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

This was originally published on December 6, 2010. (I’m reprinting some posts this week while I’m busy doing nothing.)

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{ 77 comments… read them below }

  1. Cheryl*

    Personally if I was in the OP’s shoes, I would be long past the point of caring how this person felt regardless of whether I brought this issue to mgmt’s attention or not.

    1. BCW*

      But what if the co-worker really didn’t know she was distracting. Some people really aren’t aware of how loud they come across to others. I’m like that sometimes. So you are past the point of caring how she feels, yet she was never given a chance to change.

      1. Chinook*

        If the coworker is slinking down in her chair and covering her mouth while on the phone, it has to show some self awareness of how this affects others.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In addition to what Chinook pointed out, if the coworker spends a good portion of each day on personal calls, I’m not sure that her coworker owes her a chance to change before she decides it doesn’t matter how the coworker would feel if she talked to the manager.

      3. Marie*

        Honestly, we all know we go to work to work- not to be on personal calls all day. It’s common sense. The caller should be the one apologizing not the one who complained. The caller is wrong and is not entitled to a “chance to change” . It doesn’t matter if it is loud or not, it is wrong to accept payment for your work when you aren’t doing any.

        1. Lyn*

          I agree with Marie “we go to work – not to be on personal calls all day.” We have a coworker who actually are always on personal calls and it does affect most of us in our workplace especially if this coworker have an important calls from another company and it is really time sensitive matters. Our office lead actually have to address it to our supervisor last night. My coworker who loved to chat to her friends and family during office/business hours got extremely annoyed at me when I told her that she have a phone calls from our supplier and they wanted to talk to her immediately. She snapped at me and told me to get the message. She failed to recognized the urgency of the call because she is in the phone talking with her best friend gossiping. The sad part it actually give our company a bad rep to our suppliers because of her attitude. In addition to that, the parts from the supplier will be late because she is handling the paperwork that if she is focused on her job then it could be done in a timely manner. Due to her actions the supplier is now demanding payment for making it late. Her productivity become so low lately and she constantly threatened to quit. She is my friend and it saddened me that she is very unprofessional lately. I understand that there is some chaos in her personal life but unless it is really emergency then it is alright to have personal phone calls once in a while. But when you are in the company time, I guess it is better to refrain any personal calls because we are getting paid to work.

  2. Dawn K*

    We had a situation like this at work. It is not always the manager’s fault. My manager has been trying to get rid of someone on our team who does this, does not produce, is disrespectful, and has been falsifying records of work. Our HR has tied her hands about getting rid of this person even though she has documentation of the behavior. It’s easy to say that you wouldn’t work at someplace like that, but this is a great company in almost all other respects, so we put up with it. Each workplace will have their pros and cons.

    Happy dance though because the person resigned and her last day is January 2. Yay! Boo that I had to take on all her work and she is doing her best to sabotage her work by deleting emails (that IT has already pulled) and not giving me the information I need to continue with her work. So basically I will have to start from scratch. But it’s worth it to get rid of her.

      1. Steve*

        I had an associate once I was trying to get rid of and HR wouldn’t let me. They would never explain why, just kept telling me we had to wait.

        Turns out he had filed a harassment (an harassment?) suit against someone else in the company. I don’t know if they really couldn’t fire him or if they were just afraid he would make it really messy if they did. It resolved itself during a buyout and he decided he didn’t want to work for the new ownership and left on his own. I heard rumors he had a bad past with them and wanted out before it caught up to him.

      2. Dawn*

        From what I could tell, they are like this with a lot of underperforming people. My manager and director said that they have a procedure to follow and feel that the person must be given every opportunity to improve.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s reasonable to have those procedures*, but either HR’s requirements for documentation are unreasonably high (and are therefore getting in the way of managers being able to manage effectively) or your manager doesn’t know how to competently do what they’re asking. There’s no reason why it should take longer than a month to get rid of someone with the behaviors you described.

          * Those procedures should not require that someone be given “every opportunity to improve.”They should require that the person be informed of the problems and given a to improve, yes, but “every opportunity” isn’t a reasonable standard, and it will tie the hands of managers in building a strong team that can get the results they need to get.

          1. Dawn*

            “it will tie the hands of managers in building a strong team that can get the results they need to get.”

