my coworker is too nosy about how I’m spending my time off

A reader writes:

I have a new colleague who was recently hired. Although I have only known her for 2.5 months at work, I noticed that she has the habit of poking her nose into affairs where it doesn’t belong, particularly when it comes to how people are using their time off or even medical leave.

To give you an example, I was on annual leave last Friday. She texted me out of the blue (and I say this because her texts only come in whenever I am either on vacation or medical leave; otherwise she stays as professional as possible), asking what I was doing on my time off.

I understand that perhaps she is just displaying interest in a colleague’s private life, but I honestly believe that what I do during my down-time is my own private business, and I don’t really take such a thing too well when she asked if I was at home doing something else (like working on my thesis, as I have previously told her that I’m going to school while working at the same time). As our company has created a whatsapp group chat to inform and update each other’s whereabouts, I texted to inform my boss that I won’t be able to come in for work as I was sick. The next thing you know, my new colleague texted me in private “asking” (although it sounded like implying as this is her second time at this) if I was , I quote, “taking a break from work or staying home to work on my assignment?”

I really hope that you can help give me some pointers on how to resolve this issue because I know myself too well that I might just burn the bridges the ground, as I can be known as quite a forward person.

You can always ignore the texts, you know. Texts aren’t a subpoena; you can ignore them if you want to. If she asks why you never responded, say something vague about you get a lot of texts and must not have seen them.

Or you can be vague about how you’re spending your time: “Just taking some time off.” If you think she’ll continue asking and you want to signal that you don’t feel like engaging, add, “I’ll talk to you when I’m back on Monday.”

It is reasonable in some cases to ask whether you’ll be out on vacation or working from home, since that impacts whether she contacts you with work-related queries that day and whether she can expect responses before you return to the office.

Overall, though, I think you’re reading way too much into this. More likely than not, she’s trying to be friendly and just not getting it quite right. And you’ve got plenty of control over how and whether you respond to her.

{ 133 comments… read them below }

  1. Lizzie*

    The culture also matters here. It would be considered weird and cold not to ask why someone will be out at my workplace. “Errands are piling up” or “I feel like crap” or “I wanted to go to the zoo” are all perfectly acceptable answers, but it’s just a way of showing concern and checking in. It’s also very reasonable to ask whether you’re out on leave or working from home- that has work-related implications for your availability and is hardly nosy.

    1. Judy*

      I’ve been places like that, but only when seeing someone. I’ve not been where someone would text someone else about their plans on that day. More like “Going anywhere for your vacation next week or are you staycationing?”

      1. tt*

        Yes to what Judy said. If I was going on vacation, people would ask what I planned. If I were out sick, people would ask if I was feeling better. But all when they saw me at the office, they wouldn’t text me at home.

        1. Kate*

          Yes it is the texting from home that is weird to me. If it was the day before/after a vacation I would consider it friendly chit chat.

        2. Felicia*

          I agree, the texting someone at home is where this is weird and not the typical way to be friendly with coworkers. If she was asking you what your were doing for your vacation in the office before you left, or asked if you did anything fun after you came back that’s normal, as is asking someone if they’re feeling better when they come back from being sick. But she is asking at the wrong times and it sounds like she’s being too intrusive in the phrasing.

        3. holly*

          same here. although mine isn’t a work culture where people would even have my personal cell number. except my boss and anyone i supervise. so this whole thing is weird to me.

    2. Koko*

      If it was about the work implications I’d think she’d just reply back to to the whatsapp group or send her an email at her work email address: “Will you be checking email at all today or are you out of commission for the whole day?” The fact that she texts her – which means she closed one app and when opening another, chose the personal/immediate one instead of the professional/at-work one, and instead of asking the work-related question, she asked a personal one. It’s not like, super egregious, but it would irritate me and make me question whether she was implying something or trying to manage me.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. This sounds like a c0-worker trying to manage another co-worker. It has major busy body vibes to me. Don’t underestimate the power of indifference. I would ignore this sort of thing — the most effective way of extinguishing the behavior. If she aggressively follows up when you are back at work, you can say, ‘oh I wasn’t monitoring work mail when I was out.’ Pushing this back into the ‘work’ category and letting her know you aren’t going to be responding to her busy body queries. All this without actually saying it. It is possible this is a friendly inept person — ignoring it allows that to stand without burning bridges.

        1. Angora*

          Agree with Artemesia … do the ignoring thing. After about 2 – 3 weeks of not responding to her texts when you’re out of the office she’ll get the hint.

          I think the cell phone has allowed too many boundaries to be crossed between work and home. I fully understand having cell phone numbers shared at the office is common place. My boss has mine and a couple of co-workers but they know that is not to be shared with others. When I am home, I’m not available for the office unless it’s an emergency. We are not paid overtime, do not expect me to take calls or work without compensation. They are all like .. it’s only a few minutes. But when you have a department of 25 people, a few minutes here and there adds up to a few hours.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah. It’s a cell phone, not a dog leash. I see your comment about boundaries and I will raise you one- my time is my time. If I am out running errands, I cannot be bothered with cell calls. There are other times of day that I am not near a land line and very happy about that. A cell call just feels so demanding to me. I was talking to a man today, he said his family member will call on the cell. When he does not answer because he is with a customer, the family member will call the land line instead. wth.

        2. Lamington*

          agreed, I had a coworker like this and she was so nosy and judgemental of my decisions. If i would say I’m going to Target, she will say that Target sucked and keep on and on. after a few months i was the vaguest I could to avoid this.

  2. reader*

    I agree with the just ignore the texts. You are under no obligation to respond to everything you get. And for when you are sick, not responding would seem to be more likely. If I’m sick I’m not doing anything I don’t have to.

