Question: I work with a woman who I have discovered is having an affair with my husband and assisted him in moving out of my house. I have filed divorce papers and he is hiding and living with her. She is making my work life horrible as well. We sit on the same team and she undermines and questions all my actions. What can I do?
I was wondering what to do about my boss’s daughter. I have been here two years and was hired 2 months prior to her but she gets all the recognition for everything. My boss (her father) talks to customers and friends about how she handles his biggest account in the business and she is only 20 years old. However, she needs everyone’s help since she doesn’t know how to do it herself without messing up.
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about one’s career direction:
I have worked at a recreational center for almost four years now. I work different attractions and ensure everyone is enjoying their time there. We are always interacting with customers as many kids come for birthday parties and are very excited to be there. Many of my coworkers are in high school or college like me, most of which don’t do their jobs as they should.
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to
respond to being pushed out of a job.
I work in a very small office, one attorney and two legal assistants, including myself. I worked under an attorney who recently retired, and am finishing up working on his cases with the other attorney. However, the case load is very light, leading me to have little to do at times. The remaining attorney is still taking on cases, and has many on his plate at the moment.
My issue is with the other legal assistant, who was working directly under the remaining attorney. When I was first hired, I was promised to learn several skills, including bookkeeping. However, throughout my time here, the other legal assistant has constantly shut me out of learning how to do many of the office manager-type duties, things that I was told I would be doing when I accepted the job.
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about overtime abuse:
How to prove your colleague is wrongly getting overtime? I’m inquiring because my coworker has been putting unnecessary O/T for a while now. He is conducting normal business hours duties on overtime after not working for majority of the business days. There is a lot more to the story, but I would like to start with proving his overtime abuse. PS My manager told me my coworker works after hours but does not get paid for it and I really feel strongly that is false.
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about workplace conflict.
Note to the author of this question: We sent our response to the email address you provided, but it was returned as invalid. We’re hoping you will come back to the site to see our advice about your workplace concern!
I recently became president among the workers in our unit. The rest of our colleagues (whom we dubbed the Red Sparrows) are always sucking up to whoever new administrator comes to our unit. They badmouth our admin to us and if we agree with them, they report it to her. They expose our flaws which are already personal and has nothing to do with them. We tried to settle it personally face to face and they agreed but they still work underground and I still hear whispering of rumors. Worse, our new admin is a manipulative one and uses our faults to control us. What do we do? Please help.
You are the president of your employee group, which means you have a leadership role. You obviously care about the well-being of your group, as shown by the fact that you took the time to write to us to ask for some assistance. I hope you will use your leadership role to encourage and enable everyone to feel as positive as possible about being at work. Any work is tiresome enough without having upsetting situations on our minds.
I’m not clear about whether or not the colleagues to which you refer are part of another group or part of the group of which you are the employee president. If they are part of another group and have their own president, perhaps you can work with that person to build a better workplace. If they are part of your group, you should be careful to not take sides, so you can represent everyone in your president role.
You said that you and others on one side of the conflict, refer to a group of your coworkers as “The Red Sparrows”—referring, I assume, to the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, in which Sparrows are female Russian spies who use sex to get information. If some of your coworkers have lied and tried to get you and others in trouble, I can understand your dislike of their behaviors. However, as the leader of the group, you shouldn’t participate in that kind of labeling and you should stop it when others do it. If those other coworkers find out about the name and decide to go to managers about it, you and your group would rightfully get into trouble. The group you dislike would look like the victims and your group would look like the bad guys, which is not what you want!
The next thing you mention is that sometimes a coworker in the other group will say something negative about the administrator. If one of your group says she agrees with the critical remark, the person making it goes and tells the administrator. So, the person who agreed gets in trouble, but not the person who started the bad-mouthing. My first thought upon reading that was that a person would have to be very foolish to engage in a criticizing conversation with someone they don’t trust. Even people you trust will sometimes repeat things that get to the ears of the person you’re talking about. That is another reason why you should use your leadership role to help your team focus more on work and less on negative talk.