            Which is exactly what happened. But now two of the problem people have left. Only one left to go. And we will be much more careful on who to hire.

  3. Charles*

    It makes you wonder what those people think work is. We have a supervisor who does similar things, but not all day, but she does make the most I’ve seen. She has a 9 year old daughter who calls just because she misses her mummy, a husband who runs a business, and rings her to get her to do stuff related to that. And calls her mum to discuss what to buy her daughter. She is currently on maternity leave, and so will come back and have more time on personal calls.

    Before anybody gets up me on picking on moms, you will see that about 5-6 weeks ago there was a post from a woman saying “I have to take calls from my kids and my boss doesn’t like it”, and people were generally annoyed that she was expecting special treatment because she has kids, considering many people don’t have phones with them while they work, and only if it is a family emergency, people will come and find them.

    1. VintageLydia*

      Until your second paragraph I didn’t think you were picking on moms specifically, just that one woman (rightfully!)

      Do you think this is common of all moms? Or something only moms do?

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        IME the only people I’ve seen do this are women. They aren’t necessarily talking to young children – they’re talking with their mom, siblings, siblings-in-law, adult children, adult children-in-law, and friends. The office manager at my part-time job is constantly on the phone with personal calls while complaining that she’s behind on her work. I will say that most of her calls are INCOMING, but she enables them by staying on the phone for an hour.

        Obviously the plural of anecdote is not data, so YMMV and I’m sure there are equally chatty men out there.

        1. De Minimis*

          I think anyone who has a spouse, significant other, or other family member at home runs the chance of getting a lot of personal calls unless they establish that it’s not okay.

          1. VintageLydia*

            Pretty much what I was getting at. If women do it more it’s because culturally we’re expected to take on that burden no matter what our other responsibilities are and though society is slowly changing, it hasn’t quite caught up yet. As it does, men will be taking and making those phone calls more often, too.

            1. Another Emily*

              Rise up women and men of the working world, and say no to taking personal calls at work! (Take a few if you need to, just don’t take this burden on on a regular basis.)

      2. Jazzy Red*

        I think it’s very common in offices. Of course, moms aren’t the only people who make excessive and/or loud phone calls, which are annoying and distracting. Anyone who spends too much time on personal calls should be talked to by their manager.

        OP, even though this woman is trying to make her departure painful for you and even though you will have to do her work, you’ll be enjoying your workplace a lot more. Pity her new co-workers.

        1. De Minimis*

          Personal calls are pretty commonplace here, I’ve decided it’s just part of the workplace culture–seems like as long as things get completed managers are okay with it–I’ve never heard anyone complain about it.

          1. Anonymous*

            Where I work people take person calls all the time – it’s totally fine. But except in exceptional circumstances (e.g. family member in surgery), they don’t spend a lot of time on them.

      3. Charles*

        No, I only put the second paragraph in becasue someone will say “she’s got kids, she needs to take them”. But really, I used to think like that, all moms take lots of calls, but it’s ok though, they have to. But then I read this.

        This supervisor of mine, I don’t have a problem with her calls, but it does show that she isn’t focussed during the day, something which she would use against us, if we did things to show we weren’t focussed. And she has at least one call an hour, incoming and outgoing combined.

        And reading that post from November, made me feel guilty about all the times I rang my mom and dad at work and disturbed them, and it was only to ask if I could eat ice-cream out of the freezer, not that I was getting rushed to the ER.

  4. Anonymous*

    At the call centre I used to work at there was this one woman who put her hood up and talked on her cellphone while customers were on hold. None of the managers noticed, which in a call centre is impressive!

  5. BCW*

    There are a few things here. First I’m wondering how often she goes with the second option, where she is so loud its distracting. Does she slink down in her chair more than getting loud?Because to me, a lot of this just sounds like the OP is angry that she is doing it more than it is actually distracting her. In my office there are tons of distractions all the time, and I just deal with it with headphones. So if the real problem is just that you don’t like how she spends her work time, then I do think it was an overreaction. I mean, people waste time at work all the time, whether its facebook, Ask a manager, words with friends, candy crush, reddit, or whatever, and if I’m not their manager, I don’t really care.