  3. Kitty*

    Is she doing anything else that makes her intentions seem less than innocent? Maybe she is nosy but isn’t trying to use your whereabouts against you.
    You say you’re a “forward person,” so I’d say take a second to think about how you react because, as AAM said, you may overreacting. I think if you give her a vague response, she will back off. And if she doesn’t, you’re perfectly free to tell her you like to keep information about your personal time… well, personal.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Or how about saying, “I will talk with you, when I see you.” Give that same response each time.

      Nothing wrong with saying, “oh I don’t text that much.” or something similar when you see her.

      Cellphones don’t work most of the time here. I told a dear family member that I do not answer my cell and I don’t have voice mail. No point. So I guess dear family member didn’t hear me? She called me on my home phone and said, “You don’t answer your cell and you don’t have voice mail- what’s up with that?” grrr. OP, you may have to say your message a couple of times before you are heard once.

  4. Brit*

    I was wondering about that line between being genuinely curious and being nosy as well. I’m new to my office job and I’m used to the casual part-time environment where it wasn’t a big deal to be transparent about why you were asking off. When I came to my new job, one of my co-workers called out. While we were reassigning his work for the day, I asked my supervisor if he was sick with something, because I was genuinely concerned. She told me kindly but bluntly that it wasn’t any of my business.

    Now I don’t really ask anyone why they were away because I fear getting the same brush off. If someone told me that it was a personal or medical matter that they didn’t want to discuss further, I would of course back off. But now I’m worried my being friendly is looked at as being nosy.

    1. Helena*

      It depends on your relationship with people. If you barely know them and don’t talk to them much during the day, it probably is nosy to ask them. If you eat lunch with them every day and know them better, then you might ask (but only once, if they answer vaguely or otherwise don’t seem to want to talk about it.) Genuine curiosity is nosiness, really – nosiness is being curious about things that aren’t your business. You may just want to know because you care, but unless people volunteer information, especially people you don’t know, it’s better not to ask.

      1. Emily*

        This is a perfect answer! In a sense, nosiness comes from transgressing a relationship boundary by being more intimate or familiar with someone than the relationship warrants.

        A perfect example of this: I recently dyed my hair. At a party the next day, everyone was asking about it, and in a small group that was asking about it, an acquaintance who I’ve been involved in the same large community with for a few years but have never been friends with (never spent time one-on-one, never exchanged numbers, never been to each other’s houses, only ever made small talk) asked if he could touch my hair. Before I could even respond (I was taken aback by the request and trying to figure out how to say no without coming off like a bitch) he was patting/rubbing my head and hair!

        It’s a very similar situation. He was genuinely curious what it felt like and he asked permission–but even if he hadn’t plowed on ahead without waiting for my answer, it still would have been an etiquette violation. Sure, I could always say “no” and he probably would have respected that (I’ve never known him to aggressively violate people’s stated preferences). But he was asking to do something overly familiar that exceeded the bounds of our relationship, and put me in the position of feeling like I was being rude if I said no. The question itself was too much, even if he didn’t insist on me saying yes.

        Similarly, when you ask an overly familiar question, a lot of people don’t have the social grace to be “blunt but kind” in their response and feel pressured to give an answer. The question itself is too much.

        1. On My Phone*

          I had a senior manager come up to me and touch my hair while demanding to know if it was real
          I have long thick locs (dreadlocks) and people seem amazed by them. I say no to people wanting to touch my hair all of the time. There have been a few times where I’ve said yes though. People are always shocked when they realize locs feel like….hair.

        2. KJR*

          “In a sense, nosiness comes from transgressing a relationship boundary by being more intimate or familiar with someone than the relationship warrants.” I’m showing this definition to my teenaged son, who accused me of being too nosy with him the other day. This is a perfect response!

    2. Artemesia*

      People who want to talk about what they are doing when they are off usually invite that by commenting on their plans. If they have announced they are taking a vacation day, you are invited to say ‘oh I hope you are doing something fun’ as an invitation for them to elaborate. Someone who doesn’t say anything about why they are out of the office is sending a message that inquiry is not necessarily welcome.

    3. Iro*

      I really wouldn’t worry about it. There is no “cut and dry” too personal/nosy boundry. It varies by office culture, country, region, state, company, department, greater-team, inner-team …. you get my point.

      Just try to be adaptable to the situation but don’t spend valuable energy about how you “may have come off” and then let that jade your future conversations. Trust me. Been there, done that, and there is not winning or even learning all the rules to that game.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I have done that as a supervisor, I have just refused to answer those questions.
      She took the time to speak in a kind manner- so she was just filling you in on how things are. She was not mad at you. My guess would be if you call up with the latest bug, she will not be telling your coworkers what is going on with you. I made a deliberate effort not to talk about employees behind their backs. This could be something your supervisor is doing, also.

  5. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    I feel for the LW. I can see how this would be annoying. I have a coworker who I find very unprofessional and nosy, but Alison is right. Just be vague or don’t answer at all.

  6. I.M. Bananas*

    I think you’re all being very kind. I honestly think this coworker is trying to “catch” her taking time off for reasons that might not be deemed appropriate.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I thought that the comment “taking a break from work or staying home to work on my assignment?” was in this vain as well.

      That being said, ignoring her is the best route here. This is obviously upsetting the OP to the point where she felt she needed advice. I can tell OP that it isn’t worth the stress. It’s a coworker, not a boss. What are the possible ramifications of not answering? Then compare it to the stress that you are allowing these texts to cause you.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, that was problematic to me, and I probably would call her on it – i.e. “are you implying that I’m lying about being sick?” if ignoring her didn’t discourage that behavior.

        Similarly, if she texted on a day off and ignoring didn’t work, I’d probably respond with “Is there an emergency?”

