my employee’s cell phone makes constant, annoying noises

A reader writes:

I supervise someone whose phone makes a lot of odd noises for texts, e-mail, etc. — not obnoxious ringtones — but still annoying and distracting, and he seems to feel compelled to look at the phone each time it makes a noise. Is it unusual to ask someone to turn their phone off while at work? Between lunch and two breaks, it seems there’s plenty of time for catching up on these things.

Nope, it’s totally reasonable. People should not allow their personal technology to disrupt coworkers, and they shouldn’t allow it to disrupt themselves. He’s doing both.

It would be reasonable to say something if you were peers, but you’re his manager, so it’s even more your prerogative. If you were peers, you’d really just be able to ask him to turn off the sound so that it wasn’t distracting you, but as his manager, it’s reasonable to ask him to turn the phone off altogether so that it’s not distracting him. I’d say this: “Hey, Bob, would you mind turning off your phone while you’re at work? I’ve noticed you get a lot of messages during the day, and I’d rather you keep it to lunch and breaks.”

{ 231 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    Related: If your phone has a loud ringtone, keep it with you or put it on silent!

    I have a coworker who leaves her phone at her desk when she’s in meetings, but doesn’t turn off the ringtone. She gets quite a few calls on her cell, which means when she’s not there to answer it: ring, ring, ring, ring AAAAARGH!

    1. 2 Cents*

      I know this is controversial, but I have a policy that if your phone rings repeatedly and you’re not at your desk and your ringtone is driving everyone else nuts, your phone gets silenced (if it’s easy to do from the lock screen) and gets put in a drawer.

      Also, I have told the people around me that if my phone goes crazy, they are totally allowed to shut it up.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Not controversial at all, I’ll silence or answer (but only work phones where I know the caller) a phone that’s ringing near me.

        1. Colette*

          I turned the volume way down on someone’s work phone yesterday – it wasn’t that loud, but some clever person was calling multiple times and letting it ring upwards of 30 times. I have no idea why it didn’t go to voicemail.

          1. Carrie in Scotland*

            Maybe they have done what my dad has and turned voicemail off? It just rings and rings forevermore….

      2. SCMill*

        I’ve done that before. And back when it was cell phones with removable batteries, I’ve pulled the battery if I couldn’t figure out how to turn the ringer off. And left a note telling the person who did it so that there would be no mistaken identities. No one was ever brave/stupid enough to come confront me about it. (Why, yes, I can be a bit of a witch!)

    2. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      One of my coworkers leaves his phone on whatever the loudest setting is, and has a variety of horrid ringtones and alerts. One of them is a quacking duck noise. There’s a siren noise, a regular insistent ringing noise, a honking horn noise–it’s a constant sound parade from the next office, where for all I know there’s a traffic standstill caused by angry ducks and fire trucks and presided over by a chorus of ringing bells.

        1. KarenT*

          OH GOD, those damn ducks! I had a co-worker whose alarm rang with ducks every day. Our whole hallway would ask her repeatedly to silence the ducks, and to keep her phone on silent. She seemed to think it was funny….to this day that quacking ring makes my blood boil.

          1. Adonday Veeah*

            People like this make me snarl. “Oh, it BOTHERS you? Here, let me do it some more…”

            Who RAISED these people?!

              1. NotMyRealName*

                No, they were raised in basements. They weren’t brought up right. (I’ll show myself out now)

          2. Chinook*

            “OH GOD, those damn ducks! I had a co-worker whose alarm rang with ducks every day. Our whole hallway would ask her repeatedly to silence the ducks, and to keep her phone on silent”

            The snarky side of my would probably started imitating Elmer Fudd and ask if it was duck hunting season yet.

      1. Kelly L.*


        The one that drives me crazy is the little whistled tune. The first fifty million times I heard it, I thought people were, like, doing a secret Mockingjay-type salute on the bus or something. Finally I heard it from someone I knew, and asked, thus finding out it was just a ringtone.

        1. Neeta*

          I thought people were, like, doing a secret Mockingjay-type salute on the bus or something.

          Oh I know that one too. Last year someone’s phone at the office, had that ring go off constantly. It actually annoyed me more not to be able to place it, despite sounding so familiar.

        2. fposte*

          Oh, I heard that for the first time during a conference talk, and it took me ages to figure it out (and then I couldn’t figure out why the phone owner didn’t put the damn thing on silent when somebody else was giving a talk).

        3. Hlyssande*

          My cousin actually has the Mockingjay whistle as an alert sound, but my Samsung S4 has the one that’s almost like it and annoying.

        4. Mabel*

          I work in a large open room with first-come, first-served seating, and one day I sat next to someone who had a whistle tune on his phone. I think it must have been set to notify him of texts because it went off about 10 times within 15 minutes, but he didn’t mute it. Who does that?! If it was me, I would have been embarrassed and muted it after the first whistle. Finally, someone said loudly, “whose phone is that and why don’t they lower the volume?” and he finally muted it.

          Also, I used to leave my phone on my desk while I was away for anywhere from 2-15 minutes, and I realized that it could be ringing off the hook while I was gone, driving people crazy, so I started taking it with me. I worry (probably excessively) about being annoying to other people, but in the office, that’s probably a good thing.

        5. Kyrielle*

          I have a co-worker with one that bark-yips like a kicked puppy (!!) and another whose phone, when ringing, *says* “Ring ring ring ring I’m a phone.”

          The latter is real cute the first time, but not so much after a while.

        6. JoAnna*

          I’m in a cube, and the sales guy who has the office right behind me has the Old Spice jingle as his ringtone. He NEVER puts his phone on silent and he never shuts his door. (He also has LOUD phone conversations half the day.) So annoying.

          1. mdv*

            oh man! I have a coworker whose extra-loud ringtone is one of the James Bond themes… and he has the loudest, boomingest voice I’ve ever heard… and he talks even louder when on the phone.

      2. Windchime*

        We have someone in our office who has a barking dog as their ringtone. At OldJob, someone had a ringtone of one of her grandchildren shouting “Answer the phone, Grandma! Answer it! Grandma, the phone is ringing!” She thought it was hilarous but it drove me nuts to be constantly interrupted by that.

        1. Hlyssande*

          That reminds me of the hilariously annoying ringtone I used for my mom for a long time. It went: “It’s your mother, pick it uuup! It’s Mommy on the phone! I know where you are, pick it uuup. You can’t hide from me!”

          And it’s kind of ridiculous that I still remember it verbatim.

          1. Tinker*

            Oh gods. I could never. I still have a nervous twitch when I hear certain famous default ringtones of my late twenties due to a rather tricky expectation readjustment period during that time, and that’s actually part of why I almost always have my phone on vibrate.

        2. manybellsdown*

          My daughter had a phone with the Vienna Boy’s Choir singing “Ring. Ring ring ring. Ringringringring!” in full chorus. It was hilarious and awful. Thankfully she no longer has that phone.

        3. Lizzie*

          Years ago, my friend’s ringtone was a recording of him yelling “[Name!] Your phone is ringing! Answer it!” I once actually removed it from my dorm room and deposited it in the hallway (where he would be able to pick it up seconds later, point being that if it was in my room, it needed to be on silent).

        4. Judy*

          I had a co-worker that had a ringtone that would read the name from their phone book if it was listed. He would leave the phone on his desk and his wife would call “Incoming call from WIFE’S WORK”.

        5. MaryMary*

          One of my coworkers’ ringtone is Stewie from Family Guy saying “Mom. Mom. Mom! Mom! Mommy! Mommy! Mama! MOM…” (The one they use on those TBS commercials). I’m not a huge Family Guy fan, but I hate that clip.