    Aside from that thouguh, I absolutely think the OP should have brought the problem to her first. Its very possible she didn’t even realize she was being distracting. I find it so petty when people don’t even give their co-workers a chance to correct their behavior before they escalate it to their boss. Its childish. When I taught, if one of my 8th graders came to me with an issue with someone else, my first question was “have you talked to them about it?” If the answer was no, I told them to try that first, and then come back to me. Don’t be angry because her and her friends are looking at you like a snitch, because I think their issue with you is a valid one.

    1. Anonymous*

      If someone is doing something they know they shouldn’t do, they have no right to be upset when someone tells whoever’s in charge about what they’re up to.

      1. BCW*

        Thats fine, but I mean where do you draw the line. Should you go tell your manager when Jim comes back 5 minutes late from lunch? Or because you saw Jane shopping on Amazon during work time? If its impacting your job, ok, I can see you wanting to make an issue about it, but even then, I think you should talk to that person first.

        1. fposte*

          The point isn’t that you should tell your manager, but that if the manager finds out that somebody’s screwing around the person has no grounds to bitch that they weren’t told directly by a co-worker. There are some behaviors that are assumed defaults unless the culture is identified as different, too. Don’t make loud or distracting non-work noise where people have to work would be one of them. It’s not like this person was fired–she was told to knock it off.

          I also think “where do you draw the line?” can be a bit of a red herring anyway, because most of us have lives where there’s a pretty clear gulf between the person who’s screwing around and the person who’s not, so rules don’t need to be machined down to which behavior is just on one side of the line and which just on the other.

          1. BCW*

            I guess we’ll agree to disagree. And we aren’t saying its because the manager found it, its because the OP went to TWO DIFFERENT managers about the issue. I think if my behavior is bothering you, you should be an adult and talk to me about it first. Clearly, some people don’t think that its a necessary step, and thats your prerogative. But its their prerogative to be upset that you didn’t extend them that courtesy before snitching to the boss.

            1. Anonymous*

              Just calling it snitching is absurd. This isn’t the mafia. I want to do my job.

              I’m all for talking to someone first. But it is a manager’s job to manage their staff and that might include someone’s 3 hour personal phone calls that mean I’m not getting what I need to get my work done. And if you’re on the phone for 3 hours I won’t have time to talk to you so I’m going to “snitch” and you’re going to have to realize that in the business world there is no need for cement shoes.

              1. BCW*

                My calling it snitching really comes down to what I mentioned in my first post. Is the real issue the distraction or that she is upset that she is wasting time? If the issue really is just that she is too loud on her personal calls, then its a valid point, but that to me is something that could have probably been easily solved by asking her to quiet down. However, as I mentioned, sentences like “We get paid similar salaries for similar work. I always work for my paycheck, she sometimes works for hers” leads me to believe the issue is more just that she isn’t working. If thats the case, then yes, it is snitching in my opinion, because you aren’t trying to solve a problem that is affecting you, you are trying to get someone in trouble.

                1. Anonymous*

                  In that case a good manager would look at the work being done and say, hey, you need to focus and do your own work. The problem you’d be bringing to the manager’s attention in that case would be that you are spending too much time managing other people’s time

                  Still not “snitching” which is an inappropriate word to use outside of a 1920s mob movie. Not appropriate for the workplace.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think there’s much place in the workplace for terms like “snitching” or “tattling.” They’re concepts that don’t really apply. Your employer isn’t your parent or your teacher. It’s a business relationship.

                  The only time I can really see the term making sense if your report is extremely petty — like reporting that your coworker chews gum while talking to clients or was one minute like to work or anything else really minor. But letting your manager know about something that most people would reasonably consider a serious work performance issue? Those terms don’t make any sense there, not unless you see workers/managers as kids/adults or some other twisted dynamic.

                3. BCW*

                  Well, we can agree to disagree on that. My definition of snitching/tattling is that if you are telling some authority figure something just to get someone in trouble, its snitching. If you are trying to solve an actual problem, its not. If the “problem” was being distracted, then be an adult and talk to the person. As I said, I suspect the “problem” is that she feels the co-worker isn’t working enough for her liking, which falls more under snitching to me. In this situation, we don’t know if there is an actual problem because for all we know, this person’s work output is fine. Trust me, some people are able to waste plenty of time, yet put out quality work as well. Maybe this co-worker is like that. But I don’t want to argue with everyone, because this is an issue certain people feel very strongly about.

