I work from home and my coworker wants me available 24/7

A reader writes:

I work at a small company with about 10 employees. Because it is such a small team, and most people have been there for a long time (10+ years for most), it is a very relaxed environment — and unfortunately, this has bred some bad habits and toxicity into the culture. Nothing especially groundbreaking, and for the most part it was being ignored since most of the negativity was coming from one source — our main admin, Karen.

This fall, an opportunity opened up for me to work exclusively from home, due to the nature of my particular position, and I jumped on it. I go into into the main office about twice a month, and for the most part, it’s been a dream. I am vastly more productive, work hard to ensure that I maintain good work-from-home habits, and have found that my mental health has improved drastically.

Since the transition, I have done everything I can think of to set clear expectations as far as when I am available. I have specific, set hours when they can expect me to be at my desk. I use Google Hangouts’ away messages to say if I’m up from my desk for a quick break to stretch my legs, use the bathroom, etc. (with a time I’ll be back). I also always have my personal cell on me in case it’s a (rare) emergency.

I do most of my communication with clients and our team via email, but I do have a VOIP phone that dials out with the main office number, and I can be inter-office paged via this phone as well.

Almost the whole team is great with this arrangement, with one exception: Karen cannot seem to respect these boundaries. She’ll page me outside of my work hours, or regardless of whether I have an away message set, and if I don’t get to my phone fast enough (I can hear it elsewhere in the house), she’ll call my cell — usually for a very simple question that could have waited, or could have been an email. If I point out that I set an away message, she’ll say, “Sorry, I didn’t see it.” I have even paged her and told her I’ll be unavailable for an hour, and she’ll agree pleasantly, and then turn around and page me 15 minutes later, followed by the usual call to my cell if I don’t pick up. I will also often come back to see that she’s IM’d me in an effort to get my attention, as well.

When I politely point out that I had set an away message/was away for a short time/this question could have been an email/etc., Karen will often reply with, “Well, I didn’t think it was a big deal since you’re already there!”

My position does have a certain degree of needing to be on-call — if certain things happen with my projects at any time of day, I do need to act — but Karen’s questions are rarely about that so much as spellchecking and nitpicking coworkers’ work, which is another problem she has and one of the chief reasons I leaped at this opportunity to keep my job but not work in that office.

I should note that working from home is a perk offered to everyone as an as-needed thing, and there is one other employee who works from home full-time. I asked him, and he says that he has not experienced this level of intrusion at all, and then when he says he’s busy, Karen leaves him alone — no away messages needed. Meanwhile, when I say I’m busy, Karen says, “Oh, I knowwww, we all are,” and continues with her question/behavior.

What can I do differently to enforce these boundaries? I have stopped running to the phone if I’ve communicated that I’m away and I hear a page or IM, but that doesn’t stop the inevitable tide of calls and texts to my cell phone, or sometimes she’ll just page and page and page until I get sick of hearing it and answer, even though I’m taking a break. I pride myself on being just as available now as if I were in the main office, but at this point, I’m being forced into being much more “available” at home than I ever was when I worked in that building.

How do I keep from turning my work-at-home situation into, “Haha actually I just live at work, now”?

P.S. I had this open as a draft, got up to refill my coffee after setting a “BACK AT 10:30” away message — yes, with the all-caps — and what do I hear from my kitchen but a page and a “Hello? Helloooooooooooooooooooooooo?”

I wrote back and asked, “How does the paging work — can you turn it off or mute it if you want to?”

I don’t know if I can mute it — I can turn it down so I can’t hear it elsewhere in the house, and I have, but then I get bombarded with texts and passive-aggressive comments when I come back to my computer. Right now I have it at a volume where I can hear it if I’m up, but it’s not startlingly loud if I’m sitting at my desk, either.

I suppose I’m also worried about drawing the boundary too firmly, and seeming unavailable to my colleagues who aren’t Karen, you know? I can definitely see the value in being able to communicate within the office quickly, and it definitely does make working from home easier. But there have been plenty of times when I’ve tried to page a colleague, can’t get ahold of them in that moment, and either make a note to try back later or write an email if it’s urgent, and move on. That’s the overall staff’s approach (regardless of whether working remote or in the brick-and-mortar building.) It’s just Karen who seems to think that since I literally live at my office, I should be able to respond instantaneously to the pages and IMs.

Karen needs to be helicoptered to an island with no communication devices and left there for the duration of 2019.

It sounds like you’ve tried addressing this with Karen on a case-by-case basis, but haven’t had a bigger-picture conversation with her about it, so that’s what I’d try next. The next time you’re in the office, sit down with her and say something like this: “We need to change the system you’re using for reaching me when I’m working from home. You’ve been paging me outside my work hours for things that aren’t urgent, like X or Y, which means that I hear the page all over my house when I’m not working. And during the day, if I don’t immediately answer your call, you’ll often call my cell, even though it’s not urgent. I need to be able to focus on other projects and I need to be able to eat lunch or stop working at the end of the day without being chased down by the pager or texts. Of course if something is urgent, that’s different — but when something is not urgent, I need you to wait for me to get back to you, rather than trying to track me down in the moment when I may be dealing with something else. Can we agree that except in the rare cases where something is truly urgent, you’ll email me and wait for me to get back to you rather than expecting an instant response and trying to track me down?”

(Alternately, instead of waiting until the next time you’re in the office, you could just call her the next time this happens and say it then, which might have the benefit of conveying “I am at the end of my rope with this and we need to talk about it now.”)

If she balks at this, then say, “It’s affecting my ability to focus on other work, and it’s interfering with my off hours as well. I do need you to agree to this system going forward.”

If she says anything that sounds like no, you should say, “Okay, let me talk with (Karen’s manager) about this and see what we can figure out.”

And Karen’s manager should indeed be your next stop unless this conversation fixes the problem entirely — because what she’s doing is incredibly disruptive, incredibly rude, and incredibly weird.

You did note that your company has traditionally ignored problems, and has ignored Karen in particular. But unless you know that people have specifically complained about Karen to her manager about similar issues (in a clear, direct way, not dancing around the issue) and been ignored, I wouldn’t assume that this won’t bear fruit. Sometimes “my small company ignores problems” means “no one at my small company brings up problems, so it’s easy to ignore them” — which is different from “no one will act on anything, no matter how clearly the problem is pointed out.”

But if that doesn’t work, then you’ll need to move to solutions that change the type of access Karen has to you. Set her calls to your cell to go straight to voicemail. Mute her texts and IMs, so they’re there when you look for them but not annoying you with alerts popping up. And I’d seriously consider lowering the volume of your pager to a level where you can’t hear it outside of your office, and letting other people know that if they need to reach you urgently, they should call your cell instead of paging you.

Frankly, you could even tell her that you’re doing this! As in, “Karen, I’ve asked you not to bombard with me calls, texts, and pages for non-urgent items, but since it’s still happening, I’m going to mute your texts and pages for a while so that I’m not being constantly interrupted. I will still see them and get back to you, but they won’t be constantly popping up when I’m in the middle of something else. If there’s something that comes up that’s truly urgent and you can’t reach me, we can revisit this then, but so far none of these instances have been time-sensitive so I think this will work fine.”

As for your other working-from-home coworker who Karen leaves alone: It could be sexism, or it could be that he has a different type of job, or it could be that she’s not as comfortable with him, or who knows what. (If he does have a similar job to yours, though, I’m guessing that on some level it’s sexism. She sees his time as important and worthy of respect, while yours isn’t.) Regardless, she’s obnoxious and you have every right to create and enforce boundaries with her.

As for your worry that you’ll draw the boundary too firmly and seem unavailable to other coworkers: I don’t think you will. You’re only going to cut off Karen’s access, not everyone else’s, aside from the pager — and frankly I’m not convinced you should ever need to be paged in your own house when you’re not at your desk, when your cell could be used instead.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 404 comments… read them below }

  1. animaniactoo*

    Question: Are you fulfilling her request for information when she calls and pulls this routine?

    If so, you should stop that IMMEDIATELY – because ultimately, she’s getting what she wants when she wants it.

    However, if you stop and say “I’ll respond to that when I’m back “on the clock” or “This is not urgent. Please call back in 20 minutes when I will be available for non-urgent work matters again.” you may be able to train her out of the behavior by frustrating her success rate with it. Be clear that you’ll be letting Karen’s manager know that you’ll be doing this due to her reaching out to you repeatedly for non-urgent matters as if they were urgent. Loop her in and go forth and stop feeding the beast.

    1. animaniactoo*

      P.S. Don’t be afraid to escalate to a very annoyed tone of voice and yes, you CAN hang up on her without her agreement to end the call after you’ve transmitted the message that you will deal with it when you’re back on the clock “I have to go now, I’ll talk to you in 20 minutes” [click]. Answer no more calls or pages from her until you are officially available again.

      1. animaniactoo*

        P.P.S. If she calls you unreasonable – don’t feel that you have to combat that message with her – only with other people who she will complain to, and you can head that off by talking to her manager.

        To her you say “Sorry you feel that way, however that does not change my response. I’ll talk to you in 20 minutes.”

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I would not include the ‘Sorry you feel that way.’ I’d go with ‘I hear your concern,’. ‘Sorry’ is often seen as an opening.

          1. Librarianne*

            Yes, this. In general, I try not to say “sorry” if I’m not actually sorry! Especially if Karen’s behavior has its roots in sexism, apologizing is likely to make it worse.

      2. neverjaunty*

        This. Your company doesn’t address things? Well then Karen isn’t going to get anywhere complaining, either.

        I feel like the Ask A Manager of DTFMA is STSD – Shut That Shit Down.

    2. Kes*

      I wouldn’t even reply at all until you’re back on the clock if possible. Try to train her that you will only reply at certain times

      1. animaniactoo*

        I think you can move there, but it’s harder to move there right away because rare stuff may be genuinely urgent.

        One thing that might work is deputizing WHO can call you for something urgent when you’re listed as currently not available. We do that sometimes at my job – calls from people who are regularly known to be annoying will not be answered. Person who is “responsible” while you’re unavailable will reach out if it’s truly urgent, go to them and they’ll decide if it’s that level of urgent. But that would have to be officially setup with other people in the office and stuff, and would be a “next level” thing.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I like this idea! That colleague X is the only one whose calls you take when you’re away, and you work out w/ colleague X how to determine whether it really is an emergency.

          I also wonder, really, how urgent is stuff?

          1. Friday afternoon fever*

            In a company this small I would NOT be thrilled to have dealing with Karen on behalf of someone else in addition to myself foisted upon me. This is a really roundabout way of avoiding the problem without fixing it.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I see a solution to that good point: make Karen go to her manager or OP’s manager.
              If it’s urgent, those managers will care.
              If it’s not urgent, they’ll stop her behavior fast.

            2. Jadelyn*

              Admittedly, as much as I like the concept, it really does force someone else into the gatekeeper/go-between role, which isn’t fair to that person.

              1. Luke*

                Well, since Karen has demonstrated an inability/unwillingness to discriminate between “OMG URGENT” and “can wait until OP gets back”, she clearly does need a member of management to decide for her.

                Management doesn’t care to STSD at the moment because it hasn’t inconvenienced them. Watch what happens when that changes.

              2. Stormfeather*

                It’s fair if the gatekeeper is the manager, who should be shutting this down anyhow and is now dealing with the consequences of not doing that.

            3. TootsNYC*

              It was lessa bout Karen, and more about that the OP should designate an employee that her VENDORS would contact (since they’re the ones w/ the emergencies), and then she can ignore Karen.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          I hate the idea of appointing someone to act as a buffer. Why waste another person’s time with this?

          1. animaniactoo*

            Honestly, because while it is annoying, having to go through someone else has meant that the annoying people do not get their insta-gratification and do not flail around repeatedly trying to make it happen as much. It seems like you’d just be clogging up somebody else – but in reality most people who are willing to annoy one person are not as willing to annoy one person to annoy another one at the same rate of frequency. That’s why it’s worked in our office.

        3. Quickbeam*

          That kind of plays into the burden of the “in the office ” employees vs the remote staff. That would make my job a job and a half.

      2. Phouka*

        I work from home as well. I had a project manager who would–in the space of less than two minutes–send an email, IM me, call my office phone, call my cell phone, then text my cell phone when I didn’t respond immediately. And I mean, IMMEDIATELY. Like, respond to an email within just a few minutes. I’m a programmer; getting interrupted every few minutes for something was very disruptive and really impacted my ability to get anything done. She seems to have picked me as her ‘go-to’ person for everything.

        And for what? To ask a totally inane and non-important (and non-urgent) question about formatting in a project plan, or to request a document, or something equally inappropriate and non-time-sensitive.

        She’d do this multiple times a day. Then again, this was a person who once called and wanted me to walk word-by-word through an email she was going to send, and she once spent at least five hours trying to perfect her “message” and ‘tone’ for a status report.

        It took a few weeks to shut it all down. I had to block her/mute her on everything except email, and then consistently respond to emails only in a specific window during the day. I’d check them, of course, and if it WAS critical I’d respond, but otherwise? It all got thrown into the hour after lunch when I dealt with non-emergent stuff. She persisted in calling/texting/IM-ing for quite awhile and I NEVER responded to her on those contacts. Email only.

        It eventually worked.

    3. Snark*

      Totally concurred. Especially agree with “This is not urgent.” Karen, in the most charitable reading here, doesn’t really have a firm grasp on what is urgent and important, what is important but not urgent, what is urgent but not important, and what’s neither.

      1. Laurelma01*

        On thing to consider. Are other people asking her to call? Just a question. This would be a pain.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Or, Karen’s priorities are completely different from the OP’s.

        I work with someone who completes 10 gazillion tiny tasks a day. Her goal is to get through her to-do list as quickly and efficiently as possible. One effective strategy is to be really pushy when requesting information or action from other people instead of politely waiting for them to reply on their own timeline. And I get it – it’s quicker and easier for her to get what she needs and move on to the next tiny task instead of multitasking 10 gazillion things. It’s just annoying as hell for everyone else.

    4. animaniactoo*

      (I really should have thought this all out before I posted…)

      When she keeps going, (because she will), a good tactic to take would be always starting with the benefit of the doubt and then progressing from there to the hangup: Something like “Did you miss my away message?” “Is this urgent?” and then spin into “Okay, that’s not urgent, IM or e-mail me about it and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m available again. Talk to you later.” Be cheerful sometimes when you hang up on her – if you’re always annoyed, you may be feeding something you would rather not.

        1. AKchic*

          “Hmmm, you seem to miss my away message a lot. In fact, you’re the only one to ever miss it. Even when I call or IM you and you confirm my away, you still ‘forget’, so this is quite habitual. I suppose I should discuss my away messages with Manager and IT to see if there is a way to ensure that you specifically won’t miss them anymore…”

          But, I’m not nice.

          1. Liz T*

            I like the idea of just, instead of ever answering the actual question, turning every call into a troubleshooting discussion about why she’s missing the away message.

