my employee eavesdrops on me

A reader writes:

At first I thought I was being paranoid, but on three separate occasions, I’ve wrapped up a closed door conversation others in our C-suite, only to discover my employee directly outside my door.

Our office set-up is odd; we’re essentially one huge office that was cut into thirds–one side is her office with a door, a hallway/narthex, and one side is my office with a door. There is a utility cabinet in the hallway, which she could be using, but she has never been in that cabinet when she’s been caught–she’s practically leaning against my door. How do I handle this? My inclination is to have another employee catch her when I’m in a meeting, but I’m higher than all employees on the org chart, so I hesitate to get unaffected people involved and have the story spread. What should I do?

I answer this question — and two 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:

  • Employee isn’t reporting his hours correctly
  • When people ask for networking help I can’t give

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    What did she say the times you opened the door and she was right there? It would be pretty bold to be openly listening outside your door – is there a more benign possibility like she was just waiting to ask you something?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “It would be pretty bold to be openly listening outside your door”

      This happens more than you might think

      1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

        I guess so – I certainly could never do it! Even if I wanted to eavesdrop I’m sure I would be way too afraid to just stand outside the door :)

        1. Goldenrod*

          “I would be way too afraid to just stand outside the door :)”

          Yeah, agreed! I can remember a few occasions where I really WANTED to do it too, being desperately curious about the private meetings. But I was always too paranoid to actually do it….It’s very audacious to actually eavesdrop like this. It makes me wonder what other boundaries this person is crossing.

          I like Alison’s idea to creep up to the door and suddenly open it during a meeting, hahahhaha!

        2. soontoberetired*

          I know people who have easedropped on conversations. A director at an old job would hide around corners to listen to conversations – old, horrible job. I’ve had co workers who clearly attempt to listen into conversations, including just stopping their own work to turn around and listen in. I would stop my conversations then and ask them what was so interesting they had to stop and listen.

          I’ve also told people their conversations can be overheard so they may not want to use speaker phones at full volume in an office setting where sound travels.

          1. KitCaliKat*

            You would think staying off of speaker phone in the workplace was a no brainer, but I guess not. I ended up going into the office one day I was scheduled to work remotely at my old job and overheard one of my employees having an hour-long endorsement interview for his political campaign on speaker phone while he was on the clock. He was in his office and had the door mostly closed, but he also had the volume up really high on his phone, so I could hear everything when I was standing in the office lobby. Going into my office and shutting the door didn’t help since our offices shared a (very thin) wall.

            That employee made a lot of baffling choices.

        3. Dasein9 (he/him)*

          I did once. Waiting for a meeting and the person before me was getting fired and I heard what was going on and was horrified and thought I was going to be fired too and froze to the spot. Someone came by and did say something that shook me out of it and I backed way off. And thanked that person later, since I really don’t want to be a sneak.

          Oh, and I was not being fired.

      2. LCH*

        OP used the word narthex which describes an area in a church so good chances this is a church admin office. there are some bold, nosy people in churches.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          That caught my attention as well. But the narthex is what in other contexts would be called a foyer or vestibule. The description in the letter does not look to me like a narthex. It would be unusual, though I suppose not impossible, to have a senior person’s office door open to the narthex. For that matter, it would be unusual to write of the “C-suite” of a church. And I would be most surprised by a church using both word. A “narthex,” both the word and the architectural feature, are very old-school. While I can imagine a megachurch talking about their “C-suite,” the combination strikes me as very odd.

          1. Cyndi*

            I parsed the description as basically “my office is across the hallway from my employee’s,” and wasn’t sure what LW finds odd about that at all.

            1. Elsajeni*

              Since both of their offices and that section of “hallway” were once one large space, I would guess that the “hallway” section also has a door that closes it off from the main hallway, and generally looks more room-like than hallway-like. It’s not that weird of a setup, but I wonder if the reason the OP mentions it is that it means the “narthex” space is more like a foyer or waiting room, so it’s a little harder to be sure that the employee is eavesdropping than if she were just, like, lurking in a regular hallway where the only thing people normally do is pass through.