                4. BCW*

                  Let me clarify, if they are on a team, and the OP has to pick up her slack, I do think that is a valid issue. But nothing in the letter indicates that

                5. GL*

                  Apparently BCW is one of those people that talks on their phone all day, or does something else they know reduces productivity for themselves and to their co-workers –and probably’s someone’s called them out on it. Because normal, happy adults realize that yes, people not being productive in the workplace is a big issue for those around them, and people keeping other people from doing their jobs as well as they could is _also_ a big issue, and any reasonable attempts to curtail that is not “snitching,” but being a decent employee.

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think BCW is someone who talks on the phone all day; he has pretty strong track record of here of wanting people to mind their own business, which is a reasonable and justifiable point of view (although one that I disagree with in this case).

                7. KellyK*

                  I do tend to agree with BCW’s definition of “snitching” as bringing something up for the purpose of getting someone in trouble, rather than to solve the problem. I don’t think it’s an accurate description of this case because of the distraction, as well as the fact that most bosses would view it as a problem if someone was taking/making tons of personal calls.

                8. BCW*

                  GL, I actually very rarely talk on my phone at work, and when I do, I step outside to make/take those calls. But good for you for showing how judgmental of a person you are and implying that I’m not a normal and happy adult. Aside from your jumping to conclusions though, my point remains that unless it is truly affecting YOUR job, then you should stay out of it. There are exceptions of course, such as stealing or doing other illegal activities at work. However, if this persons manager didn’t have an issue with their actual productivity, I don’t think the OP needed to go tell on them, especially not before talking to that person.

                9. GC5*

                  I don’t think GL is being any more judgmental than you, BCW, judging the OP based on the limited info in the letter.

                10. Anon*

                  I really have to agree with BCW. I really can’t stand when people don’t talk to one another about issues in the work place. It comes across as very petty to me.

                  One time (at band camp), I had a misunderstanding in communication with a couple of our interns. They thought I had referred to them with a racist term. I hadn’t said what they thought I said but instead of talking to me about it, they went directly to my manager and I was chastised for not being more careful in my communication. The incident later came up in my review.

                  I couldn’t believe someone would be so thoughtless as to put my job and way of supporting myself on the line simply because of an imagined slight. This really taught me to always be careful, talking to coworkers before taking a problem higher up.

                  In elementary school, going to the teacher might get Johnny a talking to. In the real world, that could mean a loss of a needed raise or having Johnny be first on a list to be let go.

                11. Anonymous*

                  “just to get someone in trouble, its snitching.”

                  That that is not why the OP made the complaint – that person complained because it was hurting workplace performance and the OP wanted it to stop.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I do like Alison’s answer because she does acknowledge that the OP could have spoken to the coworker. But we can’t unring that bell- the moment has passed. Alison did say that OP should apologize for not going to the coworker first.

            I think that OP knew the coworker would drag other coworkers into the problem that is why she went to the boss. OP does say that she is getting backlash from this person’s friends.

            Unfortunately, OP does not mention if she had to take on her coworkers assignments as a result of all these phone conversations. If it is as bad as she indicates I would think this was happening also. But we don’t know for sure.

    2. MR*

      This makes me believe that Kindergarden teachers would make the best managers. If I had someone’s resume come across my desk and it indicated that they were/are a kindergarden teach, I’d be calling them for an interview.

      They would know how to put up with crap like this on a day-to-day basis and I would think they would kick ass in doing so.

      1. A Teacher*

        One would think teachers would be good at handling cell phone situations but then we have the parents that like to call and complain because we “called their special snowflake out.” sadly, its only 5-10% of all parents that you deal with, like if I email or call most parents the child loses phone privileges, has to apologize, or is better about following the rules but that 5-10% does pose a challenge. I’ve actually had one student say “I’m just texting mom’ or ‘It’s my dad on the phone so I need to take this.” At 9:00 a.m. your parents know you are in school and unless it is a life or death situation, which I’ve also had, don’t answer your phone. I guess my long point is kids do this in school so it makes sense that it carries over to the workplace to some extent.