            Honestly one of my favorite things to do with people who waste my time is to just nicely waste their time back. This is kind of mean, but once after the cable company kept me waiting for 6 hours, I called up and talked to a rep. I’d made clear that I wanted a discount and she said she couldn’t do that. Every time she tried to end the call by saying, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” I’d sadly say, “You know what you can help me with” and then pause until she responded, and we’d basically have the same conversation again. We went through this cycle probably three times. She never verbally agreed but there was a discount on the next bill.

            This only works, of course, if you’re angry enough to burn your own time as well as theirs. But it can be effective.

      1. Yikes Dude*

        I also like adding in “Oh hey, just making sure that you know that I changed jobs and am remote full time like X OTHER COWORKER. What can we do to set up a defined scheduled touchbase once a week going forward? When these issue come up, you can just send me an email and if it looks like it has slipped through the cracks you can just remind me during these touchbases? She’s still going to annoy the hell out of you, but it would be contained to a single 15 minute a week block.

    5. TootsNYC*

      “frustrating her success rate”

      I might go to this without the conversation. Just never respond to her, and delete all snarky/whiny notes.

      But I might talk w/ my manager about this as well (and lean hard on the “can’t focus or concentrate” and “my brief breaks to clear my head and make me fresh for the next bout of work end up being ineffective.”

      Especially being that you’re out of the office, you need to control the framing.

      1. Farrah Sahara*

        I agree with this, except for the part about deleting the whiny notes.

        I’d keep these, either through a screen shot or grab and copy to a Word doc. This way, if she denies behaving this way or claims these conversations never took place, you’ve got proof to show her and/or her manager.

        1. Amelia Pond*

          She should definitely save those messages (I think a screen grab would be better than Word. A word document can be altered so Karen could claim it was made up) and document when she can. Because this is absolutely ludicrous.

          1. Tom*

            IT person here.
            I would first check if the IM program you use, has a built in option to save all conversations.
            (As these are text based, takes minimal space).
            We use Skype for Business, and that can do this. (I do, as sometimes a problem is recurring, and trying to remember the fix / solution.. well, i`m no longer 18)..

    6. Beth*

      Yep. “This is not urgent. I’ll be available for non-urgent matters at (time that works for you). Please call me then if you still need help on this.” Then hang up. Repeat every time she tries to contact you with a non-urgent matter when you have an away message up or are outside your work hours. Be a serious stickler about it; even if it’s only 15 minutes from your work time, tell her to call you back in 15 minutes.

      If your job wasn’t a little on-call by nature, I’d say to stop answering her calls and pages entirely when it’s not convenient for you, but it sounds like there’s at least a small chance that she might contact you with something genuinely urgent someday. So I think this is probably the best you can do.

      You might also consider keeping a notebook tracking every time she does this. Hopefully you stringently enforcing the boundary will convince her to leave off, but if it doesn’t, having a record of how often it happens might go a long way towards demonstrating to her manager how outrageous her behavior is.

        1. Beth*

          Honestly, I suspect that Karen’s going to ignore whatever OP asks. I think OP is going to have to pull in management, because she sounds utterly unreasonable and like she’s doing this intentionally. So I suspect the details of exactly how OP asks her to reroute her non-emergency questions are going to be immaterial to the outcome.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I love this approach (and animaniactoo’s general framework for dealing with Karens).

        I feel like Karen is going to become the female equivalent of Fergus.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          Back in the day when teenagers actually thought Dane Cook was funny, he had a sketch about “the friend nobody likes” who was named Karen. The ditzy blonde friend in Mean Girls was also named Karen, right around that time.

          I wonder if the use of “Karen” is a reference to either.

          1. TootsNYC*

            there’s a whole Internet thing about annoying women being named Karen. Who are asking to speak to your manager.

        2. I want a nap.*

          I hope not. It’s my name, and the hate attached to it in other parts of the internet is exhausting enough already.

    7. BadWolf*

      There will probably (definitely) be an extinction burst type event — it seems like OP has already experienced this. When the behavior gets even worse for awhile.

    1. Seifer*

      Seriously! I have the opposite problem, my director is remote and is calling me through all avenues possible (my personal cell phone, work phone, Skype) at all hours of the day and I just about lost it last week when he called me 23 times in three days. For stupid things like, “did you see my email (that I forgot to hit send on before I called you)?? What are your thoughts???” CHILL, DUDE.

    2. Aurion*

      I know right?! Crikey. I’ve read a coworker the riot act for wandering by my cube and interrupting me with “I sent you an email fifteen minutes ago…”. Karen paging OP through their house at all hours and then going to their cell phone (!!) is on a whole other level of boundary-crossing.

      Allison is obviously giving better advice with her “candid, frank, come to Jesus” talk that’s still professional, but I probably would’ve gone straight to informing Karen all her messages are going to the bin because she obviously cannot prioritize nor read a clock.

      “I didn’t think it was a big deal since you’re already there” – does Karen never go on a bathroom break? Eat?

      1. Tabula Rasa*

        I don’t fell this is happening because Karen can’t prioritize- she can obviously do it just fine with LW male coworker who also works from home. It sounds more like she might be using work as an excuse to deliberately harass LW. Just like she brushes off LW saying “I’m busy” with “Aren’t we all? *disingenous laugh*” if LW complains to someone Karen might see the fact she’s doing this under the guise of work as a legitimate way to get out of trouble. “But I just needed to ask her about x, y, and z! It’s work!”

        But if she were doing this without using work as a reason, it would definitely be harassment- so isn’t that what this is?

        1. Aurion*

          You and I can think that it’s not about Karen’s prioritizing at all (and I agree with you that it’s probably not), but when confronting Karen or approaching superiors, it’s wiser to keep it factual. “Karen is not prioritizing properly and expecting me to respond instantaneously to trivialities A, B, and C” is a lot less speculative than “Karen is on a power trip and doing this on purpose to get under my skin”.

          1. Tabula Rasa*

            It sounds like we’re close to being on the same page. I’m not saying she needs to complain about what’s going on, like in your example, but rather it’s perfectly reasonable for the LW to say, “Karen keeps calling or paging me non-stop, when I have otherwise indicated I am unavailable whenever she has a question. I have spoken with her about how I will gladly answer her questions once I become available, but she keeps persisting in trying to reach me immediately even when the question she has is not an emergency. Is there a way we can figure out a solution to this?”

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Yup – I suspect that Karen is annoyed or jealous or is bothered that the OP gets to work from home and has appointed herself the sheriff of making sure OP is working hard enough.

    3. Bunny Girl*

      I’m one of a hand full of hourly people in an office of salaried employees and all I work with is Karens. Apparently they don’t think I need to have a lunch or leave at the end of the day. Luckily, I refused to give out my cell phone to anyone but my direct supervisor and I can’t get emails on my phone, but I have to hide in a closet in the basement or completely leave the area to get some peace during my lunch break.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Can you just politely inform them that you’re on your break? I’m in a similar situation – one of only 2 hourly folks on my team – and I avoid the break room like the plague because I’m super introverted and having to spend my lunch navigating social interactions as people come and go is not a break, it’s extra work. So I eat at my desk. Which occasionally results in someone coming in for something while I’m off the clock. I just cheerfully say “Sorry, I’m clocked out for lunch right now, but I’ll be back on at 1:00 – can you send me an email and I’ll take a look at it just as soon as I clock back in.” The key is to deliver it pleasantly, without resentment or irritation, and just act as though duh, obviously they’re going to respect it. It puts the onus on them to actively be rude if they don’t want to wait.

        Not sure if that would work for you, depending on the politics of your group.

        1. froodle*

          That will work pretty well for polite, reasonable people but if you get a Karen in the mix then they will 100% argue with you, “it’ll only take a minute”, pressure tactics and whining and bullshit and oh look, they just wasted a considerable chunk of your lunch break with a demonstration of absolute Peak Karen

        2. Oxford Comma*

          That works with most people. It does not work with the Karens of this world.

          Because to people like Karen, her issue is different than everyone else’s. It’s more urgent. Even though it’s not. Her issue is only going to take a minute and so what if you’re eating your lunch or trying to get something else done? Because to people like Karen, her stuff is different. It’s special. And she needs you to look at it RIGHT NOW.

          (I have several Karens in my life right now. Can you tell?)

        3. Bunny Girl*

          I definitely don’t eat lunch in our break room. I actually eat before my break at my desk (while I’m still working on stuff) and then leave the office completely for an hour. I’ve tried being polite and pleasant, but most of them don’t respect it. They do the same to our other hourly staff. They just don’t care. When the weather is nice I go for a walk, but if I just want to read and the weather isn’t cooperating, then I have to go to another building or the basement.

    4. AKchic*

      I had a boss (salaried) who was a Karen. Some days, he really did mean well, but some days, you knew it was all about him and his convenience.
      Example: He would walk into my office to ask me why I hadn’t responded to an email he sent me 2 minutes ago. An email that had 15 attachments, was 12 paragraphs long, and he expected me to have already not only read and followed whatever directions (probably printing out all of the attachments and then digested the information and replied to), but also editing any errors he inevitably made. The problem? The email was too large to send, so it was still sitting in his send box so I hadn’t received it. He would sit at my desk while he made *me* call IT to demand to know why he couldn’t send such a large email (even though I already knew, and had tried to explain to him). Oh, and did I mention that I sat in a 4-person cube farm with the other non-salaried staff?
      Other example: He’d call my cell at 1 in the morning. To leave me a voicemail for things to do when I got to the office. But was baffled at why I’d answer my phone at 1am. Why? Because he thought he was calling my office phone, and really I should have just let the call go to voicemail instead of answering my cell at 1am in the first place! (Note: At the time, I lived a block and a half away from our admin building, in a not-great area, so if there was a break-in, I could be the first responder if necessary. Also, I didn’t look at my caller ID when I answered my phone. I just answered because my phone rang and I assumed anyone calling me that late would be calling because of an emergency)

      I truly was happy to see the back of him.

    5. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I had a boss who was a Karen. He called me at 11:50 pm on December 26, during a blizzard, when I was on PTO 200 miles away (but in the same time zone) spending the holidays with my family.

      He then called me the next day, while the blizzard was still going on, while I was still in another state spending some holiday time with my family, to say he needed my RSVP to the company’s employee banquet ASAP. The RSVPs were due directly to HR (not him) and they were due on something like two weeks in the future.

    6. Anonandon*

      That paging thing tho. I would disable that immediately unless for some reason it’s required. IM, email, and regular phone calls should be sufficient, one would think.

  2. Anon for Now*

    Would it also be worth noting to Karen that because she calls so frequently about non-urgent things, that the OP is concerned that when something is truly urgent comes up that it will buried or overlooked due to non-urgent things?

    I know I’ve had to talk to a report about the fact that not everything is an emergency and when everything is presented that way, then the true critical emergent issues that must get address are more likely to be overlooked.

    1. Emily*

      Yeah, this is what would stress me out – if OP started (rightfully) ignoring Karen, is there a chance she would miss an actual urgent message from someone else at the company?

      Maybe blocking specifically Karen from the cell phone/deputizing specific people to call her when something is urgent (as suggested above) would help with this.

      1. irene adler*

        I gotta ask the question: Is Karen in the position of actually knowing when there is an emergency situation that OP needs to be apprised of?
        Is there another -sane- person in the office who can be tasked with alerting OP in an emergency situation? IF so, then Karen should be ‘downgraded’ from this task. Then there’s no reason for Karen to be contacting OP outside of regular contact hours.

    2. RS*

      I had the same thought. I wonder if part of a solution might lie in addressing Karen’s ability to differentiate between “what’s on her mind at the moment” and something that is truly urgent. It sounds like there are other things at play as well, but framing the root of the problem as Karen’s poor judgement might get more traction more quickly.

      1. Artemesia*

        Urgent to have this discussion with the manager. ‘I cannot take calls from Karen who does not seem to be able to differentiate between something urgent and ‘how do you spell this?’ questions. I need to have Clyde or Susan call if there is a genuine emergency. I want to be responsive of course to emergencies at the office, but nothing I have done to try to get Karen to respect my time has worked so I need to block her calls; she can of course email me and I will get back to her at designated times. I just wanted you to know that I am available to others for serious situations and this is how I am finally forced to deal with Karen’s inability to respond to my direction about contacting me. I cannot get anything done with her paging and phoning continuously about trivial matters.’ But need to CYA so the manager knows your unavailability is purposeful and selective.

        1. AKchic*

          It might be beneficial to *track* all of Karen’s communications for a week or two as well. List each email/IM and then her escalation and the subject matter of each one to show that she is escalating spelling inquiries as emergencies just as often as phone solicitation calls that should never have been messages in the first place and none of the emergency pages and calls are actually worth more than a general email or IM in the first place, and she is wasting 15-20 minutes per day per “issue” and has at least 4-5 issues a day, so she is burning at least an hour a day for each of them in company time. All for non-emergency non-issues that have been addressed by OP previously and Karen refuses to see reason.

          1. Former Help Desk Peon*

            I’ve done something like this; granted I was help desk at the time, but it was internal users. I pulled our records on one of our problem employee’s calls for a month and compared them side by side with the next most frequent caller. The problem person had called twice as much in that month as a person who had spent the 30 days traveling for work (and therefore had a bunch of legitimate calls about vpns and such).

            Having some hard numbers and a comparison to the (still unusually high) number of calls generated by another coworker who had legit problems really helped management see the issue.

    3. Another Allison*

      I feel like I would set my away message to KAREN I WILL BE BACK AT 10;30 so that everyone can see that karen is harassing you. or set my voicemail to be like Karen I will call you back in 30 min. Just call her out in every way you can think of.

      1. Glitsy Gus*


  3. Anonyna*

    Am I the only one who reads some of the titles and thinks “tell coworker to shove it; next question”?

    1. JTTtFO*

      Yeah, 80% of AAM letters could be answered JTTTFO, with an 80% success rate . But the 36% failiures could be quite catastrophic.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          The “them” was the part that threw me — I was thinking, Karen doesn’t start with “T”…ohhhh…. :D

        1. Amelia Pond*

          I second the motion. I wish there was a list somewhere with AAM acronyms, words and phrases. There’s a list of all those things for Captain Awkward which is fantastic. I know evil bees has migrated to this site, which I love.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Nope. But I have absolutely snapped at particularly annoying coworkers before. No patience for that crap.

    3. SometimesALurker*

      Absofuckinglutely, most of these people just need to F off. I think that one of the things that’s great about Alison is she answers the question (which is sometimes implicit, sometimes not) *how* do I tell coworker to shove it. How badly will this reflect on me, how burnable is this bridge, am I telling them to shove it too quietly or too loudly for the situation, is this conversation scary because I’m inexperienced at it or because I’m going about it wrong?

      1. Jadelyn*

        This. I wrote in about the Christian music thing a few months ago, and like…I mostly knew I just needed to have the conversation. But I needed guidance on how to phrase it and how to frame the issue, because I was worried about causing ill-will with someone I share space with every day. It’s not that “talk to them” is novel advice, so much as “here’s how you talk to them about this specific thing” is what’s really helpful.

  4. Home Based Worker FTW!*

    This brings up a topic I’ve been hesitating to ask AAM to expound on: those of us who are full-time remote employees, and some of the struggles we encounter, and how we can work around them to continue to excel when we’re perhaps a bit “out of sight, out of mind.”

    1. CatCat*

      That seems like a great topic for ask the readers and then Alison could make a post with the top tips.

    2. Betty*

      I’m considering moving to a position that would be fully remote and would love this to help me know what to ask and evaluate if it’s the right move.

      1. Home Based Worker FTW!*

        Awesome. I’ll revamp the email I’ve been tinkering with to AAM to give some ideas to consider if she chooses to go that route.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I work with a lot of remote workers and “road warriors.” My problem is more on the other end, as in those people don’t often respond in a timely manner!

      I’m not like Karen though. I only contact them when I truly do need an answer, such a a budget or cost approval, or to make a final decision. But I’ve had many requests that aren’t urgent (providing metrics, financial info, or some other data I don’t have access to), but still need an answer, go unanswered or ignored–even if I give a date it’s needed by. I don’t know why that happens, but it’s a complaint of many in my company.

    4. JustMyOpinion*

      I would love to find a full-time work at home job. For someone who is Type A and doesn’t care to be around to many people, that’s my dream.

        1. Ollie*

          I worked from home for eight years for an office that was 800 miles away. In the beginning I drove to the office 3 times a year and stayed for a week and then I got a new manager who thought that was ridiculous so I no longer went to the office at all. I had previously worked in the office for 10 years. There are some drawbacks.
          No more social niceties. We communicated mostly by instant messenger. No one ever again asked “how was your weekend?” It was all business. I’m pretty much an introvert but it did get lonely.
          The instant messenger we used automatically put you as “away” if you didn’t do anything with your keyboard or mouse in 15 minutes. Three years in my project (I’m a coder) went into maintenance mode. I describe it as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer hysteria. I spent long periods of time playing solitaire on my home computer and reaching over and wiggling the mouse every 15 minutes. A year into my retirement I am still addicted to playing solitaire.
          Meetings where everyone was in the office and I was on the phone were excruciating. It was very difficult to keep up with what was going on.
          Being able to work in my pajamas merged into realizing I hadn’t taken a shower in a week.
          There are numerous pros from being able to do laundry while working, no commute, and great tax advantages but I think the people in the office who worked from home three days a week and came in the office for two had the best of both worlds.

          1. 2 Cents*

            Thanks for the perspective. I’ve done the 3 days a week at home / 2 in the office. It was a nice balance, except my commute was a killer (for me). If I could do it at my current job, I’d never leave. But they recently rescinded ALL remote working privileges, so that’s a catalyst to me leaving. Plus, our offices moved from a kinda open office to a really open office (we could play football nearly unimpeded), and of course, people like me — the ones who do all the work — are in the cacophonous open area while everyone who makes the decisions (and doesn’t need the same level of concentration) has a private office.

              1. 2 Cents*

                I never got a clear answer, but based on who some of my coworkers are and how they work while they’re IN the office, they probably weren’t actually doing any work from home. (But I was — and I had deliverables where it would’ve been obvious if I wasn’t doing anything.) Instead of making it person-by-person, I suspect they just said no one can.

          2. Clewgarnet*

            I agree. I did the 3 at home/2 in the office for a while, and it was a lovely balance until we moved to a new office with hotdesking. This destroyed the social aspect of being in the office. I’m now in a different job, where I’m at home except for a few days every other week or so, which are spent at random sites, usually in different countries. It’s very socially isolating.

            As my main socialisation is at the stables where I keep my horse, that doesn’t help with remembering to shower, either! (Nobody notices a bit of BO when you’re standing by a steaming midden of poo!)

    5. Jasnah*

      I think a lot of these can also apply to collaborating around the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m treated like a full-time remote employee, even though I show up every day to work… I just work in the Wakanda branch, not Sarkovia HQ!

  5. Amber Rose*

    Can you ask about getting a work phone maybe, so you have plausible deniability for completely blocking her on your personal phone? Then it doesn’t matter if she bombards you with angry texts because you can ignore them outside of working hours, then remind her that you aren’t answering the phone when you aren’t working and sending angry texts will not change that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like the OP needs to be available outside of work hours though, so then would need to carry 2 phones — so I don’t think that will solve the problem.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yeah, I think a better solution would be for the OP to see if their phone allows custom text notification sounds, and set Karen’s to silent. I think most phones allow that. And it’s not like the OP needs to worry that they’ll miss a text from Karen, as she’s shown that she will be sending multiple emails and making lots of repeated calls anyway.

      2. OP*

        Exactly — my contractors do have my personal cell for emergencies (because sometimes things happen in the middle of the night or otherwise outside of work), and then I have a wired VOIP phone that is my “work” phone.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          And I found that my office phone, which is on a VOIP system, allows me to ignore numbers, like that recruiter that won’t stop calling me. But I had to do it from the phone, not the softphone app.

        2. SignalLost*

          Honestly, this in no way solves the rest of your problem and I’m not trying to suggest it does, but if things get to a point where you want to separate work and home more, I was kind of weirded out when my current job gave me a work phone, but I’ve had it three months and it’s great. I think I’ve had to deal with two out-of-office issues and the rest of the time I use it to find my other phone.

          The real trick would be just training Karen to use the work phone, then shutting it off at the end of the day and letting clients go to your personal phone. :)

  6. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Karen needs to be helicoptered to an island with no communication devices and left there for the duration of 2019.

    Who wants to pitch in to buy an island where we can send the terrible colleagues and bosses?

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        This would be a great way to allow the survivor of all the bad boss nominees to redeem themselves.

        1. Snark*

          I have a shed full of rusty tools we can hand out, a van, some black pillow cases, and a box of heavy duty zip ties, and I know of an island nobody’s using. Boot up.

          1. NoLongerYoungButLotsWiser*

            I have MANY MANY tools, two cases of black contractor bags… and a HUGE truck. I also know where to lay my hands on a zodiac – a good sized one.

      1. Havarti*

        Maybe the island where Jurassic Park/World were on is available. I mean, the humans abandoned it after the dinosaurs rampaged (again), right?

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Ooo can we send ChattyCathy and ChattyCharlie who don’t stop talking long enough for the driver to hear the Google Map directions?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        (NOT the “Chatty Cathy” from this comments section… I just pulled names out of the air. And now I’m slightly mortified.)

      1. irene adler*

        I want sharks in the waters surrounding the island. Lots of hungry sharks. Man-eating, hungry sharks.

      2. Indigo a la mode*

        That sounds an awful lot like something somebody who IS Australian would say. /suspicious

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Wasn’t that the solution in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? Some planet put them all on a spaceship, which eventually landed on Earth.

      1. AKchic*

        Yes. And it didn’t work out too well for the program running on Earth. We’ll need to make sure we find a completely dead planet.

        1. Agent Diane*

          It also wasn’t great for Golgafrinchen Arks A and C either, as they all died from in infection due to poorly sanitised phones.

          1. zaracat*

            Every time I see the poster at work (hospital operating theatres) warning about how many germs there are on your mobile phone I think of the Golgafrinchans.

    3. ToodieCat*

      And send the boss who ignores your birthday if it’s on Feb 29, and change the birthday of everyone on the island to Feb 29. “Karma Island.”

    4. Lady Blerd*

      I love that Allison opened with that as a cathartic response before getting into the sensible advice.

  7. Czhorat*

    Karen resents your WFH and wants to disrupt it.

    That’s the only way I can read this and, yes, it does merit going over her head if it perists.

    If not, then simply DON’T ANSWER if you know it’s her. Don’t answer your cell out of hours. Don’t answer your VoIP phone. Ignore her pages.

    If your cell rings, let it go to voicemail, play the message, and call back when it is convenient for you.

    1. Snark*

      Mmm, interesting read on things. It’s so inappropriate that it does read a little passive aggressive.

    2. OP*

      “Karen resents your WFH and wants to disrupt it.”

      So, I didn’t include this in my letter, but I do think there’s a grain of truth to this perspective. Karen is the type to come in an hour early and leave an hour late without anyone telling her to, work when she’s sick, et cetera, and I suspect that there might be a little bit of a, “Well, if I worked from home, I’d definitely be at my desk all day!” mentality going on with her, as well.

      1. Anon for Now*

        Some people can’t wrap their heads around work-from-home. They don’t see it as a change in location instead they view it as a day off (when it clearly isn’t). If she’s one of those kinds of people, and she’s not privy to the other things that you do, then she could be under the impression that you are just sitting around waiting for work to do.

        1. Snark*

          I see you have met my grandboss, who didn’t bother to sign my work travel approval form until the afternoon before my departure but (projection alert!) thinks working from home or offsite is suspicious and indicative of slipshoddery and not really working.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          Yes, I had someone like this at my former job. I worked from home maybe once every few months, either because there’s a repairman coming or I have an appointment or whatever. This coworker would make a point of contacting me at home via my home phone–not email!–to ask to dumbest questions ever. These were questions that typically had nothing to do with her current work and she could have very easily called the vendor. I really believe she was doing it to make sure I was actually at home and not out gallivanting somewhere. She could never wrap her head around WFH, one person who had a special arrangement to come in later and work later, things like that. She felt people were trying to get away with something.

          1. RUKidding*

            There are a lot of people who think like that. I think it actually is a projection of their own inclinations…

          2. Mickey Q*

            There are people who work from home so they don’t have to pay for day care. Those people don’t get much done.

            1. Agent Banana*

              There are plenty of people who work from home so they don’t have to pay for daycare who exceed productivity expections. Please don’t generalize.

          3. TardyTardis*

            I will admit to dumping some invoices on the floor when a bowl game between Favorite Team and Really Impressive Team was going on and Favorite Team made the winning touchdown…(note to self, later implemented, just do it all at work and never take stuff home again).

      2. NW Mossy*

        Oh, she’s an Office Crusader – full of zeal about How Things Should Be Done and fully convinced of her own righteousness. She sounds tiresome – my sympathies.

      3. MP*

        I found it fascinating that she doesn’t do this with the other WFH person. I think there is something there against you in particular. What a nightmare person. I recently started working from home in a new position, and the best thing is being away from my very pushy co-worker. I hope you can figure out a way to truly get away from her.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Yeah, my guess is it is something against the OP in particular or the guy shut it down hard when it first happened and the OP has been too nice and let it continue.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, I bet it’s the second one (simply because I’d guess OP would’ve brought up if there were any particularly bad blood between her and Karen). While I’ve never been in this specific situation, I’ve had similar things happen with my being in the OP’s colleague’s position; I didn’t even feel like I’d been particularly curt with the out-of-bounds person or like I’d shut them down strongly or anything like that, but I’m strangely good at just not engaging with people in a way they’d hoped so they tend to give up easily while continuing to bother others who are much nicer and much more indulgent than me.

      4. MissDisplaced*

        It kind of sounds like Karen has appointed herself the Office Mom. I read it as being somewhat resentful, and Karen is being very passive-aggressive about it. I’m perplexed as to why she does not bother your other remote coworker though? Is his job different in any way? Or is there a reason she has come to depend on you to “help” her while he does not? Did she act like this when you were in the office as well?

        So, you realize if you do begin to ignore her immediate demands, she will likely run to her boss and say you’re not available. If you go this route, be sure you do inform her manager that you will respond to Karen’s requests in a timely and appropriate manner, which may not happen to be immediate.

        1. OP*

          My other remote coworker has a different job from mine — he’s in a creative position (marketing/design), whereas I’m more in logistics. There’s a lot more client and contractor communication in my role than in his. I do think he was probably a lot more firm with her than I was, when she bugged him, so that’s something for me to work on in the future for sure.

          “It kind of sounds like Karen has appointed herself the Office Mom.”

          You are not wrong. I am the same age as one of her daughters, which she reminds me of frequently.

          1. Artemesia*

            And so time to shut this down but absolutely CYA with her boss and your boss so they know she is a problem and you are dealing with it in a way that blocks her but not others with legitimate needs. And if you answer out of bounds NEVER give her what she asks for. Always tell her you will call back at X time and ask her to group her questions in an email you will answer then. NEVER give her what she wants when she is out of bounds.

          2. MissDisplaced*

            Ah! Interesting.
            I hope she will respond to you being more firm with her. But I suspect you may have to inform her manager you are going to do so, lest Karen claim you aren’t available at all.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It sounds like he just has a very different job, and that could easily explain why she doesn’t pester him; she may not have nearly as many reasons to interact with him. In that case, I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that she doesn’t do it to him.

            1. Holly*

              Yes, but if she sees OP as an “office daughter” and the male colleague just as an employee, there’s a crossing of boundaries that she thinks is fine with OP because of her gender and age, IMO.

          4. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Ooof. I had a boss when I was in my 20s who had a daughter my age and she was AWFUL about boundaries and treated me like I was her child.

            This is the same boss that was mad at me when I accepted a transfer to an out of state office rather than risk being laid off in the near future.

          5. AKchic*

            Being the same age as one of her daughters does actually help explain some of this behavior. She is trying to mother you and foist a relationship on you that you didn’t ask for, and from what I can guess, don’t want or need.

            I would assume she is an empty nester right now. While you were *in* the office, she could at least keep tabs on you, and thereby distract herself from whatever her own children were/are doing without her. Now that you aren’t there, she is worrying. So, whenever she can’t keep tabs on you, it bothers her. She is doing the same to her children (or worse), and they are establishing their own boundaries and it galls her.

            You may need to remind her manager that she isn’t your mother, and you didn’t ask her to parent you. The manager may actually have noticed the Mother Hen routine in the office (if the manager is any good).
            You are going to have to be extremely firm and professional at all times. I would go so far as to say keeping Karen at arm’s length and exhibiting no warmth towards her, because any warmth will make her feel familial towards you. She needs to be reminded that you are a coworker, not her substitute child.

          6. RUKidding*

            “ I am the same age as one of her daughters, which she reminds me of frequently.”

            I hate that kind of shit. Shut her down OP. Hard.

            1. hello*

              PLENTY of my coworkers have daughters my age or older, and NONE of them remind me of it. Even if it’s true, it’s not appropriate or relevant for a coworker to bring up.

          7. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

            Yes I definitely also think it’s an insubordination / jealousy / insecurity thing in play. After some consolidation and major shifts in a previous role, my boss was put in charge of a larger group of reports and more responsibility for all of teapot creative. As I was in the process of automating a lot things and removing lots of steps from monotonous and time-consuming tasks that were not really “design” or “marketing” tasks (thus freeing up human designers to do actual design work and marketers to do marketing and not menial tasks with a lot of back and forth), I was temporarily put in charge of a woman twice my age for a specific project timeline and given the second in command role in my department. She was entirely resistant to the training I freely offered on this software tool (so we could be on the same level, it was not a secret!), could not keep track of a single server or electronic document, wouldn’t advise people about new processes, and badmouthed me and my boss all over the place. She was based in another country so would frequently play ignorant about meetings, emails, how to use her computer, etc. But honestly it was a blessing in disguise, because then my boss could see how Karen contributed NOTHING but pushing papers around and gossiping, and now that we weren’t pushing papers anymore, it was clear her butt in the seat was just that — someone occupying office space but not working. I think keeping track of what Karen spent time on with regards to contacting you, and what it distracted you from is the right plan here, and avoid trying to change her ways beyond “That is not urgent, please do not flag this going forward.” She won’t stop until the boss tells her too, and even then she likely won’t stop either. But if you start framing it in costs tangible and not, it’ll be pretty obvious who the problem is and then hopefully your manager has something to work with.

