Q: My problem is that people keep messing with my desk. When employees from outlying areas visit our office, they are told to use any empty cubicle. One day when I was out, someone used up all the tissues from my Kleenex box and completely filled the wastebasket with them. Another time, one of the visitors apparently took my favorite pen.
I also find that people frequently change the settings on my computer. For example, they will mute the sound, create a new default font, or send documents to a different printer. I placed a polite note on my monitor asking visitors to please restore the settings, but that had no effect.
I have no idea who these employees are, so I can't talk with them directly. Although I don't want to seem petty, I think their behavior is very rude. What should I do about this?
A: Almost everyone feels territorial about their office habitat, so I completely understand your reaction. Given your company's shared-desk policy, however, I'm afraid you may need to adjust your thinking a bit. Where you see "my desk" and "my computer," management just sees available space and equipment.
While you may not be able to banish the intruders, you can still attempt to modify their behavior. To clearly indicate that this cubicle is occupied, put some photos or other personal touches in obvious places. When you plan to be away, stash all items which you wish to protect in a drawer. If your desk has a lock, use it.
Retain the reminder about your computer settings, but make it more specific. Since most people won't remember what they changed, provide a detailed list of your preferences. Some visitors may ignore this request, but the considerate ones will comply.
Ultimately, though, the most helpful strategy is to make the mental shift from irritation to acceptance. Try to view these interlopers as a necessary evil and expect to undo their damage from time to time. There's no point getting stressed out over something you can't change.
Get boss' attention before jumping ship
Q: One of my employees is an incompetent drama queen. "Lindsey" makes more serious errors than anyone I have ever supervised. It can take hours to correct some of her mistakes. On top of that, she plays such childish emotional games with her co-workers that two of them have threatened to quit.
This is a family-owned business, and Lindsey has somehow managed to convince the family that she is a wonderful employee. If I mention any performance issues, she immediately runs to the owner and tells him that I'm treating her unfairly. Once she even called his mother to complain about me.
I would like to terminate Lindsey's employment, but the owner will never agree to that. This situation has become so frustrating that I have begun looking for another job, despite the fact that I love working here. Should I keep trying to fix this problem or just continue my career elsewhere?
A: Before deciding to jump ship, make one more attempt to get your boss' attention. Simply describing Lindsey as careless and disagreeable will not be sufficient, because that contradicts his firsthand experience. Since she always acts angelic in his presence, you must clearly demonstrate what happens when he's not around.
Start by carefully documenting Lindsey's errors over an extended period, showing exactly how these mistakes have wasted time and money or harmed customer perceptions. Arrange for her unhappy co-workers to discuss their concerns with the owner. Once you have proven that a problem exists, you can then recommend a reasonable solution.
Instead of requesting immediate termination, suggest that Lindsey be given a performance improvement plan. Draft some remedial action steps and review them with your boss, then request that he join you in discussing the plan with Lindsey. His participation is important, because you need to maintain a united front.
If the owner seems willing to participate in this process, that's an encouraging sign. But if he takes Lindsey's side or offers only tepid support, odds are that you will never be allowed to truly function as a manager in this parochial company.