coworker interrupts me with questions she could answer herself, playing a game at a public-facing job, and more — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker interrupts me with questions she could answer herself

My coworker and I used to work in the same extremely toxic workplace. We leaned on each other, commiserated, and when I told her I was done, she pointed me in the direction of a job she knew would be better. I moved to the new job and after six months, she took a job here as well.

The onboarding process here isn’t the best. We were each assigned a mentor, but largely we need to figure out how to do our work from the previous examples we can find on the system. The work isn’t difficult or complicated, but especially in my first couple months, I frequently found myself digging into the files to resolve obscure issues. When my coworker started, I knew that I would be a good resource for helping her find her feet on things. I was happy to help when she was starting out.

However, now it has been three months and she comes to my office upwards of six times a day to ask questions. Mostly they are questions she could have found the answer for herself in about five minutes. I get that it is faster to come ask me, but I have a job to do as well. Also, she does have a mentor whose job it is to help her with these issues.

I don’t want to be rude or alienate her, as at this point we are friends. But at the same time, I am getting extremely frustrated by having to constantly answer her questions whenever she hits the slightest snag. Also, I’ve only been in the job six months longer than she has! I am sure that if I outright ask her to stop, she will get offended. But I want to be able to focus on my work without the constant interruptions.

“Now that you’re settled in, can you start going to Mentor with questions like X or Y? I’m available if she’s not free and something is urgent, but I’m realizing I need more focus and it takes me a long time to get back into a task if I stop what I’m doing.”

If she’s offended by that, that would be pretty ridiculous and an issue with her, not with what you said. (And if she’s that overly sensitive, it’s unlikely there any way you can word it that she won’t bristle at, and if that’s the case you might as well just say it and get it over with.)

Alternately, you can make it less satisfying for her to ask you questions than to take five minutes to figure it out on her own by coaching her instead of giving her the answer: “Where have you looked so far? … OK, go look there and then if you still have questions, come back.” … “What did you find? Which part of the document did you look in?” … etc. She’ll either pick up the problem-solving skills she needs, or she’ll realize you’re not a fast source of answers.

my coworker’s questions are getting out of hand

2. Playing a game at a public-facing job

I work as a scheduler at a hospital, which is a front line job. During down time when patients are not at our desk, we are expected to do back work, which is completing scheduling requests. One of my colleagues and I like to do the NYT Connections Puzzle each day and we would share our results with each other. This is how we bond. One of our managers did catch us doing it once and she said that it does not look good to play the game in a patient-facing job where the patients and families need us. She is the one who has reminded the team again and again to put our phones away at the front desk. The amount of time I spend on the puzzle each day is minimal. If I am with a patient, they have my undivided attention. Most of the time, I am doing the work. I am not the one who is scrolling on social media all the time on my phone. We all check our phones and surf the web at work a bit, especially in this day and age. So far, there hasn’t been any further disciplinary action (at least what I know).

How common is it for disciplinary action to be taken if you are on your phones and scrolling on the web for even a fraction of your shift?

If you’ve been explicitly told to stop and you’re caught doing it anyway, the odds of it being a problem are pretty good. Whether that means formal disciplinary action depends on how your workplace works; if that’s a thing they do for small issues, then sure. Or you could just get reminded again. If it comes up a third time, though, that looks pretty bad.

There are jobs where you just can’t use your phone at a front desk, and it sounds like you’re in one of them.

3. Can I use a reference who lost their job for something bad?

I started a new role during the height of the pandemic and I hate it. I knew pretty soon that I needed to move on, but put me in the bucket of people who stayed too long to try and close out projects / fear of finding a new role that paid as well, etc. The person who hired me (Paula) moved on after about a year because they were also a pandemic hire and not a good fit. Selfishly, I figured that was perfect for my job search since I could use her as a reference, because my current manager is absolutely not someone I’d trust to support me during a job search.

Cut to a while later, and I ran into to someone on Paula’s new team at a professional conference. They had been harassed and bullied by Paula almost since day one and filed a complaint. Fast forward another six months and I found out Paula has been asked to resign or let go. Details are unclear, but it’s not good either way. As far as I know, she hasn’t found a new role nearly a year later.

I am not planning to stay in this field in my next role. It was a pandemic layoff-driven experiment that has not played out for me, so it’s unlikely that a future potential employer would have the industry insider knowledge that Paula was forced out for for extremely bad behavior. But what if they did find out? That wouldn’t look good for me as a candidate right? And beyond that, it just feels sort of morally icky to use someone as a reference who harassed and bullied a direct report (or anyone!) I’m not off-base here to select a different reference familiar with my work in my current role, even if they aren’t a manager, right?

I think you’re fine to continue using Paula, especially if the choice is between her and a non-manager reference. First, you don’t know the details of what actually happened (or, it sounds like, whether it’s the reason she left). Second, people successfully use references all the time who aren’t perfect in their own work lives, and it’s fine. Unless the reference is known to have a very specific sort of bad judgment that would be relevant to your hiring (like if they were known for cutting corners in a QA job and you need them to speak to your QA skills, or they embezzled money and they’d need to talk about your bookkeeping prowess), it’s unlikely to be a problem.

4. People are confused by my non-western name

I have a Japanese first name (very common in Japan but uncommon in the United States) and a Pakistani last name that I gained through marriage. Most of my work happens via email so they will see both the sender and the email signature “Firstname Lastname” and I believe the fact that both names are clearly ethnic is causing an annoying issue for me.

So many people will reply “Good morning Lastname!” and I really hate it. Usually I send a reply stating, “Please call me Firstname or Mrs./Ms. Lastname” and was recently told by a colleague that this comes off as rude, as if I’m asking someone to be unnecessarily formal. My intention was just to acknowledge that Lastname is a name of mine, but we’re not on a sports team where they should refer to me that way. I’m not sure if there is a better way to get this across to new people or even worse people who will continue to call me Lastname after I’ve asked them to stop. I feel like I shouldn’t mind but I find it so disrespectful and mildly racist. Especially as I would never call anyone by a name they’ve asked me not to use. Is there a better way you can think of to get my point across?

It’s not rude, but asking to be called Ms. Lastname in a context where people don’t go by last names is potentially going to sound a little off (and that could be the chilly part your coworker is responding to). I get that you’re doing it to emphasize that it’s your last name, not your first, but instead I’d just say, “Lastname is my last name; please call me Firstname” or just “my name is FirstName” or “please call me Firstname.”

And yes, once you’ve corrected someone, it’s rude if they don’t bother to retain it.

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