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We had a company issued service mobile phone to be used for emergencies and office related texts and calls. 5 months ago our supervisor's personal mobile phone got damaged and he decided to use the company issued service mobile phone for his personal use. I think he also needs it because our work involves 'on demand call', since we're working as a Software Engineers keeping the company's internal process software running 24/7. When he decided to use the phone, he asked me if I had a spare phone that could be used as a service phone temporarily. Back then, I thought it would only take around 2 weeks for him to replace his own phone.

Fast forward, that didn't happen and I didn't bother to take back my spare phone because I don't want to create a bad relation with my supervisor and also there are times I needed to use the service phone, and now we don't know anymore where is the original service phone since our supervisor already had a new phone as I noticed.

Now that I already resigned, and only have two weeks left in the office (rendering required days according to our law and transition duties), I'm thinking to take back my phone. How would I say it without giving a bitter taste before my last day or when I leave?

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    What country is this? Cultural context may play a big role in answering this questions. – Malisbad Jul 3 at 4:26
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    Do you have anything in writing about this in case he forgot? – Borgh Jul 3 at 6:40
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    What kind of bridge-burning do you expect this to cause? Do you think he'll start badmouthing you for asking your personal property back? – Moyli Jul 4 at 6:44
  • @Malisbad please tell me what country finds stealing acceptable? – Emobe Jul 4 at 9:25
  • @Emobe China. Don’t even leave your umbrella/wallet even on the chair next to you, if it’s not in your possession, it can be anyone’s – vol7ron Jul 4 at 17:43
155

If it is your personal property then you have every right to ask him to return it.

Ask now to give him time to sort his own replacement or you might consider selling it to him.

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    "Hey, I'm gonna need my phone back next week. Have you got a new one lined up yet?" – Omegastick Jul 3 at 6:20
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    @Omegastick I wouldn't even bother with the second sentence. Them lining up a new phone is effectively their problem. Including that leaves the door open for, "oh, um, no, we don't have a new one yet, can we keep yours for a few more days?" – dwizum Jul 3 at 15:41
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    To which you can reply "you can keep it until next week, but I'll need it back then." – wizzwizz4 Jul 3 at 19:05
57

One of the things that happens during the notice period is that the company claims all its property back, and the employee claims all their property back. Many companies even have a formal process for getting the departing employee to turn over the laptop, phone, key, and credit card...

Now it is possible that it hasn't occurred to your local manager that your phone will no longer be available. So the idea would be to tell them gently. "Hey boss we are still using my spare phone, I will have to take back my phone, so you will need to make other arrangements"

But don't be worried about offending them, it is your stuff and you should take it back. Now because it might have company information on the phone, you should also give them time to pull any contacts and texts off the phone, so don't wait till the last day to tell them.

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    The key thing is you need to give him notice now so he has time to make arrangements. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 4 at 2:35
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You did a co-worker a personal favor - ask for the phone back the same way you would if you had lent it to an acquaintance outside of work. If your colleague wants to hold on to the phone a bit longer, or seems frustrated that you want it back, it's up to you whether you insist on the phone's return or let him/her continue to use it.

Focus on leaving on good terms with the organization, not just your supervisor. Even if the supervisor is upset by your wanting your phone back, it's unlikely to be an issue that disrupts your relationship with your (soon to be previous) employer.

Additionally, your colleague's personal use of a company phone is objectionable and could be an issue if discovered by your employer. Do your colleague a favor and let them know they should stop using the work phone for anything besides work. If you feel like it's the right thing to do, let a manager know what is going on so they can intervene. It's better to have confronted your colleague than to later be found to have been complicit with misuse of company resources.

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    I agree, the semantics were very wrong. The on-call phone should have stayed with that task, and OP should have lent his personal phone to the supervisor. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 4 at 2:36
  • Regarding the last paragraph, it appears that the supervisor is no longer using the company phone, at least from my reading of this part of the question, "now we don't know anymore where is the original service phone since our supervisor already had a new phone as I noticed." – reirab Jul 5 at 7:12
6

It is no surprise at all that getting a replacement phone "never happened". Once your phone was available, there was no longer a problem, so there was no priority for doing anything else.

If you are leaving in two weeks, you certainly need to remind your manager about this - by now, it's quite likely he has completely forgotten where the current working phone actually came from!

Personally I would give him two choices: either return the phone, or buy it from you at its market price.

By "buy it", I mean "paid for in cash" - not a vague promise that the company accounts department will send you a cheque in the post one day. If he's a supervisor, he shouldn't be so poor that he cant afford to pay you out of his own pocket, and reclaim the money back from the company himself - and since it's his own money, he has some incentive to actually do that!

5

To my understanding, your personal phone is in the office and accessible to you. The former company's phone is under your boss' possession, and unreachable for you.

Just take the phone that belongs to you, remove the chip and make sure to return the chip in ostensive manner, like "Hey everyone, here is the company's chip that was attached to my spare phone, where can I leave this chip so you guys don't lose it?". If anyone asks, make a point that the phone is yours and everyone should have known it.

Your boss might be mad that he "suddenly" needs to replace the company's phone, but that's life: When you procrastine enough, every problem becomes an urgent problem.

