IT Employment

Keep your private life private, thank you very much


One of the most uncomfortable work experiences I've ever had happened a few years ago while I sat in my boss's office waiting for a meeting. For reasons known only to him and God, my boss had the habit of listening to his voice messages on speakerphone. It was bad enough when you could hear his wife's shrewish voice issuing a series of commands when you were in the safety of your own cubicle, but it was a special kind of hell when you had to sit right there in front of him and watch as he was systemically emasculated. This particular time his wife was berating him over leaving the cereal box out on the table where their toddler got ahold of it and made a mess. In other words, our meeting about a Microsoft deal had to wait until my boss was sufficiently castigated for the great Captain Crunch debacle.

That was one of the most awkward experiences I've ever had, but certainly not the only one. Over the years, I've been privy to some of the most unwelcome peeks into my co-workers' personal lives that you can imagine. There was once a guy who would get hysterical phone calls about twice a week from his wife, who judging from his end of the conversation, must have been the least competent person on the planet. He would say, "What?! OK, now calm down, honey! Just take a deep breath. I'll be there in two minutes" and I would picture this poor woman tied to a railroad track somewhere. But then I'd hear, "It's OK, we'll find your keys." Some days he'd be running out, like he was going to a fire, muttering something about his wife not being able to locate the pudding pops.

[Editor's note: I'm not being sexist by relating those two wife stories. I am a woman myself. Maybe that's why stories like these drive me crazy.]

I don't get it. Do people think when they're on the phone that only the person they're speaking to can hear them? Unfortunately, I've never been able to work while listening to music or I would shelter myself from all of this external noise by welding an iPod onto the side of my head. So I'm kind of in a Catch-22 here. I know that I cannot ask people to attend family counseling just so I can get in a good day's work. But I guess I can make an earnest plea:

Leave me out of your marriage, please. I don't want to be a party to your domestic spats. Ironically, I also don't want to be a party to your cooing spousal endearments either.

Before you pick up that phone, think of the letters TMI. They stand for Too Much Information. I don't need to know your credit history, anything concerning you and a polyp, your son's recent day care battle, or a step-by-step reenactment of drywalling your basement.

Curmudgeonly yours,

Toni

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

52 comments
ColinFromTheCrypt
ColinFromTheCrypt

So true Toni. And I'm sure it is common in many offices, to one extent or another. Thanks for putting the message out there.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Who cares ? Someone getting reamed out at work, it is actually his painin the a$$, not yours. When you are working in an annoting and repressive environment, 'cube world', you have no privacy. Even when on the phone (with it held to your ear) one sided conversations are heard anyway, often leading to even worse assumptions of what was really said. If you want silence or privacy, find a job where you get your own office. Look on the bright side, it's not YOUR screwed up, pain in the a$$ partner on the other end, it's someone else's problem. Chuckle and ignore it.

Tig2
Tig2

We have "phone booths" that anyone may use to make a private call and keep it private. Most use them. The worst was years ago when my boss was cheating on his wife and we all got to hear about it, courtesy of his speaker phone. What a weasel. Never saw him the same way after that.

AV .
AV .

Some people are absolutely shameless when it comes to having personal conversations at work. I haven't totally decided whether they think they are the only ones that can hear their conversation or they want the audience. AV

D.I.Y.
D.I.Y.

I currently have two cubicle neighbors that are always conducting personal business, on work phones no less. I get to hear about their bills, I get to hear them track down "finance charges" (that was today), and I get to hear them deal with their personal dramas with their spouses, their family, and their friends. Then, when they are done, they go relate the experience with their coworkers (fortunately they do not confide in me).

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

Can you get the bloke who dry lined his basement to some over here and do my new bathroom walls? If you'd like I'll tell you all about it, provided you promise to put me on hands free and turn it up loud.

MaxOnTheEdge
MaxOnTheEdge

Nah, you must be kidding! free entertainment at work? I love it! The stranger and more weird the better.

