how to manage an overly chatty employee

A reader writes:

A new employee started in my department just over two months ago (I’ll call her Sarah). Sarah has been struggling to adjust to the work in ways we didn’t foresee from the interview — she seemed very qualified for the position, but is having trouble retaining information and prioritizing work. I’m working with her on those issues, but I’m not sure how to address another, less pressing issue: she’s very chatty. When someone is talking to our administrative assistant at her desk, Sarah will run out of her office and join the conversation; she does this for lots of other people around the office too. She also doesn’t really seem to be able to pick up on the “I’m politely ending this conversation” social cues and will just keep going. It’s irritating other people in the office.

I don’t want to tell Sarah to stop socializing — we’re a pretty small group in a larger organization and we do all talk to each other pretty often. Is this even something I should address, or should I just let it go and hope it gets better as she gets more acclimated? I’m also relatively new to management and am honestly not sure what my role is in this situation.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My coworker spends lots of time on personal calls — but does excellent work
  • I opened a love letter sent to a volunteer
  • My boss complained he was “the last to know” I’m pregnant
  • Can I ask for a different interview date?

{ 151 comments… read them below }

  1. The Grey Lady*

    For LW#3, I just want to point out that it’s technically illegal to open someone else’s mail. I understand not knowing which “Miller” it was and no one is going to call the SWAT team for that, but just so people are aware for next time. The best thing to do is ask the “Millers” in the office and see who recognizes the sender.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It was a business address, so it’s not the case.
      Federal law prohibits the obstruction of mail delivery. But, according to the U.S. Postal Service, mail is delivered when it reaches the workplace. Accordingly, employers do not violate federal law if they open personal mail addressed to employees.

      There are some local laws that may be in play here but since it was not addressed fully, it would be a hard time pressing charges. Do they just leave it for all the Miller’s to stand around and debate about? It wasn’t even addressed fully, it arrived at the right address, which is the crucial part of the “mail tampering” and “mail obstruction” laws. It’s aimed at not opening mail wrongly delivered to you.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Another good example is if someone mails a document to your work to someone who no longer works there. It could be something important to the business – a check or a contract. You can’t just throw things like that out or forward them to a personal address – it could be a check for the business, so the business opens it, because in the end it was intended for a position at the business and not the person who used to fill it. Most places I work the receptionist would open and sort most of the mail that came in anyway.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I still get SO.MUCH.STUFF still addressed to former CEO, managers and accountants. I’d love to just send it back “Doesn’t go here anymore, try again!” [I’m kidding of course!]

          At least I know the former names because of my institutional knowledge of the company. We got a call demanding to speak with someone who nobody here even worked with but when the person was like “Did we ever have a Nancy?! Who is that?!” “Yeah we did like 8 years ago! Send them to marketing.”

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            I had a job where an account for one of my department’s key vendors was in my boss’s name. She was being evasive about it and kept giving me contradictory information about the account, and would not let me see the full details of the service. One day I intercepted it from the USPS inbox and found out the account was hundreds of dollars in arrears, so I called the vendor to see what happened.

            It turned out that a) My boss decided we no longer needed the service, and just stopped paying it, and b) We were a branch of a larger franchise, and that vendor had a policy that when a franchise hit a total balance of $1200, they would freeze the account *of every branch under the franchise name.* It was a vendor for a service key to our operation. Her not paying our bill, would have shut down 20-something sites across a 100 mile radius of the state.

            So yes, sometimes opening mail not addressed to you has a valid business need!

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Screaming! I have shut down accounts because of certain divisions/branches/whatever have pulled some s-t-u-n-t-s. I’m up front about it too though, I’ll let people know “No you can’t order from us, Joe Smitty from the Denver office has been dodging my correspondence.”

              Sometimes I get tea on that office being a mess, sometimes they just cry that it’s unfair but usually it’s someone screaming hot mad because it’s one more piece of BS that the procurement agent at the Site That Doesn’t Suck At Paying Bills has to start dealing with to get their supplies.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                oh thanks, I’m having flashbacks, as the procurement agent at the Division That Doesn’t Suck At Paying Bills….

            2. SusanIvanova*

              Embezzlement schemes have also been brought down when someone opened mail that the embezzler normally handled.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Yup. Or not paying the subcontractors, and they come to complain. WAR DOGS illustrates that problem extremely well, though I ran into it in real life in the USAF procurement. It’s amazing how the subs will let you know about the altered payrolls (Davis-Bacon requirements) when they don’t get paid…

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      This is not true. My boss can absolutely open mail sent to the office in my name. We have had a letter where an OP described her boss opening a FedEx containing personal sexual health materials. She was annoyed and upset but Alison told her she could not expect total privacy at work.

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      I don’t know that that would apply in the workplace. Every office I’ve worked in it pretty standard for the Receptionist or someone similar to open anything addressed at all ambiguously. If it’s addressed c/o the company, it’s addressed to the company, even if there is another name included as well, and the same rules don’t apply. I could be wrong, obviously, I’m not the Postmaster General or anything, but I do know this is very standard practice.

      That said, I may have just sent an email to all the Millers and let them know I have a card but don’t know who it is for just because I usually don’t have time to play detective on personal correspondence.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        In my experience, you get pretty good at noting what may be official business and what looks personal. At OldExjob, for example, I would just put correspondence in the person’s mail cubby if it had their name on it and only open items addressed to Company Name (or obvious checks and invoices). But not every company has mail cubbies and procedures can vary from office to office.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I can tell if something is business/personal or just junk made to look personal.

          They think they’re cute and savvy making junk mail look personal these days. So if it’s personal in that way, I’d drop it on someone’s inbox or desk, etc.

          But if it’s a wayward “WTF is this even?” moment, I just open it and route it after saying “oh damn, this is your personal bank statement, my bad!” If someone wants to get mad, don’t use our business mail as your personal mail, most of us are on auto-pilot sorting mail.

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, this. Our registry office opens all incoming mail. We still get some applications and orders that have to be processed on the date they have arrived. Most of this is done online these days, but the paper option still exists and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

      2. Tired and retiring*

        At one point at my current employer, I opened all mail and stamped it in. I was instructed that if it wasn’t marked “personal” or “confidential “, it was to be opened.
        If anything looked like a greeting card, I wouldn’t though.
        Invitations to events didn’t fall under that category, and this one time …at the mail table (haha), a male mayor of a neighboring city meant to send it to one particular woman…*ahem*… He added a few of his own clever double entendres in his hand writing… For example: I hope you can *another word for attend* It. Was. Grosssssss.

    4. Ann Perkins*

      That’s not true for business addresses. I work in a role where I’m required for regulatory reasons to review mail before it reaches individuals in our office.

    5. Not Elizabeth*

      I have been told that mail addressed to a person “care of” the business is considered personal mail not to be opened by others at the business. “Care of” is the key phrase here — without it, it is business mail. The OP describes this mail as being “care of Miller,” though, not “care of Teapots, Inc.,” which is backwards.