        1. Nerd Girl*

          I had a co-worker send me a text once that said “you’re ‘sick”? LOL” I responded with “glad you’re lol-ing. My doctor said it’s roto-virus and I’ve probably exposed the whole office.” And she didn’t “LOL” when she was out sick a few days later with the same bug. I’ve never gotten one of those I-think-you’re-faking texts since then.

      2. Jade*

        This is the way I took it too — the OP is upset enough to ask for advice, so there’s something off. I have a coworker who not only keeps track of every day other coworkers take off for whatever reason, but does in fact later use it in ways to undermine or be downright misleading about people in the office (saying repeatedly that so-and-so “was sick a lot this year” and that implying it had something to do with bad relations with the boss, when so-and-so is senior and has the perk of opting to work from home and a perfectly fine relationship with the boss, etc).

        1. On My Phone*

          Oh gosh. I had one of those in my office. I finally had to tell her that I work from home and have flexible hours b/c I’m management. I added that it would be a waste of her time to track my hours. For ex: while she’s in bed sleep, I may be up finishing up a report etc.

    2. HigherEd Admin*

      This was my gut reaction, too.

      Though, I suppose it could be a case of the coworker trying to be buddies with the OP. By that I mean: If a colleague with whom I am close calls in sick, I would probably text her to ask, “sick day or mental health day?” Not in a nosy way, but in a “I’ve been there!” way, and she would get that because we’re friends. But if I sent that same text to someone I didn’t know well, I could see how it could be read into as trying “catch” them in a lie about their sick day.

      PTO is a different story. If someone opted to take a vacation day and didn’t tell me about it beforehand, I would consider it none of my business and move on.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        When the OP texts that she is sick, and then receives a request from her colleague asking if she’s “taking a break from work or staying home to work on my assignment?” then I think it’s a clue. Neither of those options references her being sick. My radar would be up if someone asked me this under the circs.

        1. soitgoes*

          I think it’s possible that that text was a misguided joke. The only other option is that the coworker is a nut who thinks it’s unreasonable to use private time to pursue a personal goal.

          1. Kyrielle*

            But it’s a common expectation that sick time means you are sick.

            This question implies that the person being asked isn’t, of course, sick. When taking sick time.

            Not cool. Yes, it could be a bad joke. Or it could be a coworker convinced the OP is “not really sick” and taking the sick time to do something else. Depending on the company, that could get you written up – and some people view it as dishonest. (Other people note, and I see the point, that a mental health day is still about health.)

            I would be very offended if someone implied I took a sick day to work on my thesis. (Also very confused, since I am not working on a thesis, but I mean if I were working on one.)

            1. Zillah*

              Slightly o/t, but I just want to emphasize that mental health is definitely still about health. That can certainly be defined too liberally, but so can physical health if you’re calling in sick every time you don’t feel 100%. I take medication to treat a mental illness, and while I can usually push to go to work, once in awhile I just can’t. It’s a thing that happens.

      2. KerryOwl*

        Sure she did, she outright said it. She thinks the co-worker is trying to catch her out at working on her thesis, instead of being legitimately sick.

    3. OhNo*

      I was thinking this as well. If they aren’t trying to catch you out in a lie, then they have some very weird ideas of how trust in the coworker relationship works.

      Where I work, there are some coworkers who I trust enough to say, ” Yeah, I’m calling in sick tomorrow so I can write my paper”, but these are people I’ve worked with for the better part of two years. They’re the same ones that I feel comfortable complaining with about pay or benefits or hours. But if I’ve known a coworker less than three months? There’s no way I know them well enough to know if they’ll respond with “Good luck, and see you on Wednesday.”, or if they’ll run straight to the boss to tattle.

      I can’t imagine what answer the OP’s coworker is actually expecting.

    4. AspiringCatLady*

      I agree. If she were just curious, I think she’d ask the next day. “Did you do anything fun?” and not text/interrupt during OP’s activities.

      Plus, you don’t ask “taking a break from work or staying home to work on my assignment?” unless you are trying to catch your coworker abusing sick leave as study time (though lol would anyone answer that question honestly if they were lying?). OP clearly told boss/the group she was sick and coworker didn’t mention that at all. This wasn’t “hope you’re ok/feeling better”, this was “are you doing something you shouldn’t be?”

      1. Amber*

        Agreed. I wouldn’t ignore it, because if you do she will keep doing it and it will bothering you. Just tell her the truth “I like to keep my home life and work separate, please don’t text me at home unless it is a work emergency. Also it may have been a joke but please stop implying that I’m lying when I say I’m sick. Thanks.”

        1. Artemesia*

          This is so enormously defensive that I would assume you were cheating on your sick days if you said it. (of course I wouldn’t be texting you to find out if you were writing your paper, either)

          The way to stop most annoying behavior is to not make it rewarding. There are times when you have to be more aggressive, but I don’t think this is one of them. If it did keep happening or escalated after being ignored a few times (and it always takes a few times) then at most I would say ‘I really like to keep my work and personal life separate.’ But the ‘you are suggesting I am lying about being sick’ would confirm that you are both lying and easy to provoke for this kind of busybody.

            1. Jen RO*

              It sounds outright rude to me! I would never send something like this, even to a coworker who was trying to get me in trouble.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I’m with Adonday Veeah–I don’t see it as defensive, just a policy statement. And then you never answer another text.

            1. LBK*

              “Also it may have been a joke but please stop implying that I’m lying when I say I’m sick” does not sound like a policy statement. That’s almost as much of an accusation as the original text. I have no problem with the first part establishing a boundary and leaving it at that, but the second part seems unnecessary and overly adversarial with such little context.

              1. fposte*

                I think it’s just echoing the text. I don’t think it’s crucial to say it, but if the texter meant it as a joke it’s not a bad idea to make it clear that it includes a pretty obnoxious assumption.