CaptBilly1Eye
CaptBilly1Eye

I have never understood people who allow their spouses or family to contact them during working hours at their office for anything other than something of utmost importance. My wife and I have been married for over 20 years and neither one of us would THINK of calling each other at work unless it was something that absolutely could not wait. but then again I'm married to someone that has a life of her own and isn't sitting around at home thinking of reasons to bug me. It used to be that personal phone calls at work were a no-no and therefore a reason to keep them discreet. Do you think a lot of the 'broadcasting' is related to our ever-increasingly egocentric society? or... am I just being an intolerant jerk again? Don't answer that. ;-)

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

I used to have a very annoying coworker in an adjacent cubicle who would place every single phone call on speaker. This guy had absolutely no sense of privacy, nor did he care that we all heard and knew his personal matters when he blasted the speakerphone throughout the office. I've placed numerous complaints about this nut to the managers, but nothing was done because he was the "model employee" who would put in 10-12 hour days and rarely take time off. Are some people so out of tune with reality that their private lives need to be put on open display like some museum exhibit? With all due respect, I really don't need to know that you had a rectal exam last week or that your 90 year old bedridden mother crapped all over herself in the nursing home. Stuff like that is innapropriate discussion material in an office setting.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

The "Loud Harold" of a past employer would not only listen to his voicemall on speaker, but listen to it loud enough to bother me. This is no mean feat, as I am hearing impaired. I got to hear more than 'coooing' one time.... Broadcasting LIVE from WTMI... was his GF who left him a message regarding the previous night's sexual escapades. Not being a voyeur, that did absolutely nothing for me, other than put some terrible images in my mind that required a thorough dose of brain bleach to get rid of.

rjkirk_50
rjkirk_50

isn't the word "emasculated" other than that I agree, keep your affairs yours.

rhomp2002
rhomp2002

It would be nice when everybody has their own office but the latest designs I have seen all go for open offices with clustered cubicles and with that design you cannot escape it. Had 2 people working with me who had problems. One was married but if he did not call his mother every day by 12:30 she called him and laid a 10 minute guilt trip on him after which his wife called and did the same guilt trip from her side. The other had a wife with a mother who interfered every time she tried to punish the kids. She would then call him and he would have to drop whatever he was doing and talk to the kid over the phone and tell him to behave or he would get it when dad got home. Then there was the guy whose girl friend broke up with him over the weekend. He spent Monday morning calling all their mutual friends and telling them blow by blow over and over how it happened and why did she break up with him. I felt like telling him it was because he was such a dweeb and loser but held my tongue. Had a boss who was screwing his boss's secretary. She would come to his office and he would stop everything to close the door and do God knows what. He dropped meetings and conference calls for this. His wife came to the office one day and the secretary pitched a fit later because the wife dared to come to the office - loud enough that we outside the office heard every word. Please please please keep it to yourself. If you need to discuss it with me, make it after hours and I will try to help if I can but I would prefer not to and most especially I would prefer not to hear about it during working hours. Too much information and it really gets in the way should I meet your wife or significant other later. I don't need that and it interferes with the job you are hired and paid to do.

Absolutely
Absolutely

& thanks for your equally profound observations you're welcome to shove your advice right back where you found it

TechExec2
TechExec2

. Smart people know that the spouse ALWAYS finds out if you cheat. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But, certainly s/he will find out. You might as well show some "integrity", post a sign, and confess. :^0 This boss must have been a REALLY dim bulb...allowing the "secret" to get around the office due to the speaker phone?! Yup. Weasel! Dumb weasel! :^0

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

If this boss was abusive, the recorded conversations of him with his girlfriend could have been used against him by letting his wife in on it. When the reality of being served with divorce papers sets in, the guy would quickly change his tune.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Warren Zevon wrote all about it: I lay my head on the railroad track And wait for the double-E The railroad don't run no more Poor, poor pitiful me {Refrain} Poor, poor pitiful me Poor, poor pitiful me These young girls won't let me be Lord have mercy on me Woe is me Well I met a girl in West Hollywood And I ain't namin' names Well, she really worked me over good She was just like Jesse James She really worked me over good She was a credit to her gender She put me through some changes, Lord Sort of like a Waring blender {Refrain twice} I met a girl at the Rainbow Bar She asks me if I'd beat her She took me back to the Hyatt House I don't want to talk about it Poor, poor pitiful me Poor, poor pitiful me Poor, poor pitiful me Poor, poor pitiful me

