I work beside a not-so-busy coworker — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+

I work beside a not-so-busy coworker

Get PDF file

by on
in Admin Pro Forum

Question: I am one of two admins in a small department. We cover for each other on days off, lunch hours, etc.

I am considerably busier than she is--both professionally and personally--and try to make good use of any downtime at work. I'm involved in a fundraiser, have elderly parents, have a busy household and work out.

As she is seldom busy, she chatters constantly throughout the day about anything and everything, which I find a total distraction and completely irritating. Two other co-workers feel the same way I do.

I'm not sure what to do about this. I've tried not looking up from my work much while she's speaking, but she doesn't get the hint. She's also very nosy and gossipy. If she hears something I say on the phone, she'll ask about it.  She occasionally looks at my computer screen over my shoulder and makes comments.

I just don't know what to do. I don't want to alienate her, as I need her cooperation in this department. I just want her to cut down the chatter and mind her own business.

Any suggestions? Thank you.  -- Anonymous, Boston


Some suggestions:

Since you share workspace, why don't all three of you who want "quiet time" call a quick meeting and discuss the issue? Acknowledge that it's difficult to share workspace and that EVERYONE can benefit from blocks of quiet time. This worked for a friend of mine, who supervises someone who is very nice, but very loud and talkative.

Regarding having her ask about things you say on the phone, ask her, "Why do you ask?" That should shut her down, since she'd have to explain that she's being nosy.

As for having her look over your shoulder at your computer screen, can you get a privacy filter (a screen that fits over your computer so that only the person sitting in front of the screen can see the information)? Or the next time she walks behind you to look at your computer screen, ask her, "Is there something you needed?"

I have found that there are "gentle" ways to get your point across without being too confrontational. Unfortunately, there are people like this in every office -- but there are ways to deal with them!

I myself worked with a temp admin assistant who chattered rather loudly, used inappropriate language and was not as busy as she should have been because all of the managers didn't trust her to do the work. The VP she supported would even come out to us other two, when she was out, and ask us to do projects that she didn't feel the admin was capable of doing. Whenever the Pres/VP's would be OOO in meetings she would get louder and more unprofessional. I asked for permission to bring that to her attention, which I did several times. I was like knocking my head on a brick wall, she didn't get it. I knew I could live with it because she was a temp. But, I did come to the conclusion that some people don't "pick-up" on the acceptable behavior or tone of the office. You might ask for permission to bring this to her attention. I've just read the "One Minute Manager" and there are techniqes in there that might work before you speak to her. It's worth a try.

I agree with Lisa on her suggestion to call a meeting to discuss a specified quiet time and to explain the need for less chatter especially during crunch times when a deadline needs to be met. The suggestion to ask your coworker why she is interested is fantastic, it usually stops that behavior.

During your "downtime" at work... remember, you're still at work and being paid to do company business. No matter how busy your home life is, it is still your home life and should be treated as such. If you boss is lenient in this regard, don't abuse the privilege and attempt to limit activity related to home life during breaks and lunch.

I must comment on problem #3. First of all there's always THREE sides to every story. What I found most disturbing about your problem was the last paragraph "The owner of the company is tired of their behavior and agrees that they aren't going to work out here. So, do I give up? I hate to throw in the towel without trying, but I am tired, and they should know how to behave." What comes to mind is "What right does the owner have discussing the two 50-year olds with you?" How else would you know that the owner is tired of their behavior and "agrees" they aren't working out. Did the owner have the decency to tell them that - and get their side of the story?

Sign: A 50-year old.

I have a very similar situation. The other personality is very human oriented and mine is task oriented. She is very insecure and immature (not by age). I find that if I small talk with her a bit things between us are better. Also I have a quote that has helped me, it is "Focus on what you want, Not what you want to avoid". It helps me to not focus on the annoyances and focus on my work. If you figure out a cure let me know.

Good Afternoon:

In Reply to the "I work beside a not so busy co-worker." Suggestions: Start having Adminstrative Assistant Staff meetings and subltly bring this to the forefront with a solution. Make sure notes are taken with the results and give copies to those in management that need to be made aware. So if a more tangible action needs to occur you will already have your documentation. Also, she knows you need her and that is why she continues to do what she does and knows you both need your job, but we must also grow up. How valuable is she to the department/organization, is she pulling her wait of responsiblities, sometimes management will not bother those that cause a problem and they don't want to bother with. What would you rather have, continue with it and you end up leaving or take action to let her know you value what you do and so should she. She needs to take responsiblitity for her irresponsible behavior. Put it in her face and let her make the decision, she made the decision to do what she is doing and she can stop what she is doing if it is presented in a way to make her see her immaturity and how it affects others in a inconsiderate manner.

"This problem must be presented to her in a manner that she can relate to, in such a manner she hates what she has done and changes and may even ask you for help," sometimes when a person can see themself they will change.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Melissa January 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I am a university student at BYU and we are trying to understand more about “fakework.” This is a short 12 question survey:



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: