Your Office Coach

Each Wednesday, nationally syndicated workplace columnist Marie G. McIntyre, Ph. D., answers your “in the trenches” workplace questions on everything from team-building to getting a raise to dealing with difficult people.

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Question:  A co-worker told me that he brings a voice recorder to work to catch people talking behind his back.  He will tape it underneath a desk or hide it behind a picture. We used to be friends, but I now seem to be on the list of people that he hates. I’ve started searching my work area every morning to be sure his recorder isn’t there. Although this guy’s weird behavior makes me sick, I’m not sure what to do about it. Should I bring this to the attention of human resources?  —Nervous in Indiana
Question:  “My co-workers constantly ask me to assist them with simple problems.  Whenever they encounter any minor difficulty, they dump it on me. This makes it hard to finish my own work. My boss has been no help. When he talked to these people about handling their own problems, they told him that coming to me was faster. He immediately gave in and said we should just work it out amongst ourselves. I’ll never be able to focus on my job unless I end these interruptions.  How can I do that?”  —Totally Worn Out
Question: “My manager, ‘Sandra,’ recently yelled at me in front of all my co-workers because I took too long to find some information. Sandra is often rude to employees and even threw one person out of her office. She’s very moody, so we never know what to expect from day to day. I have considered reporting her to human resources, but I’m not sure if that would be a good idea. Sandra has been here for 25 years and gets along well with management. Also, I was previously given a verbal warning about my job performance, so I’m trying hard to be a model employee. However, if I ignore this incident, I’m afraid that Sandra will do it again. Any suggestions?  —Uncertain
Question:  “My boss is making strange comments that I’m not sure how to handle. Last week, he said that it is not unusual for people in my position to sleep with their managers. I was so shocked that I didn’t even respond. I just continued talking about work. Yesterday, he told me how much he loves me and that he will never let me quit my job. This seems kind of weird. What should I do?”  —Confused
Question:  “My manager never tells employees anything about what’s happening in the company.  We have to get our information from people in other departments. Sometimes he doesn’t even tell me things that may pertain to my job.  This lack of communication drives me crazy.  Although I have mentioned the problem numerous times, he still doesn’t communicate.  I have just about given up.  What else can I do?”  —Kept In the Dark
Question: “When interviewing for a job, is it okay to bring copies of performance reviews, customer service ratings, or complimentary emails? I have some very favorable comments that might impress an interviewer, but I’m not sure how this would be viewed. Also, I don’t know what would be considered ‘proprietary information’.”  — Puzzled
Question:  “In our office, everyone takes turns with the kitchen duties, including the owner of the business.  However, we recently got a new co-worker who refuses to do his tasks correctly. Whenever someone takes out the garbage, that person is supposed to put a new bag in the trash can, but this guy never replaces the bag. I tried to teach him about this nicely, but it didn’t do any good. Finally, after asking him numerous times, I got so fed up that I left the garbage container in his chair, hoping he would get the message.  He was quite upset about this, but he’s still not replacing the bag. I feel that he is being very inconsiderate to our group.  What else can I do?” — Furious
Question: “I have worked for my manager ‘Debra’ for 15 years. I never complain about my job or bring up problems. I just do whatever she asks me to do. One of my co-workers frequently confronts Debra about issues and suggests making changes. Debra listens to whatever she has to say and seems to favor her over me. This is completely unfair. I never say a word about anything, yet I get the short end of the stick. At times, I get so frustrated that I feel like walking out the door, but I really don’t want to start over somewhere else. I would like to discuss this situation with my manager, but I’m afraid of making her mad. How should I approach her?”  —Silently Fuming
Question:  “After my boss’s wife lost her job, he asked her to do the bookkeeping for our business. We have five employees, and this woman is not nice to any of them.  However, she seems particularly focused on undermining me. She goes through every scrap of paper that I touch, trying to find mistakes. She writes me nasty notes and gives her husband inaccurate information about my work...Our boss has always been a really nice guy, but he’s starting to sound just like his wife.  The office atmosphere has become very unpleasant, so I’m looking for another job, but finding one may take awhile. How should I handle this?" —Had Enough
Question: “I have a co-worker who is frequently tardy.  ‘Paula’ lives about an hour away and has several children, so she is often delayed in the morning. The problem is that when Paula calls in to say she’ll be late, she asks me to give the message to our boss. He then gives me the third degree about why she won’t be there on time. I’m just a colleague, so I don’t grill Paula about her reasons. It’s not my responsibility to find out if she’s sick or sleeping late or stuck in traffic. In fact, I don’t think it’s any of my business. My boss hates conflict, so he won’t talk to Paula directly about her tardiness. But whenever I deliver one of her messages, he gives me hell.  What can I do about this?”  —Not My Problem
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