          1. Ex-Teacher*

            Large megachurches might, but most small denominational churches would not have C-level titled employees. Typically a church under 500 weekly attendance (which is most small-medium denominational churches) would have 1-3 clergy on staff, an office assistant/admin, an organist/musician and maybe a custodian on actual payroll. Maybe also a finance person, but that’s rare in small churches. Churches also have a governing board, but those are typically volunteers and they don’t normally have offices at the church.

            A cathedral might have more people on staff, but even then it’s really dependent on what the church actually does which requires more than volunteer help.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              I would amend this to note that church governance models vary wildly. Within a mainline denomination, how any given church is set up is fairly predictable, but it varies from denomination to denomination. Non-denominational churches are the wild west. It can run from the senior pastor being the de facto Pope to the pastor being terrorized by that family that has been there for generations, and everything in between. Catholic churches are wholly owned branches of the diocese. Episcopal churches look that way on paper, but aren’t really. Eastern Orthodox? Heck if I know.

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

          I don’t think its a church. They may have just used that word because they couldn’t think of another way to describe the area. Churches don’t have Csuites

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            I am not personally conversant with the internal organization of megachurches, but many do seem to model themselves on corporations, with the senior pastor in the role of the CEO. I would not be flabbergasted to find them explicitly adopting this sort of language.

        3. Whatevs*

          There are some bold nosey parkers EVERYWHERE. I live in small, cliquey town and everyone knows your business and makes it their business to know your business. It actually makes me feel a little paranoid! I miss the anonymity of a larger city.

      3. AnonForThis*

        My division at work is now all WFH, partially for space requirements (over-full office), but I found out from former officemates that they miss having our group there, as the people in our old desks are (among other flaws) snoops.

        Most of the office is comprised of large, somewhat high-walled cubicles, with some private offices for managers, and our cubes were along the same “aisle” with theirs, with wide-open access to the cubes along the aisle. So you could clearly see anything that they were doing if you peered to look, and a fair amount of intentional ignoring needed to be done if phone calls were happening. You learned to tune anything out from your directly-across-the-aisle neighbor, or used noise-cancelling headphones if you couldn’t.

        These colleagues told me they’d noticed a lot of craning to listen / look on the part of these new officemates, and even that they were lurking around outside meeting doors.

        One evening they had a late-ish meeting (after 5, not the usual timeframe for the new people), in a manager office (closed door) located in the larger office space for our department. Upon leaving the meeting they noticed one of the ‘usual suspects’ moving away in a suspicious manner. The next day, an email went out from another department, basically Administration, with wrong information (an obvious mishearing/misinterpretation) relating to what had been discussed at the previous night’s meeting. So one of them had snooped, then tried to rat out something to administration but got it wrong.

        The worst part? The snooped-on people are in Corporate Compliance.

    2. Observer*

      is there a more benign possibility like she was just waiting to ask you something?

      *Highly* unlikely. Because waiting right outside the door to ask a question has never made a lot of sense. Once, maybe. But *3 times*. No, that’s “missile incoming”.

      And that’s even if we assume that she never learned how to use email.

      1. LWH*

        Why is it highly unlikely? Maybe she’s just the type who is nervous to interrupt the boss. I’ve seen people that I knew to be socially anxious standing around waiting silently for some higher up to get to them, EVERY time they had a question, while the higher up doesn’t even realize that’s what they’re doing because they expect them to just actually get their attention and ask.

    3. AngryOctopus*

      I’d also be upset if an employee was just waiting at my door to ask me something when I was in a meeting, so I’d be speaking to her about that if it were true. You can email me or message me if you need me after a meeting. Don’t wait around outside my door!! It’s not a good use of time!

      1. StressedButOkay*

        Yeeeeep. In the early days of working, I did that once or twice because I was learning the ropes of just How to Work (and also I am an awkward person so I was just like…well, I’m here, now what lol). My bosses gently corrected me into sending an email or checking their calendar to see when they’d be free.

        This is someone who is clearly trying to catch C-Suite gossip but they’re not very good at being sly.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        Depends on the manager. I literally had to do that multiple times with a previous boss because she was literally impossible to catch otherwise. She would frequently just ignore texts, emails, and desperate smoke signals despite always looking at her work cell in meetings. Sometimes stalking her absolutely was the best use of my time because I literally could not move forward without her approval.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          To be clear though, I didn’t stand directly outside her door (just where I could see when it opened) and I couldn’t hear anything.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      So that would be a ridiculous waste of time–she could be standing there doing nothing for 20 minutes. Which would also need to be addressed.

