Tact needed for phone problem

Dear Joan:
I am married and both my husband and myself come from big families. We all have an implicit arrangement that family is never to interfere with work unless there is an emergency. Work-related phone calls keep me busy enough throughout the day. There would be no way I could accept and find time for personal calls. However, I am getting very frustrated with a few people in my office that have children. The children or the husband is calling the employee at least a few times a day, and the employee makes calls home during the day as well. I believe valuable work time is being wasted on personal phone calls. Whom should I talk with about this frustration of mine?

Usually, managers don't take a hard line on personal phone calls because most of them are parents themselves and know that some calls are necessary. When an employee begins to abuse this privilege, managers are forced to act because the rest of the work group begins to resent it or copy it.

This problem usually worsens during the summer months because older children sometimes stay home alone and may feel the need to call parents regularly for permission, advice and companionship.

Deep down, the abusers probably know they are pushing it. However, they may be thinking, "My children come first. If I can't be home with them, the least I can do is have them check in with me periodically." This internal conflict can interfere with an employee's commitment and concentration and must be reconciled.

You may want to talk to your manager about the situation but be forewarned about the approach and possible consequences. First of all, be prepared with specific examples detailing how often the calls come in, how long they last and if you're sure they are from family members. Unfortunately, although this step will validate that you are justified in your concerns, it will also put you in the uncomfortable position of monitoring your coworkers. If your manager is short on sensitivity or managerial skills, he or she could bungle an attempt to solve the problem by mentioning you as the complainer; complete with documented evidence to prove it.

You mention that calls keep you busy all day, which leads me to believe that your coworkers are also taking business calls. In this case, do their calls bounce over to your phone when their lines are busy? If so, you have a legitimate reason to raise this issue with your boss. If they are gabbing while you are doing their work, you have a right to be annoyed and so do your customers.

If you do approach your boss, make it clear that you are concerned for business reasons rather than personal reasons. You don't want to be seen as an eavesdropper or tattler. You might say, "I hesitate to come to you with this but I know you need to know about it. The phone lines are getting tied up on a regular basis with personal calls, both incoming and outgoing and it's causing the overflow to come to the rest of the group. I'm sure the people who are doing this are well intentioned but it's getting out of hand and affecting our customer service (or balanced workflow).

I know you would never want to use second hand information in a case such as this because of the resentment it could cause among the work group, so you may want to observe this on a first hand basis if you should decide to say anything to anyone. In any event, I thought you'd want to know before any more resentment builds among the rest of the group."

If your manager is smart, he or she will observe the situation a little more closely, document what is discovered and deal with each person on an individual basis.

The manager will then point out the occurrences and restate the affect excessive personal calls have on the operation. Next, the manager will ask if there are any extenuating circumstances that are causing the unusually high number of calls and try to help the employee come up with solution ideas to solve any special problems that may be occurring. Finally, the manager will ask for a commitment from the employee to limit his or her own calls and to talk to family members who are adding to the problem. Often, the situation can be resolved by using lunch hours or break times for personal calls.

If a problem such as this persists, the manager will be forced to take disciplinary action, which might include mandating that this employee can make no personal calls on company time. Few employees will let the problem get this out of hand, however, because they usually understand the need to give their jobs their full attention while at work.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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