my coworker sends us incessant updates about her kid

, my coworker sends us incessant updates about her kid
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, my coworker sends us incessant updates about her kid

This post, my coworker sends us incessant updates about her kid , was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

A reader writes:

My office is working from home and so long as you get your work done, it’s looking to be a permanent change. The only people asked to return are those who struggle with their work or don’t have reliable internet service.

My team is very small with only six of us, so we work fairly closely. We have an inner office messaging program that is very useful for communication. One of my coworkers spends most the day talking about her kid on it. She’s also texts or sends pictures and videos out over Facebook to a group chat. Nobody ever responds as we are all sick of it. The occasional kid story is fine. I don’t need to know every second of your kid’s day though. It’s not that I hate kids, but I’m trying to do my job. Her role has different metrics that are less demanding than mine.

I’ve asked her to not send me the messages. I’ve told her I’m busy with work. It doesn’t stop. She gets offended and will take a few-hour break from sending messages, but then it starts right back again. I can’t block her and I have to check the messages as they could be work-related.

My manager is great, but if I involve management then they have to take action. I don’t want to lose the message program as it’s very helpful, and I don’t want it to become highly supervised as most are good with it. I know my coworker can’t afford to be asked to return to the office as she has nobody to watch her kid. (Behavior issues with the kid have resulted in no babysitters or family left willing to help.) I really don’t want to have to bring this to management. I’ve tried addressing it politely as I will still need to work with her. But it’s been over a year of this, so I don’t think it’s going to change and I’m looking for other suggestions of how to handle this.

I wrote back and asked, “Can you tell me more about why you don’t want to mention it to your manager? It sounds like that might be the only option at this point.”

It’s because I have been with this company for going on 10 years. In a previous department, when issues like this were brought up, management stepped in and started to micromanage everything. It made the managers and employees miserable. Many people quit. I considered it myself, but I had health issues and needed to keep my insurance. That department is considered one of the most toxic in the company and has the highest turnover rate. I do not want to see that start here as I like this new department.

The department I’m in now has only been around two years. We’ve been given more freedom to do our jobs and be treated more like adults. In the previous department, we had the message system. People complained about non-work related messages and they started to monitor them and enforcing discipline if they found messages not specific to work. Eventually they removed the message system as it was too much work to monitor. I don’t want to move to that level of monitoring. With us working from home, it’s nice to hear life updates from coworkers. I think it helps us still feel a bit of the office environment with knowing your coworkers as we don’t have that personal interaction.

Complaints about excessive non-work messages on a message program will not turn a good manager into a bad one or a well-functioning team into a toxic one. I’d assume that what happened in your old department was about that manager, or maybe that team. (Although you said the micromanaging made the managers miserable too — so were the micromanaging directives coming from above them? And are those micromanagers above your current team too? If so, I understand the concern more.)

Either way, the thing is that you don’t have a lot of options here. You’ve done the logical thing — you’ve asked your coworker directly to stop messaging you — and it hasn’t worked. You can’t block her because her messages could be work-related. So at this point, you probably need to either escalate it to your manager or decide to live with it.

Unless … exactly how direct have you been? And how clear? If you’ve just said “please don’t send me these messages, I’m busy,” she might be hearing “I’m busy right now so don’t message me for a few hours but later is fine.”If so, that would explain why she starts right back up again a few hours later. And you certainly wouldn’t be the first person to water down your real message out of a desire to be polite.

If you haven’t been absolutely crystal clear with her, that’s the next step. Crystal clear in this case means something like, “Jane, I apologize if I wasn’t clear about this earlier, but when I’ve asked you to stop messaging me about Percival, I didn’t just mean for the day — I meant all the time. I’m nearly always on deadline, and it’s too distracting to get so many social messages while I’m trying to focus on work. Going forward, as a permanent thing, please don’t message me unless it’s about work.”

You might feel rude saying this. But it’s not rude; it’s a necessary communication to a coworker who is ignoring norms and hints and direct requests. Really, if anyone is being rude, it’s your coworker — it’s rude to monopolize people’s time on any topic. It would be just as rude if she were sending you constant messages about recipes or her cat or her exercise routine after you’d asked her to stop. (In fact, you don’t even need to mention her kid when you address this. You could just say “non-work messages” if you want.) But it’s okay if she’s a little offended. It might be be a good outcome, if it means she stops bombarding you.

Also, if you’ve only addressed this by text, try picking up the phone and calling her to say it. Sometimes with people who aren’t “hearing” a message over text or email, having a phone or in-person conversation drives home that you’re serious in a different way (especially so if you hardly ever talk that way).

I wonder, too, about technical solutions. You mentioned you can’t block her because you need to see work-related messages, but could you suggest your team create a separate channel for non-work talk? That would be something you could check only when you felt like it, and it might solve this. Or could you block just Jane and tell her to email you when she needs you? (You could be straightforward about why: “I’m turning off messages from you because all the non-work stuff makes it hard for me to focus. If you need to send me something about work, please email it.”)

But if you’ve already been that clear and technical solutions aren’t possible, then you probably do need to decide if you trust your manager to handle it better than your last boss handled a similar issue or if you’re not willing to go that route (in which case you’d be stuck just living with this).

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