        1. AnonK*

          Wow how the world has changed. When I was in grade school in the 70s-80s, I remember clearly my parents making me write letters apologizing to my teachers every time they had to call about my behavior. Which was frequently, unfortunately. I wasn’t the best kid. But upsetting a teacher had serious consequences that I never see today. Sad.

          1. A Teacher*

            I don’t know if you’ll read this, but I did have a student write an apology letter to me this year. One of usually good students threw out the F word and I told her she needed to stop and lose the attitude. She kept back talking and one of her peers said, “you know you need to stop or Miss C (not my real initial) will boot you.” She said, “I don’t give a F what she does she can do whatever the F she wants. She received a referral and I decided to email her mom a copy of the referral. The child lost her phone over Thanksgiving break and wrote me a letter of apology. Like I said, most of the parents are fantastic and supportive of the teacher. It is the 5-10%–just like in the workplace that excuse their child for everything.

    3. QualityControlFreak*

      I’ve been reading through this thread and have some thoughts. In no particular order:

      I don’t think it’s the job of a coworker to tell another staff member they need a course correction. This should come from the person’s manager.

      If it’s really a matter of someone just trying to get their coworker in trouble, that will be evident to a competent manager, and the complainer has now identified herself as a troublemaker.

      Just from the information we have here, it appears the behavior is habitual and consumes a noticeable amount of time. In many office environments, particularly in shared spaces and/or with shared responsibilities such as answering phones, a substantial amount of time spent on personal calls would be problematic. One person’s behavior can reflect on the whole team, and it absolutely affects the team. No person or process stands alone.

      It is unlikely that a person conducting so much personal business on company time is a stellar performer, but if she is her manager will know that. If in fact her behavior needs modification, her manager is the one who needs to communicate that to her, and monitor her to make sure she follows through. A coworker has neither the tools to make such a determination nor the authority to act on it.

      I’m not talking about taking the occasional personal call. I don’t even think that registers with most people. If someone is too loud, I favor making them aware of that in the moment, if possible.

      What is being described here doesn’t sound like that. It sounds like a pattern of behavior that has been in place for some time. Sure everyone wastes some time at work. No one is 100% productive 100% of the time. But the truth is, we are being paid to work. Someone who habitually spends a significant portion of their work day conducting personal business is not acting in the best interest of their team or their employer.

      I am all for addressing conflicts one on one and in the moment, and it’s great when coworkers can do this, although it is not always possible. But addressing performance issues or appropriate use of company time is a management action.

  6. Anonymous*

    I actually find it quite interesting how many people are finding it unacceptable that OP didn’t speak to her colleague first about it, yes her behavior was distracting but as said the real issue is her not pulling her weight.
    However I, to an extent, don’t believe things like this should be down to a co-worker to deal with as equally you can be vilified for being too picky and it can be difficult to confront someone about something like this. As far as I’m concerned it should be a managers responsibility to keep someone ‘in-line’ and not a co-worker, it is, in effect, passing responsibility when it is not yours to have.
    If it was about the noise alone, I suspect the OP would have been able to at least mention it a few times herself.
    I worked with a lady for a while who insisted on leaving her phone on loud (I mean really loud) in case she got calls for recruiters as this was only a contracted job, the main responsibility was answering the company phones, so quite often it would ring, whilst I or herself were on calls. After a few times I asked her to switch it on silent but nothing changed. She also took no interest in learning things and asked me the same simple questions several times a day. I eventually spoke to my line manager who basically said he’d rather wait for her to move on than deal with it. Lovely man, not so great manager!

    1. BCW*

      It doesn’t mention whether the co-workers phone time is impacting the OPs work load. If her being on the phone meant the OP was having to pick up her slack, I’d be fine with it. But for all we know they are in sales, and the co-worker is only hurting themselves.

  7. Elizabeth West*

    I would have said something to the coworker first, but not all workplaces will tell you to deal with each other like adults. At one place I worked, they wanted you to come to management with any disagreements. My guess is that they had an issue with someone at some point who didn’t handle that appropriately and made a blanket policy. I called it the “nanny policy,” because they obviously didn’t think we could behave like grown-ups.

