It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker is upset that I don’t say good morning to her

I recently started a new job about six weeks ago and my personal desk is in a communal back area. My issue is that a new colleague of mine expects to be greeted every morning and there are times where this feels natural to do but others when it doesn’t. (It doesn’t help that our desks are next to each other either.) I have no issue with responding to a general “good morning” but it’s the expectation to initiate that I find irritating. If she wants to be greeted, why not start the conversation? Am I out-of-line for feeling this way?

I work with the public and when I arrive my mind is focused on the work day and getting ready for “on” mode of being with the public. When I’m not at the public desk, I like my personal desk time to be quiet and free of expectations from others. I see this colleague frequently throughout the day and she is a very chatty person (which I’m not) so I’m already feeling a pressure to converse when I’d rather not. I’ve tried avoiding eye contact or appearing busy but she has brought up the issue of not initiating the “good morning” — she said something along the lines of “Why didn’t you say hello to me this morning?’” And now she watches me expectantly when I arrive to see if I’ll say something to her. Should I just suck it up and purposely say it every morning?

That’s obnoxious. She’s certainly welcome to greet you in the mornings if she’d like to, but there’s no reason that she should expect you to be the one to initiate it, and taking you to task for not doing it is really bizarre. It sounds like if she’s already at work and you arrive after her, she thinks that you (the arriving person) should say something rather than walking in silently? But that’s really not a universally established rule in an office context; you’re allowed to walk in silently if you’d like, and if that bothers her, then she can greet you. (If she does greet you, then it would be rude for you not to respond. But it sounds like it’s the initiating that’s the issue.)

In any case, if she’s senior to you or otherwise has influence over well you do in your job, then yeah, I’d suck it up and say good morning to her when you see her. She’s being ridiculous, but it’s not a hill worth dying on. But otherwise, I’d be awfully tempted to just ignore her expectant looks, or to address it head-on by saying something like, “You know, I’m usually focused on getting my work started when I come in, and looking at me so expectantly is coming across really oddly. If you want to say good morning, please feel free to but I’d rather you not continue the pointed looks.” (But again, you can only be that blunt if she’s not senior to you.)

2. My employee shares front desk coverage and her coworkers are sniping at her for being a few minutes late

I’ve just started a new job as a manager and already need advice! One member of my team, Jane, is an admin for our department, but she rotates covering the front desk with a couple of other admins from another department. This other department is separate, although related, and does not share our reporting line. They just happen to sit in the same suite of offices. Lately, these other admins have been fussing at Jane for being a couple minutes late (3-5, maybe, not every time) from lunch and breaks. I’ve observed Jane long enough to know that she is conscientious about her job and her time and is not abusing the coverage offered by the others. They’ve just all of a sudden decided that these few minutes each week are a huge burden on them and have gone so far as to blast emails to me and the entire group of admins scolding her.

I’ve let her know that I’m not concerned about her, that she isn’t in trouble with me (and by extension our own management) and won’t be unless she becomes seriously, chronically late. Should I do more than that? Should I stick my nose in to what amounts to a temper tantrum by another department’s employees?

Yes. If another department is upset with her, that’s very much something you should be involved in.

But first, are you sure that being five minutes late really isn’t a problem? In most jobs, being five minutes late wouldn’t be a big deal, but when you’re talking about front desk coverage, it can be. For example, if Jane is supposed to be back by 2 p.m. to relieve Bob and Bob is scheduled to be in a meeting or on a call right after that, it actually can be a problem if she’s strolling in at 2:05. (And of course, when it’s 2:04, Bob doesn’t know she’ll be there in one minute; he has to worry it could be longer and has to wonder if he should be rescheduling things.)

So the first thing is to talk to the people who are complaining, and/or their own managers, and figure out what the specifics of the concern are. If it’s just “we don’t like waiting a couple of extra minutes,” that’s one thing — but if it’s actually impacting people’s work, that matters, and you’d need to tell Jane she needs to be on time. And actually, you might need to tell her that either way — this is a job where coverage does matter, and if everyone else observes coverage times to the minute, then Jane might need to be more precise about it herself. And that’s not “Jane is in trouble.” That’s just “Jane needs to slightly tweak what she’s doing.”

But if other people involved in the front desk rotation also are late by a few minutes with some regularity and this is about them sniping at Jane for some other reason, then your approach would be different. In that case, I’d still talk with them, ask about the actual work impact, and hear them out — and ask something like, “I’ve noticed other people are often a few minutes late; what is it about what Jane’s doing that is more of a problem?” (And who knows, maybe you’ll hear there’s more to this than you thought.) But if it continues to seem like personal sniping, then you say, “If you have a problem with Jane’s coverage in the future, please come talk with me. I don’t want emails scolding her going out to a group. Talk to me and we’ll resolve it.” And you may need to say this to their managers as well. But first, hear them out with an open mind — because Jane being generally conscientious doesn’t mean there’s not something she needs to alter here.

