Co-worker Makes Our Entire Office Miserable


I work in an office full of people that are at or near retirement age. The company I work for is great, but is aging out. I am 28 and took this job out of college. We have a woman that works at the reception desk. She is nosy, a tattletale, and down right mean. I have heard her say ugly things about EVERYONE in the office. Everyday I hear of something new and mean she has said about me. She really targets the three younger people in the office by saying things like, “What good is a degree if you can’t apply it”.

She watches our every move: What time we clock out for lunch, if we leave early, what we are doing at our desks…etc. She calls the HR manager on a daily basis to report her findings. Two of us have small children and have to miss work occasionally with a sick child. She is ALL over this–to the point that she calls me at home to “check on things”. That’s none of her business. Most recently I was promoted and am now doing two jobs. My other job is in the office across the street. I left yesterday to go work on the other job for a few hours. When I got back she was questioning my where abouts for the time I wasn’t in her office.

She also informed another co-worker that she doesn’t understand why I and another girl come in early because there’s nothing for us to do. First, there is PLENTY for us to do. Second, she comes in at 7 a.m. and there is NO reason for it. She started coming in early to get receipts from the bank. Now, he doesn’t bring receipts until 8:30 so her reason for being here is unjustified also, but we don’t go around talking bad about her like she does us for coming in early.

The truth is, I don’t know how much more I can take. Several of us have been to our supervisors who respond with a “That’s just how she is” type response. I recently went over my supervisor’s head and confronted a higher supervisor about her. I told her that this woman makes it hard for everyone in that office and gave examples. So far, nothing has been done, and as soon as I came in this morning, she started again. What can I do??? I love my job, but can no longer deal with this person. PLEASE HELP!


Desperate for a Change


Dear Desperate for a Change:

How fortunate you are to have a job you love and to have that acknowledged by a promotion. Now to lose that because of annoyance with a nosy receptionist would be a shame. Before I join with you in exploring ways to cope, let me refer you to my associate Tina Lewis Rowe’s site and especially point you to her remarks on five levels of problems Intervene Before The Harm Also study her other Q&As in our recent questions and Archives. If you do, you will not feel so desperate because you will approach this as an irritation rather than as a job-changing problem. Now in addition to Workplace Doc Rowe’s sage advice, here are some things to consider: 1. The direct approach: What have you actually said to your receptionist? Have you asked her to take time out so that you might speak with her candidly regarding how frustrated you feel about her nosiness? Have you expressed your anger by such remarks as, “Mary, I know you mean well by tracking my every move and reporting it to Human Resources, and I wonder why you do this? Were you assigned to monitor me? If so, how might I help you do this more easily? Do you need me to report to you when I check in and leave? Do you need to know what are my assignments and how they are progressing? ” This should generate a conversation, and in the course of that, you undoubtedly also will have a chance to say that you also have heard several mean things she reportedly said about you. You can ask if this is true, and whether true or not, you can ask if she would come to you first about what troubles her about your behavior. 2. Using a second channel: One-on-one, face-to-face is the most personal of all communication. It allows for give and take and the power of voice and emotional force. I-feel language takes on power and you-do language generates defensiveness. One-on-one is even more powerful if it is bolstered with written. How would you like for your receptionist to act? Can you jot down a succinct list of dos and don’ts? Once you have such a list, you are ready to engage her in discussion of how her job relates to yours? You first can ask her what specifically she thinks she should and should not do with respect to your job? Take down what she says, and agree with what is necessary and reasonable. Then show her your list and learn what she will sign off on. Such engagement is a path to civility.

3. By-pass: You already have spoken to others and have by-passed your superior about the receptionist’s behavior. Did you tell her that you were going to do that? If not, it’s too late to correct that; however, do not expect any good behavior from someone you complain about without first confronting her before you go above. I’m sure you would want anyone complaining about you, as apparently she did to HR, to first come to you. Your note to us does not say why you went above your supervisor’s head. I assume you found that your supervisor had not handled this problem, so you went above. That is not wise, but it too can’t be corrected. But now that you have gone above, do not allow that those that have power to deal with this annoyance to simply forget that you want action. Decide on what action you want, such as the receptionist adhering to do and don’t rules about how she relates to your work. Possibly, if you cannot resolved monitoring, tattling, and mean talk by a face-to-face with her, you might request a three-way (the supervisor, receptionist, and you) or maybe a four-way (including the person above to whom you recently complained) meeting to map out a plan of action.

Remember that you are out of college new to this workplace compared to those who have been there for years. Honor and respect them. Seeking resolution of an annoying receptionist is a minor battle. Your real goal is to enlist her in helping you do-good work or at least not to interfere. So do not neglect her ego needs, after all she even comes to work early and should be praised for that.

None of these thoughts are a sure-fire fix, but they might prompt you to see yourself as an assertive and caring person. If so, I predict that working together (with your co-workers and receptionist) with hands, head, and heart, will take and make big WEGOS. Do feel free to report back on what you elect to do and what works and does not.

William Gorden

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.