      1. Venus*

        I don’t think there’s a loophole to prevent employers from reading your mail. My employer openly states that it may read all our mail, same as emails, and I know they have looked at my mail as I have occasionally recieved items that have been opened.

    6. Public Sector Manager*

      Becky Lynch is right on the money. Under the mail theft cases, the federal courts have said that the crime of obstructing and delaying the mail ends when the mail is physically delivered to the person or their authorized agent. And there has to be knowledge of mail tampering too. In this case, sending personal mail to “Miller” at the employer’s place of business would not only make the employer the authorized agent, but there would also be a lack of knowledge on the part of the employer.

      Compare this to having your letter accidentally being delivered to your neighbor–it’s still a crime for your neighbor to tamper or withhold your mail from you because your neighbor isn’t authorized to receive your mail and they know it’s not their mail (unless both of you have the same name).

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      IS it the same when sent to a business address?
      What if OP shares the name?

  2. Oh No She Di'int*

    #4: Regarding the boss not informed about the pregnancy, that sounds like the sort of place where they’d tell you “We’re like a family here” during a job interview.

    1. AP*

      While I agree that the “last to know” boss was being petty, I don’t think it’s wise to be talking to coworkers about your pregnancy in his earshot without addressing it with him directly. Either tell your work friends privately and make sure they keep the secret or tell the boss at the same time it becomes office scuttlebutt.

      The same would go for any kind of event that directly affects your work responsibilities, for example if you were quitting your job for some reason.

      1. Smithy*

        This was the one question I had – the boss is going to be treated like the boss and so be it. But if you’re talking about pregnancy, interviewing for other jobs, etc. with your coworkers at work, there’s a genuine risk of your boss over hearing.

      2. Glitsy Gus*

        Agreed. If there was a lot of social chat about the baby in the office that was easily overheard by the boss I could see why he may have been a little hurt. Don’t get me wrong, his response is still ridiculous, he shouldn’t have said that, but I kind of get it.

        Even if you don’t have to tell him, it can hurt feelings to feel like someone is very clearly excluding you from information and conversation and you’re the only odd man out. If you aren’t going to tell someone something, even if you have good reasons, it’s a good idea from a personal interaction perspective to try to be discreet. As a boss, he should better understand why he would be the odd man out, and he should keep those feelings to himself, but there is also no reason to rub his nose in it either.

      3. Hazelthyme*

        Agreed again. I don’t think the boss behaved well, but if you’d told enough coworkers and/or there were enough pregnancy-related side convos around the office (and it doesn’t take many!) that the boss knew or had a pretty good idea before you told him yourself, that’s not great.

        I’ve always assumed that for major news updates that will affect your job — you’ve accepted a new position, you’re applying for the vacancy in the rice sculpture department, you’re pregnant or otherwise expect to be taking an extended leave in the near future — your boss shouldn’t hear it from the grapevine. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell your best friend or sister first, just because you happen to work with them, but you should make sure they can keep it quiet, and you shouldn’t talk about it at or in the vicinity of work. If I were the boss in this situation, I wouldn’t be asking around the office to make sure I was the absolute first to know … but I might be a bit peeved if I’d been hearing multiple team members whisper about it in the breakroom for weeks before I heard anything official from the employee.

      4. Malarkey01*


        Boss was odd and petty in his reaction but just like they should be the first to know if you’re resigning they shouldn’t find out about maternity leave by overhearing office chatter.

  3. Sarita*

    I hate whenever these questions about chatting too much at work come up. I probably am very chatty – definitely am compared to the commenters here who don’t like saying “hello” to coworkers in the morning – and I do spend time on websites like AAM. I’ve tried to corral it, but honestly the strategies that worked best for as a student still work best for me at work. The thing is, I know I pick up on things quickly and don’t let things fall by the way side and take initiative. I have tried to take this into account by choosing jobs that involve in-person interaction (this whole pandemic WFH is not a good fit for me) but honestly I’ve realized that I am just a more outgoing/chatty/whatever you want to call it person by nature. I do good work for my employer so as long as I’m not bothering or distracting people by chatting (and I’m aware of that) what’s the problem?

    1. Not A Manager*

      But why do you hate it? Lots of people are chatty and it’s not a problem. If you’re sure that you’re not bothering or distracting people, and you’re getting all of your work done, then it’s not an issue for you. Is it possible that you’re a bit concerned that maybe you *are* bothering or distracting people, or just that you don’t look very professional? I’m not saying that’s the case, I’m just wondering why the letters bother you so much.

      1. Artemesia*

        I have had many overly chatty co-workers over the years and they seem oblivious to the fact that they are boring the socks off people who are too polite to just say ‘hey I have stuff I need to get done.’ The worst are the people who come to your desk and then natter on and on — it is hard to get rid of them without being rude when they are impervious to normal social cues. People who blather a lot should realize that they are probably annoying lots of their colleagues who are too polite to say anything. One cue is to look at other people’s behavior. If they are not doing what you are, consider you are doing too much of it.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Given that your response to someone saying that they chat a bit on phone calls below is to chastise them for “your constant yammering”, I’m surprised that being rude is a concern for you?

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Really? I’m being serious. It’s surprising to me when people on here say that they can’t be direct with their coworkers or ask them to tone down the chatting because they’re afraid of being rude, but are also completely willing to go online and say things like “It doesn’t mean your constant yammering is not disrupting the productivity of those you are distracting” (this is a direct quote from this person a couple of comments down) to total strangers who they know nothing about and whose coworkers they also know nothing about. That doesn’t seem like a person who is very concerned about being rude.

              1. Sylvia*

                It’s because people are much bolder when they are hiding behind a computer. Rudeness is easy when no one actually knows who you are.

          1. Artemesia*

            I will regret responding but describing someone’s behavior as yammering is of course not the same as chastising THEM for yammering. I would think that would be obvious.

            1. Koalafied*

              I agree with this. We’re allowed as humans to have honest reactions to things that annoy or frustrate us. Professionalism and politeness is about the way you comport yourself at work and how you treat people you work with. A person can be both incredibly annoyed by a co-worker and vent about their annoyance outside of work, and still understand the value of being polite to that person and maintaining a pleasant professional relationship with them.

              1. EventPlannerGal*

                I understand that interpretation. Personally I view that type of comment, when combined with “but I can’t say anything without being rude”, as nothing but keyboard warrior-ing. Evidently this person would never dare say something like that in person but is fine with saying it while posting anonymously online, and I think the distinction between “describing someone’s behaviour as “constant yammering”” and “chastising them for “constant yammering”” is meaningless as it’s hardly a neutral description. But I’m happy to leave it there.

                1. Allonge*

                  Oh, that is interesting. I am completely the other way around, I don’t care if someone I work with says to their significant other / internet friend that Allonge was yammering all day – what I don’t know does not hurt me.