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

This is something I just can't understand.... If I, an hearing impaired individual, can overhear these folks, it must be pure hell for the rest of you. I do think you have a point there.... "Why should *I* have to lower my voice for someoene else?" All part of the "I am the world" attitude out there.

dspeacock
dspeacock

The guy in the cube beside me exclusively uses his speakerphone...VERY loudly. He also swears frequently while on the phone. This generally doesn't bother me....unless.. I'm on a call with a client trying to gather information, and the "F" bomb is ringing out all over the place. I've asked him to tone it down a bit... nothing. Management is aware of this practice and does nothing. Luckily I only have 2 more weeks here before going on to something better.. and permanent.

Beth Blakely
Beth Blakely

Richard_RPU, where did you get the brain bleach? I need some desperately. :-)

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

Yeah, stuff like that should not be left on office voicemail. I always tell my wife to call my personal cellphone or use my personal email for issues of a private nature. Never use corporate systems for private matter, as too many eyes may be watching and too many ears may be listening in today's world of post Enron compliance and monitoring madness.

amorse
amorse

Sorry to chime in so late, but while we're at it... I believe she meant "systematically", not "systemically".

Shellbot
Shellbot

i have been privy to a lot of valuable info in my office because of this type of thing. at the end of the day, i don't give a hoot, sometimes its entertaining.. other times just plain boring, like when coworkers are doing thier banking, yelling out thier pins and passwords, or buying stuff over the phone on a VISA.. if only i could be a bad person...i'd have several visa numbers with all the required info ]:)

Absolutely
Absolutely

"Over the years, I?ve been privy to some of the most unwelcome peaks into my co-workers? personal lives that you can imagine." That would have been a "peek", unless his co-workers are inappropriately climbing mountains at work.

DanLM
DanLM

Haven't you ever sat there chuckling to yourself going... What a twit... My god, how can someone so obnoxious at work be such a wuss at home. roflmao, sorry... Just too easy. And yes, I totally agree with your point about keeping it to yourself. TMI can be an understatement some times. But, look at it this way. It is no longer reserved to the work place. With cell phones we can now hear everyone's conversation even if we don't work with them. dan

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

If I was working for a company that decided to move, and the new office was all cubed, I would not move with them; see ya, too bad so sad. When I work with a company that is PLANNING a move, I ensure I become part of that 'move team' and then find one with at least enough offices for me to have one too. If not, see ya, too bad so sad. Get it? It ALWAYS works that way when [i]you[/i] choose to control your own future, working environment and employer. Cubes are for those who apply for jobs through postings then accept an advertised or dictated salary. If you CHOOSE your employer, dictate your OWN salary (based on your ability to sell yourself to them), then they will always cater to YOU not the other way around. I had one employer(a good decade ago)that was trying to find the right space, they found one but it meant myself and a few others would be cubed, knowing that we'd leave they turned it down and found something more suitable. CONTROL YOUR CAREER, DON'T LET SOMEONE ELSE DO IT FOR YOU.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Yur reply makes no sense, I can only assume you have no idea what you were replying to or you replies in the wrong part of the thread. IF it was intended for me, it's called reality Those who have issues with reality will always complain of such ridiculous issues at the office. Those with a grip will just get on with it or do something abpout it, in this case it's like it or lump it. Don't like it? Then change your work environment for one that better suits you. Why would anyone work somewhere they didn't 'absolutely' love to work? I simply can't fathom such a mindset of working in a tight area, and complaining that you can ovrhear someone else's horror show of a life. At least it is someone else's probem and not your own, let the guy get reamed out, have a laugh at the way he is constantly chastized at work and then think yourself lucky. I don't know what the hell you were on about?!?