    I watched this humiliate a person once; she had made a joke about people in my department getting all gung ho about lunchtime exercises. It got back to someone and they whined to management. Management made her send an apology email out to THE ENTIRE COMPANY. Everyone, even remote employees who had nothing to do with the issue. I guess they thought if they shamed her, it wouldn’t happen again (using her as an example). I privately thought the person who complained needed to lighten the hell up, but I didn’t dare say so. I did, however, go to the person who made the joke and tell her I thought the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Aloud, not in email.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Wow, that is crappy. I’m glad you went to the “perpetrator” and told her that you thought this was wrong. I hope she heard that from several others as well.

  8. Ruffingit*

    This woman knows she’s doing something wrong hence the slinking down in her chair and such. And yet, she’s pissed that the OP reported it? Nice. She clearly thought that, although it’s wrong, she should be allowed to do it freely without anyone saying anything. Love how people in the wrong get so outraged when someone points out that they are, in fact, doing something wrong.

  9. Ann Furthermore*

    Honestly, I think the OP’s co-worker is behaving quite immaturely. No matter how it was brought to her attention, she was not being productive during her workday, and she’s responsible for addressing her performance issues.

    My company/boss is pretty relaxed about doing personal stuff on company time. The general view is that if you’re able to get your work done and meet your deadlines, no one is going to get too upset about personal calls, internet time, and so on.

    In the middle of last year, I got an email from my boss saying that some people had mentioned my internet time to her, and that the perception was that I did not have enough work to do. I was surprised, because I am normally on top of things and complete things on time. Also, my job tends to ebb and flow, and during crunch times I put in the extra hours and focus on cranking through what needs to be done, just like everyone else does.

    Then I realized that our department had recently moved, and my new cube was at the end of an aisle, and there’s alot of foot traffic going past in both directions all day long. If I’m running a query or program that takes a few minutes to complete (too long to sit there waiting, but not long enough to start answering emails or something) then sometimes I’ll go onto the internet to check news headlines or whatever. But, since my desk is at the end of an aisle, people who walk by can see my monitor whether they’re trying to look at it or not, and they don’t necessarily know what I’m doing. If they walk by a couple times during the day and see me reading news headlines, then of course they’re going to think I’m a slacker.

    I also realized that in the last few months my internet usage *had* been higher than normal. We were moving, and looking for a new one to meet our needs — specifically, we needed a house with a finished walk-out basement to use as an apartment for my mother-in-law. Those are not common where we live. My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer (and passed away 3 months later), and on top of all that, around the same time there was some drama with my stepdaughter and her mom, and she ended up moving in with us. We sold our old house more quickly than we expected, and had a heck of a time finding something that would meet our needs. I became pretty obsessive about checking the real estate listings multiple times every day because I was kind of flipping out about essentially being homeless after the closing, and trying to be strong and support my poor husband during what was the most stressful time of his life. So — given all that, I was honest with myself and admitted that yes, my internet usage *had* been a bit excessive.

    So — what did I do? I replied to my boss’s email, and apologized for spending too much time on the internet. I told her what I thought had given people this idea, and promised to pay more attention to my personal internet usage, which I did. And that was the end of it. What did I not do? Get into a big snit about being rightfully called on a performance issue.

    1. Ruffingit*

      +1 million for having some maturity about the issue and not getting 10 kinds of defensive. Agreed totally with you that the woman in the OP’s letter is being immature.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        It’s never pleasant to be told that you’re screwing up, no matter how you get the message. I was thankful that my boss brought it to my attention in a timely fashion, and gave me the opportunity to address it. I did address it, and that was the end of it.

        I had another manager once that wouldn’t do this, but rather, hit you with things like this during your performance evaluation. Made me so mad. If it’s such a problem, why did you not talk to me about it right away, instead of sitting on it for months and using it to penalize me with some sort of secret demerit system?

        Not only is the OP being childish, but she should be grateful that she has been given the opportunity to correct her mistakes.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Ugh, I hate when people sit on it. My coworker has done it a couple of times where she’s challenged me over something that happened several months earlier and I feel that really it’s more productive to say something at the time because it’s easier to resolve then. Six months down the line, I’ll be thinking “Did I really use quite the wording that she’s quoting back at me?” but after that length of time it’s difficult to argue that point.