                  But if they want to address it with me, then yes, I expect them to put it politely.

        2. SusanIvanova*

          Our Mr Chatty was actually an interesting person to talk to. It took a while to realize that *every* time you stopped by for a quick question turned into a half hour chat. And no, he didn’t get a lot done either.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            Yeah, that’s the thing. People can be interesting/delightful/lovely AND yet talk too much for a workplace setting. It’s like, “Yes, I am truly fascinated by your tale of living among the Bedouin tribes while single handedly recovering the lost Ark of the Covenant, but I just need to get these TPS reports done.”

            1. Artemesia*

              Every Chatty Cathy in my workplaces over the years has been a bore and not fascinating. But even people who are amazingly interesting are boring if they monopolize the talk space. We have such a fascinating expert in a current zoom group and are trying to figure out how to rein him in without insulting him.

      2. Sarita*

        Haha that’s not the case!
        Responses like Artemesia’s are why I hate it. But with the multiple comments, maybe this person just has a bone to pick.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You shouldn’t take it to heart! Lots of people can chat [see the one about phone calls!] and be high preforming. I am similar in that way as well.

      The key is to know your audience, know your office culture and roll with it. Just because something annoys “someone” “somewhere” doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong in your own place.

      People also hate potlucks and company sponsored “fun”, while I have people running in here with ideas for our holiday party already trying to get their ideas heard. Everyone is different. It’s good to remember that, be aware of it, know who you are. But don’t change just because some folks out there may be seething silently and writing to an advice columnist about your similar behavior ;)

      1. LavaLamp*

        Don’t worry Sarita, I’m chatty to. As a child I was often forced to sit all by myself because I liked talking to people around me. Becky is right, it’s a matter of knowing your office culture and stuff like that.

      2. Artemesia*

        YOU may be productive and have time to chat. It doesn’t mean your constant yammering is not disrupting the productivity of those you are distracting and whose work you are interupting.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Okay, see, this is the type of comment that makes me, like Sarita, dread this type of letter. This type of comment comes up every time and it’s so tiresome.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          LOL okay. You missed the entire point, not surprising at all. If someone has an issue, they raise it with the proper person.

          I’m not going to assume someone is suffering in silence just because “I read it on the internet.” When I have had had countless people debunk a lot of the issues we discuss here. It’s good to be aware people may be having an issue.

          This is literally why I ask every new person at some point their feelings on the smell of popcorn before I make it.

        3. Lady Meyneth*

          No, I’m sorry. If someone talking to or around you is such a huge hindrance to your productivity, then it’s your responsibility to speak up.

          Chatty coworkers are a reality everywhere, and as a fairly antisocial person I do sometimes get annoyed by them, which is when I say “sorry, I need to focus on X now”, or just put on headphones if I’m not in the conversation. It’s not up to everyone else to just guess you’re suffering in silence.

          1. Sylvia*

            I agree, but what about when you speak up and they still won’t quit? I’ve had that happen before too.

            1. Lady Meyneth*

              Honestly, that’s when I give full permission for my manners to leave, and put on my headphones while they’re talking to me. That’s just me though, and I realise it might not work for everyone or in every office! =)

              A more mild alternative could be to interrupt Chatty again with “I’m sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear. I can’t talk with you right now, I need to focus on X”, said in a polite but firm tone. I’ve seen this used by a coworker of mine with great success.

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                I think Sylvia was talking about neighbors talking to each other and not piping down even when asked directly.

                1. Lady Meyneth*

                  I don’t really see the connection to neighbors =)

                  But when it’s a neighbor chatting, it’s usually even easier to walk away in a similar fashion. Say you have to cook dinner or something. If it’s a neighbor generally making noise, then headphones or earplugs are your friends, or if it’s at an illegal hour then the police can help.

        4. Jean*

          So you hate these types of letters because they make you feel attacked (according to your comment higher in the thread), but you also feel entitled to call out others for the behavior you’re clearly also guilty of. Interesting.

        5. Batgirl*

          How do you know that Sarita’s chattiness is the same kind that annoys you? For all you know she’s an excellent reader of people, knows to veer wide of your doppelganger, and connects with another high performer who needs the interaction. There’s a huge difference between “chatty and reads the room” and “chatty but oblivious”. If you don’t welcome chattiness then you’ve probably only experienced the latter.

      3. allathian*

        I’m a chatty introvert. I’m also lucky enough to be able to WFH pretty freely even in normal circumstances. When I really need to focus or have a looming deadline I WFH, but when I feel the need to socialize with my coworkers, I’ll go to the office. I’m much, much, much more productive at home than at the office, because I basically go to the office to chat… I can read the room, though, and I’ll go away if someone’s clearly busy or not in the mood for a chat. I don’t want to annoy people because I want to chat.

        Last week, I spent a half-day at the office, the first time I’d been there since mid-March. I was grinning from ear to ear pretty much the whole time I was there, because it was so great to see other people. Even if we kept our distance and used sanitizer every five minutes. I even had coffee with some of my coworkers. Normally our break room seats 20 people, but now only about 6.

    3. Clisby*

      If you’re SURE you’re not bothering or distracting people by chatting – nothing’s wrong with that.

    4. KayDeeAye*

      I definitely see where Sarita is coming from. I’m not particularly chatty myself, but…sometimes the AAM commentariat really does seem to trend pretty strongly in the “How dare you disturb me by saying ‘Good morning’ or ‘Have a nice weekend’ to me!?!” direction. Not always, and certainly not all of them/us, but it does happen often enough that I can see why it might make a naturally chatty person feel uncomfortable.

      But yes, it’s absolutely possible to be chatty and still not be annoying, and I think that’s what Sarah needs to learn.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Yes! The AAM commenting community tends to veer in Ron Swanson “work proximity associates” territory. I don’t think it’s representative of the true average office worker. Of course we can all work on our social skills and be aware of when we might be boring/disturbing/intruding upon people, but in general I don’t think you need to be wondering if all your coworkers secretly hate you for asking what they did over the weekend.

        1. voyager1*

          This is fair. I enjoy reading many of commenters but I also have to remind myself that there are some pretty strong characteristic biases in the group too.

          Like most things on the internet, when you feel getting frustrated step away from the keyboard.

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          Does it, though? It seems to me that I see more comments complaining about how anti-social the commentariat is than comments from actual anti-social people. At least recently.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Yes recently, but as recently as 4Q 2019 there were near flame-wars over the proper amount of social interaction. It’s a fair concern.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              Yes, it really is. I don’t mind those discussions, but the reason I don’t is because…well, because it sometimes amuses me to see people have out-sized reactions to really ordinary Living With Other People stuff (saying “Good morning,” clipping a fingernail, clearing their throats, eating a tuna sandwich, etc.) It wouldn’t amuse me nearly so much in person, but here in an online forum…yeah, it definitely does.