Absolutely
Absolutely

which form of the indefinite article to use when :^0

Tig2
Tig2

It was worse. We all knew who he was doing on the side- most of us had had some first hand knowledge. After that call, we started sharing what we knew. A year later, after I had left the job and moved out of state, he was investigated for sexual harassment. Never heard what the outcome of that was. I will bet it wasn't pretty. You're right- Dumb weasel!

AV .
AV .

I guess maybe some people do it hoping to be overheard and get sympathy for their plight. AV

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

What annoys me as well are the people that scream into a speakerphone during conference calls and cause everyone to keep clicking back and forth on the volume control to prevent from going death or being blasted across the room from the decibel level of the acoustic waves. Where I do consulting work, we have such a guy who literally places his lips over the microphone and yells into the phone...a major difference from the guy who sits 30 feet away from it and can barely be heard.

sml
sml

Your story reminds me of a recent conference call I participated in . . . one of those department-wide meetings where there are 60+ people on the call and the system was NOT muted. Right in the middle of the CTO's update on the projects a loud F***! rang out for all participants to hear. Immediately the moderator is scrambling to find the "mute all" function . . . no one ever admitted to their exclamation.

JamesRL
JamesRL

At one employer I was at, we had a hard and fast rule - no using the speakerphone function in a cubicle. We had headsets if you wanted to be handsfree, and meeting rooms if you wanted to have a speakerphone conference. It made life bearable in the cube farm. James

Why Me Worry??
Why Me Worry??

There seems to be such a EDITED in every company. Message was edited by: beth.blakely@...

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

You're right, you're right. Just goes to show you that I have the attention span of a gnat.

jswansonsr
jswansonsr

. . . is that you can't hear both sides of the conversation (as if you wanted to). I have a cell phone that I keep for use in the event of emergencies, but I'm old enough to remember when you could leave the office to avoid a call you knew (or thought) was coming. I like the idea that I can be in my car on the way to somewhere, and nobody can find me! And if I have a flat, I can call AAA on my emergency cell!! So I'm old-fashioned. I like it that way!! Jim

Absolutely
Absolutely

You can lie if you want to! ]:) Just don't expect me to offer you any jobs, while that's on your list of 'qualifications'!

TechExec2
TechExec2

. That was supposed to be "Bacos", my favorite salad topping... ;\ ----------------------------- P.S. OK. I lied... But, I'm leaving it as "Bacos" for the rest of the day anyway!

Absolutely
Absolutely

"windows, software development, [b]macos[/b], it management, linux, web applications" Do you suppose that's an intentional reference to sharks, or a typo? The betting starts (and ends) @ $0.02, no odds.

TechExec2
TechExec2

. Thanks for pointing that out (now corrected). The original title was "What a moron!". I changed it just before posting to "idiot" and forgot to change the article... Doh! :^0 ------------------------------ Two rednecks sitting on the porch: M R ducks M R not ducks O S A R! C M wangs? M R ducks!

Tig2
Tig2

I have neither named names nor identified the city this occurred in nor the business. I related an incident and the fallout of same.

Tig2
Tig2

No PROOF but saw things that caused the witness to go "hmm". And keep the information to themselves- no PROOF. After that call, people started talking about the things that they had witnessed- much of it daring but not actionable- and we started gluing bits together. It was the phone call that did it. Suddenly those "daring" incidents had a whole new face.

Absolutely
Absolutely

and why she's talking trash behind his back :D

Absolutely
Absolutely

It's also possible they're just inconsiderate pricks.

Absolutely
Absolutely

Without them, we'd all fall asleep on conference calls.

GSG
GSG

We were on a concall with a vendor and Muted. They didn't listen and thought we put them on hold. We got some good ammo for leverage that day considering it was during contract negotiations. We told them they were being muted and that we could hear their conversations, but they continued anyway.

DanLM
DanLM

Walkie talkie? Where the person just holds the phone in their hand and talks, and the other person's voice is heard so they don't have to hold it to their ears? God, I hate those phones. Dan