          1. Sourire*

            That clip/scene cracks me up, but as a ringtone, omygod no! It would be cute once and murder-inducing after that.

          2. Artemesia*

            My next door neighbor had a parrot that would say ‘Hey Moooom’ ‘Hey Mom’ ‘Hey Moooommmmm’ incessantly — they pushed the cage out of the garage into the driveway under my bedroom every morning at 6:30 and this would start. After I retired I did manage to get them to move their Parrot launch time to 8 am. At least you can turn off a cellphone — I was tempted but didn’t have the meanness of heart to kill the bird.

        6. Lizzy May*

          That makes me think of The Good Wife. “Mom, pick up the phone! Mom, pick up the phone!” Makes me smile on TV but would drive me round the bend in real life.

        7. Jader*

          My Mom’s ringtone for a very long time has been a clip of her 150lb dog howling. She also leaves her phone on vibrate and texts in movie theatres as well as at dinner. Basic phone etiquette people!

      3. Lindsay the Temp*

        We have two- one woman who’s phone tells her how sexy she is every time she gets a text, and another who’s plays a song with offensive lyrics.

        1. Nanc*

          I want to say something comforting and supportive but all I can do is lie curled upon my chaise lounge desperately clutching my pearls because how can people think it’s appropriate to have those sorts of ringtones in the work place? God speed and fairer fortunes, brave office warrior. . .

      4. Camellia*

        Angy ducks and fire trucks! I love it!

        I use Zedge and have a tiny baby sneeze as my notification. Since it is a human noise and I keep my phone volume low I don’t think it is disruptive.

        However, I do have a problem: since my super power is ‘concentration’ I can block pretty much anything, including a vibrating phone. I also can’t HEAR my phone if it is in my purse, etc. And I can’t turn off my phone since I have family that may need to contact me for health emergencies. So I use an app called “Where’s My Droid?” I set the options as highest volume, siren, for five minutes, and choose a unique trigger word. Then if someone can’t reach me by calling or (normal) texting, all they have to do is text me the trigger word and the app kicks in and the siren goes off. Mission accomplished!

          1. summercamper*

            Annoying if it is used regularly – but if she’s been responsible about sharing the trigger word with her family members and they only use it for serious health emergencies, I’d take this over all-day low-level quacking ducks!

            1. Chinook*

              I agree, it would work best if the trigger word is used only in emergenceis, but it would also cause my heart to stop and for me to into controlled panic mode if it sounded like a real alarm. I know because, I once woke up to a new alarm clock out of a dead sleep and grabbed my jacket and purse to evacuate before I realized it was the clock and not a fire alarm. (I changed the alarm to radio mode after that).

              1. Camellia*

                Late replying but yes, it is strictly for emergencies, after they have already tried to call or text me and I have not answered. It has only been used once in eight years and I was in my car when it went off, which was why I had not answered the call or the text.

      5. HR Manager*

        Ugh, that’s my mom. She has hearing problems, and she always has her ring set at max level, and then she asks that I set it on a ring tone that is already loud and attention-getting (read: obnoxious). I once recorded a ring tone for her where it was my shouting “pick up your phone [xx]” so there was no way she would not know it was her own phone ringing (she claimed she missed calls because she couldn’t hear her phone ring), and then she tells me she was embarrassed by it and to take it off. As if the overly loud, ugly tune she has otherwise is less embarrassing.

      6. Professional Merchandiser*

        I confess, mine is a siren tone. I do my work in big-box discount stores, and you would not believe how noisy these can be. If I had a regular/normal ringtone, I would never hear it. However, I keep it next to me at all times, and answer/silence it on the first ring. When I am in quiter environment I turn the ringtone way down or put it on vibrate. (Of course, I realize hearing a phone go shake, rattle & roll can also be a special kind of hell, so I still keep it close. The thing is, be considerate of others!!!

      7. Elizabeth West*

        I had a coworker sitting near me who had dogs barking, a horrid screechy maniac laugh, and the song “Kung Fu Fighting” as ringtones. They would play at top volume. She also listened to music on her phone without headphones. She moved away and I WAS SO HAPPY.

      8. Variant A*

        One of my co-workers has a ring tone of some little toddler child, singing the ABCs, in a terrible forced-sounding toddler off-key way. I want to break his phone every time I hear it.

      9. UK Ner*

        I used to work with someone whose ringtone was ‘Take On Me’. Every time it rang, half the office would spontaneously burst into song.

      10. AnonyMouse*

        ….Do you work with me?? I hear all of these ringtones in my office! But they’re not all the same person, not sure if that makes it better or worse..

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        A friend one time put that on repeat on an outside speaker at his party and locked the door.

        Pure evil.

        Funny, but evil.

    3. Cath in Canada*

      Ugh, we have someone who often leaves her phone on her desk before heading off to long meetings, and then someone will call her over and over and over. We all have her ringtone stuck in our head. But she’s very senior, so what can you do after you’ve already asked her to leave it on silent or take it with her?

    4. Sabrina*

      I had a coworker at an old job who had a very annoying song from a Bollywood movie as his ring tone. He’d leave it on his desk and go to meetings. It rang constantly. He’s lucky the windows in our building didn’t open.

  2. Cafe Au Lait*

    I’ve had to do this. In two different work places. I found that once I described why it was a problem (broke my concentration, had to hear the reminder alerts too often, 10 cell phones X multiple alerts a day was too much), my employees were really proactive about turning off their devices.

    1. Helka*

      And vibrate can still be really loud and annoying, especially if the phone is in a hard case sitting on a hard desk!

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I kind of like the Wednesday 10:45 am moment when every phone in our part of the office buzzes simultaneously (15 minute alert for the 11 am team meeting), but agree that it can be almost as annoying as ring tones at other times!

    2. Sourire*

      YES!!!!! A million times yes. My phone never has the actual ringer on, why, because the vibrate is loud enough not only for me to hear to respond to emails, calls and texts, but to wake me up as an alarm! At work, the phone is always on silent and it bothers me to no end when I can hear coworkers phones buzzing near me, particularly those who are having what seems to be an hours long texting marathon. Ugh…

    3. ExceptionToTheRule*

      You speak the truth. A vibrating phone on a hard desktop might as well be a cow mooing next to my head.

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Yes! I once let my phone vibrate until everyone in a meeting was glaring at me, because I thought it was a facilities maintenance guy outside the window with a lawn mower. (In my defense, the coincidence rate of meetings accompanied by the sound of a facilities crew lawnmower was very high).

      1. Cristina*

        I normally don’t take my phone into meetings, nor do I get many calls. But for some reason shortly after getting a new phone I was expecting an urgent call and took the phone into a meeting. Of course I wasn’t yet familiar with the ringtone, so after my phone sitting right in front of me rang for awhile in the middle of the meeting, a co-worker finally asked, “Is that your phone?” and I answered, “no.”

        1. Vancouver Reader*

          I did that a lot when I first got my phone. I’d be looking around wondering why the person didn’t answer their phone before the lightbulb turned on that it was mine.

        2. Chinook*

          “so after my phone sitting right in front of me rang for awhile in the middle of the meeting, a co-worker finally asked, “Is that your phone?” and I answered, “no.””

          Dh told me that that is the correct response to that question when your phone goes off while being inspected by army personnel or while attending a church service. He pointed out that, if you start fumbling to turn it off, you just get into more trouble (and then you need to remember to never let it happen again).

          BTW, I love my phone because it goes into meeting mode whenever I have a meeting scheduled in my calendar and I can now confidentally place it next to a microphone to show my presentation notes without worrying about this happenning.

  3. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    And if the vibrate function on your phone is loud, don’t keep it on your hard desk where it will rattle around and create more havoc! (Putting it on a thick stack of paper, or inside a purse or coat pocket can muffle the vibrating sound drastically, depending on your phone settings.)

      1. Cherry Scary*

        Then again, I get no reception/wifi in the building, so I won’t be getting any kind of messages.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      At a former job, our manager left her phone behind when she went into some long meeting. Someone left her a message very early on and it kept on and on making the noise to alert her about every 5 minutes. In the end someone wrapped it in lots of envelopes, sat Big Bird (a toy chicken that manager had, which was an annoyance in itself when you squeezed its neck and it squawked or pressed its wing and it sang The Birdie Song) on it and stuck a Post It to Big Bird saying “Mobile phone in river! We wish!”

      Someone I work with now has a tone that cackles “Ooh, ha ha, text message!”

      1. simonthegrey*

        My ring tone asks, “Who’s there?” in the voice of the turrets from the video game Portal. It’s fairly quiet, but if by chance someone hears it, they always look around. Honestly I get a fair number of laughs and no complaints, but again…it’s kept quiet.

  4. Annie*

    It sounds like this person’s personal phone use is disruptive for his own productivity as well as everyone else’s, so it’s definitely reasonable to ask him to turn it off during work hours. I think generally it’s a little unfair to say “absolutely no personal cell phone use” but with an employee who has proven that they can’t limit themselves reasonably, it’s definitely the best solution.

    I was chastised for that once at a long ago job, and I realized that I really was excessively distracted by it and it was having a negative effect on my work. I still keep my personal phone next to my keyboard at all times and I do occasionally take personal calls/texts during work hours, but it’s always set to silent and I’ve learned to prioritize my time much more effectively.

  5. Sascha*

    I had to reread that letter to make sure it wasn’t about me…I guess it still could be. Yikes. I don’t feel compelled to look at my phone every time it dings, though. Still, it’s a good reminder to be conscientious about my phone at work!

    1. kozinskey*

      I turn my phone to silent (not vibrate) as soon as I walk in the door at work. I still check it throughout the day and have been known to procrastinate with texts or facebook on it, but it’s nice to be able to check it on my own terms rather than when someone else wants to get ahold of me. Plus, having it on silent is just polite to everyone else around me.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I’ve found that even with my phone on shipment, I still get my incoming texts and alerts because I can see my screen light up from the corner of my eye. I don’t usual keep it on silent, but it seems that I wouldn’t miss much if I did.

      1. YourCdnFriend*

        I hate the light up feature, I find it incredibly distracting. My phone doesn’t do that but sometimes if someone’s phone keeps lighting up (no sound) in meetings right beside me, I’ll politely ask if they can turn it face down so I can’t see it.

        I only ever ask colleagues I have a good relationship with.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Reasonable bosses want to know if they are driving you nuts. Just save this type of complaint for one or two things a year, max.

  6. Jady*

    I wouldn’t say to turn it off, just turn it on silent.

    Is his work otherwise good? Does he have any other problems? Is there any particular reason him using his phone during the day is a problem besides the noise it makes? If the answer is no, just ask for it being on silent so it doesn’t distract other people.

    These little minor freedoms are what separates good jobs that have happy employees and bad jobs that have bitter employees who want to leave. Any single item itself is not really important, but these things really add up over time.

    I agree the sound should be addressed. That can be incredibly annoying to lots of people. Two different co-workers who sit beside me do this every day. But especially don’t create these wide policies (No one can have phones on at work!) removing privileges from everyone because one guy was inconsiderate or has issues with it. It’s infuriating as an employee.

    1. OP writer*

      Not a great employee, actually. I’ve had to reprimand him for excessive use of social media & web browsing on work time. Now he has a tablet and phone to catch up on those things when I’m not looking.

      He tells me the phone is alerting to e-mail on his work account, which is even stupider since his work account is always up and running while at work.

      One of the ringtones is from his mother. This guy is 43!

      We don’t have an official policy in the workplace as a whole, but I feel better about having one for our little work environment now. If is mom really needs to talk to him she can call his work number.

      1. HumbleOnion*

        It sounds like the cell phone is part of a bigger problem. You need to manage this employee. If he doesn’t shape up, make him an ex-employee.

            1. HQB*

              Given the problems with this employee, I suggest that you rephrase Alison’s suggested wording a bit, from “would you mind turning off your phone…”, which is a request, to something like “you need to turn off your phone” or “I need you to turn off your phone”, which is a pretty clear order with no wriggle room.

            2. fposte*

              How is your boss blocking you? Can you have a conversation with her about the need to manage?

            3. LAI*

              OP, I’m worried that you’re addressing the symptoms but not the disease. You say that you reprimanded this guy for using a lot of social media and so then he just started using a tablet when you’re not looking. I think you should be focusing on the actual work problems – for example, you said elsewhere that his work output is low and his error rate is high. But if you make him turn off his phone and his work output doesn’t increase, then you haven’t really solved the problem, right?

              I think Alison’s suggested language about the phone would have made complete sense if you were talking to an employee who was otherwise a good performer. For this guy, I think you need to have a larger conversation about your expectations and where he is failing to meet them. Part of that conversation can be about the phone being a distraction, especially if he tries to argue that he doesn’t have enough time to do all the work he’s assigned, or to proofread for errors, etc.

              And I also work in a place where it is exceedingly difficult to get support for firing people, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. You need to be setting very clear, measurable goals with this guy, documenting when he doesn’t meet them, and sharing those updates with your boss.

      2. cv*

        It’s interesting that you say that he’s not a great employee and the reasons involve social media and web use, rather than actual work output. It depends on the kind of job, and obviously you may have just not chosen to mention his performance problems, but I’d try to focus more on his actual productivity and not on the appearance of productivity. Some people in some jobs work really well even with a lot of social media and web use, even if it’s hard to see from the outside how they manage to get everything done with all of the seeming distractions. Also, is he responding to work email in off hours as a result of the cell phone alerts, and just doesn’t turn them off during the day?

        I’m currently in a work situation with a lot of discretion (grad student on my own research project), but I’d have a really hard time if I couldn’t check my phone pretty regularly. We just hired a nanny and she’ll text me and my wife at the same time with quick questions as she learns the kids’ routines and where things are, and whichever of us sees her message first texts back. Calls to a work number would take much more time and be way more distracting to my office mates. It may not be the case with this guy, but having a cell phone on and being able to make a quick call or send a text now and then can be a valuable work/life benefit for some people. There’s a lot of ground between totally frivolous cell phone use and an emergency where someone would call your work number for those with kids, ailing parents, a spouse undergoing medical treatments, work being done on a house, etc.

        That said, the annoying sounds have to go. A quiet buzz from the vibrate setting is one thing, but constant ring tones are totally unacceptable.

        1. illini02*

          Agreed. My job has said this a couple times, but then they kind of backed off because I was a top producer. Some people like these little distractions and can be good otherwise. I check my phone, facebook, twitter, this blog, and kick ass in my role. So just because something doesn’t work for one person, doesn’t mean its a “bad” prctice. I do agree about the noise though

        2. OP writer*

          The excessive social media and web use affected work output pretty severely and the error rate was really high because things were done in a rush or done while distracted. Putting a lid on web use had brought about some improvement there.

      3. INTP*

        I actually get text notifications for my most urgent emails even when I’m at work. I don’t have outlook though, and have to use a web client, so I don’t have pop up notifications and don’t know about new emails until I click over to that tab to check. I get things that I ideally need to respond to within seconds and that way I don’t have to constantly open my email page.

