I am a manager in a small insurance company. I have been with the company for over 2 years and have my own department and 3 direct reports (one of them is new and not really involved in the problem). They are all female and around the same age in their early 20's. I am a few years older than them.

The office is set up in cubicles and the demographic of employees is largely in their early to mid 20's. I've noticed that a few of the young male employees (not my direct reports) like to come over to flirt and chit chat with my female employees frequently throughout the day. I know they have also been sending my employees emails with funny content and they prove to be a huge distraction to their concentration. 

At one point I know the issue had escalated to upper management and HR investigating the content of the emails to check for inappropriate content. For the most part they were 'harmless', however there apparently were a few instances of unkind things being said about other employees here (including myself). 

The individual mostly responsible for instigating the email traffic (one of the male employees) was spoken to by their manager and I had hoped the issue would be resolved after that. Over the last week or so I've noticed that the culprit is at it again and I've gone directly to their manager (we'll call him John)  to let him know it is effecting my employees now as well. I told John that I am happy to work out a solution with him so this can be stopped and so our employees know this behavior is unacceptable. 

I am not sure how to bring this up with my employees as they never seexm to initiate the emails. Because we are close in age I have had issues in the past with my employees not taking me seriously and I fear that may be the case if I speak to them about this matter. Does anyone have advice on how I should approach my two employees about their behavior?

mmann's picture
Licensee Badge

My advice would vary depending on where you are in the Manager-Tools Basics and Rolling Out the Trinity (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

As you've already deduced... there's no simple answer!



mattpalmer's picture

Ignore the cause of the distraction.  It's only a symptom.  Treat the root cause of the problem instead.  Set a high bar, with quality standards and deadlines for the work your directs have to do, and then give feedback and consequences when they don't meet them.  If they *do* meet your standards and deadlines, then either your standards are too low, or there isn't a problem (haha just kidding).  Keep ratcheting up the deadlines and standards until they start missing, then hit them with feedback and consequences.  Eventually they'll work out (possibly with your help) that spending their time flirting and looking at funny cat pictures isn't a productive way to spend their day.

Miroslav's picture

Based on my opinion, the previous comment is a bit extreme. I would expect that people keep their behavior but start hiding it better. In the mean time, if they start missing the new deadlines and deliverables, it may demotivate them. Everyone needs to be successful at what their do, so to keep doing it. The work has to be challenging but achievable (not my thought).

As Michael said, it depends on the case and I would definitely suggest the feedback model to the people that report to you. If the distractor has a boss, talk to her and ask her to address the issue from that side. Asking for help and not telling what to do always works for me.

And, always have in mind that in USA on average 2h/workday are wasted on things that are not work related. It’s given, just use it to motivate everyone.

My personal goal for my team is to make them want to come to work. We always have time for fun and still deliver. They just own their assignments and do them because they know how their work affects the big picture.

-- Miro

naraa's picture
Training Badge


If the interruption is often, is done by the same people, and you can see it happening from your office what you can do is stand up when you see them approaching and go you yourself talk to them.  Best if you can find a subject to talk directly to the people interrupting, like ask them if they need help on something, or ask them to do something for you, or else talk something with your employees and make sure they focus on work and the other people get the "message" that they are interrupting it too much.  Soon, the interruptors will think twice about interrupting as they will not want to go meet with you! 

I also think you can talk the issue directly with your employees specially as the other guys behavior maybe distracting them unwantedly (that is, your employees don't want the interruption) and specially if they are friendly, they may not know or have the courage to cut it off, like telling them they have work to do and would rather not keep chatting.  It may be a good thing for you to tell them on your o3's that you have noticed they are being interrupted often by such and such and also you know that there has been innapropriate email sent and ask whether that is disturbing their concentration.  Tell them that if it is they can just tell the guys they are busy and will chat over lunch, or if they want to you can tell them yourself so they stop distracting them.   I agree, some social life during work is normal, you need to identify whether it is (i) excessive - I agree with comments above, it is if if is affecting their performance, or (ii) unwanted by one of the parties involved.  In either situation it should be stopped.  


rvladimiro's picture

Two parts of this in my opinion.

First the distraction caused by someone else's direct. Address your peer, as you did, keep doing it, work together on it especially if the behaviour returns after settling down. My only concern with this is not really that it is distracting or not, but if it is unprofessional or not.

Second the impact on your team. Is it affecting your goals? No? Let it go or that it is a concern in a O3. If it is affecting your goals, give feedback using the feedback model.

Avoid at all cost doing something that will be or feel like a punishment.