The Washington Post

Ask Amy: When the last thing you do at the office is work

DEAR READERS: I’m marking my 10-year anniversary of writing the “Ask Amy” column by rerunning some of my favorite Q-and-A’s from a decade of advice. Today’s letters deal with trouble at the office.

DEAR AMY: Three months ago my girlfriend and I broke up. We work in the same place and see each other every day. She has said a lot of very bad things about me to others we work with. I know because they come back and tell me everything she says.

She has sent me very nasty e-mails and has tried to put me down at every turn. She has even sent me e-mail pretending to be her new boyfriend just to see what I will say.

I have tried to be nice to her and sent some e-mails to her asking if we can be friends, but I find it hard to be nice when she is so mean to me. What can I do to help this or make it stop? -- Need Help in Iowa

DEAR IOWA: I don’t know what the two of you do for a living, but you seem to be spending a lot of time engaging in this form of high school note-passing instead of filling out your paperwork, waiting on customers, or, God forbid, tending to the nuclear missile silo. Where I work, sending such personal e-mail while at the office can get you in a heap of trouble.

The way to make her stop communicating with you or about you is to stop engaging and responding. Do not hit “reply.” Do not hit “send.” If you fail to hold up your end of this communication, it will dissipate like so much spam. (2004)

DEAR AMY: I have been working at my company for about 10 years. I really like my job, which requires a lot of concentration.

The problem at my workplace is the music. It is driving me absolutely bonkers. The music is loud and distracting. Don’t get me wrong. I like music. However, the music at work is just not my taste. I did like some of the songs, but after hearing them day in and day out, I am beginning to feel emotionally broken down. No one else seems to notice that the same music is played day after day after day.

I actually think office workers would produce higher-quality work and make fewer mistakes if we worked in a quieter atmosphere. It’s really hard trying to manipulate a spreadsheet with Madonna singing “Borderline” for the millionth time. I have asked to have the music turned down, which they did for a while, but then nobody talked to me. Then the group I work with complained, and the music was turned up loud again.

I want to get along with everyone, but the music is driving me nuts.

Please don’t tell me to go to another department. Almost all the departments (except for the really high floors that house the big executives) have this piped-in music. -- Tired

DEAR TIRED: “Borderline, feels like I’m going to lose my miii-ind . . .” Sorry, that Madonna reference really got me going.

Speaking as someone who can have Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” in my head for days just because I heard 10 seconds of it on the elevator, I feel your pain. I spoke with human resources at my company, and they assured me that this problem should be a slam-dunk at most companies: Distracting music can affect productivity and in general make people pretty miserable.

Please contact HR — not your department head — and have a meeting about this. Also consider the following options in the short run: See if the music can be played during certain blocks of the day, leaving at least some hours music-free. See if the speakers can be “regionalized” so the music isn’t pounding directly over your desk. Along those lines, explore if your cubicle can be moved to a quieter location.

Lastly you could do what I’ve been tempted to try when noise in the newsroom gets to be too much — really gigantic headphones, of the sort that workers on airport tarmacs wear. (2003)

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune



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