3. Taking personal calls on your office phone line

I was wondering what you think about the use of office’s landline for personal reasons in two different ways:

First, for scheduling medical appointments or calling home to check on their kids. This used to happen more at my office but it has now subsided after a few matter-of-fact comments from the supervisor, such as “I can’t believe banks are calling our office seeking one of our employees, I wouldn’t ever use my extension number for personal reasons” or “I would use my cell phone for that call.:

Second, to call friends/family members who also work at this institution at their extension number, but not to discuss work-related things. For example, my next-cubicle colleague constantly receives phone calls at her extension number from her brother who works two floors below, always for personal reasons such as “What time should I pick up your daughters at band practice today?” This is what’s been bothering me more, because we always take each other’s calls to handle our clients. It’s been nagging at me to constantly stop what I’m doing and pick up her calls when she’s in a meeting and it’s her brother looking for her. I can’t let her phone to keep ringing because it might be a client.

Am I being too nitpicky? It’s my personal belief that the landline in my desk is for work-only purposes, but it might be wrong of me to apply that to others. What’s office culture on this?

It’s not inherently wrong to take those sorts of calls on the office land line. In fact, in the days before cell phones, that was completely normal and the only option people had. It’s true that now people are more likely to use their cell phones for personal calls, but there’s nothing inherently objectionable about using your office line instead (assuming that it’s fine for you to be taking personal calls at work in the first place).

That said, in your case where people are answering calls for each other, it does create a problem if you’re constantly answering your coworker’s phone in case it’s a client and finding yourself taking personal messages for her. In that case, it might make sense to say to her, “Hey, since I answer your phone so much when you’re away from your desk, would you mind having Bob call your cell instead?” But that’s about this particular situation where you’re all answering each other’s lines, not about anything wrong with using office lines for personal calls in general.

4. Intern keeps winking at me

An intern working for someone else in the academic lab where I work has recently started winking at me to acknowledge me (for example, when we pass in the hallway). It bothers me a bit since it comes off a bit flirty and I’m wondering 1) if this is widely seen as inappropriate or if I’m overreacting and 2) should I address this with him? I am a woman in my late 20s and he is a man in college; I am not his supervisor or involved with his project, but I am senior to him in position and duration of time in the lab. If I should speak up, which I’m thinking I may as a professional courtesy, I was thinking of framing it as “Hey, you may not realize, but this comes across as professionally inappropriate.” I could also talk to the person who supervises him and ask her to address it, but am thinking that may make it a bigger deal/more uncomfortable than it needs to be. Any other thoughts/suggestions?

Some people are winkers and use winking liberally in all contexts, including to mean “hello.” I don’t get it, and I agree it comes off as flirty/smarmy/something in that vicinity. (How do winkers go through life without realizing that so many people take it that way?)

But yeah, talking to his manager about this would make it into a bigger deal than it is. The framing you’re thinking of — “Hey, you may not realize this” — is good. The other option is just addressing it right in the moment the next time it happens, as in, “Hey, what’s with the sudden winking at me?” … followed by, “You probably don’t realize this, but winking comes across a little oddly in a work environment.”

5. My nosy coworker will guess I’m quitting when my house goes up for sale

About two years ago, my husband and I moved when my husband was offered a new job opportunity. The housing market in our new location made it much more cost efficient to purchase a home than to rent and so we jumped on the opportunity and invested in our first home. (We love it!)

One of my teammates at work happens to live in my neighborhood. We realized this when we ran into each other walking our dogs. Since then she’s asked a ton of personal questions at work, in front of others, about the home — how much we paid, what kind of renovations have been done or do we have planned (it’s an amazing older home), how many rooms it has, etc. Annoying (and invasive), but okay.

Here’s the problem — my husband’s job hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, so we’ll likely move again if the right opportunity comes along. His field is the kind where he’ll interview in advance and then we’ll have lots of lead time (at least six months). My job is the kind where if I give too much notice, I’ll be pushed out early. Plus, in the past when we’ve moved, I’ve often stayed in my job until the end of our lease while I research and search for something new in the new area. I anticipate that I’ll want to wait to give notice until we find a buyer for our current home or I find a new position in the new area.

What do I do if/when we decide to move and put our house up for sale? I’m certain this coworker will notice and ask about it. She’s a pretty loud person in general, and I know she shares information she comes across widely and without hesitation. I’m not sure what she’d do if she were specifically asked to keep information private. Should I make up a cover story? Be honest but try to get her to be my ally and proactively ask her not to say anything at work? Figure out a way to avoid answering her questions (not sure this would work)? You always have great suggestions for difficult situations, so I’m hoping for some help on this one!

Yep, it sounds like you may need to make up a cover story. That sucks because obviously it’s not great to lie to a colleague, but you’re in a situation where a nosy coworker is likely to spread information that you’re entitled to keep private. You’re not obligated to allow that out of a devotion to truthfulness, so in these circumstances I think you’re ethically in the clear to shade the truth. Can you say you decided the house was too much space for you, or that you decided to rent rather than own, or that you’re moving to be closer to your husband’s work (which is true!), or that you just realized it wasn’t the house for you? Which of these to go with depends on how comfortable you are answering (or better yet, shutting down) the follow-up questions that she’s likely to ask, but it really is okay not to share your plans with her just because you’re unlucky enough to have her as a neighbor.

By the way, if she’s super nosy, it might be smart to give her name to your real estate agent — because I could see her showing up at your first open house and asking your agent questions about where “the sellers” are going.

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