You were wise to try to help resolve the conflict by talking directly to the other group, even though it seems the good outcome didn’t last very long. However, positive efforts like that are never wasted. It could be that one or two or more of the group would like to get along better with the rest of you and will be more encouraged to try to make that happen. At least, if the administrator talks to you about the situation, you can say what you have tried to accomplish. Even the other group will have to admit that you and others tried to improve relationships.
Your group will be much, much better off if you make a commitment to each other, to set an example of courtesy, civility and cooperation. You’ll feel better, people will see you in a better light, and your administrator will notice it too.
That brings us to your comment that your administrator uses the faults of employees to control them. I don’t know exactly what that might involve, but perhaps you mean that once she identifies a problem with an employee’s performance or behavior, she focuses on that problem and uses it as a reason to watch and wait to criticize and make the employee feel badly. Or, perhaps she threatens them with sanctions or being fired and keeps them worried about it all the time.
You may be correct in your opinion that your administrator is devious and controlling. I’ve met a few managers—and employees—who fit that description and I know how frustrating and depressing that can be. However, if each of you fulfill your job descriptions, follow the rules and are pleasant to work with, your administrator will have nothing to manipulate anyone about. It might not make her more likable, but at least it will take away the ammunition she has used to make employees feel anxious.
Keep in mind that the role of an administrator is to see to it that work is done correctly and on time, in a work environment that doesn’t represent a problem for the business. Ideally, supervisors, managers and administrators are concerned about the feelings of employees and will try to create a positive workplace. But the reality of work is that, although we can’t require bosses to be nice, they can require us to do our jobs correctly. It’s what we were hired to do and unless we are being asked to do something illegal or humanly impossible, it is what we should do, every day. That kind of focus on good work and good behavior, is the only way to be sure we’re not the ones creating the problems.
I also want to remind you of this: Quite often people who are chosen as leaders of employee groups feel that their primary job is to stand up for the employees, no matter what. After a while, every issue becomes “us versus them” and the leader feels he or she has to lead the fight. But, it doesn’t have to be that way—and shouldn’t be. For one thing, the employees aren’t paying your salary, so your first responsibility is to do your job. For another thing, you will wear yourself out trying to keep everyone in your group happy and trying to resolve every conflict in favor of your group.
If you are working in a professional environment (and the fact that you have an administrator leads me to think you are), each adult is intelligent enough to work through their own problems. Your job is to represent them to management, if they can’t seem to solve problems themselves, then let management take action if they choose to do so.
You are in an ideal situation to suggest to your administrator that all employees could benefit from regular meetings, with her participating, to talk about organizational goals, new equipment, new procedures and solutions to common work problems. At the same time, there could be an opportunity to talk about the best examples of teamwork and cooperation since the last meeting and to discuss issues that may be caused by misunderstandings or miscommunication.
If your administrator doesn’t want to have those meetings, you could lead the way in talking about those things at break time or during casual conversations. You can help the whispering and rumors be replaced by smiles, good cheer and looking to the future. There will always be the occasional gripe or frustration, but there shouldn’t be active hostility and resentment of people or the work.
At the end of your description of work, you asked, “What do we do?” When there is a conflict, it is human nature to hope for a way to stop the behaviors of others. But, as you correctly expressed it, the only thing you and your group have control over are your own actions and reactions. Take control of your role as the president of the group and don’t let your desire to help, drag you and them down into an unhappy pit of anger and despair. The other employees don’t have the power to ruin your daily work or get anyone in serious trouble, unless you and your group give them that power, through your own behaviors.
Help your group think of ways they can respond to conversations that have led to problems in the past. For example, if someone else criticizes the administrator, a good way to respond is to disrupt the conversation and say something like, “Oh well, I don’t have any control over any of that, so I just focus on work and think about the weekend. Do you have anything fun planned?” (That may sound completely unrealistic, but you get the idea.) It is very helpful to have a few scripts you can use, when you may not normally be able to think of a quick and useful response.
