“My New Office-Mate is So Unprofessional!’

mad men office party

I started a new job three weeks ago at a university and am currently sharing an office with a coworker. We are getting a dividing wall after the first of the year, but, given her recent behavior, I don’t think it’s going to help things too much.

I usually sit at my desk with my headphones on and focus on the tasks I’m assigned, but when I skip a song on Pandora and have a brief moment of silence, I will hear her making extended personal phone calls or singing to herself with her music blaring. I have to call students and it’s very hard to hear them over all the noise and even harder to remain professional with this going on.

In the middle of the day yesterday, she got up and said she needed a break and started dancing. There were students walking down the hallway as she was doing this. Today, she brought her brother, who was home from college, to work because he would be “bored” by himself sitting at home all day. Not only is this weird to me, but we work with confidential student information and he is just looming over her desk with student files spread out everywhere. Our boss is out of the office until after the first of the year and the other coworkers didn’t seem too bothered by this, and, if they are, they are really good at not showing it. I just feel it’s really unprofessional, and also distracting, since I’ve been working on student files all morning, and she and her brother have been watching uncensored comedy central specials for the better part of the day.

Am I being ridiculous? Should I say something to my boss when I get back and request to be in an empty office that no one is using? I don’t want her actions and the fact that we share this space together to make people think I don’t work my ass off when I do. It’s only been three weeks and I don’t think I can work like this. — Workin’ My Ass Off!

I have several thoughts about this which I hope you won’t mind that I list at bullet points rather than write out in paragraph form because it’s Christmas week and the regular rules and ways of doing things are often bent slightly when otherwise hard-working, disciplined people are distracted by the — Oooh! Pretty lights! Shopping! To-do lists! Cookies, yum! I gotta bake a lasagna for dinner tonight!!

1. You work at a college. It’s the end of December. At a college. No one — not anyone! — gives two shits about anything by the end of December in an academic setting. Your co-worker is probably just blowing off steam after a long semester (and whether she’s a student or not doesn’t matter; everyone who works at a college thinks in terms of semester and the end of semester, especially the one that ends right before Christmas, which means dancin’ in your office).

2. If you have a problem with your office-mate, just TALK TO HER ABOUT IT. Seriously, what is all this, “Should I tell our boss on her?” BS when you haven’t even talked to her about what’s bothering you?! Chances are, she’s been without an officemate for a while, or the person who had your desk before you was super chill and laid back and took dance breaks all the time, too. My point is, you’re just as new to her as she is to you, so if you’d prefer she turn her music down or not sing to herself or not bring family members to work or not have dance breaks — but really, what’s wrong with dance breaks?! — just ask her not to.

3. No one is going to look at her dancing and think to themselves that YOU aren’t working hard, especially if they know her and already seem unfazed by her behavior.

4. You will have plenty of opportunity to prove how hard your work your ass off. No one is really paying attention to you in the last weeks of the semester.

5. There’s an empty office that no one is using?! Well, duh: of course, you should make a play for it! But don’t outright request it, and definitely don’t use your poor officemate as your reason for wanting it. Just say something like, “I noticed that there’s an office that isn’t currently being used. Is there a plan for it? I’m new here, so I probably don’t know all the ways we could use a space like that, but I couldn’t help but think it would be a good place for us to meet privately with students when they come in/ call students in private/ have dance breaks and marathon Comedy Central viewing parties.

6. What Pandora stations do you listen to? My favorites are Youth Lagoon, Animal Collective, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, and Dean Martin Christmas!


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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

    Oh add Dancing Officemate to the list of rejects I want to invite to our DW party, along with Ramona, Gertrude, the Toothless Groomsman, Pothead Hubby… Who else?

    1. i better be invited. this party sounds off the chain!! (<— first time ive ever used "off the chain")

      1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

        Hopefully using “off the chain” won’t get you disinvited. Ha.

        Let’s make it a pot luck dinner party so Pot Luck Wedding Couple (oh they get an invite too) feels welcomed. BYO Red Wine. Wendy can bring that lasagna and Katie you are in charge of dessert.

      2. What happened to “off the hook”? Do people not use it anymore? Ugh, I feel so out of the loop. (Do people use that anymore, too??)

    2. Do I count as a reject because I like white wine? (I like red too though)

      1. Avatar photo shanshantastic says:

        If you do then so do I. We can crash with our white wine, I’m sure nobody will notice.

  2. If you’re used to working in a regular office environment, I can see how this behavior could be annoying. It is pretty unprofessional. But, if none of your other coworkers are fazed by it, it’s a good indication that this work environment is going to be more laid back than you are used to. All other points aside, if you haven’t taken the time to actually *talk* to your coworker about this, you have no right to complain. How is she going to know it’s upsetting you if you don’t say something?

