21. Malissa*

    My first thought is, I’m glad to have a lock on my door. While the boss knows the combo, it does give me a three second warning.
    My second thought is I don’t know if the OP is on personal call all the time, or if it’s just Murphy at play.
    I’m in a new position and as I had to move and had very little time to get settled my personal life has bled over into my work time more than I would ever like. But there are some things that just must be done during the work day. It seems like every time I think I have a few minutes to deal with something one of the bosses comes in with something new to throw my way. Thankfully the bosses understand, so all is good. But what if they didn’t? I could be the OP.
    If I was the OP though, I’d be taking a walk to make those calls if I were constantly getting interrupted. But only if those calls couldn’t wait.
    As for the boss being rude, well he’s the boss and that’s his style. Learn to deal or plot an escape.

    1. workinmom*

      Yeah. I recall the dumb ass boss who unlocked my door as I was expressing breast milk. Is it really too much to ask for a modicum of tact in the workplace? BTW it was a woman, and yes, she knew I was pumping at work.

  22. Ella Lorena*

    I wouldn’t necessarily make too much over the closed office door, as there could be a lot of reasons for that. At one job my office was about 100 yards away from the 24 hour call centre and the noise was just horrific. I also worked at a community college in a fairly rough area of Chicago, and the rule was that all doors were always both closed and locked, even if you were in your office at the time.

  23. Erica B*

    I didn’t read all the comments so I apologize if this was mentioned, but what if they keep the door closed b/c of a noisy environment as a previous posted alked about in their office, or maybe they are trying to maintain the temperature. In which case if the door is closed it’s natural to talk to the person with whom who share space.

    I would agree that the boss can come in as he pleases, and the OP should tell the person on the phone they will be called back, unless it’s a work related call then I would put them on hold and tell my boss that I’m on a business call and ask if it could wait, or hold up my finger indicating “just a minute” but you can’t do that with every boss, as it depends on your relationship.

    Good luck

  24. jennie*

    I just don’t understand frequent personal calls at work. I hate the phone, so that’s probably colouring my opinion, but I have two coworkers who make/receive daily long (20 min) personal calls to their parents and/or siblings and I get to hear their end of the conversation. Put it in an email so I don’t have to hear about it!

    1. Nikki T*

      I don’t understand the frequent personal calls either. Husband calls everyday when he gets off work to chit-chat, mom calls, son calls.

      I couldn’t have all that. And these are not people with mis-matched schedules. In 3 hours, all of these people could be standing in the same room…

      but anyway, to each his own.

    2. fposte*

      I am wondering if some of this is generational–if the ubiquity of cellphones means that we’re likelier to treat phone conversation, whether cell or landline, as a part of every piece of our day. I didn’t know anybody who regularly talked to their parents at work when they were kids (we had one horrible at-home nurse who spent the whole time on the phone with her problem son, but that was an outlier), but I know several people who regularly talk to their kids from work now. Maybe these are just the same people who overshare on Facebook?

      1. Bobby Digital*

        Yeah, I think this is an acute observation, fposte.

        As you pointed out somewhere above, it is rare to see personal calls addressed outside of handbooks or specific industries. Maybe because, in part, it’s one of those things that most of us have done but none of us are willing to justify?

        (I’m thinking about “Fight Club.” “One of the first rules of personal calls at work is ‘no personal calls at work.’ The second rule of personal calls at work is ‘don’t get caught by your boss.”)

      2. jesicka309*

        I don’t know – when my mother started working fulltime (I was 11 at the time) she got us to ring her when we all got home. Probably because it was me (11), my brother (9) and my sister (6) walking to our Grandmother’s house 1 km away from the school…but we’d only talk for 5 minutes max.

        I do take personal calls at work….but they’re on my mobile phone, and they’re usually something house/bill related. My Landlord rang just 30 minutes ago to ask where I’d hidden the key for our inspection. Last week I was having heater trouble, and was getting phonecalls from the repairman. I take these on my mobile, outside my office in a shared space with couches that is specifically designed for people to take calls.

        But I’d never take a phonecall ‘just to chat’. My friends all also work, and no one has time to take 10 minute calls for a random chat. That’s what email/facebook is for. Personal phonecalls at work are definitely not a younger generation thing.

        1. Bobby Digital*

          Oh, yeah. I didn’t get the impression that fposte meant that this was an “age thing.” I understood “generational” to mean “in this generation.” As in, most of the workforce, regardless of age. Trends as widespread as rampant cell phone usage tend to require the participation of 30, 40, 50, and 60 year olds.

  25. Pussyfooter*

    “my boss enters my office without knocking and interrupts phone conversations”

    You work for my Mom?

  26. Anonymous*

    Regarding doors, I seem to remember that Andy Grove , former CEO of Intel, had a cubie like anyone else. Like anyone else, when he needed a private conversation, he booked a conference room with a door.

    I think Tony Tshe (sp?) CEO of Zappos, did the same thing.

    I would take a cue from these examples and leave the door open at all times.

