Folks sitting at their desks and refusing to interact

I’m not putting this in the Pit, because I’m hoping it doesn’t degenerate into a series of rants along the lines of “Xs are lazy bastards and ought to be fired.” I’m hoping for a more constructive discussion on how things like this ought to be addressed.

We’re all paid hourly, but some people (the people in more “professional-ish” positions) are a little more flexible about coming, going, scheduling lunch and all that. Other people (the people in more “support-staff-ish” positions) tend to come in and leave at set times and are more rigid about “lunch time.” (There is no official company-wide lunch hour. That’s handled individually with direct supervisors. Many of us are free to take lunch whenever we want, so long as we’re completing our tasks properly.)

Over a period of several years, on three occasions, with three different persons belonging to the second group, I’ve had unpleasant encounters (the last one happened just a few minutes ago):

  1. Jane Doe is assigned to hand out subway passes. When it’s time for passes to be handed out, you go to Jane’s desk, retrieve the passes, and sign a piece of paper indicating you’ve received them. I approach the desk and Jane is facing in the other direction, playing solitaire on her computer. I wait a few seconds to be acknowledged and then after an uncomfortably long period of time, I clear my throat or venture a tentative “excuse me.” Jane, without looking in my direction, gestures toward a placard on her desk and barks “I’m at lunch! You have to come back later.” The placard says “lunch.”

  2. Joan Roe is the receptionist/secretary for the executive wing of the building. I receive a piece of mail that I believe should go to the company’s general counsel. I know the person, but I’ve never ventured in that corridor, so I stop at Joan’s desk to ask where the general counsel’s office is. Very similar to encouter No. 1. “I’m at lunch!” but much, much ruder tone of voice than Jane Doe.

  3. Jean Moe works in the facilities department. I notice that two of my colleagues are using slips of paper to identify their offices, because they haven’t been provided with proper nameplates. I go down to inform the facilities department and I notice the office is completely dark. At first I think no one is in, but when the motion sensors kick in and the lights come on I notice Jean with her head on her desk, apparently trying to nap. Kind of stunned, I don’t know what to do and I stand there for a few seconds, giggling nervously. “You’re going to have to come back after lunch! My head is killing me!” I say: uh. “What do you need?” I explain the nameplate issue as quickly as possible. “I don’t know why you guys can’t do these things before lunch.”

I have no problem with people taking entitled breaks or even checking out for a short nap if they need to – if that’s fine with their supervisors. But I believe if you’re sitting at your desk, it’s supremely unprofessional to refuse to interact with someone who has work-related business.

If you want a break from work, we have a nice employee lounge with microwaves and vending machines. There’s even a “sick room” for people to lie down if they’re feeling unwell, and a “lactation room” that has a comfy chair and is almost never used. There are even some rooms that are so rarely used that you can easily hide out for whatever duration of break your supervisor is okay with. But if you are at your work desk, you should interact cordially with your colleagues regarding work matters.

I really think that this kind of rudeness is something that should be addressed on a company-wide basis, but I’m not sure what to do. I can tell my own supervisor what happened, but I doubt that she would do anything beyond sympathizing. I’m not sure I feel comfortable complaining to a executive or the H.R. department. I’m not sure it would be of much use to talk to my union shop steward about it.

Any ideas?

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:smiley:

I can see both sides. They should be polite but doing work when you’re on break is not being on break but working.

Respect the lunch.:smiley:

In reference to #1, why on Earth would you stand there longer than half a second before saying “Hey, Jane, can I get my subway pass from you?”
Why the fake throat clearing and then the “excuse me”? Maybe I just don’t get office stuff. But my god. She was playing solitaire, not talking with a client.

Ehhh…I’m torn. On the one hand, they all could have been politer about it. On the other, lunch break time is precious, and there have been days when the anticipation of it is all that’s kept me sane. I could see myself doing something to put me on your list. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that “addressing” will do anything to improve. Some people are going to be rude whether they’re on break or not. Others will be polite no matter what. Just shrug it off and move on, says I.

Here’s (partially) my point. If your break is so valuable to you, leave your desk. If you’re sitting at your desk, you should be willing to interact politely.

I wasn’t bringing any of them major tasks. All the interactions could have been handled very quickly, in less time than it took to grumble at me. And in cases 2 and 3, there would simply have been an exchange of information – no actual work involved.

I really, really like having lunch at my desk. I interact with my colleagues all day long, and at lunch I like to go online (like I’m doing right now), send a personal email or two, maybe make a phone call. I am frequently interrupted by people who don’t realize I’m on a break despite my having a sign up, like Jane Doe does. I’m polite to them because that’s just how I roll, but inwardly I am annoyed that despite my shoving food into my face, having clearly non-work related stuff up on my computer, and having a sign reading “ON LUNCH” people don’t seem to notice.

So I think both sides should cut each other some slack. People should be able to spend their breaks wherever and however they most enjoy them, but those same people should be understanding and pleasant to those who don’t realize they’re on break and approach them for work-related stuff.

On preview - my break IS valuable to me, but it’s valuable because it’s time to do the things I mentioned above that I want to use my break for. Today on my lunch I have called to book a dr appointment, done some online banking, sent an email to a friend asking what I need to bring to a shower this weekend, and am spending a couple of minutes on the SDMB. If I left my desk, I couldn’t do those things, and that’s what I want to use my break for.

While being rude about it isn’t called for, I don’t see a problem with telling someone “Sorry, I’m on break right now. I’ll help you when my break is over.” If someone wants to spend her lunch period playing computer solitaire, it seems rather silly to force her to go sit in the lounge and twiddling her thumbs.

I’m with the OP - it’s rude. I have been on a lunch break when a co-worker or supervisor asked a question or needed help. In most cases it takes about two seconds.

However, I’m not sure there is any way to formally “address” this without looking like a brat. I think you’ll just have to deal.

I don’t see why you get to be the one to make this rule. Perhaps they’d rather be at their desk, where all their stuff is.

People like that are just rude. All they have to say is, “Sure! Drop me an email (or a voicemail, or a note) and as soon as I’m back from lunch I’ll take care of it.”

I swear, some people go out of their way to be worthless douchebags.

It’s hella rude to wake somebody up who’s taking a nap at her desk, IMHO. I only do that on my break when I’m exhausted and can’t keep my eyes open or when I have a horrible headache.

And our break room is cold and uncomfortable. I have a heater at my desk.

ETA - of course they shouldn’t have been rude, though.

Every place I’ve worked, it’s been considered common courtesy that if someone asks for something simple while you’re at your desk on a break, you do it. If someone wants you to immediately hop into an involved project, it’s fair game to say “Sure, I’ll start that when I come back from lunch at <x time>”, but you wouldn’t just flat out turn them away and refuse to discuss it. It’s rude. Heck, if I take a lunch at my desk, I’ll answer the phone for customers and that sort of thing.

If you really, really want to never even be approached by another person when on break, you should leave your desk. Otherwise, a brief, polite request shouldn’t garner a nasty response - it’s unprofessional. I mean, come on, it takes just as long to explain that you’re at lunch than to hand someone something or tell them where an office is.

In days before cell phones, I could see it – you are at lunch, but waiting for an important call. And there have been times in my old job when I have had a migraine and needed to put my head down in a dark place for a while – it’s not fair for me to expect people to give up the employee lounge while I turn out the lights and demand silence. I didn’t have a private office in my old job, so my boss would let me use hers. I think it would be very impolite of someone to bust in there with anything other than “The building is on fire!” Wow, I wish they’d had a “sick room” like **acsenray’s **place.

This is my point. Fundamentally, I don’t care what you do on your break. But if you’re sitting there right in front of me, you should be willing to interact politely and professionally.

