The receptionist at my office can see my computer screen anytime she wants just by walking over to one side of the reception desk. I have always been nice to her and have bought her holiday gifts each year. Earlier this year, a co-worker whom I find a reliable source overheard the receptionist tell another person that all I do is surf the Internet all day. Well, some of that might be true, and in my defense, keeping up with current events is part of my job. However, knowing that the receptionist is saying negative things about me to others in my office changes my feelings toward her. I feel like I’m not being friendly toward her anymore, and she can probably sense it. Should I keep giving her the gifts just to ensure that she feels guilty when she’s gossiping about me?
Karla: I’m a little confused. Are you upset because she’s falsely maligning your work ethic, or because she busted you despite your best efforts to win her over with swag?
If plying her with goodies didn’t keep her from gossiping about you before, it won’t work now. Holiday presents should be a token of appreciation, not a gift-wrapped gag order. In any case, the best way to deal with gossips is to deprive them — not of the goodies but of the dish.
The easiest solution is to put a privacy filter on your computer monitor “to reduce eye strain”— namely, in the eyes of passersby straining to see what’s on your screen. But that might suggest you have something to hide.
Is there a chance your newfound coolness toward her is actually your misdirected guilt over spending too much time on non-work-related sites? If so, cutting down on your daily intake of icanhascheezburger could improve your productivity and reputation in one fell swoop.
Otherwise, unless her comments are getting back to your boss and your boss is taking them seriously, keep your head high and let your work speak for itself.
Not that the receptionist is off the hook. Monitoring the work habits of people she’s not responsible for, or whose performance doesn’t affect hers, is a slippery slope. The people she gossips to — or about — may rightly start to wonder just how much of her workday she spends, well, working.
Karla L. Miller won the Magazine’s @Work Advice Contest. Miller, 39, lives with her family in South Riding, Va. For 16 years, she has written for and edited tax publications, most recently for the Washington National Tax office of accounting firm KPMG LLP. E-mail us at email@example.com with any questions for Karla about work angst. And keep letting us know what you think of her advice.