My (male) coworker who sits behind me has a female friend who calls his direct line every half hour or so, day in, day out.

Almost every time he answers one of these calls, the caller hangs up instantly. Once or twice a day, though, my coworker will have the phone to his ear for a minute or so, presumably listening to her ranting about something, and his only responses after listening to her for a bit are "[Name], I've gotta go, I'm working," "I'm sorry you're having a bad day," "try to relax and not think about it," "I hope your day gets better," "It's not appropriate for me to be talking right now, this is a business line," etc.

I don't mean to eavesdrop, but the calls are very distracting to me, and presumably to my coworker too. The calls do interfere with work tasks, too - if someone is at his desk talking to him, that never stops him from answering and wasting the time of whoever is standing there waiting for him to get off the phone.

Is it my place to say something to him and/or our supervisor? I tend to keep mum about things that bother me but this has been going on for over a year now (she has never missed a day) and it's getting to the point where it's really annoying me and I feel like I at least have to ask him what the deal is with these calls.

  • 1
    If you have put up with it for a year, it is hard to say NOW that you can't put up with it any longer. If what you are describing is accurate, you lasted 50 weeks longer than I would have.
    – tomjedrz
    Sep 11 '14 at 19:06
  • 2
    Why hasn't it already come up in your conversations with him?
    – Telastyn
    Sep 11 '14 at 19:24
  • 6
    The part with "rings and hangs up" sounds like your coworker may be in an abusive relationship, where the purpose of the calls is to verify that he is at work and not with an imagined mistress. If so, your coworker needs help. If you have a good HR department, maybe they could help point him in the right direction? There are abusive women as well as men and this is a very controlling behaviour.
    – Jenny D
    Sep 12 '14 at 8:41
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    @JennyD I think JennyD makes an excellent point. Another possibility is that this is a close friend is is having a very difficult time; maybe bad enough that he thinks not answering and providing some basic level of support could mean life or death to them. That's not to say that it should be your problem, but it's worth keeping in mind that he may have no better options for meeting conflicting obligations. Get more information before acting.
    – Nicholas
    Sep 12 '14 at 17:18
  • 2
    Are you sure it's a woman friend and not a child?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Sep 12 '14 at 18:47

Talk to your co-worker before talking to anyone else.

When the opportunity is right, perhaps in the afternoon after he's received a number of calls, jokingly mention to him about how many calls he gets daily.

Give him an opportunity to "unload" or "open-up" about these calls.

It sounds like he is not encouraging them and tries to end the call as quickly as possible. It's quite likely that these calls are stressful for him and we don't know what the story behind them are. He may have a family member that is sick or mentally challenged. After a year of working close together, the two of you should not be strangers to each other. He must know you can hear the calls.

I'm of the opinion that, except for not answering the phone, he probably can't stop the calls. If it's the ringing of the phone that is distracting, the volume level of the ring itself might be controllable.

  • 1
    This is the route I'm taking. He took a vacation day today and, so far, halfway through the day (I'm on lunch now), his line has rang more than 10 times. I think I may mention it Monday morning in an off-handed way ("Your phone was ringing an awful lot Friday, and it looks like you have some voicemails...") but in a way that he will understand that his "friend" calling repeatedly annoys others besides himself and perhaps he needs to say something to this person to make the calls stop or at least become less frequent.
    – Matteo C
    Sep 12 '14 at 17:12

As you describe it, it seems your co-worker isn't happy about getting these calls either. So it seems that the problem is not your co-worker, but the caller who doesn't seem to understand that her constant calls interfere with your co-workers work and reputation.

The best possibility would be for your co-worker to stop it, by saying things like "I had a severe argument with my colleagues about these constant calls and they can't stand it" or "I had a talk with my boss yesterday, and if these calls don't stop I'm in trouble" or "I had a talk with my boss yesterday, and I'll probably lose my job if these calls don't stop". Obviously neither of these have to be true, but these are things that should stop the calls.