Another thing that may help is to think and talk about the value of your work to others, to your community, to your families, to each of you as individuals. Having a job is about more than the salary, although that is the most important part for many people. Having a job is about providing a service or a product or supporting someone who is providing a service or product—and we have a lot of years to do it in.
As the years go by, do you want to be involved in a workplace with unhappy drama like this all the time? Or, do you want to be able to come to work, have a good time, do something worthwhile and go home? The only way to have that good outcome is to see the squabbling, gossiping and picking at each other, for what it is—useless and time-wasting behavior that accomplishes nothing good.
I’m not implying that the hurt and anger you and others sometimes feel is completely unjustified. But, based on your description, I would guess that some of the colleagues you are upset with, feel that they have been wronged too. Now is a good time to stop all of that, by focusing more and more on the work of your unit, whatever that is. If there was a crisis right now, everyone would need to work together and they would find a way to do it. Find the way when there isn’t a crisis and all of you will enjoy work much more
Best wishes to you in your leadership role and in your work and life. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how you work through this situation.
Ask the Workplace Doctors
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about loud music in a factory.
I am working in a factory together with other people in same area and one of them plays rock music on his sound system at maximum volume nearly all day. I am the one that works with him and we are the closest ones to sound system all day (1-2 meters). Neither me or anyone else have a problem with music being played, as long as it is on a decent volume.
I have to mention that we work in a factory near an oven that makes noise, but as soon as he starts playing music, I cannot hear that oven (being in the middle between the radio and oven) Is there any law that I can find on a official website so I can print it and “hit my manager over the face” with it so he takes action about this ?
It may be that you are outside the United States, so perhaps there are workplace health and safety regulations (rather than law violations) that apply. Even when there are health and safety requirements about noise, workplace noise complaints are usually more easily handled by supervisors and managers. The matter is discussed in this article Business Management. The article doesn’t provide helpful advice, but it reinforces the fact that managers are responsible for reducing conflict at work–and music is a prime source of conflict.
Since you say you want to “hit your manager over the face” with information about a law, I assume you have talked to him about it and he hasn’t done anything, so you are doubly frustrated. Consider some of the following thoughts:
*Do you have an employee union or council that could support you, if you presented a request to them?
*Have you put your complaint in writing to your supervisor or just talked about it to him?
*Have other employees complained also? Would they be willing to write their complaints?
*Have you told your coworker that the loud music is too loud for you to be able to concentrate on work and you would like for him to turn down the volume?
*Have you tried wearing noise reducing ear protection? For example, instead of only blocking out noise, could you play a “white noise” or “pink noise” sound, to add an element of calm to your day?
If you write a complaint to your supervisor or to anyone else, there are some things you will need to include. I’ll mention them here, so you can think about how you want to communicate your concerns.
*Put the focus on how the music has a negative effect on your work and on your emotional and physical well-being. Think about this and be able to put the negative effect in writing as well as verbally.
Do your ears ring after work?
Are you unable to hear announcements or needed work conversations?
Does the music combined with the oven sound create a double negative impact on your hearing?
Has your ability to work with that coworker decreased because of the hostile feelings this situation has caused?
If you have talked to the coworker about it, has his response been courteous or does he act as though he doesn’t care about the results of his actions?
*Consider this: If the music was lower, would the oven noise be just as much of an irritant? Someone may ask you about it, so have a response to that question. I would think the oven noise is more of a constant mechanical roar or whirring sound, while music, although sometimes softer, is much more distracting, especially when it is loud and if there are vocals with it. It’s impossible to shut out all the lyrics.
*Was there ever a time when the only noise was the oven? If so, when the coworker first started playing his music, was the volume at the current loud level right away or has it increased since then?
*Do other people have sound systems and do they play loud music too?
