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Ask Carmen Courtesy, Your Workplace Etiquette Expert August 2010

Do you deal with anger, frustration, embarrassment, harassment or conflict in the workplace? Carmen Courtesy addresses all of these issues. Carmen’s goal is to promote interpers…

Dear Carmen,

I work for a small company, and there is a woman who is a high-level manager who constantly walks around reading the computer screens of everyone in the office. She makes it very obvious, and will even ask questions regarding what is on the screen (e.g., “Oh, I see you’re having lunch with so-and-so?”). It is very frustrating; but because she is in upper management, people are afraid to ask her to stop. Can you offer some suggestions?
This has been going on for about a year.
We have all tried various things like minimizing our screen to a neutral page, politely asking her to stop, and even speaking to her boss. It’s causing problems for her subordinates, and they are at their wits’ end.
Deprived of Privacy
. . .
Dear Deprived:
Nobody likes coworkers snooping over their shoulders. However, because this involves a supervisor, you probably should consider getting used to it. Like it or not, a supervisor has every right to check on what’s going on in your place of business. In fact, it may even be part of her job description. It’s possible that she has been asked by her superiors to monitor people’s computer screens. Perhaps there has been a problem with a coworker(s) spending most of the day playing Fantasy Football or shopping on e-Bay — and management has decided that this is the best way to deal with it.
“While it does seem intrusive of these folks, the fact is that information that is up on a computer screen or in an e-mail is considered company business,” says Jill Bremer, an etiquette and image consultant for Bremer Communications, an Oak Park, Ill.-based image consulting firm. “Companies expect that there will be a certain number of personal calls, that someone may have to check in on their kids at 3 p.m., for example; but in general you’re supposed to be doing work at work.”
So, if you’re not doing anything wrong, try to ignore the monitoring. But if you’re coming to work to shop online, my advice to you is to cut it out—or you may e-Bay yourself right out of the organization.
Sincerely yours,
Carmen Courtesy
. . .
Dear Carmen,
I am a manager and have a coworker of somewhat equal status. This person does not put forth any special effort and his skills are not up to par. He routinely forgets or misses deadlines. He’s in at 8 a.m. and out at 4:45 p.m.. Also, he is commonly on his cell phone or the company phone, openly chatting with friends for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
However, the president, to whom we both report, doesn’t seem to make any efforts to change it. He uses hints and sarcasm to the offending employee and assumes he “gets it.”
This has been going on for more than two years.
I’ve spoken to the offending employee—and was greeted with derision and insults. I’ve also spoken to the president, but he never insists on any changes and the employee seems to revel in doing this in front of everyone. In fact, this coworker recently requested and was granted the privilege of leaving 15 minutes early each day.
How do I bring about a change? Or how do I at least deal with the constant anger and the feeling I’m being taken for granted?
Fed Up with Favoritism
. . .
Dear Fed Up:
Sounds to me like you’ve done everything you can to deal with this “offending employee.” You’ve taken the risk of confronting him and also speaking to the president, but your efforts haven’t had any effect. It may be time to try and accept the situation.
Remember that this is really the boss’ decision. It’s not really about you. Also, in many companies, salaried employees have more latitude when it comes to their schedules. And, happily, that applies to you, too.
“Just because this fellow is getting extra privileges doesn’t mean someone else can’t also enjoy a privilege or two,” says Jill Bremer, etiquette and image consultant. “Sometimes it just requires asking in a convincing way for something you’d really like.”
In any case, you may want to avoid pushing on this issue much more lest you come across as jealous or whiney. Try to accept the situation; or, if it’s just not something you can live with, it may be time to consider looking for another job.
Sincerely yours,
Carmen Courtesy


Linn Back is an affiliate owner at Westaff, which has offices in Lansing, Owosso and Grand Rapids. Westaff provides temporary and temporary-to-permanent staffing, professional permanent placement, behavioral and skills employment testing, and employment and background verification checks.








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