As an alternative, ask him to pass the phone over to you, and you can explain the situation calmly to the caller. You might have to do that several times which is a bit of a pain, but it should work.

Last resort is changing your colleagues phone number and informing reception to not give it out.

  • 1
    Very good point about the co-worker not being happy about the calls either. From the description, it seems that co-worker is doing his very best to minimise disruption from these calls. However the situation is dealt with, this co-worker should not be treated as if he has done something wrong. But he can still be part of the solution.
    – Alnitak
    Sep 12 '14 at 8:45

Do what I do: Wear earbuds. Not a choice for all, but the best solution if possible. Because if you are working in an open layout office environment, you can never really control your environment.

That said, I would recommend talking to your supervisor but placing it in the context of you cannot get work done. And I am unclear about your office situation, but it might be best to request that your desk be moved elsewhere. If the topic of why, you can simply state, “My office mate is just an endless distraction.” For all you know you are not the first person to complain.

Also if you are hesitant about being “one of those guys” who complains when things are not working well, then do the following:

  • When the time is right, talk casually to your co-worker about the issue. Don’t be hard but don’t be soft either. Lay it straight out: His behavior in handling these calls is making the job difficult.
  • If things don’t improve then, turn up the heat a bit & state, “I can’t get work done. And if I can’t get work done, I’m not going to be quiet about this.”
  • And then finally if all else fails, then go to your supervisor or human resources to discuss.

The reality is for about 8 hours a day “work” really entails being someplace you do not want to be for the most of us. While you cannot always choose the environment you are in, you can always control the interactions such as this. And if you feel guilty about “ratting” out your co-worker, news flash: If this person were not your co-worker you would most likely not be working with them.

If you are there to do a job & cannot do it due to co-workers creating a difficult environment, then you need to do something. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t be shy. Be realistic & clear.


I don't know about you, but I've conditioned myself to tune out what's happening around me when I am working. In fact, my previous boss used to yell in my ear to get my attention - He was well aware that it was not a good idea for him to be clutching his chest while I was busy working out a solution to a problem :)

You can choose to use headphones whenever he gets a call. If you can do that, you just took care of the situation without getting your manager involved.

If you decide to get your manager involved, then you have to decide what you want from your manager: Do you want your colleague to be moved? Do you want to be the one that moves? If I were your manager, I'd be asking you why are you allowing yourself to be distracted by calls that have nothing to do with you?

Now that I think about it, if your colleague's caller could text, you could probably live with that. If you decide you can live with this solution, suggest to your manager that you could live with this solution. The reason I am suggesting working through your manager is that I am not sure how well your colleague would take it if you were to walk up to him and suggest directly to him. You know your coworker better than I do.

  • I wish he could just text, or let the calls go to his cell, but cell phones are absolutely forbidden in our office (everyone leaves them in their cars.) The calls to his desk line started precisely when this rule went into effect, so I'm assuming she used to just call his cell in much the same way she calls his desk now back when we were allowed to have cell phones in the office.
    – Matteo C
    Sep 11 '14 at 20:50
  • @Matteo Every rule has its exceptions. Could they make an exception in your colleague's case? I have to say that you work in one strange office, because someone has yet to tell me that I can't have my cell phone in the office. Not that I want to make an argument out of it, but using cellphones frees up the office phone lines from being tied on personal calls. Sep 11 '14 at 21:06
  • We have some draconian security policies but they are understandable as we primarily service the defense industry and much of what we do, while not exactly "classified" or worthy of getting security clearances, is definitely sensitive. We can't bring in any kind of external electronics, even totally offline devices without cameras like iPods are forbidden, as well as flash drives and the like.
    – Matteo C
    Sep 12 '14 at 13:17
  • @Matteo Okay, your management set this "no electronic devices" policy - for the best of reasons, I must say. It's up to them to help you resolve or manage your predicament under existing policy. Be prepared to meet their objection when they suggest headphones or earplugs. Sep 12 '14 at 13:27

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