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coworker keeps calling me in the middle of the night, fending off easily searchable questions, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker is in a different time zone and keeps calling me in the middle of the night

I work in a multinational company where many of my coworkers are in drastically different time zones and different countries. I’ve managed to make this work quite well most of the time, but I have a coworker on a project who will not address anything in an email or message, and insists on long (once almost three hours) calls instead.

I’ve already tried gently suggesting that we discuss it in email or chat, but whenever I bring that up, she literally ignores the suggestion. She also regularly calls me — with no notice — at what is the middle of the night my time. On the rare occasion that I don’t wake up to a bunch of missed calls, she sends me multiple meeting requests with five minutes notice when I have other meetings to attend.

Is this the new normal that I have not adapted to? That everything should be a call? Am I just out of touch?

My boss is genuinely wonderful, but I’ve only been here for around four months and she’s constantly overworked, so I’m reluctant to bring up this situation if I can find a solution, especially because I don’t want to be seen as not a team player.

This isn’t a new normal; this is one person being pushy and thoughtless and rude.

Stop gently suggesting email and instead be much more direct! Say this: “I am X hours ahead of you so when you call me during your work day, it’s the middle of the night for me and you are waking me up. I need you to stop calling after X:00 my time/Y:00 your time. And because we are in such different time zones, we will need to handle more things through email or chat.”

Gentle is fine as a first approach, but when it doesn’t work, the next step is always to be clearer and more direct. You might also try blocking her number at night.

You should also start pushing back on the excessive meeting requests — “I can’t fit in X number of meetings with you this week — I can do one hour on Thursday afternoon and let’s plan to handle anything else in email.”

If any of your coworkers also work with her, it might be interesting to ask if they’re encountering this too and, if so, how they’re handling it. And if laying out clear boundaries like this doesn’t work, you really do need to take it to your boss — it makes sense to try to deal with yourself first, but if that doesn’t resolve it, any decent boss would want to be looped in, busy or not.

2. Should I coach my employee on his communication skills?

I’m a new manager, and I’m trying to figure out when I should coach my team members to develop their skills and when I should leave things alone. I have two rockstar employees: “Oswald” and “Bertram.” Oswald is a spectacular communicator who knows how to succinctly explain complicated procedures. Bertram is a great leader, super enthusiastic, but he takes a while to get to a point and tends to backtrack while talking, which can make it hard to follow his train of thought. It’s not an undue burden on his peers or management; it’s just not as beautiful as Oswald.

For both Oswald and Bertram, good verbal communication is an essential skill for their roles. Would you recommend that I try to coach Bertram to help him become a more concise speaker? Or is coaching Bertram on this overly heavy-handed, given that Bertram is really doing a fine job? Honestly the only reason I’ve noticed Bertram’s less than perfect communication is because Oswald is so amazing at speaking. Where is the line between helping someone improve and being overly critical of otherwise good team members?

Would you even be thinking about coaching Betram on this if you’d never met Oswald? In other words, if you weren’t comparing them, would you think Bertam’s speaking skills were just fine? If so, leave this alone — he’s not doing anything wrong, he’s just not as stellar as someone who’s unusually great. It could be something you jointly work on if he’s asking how to stretch to the next level, but that’s different than a failing that needs to be addressed.

But if Oswald didn’t exist and you’d still have concerns about Bertram’s communication skills, then it makes sense to address it, assuming it’s detracting from his success in his role.

3. Diplomatic way to say “let me Google that for you”

I have multiple coworkers who come to me with questions they could answer on their own with a little digging or a Google search. I’ve fallen into the bad habit of answering almost all the time, even if finding the file or looking up the answer would take me just as long as it would take them. Can you suggest a script/approach to guide them to try looking themselves first? I don’t want them to stop coming to me with more complex questions, just the easy ones.

With the simple questions, try asking, “Where have you looked so far?” If the answer is “nowhere,” then you can say, “Check the X doc, it should be in there” or “I’d need to google it to find out — try googling ‘how to use the IF function in Excel.’” Or even, “I usually google stuff like that — try that first and you should find what you need.” If you do that with someone a few times and they still keep bringing you easily-searchable questions, then you can say, “I can help with more complicated things, but with stuff like this, you should try the X documentation or even google before coming to me. You’ll almost always find the answer that way.”

4. Should I ban money collections on our team?

New manager here. Worked my way up over the years from secretarial and assistant positions. Always resented having to chip in for other people’s life events (showers, birthdays, etc.) when I wasn’t paid that much. My attitude was that I was at work to make money, not to spend it.

Now that I have my own department, would it be seen as mean if I insist that employees not take up these collections? I was going to buy a bunch of cards (wedding, birthday, baby) to be kept in my office that they could use if so desired and if needed I would buy a sheet cake once a month to celebrate any occasions they may want to celebrate. Your thoughts?

Yes, please do! A lot of people resent being hit up for money at work, and rightly so — and it can be hard to know when that’s the case because a lot of people will hide how they really feel about it.

You’d be doing everyone a favor if you stopped the practice. You can frame it as, “These things have a way of creating pressure on people, and I don’t want working here to take money out of anyone’s pocket.”

5. Company wants my friends or family to verify my work eligibility

I recently accepted a seasonal position with a company that I have worked with before. They sent I-9 paperwork through a third party company.

As part of the I-9 paperwork, government regulations require the employer or their authorized representative to verify that the new hire can legally work in the U.S. (like passports, driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, etc.). However, they are asking us to designate a friend or family member who will act as the employer’s “authorized representative” and then I’m supposed physically meet with the friend/family member, give them my documents, and have them fill out the required information using a site link that they receive from from the company.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on this practice. This work would normally be done by someone the company is paying, who has a minimum amount of training in this area. My friend or family member will not be compensated, likely will have no such training, and has no loyalty to this company. I don’t have family nearby, I’m a private person, and I don’t like imposing on a friend and taking up their time to do something that I feel should be the company’s responsibility. I’d also prefer not to share some of my personal info (like my Social Security number), even with a friend.

Am I overreacting? To me, this just feels like a really slimy way to cut their costs and pass on what should be their responsibility to someone they don’t even know. I’m uncomfortable with it, but maybe times have changed and this is the new normal? I’d appreciate your take on this practice.

Yeah, this sounds like an attempt to offload their own responsibility, and it’s particularly bizarre because employers are allowed to do I-9 verification remotely! (That started during the pandemic as temporary measure, and a permanent rule allowing it went into effect August 1.)

You could try pointing that out, say you don’t have anyone local to you who you’re comfortable asking, and ask if you can simply use the remote process authorized by the government.


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