*Big question: How much do you think the employee would have to lower the volume, for it to be tolerable? Does it need to be half its current volume? Suggest an amount, as a way to say that you are not asking that the music be turned off, just turned down.
When you write to your supervisor, ask for action, rather than only bringing the matter to his attention again. For example, “I have complained about this before, but nothing has been done. Now the problem is so severe than I am putting it in writing to emphasize that I want action taken to make work more tolerable for me and others who have to work around loud music.”
You manager is not obligated to take action, but strongly asking for it might at least make him investigate the situation more closely and talk to several people about it. The action might be to have you wear noise reducing ear protection or just to have the employee lower the volume somewhat. Let your supervisor know if the remedy doesn’t stop the problem. You can do that while still being cooperative and courteous.
I wish there was a magic answer for you, so you would not have to deal with this irritating and potentially harmful situation. But perhaps you can get some relief by insisting on it and enlisting the aid of others.
Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, please let us know what happens. It might be very useful for us to share with others.
Ask the Workplace Doctors
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to stop a coworker from meddling, interrupting and interfering in the work of others.
I work in an office of around twenty people. One member of staff causes problems for the rest by constantly snooping and interfering. She eavesdrops on every conversation and feels the need to comment on matters that are no relation to her job or department. Every decision I or anyone else makes is questioned by her, despite the majority of matters having no effect on her.
It is driving us all insane as we have no privacy and are being questioned by a lower ranked member of staff on a daily basis. Our office manager turns a blind eye to these kind of things and avoids any form of dispute. Numerous polite requests for the person in question to mind her own business have been ignored. How can we handle this individual?
In summary, a coworker (female, I gather) asks questions and gives opinions about the work of others, to the point of interfering and being a work distraction. In the past you and others have “politely” asked her to mind her own business. I expect, if it was polite, it was just a hint—and she didn’t take it. You don’t say what her job title is, but you do mention that she is a lower ranked member of staff. That could mean less tenure or being a support position to the rest of you or having a job title that is considered lower in grade, or a combination.
Here are some things for you and the others to consider:
1. This is a reminder that some of the behaviors that are encouraged in career-building classes (show your interest and engagement) are the very behaviors that can create problems at work. The same thing goes for team-building efforts. There is a lot of talk about empowering employees, to the point of generating the very situation you’re describing. The truth is that not all members of any team have the same roles or tasks. Someone completely outside an area can provide a perspective, but it will not be based on knowledge or experience.
Human nature being what it is, if they have been sincerely asked for their input, it will usually be welcomed. If they try to push their way in, they are seen as pests who should be taking care of their own work. That may not be completely fair to an interested employee, but it is a reality of work in a busy office.
2. This also may be a case of an open-office, where people from several areas of the business have their work spaces, but by tacit agreement, they do not involve themselves in the work of other units or departments. Your coworker may have missed the “tacit agreement” part. She may never have even been told about her work boundaries. Unfortunately, it sounds as though it will be up to the rest of you to let her know about it. (Just make sure she is not being encouraged by some of you. If that is the case, they should be the ones to tell her that the back-and-forth about work is just between them.)
For example, one office with which I’m familiar has marketing spaces next to legal spaces. No one would think it appropriate for the marketing people to overhear a conversation about a legal issue and walk around the cubicles to suggest a better way to handle a lawsuit. However, a year or so ago a new employee in Legal, peered over his cubicle after hearing a marketing phone call, to comment on it. If he had waited until another time, it would probably have gone over OK, but it gave the appearance that he was just sitting there taking it all in (which he probably was.)
The Marketing manager heard him and said, pleasantly, “I appreciate your interest, Kevin, but every department in this company is so different that except for things we’re mutually involved with, we only have time to pay attention to our own lanes. No offense, just wanted you to know.” That was the end of it and they’re all amicable—and the new employee now understands the situation.
That “stay in your lane” concept is always a good one and can be used in a variety of ways.