      1. design ghost*

        But we don’t actually know how long they were standing there. They might have left and come back a few times to see if the meeting was wrapping up so they could talk to the LW.

    5. Rainy*

      I’ve known of people getting moved out of their unit’s office suite and foisted onto some other unit for being caught with a glass to the wall eavesdropping on conversations above their pay grade. It happens so much more often than you think.

    6. Antilles*

      Even if she had a question and was waiting to ask, it doesn’t really make sense to wait around like that. She has no idea how long the meeting is going to take. Any reasonable person would email/Teams you if it’s low priority or possibly knock-and-interrupt if it’s truly ASAP urgent.
      At most, I could see her lingering for a few seconds outside the closed door just to listen for voices to tell whether you’re on a call/meeting or not (since in the latter case, it might be more acceptable to knock even though the door is closed). But that’s like 15 seconds tops, so it’s rather unlikely that OP would happen to coincidentally open the door during that exact narrow slice of time – and certainly not three separate times.

      1. LWH*

        We don’t know how long she’s standing there, but honestly, some people aren’t actually good at office norms. I’ve had plenty of socially awkward coworkers who absolutely would just stand there like that because they don’t know what else to do.

    7. Lucia Pacciola*

      “What did she say the times you opened the door and she was right there?”

      I get unreasonably frustrated when the letter seems to be missing some obvious steps or info. A lot of times I’m left wondering, “what did your manager say when you brought it up with them?” This time, like you, I’m wondering what the interaction was, when the employee was found almost leaning on the manager’s door.

  2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    Get a white noise machine and put it right next to the door, you can get them on Amazon for $25 and it will drown out your conversation so they cannot hear it. I use these outside my office for sessions.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        …Doesn’t a Ring also eavesdrop and record conversations for later? I feel like that might be fighting fire with gasoline.

        1. MM*

          It does. And a lot of police departments have agreements with Amazon to access footage. I hate how common these things are.

      2. Cmdrshprd*

        I think OP should have a meeting to discuss how a certain employee from another office is doing poorly and they are going to be put on a PIP/fired, and it just happens that the employee’s first name is also the same first name as the suspected eavesdropping employee.

        Or have a discussion about the need to cut expenses and no longer provide coffee for employees.

        Not sure if employee only eavesdrops on in person meetings, but if they do phonecalls as well, OP could have a phone call with no one else actually on the line so there is not possible way for anyone else to overhear.

    1. CV*

      Agreed. If the employee is actually eavesdropping, this will result in it not being worth it, so they will likely stop.

    2. Lucia Pacciola*

      Or just talk to the employee about their behavior. This is a Chief Officer of a corporation. They certainly have the standing to tell their own direct reports, “this is not a lobby, I don’t want you hanging out here anymore.”

      1. Bog Witch*

        For real. White noise machines? Ring cameras? How about the $0, lower-effort option of just telling the employee to stop?

        1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

          Oh they definitely need to tell them to stop but also have the insurance of the white noise machine to ensure that the payout of listening does exist. My stance may be skewed from working in SO many toxic work environments that I feel the need to always CYA.

        2. LWH*

          Especially because telling them to stop removes the motive entirely. It doesn’t really sound to me like the employee is eavesdropping, but it doesn’t matter if she’s eavesdropping or waiting and doesn’t want to interrupt–either way, you want her to stop standing at your door. You’re the boss and can tell her you’d prefer her not stand at the door. If she says it’s because she doesn’t want to interrupt you, tell her how you’d prefer she handles that. Buying gadgets is completely pointless here, you can’t sidestep management decisions with white noise machines.

  3. Evil Queen of Dysfunction*

    #3 Is there an employee referral section in the application process? If it is someone you know, recommend they do that.

    1. Random Dice*

      I’d be annoyed at someone who nonconsensually offered me as an in to strangers. That’s very presumptuous, and not how networking works.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Agreed. An employee referral is daying “I think this person would do well here.” It’s not something I want anyone to use without my explicit permission.

      2. House On The Rock*

        I’d feel zero responsibility to acknowledge the emails. It’s really presumptuous and I’d hope that the actual job applicant would be chagrined!

        1. Michelle Smith*

          What? Why? As a job applicant, I can absolutely imagine reaching out to my network for a referral for a competitive employer. And if one of my colleagues said “hey, I know Jamie over at ABC Corp. and she’d be happy to pass on your resume,” I would assume that my colleague had actually talked to Jamie to make sure that was okay with them before offering! Why on earth would I be the one who should be chagrined that my colleague didn’t do basic verification first?

  4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I love learning words. Today alone I discovered both “jackwagon” and “narthex”.

      1. H3llifIknow*

        My favorites are: an explosive “Sun On the Beach”, “Jackhole”, and when I *really want* to drop an F -bomb in a “don’t do that” situation: ” “Fahrvergnugen” (German for “enjoy the drive” but SOUNDS like a bad word!)

        1. Cyndi*

          When I make a major mistake I’ll sometimes say I “honked it up,” instead of f—ed, which I may have picked up from watching Adventure Time? It definitely sounds like the way characters fake-swear on that show.

            1. I Have RBF*

              In IT systems are often referred to as “borken” or “borked”, as a portmanteau of broken and fucked.

          1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

            I use “jackhole” since I like the before and after of the phrase if you don’t omit the middle part.

  5. Enginerd*

    Why not just put up a camera to catch the eavesdropper and find out what’s going on? They’re cheap and common in plenty of workplaces.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      In a lot of workplaces, unauthorized cameras are against the rules. And in some states, that would be illegal without a notification that you’re filming.

      1. another Hero*

        additionally, the vibe is just off. jumping to cameras feels like an unnecessary (Alison has offered other suggestions!) jump toward a climate of surveillance and mistrust.

      2. H3llifIknow*

        Yep. Colleagues years ago set up a camera over a coworker who was notorious for sleeping at his desk. They streamed it on the internal network to a select number of people. When it got found out, they ALL got fired, and the sleeping coworker not only didn’t lose his job, I believe (if the grapevine is true) that he got a settlement not to sue anyone!

        1. La Triviata*

          At a place where I used to work, there were people who negated any need for eavesdropping – they were ordinarily loud enough that you could hear them anywhere in the office.

      3. LWH*

        Maybe something’s just in the air this week or maybe it’s always like this and I don’t notice, but I am starting to think it’d be a good idea to remove comments making suggestions that are literally illegal in a lot of places. Seen a lot of those recently. Doesn’t have to be malicious, not everyone knows they’re suggesting something that can be a crime, but you don’t want LWs or people in similar situations to take those suggestions.

    2. Lucia Pacciola*

      “Why not just put up a camera to catch the eavesdropper and find out what’s going on?”

      Because it’s a lot of hassle? What’s the endgame here? “Ha-HA! The camera clearly shows you with your ear to my door. You’re busted!”

      This is a manager and an employee. Just tell them you don’t want them hanging around outside your office.

    3. tinaturner*

      Yes! Maybe it’s legality. Pulling the door open all of a sudden might work too, then acting shocked. “What are you DOING?” might convey it.

  6. Luanne Platter*

    #2 the timecard issue is one that seems easy on its face (just have a conversation!) but in practice can be intimidating for newer managers or those who don’t like confrontation. But so, so critical to get it right with payroll.

    1. Artemesia*

      When someone is new, it is no big deal to ‘clear up the misunderstanding’. time card fraud is actually one of the things that gets people fired in places where firings are uncommon.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      My concern would be that, if someone is not able to handle a discussion about the proper way to complete a timecard, are they appropriately equipped to handle some of the more challenging issues they may deal with as a manager? Timecard issues are one of the easiest issues to address as a manger because time is generally objective, and being paid for the hours you work isn’t really a subjective call.

      Timecards are straightforward, and a lot of places have actual policies in place about how they are to be filled out (written, even). The first approach can be one of making sure that the process is clear and there is no confusion about it. Give a specific example. After that, it becomes a bigger issue. Timecard fraud is also one of the easiest termination points there is. Policy says X, you did Y. We told you to do X on 1, 2, and 3 dates, provided the policy all three times, and advised on date 3 that not following policy would be grounds for termination. You are continuing to do Y, so today is your last day.