            Oh by the way, her name was actually Karen.

      5. Seal*

        If that’s the case be aware that once you shut Karen’s behavior down she’ll find another way to try to harass you. Expecting anyone to be at their desk all the time regardless of where their desk is located is ridiculous. People who work from home are entitled to take bathroom and lunch breaks! Since you are being very clear about when you will be away from your desk, don’t answer her pages and whatnot during those times. Ever. Based on her pattern of behavior I very much doubt that there’s anything that’s so urgent it can’t wait until you get back from the bathroom or from getting a cup of coffee.

        Don’t be concerned about setting too hard of a boundary with her, either. I had an employee that had boundary issues and would constantly run to me and everyone else until someone gave her the answer she wanted to hear, which inevitably lead to a mess I had to clean up. I had to set some very strict policies about what to do and when (e.g. do not call IT without clearing it with me, because this particular employee would contact them constantly for thing we were expected to handle ourselves, like putting more paper in the printer). The rest of my employees, all of whom were fortunately blessed with common sense, knew exactly what was going on and never felt that they did not have access to me because I had to set harder boundaries for one employee.

      6. Willis*

        How much do you interact with Karen when you’re at your desk? My take on this is based on what you just wrote is that she sees your away message and is coming up with little reasons to interrupt you because she doesn’t think you should be working from home, taking frequent breaks, etc. If the rest of your coworkers are reasonable people and understand the idea of being momentarily away from your desk, I’d stop putting up away messages when I go to the bathroom, get more coffee, and other little stuff. I’ve worked from home for years and usually don’t let coworkers know I’m away for stuff like that…just respond to them as promptly as needed when I get back and let them know if I’m out for a bigger chunk of time.

      7. UtOh!*

        Yup, this is what I was sensing as well, just like the previous letter (which may/may not have been fake) where the OP was being a martyr and wanted everyone else to be on the same level as far as cutting costs (completely ridiculous). I would absolutely loop in your manager or Karen’s manager if speaking to her directly does not work. What is really bothersome is that she does not do the same to the other WFH person…what is so different about them that they aren’t in Karen’s sights like you are? Your home set up sounds like a nightmare to me, I work in IT, and only work from home rarely, but when I do you can bet expectations are set.

    3. Ginger*

      I read it this way too. It’s like she’s trying to “catch” the OP not working or not available. So she can turn around and say “Oh I can never reach heeeeerrrrrr” (because in my mind, she’s the type of person to draw out words in a whiny voice)

      OP – just to add to the chorus, what she is doing is incredibly rude whether you are remote or in person. I work from home roughly 80% of the time. Putting up an away message with what time you’ll be available is generous. You need to call her out on her rudeness and don’t give her answers when she demands them. That just teaches her that she can get what she wants. It feels rude to set hard boundaries sometimes but interrupting your work and her plain weird behavior is egregious.

      1. Yorick*

        I’m guessing she’s doing some catastrophizing about “everybody works from hoome, instead of working long hours like me, and it’s just impossible to get what I need from them.” This could also account for the difference in her response to the OP and the other WFH employee; maybe OP being either the first or the second makes her absence sticks out to Karen.

      2. MeanHRLady*

        Trying to catch the OP not working is exactly what she’s trying to do.

        I worked as a church secretary many years ago. One member of the congregation always seemed to call the office whenever I took a break. One Sunday she announced in front of a crowd of people that she didn’t understand why I didn’t answer the phone when she called since there was a cordless phone in the office. She told me that I should take the phone with me if I needed to be in another part of the building. I calmly explained that I did take the phone with me if I had to leave the office, but I refused to take the phone into the bathroom with me. She never mentioned it again.

          1. MeanHRLady*

            Oh, lots of reasons. Did I leave a dish in the kitchen? Did our class literature come in yet? Have you heard any news from [insert name]? I think she was lonely. Or maybe just a busybody??

    4. MsMaryMary*

      I wondered about this too, since as an admin Karen might not be able to work from home. Especially if Karen and the OP started around the same time, started in a similar role, or have something else in common that makes Karen jealous of the OP.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Probably as the admin she can’t WFH. It’s generally unusual as they need to be the ones opening up, available for vendors/shipping/mail, at the front desk, there for the CEO, etc., etc. Not to say they never can… but it is not as common as for other roles.

        Ran into that at one job. There was a lot of animosity from the admins because the marketing/comms people got to WFH as much as they wanted. They saw it as unfair, even though marketing/comms people do completely different jobs that can mostly be done from anywhere. Interestingly, sales also mostly had WFH, but this did not draw their ire at all compared to the marketing people which really makes me wonder if marketing/comms people are just viewed as glorified secretaries?

    5. Adlib*

      Does Karen have enough to do? Just trying to get a hold of OP that many times seems exhausting and time-consuming even though it’s completely unnecessary and inappropriate.

      1. OP*

        Karen has plenty to do, but is kind of bad at managing her time and finds lots of stuff to meddle with (not just my availability, but the spellchecking and stuff, too) — which is how she ends up with these 10-12 hour workdays that no one asks her to do (and, in fact, our manager has asked her to stop doing.) But yeah, Karen is responsible for most of the major file-keeping, all things money and accounting, and has PLENTY to do.

        1. Drew*

          Manager needs to stop asking. “Karen, your schedule is 8:30 to 5:30 and we expect you NOT to work outside those hours. This is becoming a serious problem and it has to stop.”

        2. Daniel*

          Oooh. So it sounds like the manager already knows about at least a part of the problem. Based on that, while I’d definitely talk directly to Karen about this mess, I’d rope in the manager, maybe even before the conversation with Karen.

        3. Adlib*

          Wow, she sounds fun. I know and work with people like this – all the humble-bragging about how much they work, how busy they are, and being martyrs about it at the same time.

        4. Jadelyn*

          So we’ve got a passive-aggressive self-appointed Office Mom with boundary issues, poor judgment, poor time management skills, who is making herself a martyr with unnecessarily long work hours.

          *checks card* I’ve got bingo, anyone else?

          (Less flippantly, you have my sympathy – she sounds awful to work with.)

    6. bonkerballs*

      Maybe, but then wouldn’t she be acting the same way towards the other full time work for home employee?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        It grates my nerves to say this but… is OP female? The other WFH employee is noted as male.
        Karen could be falling into stereotypes.

        1. RUKidding*

          It grates my nerves too but I’m not at all surprised. Internalized misogyny is a hell of a drug.

        2. bonkerballs*

          Sure, but then that’s a different issue than she’s jealous of people who can work from home.

    7. Risha*

      Yes. The most probable explanation for this specific combination of irritating behaviors plus not behaving this way with the other WFH person is that Karen has a problem with the OP, in general, or with the OP specifically working from home, and is doing her best to punish the OP for it.

      It doesn’t change the advice at all, but it drops the likelihood of the initial discussion fixing the issue to close to zero. Her manager is going to have to get involved.

  8. Celaena Sardothien*

    Ooohhh, this would drive me batty.

    And I agree with Animaniactoo. If she calls you over and over to ask a mundane question, do not answer her. Pick up the phone and say something like, “Hi Karen, as my away message said, I won’t be back for another 30 minutes.” Then I assume she’ll say something like she didn’t see the message and will ask you the question anyway. So you respond, “As I’ve just explained, I’m not currently working right now so this will have to wait. Thanks for understanding.” Click.

    Rinse and repeat as necessary. Do not let her bully you into anything. If she responds by, say, going to your manager and saying you’re refusing to answer her questions, you can explain the situation. If she is the only one that’s having a problem and all of your other coworkers are fine, that should signal that the problem is with her.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I love this idea and would take it one step further.

      “Hi Karen, as my away message explains I will be unavailable for the next 30 minuets. Going forward read my away message before contacting me.” *click*

      No further discussion. If she get’s huffy that is her choice.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I wouldn’t do that. I’d just never, ever, ever answer when you’re “away.”

        How long are you “away,” anyway, and what damage gets done if whatever urgent thing it is waits the 45 minutes you’re eating lunch, or the 20 minutes you took as a midafternoon break?

        And decide that you don’t care about the bombardment, and the passive-aggressive whining–that’s just Karen being Karen; it says more about her inability to delay gratification than it does about your work ethic. Be amused, answer only her question, and get off the phone.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I know OP said that there is urgent stuff sometimes, but I’m wondering how urgent? I can run into urgent stuff in my role, but it just means I need to get to it within an hour or two, or have same-day turnaround. If I miss a call because I was in the bathroom or at lunch or something, I can check my voicemail when I’m back at my desk, call them back, and deal with it then, and nothing comes out the worse for the slight delay. If OP’s urgent situations are that type, I wouldn’t even answer Karen’s calls until you’re back “on duty”. It’s at most a 30-60 minute delay, right? Is the sky really going to fall if it’s actually urgent and the issue doesn’t get addressed in under 5 minutes?

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        +1 BUT: you need to do the ‘direct conversation with her’ and ‘convo with her manager’ steps first.

    2. Lena Clare*

      I think the problem with answering her, even to tell her you’re not available, is that you’re still *answering* her. This is bound to be as disruptive as hearing the ‘ping’ of each message or whatever!

      I think Alison’s plan of action is a good one because it means the LW can get some space away from Karen, while also training Karen to not continue to message the LW.

      I have to say I’m feeling agitated by Karen and I don’t even know her 0_o

  9. Ali G*

    I would just stop answering her. You have a BRB message – don’t respond until you are back on the clock. If she inquires what took you so long etc., just say – I was busy with something else – very matter of factly. You don’t have to justify how you manage your time to her.

    1. Bostonian*


      And don’t be afraid that setting boundaries with Karen will affect how others view your availability. Generally, people tend to only notice what affects them, so as long as you’re available when others need you, they will see you as a reasonable/responsive person.

      1. Kailia*

        But the point is to extinguish the behavior. If OP responds to Karen each and every time Karen bugs her enough times, then Karen has learned that bugging OP on 4 devices for 30 minutes will result in Response. It’s like the cat who scratches at your bedroom door for 2 hours and so you finally open it out of frustration: the cat has learned that it takes 2 hours of scratching to get the door to open, and so the cat will keep scratching at the door for 2 hours. If OP completely ignores Karen during OP’s set away times/breaks/etc, then the pestering behavior will hopefully either extinguish or diminish. Short-term suffering to hopefully result in a new behavior from Karen.

        If the issue is that OP *has to* respond to Karen because *something* might be urgent, then it’s a conversation that needs to escalate to one of their bosses. Period.

  10. Dr. Pepper*

    I would be willing to bet a significant amount of money that your other coworker who works from home has told Karen to eff off. Maybe not in so many words (but maybe so!), but firmly and meaningfully enough that she has listened. Karen sounds like the type of person who has zero respect for boundaries and takes no hints or requests whatsoever until she’s brought up short by an extremely negative response.

  11. ArtsNerd*

    Oh I would have had some *extremely* unprofessional words with Karen in this situation.

    I would immediately switch her ring tone to “silent” on your cell and keep it there. (Oh dear lord, I hope she DOES have a different incoming number than your other coworkers.) And as AAM says, you can tell her straight up that’s what you’re doing until she starts respecting your time. And if she starts (silently) blowing up your text messages or missed calls / voicemails, just delete or ignore entirely. Respond to one email or IM that she’s sent you, in a time frame appropriate to the urgency of the question/comment.

    But really I would have said “What the actual fuck is your problem?” a long time ago. Which is not what I would recommend, though I have had some success with shocking an over-the-line coworker into reigning in their behavior with it. If you’re slow to snap, there’s something to be said for actually letting yourself do that to drive home HOW frustrated you are (without the swearing, I’m sure.)

  12. jack*

    I’d be tempted to leave my cell phone at home and go for a leisurely walk when she starts calling you from now on.

    1. RUKidding*

      I went to the grocery store (5 minutes away) the other day. I forgot my phone. It felt…weird…but kind of liberating at the same time.

  13. PX*

    The only thing I would add to Alison’s answer is clearly defining what urgent means when you have the big picture conversation with her. Similar to one of the questions last week about the boss being constantly interrupted, explicitly outline that unless the CEO is outside in a tree in his underwear, that is not an emergency and she should not be paging you.

  14. Navajo Rug*

    My first thought was that Karen really resents your work arrangements or doesn’t believe that you can get your work done at home without her constant management. She even seems to be trying to undermine your productivity.

    I’d call her out on it, and if that doesn’t work, bring her in on a discussion with her manager.

    1. Jadelyn*

      That’s where my brain went, too. She’s one of those people who sees WFH as “sneaky vacation time” and is trying to “catch” OP not working, or trying to “make sure OP works all day”. (Admittedly there *are* some people who use WFH that way – see: my former coworker who once took a WFH day and spent the day repainting her kitchen, then posted photos on FB that afternoon while she was still theoretically on the clock; she wasn’t allowed to take WFH days anymore after that one – but it’s not the majority of people.)

      I’d probably have a talk with my manager first (so that they knew not to give complaints any weight if Karen whines because you’ve stopped answering her calls), then Karen to tell her to knock it the hell off, then with Karen’s manager if necessary.

  15. Lurker*

    My team had someone that was doing this to us all the time!!! It was the worst! Skype/email/out of the blue phone calls when we were clearly marked as busy!!! We sat down and banded together and had an intervention. We told him that he needed to send an email and stop calling and texting. It required re-enforcement at first. But as he found that he literally got no response unless he emailed us, he has pretty much given up and follows the rules! It was super awkward, but SO worth it!

  16. Dwight*

    What’s the point of a pager in this day and age? Honestly the last time I saw a pager was in the show “House”, or CSI from the early 2000s.

    1. OP*

      To clarify — it’s not a pager. I have a pretty standard office phone with extension buttons, and when you press someone’s extension, you’re announced with a beep on their speakerphone and come in like an intercom. So I get “paged” with a “beeeeep” and then hear Karen going, “Hello? Helloooooooo, OP, are you theeeeere?”

      1. Bostonian*

        So people can interrupt you at any moment they want? You don’t have to “accept” the page? That is so annoying. I would have thrown the phone out of the window after the second time Karen did that.

        1. OP*

          You know, it’s interesting — this paging thing is very much part of the company’s culture. Back when I was in the office, I used to be the only person who would walk around to everyone’s office with questions rather than page them. Karen, and our other part-time admin, will both page people with quick questions rather than walk to their desk or send over an email.

          I do find it really disruptive, but I’ve generally also just accepted it as part of the culture of this workplace. That being said, I think the only person who’d be upset if I turn it way, waaaaaaaay down, is Karen, and she’ll get over it.

          1. Bagpuss*

            Can you put it on ‘Do Not Disturb’? Or turn it off so people can just leave voicemails.

            If so, then one way of training Karen may be that if she just leaves a ‘call me’ message, you treat it as non-urgent, since if it was urgent she would leave a message saying “please call back urgently, the CEO is on fire” (or whatever)

            I also agree that you need to be firm about not jumping when she calls. If she calls you and it is non-urgent, tell her to e-mail you and you will address it as soon as practical. Don’t give her an answer then and there.