  3. I agree the LW should just talk to her office mate about it. It seems very passive aggressive not to.
    As a side note, I wish I worked in such a laid back environment. My job makes me work like hell at the end of year. I get no time off and everything is scrutinized. Today is my hell day.
    Ok, enough of my whining.
    But appreciate the laid back office environment when you can get it.

    1. Right? That is the weirdest thing to complain about. I understand wanting to focus and work hard, but add that to an atmosphere where you don’t have to worry about being “on” all the time and you have an ideal situation.

  4. Seriously on #2. You didn’t mention anywhere in your letter that you’ve asked her to stop some of her behavior, or told her that it’s bothering you. If you never say anything, how is she to know that you don’t like it?

  5. Yeah, if your boss & other coworkers are unfazed by her behavior—& it sounds like they are—then this is probably just the office culture. You can ask her to stop doing the things that interfere with your work (singing to herself, making audible personal calls, blasting music), but other than that, tune her out. And stop thinking that her actions will somehow reflect poorly on you…? I’m sure there’s a reason why your mind jumped there, but it’s not a train of thought that’s based in reality.

  6. starpattern says:

    This would drive me bonkers. I used to work in a room shared by three people, including one lady who would make loud personal phone calls (screaming at someone from the bank about a car payment, screaming at her husband about who is going to pick up the kids). She’d also bring her teenage sister to work when school was out, where they would chatter loudly about inane crap like how ugly some boots are that so-and-so is wearing in her new Facebook profile picture. Now – I don’t work in an academic environment, and we do get pretty slow around the end of the year, but I would still like relative quiet in which to get some work done, you know? Or just in general, that listening to the ramblings of a teenager for 8 consecutive hours is not in my job description.

    I dealt with that by taking my laptop and sitting in an empty office or conference room whenever I felt like pulling her hair out. When people asked what I was doing there, I’d just say, Oh, it sounded like Annie was having a meeting so I decided to duck out. LW, can you do this? Especially with the holidays – maybe there are some empty offices you can escape to.

  7. painted_lady says:

    What should you do? You should learn the wobble and join her on dance breaks.

    It might help you dislodge the stick.

    1. painted_lady says:

      I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be dismissive. You absolutely do get to request that she knock off the noise if it’s affecting you. That would probably drive me bonkers. But I think the other stuff that has nothing to do with you, you need to either learn to ignore it, or learn to join her. She sounds like fun.

  8. AliceInDairyland says:

    I’m gonna have dance parties in my veterinary clinic all the time. In the back part, of course. There will be crazy dancing and then I will waltz into your appointment as the epitome of professionalism.

    I dunno.

    1. Shadowflash says:

      I can’t waltz, but I can macarena with perfect decorum.

  9. LW, I’m with you. Being around people who are wasting lots and lots of time (esp time they’re getting paid for), making tons of noise, and generally making it harder for me to work really, really does not make me happy. BUT, before you do anything else, you first have to give her a chance to stop doing the things that are interfering with your work, by asking nicely. And you don’t get to do jack about the things that don’t interfere with your work, ’cause you’re not the boss of her or anyone else in that office.

  10. bittergaymark says:

    You know what else is incredibly unprofessional? Being a whiney tattletale after a mere three weeks on the job…

    1. Bahahaha! I agree with you there. There is not necessarily anything wrong that she’s doing, if she is getting all her work done. LW may have a point with giving access to confidential information to her brother, but the rest is just personality. I work at a doctor’s office, and God if I couldn’t joke around with my coworkers I would have shot myself a long time ago.

  11. Singing, making lots of extended personal calls and especially bringing someone else along for work (!) are not appropriate behaviors when you share an office with another person. (I would be OK with the dancing break though – that’s probably a five minute thing, right?).
    I don’t think the other employees necessarily think it’s OK, they just don’t have to be near her and so they don’t care.
    But you definitely need to talk to her first. Maybe she’s not used to sharing an office, or she was sharing with someone who behaved like her. It never works to just passively ignore stuff like this and involving the boss immediately is always a dick move.
    Lastly, asking for an empty office could be considered weird for a new employee, so tread carefully with this one.

  12. I agree with Wendy’s advice but I have to disagree with you, Wendy, on that portrayal of a university setting in December. It wasn’t clear if she is faculty or administration but it sounds like the latter.