      1. Busy Middle Manager*

        We don’t know the nature of the job, but this ironically-to-some may not be the easiest/most clear cut conversation to have as a manager. It’s a forum for people to discuss whether their job is truly butt-in-seat, how someone can produce more by working more or less hours, how people who follow the hours rules to a tee may not be performing as well, the need for some sort of accommodation they were afraid to ask for may come up. You may very well leave the conversation finding out your employee automated part of their job and needs to drop off their kid at a time that gets them there at 8:45. Then what? Are you going to insist they show up at 8:30?

        And those aren’t actually bad points to make, if it’s not 100% clear IF it’s not 100% clear to you as a manager why time sheets need to be so specific. But again, it’s company specific.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Hourly people need to be accurate on their time sheets. Even if their actual hours are flexible, and their arrival time is “somewhere between 7 am and 9 am”, they still need to put down their actual arrival time, usually to the nearest 5 minute mark. Flexing your time does not mean falsifying your time sheet.

          Even when working remotely, when I was hourly I put down the actual time I started work. When working for the government/on a government contract, there can actually be criminal penalties for falsifying time records.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            This. In my position I can be up to 10 mins late without notifying my supervisor (we are not butts-in-seat and I often make that up over lunch or if not by sticking around a bit after). If I’m going to be later than that, I’m expected to note it on my timesheet.

        2. Dancing Otter*

          The issue, as I see it, is lying on the timesheet. The arrival time may or may not be an issue, depending on circumstances, but falsifying payroll records is ALWAYS a problem.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          The issue is not whether being late is okay. The LW says there is some flexibility in hours, so I take them at their word that the actual arrival time is not a problem. Not recording hours to be paid accurately is what’s happening here, and I’ve yet to work in a place that was fine with nonexempt employees lying on their time cards and routinely getting paid for hours more than they worked. You talk to them once to make sure they understand their time card has to match their hours worked and then handle per company policy.

    3. Orange You Glad*

      Yea. My company’s policy is everyone must clock out for a minimum 30 min break every day – it doesn’t matter if you eat lunch or want a break. Almost every new employee I’ve had (especially new to the workforce employees) pushes back on this requirement because they want to work through lunch and leave early. I think the company has the policy because we are a large company with employees all over the US so this policy is a uniform way of making sure every state’s labor laws are followed. I just tell the employee we have to do it this way due to labor laws.

      I am flexible with everyone. If they truly can do good work without a break and have a need to leave early, I encourage them to keep their timesheet reflecting the break and a full 8 hrs worked and then leave early.

    4. Orv*

      It may also be a culture thing. I have worked for companies that were super loose about time sheets; one manager actually told me “regardless of how long lunch takes, just put 30 minutes.” I’ve also worked at places that didn’t want any fractions other than half hours, and others that did timesheets to three decimal places.

      If this employee came from a place that was loose about them, they may need to be told you do them more strictly.

      1. Flexjob*

        This was my company. The job should’ve been salaried as being on-clock made no sense, but a local law required it to be classified as hourly due to some legal past. My boss verbally told me my time was flexible and he didn’t care as long as the work was done.

      2. Formerly Ella Vader*

        Yes. Managers should be aware that customs are different at different places, and should give clear direction. Senior peers who explaining things to newbies can also be helpful about this, with tips like “Sometimes they send us all home early on Fridays and that means you can still put 4:30 pm on your timesheet – but if you’re leaving early for another reason, even if they say it’s okay, you should put your actual departure time on your sheet” or “They aren’t concerned about people showing up 10 minutes late, but they do notice. Be sure to report your actual time / make up the time by staying later, or it will hurt your reputation.”

    5. Kay*

      If a manager, no matter how new, is too intimidated to have a “this is how timecards work” conversation then they aren’t ready to be a manager. There are some things which are an absolute requirement of the job – as manager – say something to employees who are stealing from us shouldn’t need to be spelled out.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        If someone is so confrontation averse they can’t do a timesheet convo, imagine how thing will go down when they have to tell an employee to do something about their body odor, stop making anything-ist comments, their half-hour chit chat is bothering their coworker regularly, or why selling their MLM at work is not okay.

        And I have it easy, the head of HR deals with the really crazy shit.

  7. mreasy*

    When someone I trust professionally asks if I can pass along a contact/friend of theirs, I will do so and include the caveat “I don’t know this candidate, but I worked with the person referring them at X and always found them to have good judgment, so I wanted to flag” and that’s it! HR can decide whether they want to look based on that minor connection or not, probably based on how it has been finding good candidates. My company is smaller though, so it seems super reasonable to decline for anything far away from your area.

  8. smt*

    I have to wonder how much the potential eavesdropper can really hear if she didn’t hear you end the call and still stood there.

    Either way good advice was given, I would just directly ask the person what is it that they need if tbey were standing outside my door.

  9. Dust Bunny*

    I had a coworker when I first started at Current Job, when we used to write out our hours by hand, who would put 8:00-12:00, 1:00-5:00 even though he regularly came in late, took longer lunches, and left early. When his supervisor addressed it, he insisted, “But those are my hours!” As in, they were the hours he was scheduled to work, not that they were the hours he actually worked.

    He didn’t last.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      When I started my first temp job, the online time system was super confusing (if you hit tab, it moved down the list of time entry, which was six minute increments, instead of going to the next box, for one). The company also worked on a 37.5 hour week. I didn’t know this until the admin came to me like 4 weeks after I started, because 1-I had made an egregious error on my time reporting that I didn’t notice, because I was trying to tab through fields and didn’t see it changing my time, and 2-finally said “we work a 37.5 hour week here, and we didn’t budget for overtime for the last few weeks”. Umm, OK, you should have TOLD ME about the 37.5 hour week thing, this is the first I’m hearing of it, and also I hated that stupid timesheet system all summer (I was a contractor through an agency so I believe I hated the agency for that one).
      I wasn’t actively falsifying my timecard like this dude though, but it’s not always immediately obvious how one should log their hours, esp. if they’re not coming from a previous professional job where they had to do the same things (and thus might know to ask)

      1. Orange You Glad*

        Yea our system lets someone autofill their regular schedule for everyday, which is fine as a starting point, but when you are 30 mins late you need to update the hours for that day. I try not to be concerned down to the minute, but don’t put a start time of 8:30 if you are strolling in a few mins after 9.

  10. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’d just talk to the employee! No need to wait for it to happen again or go sleuthing. I like Alison’s suggested wording, or would suggest mentioning the eavesdropping outright.

    “Hey, I’ve noticed you standing right outside my door while I meet with senior leaders. I don’t want to assume you are eavesdropping on confidential conversations, but moving forward I’d prefer you not linger outside my door while I’m having closed door meetings.

  11. AngryOctopus*

    LW#2, you have to be clear with this employee. It’s very possible (if he’s not completely new to the workforce) that he’s from a place that said “enter your hours this way no matter what” and also did not give extra work–your tasks were your tasks, and when you were done you were done.
    Please be sure that if the time itself doesn’t matter, but the accuracy of the timecard is your goal, to make sure you’re not telling him that clocking in at 8:45 is out of bounds (assuming it’s not, of course, but this doesn’t sound like a customer facing role where it would matter). Just sit him down, be clear about timecard expectations, and that he can and should ask for more work (esp if he wants to move up eventually, even if not necessarily at your company) to stretch himself. He may not realize! Give him the chance first and see where it goes.

  12. doreen*

    About the timesheet – you have to be clear with the employee. You don’t know what sort of environment he came from. I had a job that was a weird mix of treating people as exempt in some ways and non-exempt in others. You got paid extra for all hours over 37.5. People had to fill out timesheets but they were only expected to be approximately accurate – it was just fine to write 8:30 – 4:30 if you really worked 9-5. Aside from a 30 minute lunch break, breaks were only counted as breaks if you actually left the building and were unavailable. Your job was your job and as long as everything was done on time, all was good even if it meant you had a few hours a week with no work. Would have been very difficult to go from that to a job where timesheets were to be completely accurate and you were expected to ask for more work when yours was done.

  13. Anya Lastnerve*

    I had a guy who worked for me once who was similarly not reporting his hours correctly. We worked on open work space and I would see him come in at 9 but put that he arrived at 8:30. I finally talked to him and said you have to put in accurate times and I let him know that several years back, some employees were fired after an audit discovered they were inaccurately entering time (the place we worked had you badge in and out of the building so you had a record of went people arrived and left) – not as a threat, but to underscore the importance of being accurate. He took it fine and adjusted accordingly.

  14. Busy Middle Manager*

    #1 – you need to start trying to speak in code in a way so they gleen nothing from your conversations. We used to joke about this in our pretty open setup, but my coworker would be on the phone and say things like “as per the last call when we discussed that interesting situation, I think we should go ahead with what Sally had wanted to do. And then do the thing Sam had expressed in the previous email.” And we’d joke about how we had no clue what the other person was talking about, but someone the person on the phone did

    #3 hits on my pet peeve. When so few white collar jobs are hiring (or are only hiring for niche/technical roles if they really have to) it’s so annoying to keep getting told “network network!” why? So I can put my previous coworkers in the awkward position of them telling me their job has a hiring freeze, or that all of the jobs on their new job’s board are never actually filled?

  15. CompHR*

    I used to work in an office space that we shared with accounting. We had office doors and everything, but there were multiple times we stepped out our offices after a sensitive meeting and saw the accounting folks leaning outside the offices, listening. We complained to their supervisor multiple times but they just said it was a shared space – can’t expect them not to lean on the walls closest to the Hr side with no work for them to do in that space (no files or anything). It got so notoriously bad that people were asking to meet us off site rather than in our offices. Finally, they moved us to another location and the problem was solved.

  16. JP*

    My mom once stopped by my office to quickly drop off some papers for me. I went downstairs, met her just outside the door to the building in the parking lot, we did the handoff and chatted a moment, and then she left. I turned around to go back into the building and I saw my doofus coworker in one of the empty VP offices watching us through the window while trying to conceal herself behind a filing cabinet. It was so idiotic looking, I felt secondhand embarrassment for her.

    I do love the idea of an accomplice walking by the meeting room while the coworker is trying to eavesdrop and loudly greeting them so that everyone in the meeting room can hear.

      1. JP*

        People in that office were weird and nosy and petty. I think she was trying to catch me red handed doing…something? It was a family owned business, and she was a third generation nepotism hire. I have long since moved on.

      2. WellRed*

        Totally cracking up! Coworker would have been better off just standing in the window looking out rather than lurking.

  17. I should really pick a name*


    When it comes to recommendations, you have no obligations to your former colleagues.

    It’s the kind thing to do if you think that they’re right for the job, and if you don’t recommend them, don’t expect them to recommend you, but it’s not something you’re obligated to do.

    As to their friends, they’re strangers, so you aren’t in a position to be recommending them.

    1. NotBatman*

      Agreed! My partner works for a very attractive company in his field, and he gets 3 – 4 emails a week from people who “just want to connect” and “pick [his] brain about what it’s like to work there.” They’re super annoying, and do nothing to affect the job hunt one way or another — unless the email is extremely demanding/rude, at which point he passes it on to the hiring manager and it hurts the candidate’s chances.

  18. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    I’m picturing Mrs. a-Whiggins standing outside Mr. Tudball’s door, unable to decide to knock, but incapable of turning around to leave, so she’s frozen there until the door opens.

    1. Gemstones*

      Because you don’t even know the person IS eavesdropping…how do we know she’s not waiting to go in to talk to LW1? Firing someone for standing outside a door is ridiculous.

  19. Tiger Snake*

    Why is it not possible that the employee is waiting and just listening to see if you’re still talking, or if she could knock/interrupt? You don’t actually hear words if you do that, you’re just paying attention to the flow of the conversation.

    1. Gemstones*

      One of the few reasonable comments here…what’s with all the “fire her,” “put in hidden cameras!” comments?!

  20. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    I would be tempted to get up during meetings in my office and then suddenly yank the door open.
    Ms NoseyParker might fall through the door and land on that nose. That would bring a good opportunity to then ask what the hell she is doing.

  21. K*

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect total privacy at work. If a conversation CAN be heard through a door then I always assume that it IS being heard through the door. I’m a teacher, so there are times I want actual privacy with a student, and I will take steps to ensure that we aren’t overheard like standing deliberately far from any doors and speaking softer than I usually would. While this person might be deliberately eavesdropping, someone accidentally overhearing is far more likely. OP should take steps to mitigate the chances of that happening.

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