            If you have a conversation with her, I might even say to her “Karen, since 99% of the time you call me multiple times, you are wasting you time and mine, and you are creating a situation where if there was something genuinely urgent, it’s likely to be missed, because you are acting as if things are urgent when they are not, which leads to a situation where I am starting to assume that none of your calls are urgent.

            I would also speak to whoever Karen’s line manager is. Explain that Karen is failing to respect your non-working time or your ‘not available’ messages and that you are speaking to her directly, but may need to escalate , so you are looping her in now, for information.

            I’d also consider whether there is someone else in the office who could be responsible for contacting you if there is anything that needs an urgent response, and then you can ignore Karen and have that person call your cell if there is a real emergency.

            I suspect that the only way that Karen is going to change is if you can make it more inconvenient for her to bug you than to be sensible, which may well, as other commenters have said, explicitly saying ‘no’ in the moment even if that means it is more time consuming short term.

            1. RUKidding*

              “CEO is on fire…”

              Maybe that explains the CFO being naked in the parking lot. S/he had to tear off her/his clothing while running out of a burning building.

              Someone got sick of Karen and in ‘Office Space’ fashion took a flamethrower to the place… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            2. Cheesehead*

              “…. because you are acting as if things are urgent when they are not, which leads to a situation where I am starting to assume that none of your calls are urgent….”

              Perhaps reacquaint her with the old children’s story: “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”?

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            So, the ‘company culture’ thing makes it harder. I am guessing that the difference is when they don’t answer because they’re not there, Karen doesn’t escalate to a cell phone.

            If that’s right:
            Reduce the pager volume so that you don’t hear it outside your office.
            – Loop in your manager that you’re doing this
            – Loop in your contractors that you are ok with them calling you on cell
            – You can use the scripts to try to reduce pages overall, but company culture is hard to change.
            Address the escalation to cell phone with Karen – if she doesn’t reach you via pager, she needs to email / im the question. That’s the line to hold hard.

            This is soooooo annoying.

          3. 2 Cents*

            We used to have that “feature” on our phones, and as soon as I could, I turned it off so that the phone just rang instead of someone’s voice just talking from my phone. About half the company used the pager method, the other half did the (normal) phone ringing method. I say eliminate the pager method since you’re NOT in the office. Can you ask the other WFH guy if he has it activated on his?

            1. Mongrel*

              Adding to 2 Cents, Google for the manual. Modern phones are normally very customisable but all the fun & useful stuff is hidden behind labyrinthine menus

          4. MeganK*

            OP, I totally get that you’re trying to take your office’s culture into account here, but I think in this case it has put you in the position of tolerating this longer than you needed to; like, it has maybe tricked you into thinking some level of this is somehow normal or ok.

            I think from the reactions you’re seeing here (and I’m right there, my blood pressure is spiking just thinking about this and I can feel my face making the “uh, no you didn’t” expression with the huge eyeballs for emphasis), this is SO not normal and SO rude and SO annoying you are 1000% justified in shutting it down. On a topographical map of normal office behavior, this is a HUGE spike into not-normal (I feel like it should be red too, just for emphasis).

          5. Peridot*

            Can you maybe say something along the lines of “Oh no, my pager function stopped working and I have no idea why, guess you’ll just have to email or chat me?” I realize you may be uncomfortable saying that, and you know whether your office will just accept this or try to investigate your new “problem.”

        2. Jadelyn*

          It is super annoying – our office phone system has an “intercom” button that works the same way, but nobody uses it most of the time. My boss used to use it sometimes but I quite literally told him to knock. it. the eff. off., if only because the loud sudden BEEEEEEEP a foot and a half from my ear multiple times a day kept making me jump. I promised in exchange that if I were at my desk I would literally always answer if he called my extension, so he could feel assured that he still had access to me whenever I’m at my desk, but oooh, that intercom thing needed to Stop.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Oh, that’s horrible. I’d be Googling the model of the phone and figuring out a way to turn that off. If that didn’t work, I’d leave the phone on away mode most of the time and tell everyone to just email me. (Which I’ve mostly trained them to do anyway, although there are a few people I know will call me only if it’s urgent, and I always pick up for them.)

      3. Parenthetically*


        You are being BEYOND accommodating, OP. Karen needs to be dealt with extremely firmly.

      4. EPLawyer*

        Yeah, I would have hurt someone by now.

        You need to be very firm with Karen. Very simple and straightforward “When my away message says AWAY I am not answering messages. Do not call, do not text, do not page me, do not IM. If you continue I will need to speak to your manager.” Then do it. Ignore her messages and talk to her manager. if you have to make a special trip into the office to do this, do it.

      5. Four lights*

        Just as a defense of office pagers on phones (complaints below)- I used this in an office once an it worked fine. (Typically you’d pick up the phone once you got a page, but my one boss loved speakerphone.) At the same time, that was in an office, and being able to be paged from work at home must be annoying.

      6. Clay on my apron*

        This is the most terrible thing I’ve ever heard. I would look for another job if people could randomly interrupt me without even having to get up from their desks.

      7. Ralkana*

        We have that feature on our phones, but there is a way to set it to ring rather than to put the page directly through. I’m not sure another constantly ringing phone would be any better than her voice suddenly appearing in your home office, but it is an option.

        Our phones also have a Do Not Disturb feature that sends it directly to VM. It might be worth setting it to that when you’re not working, if yours does too?

      8. RUKidding*

        Oh god…shoulders alll the way up around my ears and a barely contained desire to crawl under the bed (WFH day for me today …) and hide forever!!!

      9. n*

        Phones that have this feature are the worst. I worked in an office where the CEO would regularly interrupt us with pages if we didn’t answer emails quickly enough.

        It might be possible to find a way to disable the page option. There’s a code you can probably enter into the phone. We figured out how to do that in that office and it was a treasured secret. Google the phone brand name + codes and you should be able to find a list of code options.

    2. $!$!*

      I work at a hospital and carry a pager. I don’t have a work cell phone and I refuse to use my personal one, so patients always make jokes that I’m a drug dealer

    3. Can Man*

      Quick aside: my workplace has 2 pagers that get passed to the on-call people for the week. When you work with live fish it’s important that someone is notified if there’s a low water alarm for a tank, and passing around pagers works better than relying on the alarm company to rotate which phone numbers they call after hours. Plus, the pagers can still reach the person on-call if they have a poor cell signal (relevant to my rural area). An unusual use case, but one that demonstrates that pagers still have a place in some workplaces. I’m sure there are some jobs that make sense to have a personal pager that doesn’t get passed around too, though I only have experience with rotating pagers.

    1. BadWolf*

      Page her every hour. “Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaren, are you there? Where the llama stats? I neeeeed the drama llama stats ASAP!”

    2. wayward*

      Just make a point of responding to one of her “urgent” calls at 2 or 3 AM. Because it’s too important for her to wait.

  17. Cordoba*

    I work from home virtually full-time, and am the only one in my smaller company who does this.

    I’ve found two recurring issues when speaking with other people who work from home:
    1) Colleagues are going to expect that you’re instantly available at all time
    2) You’re going to feel like you need to be more available than you would be at the office, in order to show that you’re actually *working* from home and are still a real contributor

    My solutions to these two issues are as follows:
    1) Train colleagues to not expect I’ll be available all the time, just like I wouldn’t be 100% available if I was at the office. Maybe I’m on another call or maybe I’m focusing on some calculations. Or maybe I’m just at lunch, or taking a nap. Whatever. Strategically let some calls go to voicemail, let non-critical IMs and emails hang for a few hours, and maybe even decline some extraneous meeting invites. Help people to break out of the mindset of “They work from home, so of course they’re just waiting to immediately jump on whatever thing I need from them right now”.
    2) Actively remind myself that even people on-site are not available all the time and that I’m still entitled to breaks/stretches/lunches/errands just like the office folk are. If my boss has a problem with the pace or quality of my work they can take it up with me directly. If nobody is squawking then I’m probably doing OK.

    1. Parenthetically*

      This, OP, this!! Your coworkers are 100% not leaving a note at their desk every time they have to pee or refill their coffee, and I assume Karen isn’t chasing people down to the men’s room shouting, “Helloooooooo! Hellooooooooooooooooo!” at them when she needs to ask a question! Her expectations are ridiculously unreasonable.

      In fact, there are your scripts right there. “Karen, when Bob goes to the restroom and you need to ask him a question, what do you do? Do you follow him into a stall? Or shout HELLO at him through the door? Or do you wait for him to come back? I need you to do the same with me. When I have an away message, it’s exactly the same as anyone in the office being away from their desks. The shouting pages, the insistent messages, and the out-of-hours non-emergency calls have got to stop, because it’s disruptive and rude.”

      1. Yvette*

        “Karen, when Bob goes to the restroom and you need to ask him a question, what do you do? Do you follow him into a stall? Or shout HELLO at him through the door? ”

        How much do you want to bet that she does. And thank you for a laugh out loud visual.

        1. Not Australian*

          I had a colleague who followed someone into the bathroom and banged on the stall door that she had a phone call waiting … as if, once you’re in that position, there was anything you could do to speed up the process!

          1. AKchic*

            OMGs… this was our office Karen too. He would even take his OWN cell phone into the bathroom and take calls, host conference calls, etc. while in the bathroom. If someone else was in the bathroom when he needed them, he would wait outside the door for them if he had to, or he would go in and talk to them if he could (when we moved to a bigger building and got multi-stall bathrooms and it was a guy he needed to talk to). “Mute” was a foreign concept to him, but pocket dialing was frequent (and I was a frequent recipient of his pocket dials).

      2. SarahKay*

        Parenthetically, thank you, you’ve perfectly put into words what I was sort of thinking but not quite managing to articulate to myself. It’s the perfect example to show Karen how absurd she is being.

        OP, *bad* advice for the day – if the above script doesn’t work, then take a call from Karen while you’re in the bathroom. Make it obvious that’s where you are – loudly flushing loo, side mutter of ‘gosh, better open the window after that one’, etc. If that doesn’t work, nothing will!

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Parenthetically is right. It’s a shame some people can’t wrap their head around work-at-home.

      But if your job does necessitate being available rather quickly, you could always try to institute a 15 or 30 minute rule. As in, Wait 30 minutes before you escalate to paging the person, or something like that.

      Sadly, I’m not sure if that’s gonna help with the Karen problem if she’s not respecting standard Away messages.

      1. Cordoba*

        I think the way this approach helps with Karen is that it gives the OP a mental framework for saying “Looks like Karen freaked out and sent me a bunch of unnecessary messages. I’m under no obligation to respond right now, and am still doing a good job even if I ignore her until it is more convenient for me to respond.”

        Step 1 is training colleagues. Step 2 is blowing off the ones who refuse to be trained.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          My only concern about the blowing-off is that I would not want to see OP get into trouble or be seen as not doing her job when the “Karens” of the office world are like “She’s never available!” or insinuating OP isn’t working.

          But my perspective may be skewed because I’ve worked at some bad places where I’ve seen that happen. I’ve blown-off people like Karen (sometimes even at the requested of my manager) and they went on to create all kinds of office drama. At one place, it even contributed to WFH being revoked.

          1. SierraSkiing*

            That also depends on Karen’s reputation vs. OP’s. If Karen is known for exaggerating/being a bad coworker/making unrealistic demands of availability and OP is known as a good coworker, most people will just shrug it off as Karen being Karen.

    3. sofar*

      Yes, I’ve had to learn the importance of “training” people — and then not explaining and apologizing for delays in getting back to them. I just get back their email/voicemail/instant message when I get to it (no “sorry, just saw this” or “sorry for the delay!”). It’s hard, though, because most people are reasonable and I WANT to get back to them right away. But some people have no boundaries, so I sometimes have to give them a 30-minute delay even though I *could* respond immediately.

      My husband runs a business and, sometimes, when certain problem employees call, he lets it go to voicemail and calls back an hour later. He calls it the “cooldown” period.

    4. Working Just as Hard but from Home*

      I work from home 80% and often experience irrational guilt when I’m away from my computer. I’m working on this, since everyone is happy with my level of contribution, and I suggest you also need to train yourself out of this guilt mindset. Karen is preying on your conscientiousness – your remote working coworker who is not similarly plagued likely does not leave play-by-play updates as to his whereabouts, I’m willing to bet.
      Stop leaving those detailed “away” messages. If there’s a performance issue, trust that your manager will talk to you about it. Also trust that you’re an adult with good judgment who is capable of determining when is the right time to step away from your desk and recharge.
      I wonder if the “pager” system works better in the office where people can see one another and can decide to call them instead of walking over to them. I can see no purpose for it when you’re a remote worker and I would be actively trying to limit its use by being unresponsive to “pages” and my usual level of responsive to my preferred communication methods. I honestly shuddered at the thought of being on a break and hearing the disembodied voice uttering passive-aggressive “helllllloooooooo”s into the void.
      I would also predict that any attempt to change Karen’s style will be met with extreme and very vocal resistance. As a remote worker, you can easily be gossiped about in your absence without you knowing about it. Anticipate this – talk to Karen’s manager matter of factly and tell them the issue and the steps you’re going to take to help Karen improve her ability to discern urgent from unimportant.

  18. ArtK*

    If you’re off and hear a page and then the cell phone, don’t answer it. Her PA comments and multiple contacts later are her problem, not yours. Don’t do anything to respond during your off hours. Period. You need to show her the boundaries. Every time you respond, you’re giving her a very clear message that this is ok, despite what you’re telling her with words.

    BTW, “urgent” for me means that someone is going to die or the company is going to go belly-up in the next 12 hours. Anything less than that really isn’t urgent.

    1. Indie*

      Yeah I agree. So what if theres a pile of passive aggressive messages? The only way to respond to them is a) laughing and b) a big picture conversation and c) via her manager.

  19. 653-CXK*

    Karen is desperate for attention – she is the head admin, gatekeeper, etc. – so she feels she has to be on a 24/7 power trip with certain employees.

    I agree with Allison’s tips 100%. The quicker you short circuit her power trip, the better. Even if you have to cut her off with a dial tone (“We’re all busy [CLICK, THEN DIAL TONE]”), several of those cutoffs might convince her to back off a little. Absolutely get her manager involved, especially if that manager is powerful enough to be on your side and stop her – this is one instance a PIP, a formal writeup or a termination is necessary to stop this kind of nonsense.

    1. 653-CXK*

      Addendum: When I worked from home two days out of the week (I could not work more than that; I tried three days and it didn’t work out), I had my “soft” phone, messenger and emails open so I was able to get in contact with my supervisors, managers, teammates, etc. I would answer back within two to three minutes of receiving the email/message, but even at the most urgent and escalated, they were definitely not at the level of boundary violations that Karen is doing.

  20. Cathie from Canada*

    I get the impression that the more the OP tries to avoid Karen, the more Karen is chasing her. Maybe there is a “status” component to this, where Karen is giving herself some status in the office by acting like and thinking of herself as the OP’s “right hand man”.
    So I wonder if the OP might actually initiate MORE contact with Karen rather than less! Here’s what I mean — would it be useful to consider setting up a regularly scheduled “check in” phone call with Karen – daily, or every other day perhaps — so that she would have the assurance of regular contact with OP and could use those times to raise any issues/problems/questions she has? Then contacts outside of that time could be deflected with “lets talk about that during our next scheduled call”.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      Not her right hand. Her hall monitor. “Wah, OP is neeeeever working, she neeeeever answers my questions!”

