31

I have recently joined an IT firm as a programmer, after a career in painting didn't look so promising. The office that I work in, is like any other force, like one of those open plan offices; desks of workers are situated in a single hall and are next to each other.

A young woman whom I am seated on the right to, is snapping pictures of me and I have caught this devilish activity of her very recently. At first, I thought that she was just making jokes with her colleagues as she would giggle and stare at me, along with one of her friends as they would come by often. Then she started taking out her phone and pointing the camera towards me.

She started doing this very very often, and one day, a light hit my face with a "flash" sound, as if she had taken a picture with Flash on by accident of me. As she did it, I looked at her and she just looked the other way clearly looking very guilty. It is clear that she had been taking pictures of me secretly.

Now, I can no longer work comfortably. She didn't take out her phone for a couple of days but now she's doing it again. I have to get up and take strolls around the office because I am feeling very uncomfortable as she's taking pictures. I cannot sit at the same desk again, and I have no friend at the office as I don't talk much to anybody. However, I kindly asked some person to change desks and he replied "Desks are permanent."

I don't speak very much to the manager either, but if this keeps going on, I will have to quit the firm and I don't want to because of one co-worker's behaviour. However, I have the manager's email and most of us contact him by mail. I want to write something to him, in order that he could do something for her to stop doing this. But he can't just tell her to stop using her phone, to which she could reply "I can do whatever I want!" But then still, her constant stares make me uncomfortable as well, and I don't think he'll change desks...

What should I do?

  • 47
    Please explain why you feel the better course of action is to quit the company than to speak to the manager? It doesn't make much sense without a better explanation. – Kent A. Sep 15 '15 at 0:32
  • 18
    Why quit the company? or even speak to the manager? When it seems to me you haven't even spoken to the woman in question. Does she have a crush on you? Are you funny looking? Is she working on a photography application? Please give us more context. For one thing, it would help if she didn't sit right next to you, so moving her a little bit could help. Please try speaking to her privately. Phone cell use, whether it's someone playing candy crush, using sms/facebook, or just speaking on it, should be highly discouraged anyway. Many offices relegate personal cell phone use to a designated area. – Stephan Branczyk Sep 15 '15 at 1:17
  • 38
    "But he can't just tell her to stop using her phone" - yes, he can. – Jon Story Sep 15 '15 at 9:05
  • 9
    OP, please try not to use the term "mentally ill" so lightly, as it could be consider offensive. – Trickylastname Sep 15 '15 at 19:20
  • 15
    @keshlam would you say that to a woman who was consistently being harassed by a male co-worker? – user9158 Sep 16 '15 at 2:38
61

The obvious question

...have you asked your coworker to stop? I don't see anything suggesting you have asked her to stop. Your reasons are not great for not having done this.

Approach her the next time she takes a picture, saying, "Hey, this is really distracting for me to take pictures - please stop taking pictures of me at work. Thanks." If you have to write out what you are going to say and practice.

If she continues, start documenting when it happens and escalate to your manager. But if I am your manager and you say "this person is annoying me with her camera" my first reaction will be, "have you asked her to stop?" You want to be able to say, "yes, I asked her on Monday and she took pictures on Tuesday 4 times, Wednesday twice, and Thursday once." Not, "no, I didn't, I hoped it'd just stop by its own or you'd fix it."

Other thoughts

It is obvious frustrating and uncomfortable for you. It's unfortunate you have to deal with this. From reading your post it's obviously bothering you significantly.

However, I would not be so quick to jump to a conclusion that your coworker is "mentally ill" because of this. You are clearly reading the worst in this, with such language as "devilry" and "mentally ill" and "looking very guilty."

Here are some possibilities:

  • She may just not "get" professional environments
  • She may be totally socially awkward. I've worked with professionals who just come across really, really awkward...
  • She may be doing work that requires a flash and it makes her uncomfortable when the flash goes off
  • She may want to just goof off instead of work and finds this fun/enjoyable

It doesn't mean this behavior is excusable at all (in fact from what you've written, it sounds really weird - but many miscommunications happen when we read motivations into someone, and then everything they do reinforces that image). Our minds though have a way of reading into things, especially once we've determined someone's motivations. Be careful to not read into everything she's doing because you assume ill intent.

It is almost always more helpful when dealing with some level of social anxiety to focus on the things you can do and control.

Don't be miserable without at least talking to her and telling her to stop. If that fails, talk with your manager (or HR if you prefer).

