Most of us have an office telephone and sometimes when a person is on leave, or simply not on his/her work station, the telephone just rings and is somewhat disruptive to everyone around it. What we currently do is just wait for the phone to stop ringing, but sometimes the caller just doesn't get that the person he/she is calling is not around and the phone just rings all the time.

Should I answer my co-worker's phone when he's not around? Or should I just raise the phone so it's always busy and the phone wouldn't ring?

  • 3
    Private phones? Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 7:27
  • Are these calls coming from the outside or internal to the company? Especially for calls coming from outside, you may have a company policy on this (formal or informal)
    – user8036
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 13:40
  • 3
    How about turning the ringer volume to minimum and leaving your co-worker a note that it's set that way? Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 13:44
  • 1
    Ideally, the case where someone is on leave should be handled by the phone going straight to voicemail. Sometimes there really is a (partial) technological solution to a social problem ;-) If the phone system doesn't explicitly do it, maybe unplugging their handset will have the same effect? Anyway if you know for sure nobody's going to answer it then there's no point in it ringing. Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 10:58
  • Ask your manager. Your company probably has a policy on this. However, I don't know what your company's policy is, so I can't answer this question. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 23:27

5 Answers 5


A telephone needs to ring loud enough to alert somebody who is sitting at arms length. If you are not that somebody and it's disturbs you, it's set too loud. That's just a setting in the telephone, change that setting. Even if the other person is actually available, the telephone will ring one or two times. That must not be a distraction to the rest of your team. From experience I would say make it ring half as loud as it is now and it will be much better for you and still loud enough for the owner.

As to answering his phone in his place: can you add value over "he's not here now" that just not picking up conveys? If you can do his duties or can provide information that the caller needs, for example that the owner of the phone is sick and the name of his stand in, then by all means pick up the phone. But if all you can say is "he's not here, I'm not sure when he's back." then don't. It doesn't help the caller and only costs you time.

Generally speaking, don't be his answering machine. If your company would have wanted that, it would have invested $5 in an actual piece of hardware doing that.

  • 7
    Your boss asks you, what were you doing in my office earlier? Oh, I was adjusting your phone. It should be just loud enough for someone within arm's length to hear it.
    – dcaswell
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 14:06
  • 7
    If you wouldn't have permission to go into someone's space and answer their phone, then naturally one would not have permission to alter a phone. But the OP specifically says "co-worker", which presumes a peer - not a boss in a private office.
    – BrianH
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 17:33
  • 2
    @BrianDHall - You can also always wait for that person to return, request they turn the ring volume down, to a volume that is less distracting.
    – Donald
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 18:04
  • @Ramhound Indeed, that's an ideal handling!
    – BrianH
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 18:14
  • The problem with this strategy is not all people hear the same. Some of us have very acute hearing and notice far quieter sounds than most... Then on the other end you have people who hear well enough to talk on the phone, but really struggle with in person conversations... Someone hard of hearing might not be capable of even hearing the phone at arms length until the majority of the office can hear it loud in clear. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 18:21

Should I answer my co-worker's phone when he's not around?

No, of course not.

Do you answer your coworker's individual work email when he's not around? Of course not - you have some sort of shared mailbox when you need to handle shared requests.

Most people would be a little weirded out if you answered their phone at their desk and took a message for them. This is not, generally speaking, considered proper.

Or should I just raise the phone so it's always busy and the phone wouldn't ring?

If this problem is bothering you, the solution isn't passive aggressively dealing with it.

Talk with your coworker and ask him or her, "hey - I'm wondering if I can get you to turn your ringer down, you get a lot of calls and when you aren't here it goes off pretty often and is distracting."