              And it’s a valuable reminder to me that it can be very, very easy to annoy someone you’re forced to spend a lot of time with, and to remember that I have my little weirdnesses, too, and plenty of them. Those are both good things to remember, and that’s exactly what a rousing debate on “Good morning” and “Have a nice weekend” does.

              1. Delphine*

                Living With Other People =/= Working With Other People. Different behaviors are acceptable and tolerable in each situation.

    5. NotAPirate*

      Start your chatting with a “Hey got a moment to chat? I want to tell you about a movie I saw this weekend?” and respect their answer. “Hey got time for a quick break?” is another way to say it.

      “Want to hear about something funny?” is one my coworker uses, and the answer is usually “Not now but I’ll have time while I’m sorting tables in an hour and half” and she respects that and comes back.

      The caveat there is if someone is super focused (not looking up when you walk over/past, headphones, other cues) don’t interrupt to ask as even asking can disturb them.

      1. Sylvia*

        As someone who works quietly and doesn’t get overly chatty, I think this is good advice. Sometimes people drop in my office and just start talking without asking if I’m busy first, and that’s jarring. And they don’t seem to be able to take a hint when I’m trying to say that I really need to get back to work.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          Sometimes this sort of thing makes me a bit sad (when you indicate that you need to get back to work and they somehow don’t hear that). It makes me wonder if they find their work so boring or meaningless or unimportant that they can’t imagine someone else having work that they do feel engaged in, at least engaged enough to want to actually do it.

          1. Koalafied*

            I worked in the same department as my best friend for several years. We were on different teams and doing slightly different work within our teams so our work only very rarely intersected with each other. But his office was just down the hall from mine and I’d say about 3 out of 4 days or of us would drop by the other’s office at some point in the day to take a mental breather and chat for 15 minutes or so. We’re all entitled to an hour of lunch time but I don’t really rest lunch and he eats at his desk, so we both tend to take 2×30 or 3×20 minute breaks staggered through the day. I wasn’t always able to interrupt what I was doing when he swung by and sometimes he couldn’t when I did.

            Point being, the fact that one of us couldn’t always stop for an impromptu chat wasn’t about one of us finding our work more meaningful or engaging than the other; it was simply that our schedules differed and our breaks didn’t always overlap. If he told me he couldn’t chat I never felt that he was doing it because he was so interested in his work he couldn’t tear himself away, I just understand that many tasks are time sensitive and his deadlines are different than mine. And when he came by to chat with me, I never interpreted that as a general dissatisfaction with his work, he was just taking a break as is normal to do.

        2. The Rural Juror*

          I had a coworker who would do this constantly. I get it that her job was more boring than mine, so she did need some interaction to keep from falling asleep. I sit with my back to the door because of the weird office layout I share with another coworker who’s mostly out in the field. She would walk into my office and loudly start talking, but I would have my back to her and it would scare the bejesus out of me! Then it would mess me up if I was in the middle of a task. So I asked her to start knocking, which she did, but she would knock and start talking simultaneously! Still scared me! Still interrupted me! She didn’t pick up on social cues very well…especially when you would say three times, “Well that’s interesting, but I really need to…” She would just keep on going and going and going. I finally started shutting my door!

          1. allathian*

            Sitting with my back to the door is one of my pet peeves. At one previous job I had to do it, because that was the only available desk. The most recent hire was always assigned that desk. I swear, when a coworker left and I got to switch to a better desk, my productivity shot up by about 10 percent right away, simply because I wasn’t so tense. The person who was hired after me who got that desk put a mirror on her desk so she could see the door. I wish I’d thought of that.

    6. Mayflower*

      In a lot of work cultures – all of them in my 20 plus years of work experience in companies of all sizes – the chatty person will not know that they are bothering people until it’s so egregious that their co-workers are willing to expend social and political capital to get some relief. The only real way to know is to stop and see if others will initiate and I have NEVER seen a Chatty Cathy do this. So please be careful when you say that you are “aware” that people are not bothered or distracted.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        100% this. People shouldn’t have to bring this up to you. If you are genuinely concerned you might be too chatty, there are ways to do this.

    7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      There’s a difference between being chatty when you’re passing by, or going to talk to someone about work and ending up chatting about something personal for a bit and RUNNING OUT OF YOUR OFFICE to join a conversation. As long as you’re getting your job done, aren’t disturbing others, and taking notice if someone is too busy to chat, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

    8. RedinSC*

      I will say, that as a manager having a salaried staff stop by and chat, and distract hourly staff, it is a problem. Even if work the work is getting done, there’s a time element here. We have issues already with our hourly staff feeling like second class citizens because salaried staff can just have more flexibility, so if a salaried staff is wandering around taking up time from hourly staff, and their supervisor says something along the lines of “keep chatting to your breaks” it just builds the resentment up.

      So, yes, social interaction at work can be super important to some folks, but remember, not everyone has that time, and not everyone will have a supervisor who isn’t seeing that at time theft.

      1. GothicBee*

        I mean that sounds like a supervisor problem. If the salaried staff is taking up too much time with chit chat, then they’re the ones whose behavior should be addressed. I am currently hourly in an office with mostly salaried staff and I’m allowed to have a conversation with a coworker without being told I’m stealing time. (Not to mention, time theft is an absurd concept, imo.)

        Also, I did previously work in an office where the hourly staff were treated similarly, and believe me, the casual office chit-chat or seeing one of my salaried coworkers cut out early didn’t breed resentment; the childish way we were treated by supervisors who felt it necessary to monitor every minute of the day was what bred resentment. In fact the times where we were able to participate in normal office culture helped alleviate the resentment (surprise, surprise).

  4. MusicWithRocksIn*

    How do you even tell someone “You need to learn to realize when people want you to shut up”. I’ve worked with a few people who are totally unable to realize when you want to end a conversation. They also tend to be the kind of person who doesn’t pause a lot and will just monologue endlessly so it is so hard to cut in with an excuse to leave. I would have no idea how to coach someone like that.

    1. juliebulie*

      Same… in the case of a particular coworker, he’s old enough that it’s highly improbable that this is something he can “learn.” He would have learned it by now. He seems truly unable to recognize that he’s monologuing and that no one is interested. Only my boss is able to get him to stop, and even he needs an assist sometimes when he’s at his own desk and can’t walk away. (Once, I handed him a blank sticky note – an idea I stole from The Office. You know the situation is bad when something you’ve seen on that show seems like a good idea.)

      1. Esmeralda*

        People *can* learn to get better at this, but they have to know they’re doing it (truly some people cannot tell and no one has ever told them) and they have to want to change (some people don’t, alas).