    I have worked in higher education administration my whole life and while the last day or two before the winter break tends to be light hearted, my experience is that people are generally in a state of frenzied panic about the overwhelming amount of work that needs to be completed by the end of the semester. If she’s faculty, there would be grades that have to be submitted by a sharp deadline. But she talks about student files and that sounds like admin work to me. If she works in admissions or financial aid, god help her, then every single Spring semester student needs their paperwork in hand before the university shuts down. In my experience, this means folks are working nights and weekends for most of December with the HOPE that they can walk away on December 22nd and not have to come in again until Jan 2nd. By the way, it is a great privilege to get this time off and I don’t mean to suggest that people in higher ed have bad deal. Just wanted to point out that the environment in December is not lackadaisical.

  13. Yeah, I’m with the LW, that stuff can be really distracting. At my most recent internship, the lady at the front desk would sing-hum to herself very loudly (and off-key) and it was really distracting. Since I wasn’t there very long, I just put on my headphones and closed the door when I could, but that was about it. If I had been there more permanently, I might have said something. But I also agree with Wendy and think it is worth it to talk to this co-worker rather than going to the boss.

    On a related note, I was on a train once and the lady behind me was belting out songs. Is it appropriate to say something like that in public? Like, she was so loud that I could hear her over my headphones. I ended up moving cars instead because it didn’t seem like it was worth it, but if I was on a plane and couldn’t just move, I probably would have said something.

    1. Bittergaymark says:

      Good LORD, you were a fucking INTERN?

      It amazes me how this generation more than any other truly thinks they know fucking everything.

      1. Mark, I don’t get it.

      2. bittergaymark says:

        An unpaid intern — coming in and deciding how paid employees should behave? And deciding that they know best is what I am talking about here…

        Look, I am constantly getting assigned interns on shoots and they spend half of their time with me questioning each and every fucking thing I tell them to do. Just empty all the furniture out of the room so we can redress it for the fucking shoot already. Don’t ask me why we can’t just stack it all off to one side… (We CAN’T do that as when we do the turn around to shoot the reverse angle we will thus see that side of the room.)

        Perhaps I am biased — but I have learned to fucking hate interns. Of the dozens I’ve dealt with over the years only three having been truly amazing, a few mildly helpful, and the rest? Fucking useless.

      3. I think you missed my point – I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t there permanently. If I had been there more permanently, for example as an employee, I would have said something. Because working as an employee in an environment that’s not conducive to being able to get your job done is not a good way to work.

      4. Don’t confuse him with the facts. 🙂

      5. Mark has a point though that I think you still have missed–every office has their own culture. It is up to YOU to fit in, not the other way around. I work for a large doctors group that has a dozen locations over a large city–you think they are all the same? Hell no. The office I work at is definitely more light-hearted and you are encouraged to do your work the way it makes sense to you….other locations not so much, and I hate talking to them, I wouldn’t work there if they paid me $100 an hour. If I went over there and started complaining they weren’t doing things my way? That the way they got things done wasn’t conducive to MY style of getting my job done, and they needed to change? Umm yeah. And I wouldn’t rely on the “well now I’m an employee” illusion, most jobs have a probation period for a reason. They want to see if you’ll actually mesh with the people who are already there.

      6. hahahahaha says:

        Unlike your generation, who always freely admit when they’re wrong, right?

      7. bittergaymark says:

        Please. I’ve admitted I’m wrong on here on more than one occasion. But I certainly never waltzed into a brand new job (much less and unpaid internship) and just started complaining that everybody else’s behavior wasn’t up to my standards.

      8. iseeshiny says:

        Links, please!

      9. bittergaymark says:

        Just last week I somehow completely missed the rather obvious humor in somebody’s post on here and when called on it, I said My bad three times.

      10. I vouch for it. He did.

      11. iseeshiny says:

        Sounds like just one occasion to me…

      12. Bittergaymark says:

        If you want to search the archives for fucking more examples. Feel free. Some of us actually have lives and don’t feel the need to constantly be so fucking petty.

      13. Totally. If any of my interns attempted that shit, I’d be pissed. I’m sorry, but you’re an intern. You do what I tell you to do, and you certainly don’t complain about something like someone singing to themselves after you’ve been “working” for 3 weeks.

      14. applescruffs says:

        But she didn’t complain. She sucked it up and dealt with it, even though it made it hard to concentrate. Like a good intern.