3. Your coworker’s apparent motive and approach will make a big difference in your response. If she is outspoken most of the time and her comments imply that you don’t have the insights she has about the situation, that’s one thing. If she is pleasant otherwise and seems to just be trying to be part of things, that is something else.
I have also observed that in many offices at least one person at a lower level views themselves as the All-Knowing One about every other level. They listen and watch and question and comment and soon they have sufficient insight to engage in conversations about almost everyone’s work. If they use good judgment, this can be a positive thing, but if they don’t, it can make them very disliked. Sometimes it is done to build a career but often it is just wanting to elevate one’s role in an office.
Even though you can’t know exactly about her motivations, give it some thought. Does she seem to be trying to elevate her role past her current job title? Is she very talkative and just talks about anything she can find to talk about? Does she seem to think everyone is her friend and they like to hear her thoughts? When she was newly hired, did she handle these things appropriately? If so, when did it change? Is there some reason for that?
4. By now, everyone is probably so hyper-sensitized to the irritation of her questions and comments that the slightest thing is enough to give you the “Here we go again!” feeling. It’s very easy for an irritated bunch of people to go from being put upon to being mean-spirited. Your Office Manager may be picking up on that and feel that you are being excessive in your complaints and that the coworker is actually not doing anything wrong. Your documentation, which I’ll mention in a minute, may help that perception.
Is there anyone who doesn’t mind the coworker’s questions and comments? If not, why not? I ask that, because if all twenty coworkers have been troubled by her behavior, all of you could write to the Office Manager and the sheer bulk of concerns would get her attention. Twenty people griping mildly now and then won’t get results, but something organized probably would.
Someone must be keeping this going and it probably is one or more of your coworkers. This may be more your concern than theirs. Consider talking to them again, to find out their viewpoints and if they will support you if you attempt a direct effort to stop it. (If it’s like most places, they will not want to be anywhere around there when you do and will sympathize with her afterwards.)
5. If you liked her otherwise, I think you would find a way to tolerate her comments—and in fact, probably wouldn’t be offended by them at all. You’d be happy to chat about issues during the day and get her input. But, I’ll bet she has other qualities that are keeping people at arm’s length. Be aware of that, to remind you that it might not be her questions and comments that bother you, it’s just her. There is probably nothing you can do about that. One thing is certain: As long as she is an employee everyone should at least be civil and friendly in appropriate ways, but civilly firm about not letting her be a source of distraction or frustration.
Be clear in your own mind about her job description and the effect of your work on hers. I worked in an office where several people complained that an “elderly” female employee (fifteen years younger than I am now!) was always second-guessing them and asking them about their deadlines, etc. Our manager got tired of hearing the subtle gripes to him and finally said, “Hey! She has to answer questions when you’re gone and she knows you’re always in hot water for forgetting things. So, if you don’t want her to ask you questions, do your work right.”
It may be that her work has nothing to do with yours and vice versa, but make sure she doesn’t think otherwise, based on her job description or directions from the Office Manager. If she works in a different department, as you mentioned, she may have a different supervisor or manager than you do. Your manager should be working with that one. If she won’t, you may need to ask if you can speak to that person…and that might get your manager’s attention.
6. If you are satisfied that you are correct to be irritated and frustrated, develop a plan and follow-through. The first step is to talk to your manager. Skipping this step can put you in a situation of being an aggressor and make you appear to be in the wrong.
1.) For a few days, keep a log of the times she has asked questions or commented on your work. Write down the exact words. Be able to show that, for example, she made twenty comments about your work, but no other employee commented on your work. Or, that she asked about something you and another employee were talking about on five occasions, but no other employee did so.
