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Co-worker makes personal phone calls all day long

Answering questions about the etiquette of business and money -- and, this month, children at work.

October 18, 2009|Alana Semuels

Dear Alana: My co-worker who sits about 5 feet from me is constantly getting phone calls from her 17- and 19-year-old daughters or texting her 26-year-old married son. She drops the teenagers off at school, texts them to make sure they arrived safely, sets up lunch meetings with them and waits to hear from her son via text whenever he goes out of town.

I get very tired of listening to her on the phone 10 times a day. What can I do? If I told her she was getting on my nerves, she would never speak to me. Do I tell the boss about this?


Dear Nancy: Co-workers are annoying in a multitude of ways. They drink the last of the coffee, let the copy machine run out of paper, pressure you to buy wrapping paper for the school fundraiser -- and probably make more money than you while doing it. Knowing how to manage them is key to having a positive workplace experience.

In this case, etiquette experts say, honesty is the way to go.

"She needs to summon up her courage and say, 'I know you don't mean to be bothering us, but you're interfering with shared space,' " said Daryl Trainor Twerdahl, founder of the Los Angeles School of Etiquette and Protocol.

It's always good to focus the problem on yourself. Say that you're having trouble concentrating on your work or that you can't help but overhear her conversations and don't want to invade her privacy. Plan B is to wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.

But don't go running to your boss -- at least not unless your supervisor asks you directly about your colleague's chatty habits. People who whine about their cubicle mates aren't likely to curry favor with superiors.

Besides, all that yakking must be taking a toll on your co-worker's job performance. Chances are someone above your pay grade will eventually put a stop to it.

Clients say they like my children

Dear Alana: I own my own insurance business. Shouldn't I be able to bring my children into my office? My clients say they love seeing my kids.

Mark in Los Angeles

Dear Mark: Family businesses are the bedrock of the U.S. economy. Exposing your kids to your workplace early isn't a bad idea. But you don't say how old your children are, how often you bring them to work or whether it puts any additional strain on your employees.

One thing is certain: Most parents believe their kid is the tops, even if that child spits in the water fountain and beats up puppies when they aren't looking. Some of your staff or customers might be too polite -- or afraid -- to level with you.

"People are not going to tell you that they hate your children and that they're wild screaming brats, even if they do," said Amy Alkon, whose book "I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle to Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society," will be published by McGraw-Hill in November.

The best thing to do, Alkon says, is to consult some friends who will tell you whether your child is an asset to the office or a nuisance. Confiding in trusted employees would be even better, as long as they believe you won't retaliate against them for telling you that Junior and Sissy should stay at home.

Remember, you run an insurance business, not a toy store or a day care center. You can always show off your kids to clients the old-fashioned way -- through framed photos on your desk.

Toddler can visit, so why can't dog?

Dear Alana: My boss brings his 2-year-old daughter to work about one afternoon per week, where we share an office space. He never seems to get anything done when she's in the office.

At the same time, my dog sits at home alone all day, sometimes well into the night, while my boss asks me to put in more hours. When I asked if I could bring my dog to work, he refused. Do I have any grounds here in demanding to bring my dog in?

Matt in Santa Monica

Dear Matt: The fairest resolution would be for neither dog nor child to be in the office.

"The workplace wasn't really set up for animals or children; it's for employees to go to work," says consultant Michelle Shannon, who teaches classes on child etiquette.

The reality is that life isn't fair, and your boss is calling the shots, not you. Plus, people are allergic to dogs, and no matter how Roald Dahl's "The Witches" doth protest, people aren't allergic to children.

Still, a guy who's that devoted to his child can't be all bad. You could broach the idea of a trial day for Fluffy, perhaps suggesting that your boss' daughter might like to meet your pet. That way she could play with the dog, he could get more work done, and maybe you wouldn't have to put in so many extra hours.

But think carefully about it, Matt. Does your dog really want to give up her leisurely days of watching soap operas and chewing your furniture for a boring day at the office?


Next month: The holiday season is bearing down upon us, along with its office parties, Secret Santas and "Should I give my boss a present?" quandaries. Send your questions about office etiquette for holiday celebrations and all matters gift-giving to askalana@

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