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The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: March 23, 2017

Submitted by on March 23, 2017 – 10:31 AM13 Comments

Two coworkers, W and J, sit next to each other, then there’s an empty desk, then me.

We are all assistants at a law firm. One morning, J, who comes in earlier, thus leaves earlier, thanked W for handling something for her. W said, not quietly, “Oh, I usually spend the last 30 minutes of the day on Buzzfeed, so it was no problem to do that.” I realize that she was saying she wasn’t especially busy at the end of the day, but if any higher-ups had heard her, she’d have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

So, if she does something like that again, should I say “W, don’t say things like that where you might be heard by higher-ups”? Or do I just let her hoist herself on that petard?

Curious Coworker

Dear Curious,

Higher-ups didn’t hear her, and unless her Buzzfeeding is putting more work on you or otherwise creating a situation that directly affects you, you’re better off staying out of it. It doesn’t sound like it is; in fact, it sounds like she was more than happy to put the latest list of kitten-puppy love-story pics on hold and help J out with a task, so, as my grandmother used to say, don’t go looking for trouble. It knows perfectly well where you live already.

I am not unsympathetic to the annoyance you may have felt overhearing the comment, mind you. I am a lifelong neurotic rule-follower despite having overwhelming evidence that 1) nobody really cares that I adhere to the letter of various laws and can in fact quote them at length, and 2) people who don’t follow the rules don’t seem to pay for it as often as I’d like (or live in fear of). I am not someone who historically can get away with shit, so I am not someone who tries to, and seeing others getting over is irritating.

But: don’t be me. Let it go; eyes on your own paper.

Got a Vine question of your own? Send it in! Etiquette, grammar, gift crowdsourcing, you name it and we’ll ponder it. bunting at tomatonation dot com!




  • Uptown Woman says:

    Hey, that’s my letter!

    That’s not W’s only time saying things like that, and I do just let it go. Sometimes it’s just stupid things, like talking about how she doesn’t trust other “girls”, that I don’t like to hear any young woman say. I’m middle-aged and don’t suffer fools gladly, so I just have to live with it.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Oh, Lord. Yeah, like I said, I get it.

  • cayenne says:

    As a longtime manager whose career started prior to the advent of email, never mind the internet and social media, my recommendation is to leave it alone. You would not be doing yourself any favours: your colleagues would regard you as a nosy killjoy snitch, and your supervisors would wonder why you weren’t paying attention to your own work. So let it go.

    There’s no way to prevent people from checking their social media accounts or favourite websites during the workday; if they don’t do it on the work computers, they’ll just do it on their phones, so trying to police that is essentially declaring you’ll stand behind them and monitor their every moment at work, and that’s not your role. I guarantee you W’s supervisors are aware of the behaviour, if not the specific website, and have probably decided that if a) she sticks with SFW sites, and b) it’s not affecting her work output, it’s not worth getting fussed about.

    Everyone needs a mental break of some kind during the day to make sure they can function – I’ve come to regard the internet break as the updated version of the cigarette break, without the lingering stank wafting around the office.

  • Claire says:

    I know every office is different, but for what it’s worth, when I worked in a law firm a lot of the assistants intentionally did not do much work for the last half hour because they had attorneys who were prone to frantically needing something shipped/sent to the courthouse/etc. before end of day, and therefore didn’t want to start a project that had a good chance of getting interrupted midstream. It can be annoying (I am also a rule-follower, and I was a paralegal who had to bill my time and unfortunately “killing time” is not billable), but if it’s a system that seems to be working for them and the firm, it’s something to roll your eyes at and be done with.

  • RJ says:

    @Claire – I am an assistant at a law firm, and: EVERYTHING YOU JUST SAID.

    Exactly. Basically, this happens weekly, if not daily. I had a coworker who was able to plan her wedding at work because the attorney she assisted (a fantastic attorney and a good person) kept her waiting pretty much all day. Sometimes there wasn’t much she could do without him, so it came down to just doing whatever kept her awake until he got around to it (exaggerating only slightly).