      1. AnonEMoose*

        This. I would strongly recommend against playing into Karen’s power trip in any way. And it is a power trip.

        Karen strongly reminds me of the receptionist at a place where I used to work (and thankfully no longer do). Her thing was that she would sort of latch on to whoever was newest in the office, and ask literally every coworker who passed her desk what Newest Person was doing, every minute of every day. I suspect that if remote working had been a thing back then, she’d have behaved exactly as Karen is.

        Has the other remote coworker been with the company longer? Or is it possible there might be a gender-related aspect to this, if the other coworker is male and OP is female. If that’s the case, Karen might feel that OP is somehow “uppity” for having this work from home arrangement, and may be attempting to exert some control over OP this way.

        But regardless of the motivation, it’s obnoxious, intrusive, boundary crossing, and needs to stop right the hell now.

    2. Else*

      No, don’t. It’s really clear that Karen does not actually have anything much to contribute to OP’s job now that she’s out of the office – she’s an office manager, not OP’s boss or peer. If she tries anything overly deferential to a person like this, Karen will basically consume her.

    3. AKchic*

      Based on OP’s other commentary, it seems like Karen feels like she is OP’s Office Mom. That needs to stop. There is no appeasing an Office Mom. Any pandering you give will be met with demands for more attention and more consideration. Office Parents need hard boundaries and absolutely no leeway. They must treat the objects of their childish fantasies like adults, which means the adults need to treat them with cool, distant professionalism and nothing more.

  21. Linzava*

    I’d be so tempted to set up a gross sound machine next to the pager microphone. But then again, I’m a prankster at heart.

  22. MuseumChick*

    I won’t worry about drawing boundaries to firmly. It sounds like everyone in the office is aware that Karen has some issues. Go forth and be blunt and chilly with her.

  23. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Document. Point out to Karen that she paged you twice, IMed and called you X times. How productive is HER day AT the office if she spent 2 hours yesterday contacting you to ask if a word was spelled wrong?

  24. nnn*

    If you end up escalating this problem to management, I wonder if a “boy who cried wolf” argument might be useful?

    Currently, Karen is using emergency communication methods for non-emergencies, leading to an accumulation of empirical evidence that a call to your personal cell phone from Karen is going to end up not being important, so when an actual emergency comes up, you’re more likely to think it’s just another spell check problem and disregard it.

    I don’t think this argument would be terribly useful with Karin herself since she seems to have trouble differentiating between emergencies and non-emergencies, but it’s possible management might find it more compelling.

  25. TootsNYC*

    I would actually go to my own boss first, and then Karen’s boss (if indeed they are different), just to make sure that I get in first with the framing. “I want to set up a different framework with Karen, and I want to be sure you’re aware of the problem I’ve been having.”
    Mostly because Karen is NOT going to let this sit. She’s int he office, and she’ll get to her manager before you do. And she’s been there longer.

    One other thing I’d be aware of: I wouldn’t want this to become the thing that makes them say, “well, then, maybe you should work here in the office.”
    So lay out that you weren’t pinged like this when you WERE in the office, and that most of these things are stuff she could take care of without you, and you feel she’s using you as a crutch (spellcheck?!?).

    1. Ophelia*

      Yep. I’d like to second this – I work from home, and I would definitely loop my supervisor into a situation like this – if only just so that he’s clear exactly what’s going on. We have a good relationship, and I don’t think he’d immediately jump to the conclusion that I was slacking off or being unresponsive, but I think clarifying the baseline is important here.

    2. Lana Kane*

      As a former teleworker and a current supervisor of teleworkers, I agree with this plan of action.

  26. MuseumChick*

    OP I want to add that you should be prepared to really push on this with Karen’s manager if needed. If it comes to the point where you talk with her manager and nothing changes have a script ready for conversation #2.

    “We discussed Karen interrupting my work last week. It has continued to be a problem and my productivity is suffering. How should we handle this going forward?” If the answer is anything other then the manager, well, managing Karen, respond with “That won’t work for me.”

    Such as: Manager: “Just ignore it!” You: “That won’t work for me.”

  27. CRM*

    OP: For what it’s worth, you sound WAY more available and responsive than the vast majority of my colleagues, all of whom work in my building or nearby.

  28. Indie*

    “I have been trying to work out why you need me to answer non emergencies immediately, out of work hours so often when you dont need that level of power over a male coworker. Can you help me understand why you treat us differently?”

    Nah, dont really say this. There may be a legitimate reason and it also doesn’t matter WHY it just needs to stop. But it may be a fun tape to play in your head to remind yourself how unreasonable she is making herself look.

    1. StellaBella*

      I am getting to a point in my career when this type of situation (power plays between women) would certainly get this kind of a comment. In fact, I may just snip this and save it. Just in case. Thank you.

  29. A.N. O'Nyme*

    Alternative, definitely-burning-bridges advice: tell Karen you’ve met toddlers with more patience and boundaries than her. Wonder out loud if she’s had her afternoon nap yet. Give her a binky as a gift. (Note: do not actually do this.)
    Seriously though, go to your boss and Karen’s about this. If your boss is even remotely worthy of the title they’ll definitely care when you mention it’s affecting your productivity and concentration.

  30. Observer*

    Do you have any children at home? If you do, I’d be willing to bet that her excuse for her attitude will be that OF COURSE you are busy with your kids not your work.

    It’s obviously nonsense, which the rest of the office knows, but a lot of people think of this as reality.

    In any case, in addition to all of the good advice you’ve gotten, I would say just pretend not to get it when she makes snooty or snarky remarks like “I knowww”. Play dumb and say something like “yup. So I’m not going to waste time on this right now.”

    1. OP*

      I do not have kids — just a really needy cat who occasionally takes up fives and tens of my minutes with demands for food and cuddles. :)

      1. RUKidding*

        I actually have five cats. I swear they have colluded to coordinste things so that they each demand stuff one after another instead of all at once.

        “Who wants to go out?”
        One cat leaves, I sit fown, next cat demands an exit, I get up… Rinse…repeat.

  31. Chatty Cathy*

    I’ve had a remote colleague text me on my personal cell at all hours and even try to send me a direct message on my personal (!!) Facebook account—we’re not FB friends, BTW—over non-urgent items or for her to generally try to gossip late at night. We are in the same time zone, so this was just her being too much.

    After having multiple conversations (using phrasing from another Alison post), she still wasn’t getting it. What I found effective was cutting off contact as she describes above, including muting her texts, and responding via company email during the next regular business hour I was present. At the end of fulfilling/addressing whatever the request was, I would remind her to please only use my cell for emergencies and that I prefer to keep work-related items on my work email. She still texts once in a blue moon, but it is not nearly as bad as it once was.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      When I posted my earlier comment with “ChattyCathy and ChattyCharlie” I was totally forgetting about your screen name — I hope that didn’t make you twitch!

    2. RUKidding*

      Never give out your oersonal info/contact stuff. I have one employee who has my personal info.

      Two reasons: she had it before I hired her (was a friend of my son’s), and she’s my office manager/deputy/manager at large (we are small…many hats) and *the* person designated for any “omg gotta call RUK right now” stuff.

      FTR the last call like that was ~8 years ago. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  32. kittymommy*

    God bless you, you are nicer than me. Karen and I would have words and they would not be pleasant ones. I think it’s interesting that she doesn’t do this to your male colleague. The optimist in me would like to think that there’s a legitimate reason for that. The pessimist thinks it sexism.

    Personally, I think your language is going to need me direct, hard, and non-negotiable, something in the way of “Karen, despite my repeated attempts to restate my work hours, you are refusing to abide by my request to respect them and are constantly contacting me via appropriate and inappropriate mean (using the personal cell for non-emergency matters). This needs to stop now. Of course I will be available to you for true urgent and/or emergencies, as I am for everyone, but going forward, pages/IM’s/calls (etc.) from you that are not urgent or emergencies will be dealt with in a timely though not immediate manner. You need to respect this boundary as others have been doing.”

  33. Parenthetically*

    I’d add: document, and communicate that you’re changing how you operate with Karen to your boss. Karen’s nuttier than a squirrel convention and I wouldn’t put it past her to go to your boss complaining that you refuse to communicate with her or are always unavailable or have started hanging up on her or whatever once you implement some boundaries. If you’ve already gone to your boss and said, “Hey, FYI, Karen’s expecting me to be available for trivial matters 24/7 (a couple examples here) and it’s gotten really intrusive, to the point that it’s breaking up my day and messing with my productivity, so I’m going to adjust a few things on how I get back in touch with her for non-urgent requests so I can maintain my workflow and stay as productive as I’d like,” she won’t have any ammo if she does complain.

  34. Drew*


    Co-signing the “Karen, you’re using emergency communication methods and this is not an emergency. I’ll get back to you in XX minutes *CLICK*” plan. Document and be prepared to escalate, because I don’t think Karen is going to come to Jesus on her own and she sounds like the type who might try to make it sound like you are the problem.

    Another possibility is the “it’s about me” white lie: “Karen, I’m sorry, I can’t focus on what you’re telling me right now. Please email it to me.” If you want a softer approach, moving *everything* to an email-only approach might work, and she can’t claim you aren’t being responsive when you’re telling her the best way to GET that response.

    Good luck – this sounds super tedious and annoying.

  35. Wrkin4theweeknd*

    Stop putting up an away msg, she’s doing this on purpose, if she’s the main cause of drama in the office it follows that she just likes stirring the pot anyway she can. If she doesn’t know when you’re away, she won’t know when she’ll get to annoy you the most. You stated the other guy doesn’t use them, so its not required.

  36. SDSmith82*

    OP- I worked with a Karen. I was granted permission to work from home when I had some medical issues, but not on a regular basis. That didn’t stop her from thinking I too was her 24-7 person. I would be in classes required by my job, with explicit DO NOT DISTURB HER memos from the boss, and she still would call me in those classes and forward clients to my personal cell phone (calls in which they said “Oh- well she said it was no big deal”) It was very much a big deal, and one of MANY problems with my “Karen”. I left that small company partially because of Karen, and in my exit interview said as much. It’s been almost two years, and in those two years, out of 10 people that were on staff when I was still there- 3 are left. She is one of those 3- she has some magical ability to control the managers/owners and make them think that everyone else is the problem, so despite those same problems getting worse, she hangs on (after numerous PIP’s with no improvement). We never figured out how and probably never will.

    1. 2 Cents*

      I’ve decided with some Karens that they must know where the body is buried or the secret accounting books are kept in Switzerland, so that’s why they persist while the rest of the company experiences turnover because of Karen.

      1. SDSmith82*

        That must be it- Just found out today that another one left- Yet Karen still persists. The office is down to 2 people. 2.

        1. 2 Cents*

          Wow, from 10 people to 2? I thought from your comment that 7 of the originals had left (and were replaced). But wow. Surprised the business can still function when 80% of its workforce is gone!

        2. Khlovia*

          Apparently the other poor person is being hustled down to the basement at 5:00 every night and chained to the pipes by the bosses. You need to call the cops!

  37. Queen of Cans and Jars*

    She might not feel comfortable about harassing him like she does OP, or he’s put up some firewalls to restrict her access to him. Either way, I’m sure she’s silently fuming.

  38. AKchic*

    I would stop using the away message because she doesn’t seem to bother you when you are “on the clock”, so to speak.

    I would also be blunt. If it’s not an emergency, she can no longer page you or call your cell. Email must be her first line of communication. If she pages (and then calls) because she doesn’t get an immediate response, reply back to her email, cc’ing her manager saying “this did not warrant X number of pages and an emergency call during my stated off-hours. We have discussed this multiple times. Please do not do this again.”

    Loop her manager in now. Stop being so accommodating. When she calls, be frank. “This did not warrant a call and is not an emergency. If you IM’d or texted me, wait for it. Do not page or call me again for this matter during my break or during my off-hours.” Also cc her manager when you reply to remind her that her pages and call(s) regarding the matter were not necessary. Keep calling her out and keep her boss in the loop so the boss is aware of the ongoing issue. She will never stop until her feet are actually held to the fire and management is actually having to deal with her.

    1. JustAClarifier*

      +1 To this, great advice from AKChic. Tallying the amount of calls/contact throughout the day for non-urgent items and having that in numbers is going to be a big eye-opener, both for OP, Karen, and Karen’s manager.

      1. the_scientist*

        Agree, this is a really good plan for tackling the issue. The only thing I would add is that OP could maybe loop her boss in first (assuming she reports to a different boss than Karen, I’m not clear on that) to let her boss know how she plans to proceed. Karen is TOTALLY the type to go and try to tattle to the OP’s manager (or claim that she “can never reach OP”, so preempting that is probably a good idea.

      2. Bagpuss*

        PLUS, even when it isn’t ‘out of hours’ you should be able to prioritise your own work, and answering her mails or messages may not be top of that list. SO yes, definitely tell her not to call or page, but don’t limit that to ‘don’t call during my break’ I’d go with “don’t call or page me to follow up on a message for at least x hours”

  39. Bagpuss*

    Another thought – what terms are you on with your male colleague? Can you ask him whether he had this issue and if so, how he got her to stop?
    If she is nitpicking other colleagues work, why is that coming to you at all?Are your responsible for supervising them? Is Karen supposed to be proofreading their work? Why is she not telling them she thinks there are things that need to be fixed?

  40. JustAClarifier*

    OP – I did a quick skim and didn’t see this comment anywhere, so I’m going to add it. I’ve worked with people that take what is said verbally and immediately twist it, especially if they know their manager might get involved. If you have a conversation with Karen (and you definitely should, and make it clear that this will no longer be tolerated), you should immediately follow up in writing with a “Per our conversation” email. That way what you said, and your full intent, is in writing and in record on the company’s servers so that if she tries anything you are covered. I have had to address issues like this with people where I work and having a follow-up in writing has covered my rear more times than I can count.

    1. TootsNYC*

      And this (coupled with the fact that Karen is IN the office and you are not, with all the familiarity and opportunities for conversations that come along with that) is why I would take this first to my boss (“here’s the problem, and here’s my plan; I want you to know in case Karen starts complaining that I’ve cut her off–I have a good reason for it”) and then to Karen’s boss (if indeed Karen’s boss is different–there are only 10 people), BEFORE you talk with Karen.

      I’d also start documenting some of the inane questions and also the multiple contacts, so there’s something objective about how disruptive it is.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I would second this – I’ve worked with some Karens and you want to get out ahead of whatever narrative she’s spinning, especially if she’s in the office and you aren’t. You don’t want her “casually” dropping that she tried to get in touch with you and couldn’t, and oh what could the OP be doing there at home?

    2. AKchic*

      Yes. Following up in writing is going to be key. I have a feeling it’s going to be necessary to refer back to it at least twice before the calls and pages drop off, and even then, she may attempt to ramp up again after a few weeks of “good behavior” just to try to test boundaries.