      15. uh, she said she put on headphones and closed the door when she could, and didn’t complain…
        i mean, i get your point, i just don’t think you replied in the right place.
        at an old job, we had a guy come in and decide in his first week everything we did was wrong, and tired to change everything. it was ridiculous and pissed everyone off, except for the owner, who inexplicably went along with everything he said. he was an ass, and didn’t last long, but we still had to put up with his stupid systems for everything afterward. so, yeah. that drives me nuts too.
        side note: this was the same guy that, when he left, signed my name with the company phone number and email to every marketing scam he could find online. i was getting non-stop phone calls about disney cruises, scholarships and mortgages i’d “inquired” about. Good riddance, Bob.

      16. Thanks @dabble, I think you’re the only one who’s actually read my comment…

  14. something Random says:

    So you both make phone calls to students but only her personal one’s make it hard to hear? You are not distracted by your music but you are distracted by her voice. It sounds like you just don’t personally like her. Is there a way you could suggest taking turns using the phone at different times of day?

  15. I just got really, really good at tuning out my surroundings when I worked in an office like that. It CAN be a good skill to have, because when I needed to get something done, I tuned everything else out, and when I was in the mood to goof off, I’d pay attention and join them. The downside was that when I was in tune-out mode, it was difficult to get my attention. In any case, I VERY MUCH prefer more laid-back office environments. You can have fun at work and still get work done, if you do it right!

  16. There was a time when I shared a small office space with 5 other people. I did what CatsMeow did and just put in headphones and got really good at tuning out the other people when I needed to concentrate to get work done.

    LW, it’s her office space as much as it is yours. I think that for some of the issues, you should mind your own business because it’s not your place to tell her what to do (for example, bringing her brother into work and watching Comedy Central all day). As long as her lack of work productivity is not affecting your workload, it’s ultimately her choice as to how she is spending the time in her office. And, I would be surprised if the boss and others were oblivious to her behavior. Now, I think it is completely fine to address needing things to be quieter when you have to make a phone call to a student. You could bring it up and talk to her about it, and then when you have to make a phone call, give her a heads up so she can turn down her music if it’s too loud or whatever else is happening.

  17. Ele4phant says:

    So I think this is another one of those situations where “Would you prefer to be right, or would you prefer it to get better?” is in play. Because technically speaking, she isn’t being professional. But by the same token, if you, brand new employee, take it straight to your boss it probably won’t be viewed in a positive light, by your bosses and definitely by your office mate.

    And “professional” is relative anyways. Some places (perhaps where you worked last?) have a stricter definition of why is acceptable than others. I work at a pretty laid back place with an open floor plan. Some of the thing your coworker have done are a-okay here.

    Ultimately, the question you should ask yourself is “Is her behavior making it impossible to get my work done?” If the answer is yes, then address those behaviors, with her, not your bosses. Don’t bring this to your superiors until you’ve spoken about it directly and she refuses to accommodate you.

    If you can get work done but she annoys you, well suck it up and learn to deal. The world is full of loudness and annoyances, and learning to tune things out will come in handy in all sorts of different circumstances.

  18. Avatar photo the_optimist says:

    I used to work at my university too. If this girl irks you, you would have HATED me. I used to co-host touch football/volleyball/basketball matches in our department during winter break when no one but the student aides were around. IT. WAS. RAD.
    Also, ahem…people do way worse in near-dead offices. Trust me ;).

  19. lmao @ “gives too shits”

  20. I have to disagree with Wendy here — to me this sounds unprofessional and I most definitely wouldn’t be able to work in that type of setting. I can’t really handle noise that I can’t control when I’m working. I get too distracted. I’m guessing that’s what the LW is encountering here.

    Despite it being a university, there still is a lot that has to get done before the end of the year — grading for professors, end-of-the-year/end-of-semester stuff for staff working in administration (examples: res life staff closing the dorms for the holiday break, registrar staff getting class schedules/class changes ready for the next semester, book store staff buying back books, etc). Not to mention I’m guessing the LW wants to give a good first impression in her first month working for the university and this may be affecting her ability to get her own work done.

    LW, I’d suggest first talking to your coworker. Tell her that you get distracted and want her to tone things down. Maybe she just doesn’t realize that it affects you so much. Hopefully that works, but if it doesn’t work, then consider getting your boss involved or try to get your own office.

  21. One of my newly discovered pet peeves is when someone does every possible thing they can do BESIDES just talking to the person they have a problem with. You may find her really annoying, but tattling on her to somebody without even mentioning to her is kind of dickish and childish. Certainly if you can’t find a resolution together, involve a supervisor, but it’s not your boss’s job to fix your problems with co-workers. And after three weeks, if I had an employee come to me and ask for me to make her co-worker stop being annoying, I’d start wondering who I’d hired.

    So, ask her to quiet down if she’s making it hard to concentrate or talk to students. But unless her other habits, dancing or whatever, are interrupting your work, it seems kind of overkill to give her a laundry list of things you simply find annoying that don’t really affect you.

