By Joyce E. A. Russell
Special to The Washington Post
— Cubes and speaker phones
Q: Is it considered acceptable or the new normal to have routine phone calls on speaker phone?
A: This seems to be a pet peeve for many folks and for good reason. Having calls on speaker phone is distracting for the others working around you. This is not the "new normal" and people should really make sure others are OK with this before doing it.
Q: How do you handle a co-worker who has a cynical, negative outlook yet also has a personality that appeals to the boss? She often is seen talking to the director one-on-one in the director's office. Many of her concerns relate to other's work, not her own.
A: For you to handle this person and your boss, you need to stick to making sure you are performing well so that the boss sees this (and does not rely on what the manipulator is telling them about you or others). This is key. Also, keep the focus on your job performance and try not to get into the whole "who said what" stuff. I know it is easier said than done.
Q: I like many types of food, so the lunch smells from my office mates sometimes help me make my dinner decision easier. Ummm, pizza it is! However, no employee should ever bring seafood/fish in the office and heat it up in the office microwave!
A: If you have a close-knit group of workers, you could at least talk about the issue to see what people think. Maybe there will be some type of agreement on foods to heat up, how quickly people should remove their food from the refrigerators, and so on. It is worth a try to calmly chat with co-workers about this as a first attempt.
Q:Two days a week, I share a small, quiet room with up to four or five other people. The number of people isn't the problem, it's that I can hear every sound that every person makes. (the bathroom is steps away in the hall, so those, too). The sounds of chewing when people eat drives me crazy. Especially when somebody's eating a bag of chips, or the worst: slurp-chomping a piece of juicy fruit. I'm getting annoyed just thinking about it.
A: I understand. Coworkers — if this is you — think about moving elsewhere when eating or just be aware that it can be annoying to others working near you.
Another thought: While you could ask co-workers to try to keep it quiet in the room, is it also possible that you could use headphones so you won't be able to hear everything that goes on? have known folks who use headphones either to listen to music while working or to just block out the noise near them. Just a thought for your own piece of mind.
Co-worker's personal calls
Q: My cubemate is constantly on the phone making personal calls. Constantly. Once I clocked her on the phone for six hours out of the day. Naturally, she doesn't keep her voice down, and she talks about appallingly personal things — I know every detail of her life, from her marital problems with her husband, to her personal banking passwords, to the date of the beginning of her current pregnancy (ugh, with way too much information on that, too). I recently added many new responsibilities at work that involve lots of focus and reading, and her constant jabbering in my ear is driving me up the wall. (She sings along to the radio or talks to co-workers when she's not on the phone as well.) I finally broke down and approached our supervisor about these issues, and while he did talk to her, the situation improved for all of two days before she was back on the phone arguing with her husband all day. Any advice so I don't go nuts?
A: It is great you talked to your boss about this, and it seems that did have an impact. Did you ever talk to your cubemate about this? Just let her know that people around her can hear all her conversations and know a lot of personal information about her life? Maybe she will not care if they know, or maybe she will be surprised and distressed by this, and this will impact what she does in the future.
The other larger question is: How is she getting her own work done if she spends so much time on the phone? And does anyone care about this? If this is a common practice in the firm, then maybe something should be done? Can this be brought up to HR? Not necessarily in a punitive way, but just as a way to remind folks about making personal calls at work?
Of course, there is always my suggestion to another reader of wearing your own headset so you don't have to hear everything around you. But, I would first talk to your cubemate and then HR to see what can be done.
Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.