It is very important—as it has been all this time—that you (or anyone else who wants to stop her behavior) do not give into her requests for information. Don’t let her wear you down, so that eventually you listen to her advice or provide her with more material for next time. Stay non-committal. “It’s too complicated to explain right now.” “You aren’t involved with it, so you won’t be able to help.” “Not your problem.” “I don’t want to talk about it.” “It’s our group’s issue.” “Brenda’s the only one I have to explain this to, so there’s no point in asking me about it.” “This hasn’t got anything to do with your department anyway, so I’d rather not waste our time rehashing it.” “Why are you getting involved?” “Why is that something you need to know?” “Is there a reason you’re asking me about it”
As part of your documentation, be able to say that you did not answer her intrusive questions or give her the information she wanted but didn’t need.
2.) Show your manager the documentation and say that it is distracting and frustrating. That way you are not focusing on just being irritated, you are talking about an effect on work, which is the manager’s responsibility. Look at how much energy you have put into it already!
Tell your office manager that you intend to make an appropriate but direct comment to the coworker, but if that doesn’t work, you will come back to her in writing about it. Even if the office manager doesn’t want to get into the middle of conflict, she can’t easily ignore a written request to help you with a work distraction. Very few employees put their complaints in writing, which makes it easy for managers to ignore them. Once there is documentation, they know they have to do something.
By the way, here is all your manager would have to say to stop this situation, “Hey Kim, let’s talk. I’ve been noticing you getting more and more involved in the work of this department and jumping in on conversations to make comments or ask questions about things that have nothing to do with you. It’s distracting to the team and irritating too. Stop doing that and don’t do it anymore.” Then she should stop. No speech is necessary, just say it and wait.
Whatever else gets said, your manager has made her statement and there is no going back on it and no misunderstanding it. It’s not a hint. “Stop doing that and don’t do it anymore” is a good definite comment.
3.) If you are going to talk to the employee, according to how sensitive you want to be, consider the approach I often recommend for long-standing problems: Make the next time, the first time it has happened. What should someone have said to her when she first started what is now a habit?
“Umm… Kim, excuse us please. We were in the middle of a work conversation that doesn’t involve your job, so could we have some privacy?” (Then move further away.)
“We don’t need your help on this, Kim, so you don’t need to get involved.” (That could be said pleasantly.) (Then, move a bit away.)
“It’s too time consuming to explain this to you and it’s nothing you need to be involved with anyway. (Then move away.)
“Kim, I’m trying to have a business conversation with Ben. Stop hanging around like that, like you’re a spy getting secrets.” (Move away.)
“Our work is completely different than yours, so there’s no point in either of us trying to develop ideas for each other. Let us work on this within our group.”
“I promise not to get involved with your work if you’ll promise not to get involved with mine. That will probably keep us both happier!”
Do that “first time” conversation at least once. Then, the next time it happens you can ratchet your response up a notch, because she already knows you are not open to her involvement in your work conversations.
4.) When you talk to her the next time, limit your comments to a brief statement of what is bothering you and what you want her to stop doing. Be firm about it, then stop talking. Just make your case and turn away and go back to work or back to your other conversation. If she wants to discuss it, tell her to talk to the Office Manager, not you. She may cry or be angry, but if you use a civil tone and have a witness standing by, you will be OK. This will be a tough conversation, but it’s the only way to make this stop. It’s too late to hope for an easy chat.
Some possible statements, according to how direct you want to be (the tone of all of these could be from kind and patient to irritated to very irritated, according to the situation.)
*Kim, this is what I’ve already talked to you about. It completely derails my train of thought to stop and answer your questions about my work. Do me a favor and don’t put me through that anymore, please. If you need to know something about it, I’ll let you know. (It doesn’t matter if she thinks you’re weird, just get your point across that it’s very stressful or distracting or something.)
*Hey Kim, I didn’t want to say anything while Beth was here, but this ties into what I talked to you about earlier. Both of us would have rather been able to have our conversation without you becoming involved in it. (Then, just don’t say anything more. She will respond in some way, and you can make additional comments, like: “In fact, most of the business conversations in the office don’t involve your work and it’s a distraction to try to include you in them. If you can be included, you will be, but I’d rather you not assume you should jump into any of mine, ever again. I really don’t like it.”