          1. Ruffingit*

            And at that point, whatever the issue is has been festering for how long? I mean, really, it’s just ridiculous. If something bothers you, say so. I think you give up the right to be bitter when you sit on something for months. Clearly, it’s not such a horrible/bothersome/ problem if you’ve been able to sit on it for that long. That’s sort of my thinking on that.

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              Yes, this exactly. When someone waits so long to bring something up, they haven’t been “waiting for the right time” to addresses something. They have been holding onto it spitefully, waiting for the right moment to zing you. This is understandable behavior among adolescent mean girls, but among adults? Not so much.

  10. Sarah*

    I had a coworker who shared not just my office, but also my carpool ride who would chat with her long-distance boyfriend throughout the day. I worked with her for about two and a half years. At the beginning I asked her to please take her calls in the conference room and she obliged, but continued to talk in the car. Then, near the end of my time with the company (I had one week left but she didn’t know I was leaving) I mentioned that it was frustrating to listen to her phone calls. This was after a particularly long and annoying call had just ended. She got very upset and called me a b*****. She then met with our boss and complained about me to him. He had ridden in the car with us and witnessed the phone calls too, so knew why I was upset.

    There was some tension between the two of us regardless of the phone call issue and this was just the last straw so this isn’t the complete story, but in my opinion, it was crazy to me that someone would not understand that it was rude to have a personal, non-necessary, phone call in a shared space.

    1. Windchime*

      A lot of people don’t understand that. People standing in line in front of me at the store who are yakking on their phone instead of getting out their debit card and paying for their purchase, for instance. Or people in a movie theater. Or yes, people in the office.

      Fortunately, most people here tend to step out into the hall to take personal calls or else they keep them very, very short. Because we are all salaried/exempt, it’s accepted that sometimes people will have to attend to personal business during the day. I can see why the OP said something to management, though; having to listen to someone’s constant phone calls is super distracting.

  11. Lora*

    I swear there’s like two managers on the planet other than me who really do not care when work gets done, under any (safe) conditions, where it is done (obviously some jobs you really have to be there), as long as it is of good quality and done in a timely fashion.

    You want to come in to the office, mess around on Facebook all day, but then you go home and write reports at 2am because that’s your really productive time? I might suggest you telecommute, but otherwise, have at it. You are at your best when swinging upside-down from a trapeze, singing the national anthem and juggling three laptops while you type? Excellent, knock yourself out. You need a $100 sun lamp at your desk if you can’t sit by a window? Yeah, OK, submit a PO request.

    Just don’t annoy other people too much, don’t do anything unethical or illegal, get your work done, and I’m happy. If noise is bothering you, the first thing I will ask is, “did you try earplugs/earphones?” “I hear my cube-neighbor on the phone all day” falls under the heading of Noise. If what really bothers you is, “she’s on the phone all day, how does she get any work done???” then my answer is going to be, “I dunno, but the last three reports she turned in were great, so maybe you should try it.”

    Some people just work very efficiently. They get In The Zone and boom, four hours later it’s all done. Personally, I practice Management By Walking Around, so if I see someone goofing off, I ask them how their projects are going and if there is anything holding them up from getting them done…like, right now. Because I have other projects that also need done, and if they want extra credit on their review come bonus-time, I do track these things. But otherwise, hey, mind your own business.

    I agree with Alison that it’s a management problem, for sure.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I want to work for you. You sound awesome. Seriously, this is how it should be. Who cares who is doing what, when and how so long as they are getting their work done.

    2. Zelos*

      I mostly agree, but I have to disagree with the noise part. If Jane can get all her work done at 2 am and slack off all day at work, fine, she’s not affecting anyone else (assuming she meets deadlines and can still communicate effectively with other teams and whatnot). But a reasonably distraction-free workplace for others who are working at work should be a minimum expectation. Earbuds/earplugs make my ears itch and over-the-ears headphones make my ears hurt; I’d really resent it if I have to use them to accommodate Jane’s goofing off. The way I see it: my off-time activities and video games are done in my home, and thus doesn’t affect Jane’s 2 am productivity hours; her chatter and other choices of non-work shouldn’t affect my productivity either.

      I generally agree with your views, but for those people who prefer nonconventional schedules…that’s what telecommuting is for.