      1. JustAClarifier*

        I would 100% expect a boundary test to continue for a while after the foot is firmly planted. If it continues to an unreasonable degree, I would even go so far as to drop the Office Nuclear Bomb and simply attach the previous emails, in writing, and say “See attached.” (I’ve done that as a last result and it’s really satisfying. And REALLY gets the point across.)

  41. HappySnoopy*

    OP you are being way too accomdating. Stop putting away messages up every time you want to get a cup of coffee. I agree with some people above, your notice is a red flag to Karen, ok reach out to OP now.

    Treat your breaks like you would if you were on a phone call or in a meeting with someone else.

    And when Karen pokes on something nonurgent. “Im busy. Please* send me an email.” *please optional . Right now, Id do it even if you werent busy right then. And delay response forcan hour or so. Give heads up to boss youre doing it so when she invariably complains, it should fall on deaf ears.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Yep! I work from home full time. I only mark myself away during the day for my half hour lunch break. When get up for bathroom breaks or to grab a drink or snack I don’t mark myself away. I also don’t stress if I hear am IM pop up while I am away. I don’t have to respond to that IM within a minute of arrival.

    2. Cris*

      I’m surprised no one else has mentioned this! 10000% agreed.

      I’ve been full time remote for 3 years, and I know the WFH guilt can be real, but you don’t need to put up an away message every time you use the bathroom! I only put myself as “away” for my lunch break, and if I need to step away from my desk to use the bathroom/let the dog out/make coffee/grab a snack/anything <10 minutes I never put up an away message.

      It might come across as suspicious to Karen, like you're hiding that you're actually away from your desk because you're sneaking around, not just doing regular office-y things.

      1. the_scientist*

        Agree, I work from home regularly and 100% do not feel that it is necessary for me to put up an away message every time I step away from my computer. I wouldn’t do that at the office, so there is no need for me to do it at home.

        The exception, of course, is if I have an appointment scheduled, and then I might leave a note that I’ll be back at whatever time…..but certainly not to go from one floor of my house to the other!!

    3. Lily Rowan*

      Yes! When I’m in the office, and go to pick something up off the printer, and get waylaid for a 10-minute conversation with a coworker… it doesn’t matter! If someone calls me, I call them back in 10 minutes! If they IM me, ditto. Email, ALSO ditto!

  42. CeeDee*

    OP – I don’t know if someone has brought this up before but having worked in an OFFICE with Karen before, I’m sure she’s also using the grey area of what “emergency” and “urgent” mean. She may scoff and say that what she’s contacting you about is urgent…to her. Like many other posters I like the cut off contact approach, but if you’re giving the “only contact me in case of emergency” there needs to be VERY CLEAR CUT examples. In fact, I would go so far to say, that Karen shouldn’t be contacting in you in case of emergency or at all if possible. Is it possible for emergency issues for you to come straight from your boss only and not from other people? Is it possible that the items that Karen is contacting you about she could actually contact another coworker? I personally hate the “it’s not my job” reasons when it stops there, but with back up reasoning, could you actually pass off Karen to your boss?

  43. Esme*

    Do you notice a difference in the frequency of contact when you are set to away? Like, does it seem like she is more likely to contact when she sees the away message? There might be a clue there.

    1. Rhysand*

      Late to this post – but this.

      I’m very tempted to test this theory by fake switching my status to “Away” and then list the frequency or how long till Karen starts pinging me whenever I do that. Do this a few times. Compare to times when you are available. If she almost always starts pinging me a few seconds after I set my status to “Away” then she’s definitely watching my status. :D

  44. BadWolf*

    I’m wondering if it would be appropriate, after the Alison chat, to take the “emergency” to the manager. As in, “Hey Boss, I was taking a lunch break and I had 3 pages and 4 calls from Karen. What’s up? I want to jump on the issue right away!”

  45. always in email jail*

    Maybe I’m reading this incorrectly (admittedly I’m multi-tasking), but how many breaks are you taking a day? I have coworkers who work from home and it is very frustrating when they take multiple hour-long breaks during regular business hours, because sometimes the answer to a quick question is the difference between someone else moving forward or not. I personally think that, even when teleworking, there is a reasonable expectation that you can be easily reached the entire workday, with the exception of a lunch break. I know you said you have specific, set hours you can be expected to be at your desk, but are those generally in line with the hours people are in the office?

    1. Aurion*

      Given the OP is very conscientious of her busy/away times, to the point that she calls Karen specifically in advance about it, I doubt OP is overzealous with away time from her desk. Even for people who work in the office, there are meetings and important phone calls and such that necessitates Do Not Disturb. If I’m in a meeting or on an important call and a Karen interrupts me, it had better be important, or Karen is going to get a royal chewing out after.

      And even if Karen feels OP is away too often, that’s on Karen to have a grown-up big-picture conversation about it, not page OP throughout her house and follow up with a dozen IMs and cell phone calls.

      1. Parenthetically*

        +a million. OP is being, if anything, OVERLY accommodating about availability. Karen is demanding that OP be available for trivialities both inside and outside normal office hours, and shouting (!) repeatedly (!!) over the paging system when OP doesn’t respond INSTANTLY about those trivialities.

      2. Kms1025*

        It’s a totally unreasonable expectation that an employee will be available 8 hrs a day with no breaks. I’ve never seen an office where meetings, training, bathroom breaks, legitimate personal breaks (including meals) do not happen. Karen reminds me of a person I used to work with who would page people, sometimes the same person, dozens of times in a day rather than making a list to discuss at a mutually acceptable time. That situation got ratcheted up to the GM to dictate how often she could page and when others would meet with her. Ridiculous! But it solved the problem.

    2. Clay on my apron*

      Thing is, there a lots of reasons why someone might not be available right away, whether they are remote or on site.

      – In a meeting
      – On training
      – Facilitating a workshop
      – Interviewing someone
      – Just trying to focus and get some complex work finished

      Depending on your role, any of these could be a big part of your day. If you find you often need quick answers in order to move ahead, and the people who need to provide the answers are less available than you would like, then you possibly need to plan better.

    3. JustMyOpinion*

      If you are frustrated by your co-workers breaks, then bring it up with them. If they are routinely not available, then bring that up with them and then their boss. In OP’s case, she has her status constantly displayed, as well as the time when she will be back from a break. I WFH part-time, I am always available. I feel the need to go overboard with availability because there are SO many people who think that WFH is the same as slacking off.

      Also understand that if your co-workers are on their hour lunch break, then they won’t be responding to the “quick question” because they are on a break (usually a non-paid one). This would be similar to a co-worker in office leaving to grab lunch. Further, most employers have other breaks (we get two 15 minute breaks) and they don’t have to be reachable then just as they would not be reachable in the office for the same. The biggest issue (and one it seems like OP is going overboard to avoid, ask I tend to do as well) is the office-workers seeing a WFH worker not immediately available at the drop of a hat and equating that with them not working at all and slacking off.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      In a lot of roles–and I imagine this is the case for the OP– being unavailable doesn’t always mean breaks. It could mean meetings, or time blocked off to focus on a specific task, or a phone call, etc. I imagine Karen wouldn’t be respectful of that, either. I have a couple of co-workers who will send me an email and then come bug me about it 10 minutes later, when in that 10 minutes I’ve been in a meeting with my boss and I’m not going to interrupt the proceedings to answer a question, no matter how quick. It sounds to me like Karen needs one lesson in patience and another in boundaries.

  46. Phony Genius*

    I have seen work-from-home programs ended due the conduct of those working in the office. (The old “punish the wrong people” trick.)

    We have some people here who work from home part of the time. When I know they are working from home, I make it a point to only call them if absolutely necessary. In 20 years, I have done this maybe twice. And yes, I get that I should feel more free to call them during working hours, but it feels weird to me to do that, so I let non-urgent matters wait until they’re in the office.

  47. MLB*

    Yes to Alison’s advice, with one addition. When you speak to her, ask her this…”If I were physically in the office, you needed me and I wasn’t at my desk, would you run around, checking everywhere (bathroom, kitchen, outside, etc.) until you found me?” If she says of course not, then explain that she’s doing the exact same thing through technology when you’re at home and maybe, MAYBE, she might get it.

    1. Noah*

      People sometimes call my cell if they can’t find me in my office. I actually find that less weird than doing it when you’re working from home.

  48. Noah*

    At my last job, all calls from the office showed the same on caller ID, so the call muting option would not have worked. But, even without that problem, it probably won’t work here. Karen will just use a different phone. Crazy people don’t give up that easily.

  49. Jennifer*

    Oh my gawd, Karen. You can’t just ASK people why they’re not working.

    Is simply ignoring her an option? Mute her on everything. She’s not asking anything urgent, and if by chance she does have an urgent question, she’ll just have to go to someone else. I highly doubt she’ll have many emergencies.

    This is the downside to having a laptop or a company-issued cell phone and working from home. People think you should be available at all times. This also does seem to be something personal against the OP as well, which is weird.

  50. Anon for this*

    I have a literal life or death job (we’ve saved 20 lives so far in January), and my team has strict instructions to call me if they have an emergency and can’t reach me by IM. I’ve had ONE call this month. If I worked with Karen I would lose my mind.

  51. StellaBella*

    Taking this up to the 50,000 foot level of company culture and training:
    1. When I started working at a large Pacific NW software firm, back then we trained new people with this mantra: “You go to meetings, you take notes, you write down three-letter acronyms you don’t know, and make a list of your ideas and questions. At your weekly 1:1 if you have been unable to figure these out with your own research, you can ask about them. And in 1:1 or status reports, consolidate your questions. Managers don’t need 42 emails a day/week when 1 email with a list is better to tackle in a 1:1.”
    OP – this may require a culture shift and may not be possible but…. can you have her start doing this? “Karen, keep track of your non-emergent needs and once a week we can address them.”
    Also – point out to her she does not do this to male coworker. Ask her why. “Did he set something up for you to communicate more efficiently? If so can I do the same? I’d hate to think you treat us differently just because I am a woman.”

  52. Ice and Indigo*

    Have you asked the coworker she doesn’t pester if he ever had to draw a firm line with Karen that might explain the difference in how she’s treating you? If he did, he might have some tips; if not, it’s ammunition you can use, either with Karen or a manager, because it’s evidence that she’s singling you out.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      My first thought was “Is this a gendered occurrence? Does Karen presume men’s time is “important” and LW’s time is not because of internal bias?”

  53. Name of Requirement*

    I would have the big picture conversation, then going forward, answer every call or page with polite confusion. “Oh, I assumed, of course, this was an emergency because you paged me. It’s not. I’ll be sure get you an answer once I’m back at my desk.” *Click*
    That way you don’t have to ignore anything (which sounds hard for your position) but you’re also not rewarding the behavior.

  54. Kms1025*

    “this has bred some bad habits and toxicity into the culture. Nothing especially groundbreaking, and for the most part it was being ignored since most of the negativity was coming from one source — our main admin, Karen”

    She is kind of behaving like she always does. As Alison and others said, change YOUR behavior. Don’t allow her to be a puppet master. Take back your control in the ways outlined above.

  55. CommanderBanana*

    I wonder if Kim is also salty that you get to work from home? I’ve seen this kind of thing happen when telecommuting policies weren’t applied fairly (or someone was mad that they couldn’t WFH even if their position wasn’t one that made working remotely realistic).

  56. Rose Tyler*

    So, Karen is clearly a Whole Lotta Problems, but generally I don’t think it’s fair to ask her to only contact the OP when she’s at her desk (i.e. does not have an away message up). In my office culture it’s fair game to call or email anytime, or IM anytime unless the person’s status is specifically Do Not Disturb. We all just assume the person will get back to us when they are able, but there’s no way I can make a note in my mind that “hmm, OP has marked themselves away from their desk, I need to remember to save my inquiry for 30 minutes from now” and then come back and do so. Am I misunderstanding the suggestions from commenters, or is it just a case of varying office cultures?

    1. Aurion*

      You’re not wrong, but Karen is paging and calling the OP at all hours for trivialities, using methods that are disruptive and require real-time presence. Now, if Karen were a sensible person and is willing to IM or use email but not expect an immediate reply, then this wouldn’t be a problem at all, and whether or not OP is physically at her desk would not matter.

      1. Rose Tyler*

        Oh, totally agreed, the spirited hunting down of the OP is not ok. Just saying I think it is fine for Karen to send a single email/phone call/IM even if the OP has marked themselves as away. I saw some comments upthread about “why is she contacting you at all if she can see you’re away?” and didn’t get that.

        1. Aurion*

          That’s probably a response to Karen’s chosen method of paging/phone calls, both of which are real-time.

          I suppose theoretically a sensible version of Karen could elect to leave a voicemail rather than send an email if OP was away, but I can read an email a lot faster than I could listen to a voicemail; personally, I wouldn’t call if I knew the person was away from the desk.

    2. Jennifer*

      If I see someone is away, I go ahead and send them an email and let them respond when they are able.

      I think the issue with Karen is that she really isn’t supposed to be reaching out to the OP except for urgent matters, and she is paging her, not just sending emails, when she is on breaks for things she shouldn’t be reaching out to her for to start with.

    3. animaniactoo*

      No one has an issue I think with the e-mail or IM reachout – just to the trackdown methods for trivialities when those are not answered because OP is not available.

      I think the thing you’re missing is that Karen is calling and paging when OP has an away message up which, given that OP is working from home, IS in effect a “DND” and thereby should absolutely NOT be attempting to call or page at those times for anything less than a drop dead emergency.

      1. Rose Tyler*

        Ehhh, I think I (politely) disagree. I work FT from home right now and work hard to make myself just as available to my coworkers as if I was physically with them. I would not set up special circumstances for myself that because I work from home, my away message automatically = DND. Unless I have an actual DND on, people should call/email/IM me (once! unless it’s really urgent!), and I will return their message as able. Karen’s abuse of the communication methods is a separate issue.

        1. Jennifer*

          She only puts up DND messages when she’s going to the bathroom or taking a break. If she were in the office she would be unavailable at those times anyway. I don’t think that’s creating special circumstances.

          Plus, the number of times she is trying to contact her is way over the top, considering that she has nothing of substance to talk to her about.

    4. Beth*

      Sure, Karen can send an email or IM whenever she wants.

      The problem is the part where she immediately escalates when she doesn’t get an instant response, to the point where she’s paging OP and calling OP’s personal cell phone until OP answers. Reaching out repeatedly and escalating to more and more invasive ways of making contact until you get their attention is only appropriate when what you need really is urgent and needs to be handled by that person at that exact moment. Karen is doing this over trivial things that aren’t at all time-sensitive; she’s wasting OP’s time and making a serious pest of herself.

    5. Observer*

      but generally I don’t think it’s fair to ask her to only contact the OP when she’s at her desk

      No on is asking her to do that.

      We all just assume the person will get back to us when they are able,

      Exactly! That is what the OP is asking for during the work day. For after hours, she also wants her to only call for truly urgent matters. And Karen is NOT doing this. She’s bombarding the OP with messages and basically “barging’ in insisting on talking to her RIGHT NOW. And if the OP doesn’t respond THIS MINUTE, she even starts basically talking to her and making a racket. AND she is also calling outside of normal working hours.

  57. That One Person*

    I’m very much in the camp of “mute them” because I’m neurotic enough to want to attend to sound and flashing signals. It’s what I do to avoid constantly checking really large group chats that likely aren’t talking to or about me in the slightest so j can check them more leisurely later. For work I’d normally balk more at this, but at this point I think Karen’s proved that the bulk of the time it’s nothing that can’t wait until you have a free moment. Could be she just needs some retraining on the matter.

    Meanwhile can’t help but wonder now if she’s the type to pop into the bathroom just to ask a question at work. Trap people when they’re vulnerable…and unable to DO anything about the issue at that moment anyways. I mean, does she expect you to work from the toilet and just fill a glass from the sink occasionally?

    1. nonegiven*

      If someone pops into the bathroom like that, stick your fingers in your ears and sing as loud as possible, “LA LA LA LA LA.”

  58. ThePinkLady*

    As a homeworker of 15 years, I think you’re giving Karen way too much information about what you’re doing at any given time, and thereby, unintentionally, enabling her behaviour – though her behaviour is, of course, completely unacceptable, and utterly maddening. I totally understand why you’re doing it, and when I first moved to home working, I was the same – I felt I needed to account for myself to demonstrate that I wasn’t slacking just because no-one else could see me, despite the fact that my performance is measured by my output, rather than the time I spend in my desk chair. Then, on the days I spent in the office a couple of times a month, I started to take notice of how often my colleagues were away from their desks during the day, and how many people would have voicemail on when I called them. No-one leaves a note on their monitor to say they’ve gone for a pee, or a smoke, or to make coffee; people often don’t even announce that they’re going for lunch. So I started to feel more relaxed about accounting for myself. You called me between 12.30 and 2pm and my voicemail was on? Well, obviously I was at lunch! Ditto for after 5.45 or before 9am – you won’t get me to reply then. I was away from my desk at the exact minute you sent me something? Perfectly normal. I’ll respond at an appropriate time, according to the urgency of the request. And nobody has ever cared a jot about it!

    She sounds impossible to deal with, but I wonder if your Karen might begin to understand that these are the rules if you start to behave as though *of course* you’re not expected to be at your desk every waking minute of every day, and *of course* she wouldn’t be thinking about making emergency contact because she couldn’t raise you for ten minutes, because that would be ridiculous? If you really grit your teeth (and I know how hard that will be because it’s like someone constantly banging a drum in your ear) and really, really try to establish a new normal, where you aren’t so responsive to her ridiculousness, maybe it might make something click. Though it sounds to me like this is coming from a place of deep-seated resentment, and is going to be a really tough nut to crack. You have my deepest sympathies.

    1. Kailia*

      YES. OP setting away messages for tiny things like getting coffee in her own kitchen sets the unconscious expectation that OP SHOULD always be available, since OP is telling her coworkers where she is or isn’t at every moment of the day. People who do that are the people who need to be accounted for and can’t be away from their desks (e.g., I’m thinking receptionists I’ve known). It also sounds to me like OP is overcompensating for having the flexibility of working from home (e.g., “I’m inconveniencing people, so I’ll be as convenient to them as I can be”), which adds fuel to Karen’s Dumpster Fire. I guarantee that the male WFH coworker isn’t bending over backwards to keep sweet and convenient the same way, and I doubt the male coworker has as many open lines of communication. Meanwhile, Karen is seeing that OP is “away” 15-20 times a day (I’m guessing) and has either (1) become immune to it or (2) infuriated by it.

      Karen needs to knock it off – but I also kinda think that OP needs to find a way to knock it off, for her own sake. If OP wouldn’t announce something to a receptionist (e.g., “I’m off to a meeting; be back in 30 minutes” vs. “I’m off to refill my coffee in the break room; be back in 5 minutes”), then it’s not something an away message should be used for. If OP gets paged or IM’d and doesn’t respond and they don’t know where she is…coworkers will figure it out. And it’ll all be okay. Just like it would be on-site, with all the examples you gave.

  59. Zev*

    What does Karen do if OP is on the phone with a client? Freak out until she gets a response? There are legit work-related reasons OP may not be able to jump at Karen’s neck and call — outside of (perfectly legitimate) breaks.

    OP — consider changing your away message to “Client phone call — do not disturb” and seeing what happens. ALSO, when talking to your manager, make sure to emphasize how Karen’s interruptions are affecting your work, not just your breaks. (Honestly, given her behavior, you may be able to ignore the break issue completely and focus just on how catering to Karen’s neediness is pulling you away from clients/customers/pressing issues specifically).

    1. AKchic*

      Building on this… perhaps set Karen up.
      Put the standard “away” message on, then call the bosses for a meeting on a different phone to discuss Karen’s neediness and continued calls/pages and “emergencies” and then just let nature take it’s course, if you will. Let Karen do her page (“helloooooo?! are you theeeeeerrrrreeeee?!”) “as you can see, this happens 9/10 times I set my away message, regardless of what my away message is, whether I am on a client call, in the bathroom, at lunch, whatever. Hang on, since I have not responded, she will now start calling my cell phone. It will not be an emergency.” Then, *take* the call. “Yes Karen, what is the ’emergency’ this time? Oh, a spelling question. I see, that *is* important enough to interrupt my phone call with Manager 1 and Manager 2 after I set an away message and ignored your page. I will have to call you back after my meeting. Goodbye Karen.”
      Then, back to the managers “as you can see, these are the kinds of ’emergencies’ she calls with multiple times a day, and I am happy to email you a spreadsheet tracking her daily contact escalations and the matters that she deems ’emergencies’ and how much time it wastes, cutting into my lunch hour, client calls, meetings, off-hours, etc. I have attempted multiple times to bring this up with no change in her behavior and I am now asking the both of you to help correct this situation because I am wasting valuable time and frankly, with her paging habits, a client will eventually hear her and I cannot police her from my workstation.”

  60. Kitty*

    I’ve learned the hard way that the only way to truly make boundaries stick is to actually enforce them. As in, do not answer when she calls and texts in your off time. Do not reward the bad behaviour by giving her what she wants. Every time you give in after x number of pages, you teach her that it takes x number of pages to get through to you, and she will absolutely keep doing it. If she only gets a response during your actual work time and radio silence the rest of the time, she will hopefully eventually stop the behaviour as it’s not bearing fruit for her.

    Also, when you talk about only calling you for urgent matters, you 100% need to define to her what you consider urgent. I think her definition of “urgent” will be different. I can definitely see a scenario where she agrees to that but then still calls you and claims what she’s asking is “urgent”. Be as explicit and specific as possible about the types of situations when it is okay for her to call you outside work hours.

    Good luck!

  61. Documentor*

    This is more of a technical solution vs overall, but in most VoIP systems individual extensions can be taken out of an Intercom list. Off all the methods to reach you, this one is probably the worst since the others can truly be silenced but responded to later.

  62. Kailia*

    It sounds like doing WFH is a relatively new thing for you (you said it began this fall, so 4-6 months ago or so) and maybe even for your company (not sure how long your other coworker has been doing WFH). Based on that…

    It sounds like either Karen is trying to maintain the previous work arrangements she had with you before you began to work from home (you indicated that she was part of the reason you jumped at the chance to WFH) – or she’s trying to prove a point that you shouldn’t be working from home, because look how much she needs your input on daily work. Both need shut down.

    I’ll also agree with those who say that you may be sending some unintended signals with your down-to-the-minute away messages. You set an away message when you refill your coffee! What! Why? Unless you’re literally leaving your house and walking to a coffee shop, why set an away message for that? For all the advice that Karen needs to check herself with the “would Karen be doing this if OP was down the hall instead of at home?” thing – well, would YOU be putting signs on your desk saying “gone for 3 minutes to get more coffee” if you were back in the office full-time? Does your male WFH coworker do that? I’m not trying to absolve Karen and say the OP is to blame — not at all — but if I had a coworker setting away messages for tiny little breaks from his/her desk, and that coworker repeatedly told me “oh, I was in the kitchen getting coffee” or “oh, I was letting the dog out real quick,” I’d probably be liable to start ignoring the away messages too (…not as insistently and stupidly as Karen, I hope). IMO, setting away messages for tedious, less-than-10-minute things is setting a really soft boundary. (This doesn’t apply to the outside-work-hours part. Yikes. What that tells me is that Karen needs hard boundaries that are harshly enforced.)

    Bottom line, without knowing the company culture: NO ONE is available at all times during a work day, and NO ONE is 100% accounted for every single minute of that day. If you’re away from your desk for 5 minutes and they can’t contact you…so what? I take 5-minute brain breaks on a regular basis by going outside and walking or wandering around my building, and if someone asks where I’ve been, I either redirect them to “what did you need?” or embarrass them with a flat, straight-faced “I was peeing.” (I’m a dick.) Don’t indulge Karen with reasons or excuses or minute details of your work life – simply because you work from home and might feel like it’s inconveniencing others. Pretend you’re working in the building instead of from home and see if that changes how you respond to boundary pushing.

  63. Trek*

    I would try to talk to Karen one more time and have a very frank conversation with your boss and possible her boss as well to let them know this cannot continue.

    However after that if it continues the very next time she pulls this stunt do not respond. Go to the office stand in front of her desk and ask her to tell you what is so urgent that she could not wait 10 minutes while you were on a break to respond.

    When she sputters about a spelling word or some other nonsense raise your voice slightly and say “You couldn’t spell Zucchini so you had to contact me six times in 10 minutes. I wish I had that much time to waste in a day but instead I need to do actual work every day. From now on you are not to IM or call my cell. Do you understand? What you are doing is not professional and is boarding on harassment and discrimination. I do not want to have this conversation again but if I do it will be with you every member of leadership in this building.’ If she wants attention so bad then I say give her attention.

  64. WannaAlp*

    I would be so tempted, the next time Karen called out-of-hours, to answer her phone call with a request for her personal home phone number so you can phone her at home out of hours (expecting her to balk at the request), then following up her expression of reticence with pointing out that if she doesn’t like that, neither do you.

    If, on the other hand, she is way too eager to furnish her number, then it would be an interesting thought experiment to follow along her preferences to see just how much intrusion into her personal life she would welcome. See how far off normal her appropriateness meter has been knocked.

  65. JM60*

    Regarding sexism, is there anything in the letter that indicates that the letter writer isn’t a man? Sexism may indeed be the cause, but I didn’t see any indication that the LW isn’t a man (and I would assume that sexism wouldn’t be the cause if the LW was a man).

    1. Khlovia*

      Well, there’s at least some indirect evidence.

      The sentence “You’re the same age as my daughters!” is more likely to be said to a young woman than to a young man. If OP were a young man, his self-appointed Office Mom would be less likely to correlate him with her daughters. Not impossible, of course; just less likely.

      Also, I think the obsessive away-time posting by OP–“I will be back at 12:37:43 precisely, I promise!”–is more likely to be done by an anxious young woman than an anxious young man. Again, not absolutely, just somewhat probably.

      Finally, the mere fact that OP even mentioned that “By the way, the other WFH person is male” suggests that OP is female. OP is offering that info as possibly relevant. If both were male, OP would have either said “The other WFH person is also male” or, more likely, not mentioned gender at all.

      1. JM60*

        I don’t see either of the phrases “You’re the same age as my daughters!” or “By the way, the other WFH person is male” in either the letter or in the comments, either as a direct quote or paraphrase. Where did you get them from? If the OP said both of those things, it would be likely that the OP is a woman, but I didn’t see either of them.

        1. JM60*

          Also, I don’t see anything like “I will be back at 12:37:43 precisely, I promise!” in the letter either. The closest I see is the“BACK AT 10:30”, and 10:30 doesn’t sound like an exact time to me.

          Regardding you “By the way, the other WFH person is male”, the only thing I can find in the letter remotely like that is, “…and there is one other employee who works from home full-time. I asked him, and he says that he has not experienced this level of intrusion at all.” That doesn’t exactly sound like the OP was going out of their way to mention that they’re male, just that it’s more natural to use the gendered pronoun “he” than something like “that employee”.

          With women being roughly half the population, the the letter writer may very well be a woman, and sexism might be a candidate explanation for the different treatment (out of many possible explanations). However, I think you may be reading in between the lines a bit too much, and may be extrapolating too much based on limited information.

  66. Khlovia*

    OP, Karen is definitely enjoying playing fun little games with you. She is doing it deliberately, knowing full well she’s bothering you. She giggles after y’all hang up, every time you patiently answer whatever silly thing she asked.

    The precise game she’s playing could be any number of things.

    Perhaps it is: “You’re the same age as my daughters!” Translation: “So I get to treat you just like I used to be able to treat my own daughters. Of course, the younger one went No Contact with me for no better reason than that her college roommate had the gall to object to being woken up at 3:00 AM every night for a week during finals; can you imagine? My daughter is such a little ingrate, putting her roommate before her mother! I have the right to talk to my daughter whenever I want! And the older one went No Contact and is keeping me from seeing MY BABY (okay, technically, it’s her baby; but she’s my baby so any baby of hers is MY BABY) just because of one little emergency room visit and one little peanut butter cookie, like one little cookie could ever be such a big deal, and anyway it’s a grandmother’s job to spoil her grandchildren with cookies! Who is she to tell me what I can and cannot do with MY BABY? I have the right to talk to MY BABY whenever I want! Yet my daughter, who could not possibly know how to be a competent mother, had the nerve to go No Contact! Therefore I now have DIBBS on OP, because she CAN’T go NC on me!”

    Or perhaps it is: “Look at her over there, all BEC & WFH! I certainly was never allowed to get away with that when I was her age! Why should she get to have a privilege I would have killed for? How DARE she? Just try and abuse that unearned privilege, OP! I’m watching you and I will catch you! Get back down here in the bucket with the rest of us crabs!”

    Or perhaps it is: “What nerve she has, expecting and demanding the same courtesy that I accord her male colleague who works from home! I’ll larn her just how much courtesy she’s entitled to!”

    Or perhaps it is: “Waah, I’m too old to learn how to use the Internet to look up words! Never mind that I’ve been using dead-tree dictionaries my whole life! Besides, if I did my job as efficiently as possible and stopped spending an hour or two per day on demanding OP’s attention, I might get everything done on time and wouldn’t have an excuse for working ten-hour days and impressing everyone with how dedicated and self-sacrificing a martyr I am!”

    Or maybe it is simply: “I’m the only one here who doesn’t have anybody to boss. That isn’t fair. OP is the youngest and most vulnerable. Hey, OP, tag-you’re-it! You are now my report and I am your supervisor and get to control your time!”

    Or it could be any combination thereof, or other nonsense that hasn’t occurred to me. But it doesn’t matter whatever her little Issues may be; none of them is yours to deal with. Loop in your manager(s) proactively, then start your campaign for liberation, using any and all of the excellent scripts & ideas provided by Alison and the commentariat.

    Just remember:
    She knows what she’s doing.
    She knows it’s out of bounds, or she would be doing it to everybody.
    She knows she’s materially harming you.
    And she is getting a kick out of it. Having lost control of her daughters (I certainly hope; poor things), she has drafted you as her new source of ego-boo, attention, and obedience.

    Call in the managerial cavalry yesterday and STSD.

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