I once caught a colleague looking at my work notebook containing meeting minutes, team objectives, lists of actions etc.

My approach at the time was to jokingly tell my colleague to stop being so nosy and get back to work.

My question is should I have taken a different course of action when I caught my colleague looking through my notebook?

Further info:

  • I don't have a lockable drawer or cupboard to store the notebook
  • There was nothing commercially or personally sensitive in the notebook
  • We are peers in the same reporting structure
  • The business is medium sized, UK based
  • This colleague is notoriously, obsessively nosy as well as a gossip, but the behaviour is seen as a mere annoyance
  • This is a paper notebook, although I appreciate the answers that expand on what to do if it were an electronic notebook
  • Can you describe the incident more? For example, was he just leaning over looking at your notebook while at a meeting? Or do you mean you caught him red handed at your desk reading an open notebook?
    – Dan
    Aug 9, 2016 at 19:42
  • 2
    @Dan: Caught red handed and mumbling fervently in this case.
    – user27483
    Aug 9, 2016 at 19:44
  • 6
    From what you describe, there's no reason your colleague shouldn't want to see minutes, action items, etc. It's a little odd that he didn't ask first, but why is this even an issue? Aug 9, 2016 at 20:37
  • 1
    @AmyBlankenship Presumably this notebook covers a lot of different topics that don't intersect with the nosy coworker's domain, but OP should clarify that in the question to be sure.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 9, 2016 at 21:10
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    @JoeStrazzere: Just to clarify, this is a paper notebook. I'll update to the question. Sorry for the confusion.
    – user27483
    Aug 10, 2016 at 10:59

4 Answers 4


First, I would advise against leaving any documents in reach of anyone unauthorized. Either get a briefcase or locking journal if you are going to port around a notebook. If you never have your documents accessible, nobody will access them

Second, make it clear to your coworker that his actions were unacceptable. If you think it merits a trip to HR, inform them, if not, note the time and details of the incident, and if it happens again, report the pattern of behavior to HR.


You already dealt with it in the best fashion, direct and to the point. If it happens again then perhaps something more is called for, but what you did is fine.

  • But why? For a Q-and-A site, this answer is rather short and very specific.
    – Konerak
    Aug 11, 2016 at 9:50
  • Imagine! A short and specific answer! :O
    – Fattie
    Nov 26, 2018 at 16:04

I don't know if you should have acted differently on this first act (supposing it was the first time). Taking into account you were not sure about how bad this was, I think you couldn't have made anything better at the time. Acting without being sure isn't a good thing, after all!

But it was indeed something bad, as your colleague could edit your texts to make you culprit of something. As direct as badmouthing your boss' mother, to as complex as making you the culprit of some money fraud. So, you should check what happened to your files, ask your colleague what he was doing, and request that he does not repeat this kind of action. Yes.

What I will say now isn't necessarily what happened, but it's a possibility you should consider:

Gossips can be (aren't always) a way to gain influence on the business, making the gossiper an ally of the boss, "denouncing" "lazy" or "unethical" workers (enemies of the gossiper). If this succeeds, the boss sees everything distorted due to disinformation, and the parasite gains power. Why did he want to look your documents? Is he collecting information about other people he want to attack later?

If you do not have the authorization to allow more people to see the documents, whoever who sees is breaching the orientation of your boss. He may know better how bad was this event, as he may know something not written that the gossiper can deduce and use. After all, the bosses have all information about everything, and only reveal what they want to - would they reveal "employee Y is stupid and I will fire it as soon as I can"?. Obviously your colleague will try to say you allowed by leaving the documents there, but he would be using you as a shield against it's own misconduct, and if you take any measure to make it clear you don't like this, you have your defense made.

To finish, don't your notebook has some kind of password to access? It should have. It's the first measure to prevent access. After this comes physical restriction, as your colleague could disassemble the notebook to access the data without needing passwords. Create one if you're allowed to, or talk to your boss about the possibility of it, if you were never allowed to do this before.


Are you talking about a notebook like a paper notepad which you write in or a notebook computer?

If the former, it may have just been idle curiosity. You probably dealt with it in good enough fashion, but putting it in a drawer even if it isn't locked sends the clear signal that it's off limits and not likely to be tempting to idle curiosity. (If he starts going through your drawers that's a bit more serious)

If it's a computer you mean, then just put a password on it as Anonymous said.

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