  27. HR Competent*

    I’m surprised at so many “closed door” offices. My experience has been office doors open (including execs) unless closed for a business related reason, ie private meetings, confidential/sensitive phone calls, etc.

    If it’s a crazy noise area then very understandable.

    1. Expat in Germany*

      At the company where I worked in the U.S., a closed door meant that 2 managers were arguing behind it. Where I work in Germany now, all doors are closed. I haven’t quite figured out the rule for when you knock as warning and open the door immediately afterwards and when you wait for an answer before opening the door.

  28. bob*

    1. I share a room with another female coworker.

    Why mention the gender but not her height, hair color, eye color, and favorite movie?

    It isn’t relevant.

    1. Rana*

      I would imagine it’s because then the “personal conversations” might be understood to be about things more personal than just where one had dinner the night before or how one’s kids are doing. You know, TMI lady business conversations.

      (At least, that’s the only reason I can think of specifically mentioning it.)

    2. Naomi*

      Or maybe the OP notices the boss only does this with female employees? Some people have a tendency to assume that whatever a woman is doing is less important, so it’s not as bug a deal to interrupt it. (Not saying this is for sure what’s happening, but it’s a possibility).

    3. KarenT*

      I assumed the OP mentioned gender because her male boss is entering a room with two females without knocking. I suspect her point is that they could be changing or fixing their pantyhose or something.

      1. Jamie*

        I’ve never had a windowless office door – and who would change in an office with a co-worker in it? I can’t imagine how weird that would be for me, typing away and someone slipping into a different outfit.

        1. KellyK*

          Yeah, that would be weird. And even if the office was windowless and the coworker was out to lunch, I wouldn’t. Too tempting for Murphy. Maybe if the bathroom was way the heck on the other side of the building and I was alone in said office, I’d adjust pantyhose or something quick, but not actually *change.*

  29. Steve G*

    OP – I think some of the comments here are a little harsh, so I sympathize a bit with you. I mean, if something annoys you, you don’t see beyond it, and just hope the other person just stops doing that one thing.

    However, and I don’t think your question is unwarranted, but this is not a big thing to be worrying about. I live in NYC for example, I walk down streets infested with rats on garbage day, I have to stand in a yoga-like position in the subway to get to work…I wait on line in Dunkin donuts 5 minutes for coffee (where else in the country is the wait time that long!) …I take “showers” in the bathroom at work because Im so sweaty walking around here……do you think I even notice someone like your boss???? No.

    And I’m not writing you to say your concerns don’t matter, but just that you should put them into perspective. There are much more annoying things.

    Also, in general, I think it is important to kiss your boss’ xxx. I think we’ve forgotten that the past few years, but it can go a long way at raise time, etc.

  30. Editor*

    OP, if you make or receive personal calls infrequently, then your annoyance at your boss is understandable, but you have to get used to it.

    If you make or receive personal calls regularly at work, document the time and length of each call for two weeks, along with the time, length and topic of your boss’s interruptions (as best you can — have a digital clock visible even if you have to wait to write down the numbers). At the end of the two weeks, look at the amount of personal calling and the timing and other aspects of the interruptions (and maybe track the time of personal conversations with your office mate). Adjust time on the phone with family so it is pretty brief or else conducted when you’re at lunch or on break, and get in the habit of ending calls when the boss arrives. Take notes on what boss says. Then look at the pattern of interruptions and topics and so on and see if anything can be made more efficient. But if this is the way your boss prefers to operate, deal with it graciously.

    The time log — if you keep it honestly and don’t cheat, which means not estimating the length of the calls but looking at the clock — can give you factual evidence about whether you are wasting your employer’s time. Your wages may support your family, but your time at work earns those wages by supporting the work of the employer. You may need to set boundaries for family members, come up with a better plan to manage family obligations, or learn to focus more on work without being easily distracted.

  31. Cath@VWXYNot?*

    Can’t most of the normal, every day personal call topics be taken care of with text messaging? “Home safe!”, “do I need to pick up milk on the way home?”, “going for a quick pint after work, home by 7”? That’s what my husband and I do – I think I’ve had maybe two personal calls at work in the last year. It means you can deal with the message when it’s most convenient to you (I usually text hubby while waiting for the kettle to boil), and don’t have to interrupt anything or anyone else.

  32. Melissa*

    This might be his slightly passive-aggressive way of telling you that you are on the phone too much, or take personal calls too often. If you’re taking personal calls often enough that he has a “habit” of bursting in during the middle of them – and you didn’t note that he does this during calls in general, just personal ones – then this may indeed be the case. Could be the same thing with the conversations between you and the coworker you share an office with.

  33. JustMe*

    Can’t help but thinking OP is slacking off at work. Why would you always have your door closed? I work in a cubicle and handle personal and professional calls just fine. If I have something that private to attend to, I go the the restroom. Sounds like you need to look at things from your boss’s point of view.

  34. Rene*

    If my boss sees I’m on a call – personal OR business, she will whisper to me “Grab me when you’re done”. This is what this guy needs to do. And if he is annoyed by anything he needs to speak up. If I want to close MY door for anything, I will close my door.

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