  • Downvoter care to explain?
    – enderland
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 23:56
  • 4
    I didn't down-vote, but a phone is different to an email. With an email, the sender doesn't get a chance to not divulge information. It's different with a phone call. You pick up, you say: "Hey so-and-so isn't here right now", and the caller can decide if they want to leave a message and divulge context. Otherwise they just say: "No worries, I'll try again later". Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 11:51
  • This is a bad answer you should always answer a phone that's ringing it might be an important customer Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 17:36
  • If my coworker gets an email, I don't even know about it, let alone get distracted by it. A phone and an email are different things. Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 23:34

The answer is: it depends. Honestly, there are situation when all options would be completely appropriate, from changing the loudness of ringers, to always answering the phone, to never answering the phone, to setting the phone to "do not disturb/away", to disconnecting the thing entirely.

The safest answer is "talk your immediate manager or supervisor" - that person should have enough understanding of the culture and rules to decide how to handle this issue.

I have been in workplaces where the only acceptable answer was to answer the phone, regardless of what line it was or why it wasn't being answered, so much so that the general manager would get a nasty phone call from their boss if the phones weren't answered within a set amount of rings. On the other hand, I've worked in places where one simply hit an "away/DND" button even when they went out to lunch to others wouldn't be disrupted. I've also disconnected a phone in my area because I did not answer phones, so it was silly to be bothered by ringing all the time.

  • 4
    Absolutely! It depends! I'm boggled that some of the other answers are stating as bald facts things like "most people would be a little weirded out if you answered their phone at their desk and took a message" and "don't be (an) answering machine". I too have worked at offices where we would periodically receive nastygrams from management because phones were being allowed to ring out with nobody taking the call and attempting to provide assistance. Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 23:31
  • @Carson63000 situations are a lot different in environments which are effectively service desks/call centers. If you read the question you will see this is not being described - it's more just "this is annoying make it go away."
    – enderland
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 23:41
  • 2
    @enderland these were not such environments. They were regular office environments where most of the calls were from internal staff and everyone was expected to pick up phones when their owners were not around, so that the caller could be told when the owner was expected back, and asked if anyone else could help. But then in other similar environments it was the norm to just let everything fall through to voicemail. Hence: it depends. The answer is entirely down to the questioner's office culture and expectations. Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 23:43

People who are planning to be out generally have the reponsibility to set up their phone to go straight to voice mail and generally to leave a message saying who to contact and how long they are out. IF they are not doing this, then ask your boss to remind everyone that ringing phones are distracting others and that they should be doing this when they are out. It also will help whoever is calling to know who to call in the person's absence which is a business critical usually. Won't help with the "just left the desk for a couple of minutes" stuff but should reduce the number of rings significantly.

And learn to ignore the phone. Don't get worked up or upset, just notice it is ringing and go back to what you are doing. It is more your own reaction to the noise than the noise which is causing you to be distracted.


Answering somebody else's phone prevents the incoming call from going to voice mail, which could be inconvenient or disruptive for the person the call was intended for. And depending on the situation, answering somebody else's phone might be considered an invasion of privacy.

If a coworker is away for a while and the ringing of his/her phone is a distraction, then you might consider lifting the receiver. Do this only if doing so causes incoming calls to go directly to voice mail -- which is what it should be doing while the person is absent anyway. Be sure that's what it does before you do anything (for example, test it with your own phone first). If you do this, leave the receiver in a position that will be obvious, so your coworker can hang up the phone again when he/she returns.

If lifting the receiver doesn't cause incoming calls to go to voice mail, then you'll need to find another solution. If it's really a significant problem, talk to your manager. Among other things, discuss encouraging everyone to turn down their ringer volume and to reconfigure their phones so they don't ring while they're away for an extended period of time.

I wouldn't mess with the phone (changing settings, etc.) beyond possibly lifting the receiver.

(Peripherally relevant anecdote: At a previous job, a coworker left on vacation with a mobile phone locked in a drawer. The alarm went off at the same time every day.)

  • 1
    FWIW, lifting the receiver might cause the phone to freak out after a while, trying to warn you the receiver is lifted. But if it does you'll find out soon enough that you need to try something else. Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 11:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .