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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

How to Manage an Overly Chatty Employee


Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. Managing an overly chatty employee

A new employee started in my department just over two months ago (I’ll call her Sarah). Sarah has been struggling to adjust to the work in ways we didn’t foresee from the interview — she seemed very qualified for the position, but is having trouble retaining information and prioritizing work. I’m working with her on those issues, but I’m not sure how to address another, less pressing issue: she’s very chatty. When someone is talking to our administrative assistant at her desk, Sarah will run out of her office and join the conversation; she does this for lots of other people around the office too. She also doesn’t really seem to be able to pick up on the “I’m politely ending this conversation” social cues and will just keep going. It’s irritating other people in the office.

I don’t want to tell Sarah to stop socializing — we’re a pretty small group in a larger organization and we do all talk to each other pretty often. Is this even something I should address, or should I just let it go and hope it gets better as she gets more acclimated? I’m also relatively new to management and am honestly not sure what my role is in this situation.

You should address it. Sarah is struggling in her role and having trouble retaining info and prioritizing her work; it’s reasonable to want to see her focused on that, not on spending huge amounts of time chatting with coworkers. You could say something like, “I’ve noticed you leaving your office to join social conversations a lot. I want you to have good relationships with coworkers and certainly a bit of chat is normal, but I don’t want it to pull you out of your office and away from focusing on work.” You could also tie it specifically to the work deficiencies you’re noticing: “You aren’t picking up on X and Y as fast as we need you to. Can you commit to focusing on that and dial back on the socializing outside of your breaks?”

See what impact that has. You may end up also needing to coach her about paying attention to people’s cues and being mindful of how long she’s talking with someone. But since you don’t want to totally demoralize her and make her hide in her office, I’d start with the above and see where that gets you.

2. My coworker spends lots of time on personal calls — but does excellent work

One of the women I work with receives and/or takes personal phone calls during the day. Last week, there were several days where she was on the phone and the phone call was not remotely connected to the job. It’s usually two or three calls during the day and they last 20-30 minutes.

I understand using the phone in case of emergencies, but her phone calls are not emergencies. I feel like it is unprofessional and unfair that she is allowed to make personal phone calls while the rest of the department would get in trouble. Do I talk to my manager quietly on the side or do I let it slide?

I am hesitant to say anything because her work is excellent. If I say anything, I know it will get back to me.

Is it impacting your work in any way, like by making her unavailable when you need her or distracting you with noise? If not, this isn’t your problem to solve. (It may not be a problem for your manager either, since this person’s work is excellent.)

Two to three personal calls per day isn’t outrageous, although 20-30 minutes is outside the boundaries of what’s typically considered reasonable for multiple personal calls. But if she’s getting all her work done and it’s excellent quality, as you indicate, then it might be that’s she’s faster than usual and capable of performing at a high level with time left over. If that’s the case, your manager might very reasonably calculate that there’s no reason to intervene.

That said, if your coworker were the one writing to me, I’d tell her to use her extra time on something that isn’t quite so flagrantly obvious to others, since she’s setting up an optics problem.

3. I opened a love letter sent to a volunteer

I received a piece of mail at work addressed “care of Miller.” I have several volunteers with the last name Miller, so I opened it to see who it was sent to. It turned out to be a birthday card that said, “I love you. Please let me back into your life.” Clearly this person does not know where volunteer Miller lives. I am unsure whether to give her the card or not!

I think you need to pass the card along to your volunteer. If it’s from someone who your volunteer has told to stop contacting her, she needs to know that that’s being ignored. Worst case scenario, if the person is stalking or otherwise threatening her, she needs to know that they’ve escalated to contacting her at work. And if none of those things are true and it’s a low-risk situation, by not giving it to her you’d be making a decision for her about whether it’s something she’d want to see, which you don’t really have standing to do. So yes, pass it along to her.

4. My boss complained he was “the last to know” I’m pregnant

I’m five months pregnant with my third, and now that I’m starting show I finally told my boss that I’m pregnant and will need maternity leave soon. Instead of a congratulations, he acted quite petty and put out, saying he knew I was pregnant because he could hear me and my coworkers discussing it, and he was hurt that he was the “last to know.” He said he doesn’t want me to think of him as a boss, but a friend, and I should’ve told him sooner. The thing is I don’t consider him anything close to a friend; he is a boss to me and nothing more. I told my coworkers earlier because we actually are close friends, and the reason I didn’t tell my boss sooner is because he tends to view pregnancy as a hardship on our business, and launches right into his “we only technically have to give you eight weeks.” speech. I just wasn’t in the mood for it yet.

I think his response was immature, and it’s my body and I could’ve waited as long as I felt comfortable with before telling him (obviously with enough time to prepare maternity leave coverage.) What do you think?

His response is ridiculous. He doesn’t want you to think of him as your boss? Cool, so does that mean he’s not going to evaluate your performance, delegate work to you, or issue obnoxious reminders of the bare minimum amount of leave he’ll give you? (He’s also wrong about that amount if you’re in the U.S. and work somewhere with 50 or more employees; FMLA gives you 12 weeks.)

Of course he is your boss and not your friend. You had no obligation to tell him you were pregnant earlier, and he has no ground to stand on in claiming he shouldn’t have been the last to know. That’s ground that your mom has, not your out-of-touch boss.

5. Can I ask for a different interview date?

I have gotten an interview for a job I really want. However, I am away on vacation. I could drive back, but obviously that’s a day out of my vacation. Is there a way for me to ask for a different interview date?

You can always ask. Say it this way: “I’d love to come in and interview. I’ll be out of town on (dates). Would it be possible to do it on the 15th or another day instead? If not, I can see if I can figure out a way to drive back.”

It’s possible that they’ll tell you that they can’t offer other dates (sometimes interview schedules can be rigid if an interviewer has to come in from out of town, for example), but it’s entirely normal to ask and they might be able to easily accommodate you. I’ll often offer just one or two dates initially because I’m trying to keep scheduling easy, but I’m happy to find other times if the ones I suggested initially don’t work.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to [email protected].

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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