        I still would not insist on turning it off. You can suggest it, but I just wouldn’t press too hard if he expresses a reason for needing to not do so. Most people I know with kids are expected to always be accessible in case the babysitter texts an emergency or the school calls. People may also have elderly or disabled adults that they are responsible for, etc. I guess people used to give work numbers, but that requires that he have the entire conversation at his desk where coworkers can listen if something happens which is disruptive for the coworkers and lacks privacy for him. Requiring that seems extreme to me and like something that should be a last resort after several other strategies.

        Ideally, he would program his Do Not Disturb setting so that sounds or vibrations only happen from people who he might need to respond to ASAP, so that there are fewer sounds disrupting others but he doesn’t have to check constantly “just in case.” I keep my phone on silent in my line of vision at all times so that I see the notifications immediately but without a noise, but I don’t feel compelled to actually pick up my phone and act on every notification.

    2. Helen*

      “These little minor freedoms are what separates good jobs that have happy employees and bad jobs that have bitter employees who want to leave.” Agreed. I’m surprised how many people are in favor of banning phones. I worked at a place that banned cell phones and it was awful and totally emblematic of the fact that they treated employees like children and not professionals.

      There seems to be a problem with this employee but it could be solved in other ways. Not to mention, I don’t think it’s a good idea to ban cell phone use for one employee but allow it for all others.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        “I don’t think it’s a good idea to ban cell phone use for one employee but allow it for all others.”

        Unless that one employee has abused the privilege. Then, why reward him with a perk he can’t handle, and/or make everyone else suffer?

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Agree. If the employee complains that he’s being treated unfairly, then the boss can come back and say, “You behave differently, so you’re being treated differently.”

          I would be annoyed as hell if I were an employee who *didn’t* abuse privileges and lost them because someone else was abusing but the manager didn’t want to manage.

          1. Jessa*

            This, thank you. I am really tired of management who decide they’re going to impose draconian penalties on an entire company’s worth of employees because ONE person abuses common sense.

            I don’t care what the issue is, punish the inattentive, punish the one with the phone blaring, don’t take the stuff away from everyone else in the building because one person or even two are idiots. Same with attendance policies or any other knee jerk reaction to ONE or a few people who take advantage.

            1. JoAnna*

              YES. At a former workplace, one employee was fired because he was caught watching YouTube videos (not work-related, obviously) while at his desk and not on break. In response, the company banned *any* personal computer use on work computers for everyone, even on personal breaks. If it was an emergency, you had to ask your supervisor’s permission first. This was before smartphones were prevalent so it was really annoying to not be able to check your personal e-mail during your lunch break or whatever. (Plus, the manager who informed us of the new policy did so by bringing everyone into a conference room and yelling at us for 15 minutes.) Awful.

          2. Adonday Veeah*

            “You behave differently, so you’re being treated differently.”

            Ooh, gonna try this one on my employees when they threaten to go to the Union for unfair treatment.

      2. OP writer*

        What if the employee already acts like a child and is irresponsible? If you’re stuck with someone who has little self-control you have to do what you have to do.

        1. Camellia*

          I’m picturing a teacher who would take little Johnie’s toy away from him, lock it in her desk, and tell him he can have it back at the end of the day.

          1. Phyllis*

            My husband is an instructor at our community college work force center (industrial classes, not academic.) He has a bunch of students who can’t leave their phones alone. Each semester he gives a speech about proper phone usage (not when he’s lecturing or they are supposed to be working on a project.) Never did any good.

            So now he takes a clean five-gallon bucket and has the students turn off the phone and drop it in the bucket to be retrieved during breaks and at the end of the day. Some of them objected, saying he was treating them like children. His response: Act like children, you get treated like children.

      3. Gene*

        Nothing requires treatment of employees (or children for that matter) to be equal. Treatment needs to be equitable.

    3. kozinskey*

      I agree with this. I’d worry that addressing this as “don’t look at your phone at work” could make the employee bitter or resentful. Asking him to keep it on silent and only check it when absolutely necessary seems much more reasonable to me.

      1. Jessa*

        The issue with this idea is that silent is good “when necessary” is a problem because the employee believes every time they already check the phone is “necessary.”

        “employee, unless you come to me in advance and tell me you’re waiting for an emergency call due to x, you may not check the phone except on breaks, except at 10 to the hour, whatever.” But a specific time and reason or the employee will continue to misunderstand the directions and when called on it “But you said when necessary, it was necessary.” And then you’re stuck and have to start again with either a list of what necessary means (which goes away from the purpose of “You need to do your work on time and correctly,” or doing what should have been done in the first place – a specific time of day whether by the hour or “when on break.”

        The issue really isn’t the phone, it’s the distraction causing work errors and lateness. The truth is the OP wouldn’t care about the phone if the work was being done properly, and that’s probably really where it needs to be dealt with.

        1. Windchime*

          Agreed. There are people who are compelled to check their phone every couple of minutes (I’m friends with someone like that). Every notification from Facebook, text, email… all must be checked instantly. It’s like an addiction. Maybe I’m showing my age, but I check my phone maybe 3 or 4 times a day, total, when I’m at work.

          And also….You kids get off my lawn!

  7. Em*

    I had a coworker with an iPhone that always had the sound on– so it would ding constantly with messages and then as she typed her replies, it would make the keyboard sounds. She also would leave it on her desk when she went for lunch or to meetings, where it would beep and ring incessantly. She claimed “not to know” how to turn off the sounds and refused offers to show her how to do it. I am very glad she no longer works here!

    1. Kay*

      That’s really obnoxious. It’s one thing to be unaware of something. I know when I’ve gotten new phones it can take me a few days to find all the buttons and gadgets and gizmos, but to be unwilling to learn something like that is awful.

    2. Lindsay the Temp*

      Ummm, if it’s an iPhone, shouldn’t Siri have been able to help her out with that…?

    3. Alter_ego*

      There is literally a switch on the side that you flick. That’s all it takes on an iPhone. One tiny little switch flick. That is so obnoxious.

    4. Jessa*

      Offers shouldn’t have been made. Management should have said “You have one hour to learn to turn the sound off, otherwise Em is going to show you how. You do not have the option to leave the sound on. Do you want to research it or be shown?” Heck when I get a new phone, I make sure I learn that one before I even leave the phone store. Seriously. Being able to change the volume is one of the basic things you need to know. In an office where the sound is distracting turning it off is not optional.

    5. RishaBree*

      At Old!Job, we had an on call rotation that came with an ancient 90’s flip phone. It was mostly broken, so everyone just forwarded the calls to their personal cells. That was fine until they decided that we would also have to answer automated text messages, which couldn’t be forwarded. TPTB got us a new phone that – in theory – actually worked. Apparently it was the cheapest one they could find, because it was incredibly difficult to use, you had to dig into arcane menus to read the text messages, and the sound kept getting accidentally turned off.

      You haven’t lived until you’ve seen four or five software designers standing around in a circle for half an hour trying to figure out how to turn on a cell phone ringer.

  8. Neeta*

    At my first job, our manager had instated a rule that if any phone was heard ringing (whether call or text), the owner of the phone had to buy a bottle of juice/soda for the office. I think everyone’s phone went off at least once, so we drank a lot of ‘free’ soda. Overall however, our office was one of the more silent ones.

    I actually got so used to having my phone on silent, that to this day I put it on silent the minute I enter the office. I think I forgot to do it once, it (of course) had to ring and all my colleagues were surprised that my phone even had a ringtone, heh. Unfortunately my current office is not phone ring free, but at least I can do my part in keeping mine silent. :)

    1. Windchime*

      I recently installed an app that allows me to program when my phone rings and when it is silent. It’s really nice, because I no longer have to remember to turn the sounds off at work–it’s automatic. The ringer automatically comes back on at 5 PM, so I don’t miss evening calls like I used to. It took like 5 minutes to set up and it’s really handy.

        1. Zahra*

          If this then that (iftt) would be pretty great at it if you program it with GPS location or business hours.

          1. weasel007*

            Yea, I have that and the gps rules are not so reliable. It doesn’t always work. Always check your phone if you go in a presentation or place a notification isn’t appropriate.

            1. Sadsack*

              I have IFTTT and it used to always work, but recently one of my rules stopped working. I have it programmed to go to 10% ringer volume when it connects to my office wifi and then back to 100% volume when I disconnect from office wifi. The rule still works when I enter work, but now it never goes back to 100% when I leave. Can’t figure it out.

          2. Judy*

            On my older Android, it came with the OS (or Verizon put it there) and was called “SmartActions” and could control by time or location. This current phone only allows a sleeping time.

        2. Helka*

          I don’t know about Windchime’s, but the one I use (for Android) is Llama. It lets you set a combination of conditions (including date, time, what cell towers are nearby, and also ones like battery level, Bluetooth device connected, charging, screen orientation, wifi hotspot detected, whether a particular app is active) to change between various profiles, and you can also swap preset profiles manually. It’s quite handy — my phone shuts up for work and church, quiets down during the night, and I have additional settings for driving (media volume up, notification sounds off), noisy events (changes ringtones/notifications to be particularly loud and easily-audible), and so on.

        3. JenP*

          i also use an app like this which triggers based on when it detects the work wifi in range, then it turns the ringer back on when I leave. It’s android, called Tasker. Check out Lifehacker for a ton of ideas for how to use it

          1. Sadsack*

            I was thinking about tasker but went with IFTTT because I read that IFTTT is easier to navigate. However, my IFTTT hasn’t been operating 100% so I may have to try out tasker instead.

        4. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I have an app called Mobie 360 that will change my phone settings based on GPS location. For example, it turns it to vibrate when I’m at work and to silent when I’m at church

        5. Windchime*

          It’s called “Silent Hours”. I have an Android, but my friend who has an iPhone also had a similar app on her phone.

        6. Chinook*

          On BB10, there is a deault “meeting mode” installed that mutes everything when a meeting is your calendar. Best thign ever!

      1. Algae*

        I have one for the Android called Llama – it uses the cell phone towers to get your location, so it’s not a battery hog and it’s free.

      2. KAZ2Y5*

        I have one on my android phone called Agent. You can use the calendar to silence your phone (to all calls or let certain calls/texts come through). It sends an auto-reply back to the sender and you can give an option for a code word they text back if it is urgent. It can also silence your phone automatically when you drive (either by gps or hooking up to your car’s bluetooth) and it will note where you park ;-) You can also set it to turn your phone off at a certain time for bedtime (if you have a regular bedtime) and you have the same options as the calendar about letting calls/texts come through.

      3. Jessa*

        My phone (a Samsung Galaxy Note 2) has a feature like this built in. It allows you to set time periods of when you should or shouldn’t get various types of notifications.

  9. HAnon*

    I have my phone on vibrate at work…I don’t think my boss minds me checking it on occasion to make sure nothing important came up. I would get really nervous about having to turn my phone off entirely…in case there was an emergency and someone needed to get a hold of me. But I do agree that it certainly shouldn’t be disruptive to others, or hinder productivity. Forcing someone to turn it off completely off just seems a little extreme to me, and a bit micro-managing…like the employee is a child who can’t be trusted to use adult discretion with their own device. But I definitely understand the annoying factor — the department who sits directly behind me (sales) all have incredibly loud, annoying ringtones that go off multiple times a day, and it gets on my last nerve. Hence keeping mine quiet and only checking occasionally. I should note that I’m in a position where I use headphones and listen to music/audiobooks on my phone during the day, so I’m not interacting with people for the majority of the day, with a few exceptions.

    1. OP writer*

      If someone needed you in an emergency couldn’t they call your work number? If they can call your cell they obviously have a phone.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        People in my office go to a lot. of. meetings. If I’m in back-to-back meetings, I might be away from my desk for 4+ hours. If it was a 9-1-1 type emergency, sure, I’d expect someone to get a hold of the receptionist and track me down, but otherwise, you’ll just get my voicemail. I’ve had some serious snafus when my teenage kid didn’t pick the younger kid up from school and no one could reach me because I left my cell phone at my desk.

      2. fposte*

        I think there may be situations where population density means that cell phone privileges would end up being a nightmare, but a lot of workplaces aren’t like that. I think I’d rather that my staff have personal calls coming in on their cells so they can ignore them without risking ignoring a work call, in fact.

      3. HigherEd Admin*

        No one has my work number, but everyone has my cellphone number. In an emergency, they’re going to call whatever number they’re predisposed to dial.

        1. OP writer*

          Why not give them your work number? What if there’s an emergency and you’ve dropped your phone in the toilet or the battery is dead?

          1. Colette*

            I think a lot of us have occasional non-urgent conversations via phone or text. “Can you stop and pick up bus tickets” isn’t urgent, but it also takes less than 30 seconds to read and reply to.

            There are two things you can focus on in this situation:
            – the noise is distracting and disruptive, and
            – his performance is lower than it should be.

            Is it necessary to have quick conversations during work hours? No, of course not. But it’s nice to be able to do that occasionally, and a complete ban on cell phones will likely annoy your high performers without fixing the problem of low performers not working.

            I probably receive less than one call a year during work hours, but I’d be annoyed at having to turn off my phone at work.

          2. fposte*

            I guess I’d ask going in the other direction–what’s the big problem with them calling the cell phone? The call isn’t less disruptive if it comes through the office phone. The problem isn’t which phone somebody gets noises on, it’s if there’s too many non-work noises for people around or from somebody who isn’t getting enough work done.

            1. fposte*

              To put it another way–I think you’re focusing on technology when the problem is behavior.

              1. vox de causa*

                I agree completely with this. My office is looking at banning cell phones from desk surfaces; the requirement will be to either leave it in your bag or put it inside of a drawer, with the ringtone set on vibrate or silent.

                I see how it will make it easier for management – it’s much easier to say “Please put your phone away” whenever you see the phone than it is to catch people in the act of checking Facebook or Snapchat or whatever. But I feel we’ll be making our environment a lot less attractive, which I fear will drive off quality employees, rather than addressing the actual behavior of the workers who need managing.

                It’s not the phones that are the problem; it is the people who aren’t exercising their self-control.

      4. Gem*

        I know this doesn’t always apply, but I don’t have a phone on my desk, so if I didn’t have my mobile someone would have to call my office’s main switchboard, then the admin answering the phone would have to come and find me, or pass a message on etc.

      5. Amy*

        Not everyone has a work phone or has an office/company culture which permits personal phone calls on a work line (i.e. if it’s tying up the line and not allowing clients to reach you.) And what about things that are important and time sensitive but not actual 9-1-1 emergencies? Why should an employee be unable to respond to these types of issues in a quick and appropriate manner, unless he or she works in some kind of environment where cell phone use would be hazardous or impossible?