          2. Mister Pickle*

            I’m not sure that I’d agree that “stop implying I’m lying” is a “reward”.

            One thing I’m pretty certain of: the nosey-body is not expecting this kind of in-yer-face response.

            1. Nichole*

              To someone normal who gets boundaries you’d be right-not a reward. To someone who’s obnoxiously nosy and loves drama, it’s a huge reward. “OP got really snippy with me and said I accused her of lying! All I did was ask if she was working on her paper. Hit a nerve much?” Unfortunately, for these types, this clear, direct, appropriate response becomes cannon fodder.

              1. fposte*

                So what, though? The goal isn’t necessarily to live your life to disappoint the gossipy co-worker as much as possible, and making a clear “don’t do this” statement is going to be absolutely necessary if this is ever going to be discussed with a manager.

            2. Artemesia*

              Nothing is as satisfying to someone who enjoys needling people than a hyper defensive response like this. It would make the OP look small and petty and thin skinned — the nosy parker wins big time. The trick in dealing with people like this is to be slippery and bland and indifferent not to react like a schoolgirl who has been ‘caught’. Defensiveness reads as guilt — whether that is true or not. Accusing someone of accusing you of lying about your time off is not ‘assertive’; it diminishes you.

              1. Mister Pickle*

                I have to respectfully disagree. I see the response as “aggressive”, not assertive or defensive.

                I know some people think the texter is “just trying to be friends”, but my interpretation is that she’s trying to pull some shenanigans. In the past I’ve dealt with this kind of thing by “trying to be nice” etc. It’s never been effective, and if anything, being passive tends to encourage the bad behavior. So eventually I said f**k that: No More Mister Nice Guy. On the rare occasions that someone tries to stab me in the back, I’ll confront them and tell them to back off. I’ve had to do this twice in the past 10+ years, and it was effective both times. To be clear: I’m not talking about threats or any kind of physical violence or intimidation. It’s basically just calling them on their bulls**t.

          3. MsM*

            Really? I’d assume I’d crossed a line and apologize. (Of course, I also wouldn’t be asking in the first place.) That’s not a joke you make with someone you don’t know well enough that they’d share that information with you anyway, and it really is hard to imagine what else they’d be trying to accomplish with that comment.

        2. OhNo*

          I like this! And while I can see how it could come across as defensive, I think if you say it in a reasonable, flat tone it would just come across as a regular statement or request, the same as any please-stop-doing-that request.

    5. AnotherHRPro*

      My reaction was exactly the opposite. My thought was this person is new and is trying to build a personal relationship / friendship with the OP. I guess it just goes to show that you really can not tell what a person’s intensions are as our own personal biases play into it. If this really bothers the OP, I think they should just let the person know that her requests about what she is doing while out of the office seem odd. Often being direct (but very polite and assuming no ill will) is your best way to deal with behavior that you feel is odd and not wanted.

      1. JB*

        She might be trying to build a relationship, but she’s doing it by suggesting that the OP might have just lied to their boss and coworkers about why they were out. That she think I’m lying to my boss would alone probably be enough to kill the relationship she’s trying to build. But apparently she also thinks the OP is stupid enough to admit that to a new coworker she barely knows? Yeah, best case scenario, this coworker has good intentions but doesn’t have much sense. That kind of person can cause a lot of problems in the office. Not exactly encouraging a building of relationships.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      It could be that this coworker is up to no good with the texting. But after 2.5 months, there does not seem to be proof of that. Probably it’s too soon to tell.

      However, holding things in the best light never hurts. You can always go in on the situation with a sledge hammer later, if the soft touch does not work.

      Considering that OP has to work with this woman, she does not want to shut down the working relationship. She only wants the texts to stop. This is a good reason to keep a light touch and see if that resolves things. If no change, then OP can say “Okay, here is the way it is. Home stays at home and work stays at work, in my life.”

      It only benefits OP to put things in a good light and act accordingly at first. Give the new worker a chance to remedy the situation on her own.

    7. AnotherTeacher*

      Yes. The OP didn’t indicate they were friendly enough for these questions/comments to be sincere or jokes. This sounds like an untrustworthy person or someone with no boundaries. Either way….Ignore the texts and follow others’ advice about short, professional responses when you return to work.

  7. NJ anon*

    Ignore her texts and emails and be vague. She’ll hopefully get the hint. And it does matter as to your relationship with the person. Some people are comfortable with it and some are not.

  8. soitgoes*

    I think it depends on the exact phrasing. I would think nothing of sending a coworker a text saying, “Hey, I hope you’re enjoying your time off! Have you done anything fun?” or receiving one saying something similar. Additionally, she might be thinking of going back to school as well and is interested in how the OP is managing it. I understand that the OP might have reasons for establishing strong work/life boundaries (and I agree that it’s right to do that), but I honestly think that the coworker is just trying to be friendly and doesn’t seem to be acting too intense about it.

    1. tt*

      I think this goes back to culture, which Lizzie mentioned above. Neither my current office (where I’ve been for less than a year) nor my old office (where I was for over a decade) text each for anything other than letting us know they’ll be out sick. We actually only just created a cell phone list to exchange with each other, up till now I didn’t even know their numbers. Other than a couple coworkers with whom I’m friends with outside of work, if a coworker texted me on my day off for something that casual, it would be strange.

      1. soitgoes*

        And that’s fair. I am in no way suggesting that the OP is wrong to find it odd. But I think this is more of a “difference of opinion” thing than “someone is doing something super wrong.” The OP should feel free to ignore the texts if she wants. She has the right to not be drawn into a friendship with someone who is pushing for it, but the coworker also has the right to try to make some casual work friends. It only becomes an issue if the coworker doesn’t get it and keeps trying.