  • 5
    Good answer, especially the point of not reading motivations into someone. Motivations are a much too complex subject to be able to guess them from the outside. – sleske Sep 15 '15 at 11:41
  • 19
    You are clearly reading the worst in this... She may be totally socially awkward. if the genders were reversed no one who say things like this, they'd talk about HR and lawsuits! She is obviously harassing the OP and your solution is 'ignore it and hope for the best'? – user9158 Sep 16 '15 at 2:37
  • 22
    @lego did you not read the answer? The first thing should be to tell the coworker to stop, then escalate if continues. Your comment seems like you skimmed this and picked one phrase to dislike ?? – enderland Sep 16 '15 at 2:48
16

Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable in this way in the workplace, and it getting dangerously close to workplace bullying. While a single occurrence of someone's behaviour does not constitute bullying, if you have been experiencing this over an extended period then it most definitely does fit in to this category.

The first thing you need to do is to speak directly to the person and ask her to stop because it is making you uncomfortable. This sets an initial expectation that her behaviour is not appreciated.

You also need to talk to your manager. Set up a meeting to discuss it in private. There are two reasons for talking to your manager:

  • It may help to alleviate the problem; and
  • This sets up documentary evidence of the situation in case in needs to go further if no action is taken.

Just on this:

But he can't just tell her to stop using her phone, to which she could reply "I can do whatever I want!"

This is highly unlikely to happen, unless your manager is completely incompetent and unaware of the larger implications of her behaviour. But when you talk to your manager, make very sure you use the term "workplace bullying". It has a special meaning to most organisations that will get it taken seriously

Lastly, document the times and dates of each time you notice it happening, in particular the frequency. This all becomes additional evidence that if nothing is done to address the situation can be taken to HR to get the issue resolved.

Workplace bullying is normally taken very seriously, and with good reason.

  • 5
    Declaring this behaviour workspace bullying may be too hasty. As another comment suggested, she may just be kind of socially awkward or weird and might not "get" that her behaviour is inappropriate. Why not take the first step first as suggested in comments "ask her to stop". If and only if that does not work, can we then consider whether this truly constitutes workplace bullying. – Brandin Sep 15 '15 at 7:45
  • 2
    @Brandin: True, it may not be intended as bullying. Still, quietly documenting it cannot hurt - if everything resolves amicably, just throw away the notes. – sleske Sep 15 '15 at 11:44
  • 1
    @Brandin, if you look at my answer, I recommended that the first thing they do is to ask them to stop. I also said that the situation is close to workplace bullying at this juncture, so I actually agree with you :) – Jane S Sep 15 '15 at 20:59
10

Email your manager and set up a meeting with him. Explain the issue in person. If the manager does not take adequate steps to resolve the situation, speak to your Human Resources department. Do not assume the woman will say she can do whatever she wants.

There is no point in quitting your job over this if you like your job except for this coworker.

  • If she's making work difficult, contact HR, set up a meeting with your boss, and end this nonsense. If HR won't help, you can quit, or file for abusive practises and/or constructive dismissal. Don't quit. If you're not in an at-will employment state, your employer has a motive to not fire your (severance pay) and stop idiotic employee behavior. – Cloud Sep 15 '15 at 0:05
  • I agree with this. This issue should not be addressed by email alone. You'll need to speak to your manager about this. – Stephan Branczyk Sep 15 '15 at 1:30
  • 3
    While speaking to your manager may be helpful, I'd be careful about doing this before having spoken to the colleague myself. As enderland's answer explains, your manager probably prefers you sort the problem out yourself, so you will need to have an explanation why you cannot do that. – sleske Sep 15 '15 at 11:43
8

Probably best to ask her what she's doing, and explain that it's making you uncomfortable. At the moment you appear a bit paranoid and seem to be overreacting.

Talking to her would be the best solution before escalating or quitting in my opinion. At the very least it would give you more to work with. Quite possibly you're totally mistaken and she's pointing her phone in your direction because of screen glare or something.

  • 3
    And she and her friends are probably giggling over the latest cat videos or something of that sort, not pix of the OP. Assuming any of this is real rather than trolling. – keshlam Sep 16 '15 at 18:36
  • Obviously, the OP must talk to her (+1). I would want to understand what she is doing with these pictures ... – Mawg says reinstate Monica Oct 8 '17 at 10:07
6

There is another possibility. When someone is Snapchatting they take a lot of selfies and it can seem to the casual observer that they are photographing whatever happens to be in front of them. If this coworker Snapchats at work, it may seem that she is taking pictures of you when she is actually taking pictures of her own face. It may be that your direction relative to hers just happens to coincide with her favored angle for selfies or the best light. The giggling with friends and the embarrassment over the flash make sense (she probably doesn't want to call attention to her behavior). Yet another reason to talk to her first before escalating. It's unprofessional and distracting either way, but it might have nothing to do with you.

(Source: This happened to a friend of mine who confronted a stranger in a waiting room for taking pictures of them. The stranger was actually Snapchatting)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.