        Obviously, it’s inappropriate for your employee to be spending so much time focused on his phone and distracting others, so I think setting some guidelines may be necessary in this case, but your insistence that no one needs cell phones at work seems like a huge blind spot in regards to the way a huge portion of the population lives. It’s 2015 and cell phones are basically ubiquitous. I don’t know the work numbers of a single one of my friends– not even my boyfriend. I’d have to google the number for his office and have someone transfer me to him. And most people don’t write down/memorize numbers anymore, so you’d have to have the work numbers of everyone you might need to contact in a time-sensitive way programmed into your phone. That’s just the reality of the matter, whether or not you believe it should be that way.

        If this employee can’t control himself and his work is suffering due to his cell phone usage, it’s absolutely appropriate to discuss this with him and ask him to silence his phone and limit his usage of it to occasional breaks, but asking someone to turn their phone off entirely for no reason other than your belief that people shouldn’t have cell phones at work is likely to have the opposite effect, and lower the employee’s morale/make him feel as if he is working for a draconian employer and be less inclined to work efficiently and go the extra mile. And it CERTAINLY isn’t fair to anyone to enact an across-the-board no-cellphone policy because of one slacker that upper management refuses to fire. I’d honestly start looking for a new job if I was one of the other employees in that office.

  10. Lizabeth*

    Then there’s the co-worker that will hang up on a client to take a personal call on her cell phone…

    (my headphones do not block her voice out unfortunately…)

      1. Mabel*

        Yeah, not OK. We had an employee who was working her way towards eventually getting fired, but one day she stood up a client for a scheduled meeting – she was let go that day.

    1. Lucy Ricardo*

      I work for a hotline and my coworker will put the caller on hold to take a personal call. I’m amazed he’s still here…

    2. msct*

      One of the receptionists at my last job left at a certain time every day. I overheard her tell a client that she had to end the call because it was x:01 and she leaves at x. Not even reprimanded.

      1. Eh*

        Honestly? If she’s not allowed to take overtime or go over her scheduled hours that’s exactly the right thing for her to do, as long as she’s polite and apologetic about it.

  11. De Minimis*

    Technically, personal cell phone use is against policy, but I don’t know if it’s actually been enforced or not. Think most people generally ignore it, including me, though I tend to not mess around too much with my phone during the day anyhow. I keep it on vibrate, because ringtones can be really annoying.

  12. Hlyssande*

    Cell phones that aren’t on silent are so incredibly frustrating. I temped at a company that did wholesale lending and all of the sales people left their phones on even if they’d gone out on lunch.

    My phone is always on vibrate. However, I will always answer it (unless I’m already on a call or going to be on one in a minute) if it’s my parents. There may be family bad news (grandma is 103 and not doing great).

  13. Lisa Cooper*

    And how many calls does the supervisor take in a day? I’m willing to bet she/he checks their phone just as often.

    1. OP writer*

      None at all. I don’t even bring my phone to work most of the time. Everyone in my life who is important to me has my work number.

    2. LawBee*

      And that wasn’t the point of the email. The point wasn’t checking the phone, it was the noise pollution. Productivity was brought up by Alison and commenters.

      1. OP writer*

        Well it’s actually both, since he has to check it to decide he’s not going to answer it…. at least when I’m looking.

    3. Laurel Gray*

      Even if they checked their phone 10x as much as their employee, if they had the phone on silent they would only be causing a distraction to themselves, not workers in the environment.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think that’s relevant; it’s the noise that she was writing in about.

      That said, not everyone checks their phone during the day. I never check my cell phone while I’m working.

  14. Janet*

    My own boss has a cell phone that loudly chirps “YOU HAVE A MESSAGE” whenever he gets a text. He never turns it off. Hate.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      In college I set up my AOL instant messenger with special sound clips from South Park for various messages. My roommate not-so-fondly remembers the dulcet tones of Cartman’s “screw you guys, I’m going home!” whenever she thinks of that year.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I feel like there’s a progression with phone noises: When you first get one, you’re enamored of all the noises. The longer you have one, the more you find ways to silence things. At least, that’s been my own personal progression. I want it as silent as possible now, with as few reminders that I haven’t checked a text, etc.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Ha, yes. “ooooooh I can have the intro to Sweet Child of Mine as a ringtone on my basic Nokia flip phone!”


          having had my iPhone in silent mode for probably the last year.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            HA! That totally was my ring tone when I had a Nokia :D Also the “woo woo” chorus from Sympathy for the Devil, and the guitar solo from Seven Nation Army. Now I just have my phone on vibrate almost all the time, although I do have the Game of Thrones theme music ringtone installed for special occasions.

        2. LBK*

          Totally agreed. At this point my phone is almost always on Do Not Disturb and I have it set to be active even when my phone is unlocked. I can’t remember the last time it made any kind of sound or vibration.

  15. AnotherAlison*

    Okay, I think Alison’s response is spot on in this situation, but at my work, we are expected to use cell phones for business use so I caution against applying this advice universally. People text each other for work related stuff. Some people have their communicator IM software active on their personal phones, as well as work email. If I’m in a department meeting, I’m going to check my texts & emails to make sure none of my project staff have urgent questions. (Our work is fast-paced. I wouldn’t do it if there was nothing that couldn’t wait until later or if my boss frowned upon it.) We also have people in 4 buildings. I would get a lot more grief from my management if I didn’t contact Bob all day to answer XYZ because he was in the other building for meetings than Bob would for answering his cell phone during the meetings.

  16. Hellophoebe*

    I have three phones that go off within earshot: ‘We are the champions’, ‘eye of the tiger’ and ‘sweet child of mine’. I wish I was joking. All three employees are much more senior than me so I don’t feel that I can bring it up. Plus, they have the ringtones turned up as loud as possible so they can hear it if they’re away from their desks or in the kitchen. I honestly do not know what to do!

    1. Samantha*

      Ugh. If they’re worried about not hearing it and missing a call while they’re away from their desk, just pick up the phone and take it with you! Don’t turn up the volume to full blast and subject your coworkers to that.

      1. Windchime*

        I keep my phone in my pants pocket when I go to a meeting. I dread the day when my little Droid dies and I have to get one of those giant iPad-sized things that people are carrying around now. Pretty soon, the phones that Mulder and Scully carried in the X Files are going to stop looking dated because phones are getting bigger and bigger.

    2. Judy*

      I keep mine on vibrate most of the time, but I do admit to “Naa, Naa, Naa, NaNaNaNa, NaNaNaNa, Hey Jude”.

    3. Carrie in Scotland*

      Sweet child of mine is one my most hated songs ever, I would shudder everytime it came on!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I hate it too!

        At Exjob, Horrible Sales Manager had put that song “Roxanne” on his phone. So every time it rang, you’d hear Sting go, “ROOOOOOOOOOOOXXXAAAANE… YOU DON’T HAVE TO PUT ON THE RED LIIIIGHT!” <_<

    4. Kat*

      No Final Countdown? I think I am disappointed lol.

      I have specific songs for specific people and my kids’ schools. Legend of Zelda theme?….that’s my son’s school.

      Its set to silent when I am at work though.

  17. Joey*

    I think its fine to say the phone is distracting others but I don’t think it’s very smart to say it’s distracting him unless you can point to specific work that’s being affected. A generic “it’s distracting you” is empty if he can say “but Im a good performer.” At that point it ends up feeing like nitpicking. Stick to the “it’s distracting to those around you.”

    1. Joey*

      Woops, skipped to the bottom without reading the ops additional comments. Absolutely tie it to his low productivity.

      1. OP writer*

        One time he was actually rather histrionic about how annoying it is & I said, well you *could* mute it. But I didn’t make it a command at the time.

        1. Joey*

          Personally, I would tell him something like “your errors and low productivity continue to be an issue. I’m concerned you’re really not taking this job seriously as evidenced by all of the time you spend on your phone and ipad. Im not going to treat you like a kid and ban your personal devices, but If you’re serious about working here you’ll need to turn it around immediately. That means you’ll need to doing x, y and z. That also means I won’t have to talk to you again about this. go home and think about if you can commit to that. If you can we’ll see you back here tomorrow. If you’re not interested no hard feelings.”

          1. Laurel Gray*

            I like this. But question, would you do this in just a straightforward “verbal warning” kind of convo or do you think at this point, based on the OP’s original letter, you would be having this dialogue with some PIP paperwork to be reviewed and signed?

            1. Joey*

              Unless there’s some formal process I would just do it verbally and keep notes in case there’s a need for evidence later. If he resigns Id ask him to put it it writing.

              if I ended up firing him Id absolutely document that he was fired after being warned of the consequences

          2. Anon Accountant*

            Can I bring you to work with me so you can deliver this script to one of my coworkers? Please?

  18. KTM*

    This has already happened a bit in the thread, but I’d love to see Alison have an open thread on coworker ring tones!

    We had a new guy start last year who’s office was next to our conference room. We started hearing cricket noises and for a full week we thought we had a cricket in the room and it turned out to be his text notification.

    1. Joey*

      Every once in a while I’m in a meeting and I hear a new person with a booty song ring tone. Those folks just don’t seem to be around very long.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        My husband and I had the same samsung ring tone for a while, and it seemed to keep happening, so I was like, “Screw it, I’m putting some Usher as my ring tone.” I ALWAYS keep my phone on vibrate at work, except the day after I set “Yeah” as my ringtone, and of course someone called me when I was away. I am now back to the generic ring tone. [FWIW, I’ve been at my company 10 years, lol.]

        1. AnotherAlison*

          (not setting my phone to vibrate that day was accidental, btw. I wasn’t showing off my new ring tone.)

  19. Katie the Fed*

    Thankfully, this isn’t a problem in a building where you have to lock up your cell phone each day and can’t have it with you.

    I did have a similar problem though with talking to a colleague who read her email at her computer when I was takling to her, or even start typing things. I used the strategy of stopping talking, looking at her until she stopped and returned her attention to me, and then continuing.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      My goodness, this colleague was rude. I (kind of) understand that behavior to thwart an overly chatty Cathy in the workplace from lingering, but a quick chat and they can’t give you at lease 90 seconds of undivided attention, rude.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        She’s a genuinely terrible human being – this is just one of many things that drive people crazy. But it can get to be a bad habit to look at your screen – my generation is especially bad at giving undivided attention to people.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          It’s my generation too and part of the reason why I deleted all my social media sites, keep my phone on silent and have less idle time now. I think individual people who once had basic people skills have created their own social awkwardness and bad manners over time. We call typing a text while someone is in front of us talking “multi-tasking” when in fact it is just plain rude and inconsiderate. I actually cancelled a $275 pizza pick up for a party because the guy at the counter was looking down texting while I was talking, had asked a question and had my credit card in hand. A better pizza place made the same quantity of pizza for only $25 more, 1 hour later, 2 miles away and with waaaay better customer service and free extras. I totally felt like that text could wait.

    2. Adonday Veeah*

      I’ve been known to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were busy. Let me know when you have a minute.” and then leave.

      But then I’m old and crotchety and I don’t care what anybody thinks anymore.

      1. Camellia*

        To which I would probably reply, “Sure thing!” because you are an unscheduled interruption to my work and I really need to get back to it.

        In my department, if we go to someone’s desk uninvited, we would first ask that person if they have a minute. If they say yes, then great, I would certainly expect their attention. But at least they have the option of saying no, can I get back to you? More often we use a discreet IM of “yt?” (in case that person is sharing their screen for some reason). Then they can reply or ignore and in the latter case we respect that.

        1. Adonday Veeah*

          In Katie’s comment, there was no indication that this was an unscheduled and/or uninvited interruption, only that she was being ignored. Clearly, if I dropped in on someone unexpectedly and they indicated they were in the middle of something important by continuing with what they were doing, I’d get the message and come back another time. I tend to be curt to folks who drop in on me at inconvenient times also. But if I’m having a meeting with someone and they don’t have the courtesy to engage, they can come find me when their politeness kicks in.

    3. OP writer*

      I have had to deal with that too, in a previous position. This guy was high up on the food chain, so I suppose I was supposed to think his e-mails were important. He got fired, though, so I hope for his sake he was checking on job applications.

    4. Cath in Canada*

      Ugh, we have one of those. He keeps typing, his head barely turned away from his screen, whenever I go to talk to him. When he talks he keeps his fingers on the keyboard, although at least he doesn’t keep typing.

      This is the same guy who thought the appropriate way to alert me to his presence when he came to my desk and I had my headphones on was to grab my chair and yank it backwards. I corrected him on that front, but haven’t been able to do anything about the typing.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        I don’t know why people do this. There was a male coworker once, much larger than me, who would come up behind me silently and grab my shoulders for attention, then laugh as I jumped through the roof at being so startled. I have an anxiety disorder, too, so it would take an hour to come down from the adrenaline and panic.

        He then moved into giving me unsolicited smothering bear hugs, where my face would get shoved into his armpit. Again, he would laugh, no big deal.

        I have to wonder if he laughed as our director let him go for harassment.

    5. Camellia*

      My company is in the process of relocating their IT department. I saw our CIO maybe once a year at the other building because we were on different floors. I happened to take a different path back to my desk one day last week and noticed he was now in his office! I stopped to say hi and he actually got up from his desk, came to the door, shook my hand, asked me how my move went and if I was liking the new city, then chatted briefly about his own move.

      Probably took all of 90 seconds but boy, did I come away impressed. He made me feel like a real person, like I really mattered to him and, by extension, to the company. I’ve been in this industry for 30+ years and few things have impressed me more.

      If only managers would truly realize how little it takes to make us feel appreciated and motivated…

  20. cheeky*

    My company thankfully doesn’t ban cell phone use at the office ( I would find that oppressive, personally), and most people as a rule keep their phones on silent. However, our desk phones are these fancy Cisco VOIP phones that have about a dozen different ring options. Most people leave it at the default ring, but there was a guy who changed his from a ring to a male voice that just repeats “ARE YOU THERE ARE YOU THERE” over and over again. I about lost my damn mind.

    1. Cherry Scary*

      My high school had these phones. A popular “prank” was switching the ringer to that sound in various classrooms. Teachers shared the rooms too, so it may have been meant for someone else.

  21. JenP*

    When I worked for a tech consulting firm here in Redmond, we would have caught hell if we didn’t answer the phone, since we didn’t have a work phone. I kept mine on vibrate to at least make it a tad better, but all the managers would have theirs audible unless in an important meetings. I’ve gotten so used to this that it never occurred to me that I should put it on silent or put it away entirely…hm…

    1. Hlyssande*

      It’s not trivial if it completely breaks your concentration which happens for a non-zero number of people in an office.

      This isn’t exclusive to people with ADD or ADHD, but a sound like that can totally throw you off track from what you were doing and make you waste time getting back to it. It can be a major struggle to stay focused when this happens frequently. Seriously, this is a thing that happens. And if it’s repetitive like a ringer or notification sound, that tends to make it even worse.

    2. Laurel Gray*

      I wouldn’t call constant noise making from the cell phone of someone whose productivity stinks and has been hindered from their extensive personal use of mobile devices trivial to their manager. I can actually hear a Xerox printing out the employee’s PIP in the near distance.