        1. Colette*

          This is a really off-base way of trying to make friends, though. If the coworker is trying to make friends, she’d be better off trying to establish rapport in face-to-face contact, instead of through text messages, which are necessarily terse.

          1. OhNo*

            See, my thought on this is that if it is the coworker trying to establish rapport with the OP, then the coworker is trying to do so in a way that creates an us-vs-them mentality. The implication of the text would be “It’s okay, I won’t tell those mean bosses what you’re REALLY doing on your ‘sick’ day. We’re in this together!” And there would be some subtle implication that reciprocation might be requested.

            And yes, in some workplaces, that would be okay. Some places have that kind of semi-antagonistic relationship between managers and regular workers. But after only 2.5 months on the job, it is very strange that the coworker would have chosen this way to try and make friends. Judging by the OP’s response, this is not the way their workplace operates.

    2. Sadsack*

      The thing is, it would be really strange to follow-up to a coworker’s announcement that she is home sick with, “Hope you are having fun!” That just makes no sense. Also, it is really a stretch to think that the person asking in this case is interested because she is considering going back to school. If your coworker called in sick, would you really bother her with your text about school right at that moment? If the other person were interested, she could talk about how the OP manages her workload when she is back in the office.

    3. Elsajeni*

      I can imagine doing this if I already had an established texting-about-our-personal-lives type of relationship with the coworker, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case for the OP (“her texts only come in whenever I am either on vacation or medical leave; otherwise she stays as professional as possible”). Maybe the coworker is just trying to reach out and make friends — but if so, she’s doing it in kind of a weird and uncomfortable way, as if she’s trying to jump straight to a pretty close friendship without building up to it first.

  9. HigherEd Admin*

    I don’t use WhatsApp so I don’t know how it works, but if you’re only using it for work texts, can you turn it off on sick days/vacation days, so you can avoid these texts altogether?

    1. Melissa*

      I’ve only used WhatsApp briefly so I don’t understand it all together, but I suppose you could turn off the notifications for WhatsApp in your phone’s settings (or at least on the iPhone, you could) so you don’t get any messages from them while you’re off. You’d have to remember to turn it back on when you return to work, though.

    2. LBK*

      You can’t really prevent someone from sending you a message (without totally blocking them), but you can certainly shut off notifications so the messages won’t pop up unless you purposely open the app. I think you can mute notifications from specific people within the app, too, so if the OP needs to be able to get messages from her boss still, she can just mute the coworker for the day. Out of sight, out of mind.

      1. loxthebox*

        Yeah, I was going to ask about muting notifications – I’m able to do it in google hangouts and I love it!

  10. LBK*

    The thing that throws up a red flag for me here is that the coworker never texts the OP except in this context. I have coworkers with whom I have no problem discussing all the details of my time away, but I generally don’t text any of them, regardless of the reason. It would be really weird for me to receive a text from one of these coworkers asking what I was doing on my day off, even though in person I’d have no problem responding to the same question, because that’s just not the typical mode of our communication. That’s the reason this comes off as a “Gotcha!” attempt to me.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, I agree. I rarely text my coworkers – they didn’t share their cell numbers so I could randomly text them, even if we’re generally friendly – and I’d find it odd if they texted me asking what I was doing when I was off, even if I’d happily tell them about it in person.

      1. Cassie*

        I rarely text my coworkers although one will text me somewhat work-related stuff that isn’t urgent. It annoys me a little. I’ve told her that a) I have a cell plan with only a limited # of texts each month and b) I don’t always have my phone with me so I probably won’t answer her texts. She still keeps texting.

    1. tt*

      and neither are missed calls! So many people forget that a phone is for the owner’s convenience, not everyone else’s (barring certain circumstances, like work pays for it, genuine emergency, etc).

  11. Tiffany In Houston*

    I really think it depends on the relationship you have with that coworker. There was a project manager that I worked with that I would text if she was out for the day out of concern, and I certainly didn’t pry when she told me she was just taking a sick day. I would often text her when I was out of the office as well, as I knew she may be looking for me to see if could do lunch or go grab a coffee.

    I don’t necessarily agree with ignoring texts just because I find it a bit rude but certainly a response that “I’ll be back in the office on Monday.” should suffice. Nothing more needs to be said.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes – sometimes, when someone asks a nosy or rude question, the best course is just to answer it as if an appropriate question were asked.

      Q: “Are you just staying home to work on your schoolwork?”
      A: “I’ll check work emails tomorrow night, but get in touch with Jane if anything urgent comes up before then.”

      Q: “A name-brand purse? How much did that cost?”
      A: “I got it at that new store on Main Street. I love all the pockets it has – and it’s my favorite color!”

      Q: “Are you and your partner going to have children?”
      A: “Oh! Did I tell you my sister just had a baby? Her older boy is so excited to be a big brother!”

      A lot of people will either get distracted by the slight change of topic, or realize that their question was nosy. If they keep pressing the original question (“But ARE you going to have a baby?”), I’ll put on a puzzled face and say, “Why do you ask?”

    2. Cassie*

      The thing is, there’s no obligation to respond to a text message. There’s plenty of reasons why someone might not respond (from the deliberately ignoring to the innocently missing the text because your phone was low on battery, your phone was in the other room, etc). Especially since the text was not work-related.

  12. MK*

    Have you thought of asking her? The next time she asks what you are doing on your time off, ask in a friendly, by-the-way, manner ”Why do you ask”? If it’s something innocent, like she feels she needs to be in touch in case something happens at work, you will get an answer. And it might hint to her that these questions aren’t usual.

    In my profession we all work at home 2-3 days a week and it’s pretty standard to call people with questions or information. At first, I almost reflexively asked what the people I called were doing, because I was afraid I was interrupting something important. Then I figured it was more to the point to ask ”Can you talk?” Instead of ”What are you doing right now?”. It could be something like that.