    2. Joielle*

      This is why I don’t ever want to manage people! I feel like if I tried to initiate that conversation I would die of awkwardness. It just seems like the kind of invasive personal advice that’s inappropriate for the office… but of course it has work consequences, so you have to do something. I am so impressed by good managers who can handle this kind of thing delicately.

      1. Reality Biting*

        I hear this. I have a direct report will not let me out of a conversation in under 45 minutes. Sometimes I really just have a 5 minute instruction that I need to communicate to her, but it will always ALWAYS turn into a 45-minute or hourlong therapy session. The couple of times I have put my foot down to shorten the meetings, tears ensued.

        1. Jean*

          Oof. Time for some serious constructive feedback with that person. 45 minutes is completely unreasonable in itself, not even taking into account the emotional hostage-taking. “I have some pending issues and need to get back to my desk, but if you need more time to discuss this, please send me an email with some times you are available and let’s set up a meeting for later in the week” is your friend here. Good luck!

      2. Jane Plough*

        Obviously nobody has to manage people unless they want to but honestly – lots of managers feel that way, especially the first few times. It gets a lot easier with practice!

    3. London Calling*

      Pre-Covid we had an office temp who would not shut up. I found the only solution was to walk away from the conversation.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I have worked with this person before and they don’t get the typical indirect cues that I need to go/conversation is over, so I’ve developed some strategies that don’t feel rude to me. (This person never seems offended even by pretty blunt responses of “That’s good info, but I have to go now” and walking away.)

      The best one I’ve found is breaking into the monologue with “Oh, what time is it?” like I just realized time got away from us, and using that as a way to say I need to get back to whatever, good chat, bye, seems to work. If the person keeps talking, I’ve at least fulfilled my half of the social contract of excusing myself from the conversation.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        D’oh! I misread that this was looking more for coaching advice on curbing chattiness, not in the moment advice.

    5. Esmeralda*

      It depends on your relationship with the person. For instance, easy with my advisees, because it’s advice! Same with my mentees at the office. Peer coworkers, if I have a good relationship. I have also been “designated” by coworkers to be the one to talk to someone about this kind of issue — in that case of course I would NEVER say, everyone is going crazy and I’ve the designated meanie telling you to stop it.

      I say something like this: Can I share something that I’ve observed and maybe give you a little advice? (most people say yes) So, I’ve noticed that sometimes people will be ending a conversation but it seems you don’t notice the cues they’re giving. (if they ask for an example, I always use one with myself). Is this something that happens to you, like, can you tell when people are being indirect?

      It goes from there. If they say no, then I might offer to some tips for them to notice. And I explain why it’s a good skill to practice.

    6. Esmeralda*

      I gotta say, this is a lot easier than having to talk to someone about smelling bad…

      Or about dressing waaaaay too suggestively …

      Done both of those…more than once. Oof, never gets easier!

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Probably yes! but the “smelling bad” came from something that was sold as perfume.

      1. Artemesia*

        LOL — yes I have alas been in the kind of management position where I have had to deal with both of those issues — in some cases because male managers were unwilling to discuss such personal matters with female offenders — it is sooo not fun.

    7. NotAPirate*

      Coach it not as telling them to shut up but as being a good coworker to their team and realizing some people need to be able to focus and not have conversations constantly. “I need you to focus more on the work in front of you. It’s fine to have brief social conversations at work, but it it’s more than a 10 min story, save the story for the breakroom at lunch. [Optional: I know you are meeting your metrics but… ] Some people aren’t able to multitask a conversation and work at the same time, especially if they are doing a task that requires attention to detail.” Change 10 minutes to whatever your workplace norm is. Maybe even address it to the whole team at the end of a meeting so that everyone is on the same page. Then the victims of Chatty Cathy/Cevin can interrupt if they need to when it happens again, “Hey this sounds like a longer story let’s save it for later (never) so I can focus right now”.

    8. lazuli*

      There are regional linguistic differences about pausing, being interrupted, etc. Sometimes people talk so much because they grew up in a setting where it was rude to stop talking unless someone else jumped in. It can be helpful to frame the whole thing as cultural differences, not necessarily rudeness or obliviousness.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        I’m very curious, because I’ve never heard of this before. In what region or nationality is it considered rude to talk until someone jumps in?

        1. Linguistics Enthusiast*

          Maybe not exactly “rudeness”, but it is true that the cues of conversational turn-taking vary wildly between cultures and contexts. In some contexts, everyone pauses every so often in case somebody wants to jump in, and if they don’t, they can continue. The pause is of different lengths from context to context–if you are a person expecting a longer pause you might think the speaker is monopolizing the floor. And in some other contexts, you just keep talking as long as you want and people interrupt if they want to say something! I think links will get me caught in moderation but the linguistics term is “turn-taking” and you can google for a pretty well detailed Wikipedia page.

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      This is something that I’ve had to address with me (I am chatty), and am working on with my very chatty son too. We work on:
      1) Stop talking regularly and take a few seconds to look at / listen to your partner – are they looking at you, tilting their head / other ‘interested’ body language, talking and adding their own observations or questions? If not, just close the conversation cheerfully and move on.
      2) Don’t repeat yourself.
      3) Actually stop talking within 5 minutes if you or your conversation partner have other things to do (and *ASK* if your partner is free!).

      From the other end: we are very blunt with our kid, including breaking in on him. It’s ok to do that if they are repeat offenders, unless they’re your boss.

    10. Batgirl*

      “OK so part of your mentoring I think should focus on when to chat in the office.
      “You wouldnt do endless social chit chat at any place of work obviously but office culture varies so wildly that I like to make sure people are on the same page about connecting with co-workers, because it’s a good thing! How long would you say is a reasonable amount of time for an average social conversation at work?” (Listen to answer)
      “OK, now that average time is going to vary based on how busy your colleague is, and if she’s up for socialising. What clues would you look for to help you with knowing when to wrap it up?”
      (Listen to answer)
      “OK. That’s a little out of step with culture here. If you could reign in conversations to more like x mins. People will probably give clues like y and z if they’re too busy. Until you’re acclimated maybe follow Jo’s lead, or Meg’s. See how they do it. The other thing is possibly letting other people set the pace. I do that in every place where I’m new”

  5. Lizzo*

    LW1: I was that chatty employee. I’m an extrovert and I also value having good relationships with colleagues, which (early in my career) translated to having conversations having nothing to do with work. Plus I had just moved to the area and didn’t yet have a social life outside of work. Direct but kind is the way to go with addressing this. It’s not a character flaw, and you’re not asking the employee to change who they are–just moderate behavior based on professional needs and expectations. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but it’s necessary, and if your employee is smart they will one day be grateful for the fact that you said something and helped them grow.