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    This seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do on your last day IF you've given clear warning in advance that this is going to happen. – TenMinJoe Jul 3 at 14:22
  • @TenMinJoe This answer is not appropriate in any professional setting. If their employer was uncivil about the matter then I would go no further than removing the chip, putting it in a sealed envelope, and giving it to the manager in private. There is no reason to paint yourself as a resentful and ostensive asshat before leaving. – MonkeyZeus Jul 3 at 15:15
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    @MonkeyZeus To clarify one thing: "Ostensive" here just means "in public, so everyone can see". Returning the chip in private is one option, but OP should take the opportunity to make it clear for everyone in the office that the phone is his. Otherwise, once OP is gone, the supervisor or someone else may spread word that OP stole a phone that belonged to the company. The ideia is to give everyone the opportunity to complain, but start off by taking what is his. – Mefitico Jul 3 at 16:09
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    Not sure why my first comment was removed but this suggestion is entirely disjointed from the situation and is guaranteed to make people lose respect for anyone that executes the advice presented. – MonkeyZeus Jul 3 at 17:07
  • OP explicitly states they don't want to burn bridges. Why not simply apporach the coworker telling OP's leaving and needs their phone back. Quick and simple. – Bernhard Döbler Jul 3 at 19:49
1

You would like to have it back, except when it negatively affects the relation.
If you are ok with not getting it back, you can ask in a suitable way to cover both possible results.

It you ask him whether he still needs it, he can give it back in the case he does no longer need it. In this case, he has no disadvantage, and there is no reason for a negative influence on the relation. The only problem is to ask it in a way that really creates no pressure to give it back. If it's no problem for him, he will give it back when he is just informed that it is useful for you. If he actually needs it, he may indicate that somehow, you accept to let him keep it. But the case in between is difficult. He does not really need it technically, because he could buy another one and configure that for the use. So that is the case you do not want. It creates the need to invest time and/or money in relation to your action. It's the only case it could potentionally create any negative emotions. You want to avoid that, and handle it like the case when he needs it and you agree. So you need to avoid to create the normal psychological situation that he would somehow like to keep it, but the social norms obviously demand that he gives it back. So it is not about saying he can keep it if he likes to - because that does not change the social norm.

I propose to ask him in an informal context whether he still uses it, like "By the way..." when getting a coffee. And not explicitly noting that you somehow need it a little bit - that is implicit from the question.
In this way, he may remember that he intended to give it back already, or that he just not thought about it, but clearly should have, not causing any drawback. He may answer along the lines of "Ah, sure, I forgot to give it back.". Otherwise, even if he only hesitates to answer, you can say something like "No problem, keep it." and change the topic, or even "No problem, keep it. I don't really need it anyway.". He may give it back anyway - but clearly not because he feels you pressed him.



I had a similar situation recently, which worked out very well. A neighbor asked whether I could print some pages for him, because he did not have a printer at hand. I answered that I do not have a printer myself - the last broke down, and I need one only rarely. And that I wanted to order one anyway. Now, I had already looked into it and chosen which I want. I ordered it by Amazon Prime for the next day, and knocked on my neighbors door less than five minutes later. I asked whether he needs it on the same day, or could wait until a day later, because I had ordered one. He actually needed it the same day, and had already found another neighbor. So it did not help practically, but was certainly a nice gesture.

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Usually, you diffuse situations like these by saying you don't want to sound like a jerk when in fact the other person is the jerk.

EG:

"Hey Boss.. I don't want to sound like an a-hole, but I lent you a phone a while back. Since I'm leaving the company, I was hoping to get that back."

For 99.9% of the normal, decent people out there, this will trigger a subconcious response in them of ...

"Holy crap, I totally forgot about that! You're totally not an a-hole for asking for your stuff back. In fact, I'M the a-hole for not giving it back to you sooner!"

For the other 0.01% of people out there, it will trigger a "Deny, Deflect, Defend" response in them, because either

1) they don't want to give the property back 2) they don't know where it is and don't want to go to the effort to find it

The "Deny, Deflect, Defend" strategy is what a-holes use to try to deflect bad behaviour they've done.

EG: kids griefing on minecraft

(admin) why did you grief this person's build? DENY - I didn't do it! (admin) I have logs showing you did. DEFLECT - It was my kid bro / sis! They must have logged on as me. (admin) That's no excuse. DEFEND - Ok, look, I did it. But, it's because this guy stole some diamonds from me.

If you ask for your property back, and your boss immediately goes into DENY, DEFLECT, DEFEND mode.. it's best to just walk away. They're going to try to find some way to make life difficult for you, b/c they still have power over you.

EG's of responses to know your boss is going to be a butt about it:

"Are you sure you lent me a phone? I don't remember" "Oh, well, you're going to have to file a report with HR to..." "Oh, right.. your phone.. I'm gonna need time to try to find that.. uh..." "I thought you gave me that phone. Why are you asking for it back?"

If you're on bad terms with your boss, they could use this as a way to make your life difficult before you leave the company. If you're on good terms with your boss, but they're just a d-bag, then they will simply see this as you making their life hard before you leave.

So, approach your boss, ask politely, and if they respond in such a way that you can immeidately tell it's going to be a nightmare for you to get your property back.. JUST WALK AWAY.

"Oh, hey, ok, that's ok, Boss. Just consider it a present then. No big deal. Have a good one."

Just walk away and take it as a lesson to not lend out personal items at work going forward. (Most folks learn this in school by lending out pens / pencils to folks and realizing a-holes don't return them.. so it's best to just never lend anything out.)

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