    1. louise*

      Yes! I was thinking “Why do you ask?” is a better response than “I’ll talk to you Monday” where the nosy people I’ve worked with before would think they are going to get some kind of special inside scoop on your life on Monday and be anticipating a tell-all conversation.

    2. OhNo*

      I also used to be the same way about calling people and automatically asking “What are you doing?”. I finally broke myself of the habit by changing my go-to phrase to “Do you have a second?” or, in face-to-face interactions, “Will you let me know when you have a second to talk?”

  13. health care anon*

    I have a similar problem with a newer, younger colleague at work, and it drives me batty. I feel that it’s almost a lack of mutual respect and respect for boundaries. Even when I’m taking a quick break (going for a short walk) I get texts “When will you be back?” Our work does not depend on each other often, and it honestly grates at my nerves and I feel she tries to keep tabs on me… I feel for OP, and I try to ignore as much as possible too.

  14. Postscript*

    I used to work with a nosy office manager who always asked questions like this. I would flash her a super-bright smile and say “Why do you ask?” with genuine curiosity in my voice. Then I would just let the silence hang there. And whatever she finally answered to that question, I would just say “Oh!” and then smile and walk away.

    You probably can’t do this over text, though, it would come across as aggressive or paranoid.

    1. m*

      It seems to me that she is trying to be friends with you. Particularly as you point out that they are very professional in the office. Now, if you don’t want to be friends, or just aren’t at that point, there is no reason to make a case out of it. There is lots of good advice here on how to respond with out being “forward”, as you put it.

  15. C Average*

    I read an article a while back about a concept called “contaminated time” and it’s really influenced how I structure my time away from the office. I’ve been 100% up front with my colleagues about this shift . . . with surprisingly good results.

    I’ve let them know that on the days I am away from the office, I do not want to be contacted unless there’s a business need. My days off are exactly that. They’re time to do things with my family, work on my own projects, and not be mentally or physically in the office. I’ll happily respond to urgent business requests–I get that emergencies don’t respect anyone’s calendar–but my goal is to be as disconnected from my work as possible on those days.

    When I am going to be away from the office, I notify my manager, cancel any meetings, and communicate the timeline of my absence to any colleagues likely to be affected. I delegate as needed. I update my out-of-office auto-reply to indicate how long I’ll be out and whom to contact while I’m out. And then I peace out, 100%.

    Not only has this made my time away more enjoyable, but it’s reinforced some boundaries I really like having in place. I’ve seen that my colleagues have followed my lead in resisting having their time off contaminated by work.

    If someone didn’t respect this boundary, I’d say something like this: “Hey Jane, it was nice of you to think about me the other day when I was out of the office. Going forward, though, I’d prefer not to be contacted when I’m out of office. I really like to take my PTO days to completely disconnect from the office. Of course you can ping me if there’s an urgent business need, but otherwise I’d really rather be off the work grid. Thanks for understanding.”

    1. Formica Dinette*

      Yes to all of this!

      When I’m not working, I’m basically detached from work, and I’ve made that known in various ways–usually pretty casually/jokingly–but sometimes directly. If it comes up in conversation, I’ll say, “I *never* check work email outside of work.” I’m pretty plain-spoken, so it works for me.

      I had a co-worker who put it like this: “I like you guys, but I work for my time off.” She said it in a nice way and we all laughed. (She did take long weekends regularly–good for her!)

    2. Purr purr purr*

      I agree with this! I have to do weekend work (lately it’s been every other weekend) to get daily reports to clients. Usually the weekend work is only about 2-3 hours each day but I can definitely tell when I was the one doing weekend reporting because I feel stressed when I go back to work on Monday. It may only be 2-3 hours but it feels like a chore, even though I get it done in the morning, and it feels like it’s stealing time for me. I can totally understand why both you and OP wouldn’t want any calls or have to deal with the office when you’re not there. Relaxation time is so important!

  16. Nancie*

    I wouldn’t reply to the new colleague’s texts, but she and I would be having a little chat when I got back to the office, to the tune of “don’t intrude on my personal time for anything less than an emergency.”

    Of course, I’d be polite about it. The first time.

  17. Rex-a-ford*

    Should “Just talking some time off” be “Just taking some time off”?
    Not trying to be a grammar Nazi… just asking.

  18. Wren*

    um, the LW said this coworker asked if she was doing something other than staying home sick when she reported being sick to the boss. This isn’t being friendly in an awkward manner, or asking for the sake of finding out whether bugging the LW with work questions would be appropriate. I would have told the coworker her line of questioning was out of line.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on context we don’t have. In some cases, a close work friend could ask that without it being weird. The problem is that they’re not close. It’s possible the coworker is being over eager and acting in ways that the relationship doesn’t warrant. Without way more context, it would be overly harsh to reply to her that she’s out of line. The OP is better off not assuming malice unless there’s some reason to.

  19. nep*

    Quote of the week: ‘Texts aren’t a subpoena’. Indeed. Neither are e-mails, phone calls, or even verbal requests or questions. Some things — if they have a direct impact on others’ work — are our coworkers’ business. Most other things, not.

  20. Sherm*

    I have a coworker a good deal like this. Even if I step out for an hour, he’ll ask where I went. He is very open about himself, telling me about his multiple mental illnesses and the meds he takes for them, so perhaps he assumes everyone is as open as him.

    To paraphrase my 7th grade teacher, there’s a reason people don’t talk to trees. It’s because trees don’t talk back. If necessary, be the tree.

  21. HR Manager*

    Blah — even with a close co-worker, I would not text them on a day off unless it was an urgent work-related matter. That’s just insensitive. The content suggests she certainly is purposely prying and not just socializing I would ignore the texts. If she follows up when you return, I’d tell her bluntly that on your days off, you don’t respond to non-urgent texts from the team and remind her of that for the future.

  22. Jim*

    When your co-worker asks such questions, just use the old DoD response we were taught to use: What is your need to know?

  23. Name*

    Looks like I’m in the minority here but ignoring people is really rude. Little civility goes a long way.

    1. Bee*

      It’s kinda rude, but I don’t think it’s totally uncivilized to ignore a text message. Especially if you’re busy or, like OP, sick.

    2. Wasted Donuts*

      I think the whole nature of a text message is that it’s a non-urgent way to talk to people. It’s meant for chit chat or getting simple information that isn’t super time sensitive. Few people are actually looking at their phones so frequently that they see all texts as they come in, especially if they are at work or sick. If you need someone to get back to you then contact them in a different manner.

      Personally, I look at my phone in the morning when I wake up and then at night before I go to bed, and occasionally pull it out to make a call or text on my own. The rest of the time it’s tossed in my purse and stays there. The days I’m at home, I don’t even remove it from my nightstand. I don’t think it was rude of me to not reply to the texts I see in the evenings. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t text much and knows how to contact me in another way. If it’s urgent, they pick up the phone.

      The only exception would be if I was expecting contact about something and then didn’t get back on that. Then that would be rude. But otherwise, no…I don’t have to respond to a text message, pretty much ever.

    3. Windchime*

      Yeah, I don’t routinely ignore texts (especially from a coworker), but my phone exists for my convenience. If I don’t feel like texting or talking on the phone, I don’t. I know people who are glued to their phones, compulsively checking for new texts or emails every minute or so, but that’s not me. Sometimes I forget to turn my ringer on for most of the day. If people are desperate to get ahold of me, there are other ways.

    4. fposte*

      Face to face, with somebody you know and have had no bad past with, sure; professionally, sure. But in your personal life, you are never obligated to answer a phone, door, text, or email from anybody just because they initiated a contact.

    5. Artemesia*

      What would the polite response be to an intrusive needling question? Silence has its place. If it were face to face then a bland non response response would be appropriate. Since it is a text, ignoring it is the most polite response.

    6. Adonday Veeah*

      Rude? So be it. If I’m on my own time (as I would be if I had called in sick) my phone/cell phone/email/texting/doorbell exist for my convenience, not anyone else’s. Artemesia expresses my thoughts perfectly — ignoring the intrusion is sometimes as polite as I’m willing to be.

    7. Zillah*

      But there’s no way in this situation for the coworker to realize she’s bring ignored – the OP may just not look at her phone. When I’m home sick (or anywhere else, for that matter), I’m not always even checking my phone. (And while I get pissed when my boyfriend “doesn’t see” requests like “run the dishwasher” or “do that load of laundry” – a random coworker or even a friend is a different story.

    8. MK*

      In this case a little civility could go a very long way indeed: it could establish a pattern where the OP accounts for her time off to a coworker. And the problems with manners is that all should have them and don’t. In this case the coworker should be aware enough to realise she and the OP don’t have the relationship that would make these texts social acceptable’ as she is basic interrupting the OP’s private time with inane questions. And while ignoring someone is rude, no one is obligated to drop everything to respond to nonemergency communications from relative strangers. If a coworker I am not friendly with texts me on my day off with a ”having fun?” text, I wouldn’t feel rude to wait till I see them next to answer.

  24. JB*

    Ignoring texts or phone calls is actually not rude except in certain circumstances. *You* might be offended by it, but you won’t find a single etiquette expert who agrees with you. You are making a demand on someone else’s time and attention, and you don’t have the right to it. You can only request it. It’s kind of rude to assume that answering your text or phone call is more important that whatever they were doing.

  25. Kristine*

    1. How did your coworker ever, ever get your personal phone number? No, no, and no!
    2. Text her back, “Are you bothering me on work time? Shall I tell our supervisor that you need more work to do?”
    3. Block her and never respond to any text from her again.
    4. Keep your conversations at work professional and free of personal information. It sounds like you are doing all of the sharing and she, all of the listening.
    “Culture” does not matter here. It is not “cold” not to volunteer why you are out of the office – you are out of the office. Period. Don’t volunteer information on “vacation/staycation” unless you want to be ripped off while you are not home.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I think that’s pretty extreme. Point by point:

      1. I believe the co-worker texted her privately via Whatsapp and that’s the way the group communicates. No personal numbers involved. Even so, sometimes personal phone numbers are ok to give out, one must just be prudent about it. I have a co-worker I text all the time (and she texts me too). We’re friendly and we like to communicate that way. Of course, the difference here is that we’re friendly and it’s mutual.
      2. This is flat-out rude and obnoxious and, ironically, monitoring the co-worker in the way the OP feels she’s being monitored. I have never held a desk job– and I’m assuming this is a desk job– where I didn’t have time to send a quick text or write a personal email. There is no need to stoop to nastiness just because someone does something odd or weird. I don’t like what the OP’s co-worker is doing, but a little benefit of the doubt rarely hurts in interpersonal relations!
      3. She can’t– the group communicates via Whatsapp. Not responding to these texts? Fine, and yes. I agree with Alison. No need to text back on your day off, but blocking is not the answer. Besides, that is pretty passive-aggressive. Even ignoring is more assertive than flat-out blocking.
      4. I agree somewhat with this, but I’d advise limiting personal information as opposed to completely shutting it down. After all, “How was your weekend?” is not, generally, a hostile question, nor is, “You were out sick yesterday, I hope you’re feeling better.”