    In other news – I’d leave it alone. If the higher-ups hear her, that’s going to be her problem (not that you want her to get in trouble or anything). She’s a grown-up… but it’s nice of you to care!

  • Jesse says:

    Uptown Woman, I’d actually be more inclined to address the kind of thing you mention in your comment vs the killing time at the end of the day stuff — the more personal side, rather than work production/ethic side, if that makes sense. If the coworker’s boss thinks she’s doing enough even with killing the last half-hour of the day, that’s their business. But you can try to put the kibosh on sexism, etc. in your immediate environment.

  • Uptown Woman says:

    Oh, I look at the internet, too. (I’m at work now.) I just don’t make loud statements about it. W. is young, but I have the same expectations of a 25-year-old assistant as I do of a 50+ one.

    I was in a mood when I wrote to Sars about this. I don’t spend my whole work day fretting over other people’s habits.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Yeah, sometimes stuff just rubs you the wrong way. I’m an Old and work with a lot of younger people (I mentally refer to them as “kids”) and often get quite annoyed at what they “get away with”, but they’re right in the same room as our manager and she decides who is and isn’t in trouble. I just sit on the other side of the room and remind myself that I can do the crossword without getting crap for it and that’s something.

  • grykajos says:

    As a manager, if I overheard that, I would have one of two responses:
    1) if they are a generally good employee, I’d assume it was a joke, or that they had earned that time by working hard throughout the day.
    2) If they aren’t a generally good employee, I’d start handing them assignments in the last half hour of the day.
    There isn’t a scenario where they would actually get in trouble, though. It would seem petty to write someone up for a flippant comment.

  • RJ says:

    @Uptown Woman:

    Sometimes it just REALLY gets on your nerves. We have one person who has made some crazy excuses for not coming in to work (note to all: If you’re going to lie about why you can’t come in, don’t tell a lie that can actually be checked – i.e. “There was a terrible train accident and someone died!” Sadly, not joking here…)

    Another spends half her time going to doctor’s appointments on office time. There’s nothing actually wrong with her; her health is basically her hobby/focus in life. She takes at least 3 hours each time (usually for a dental cleaning) and can’t understand why this a problem (she directly impacts my getting my own work done).

    We are not on good terms.

  • AF says:

    Another neurotic rule-follower here. I got over my annoyance with any co-workers but was still inordinately bothered when a time-waster assumed I was hanging around the break room on the clock, too. Nope, I actually spent my break time there.

  • Jennifer says:

    I don’t know about you, but I just cannot keep working straight through for 4 hours with only one 15-minute allotted break. No job will ever allow me to do this, but dear god, I can’t just be 100% focused all that time. And the last hour of the day (after doing a bunch of complicated shit and drama management), I was totally brain dead today. Like the last task I had left to do was basically “see if this is in the computer system or not for 15 pages” and I couldn’t even do THAT. Sometimes a person needs a mini-net-break, and we don’t do smoke breaks any more.

    Also, not everyone wants to be working on something huge and big at the end of the day, or still has the mental capacity to be just as sharp doing it at that time as they did when they came in. Also, coworker might be out of work to do or out of things she could easily do at that time.

    Generally speaking, as long as she gets her work done in general and it’s not piling up because of BuzzFeed, leave it be. Unless you are 100% perfect and am never doing anything but your work at all times, I suppose.

  • Kari says:

    Another rule-follower here, and I totally get the annoyance. Buuuut… when I was a receptionist at a law firm, waaay back in the day, I was so bored most of the time (even after asking for more work to do, and doing extra assorted things on my own), that I turned to the internet for sure. It was how I found this blog and read EVERY. SINGLE. POSTING. way back in the early aughts. I’m glad it’s here, and it’s so much better than buzzfeed.

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