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So my ex girlfriend and I work at the same public organisation. I no longer wish to speak to her and have blocked her on all personal social media etc.

However, she can email me at work. Naturally I can't block someone in the same organisation, but I have no wish to talk to her unless it is work related - and our jobs have no overlap: to the extent I would be truly astonished to find that I had to email her at any point in the next 5 years.

Equally I don't wish to be unprofessional, rude, or leave myself open to a complain or any suggestion of bullying, which makes it a little delicate... On social media I could block her or state simply that I don't wish to talk to her, but in the work place I'm not sure that's acceptable, or at least desirable, conversation.

So considering that her emails are polite, but unwanted, chit chat, that I can't block or hide her emails, and that I wish to remain entirely professional in the work place, what would be the most acceptable way to avoid having to interact (socially) with a colleague I have no desire to interact with?

  • I've considered it, but I'm not sure whether that could be taken as overly negative or rude... Or potentially made into a bigger issue – Jon Story Mar 22 '16 at 1:13
  • The answer is going to depend on what mail system you are using. In most modern systems it's possible to set up a mechanism which examines the content of incoming notes and decides whether to accept them, forward them to someone else, reply with a form letter, etc. You may be able to come up with a set of keywords that would have to appear in any note before you'd accept it, and otherwise (if your department works this way) suggest that questions and requests be submitted through official channels. This is arguably rude, but better than deleting unread if that's the alternative. – keshlam Mar 22 '16 at 1:15
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    Hmm, a single reply requesting that any official requests go via my line manager could work. He's aware of at least some of the situation, and I believe could be amicable to that – Jon Story Mar 22 '16 at 1:16
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    As the emails are via the work system you should read them - just in case they are work related. If you do not that may cause you even more problems. Time is a great healer. Guess you are going to tough it out or get a better job (next time do not poke at work) – Ed Heal Mar 22 '16 at 1:22
  • @EdHeal I never date colleagues... In this case I made the mistake of working in the same company as my girlfriend - she led me to the job in fact. We work in very different departments and it's where I've always wanted to work, so I didn't think it would be an issue. In almost any other breakup it would not have been, I'm still friendly (well beyond merely civil) with my other precious partners. – Jon Story Mar 22 '16 at 1:25
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From your comments, you are afraid of simply blocking or even not responding to her correspondence may be considered workplace bullying. However, if you really want to think about it, her actions may be considered workplace harassment.

So I would recommend:

  • Ignore her emails. Do not respond unless there is the very unlikely event of work related content, in which case keep it professional and on topic.
  • Set up a rule so that her emails all go to a separate folder
  • Keep the emails. At the moment, you are accumulating evidence of systemic, unwanted advances using work resources by her, which by definition is workplace harassment.

If this is ongoing, I would recommend that you go to HR with the evidence of harassment. But do not engage otherwise; the best thing you can do is to stay professional. That way, if she does try to infer bullying, there will be no evidence of wrongdoing by you.

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    I agree with the "keep your emails" policy. This is very important. If you can set a rule that would discriminate between work specific emails and chit-chat, then good. Otherwise a manual screening might be doable. But do not delete the emails, those are proofs that might be useful later. – bilbo_pingouin Mar 22 '16 at 7:22
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    +1 agree with everything in this answer, except the HR bit, I'd just keep the data and ignore forever unless in self-defense. No one ever comes out looking good after a domestic in the workplace (even if they don't think it is, others will) – Kilisi Mar 22 '16 at 9:57
  • I'd suggest to at least send a 'last' email to her, stating to stop sending further communication that is not directly related to work. – Alexandre Vaillancourt Mar 24 '16 at 10:46
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Why just only reply to the emails that are work related (or partially)? Anything parts of the email that are not work related just ignore. Completely ignore any emails that have nothing to do with work. Eventually your ex will get the hint.

But why be so negative. You once liked each other. Just because things did not work out you can still end up as friends. At least be civilized to each other.