*Kim, as I told you earlier, it’s really distracting to have you commenting about or questioning things you aren’t involved with, like you just did when Ben and I were talking about that contract. I don’t want you to do that anymore. So, please stop, the next time you’re tempted to become part of a business conversation of mine.
*Good grief! I feel like I’m being grilled about my work by a boss! (This can even be said with a semi-smile.) You’re doing that more and more lately and I don’t like it and neither does anyone else. Don’t do that anymore. (One way to say something about a long-standing problem, is to say it has gotten worse lately, then attack the whole problem right then. You could add that to any of the other comments.
*Kim! I’ve tried hinting to you three times in the last two minutes that I don’t want to discuss my work with you. So now I’ll just say it: I don’t want to discuss my work with you. Stop asking me about it. It’s a huge distraction and very frustrating.
Of course, if you’ve already tried those levels you could say, “OK, that does it. I’m sick and tired of you butting into my conversations. Leave me alone or I’ll make a formal complaint about you and how you meddle in everyone’s business. You drive us crazy with that kind of thing all the time, so stop it.”
That would be harsh, but would certainly bring things to a stand-still in the office!
Be prepared for a difficult few days or weeks after you talk to her, whatever you say. She may be genuinely hurt or very angry, but something will show and it may make you feel badly or make you angry yourself. Just stay focused on work and if anyone asks you about it, say that you spoke to her and it’s over now. Keep in contact with your office manager, to show that you were not just having an angry reaction, you were trying to solve a problem.
I wish this coworker had been dealt with the first time she overstepped her role, or the second time at the latest. She wouldn’t be a problem now, if she had been. But perhaps these thoughts will help you deal with it and help everyone else too. One thing is for sure: She’s done it for so long that she thinks it’s fine. So, the only way to stop it will be let her know it’s not fine. It will be painful, but it will make life easier over time. (Remember my prediction though: Some of your coworkers will invite her back into the very conversations they are now complaining about.)
If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. We always find it helpful to hear what works and what doesn’t.
Best wishes to you!
Ask the Workplace Doctors
A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworkers’ gossip:
I work in a call center where we take incoming calls. Two of my coworkers whom I work with on the weekends has accused me of several things:
- I go on breaks but set my phone on admin or training. Also that I logout of my phone during the shift to spend time with colleagues or go to the local supermarket.
- I watch videos on the computer using earphones by covering it up with my headscarf.
Their evidence is that they has seen me do these things and that I have told them I do it (I have not).
Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a coworker who has distracting habits.
I’ve been working with this individual for a few years now and I’m beyond my breaking point. He grinds his teeth and taps his feet all day, every day. This is particularly worse on Mondays, or following any time he takes off (vacation, sick..). When I presented these issues to the Manager, I was told there was no other spot for me, and to just wear earbuds with music to drown out his grinding, tapping and all other of his disgusting bodily noises. Two years later, this is still the only solution we have. Which makes me wonder two things: what is the long-term damage to my hearing, if I’m constantly having to raise the volume of my music to drown out his teeth grinding (which also impacts my concentration when we reach those music volume levels), and why should I have to modify my behavior?
This isn’t only affecting me, but I am one of the few who is only in a cubicle with this annoying coworker, while others have office doors they can close for peace, quiet and concentration. (Note: this annoying coworker can’t be placed in an office as there have been other issues in the past which prevents this practice with him.) Any other possible solutions?
I can well imagine this is a frustrating and perpetually irritating situation for you. It would be enough to cause me to quit that job and find something else—even though I realize that isn’t always possible.
I would also guess it is a sad situation for your coworker. No one enjoys grinding their teeth and tapping their feet all day. And, he probably feels badly, knowing he is viewed as a distraction by other people. (He may not act as though he cares, but most people would.)
It may be a chronic neurological or psychological condition over which he has no control. If your coworker does his job effectively otherwise, your employer may have been advised by HR or an attorney, that there is nothing they can do, except find him a work area that is as isolated as possible—and you are the one who shares that work area. That advice may be incorrect, according to the degree of effect his behavior has on the workplace, but it may be why they are tolerating it.
However, no matter how sorry I feel for someone who has a condition he can’t control, I don’t think it is fair for others to suffer even more. Your manager is responsible for the workplace and should find a solution, other than telling you to drown out the noise. Also, since there have been other issues in the past, it seems to me that it’s time for your manager to deal with the problem, not make other employees deal with it.
I agree with you that it isn’t reasonable for you to have to listen to music directly in your ears all day. I think there is a distinct possibility it could have an effect on your hearing, but you would need to consult an audiologist or other specialist to know that for sure. It may be worth your time and expense to go to a specialist of that type and get a medical opinion about it.
You don’t mention your relationship with the employee or whether you have ever discussed this issue with him or directly asked him to stop. After this length of time, I can understand that it probably wouldn’t make a difference, but you may at least find out more about it. And, if he can explain his condition to you, he may find it helps him to feel less stressful and thus be able to improve it somewhat.
Also, many people with repetitive behaviors are able to find medical solutions, but side effects, such as drowsiness, dry mouth, etc., makes them not want to continue taking the medications. They also may not like to take time off for therapy. But, if they have good relationships with coworkers and are aware they are distracting them extremely, they are more likely to continue the medication or therapy.
If you have already talked to him or if you don’t have a good relationship with him, even apart from this situation, you will need to work on it on your own. Here are some suggestions, which may or may not work, according to your situation.
1. Instead of music in your ears, try a loud white noise machine in your space. I prefer Marpac or Lectrofan, because they don’t have a sound “loop”, which is just as distracting to me as anything else, just “whooooosh”. However, once you plug it in, it will be obvious to your coworker what you are doing. I think you should be honest about it. “Mike, I’m going to start using this white noise machine because I’m distracted all day with your teeth grinding and foot tapping, but I’m also tired of having music blaring in my ears, so I hope this will help.” That may be what you need to start a conversation about it.
It may take you a day or two to get used to the white noise sound, but once you do you won’t notice it at all, unless it’s turned off.
2. Consider a noise-cancelling headset or earbuds, rather than playing music. Those are usually very comfortable and put you in your own isolated zone. Bose as well as other brands can be effective. I often wear mine just to concentrate better, even if there is no noticeable outside noise. I don’t think it is optimal for you to have to wear anything to make work tolerable, but if you continue to work there and can’t get relief any other way, it may be all you can do.
3. Look at the available space in your office and see if there is any configuration that would allow you to be further away from your coworker or at least out of line-of-sight. It won’t help to just move a bit, you need to be far enough away that you no longer see him tapping his foot, even peripherally. Could your desk be turned around or could something be added between your cubicle and that of the coworker?
In a former office, we dismantled a cubicle and made it back to back instead of side to side. Maybe that would be possible here.
Is there some other space in the office where you could work, even if it is not as large as your current work space? It would be worth it to be squeezed in, if it would allow you to concentrate.
4. You have asked for some relief in the past, but I think you should do so again, in writing, to your supervisor with a copy to HR, or the reverse, according to company requirements. Explain the effect this has on your work and all the things you have done to try to make it better. Be adamant that something has to change. Let them know that it is simply not acceptable for you to have music directly in your ears all day. If you might quit, if things don’t improve, you could make that an “or else” part of the letter. (Your employer will then have to decide which of you has the most value.)
None of those suggestions are certain to help, but they seem to be the best options, if your coworker continues to work there and so do you.
If you are able to find a solution to this very challenging problem, I hope you will let us know. It would be something really worthwhile for us to be able to share with others.
Best wishes to you!
Ask the Workplace Doctors