      I think the OP’s co-worker is pulling something strange, no doubt. It is absolutely none of her business why you’re out sick or on leave or whatever, of course. But this is so much better handled by doing the “Why do you ask?” as people have stated before me.

  26. Alliej0516*

    I have a couple of quick comments…

    First of all, OP said that this is a newer employee; I wonder if she’s not just trying to gauge what she will be able to get away with down the road?

    And secondly; I have found that nicely saying that I have/had some personal business to take care of shuts people down pretty quickly.

  27. Lisa*

    All I can think about is that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Andy is going into detail about her weekend plans (her dad’s coming in from Ohio, they’re going out, yada yada), then asks Emily “Are you doing anything fun this weekend?” …Emily’s reply is a succinct “Yes.”

    In terms of actual advice, I’d say ignore the texts. If she brings them up when you get back to the office, ask “Was there something urgent you needed?” If she doesn’t say anything, don’t volunteer anything. Since she’s so new, it’s hard to tell if she’s still adjusting to the work environment, or just nosy (and I’m really trying to give the benefit of the doubt here).

  28. Kai*

    This seems to me like one of those situations where the new coworker is new to professional norms in general, and is tone-deaf to what is and isn’t appropriate.

  29. Kateyjl*

    When confronted with a question that you don’t want to answer, start with a response of “Why do you ask?” Put it back on them as to how it’s their business. Some people are just busybodies who NEED to know. No, then don’t!

  30. Purr purr purr*

    To be honest, I don’t really understand why so many people resort to things like ignoring texts that annoy them or delaying responding because they’re annoyed with receiving the text. If you’re unhappy with your colleague for sending these nosy texts, particularly the ones sent when you’re off sick and she’s implying that you’re lying to get school work done, then why not just say, ‘I’ve noticed you ask these questions a lot when I’m away from the office. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t.’ You have the right to do that!

    1. frequentflyer*

      When your department is small and your work requires you to work closely with your colleagues and leverage on your colleagues’ connections/expertise, it’s wiser not to offend them. That said, I also have a problem with a colleague who contacts me after work/on weekends/on days off. I ignore his texts outside of working hours and he makes a big fuss about it to my other colleagues (who, thankfully, understand why I do that).

      Once, he texted me on my day off to ask whether I was free on a certain day. I had a feeling it was because he wanted to arrange a department gathering to be treated by me (because my boss hinted I would get a good performance review and hence bigger bonus) – when I went back to the office, this turned out to be true. I was so pissed off because my boss hadn’t even informed me officially of the results of my performance review/bonus and he was already scheming to get a treat from me when I wasn’t even back in the office. (This colleague is a well-known cheapskate.)

      So I guess it really depends on the culture in the department. I still don’t know if I’m handling it correctly.

      1. Cheesecake*

        If you are saying out loud “ok, i am off and won’t even look at work stuff during weekend”…and this hint doesn’t work, i’d talk to him. If that does not work either, i’d talk to the boss. But not as “mommy, Fred is bothering me!!!”, instead present it as you need an advice to deal with this and not upset Fred.

  31. Lady Sybil*

    My friend is super vague by default. A few standard answers to “What are you up to?”: “This and that” “just finished something” “You know…stuff.” Feel free to borrow responses from Mr. Vague. A blank yet pleasant expression works well when in a face to face situation.

  32. Black Bart*

    Regarding getting whatsapp messages from a nosy co-worker – it makes me think of the time-honored fact that they only person you really have to please at work is your boss. That’s who holds the keys to you remaining employed wherever it is you draw your water from. It always behooves us to get along with our co-workers, but in the end, unless you are a blatant, total ass to everyone, none of it matters. We aren’t there to be pals. We are there to do the job and my opinion, while unpopular in America’s “buddy-buddy” society, is the correct path to take, at the very least for reasons of self-protection. In your particular example, to me it sounds like this person has very little going on in her own life. I know many people who have large families, side-businesses, other activities who could care less what their co-workers do on their down time. They are o busy/productive themselves, that they don’t have time to peer over the hedge into the other yard This is, of course, the ideal arrangement. I was born in the 1970s and have seen life become less and less private as the years have rolled on. If you have to ignore/annoy/insult other people by standing firm for your desire to have private time by ignoring their inane text messages, then so be it. At the end of the day, you will probably change jobs eventually and this annoying, overly-inquisitive person, who looms so large right now because she is a constant annoyance will appear in the rear view mirror and for a few brief moments, you will feel the sanctified light of freedom shine upon your face because you are free of her! But then, sadly and inevitably, the clouds will return as some other over-nosy or over-talkative or rude dolt fills her shoes and starts asking you never ending questions about bake sales, brownie recipes and the brand of oven cleaner she swears by. One approach you could take, again an unpopular one, but truly… who cares…. is to tell her directly to stop. Tell her that you have no obligation to answer her and the messages annoy you and distract you from outside projects you are working on. Tell her it’s none of her business and if you have something about your life that you want her to know, you will tell her. I once had to report a female employee to my manager because every single day for 2 months, she basically demanded that I drive her up the road so she could get ice cream. I actually posted about it on this site and Alison featured it because it was a such a bizarre event. I wasn’t the only person that this woman hit up for things – money, rides, help with her work…. she was a nightmare of a human being. My point is that we all have a right to look out for ourselves in any way we see fit. It’s a crazy world and you don’t know the motivations of this lady for asking you all the time what you are doing on your free time. I get you. If it were me, I would be irritated as hell and would stop her in her tracks. You don’t have to put up with it just because you are “co-workers”. Working with someone is not a sacred relationship. If you feel annoyed or threatened by someone’s behavior, tell them to back off. You deserve to be comfortable where you work and don’t have to step on eggshells around some moron who won’t respect normal professional boundaries. At least that’s my opinion – probably unpopular – but my opinion nonetheless.

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