  6. designbot*

    For LW4, while I do agree the boss is wrong on several levels (think of me as your friend! and of course the issues around previous pregnancies in the group) isn’t it bad optics to have it just be an open secret like that? I can see why the message that “I feel comfortable telling everyone EXCEPT YOU” would strike him badly. I myself probably would’ve taken the opportunity to give the feedback that I was concerned because it had seemed like pregnancy was a topic that caused him a lot of stress in the past, or something else to indicate that I was reacting to his reactions that maybe he should pay more attention to. But I do think that if it was so obvious and the rest of the office was talking about it, it’s kind of bad not to let the boss know.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’ve never been pregnant, but I’m very private. And I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling anyone outside of my friends until a certain point of the pregnancy. It doesn’t sound like the whole office knew, just a few of the OP’s friends. And she was under no obligation to tell her boss until she was comfortable doing so. Especially based on their type of relationship and his attitude on maternity leave.

    2. Batgirl*

      I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to tell sort-of-close co-workers before I told the boss; because yeah that is one surefire way that the boss will get to hear about it before you’re ready, and it’s a bit too whispery to be ideal.
      However if they are super duper close friends and it would be a hardship to keep it from them, or be constantly ruining the joy by shushing them, then I would absolutely just let the chips fall and expect the boss to manage his feelings. He’s the boss! No, he’s not included in the office friendships. He needs to check his job description and paycheck if he can’t remember why. Yes, he figured it out and got extra notice of an impending maternity leave. Good for him! Thats where his input ends. He needs to grow up.

  7. Observer*

    #2 – Why do you think you should consider going to your boss about this coworker. None of the reasons that would normally be triggers apply here.

    You don’t manage her, she’s not affecting you, she’s not harming the company’s reputation, she’s not mistreating customers, she’s not doing substandard work that only you know about.

    The only thing she is doing is something you deem “unprofessional” and that you don’t get to do. That is NOT something you go to your boss about.

    On a practical level, you can be sure that if you do this it is going to make you look bad. Not just to THIS coworker, but to your boss and quite possibly other coworkers. Trying to get someone in trouble or to lose a privilege because “If I can’t have it no one can” even though it has nothing to do with what you have, is not the mark of a great, or even good, employee.

    Now, if you want to be able to take those kinds of calls but are afraid to do that without checking with you boss, you can them. Ask “I’d like to be able to have personal conversations with my family / friends / whoever during the day. What would you need to see to make that acceptable.”

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I’m wondering if the phone call thing is even a rule at all? Like maybe it was something someone who wasn’t it charge said at one time years ago because they didn’t like it so now everyone just assumed that it’s a rule.
      Or maybe the LW boss knows about this and has made an exception. Since it’s a few times a day I wonder if the co-workers has a child with special needs and talking with mom helps calm them or something.
      I’d also want to know if this is something new that just happened in the last few months or what. If the phone calls and/or frequency is new there could be a reason like child issues. Like maybe something has happened with child care, like a change and it’s upsetting to the child so talking with mom puts them at ease.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I used to work with a woman who would spend all day chatting on the phone with her mother or sister. She did her work – but had an earpiece and apparently several people close to her who were also allowed to chat on the phone all day. I’m sure it all would have been fine, except the girl who shared the small office with her slowly went from annoyed to b*tch eating crackers to actively planning murder.

  8. Not Elizabeth*

    #1: I’m reminded of times when people have written to Miss Manners about overly chatty coworkers, and she was bewildered that people didn’t simply use the excuse that was immediately at hand: “I can’t talk now, I have work to do.” But people often feel unfriendly or rude being that direct. I think that’s something the OP needs to impress on Sarah — your coworkers won’t necessarily feel comfortable telling you they don’t want to chat, so you need to rein it in yourself so you don’t interfere with their doing their jobs.

    1. juliebulie*

      It’s easy to take that approach (“I can’t talk now”) with most people. It is harder when the other person is chugging along through his monologue like a really long, slow train through a busy intersection.

      I know that it’s physically impossible to speak without taking a breath, but our guy never pauses. Never. Not till he’s at the end of his story. Perhaps he has super powers.

      I should be able to interrupt someone who’s talking too much. I don’t know why I can’t. Most of my “manners” are purely voluntary, but the ability to interrupt a genuine windbag might not be under my control.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Once worked with someone who I wished I had the nerve to interrupt with ‘Fergus! Pause that. Rewind. Back to the point in your story where you asked me if I had time to talk. Because I don’t. If I don’t finish this in half an hour, I will be late to pick my daughter up at daycare.”

  9. I'm just here for the cats!*

    Does anyone else feel like #2 is policing her co-workers calls. I mean she knows their personal calls and that they last 20-30 minutes. Is she really listeng in and timing them?
    I guess it really depends on layout and their job, but even if I worked in a cubical farm I wouldn’t be able to tell if the person next to me was on a call was personal or job related unless it got way personal (like kissy noises or something). If she’s just talking at normal level and not on speaker it shouldn’t t bother you. Now if she being on the phone is an issue because you need to talk to her that might be different.

    1. Sylvia*

      Policing coworkers does happen sometimes, and it’s crappy thing to do (unless it’s directly affecting your job, but even then, you should talk to them, not police them). I know a woman who keeps track of when her coworkers leave for breaks and lunch and when they come back. When someone is a minute or two late coming back, she “reports” them to her boss. She thinks this earns her brownie points, when really it’s almost gotten her fired more than once.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m bummed that she’s only “almost” gotten fired. I wouldn’t tolerate this kind of reporting someone. I don’t employ any “Hall Monitors” and expect everyone to manage their time as they see fit. Only if they’re not getting work done or are having performance issues would we want to dig deeper and maybe try to figure out what’s going on, perhaps then you notice that they’re taking long breaks and socializing a lot. But it’s so weird and unsettling to have someone paying that close of attention.

        It also adds stress to the other people to be under surveillance! Yeah, sometimes I eat quac for lunch and I need the restroom for awhile. I’ll explain that to the first person who wants to make it a thing and then say “How strange that you’re paying such close attention to how long I’m in the restroom. We have multiple stalls, it’s not like anyone is waiting to use it.”

        1. Sylvia*

          Well, she works somewhere that is very difficult to get fired from. You have to really do something bad to be let go.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        I’m similarly bummed that it sounds like she is still tracking and tattling – maybe it’s not enough to get her fired, but should be enough to have the boss put a stop to the behavior with escalating consequences.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      It depends on what kind of a space you are in – and another reason that open office planning is a terrible idea. If you are in a cube, it would be easier not to notice, but if there were no barriers between you and they sat close it could get annoying fast.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Exactly. Our office has a long hallway with tiled floors. Sound carries down the hallway pretty badly in one direction, but not necessarily in the other direction (which is weird…I don’t understand the acoustics). People up the hallway can hear when I’m on the phone in my office, but can’t audibly understand what I’m saying. I can hear my coworkers loud and clear as if they’re talking to me 3 feet away. I had 2 coworkers who retired in the last couple of years that I do not miss at all. They were very chatty with each other, and often one of them would be standing in the doorway of the other and I could hear EVERYTHING. I would have to get up and shut my door. Also, one of them liked to chat on the phone with her daughter while doing filing and I could hear that pretty loud and clear. I heard a lot more than she meant anyone to, and it was awkward to have to tell her that.