    And as someone who also works at a university, you might want to learn how to handle working through distractions because that’s the name of the game.

    1. I agree that she should talk to her coworker, but just to play devil’s advocate I wonder if the reason why she hasn’t talked to the coworker directly is because she doesn’t want to overstep her bounds having just started three weeks ago. Maybe the coworker has been there for a long time and the LW doesn’t want to step on her toes. I know whenever I’m in a new job I’m usually VERY cautious at first, at least until I have my bearings. In my new job this year it took about two months for me to be fully comfortable.

      1. Avatar photo LadyinPurpleNotRed says:

        That may be true, but taking something like this to the boss straight away = MAJOR overreaction and so much worse

      2. Oh I totally agree she needs to talk to her coworker, just pointing out a different perspective. Personally in a new job I would be very hesitant to confront something like this right away. I do think she’s overreacting a bit in this situation, but I can definitely see her perspective on this whole thing.

      3. I can see being nervous about confronting, but to me, the solution would be to wait until I did feel comfortable. I just think she could much more easily create an enemy by going behind her back than asking in person.

      4. I actually have a different perspective on this now, because sometimes I think we assume talking to a boss=major consequences for the person being complained about. And that’s not always true… a boss who is in touch with his/her employees & cares about their interpersonal office relationships may actually WANT to be the go-between? Like, say this LW has a boss who checks in with her often, especially because she’s new…in a case like that, it’s not really out of bounds to say something in a diplomatic way, something that could remind the boss like, “Oh, right, Emily over there is used to being by herself—let me kindly remind her that she shares an office now, & needs to tone it down.”

        It just could be better for the environment to hear it from the boss, as a friendly reminder—with no “Oh, new person complained…” attached? As an example: at my job when we were short-staffed for a while, the woman (who has seniority over me & covers my desk while I’m away) was late relieving me for lunch a lot. I didn’t care at all, understanding she had a lot on her plate, but one time my boss walked by at like 1:40 & was like “?” she hasn’t relieved you yet? And I’m like, “No, but it’s fine, she’s busy” whatever, & he literally offered to say something to her, & make it look like it bothered HIM, if it was bothering me. I said that wasn’t necessary (like, at all) but it was nice, & I think some bosses are like that, where they understand how to tread in order not to make waves? So, that’s my thought on this today. Maybe LW isn’t really trying to get this girl in TROUBLE; she just wants to take the route that causes less waves, & maybe the boss route looks like, to her, something that will (cause less waves) (waves, waves, waves, okay I’m done)

      5. My issue with bringing it up with the boss isn’t that I think that it’ll cause big repercussions for the co-worker, but that the boss probably doesn’t care and doesn’t really have time to deal with something like this. If I brought this up with my boss, she’d ask me first if I’d spoken with the co-worker in question and, I believe, would seriously question my ability to get along with others. Maybe that’s just because I work in a field where communication and conflict resolution is a part of our skill set, but to me, the overreaction has more to do with looking like a tattle-tale, not that the supervisor is going to care enough to cause trouble.

        And honestly, if my supeisor came to me and told me one of the girls I work with in my office had a complaint about something I did, I’d consider it really jerk move to have tattled on me. Mostly because I’d assume her purpose WAS to get in me in trouble.

  22. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

    My mom and I are drunk. My sober sister hates us hahahahaha.

    1. Avatar photo Addie Pray says:

      Oh my god… What is wrong with my mother? She drinks and drinks and drinks and… tricks me into drinking and drinking and drinking with her. What a bad influence!

  23. I agree she should talk to the coworker first, but Wendy did not address the most problematic aspect of the letter – the confidential student records. They are protected by the Federal Family Educational Records and Privacy Act (FERPA) and access to them is very restricted. If the coworker is letting her brother see the records, she violating FERPA and potentially subjecting herself and the university to liability. That needs to stop ASAP.

    1. Breezy AM says:

      The thing is I don’t think she was necessarily *showing* her brother as much as they were simply there, and LW felt he was looking at them. I’m married to a prof who also happens to be a grievance officer for his faculty union. There’s a huge ass stack of final exams and paperwork about courses and contracts sitting about five feet from me as I type this. But I’m not actually LOOKING at them because I know not to. I often stand over my husband while he’s grading or doing stuff, and I’m not looking at them, I’m looking at something else.

      I also disagree with those who say this month is busy busy busy in admin. I’m sorry but all the admin at our uni has been doing lately has been drinking. Everything else everyone else mentioned has already been done or decided on, and has been for *weeks*.

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