    3. Adonday Veeah*

      Nah, I’d be stomping on that thing to shut it up. It’s only trivial if you don’t value your sanity.

  22. Gem*

    My phone is almost always on vibrate, and its now habit of mine to check the second I get into work. Its always been a policy at my jobs (unless its a work mobile) to have it set to vibrate/silent. At one of my old jobs it had to be in a drawer/bag unless we were on breaks. Make it a policy, manage the employee to meet that policy.

    I have one person at work who has the bleep from Sonic when you get a coin as a notification. Amusing for about 5 mins. Another one uses the default google hangouts one, which is fine, except I get paranoid its my phone going off (even though noone I know will send a message via there during the workday :/)

  23. ACA*

    I will never understand why people don’t put their cellphones on vibrate or silent while at work.

    1. Allison*

      I don’t get it either. Seems like common courtesy to make sure your phone doesn’t make unnecessary noise.

  24. Allison*

    In general, the amount of noise your phone makes should be inversely related to how many times it makes noise. So for example, if you hardly get any notifications, texts, e-mails, calls, etc. during the day, it seems fine to have it vibrate. If it gets frequent notifications, it should be on silent, because constant buzzing can drive people nuts.

    Offices really should update their cell phone policies. The official ones always seem stuck in the 90’s and are never actually followed or enforced, which makes it difficult to manage employees who are always on their phones and have poor work output because of it.

    It does seem unusual to have people turn their cell phones off completely while at work. Most people who work in offices have their phones on their desks, and engage with them at least occasionally. What OP should do is have their employee turn the phone to silent, and only require complete disuse of the phone if they’re not getting work done.

  25. Preston*

    I personally don’t mind a phone call or text every now and then, but what annoys me more is the person who is constantly on social media or is on Facebook. If you are getting your work done, then 2-3 mins is fine… But it seems there are some that are so addicted to social media it is sad. Where I work now this doesn’t seem like a problem much.

    The worst offender to me though is loud talk radio. I listen to NPR in the day and keep it low so nobody outside my area can hear it. Loud radios in general just make me want to jump from a tall building.

    1. JoAnna*

      “I was told that I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven, I told Bill that if Sandra is going to listen to her headphones while she’s filing then I should be able to listen to the radio while I’m collating so I don’t see why I should have to turn down the radio because I enjoy listening at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.” ;)

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        He can listen to music, but don’t move his desk again. And for heaven’s sake, don’t touch his stapler! He might burn the place down.

  26. Sabrina*

    For anyone with an Android, there’s an app called Shush! that will restore your ringer after whatever you set. I’ve found it helpful so it turns back on after work or a movie. My office has a phone on silent policy which I am thankful for.

  27. DavidYYZ*

    I think it’s important to know what kind of environment this is. If it’s an environment that is customer facing I can totally understand asking someone to to restrict their phone usage to breaks only and to have it turned off while serving customers.

    However, in an office environment where people work in their own cubicles, I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask anything beyond having your phone on silent and restricting personal phone calls to break periods when possible. Unless there is a productivity issue I don’t think it should go anything beyond that. Many people can multi-task very well and for many it may actually be more distracting if they’re yearning to check their phones, but they can’t.

    1. Windchime*

      Actually, people really can’t multitask well. They can switch attention from one task to another, but if someone is checking their Facebook constantly then productivity is going to be affected. Once or twice a day isn’t a big deal; people need breaks to clear their heads and I don’t think anyone can argue with that.

      If they are so distracted by yearning to check their phones that they can’t get their work done, then it seems like it’s time to re-evaluate how the phone is used at work.

      I occaisionally go to dinner with someone who is compelled to check her phone every couple of minutes. It’s so annoying to be in the middle of a conversation and have her attention be completely diverted to the phone (accompanied by an announcment of, “It’s Susan!” or “Oh, it’s Fred!”. I don’t care. I don’t know Susan and/or Fred and how about you pay attention to the person you’re sitting here with, face to face?

      1. DavidYYZ*

        Productivity should be measured by the KPIs set out in one’s job. If productivity and quality targets are being met or exceeded while people are on their phones texting, it’s not a problem IMO. Where I work, and in many places I’ve worked in the past, people are free to check their phones whenever they feel like it and there have never been any productivity issues.

        Also “being on your phone” doesn’t necessarily imply Facebook or Social Media. Such activities don’t require cell phones, and if a workplace prohibits the use of such devices, Social Media could certainly be accessed through work computers. Most reasonable individuals are attending to their cell phones during work hours to arrange doctor appointments, arrange maintenance for their home, make dinner plans with friends, coordinate with family members on household plans etc.

        1. Windchime*

          Social media can be reached at work computers in some workplaces; not in mine. Those sites are blocked except for a couple of computers in the break areas, because there is no work-related reason for anyone to be on those sites.

          I am all for taking a mental break; I take many throughout the day and some of them are spent on this very site. I’m not talking about a quick text to arrange dinner or a visit from the plumber; when I mentioned lack of productivity, I’m referring to people who are glued to their phones. Like the brand-new hire that we have, who spent our entire 10 minute huddle this morning playing on his phone instead of participating or even pretending to pay attention.

  28. Ed*

    My supervisor has a ringtone for each of the people at work, so she knows who’s trying to reach her without looking. For the company president, she used a circus organ. One time I was in a meeting with them, and he decided to text her some numbers. To this day, I remember her trying to mute her phone before the text came through. She didn’t make it. Still makes me smile.

  29. Anonyby*

    Alison’s advice is spot-on.

    My phone’s vibrate is on constantly, and the switch for ring/silent is external… I switch it to silent at work since I tend to get a lot of messages/emails. Not to mention that my ringtones aren’t really professional (for the extremely few times someone tries to call me at work). My main one is the theme song from a kids’ cartoon, while I set the opening of “Friends on the Other Side” as the ringtone for my friends. (We’re all geeky gamers so it fits them, but man it’s not something I want playing at work!)

  30. Mike C.*

    The best thing is when an Amber Alert hits. All the iPhones and Androids get the alert first and you can hear it up and down the halls. Since it’s an actual emergency alert, they go off even when the phone is set to silent.

    Five minutes later, all the blackberries get it. Up and down the factory floor.

      1. Mike C.*

        Good to know, although the tone of that article leaves me scratching my head.

        “Your iPhone’s emergency alerts can save your life, but you might not want a deafening flash flood warning to go off when you’re in the middle of work, or worse, fast asleep at night.”

        I don’t know about you, but if I need to evacuate my location due to emergent weather/industrial accident/etc that would be the perfect time to rouse me from my slumber or business meeting.

    1. Judy*

      I was in a program at my kids’ school one evening when everyones’ phones started beeping. The school had just sent out one of their (seemingly weekly) updates about some sort of (sports team tryouts, PTA meetings, etc). Many of us have them set for texts, and boy, did many of us get them.

    2. Wanna-Alp*

      In our open-plan office (8 of us), we sometimes get telemarketer calls that sweep around all our phones like a ricochet effect, each one slightly out-of-time with the others. Fortunately the ring tones are at harmonious pitches. They sound like a telephone choir when that happens. Very disruptive!!!

  31. dontgettit*

    I really don’t get it. I’m sitting on a tube, i hear click click click beep beep pop pop someone typing or reading facebook why do people think the key sounds or notifications are cool ? There is nothing worse than sitting next to someone bleeping away all day long.

    Please, society, mute the keypad tones and the facebook sounds so the rest of us dont want to kill you.

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