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    @JonStory So a hello in the hall is past your limit but simply delete an email you are afraid is rude? Rant – paparazzo Mar 22 '16 at 2:21
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    No, I'm saying a hello is about the limit of what I'm willing to do in terms of communication. I won't be stopping for any conversation further to that but am happy to maintain basic norms of civil (eg not blatantly ignoring someone). The difference is that I'm concerned ignoring an email could be seen negatively within the organisation as its a relatively formal method of communication with a clear, demonstrable history. Essentially I'm concerned about being accused of ignoring a colleague's email, particularly if the line is blurred between personal and business email – Jon Story Mar 22 '16 at 2:24
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    @JonStory I agree that ignoring a colleague's work related email would be unprofessional but surely that is why this answer recommends only replying to the emails that are work related. If you get an email that is "polite, but unwanted, chit chat", don't reply! And you said yourself that you would be "truly astonished" if you got one that was work related. – Carson63000 Mar 22 '16 at 4:07
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    @JonStory if you're worried that it will reflect negatively on you if you ignore polite, but unwanted, chit chat from your ex, then frankly, you're either going to have to give polite responses, or look for a new job. – Carson63000 Mar 23 '16 at 3:39
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    How is ignoring non-work related emails going to look bad? – Ed Heal Mar 23 '16 at 3:41
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Have you tried directly asking her to stop emailing you? If you haven't explicitly set up boundaries, she can keep crossing the line. Unfortunately, you do work in the same office, so there's potential to interact. At least you're protected by the fact that you are at work, such that a refusal on her part could be going against company policy. If you haven't said, Please do not email me at work, she may not know that her behavior is off limits. It's not in your write-up that this conversation took place.

If and when you do have this discussion, it might also be a good idea to mention this privately to your manager, or HR, and just say that you dated this person, but now it's over, and you asked her to refrain from emailing you on personal business on such and such date.

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It's half workplace, half personal relationship.

As far as workplace is concerned, if you get non work-related emails from colleagues that you don't want to get non work-related emails from, reply saying that you don't want to receive such emails at your work email address. That's the same for an ex girlfriend / boyfriend as it is for someone who insists on sending kitten photos, virus hoaxes, pyramid letters and so on to colleagues. It wastes your working time and therefore shouldn't be done.

As far as the personal relationship is concerned, it is best to make very, very clear that the relationship is over and will not be restarted. Psychologically, anything that gives the person a hint that you might reconsider and go back to the relationship will make them work harder to get you back (if that is what they want).

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I would say that the work equivalent of the ignore feature has been around far longer than Facebook or Twitter. Just create a rule (assuming you're using Outlook, though the process is similar for any other email client) that re-routes your ex's email to a different folder and then just never look at that folder. It's pretty simple and easy and you won't even see the header, so if she's in the habit of riling you up with those, that tactic won't work either.

If in the unlikely event she actually does have some kind of interaction she needs to you, you'll probably wind up hearing about it from someone else. At that point, fish around in the folder for the email (this is why you don't want to delete them, although you could set a rule to do that too), and if pressed say something like "sorry, I get a lot of emails, I guess I just missed yours". Then, once the situation is at hand, you can go ahead and move forward (you could even set a separate rule that searches for the header used in that particular email chain so that one group of emails is re-routed to your regular inbox).

That's really it. You don't particularly need to tell her not to contact you; the email system will do that for you, and best of all, just like the new feature on Twitter that allows you to ignore someone without blocking them, they don't get the satisfaction of knowing that you are bothered by what they are writing to you.

  • My problem is not that I can't physically hide the emails, it's that I believe it would contravene our policies, or at the very least be considered unacceptable behaviour to blank a colleague – Jon Story Mar 22 '16 at 1:18
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    Well, you're not really "blanking" them; they still exist, you're just pushing them to a different folder. If you need to read them, or if she sent you a bunch of them for some reason that you need to read through, they'll continue to be there. And I doubt that IT is going to care what Outlook rules you set up. Even management will only care if it actually impacts them in some manner. – NotVonKaiser Mar 22 '16 at 1:21
  • Hmm, so move them to a different folder and only reply when necessary? That works for removing them from my day to day inbox (and thus from the front of my mind), but I'm still concerned about ignoring them being considered a negative thing if she reports it as perhaps some kind of bullying? (I'm not sure it would be upheld, but I'd really rather avoid it entirely) – Jon Story Mar 22 '16 at 1:26
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    @JonStory I can't see how it can constitute bullying. You are simply not responding to correspondence that is unrelated to work. However, I would retain the emails in a folder, so that if something does get raised, you have a written record of what was sent, and that you didn't behave unprofessionally. – Jane S Mar 22 '16 at 4:17
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    Not really sure this is a good idea. She may be sending you an actual work related email, which will get lost if you use a rule to send it to another folder. You can't rely on hearing it from someone else, and if it's simply ignored because it's in some forgotten folder, she'll be the one with the evidence and then it will definitely be a negative thing. Still, it seems strange that whatever happened between you (the OP) is bad enough that you can't just be civil but not bad enough that you can't just tell her that you don't want to hear from her... – colmde Mar 22 '16 at 14:56

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