      2. PollyQ*

        Even if there are barriers, it’s not hard to hear in many offices. I worked on the other side of a cubicle wall from a woman who talked to her young son every morning (he was that rare child who slept in, so she was already in the office when he woke up.) I didn’t have any problem with it, and the convo only lasted a few minutes, but I heard every word of it.

      3. Venus*

        Agreed. I work in a cube farm, and used to work next to someone who made a lot of personal calls. How do I know? Because he would talk endlessly about topics that had nothing to do with work, loudly enough for me to hear him despite wearing headphones. I knew that he was planning to get a hot tub, when he got it, and what it was like. Thankfully he was rarely at his desk.

    3. Batgirl*

      It’s either a super annoying distraction for OP or she’s hung up on a concept of fairness. Being distracted from her own work is a valid thing to bring up to a boss, whereas thinking that ‘fair’ means everyone should get identical treatment regardless of ability, capital or role is not and will come across as super young. If OP is able to ignore it and stay in her lane, she should.

    4. Allonge*

      It does not take a lot of monitoring. We actually have offices and I can still hear the person in the next room when they are on the phone – and there is a distinct difference in tone with the personal and business calls. It can be pretty obvious and distracting! I am not monitoring, but it’s a low-level annoying (because it’s LOUD) thing. So I see how it would not take much to time it once or twice, especially if it’s a setup where it gets more distracting.

      It’s like the small dirty details of images that you cannot unsee once you noticed.

  10. Anonymous Introvert*

    Urg, I have a former (thank god) toxic boss who is chatty to the extreme. Amongst all her other issues (including but not limited to pawning *her* work off on me and student employees and throwing us under the bus for all of her mistakes, as well as some borderline-harassment of female student employees) was that she will talk to anyone. For any reason. For as long as she can humanly carry on the conversation, all in an effort to not do her own work. I worked in a public-facing capacity so my work area was our front desk/lobby/reception area. I did not have a private office/space to go to, and unless I was actually doing something that required me to be away, I was expected to be at the front desk. I clearly remember one day that she and a couple other employees stood four feet from me, talking at a loud volume about pseudo-medicine and other very much so not work related topics for almost TWO HOURS in full hearing of any visitors we might have had and while I was trying to concentrate. And she would stop her conversation every 20 minutes or so to interrupt my time-sensitive work to comment on how “quiet” I was being and how “focused” and “hard-working” I am…in a tone that made it clear those were not compliments. (she hated that I’m an introvert and that I was working on that project, but I was the only one with the tech skills and her boss assigned it to me). I was nearly ripping my hair out by the time she left to go back to her own office, and then 20 minutes later she told me she was leaving for lunch…without having ever done anything she said she was going to do that morning and instead leaving the student employees to pick up the pieces. She made me hate that job.

    1. Sylvia*

      I do my best to avoid my current boss when I can. If I hear her leaving at the same time as me, I will wait a few minutes and let her go first. That’s all because I cannot stand to be around her for more than a couple of minutes because she talks AT me the entire time. It’s not even that I have a problem with conversation. But there is no conversation, it’s just a monologue.

      1. Anonymous Introvert*

        Yep, I avoided getting into conversations with her at all costs! It got to the point where, if I had to go to her office/hunt her down to ask a question (because of course she was never in her office, you know, working) I would ask my question, sort through ten minutes of unrelated words she talked at me, and then I would just…leave when I had parsed together what I hoped was the correct answer (because she also told me incorrect information probably once or twice a week; I would have to confirm with other people to make sure I didn’t make a mistake). It was the only way to keep her from talking for 45 minutes about her marital problems or her kids or her car or whatever else was bothering her — she’d seriously keep me from my work station for that long just talking in my direction. Lord help you if you decided that you also wanted to complain about something and join in on some camaraderie, because she’d legitimately get upset that her personal problems were no longer the topic of conversation and would take it out on you.

  11. RedinSC*

    I haven’t read through all the comments, but I would love some strategies on how to work with employees who aren’t taking social cues, about space, time, chatting, etc.

    I have an employee, and I’ve tried, but I’m not being super effective. The point is pretty moot right now as this person is working remotely right now, but on the days she does come into the office, or when -if ever? – we’re back to normal in office working.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      I think that if they’re not picking up on social cues, you need to stop using social cues and start being more direct about it. What have you tried so far? You don’t necessarily have to turn it into a big-picture conversation unless you think the level of obliviousness requires it, and I think it helps if you can maintain a friendly, jovial tone about it, but there’s nothing wrong with just asking them to save the weekend chat for later, asking them to focus on X, etc. My boss will sometimes come in and say something like “okay, we need to get XYZ done today so we all really need to stay focused on Y!” and then will be ruthless about shutting down off-topic chatter.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      EventPlannerGirl is spot on, you sometimes need to just purposely redirect without any cues or hints.

      If you see her jet off to talk to someone, you can say “Hey Sarah, is that data done that I gave you?” and seriously, just interrupt with work related stuff to steer someone back to work.

      Or if you’re in the conversation yourself, you excuse yourself by saying “We should probably get back to work, it is what we’re being paid to do, right/right ;)”

      But at some point you have to make people stand on their own and if they’re constantly an issue like this letter, it isn’t always going to work to simply be this kind of soft handed. You have to say “You’re not meeting deadlines and you’re making a lot of mistakes. I think we need to discuss how you can use your time more wisely, I don’t want you to be nose to the grind stone, no conversations throughout the day but I need to see you at your desk working more frequently until we can catch up on all the backlog and the performance issues clear up.”

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        This! I think that this problem comes up a lot because excessive chatter feels like a social problem so people try to use social cues to solve it. But it’s not a social problem in this context, it’s a work problem; and in a work relationship you shouldn’t necessarily be worrying about “oh is this person going to think I’m a spoilsport for shutting down the conversation” etc in the same way that you would at a dinner party. As someone’s manager, it really is okay to just tell them that it’s time to get back to the TPS reports. You can be nice about it! But it’s okay to do.

        (For context, I am coming from a work environment where we have half a dozen people who are literally employed to be friendly, chatty and outgoing in a small room. Our big boss is a cat herder extraordinaire and if she relied on social cues to tell us to shut up and get back to work literally nothing, not one single thing, would get done.)

  12. Anon for this*

    For Personal Calls but Excellent Work, the OP didn’t mention the nature of the personal calls. But this could have been me a number of years ago when my child was diagnosed with special needs. Talking to doctors, setting up therapy appointments, etc. could easily have taken this amount of time, and had to be done during the work day. (And a sympathetic nurse in the doctor’s office could certainly have sounded like I was chatting with friends to anyone only hearing half the discussion.) However, I not only did excellent work, but was perhaps the highest performer in the office. Yes, I got special treatment, but it was warranted, and my boss knew the whole story.

    So I paid it forward when an employee of mine was going through a divorce and needed similar understanding. Sometimes the rules don’t make sense, and even when they do there are cases where exceptions are warranted.

  13. Jean*

    LW#2, I just want to say I sympathize with your frustration on this. Even though Alison’s response to you is correct (as always), I can understand how annoying it can be when you sit near someone who does this. The worst I’ve seen was the VP of a small firm I worked for years ago, who took loud, weepy, histrionic calls from her 3 adult daughters all day every day, and did literally no work. She got paid mid six figures to warm her desk chair. Her cell phone ringtone was also set to max volume, which was an added annoyance. That woman is now in prison (long story) and I can’t lie and say that doesn’t give me a little thrill of schadenfreude.

    1. R*

      Except in this scenario this woman is doing excellent work. You never know what is going on in a person’s personal life. I am that employee that was taking 20-30 min personal calls 2-3x a day, but it was because my sister had severe PPD and needed my support. My work was excellent and got promoted twice during this period. We have to remember that co-workers are people with lives outside of work and if her work is excellent and not disrupting your work, then you should leave it alone.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I feel for you, I once worked for someone who sat there and did a punch of personal stuff while I did all the work. Including having me do personal errands…because her warming the chair was so important that she couldn’t possibly pick her school age kid up from school trolololol.

      But that’s not what the letter is about!

  14. LW#1*

    Hi all! LW#1 here. I wrote in about this a few years ago and we ultimately had to let this employee go because of the work issues. I did use Alison’s advice and managed to get her more focused on work without crushing her spirit (yay)!

    For a little more context for some of the commenters, we’re a pretty friendly office and definitely don’t frown on chatter and friendliness. The issue was truly that I needed her to try to focus on work since she was really struggling with the basics, and she did need some coaching on the social cues.

    After she left us she found a job that she’s much more suited to in a field she’s more interested in, so it ultimately all worked out. Letting her go was my first time doing that, too, so it was all quite a learning experience.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I totally got that vibe from your letter, that you didn’t want her to “sit down and shut up!” but you just wanted her to focus on work first, then after she was doing work well, then by all means chatter/banter is all good.

      It’s sad she didn’t work out but I’m glad everyone ended up in a better place in the end. That’s the key. She wasn’t a bad-no-good-horrible-employee. She just didn’t fit in the role you needed her to and in the end, she had to find something else that she excelled in.

      Letting people go sucks. They’re rarely monster demons who you rejoice in terminating! They’re usually a Sarah, who is a good person, has the ability to do well in the right role but you know, not every role is going to be the right role!

  15. COBOL Dinosaur*

    Sarah sounds just like me. My issue is caused by ADHD. But we don’t want to try and diagnose but you could offer to help her build some organization skills. And sometimes people don’t realize they are talking too much and don’t take the subtle queues given. I’ve told my coworkers to just tell me outright if I am talking too much.

    1. GL*

      Same! Also not diagnosing, but the combo of impulsively joining nearby chatting + struggling to retain info and prioritize was very familiar; I can empathize with that no matter the cause. I personally would prefer to spend the majority of my work day in total silence, because that’s how I can focus. But if people are chatting outside my door, I can’t tune it out and it can be hard to resist jumping in.

  16. san432*

    Before the popularity of cell phones I had a coworker in the cube next to me who was constantly socializing on her desk phone with outside friends. Boss got the phone bill and told her 40 HOURS a month was too much.

    No she wasn’t getting her work done. I had admin privileges to everyone’s accounts and could see she was doing half the work of her coworkers.

    1. Observer*

      Wow. No one needed to report this to you, though. You / Boss knew that she wasn’t doing her job…

  17. Snark no more!*

    Exactly! Every place I’ve worked has a few people designated to open “questioned” mail.

  18. LlamaLlamaDingDong*

    #1 While I like Allison’s and it may be the first step I think there could also be the route of asking why they are not retaining X and Y. Maybe the chatting is to get out of working on a difficult project. And then telling them they have to focus on that process could be frustrating for Sarah because it doesn’t take your responsibility as a manger that the training isn’t working for them or maybe there isn’t enough training. So while I think Allison’s advice is good, if you want to go that route first check in with Sarah to see how she’s doing as a follow up step 2. If there’s no improvement then maybe there needs to be a review of the process/training material/etc or maybe Sarah needs more support. Or just ask Sarah if there is something she is struggling with/ wants to review first instead of telling her she needs to focus harder/more.

  19. Anonannoy for this*

    This type of question also makes me sad. I’m a niche subject matter expert within a department. The thing is, I’m a member of the department and subgroups for budgetary and reporting structure only. Most of my actual work interaction on projects is directly with clients and other experts. While I get along with colleagues on assignments, no group claims me socially. So WFH has been the same lack of social interaction with co-workers that in-office work has been for years since the last round of cutbacks included my actual peer. But at least now I don’t watch the rest of the project group go off to lunch or cluster for social chats. I’ve learned at this point that most of the time someone actually calls (or before, stopped by) to ask “hey, how are you doing” what they really want is to dump crap only tangentially related to my area of expertise on my desk. So, yeah, lately I’ve ignored the lack of eye contact clue, the walk out of the office clue, the I’m busy now but will stop by later hedge (ha ha, never) – guilty. Sometimes a person just wants to be seen as a person. And on some days, being seen as an annoying person is a win. And yes, my workplace sucks and it isn’t going to change. I’m looking for somewhere else more collaborative.

  20. gude*

    It’s not difficult to say “Hey I’m pretty swamped right now and don’t have time to chat. Can we pick this up later?”

    1. Allonge*

      It really should not be difficult to say it, but it should also not be the case that there is no way to have a shorter than 10 minutes conversation with someone.

      Seriously, I have a colleague who (in the Before Times) would call me with “can I come to your office, I need to give you X” and _that call_ took at least 10 minutes. Just checking that I was there! And then she would come to give me X and tell me the whole story again! Every time. Every 10 minutes she would say, oh, I’ll leave you know I know you are busy, and still stay.

      And, you know, she is a nice person, geuinely interested in people, but, like, aaargh!

  21. Leela*

    Overly Chatty Employee OP:

    I’m autistic and I would have acted exactly like her and have been blamed for “not prioritizing” and “not retaining information” when the real problem is usually one of two things…
    1) the company actually does not have a very good training procedure. A lot of companies just ram someone through information as fast as possible to get them up and running but that does not coincide with how you teach people to actually have them *learn*. A lot of companies also don’t train their trainers and just assume that someone who does the work is naturally good at training which is definitely not the case

    2) these “polite cues” would go completely missed by an autistic woman. Your process is inacessible, regardless of what’s going on with Sarah.

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