      1. Felicia*

        I mostly agree as well, but disagree on the same point as you. if the noise was for work related reasons then fine i’ll deal with it. But if it’s too noisy because Jane is loudly talking on the phone with her mom every single day, then fine. And if part of my work involves talking with Jane, I don’t want to have to interrupt her while she’s on the phone with her boyfriend and be told to wait a minute while she finishes.

        The above are actually real examples of a coworker of mine. She also didn’t do as much work as the rest of us because she spent at least 45 minutes a day on the phone, and ours was the type of work that needed to get done that day before 5 pm, so she couldn’t have been doing any at home at 2 am. So if the noise level is distracting,, or she is not available for work related conversations, then that is not ok. I’d say browsing the internet for non work related things is different, because it doesn’t distract people and it’s easier to switch immediately to work mode.

        1. Felicia*

          So in that case, it was distracting, and I had to do more work than I would have done if she hadn’t made such long personal calls every day.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      This was my approach when I was a manager, and I made it very clear to my staff that I did not have time for petty stuff like people complaining about when someone took/came back from their break or lunch hour, internet time, and so on. I had no tolerance for the daycare center aspect of it, nor all the political maneuvering you have to do in a management role. So I am now back in an individual contributor role, which suits me best.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I could never be a manager. I figured that out long ago. I don’t have the patience for the various aspects of it, much like you Ann. I too am better as an individual contributor.

      2. Lora*

        See, the political maneuvering part I’m OK with. I had a few bosses & experiences early in my career that taught me a good deal about the politics side, and now it doesn’t bother me so much.

        Agree w/ AnonK about the office martyr. There’s one I’m dealing with now, in a department I work alongside–she got so worked up over how put-upon she is by “having to correct everyone else’s work” in a meeting of about 20 people that she was actually close to (histrionic) tears. I handed her a few tissues and asked her gently if she’d like to take a moment and we could talk about things privately later. Now she refuses to speak to me, and insists that her boss tell me things on her behalf. You can probably imagine what he thinks about that…

    4. AnonK*

      I subscribe to the exact same management style. It works pretty well for me.

      But when this is your methodology, I can say the most annoying manager issue I get is when someone perceives that they are doing more than someone else and feels the need to come to me to complain about the other person. I know if someone is working or not. I don’t need you to point it out to me. Besides, you aren’t privy to whatever I worked out with that employee. I am sensitive to this because I’ve had employees make these complaints a lot in the past in an attempt to paint themselves as the department martyr.

      I’m not saying that is what the OP did, but it’s very possible that the message about the distraction got lost behind the complaint that the other woman isn’t doing her share.

  12. Not So NewReader*

    I would be willing to bet that no one told the coworker who complained. The coworker is just making a very good guess.

    Now the coworker has rallied her friends to snub the OP. She just could not let it go but chose to sink to new levels of unprofessional behavior.

    This goes back to the manager. There is something the manager is doing or not doing that leads the coworker to believe that she can get away with these behaviors. I suspect this is a boss that stays in her office a lot and the problem starts there.

  13. EvilQueenRegina*

    My coworker D used to make and take lots of personal calls in work time both from her then-partner and from a second job that she had on weekends. It got to the point where another coworker, S, complained to our manager about it. Yes, we were a team and D’s excessive calls did impact on the rest of us having to pick up on her work and also people began to be reluctant to give her work to do (although to be fair there was more to that than the personal calls).

    Our manager did raise this with D and D denied that it was a problem although she did make a big display of telling her callers after that to please call her at lunchtime as she’d been told off for taking calls about her second job during her main job’s hours. (The calls and texts from her partner continued). I don’t know whether D was ever told that it was S who complained but if she didn’t know, I think she suspected as the calls re her other job (and even visits from people from the second job as we had now moved to the same building as them) increased again after S left.

    It only really stopped in the end when D quit her other job and the texts and calls to/from her partner only stopped when the relationship broke down.

  14. Mary*

    I feel like this mind your own business. I don’t tell on anyone at work unless I’m being harassed or something. She will get caught eventually. Now you have created a hostile work environment for yourself. People do things at work all the time they shouldn’t do. Now you have made yourself the one not to do anything in front of. Trust me you better be perfect at everything at work from now on because any slip up and it will be on the bosses desk. I’ve seen it too many times. MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS let someone else be the one to tell and the one they will hate.

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