Again, it’s fine with me if that’s what you want to do, but when I see you sitting there, I expect you not to grumble when I ask you a work-related question.

I think it’s difficult to deal with precisely because it seems so unreasonable and unexpected. I don’t expect adults in a professional environment to behave like this. But, fundamentally, it’s unprofessional, which should be something that a professional organization can deal with.

The actual rule is that when you’re at work, you should be working. If you want to hang out at your workplace, it’s not unreasonable for people to approach you with matters of business.

This is what I’m saying.

I’m sorry, but napping at one’s desk isn’t a recognized inviolable right, especially in an open office area. Even if you’re napping in an office with a door, I think people with actual business in hand have the right to wake you.

While being rude in the office is never appropriate, people who choose to take lunch at their desks should be treated as if they are not physically there.

It’s all well and good to say they should deal with your 1-minute problem - but everyone has a one minute problem for them to deal with. Then after answering 10 or 15 one minute questions they get no break - and that’s unfair (and possibly illegal, depending on the exact conditions of employment). Why should they be forced to go to retreat to some (possibly less pleasant) location just to get 30 minutes of uninterrupted “me” time?

Why is it so hard to come back another time when you see the “lunch” sign?

Word to the wise, make friends with support staff, treat them with respect, and you will find your professional career flows a lot more smoothly. Treating support staff like insignificant peons is a real rookie mistake.

Again, its no excuse for rudeness. But the “lunch” sign should be respected.

Sorry but I think Acsenray is completely wrong. The employees are entitled to lunch. If there is a sign stating they are on their own time, there is no reason for you to disturb them. If the light is out and someone’s head is down, I would assume they are on lunch as well.

I disagree that people should have to leave the office to be considered “at lunch”. It is their break and if they want to play on the computer and the powers that be don’t care, then it shouldn’t bother you.

I don’t think it is ever okay for people to be rude but if it is obvious that they aren’t working and you decided to disturb them anyway, I can see how they would get a tad cranky.

I’ve never even thought about behaving in the way the OP describes, but that’s because I haven’t had a job where my break times and durations were defined since I was a teenager. Maybe it’s a low-level clock-puncher mentality in some cases. I can understand if it’s someone who has to be “on” all the time, though.

On the other hand, there’s also people out there who act as though they’re too busy to answer a simple question. They’re probably the same ones who brag about working long hours; all for show.

I agre with the women in principle, but I must say they sound like right bitches. Of course, maybe they got that way because of people who continually interupt their lunch breaks.

I’m the only hourly person in my department and this happens to me every so often. Depending on who’s asking( the dept. head is the only person I actually answer to) and the extent of what they need I might hear them out. If it starts getting involved I politely say “would you mind if I called / came by your desk when I get back from lunch?” Either way, inside I’m thinking the person is at the least a bit unobservant. I don’t have an “at lunch” sign, but I’d think me sitting there with a mouth full of food and my nose buried in the newspaper would be a pretty big clue.

I think it’s kind of rude to behave that way. Personally, I choose to eat lunch at a table in my office while my work study student sits at my desk to answer the phone and make appointments. But if someone asks me something or I see that it’s getting a bit complicated for the student I don’t act like I’m not there. I respond, I help, I say hello to people who come in for their appointments if I know them. I figure it’s what I get for being there in the first place and also payment for others’ courtesy to me.

You just can’t know until you’ve been there. I am not that rude, but I have exactly five hours a week that I can call my own, my lunch breaks. I am a single Mom, with a job that requires constantly interrupting what I sat down to do by answering phone calls, e-mails and IMs from people who have far less important, but time-sensitive issues to discuss.

I make sure that my co-workers understand this about me, but the random others have no clue. I have never been overtly rude to anyone but there are times when I want to explode.

So it’s both. Don’t be rude, but respect people’s “own” time. They may also have one of those minute-counting bosses who will glare if they take an extra five minutes at the end to make up for the time you used.