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Submitted by pucciot on


HI all,

I could really use some help finding the right words for feedback in this situation.

We have a staff member whose girlfriend always sits in a chair right next to the service desk he works at.

We are an academic library.

This staff member mans the circulation desk.

There is a little Coffee Machine with two comfy chairs right next to the circulation desk.

Whenever he is on shift, his girlfriend sits in one of the chairs and works on her laptop.

They occasionally talk with one another, but he does do his job, and does it well when people come up to the desk.
His performance is very good.

Thing is that it really bothers me. It just doesn't seem right - or professional.

Is this just a "me" thing ... should I just let it go ?


I am finding it difficult to come up with the words ...

Can I give you some feedback ... ?
When you let your girlfriend sit next to the service desk for your whole shift --- here is what happens ----- ??????

I just don't know what to say.
The consequence is ---
"I feel Creeped out "
"It looks unprofessional to me -- but I don't know why ?"
"It is inappropriate -- but I can't explain why ? "

Any suggestions are welcome.



davidcl's picture

I think this is a tough one. Two things make it tough: first, the behavior you're concerned about isn't really something your employee is doing. You can say your employee is responsible for the behavior of his guest, but that leads to the second issue-- your employee works in a public place. I'm assuming the girlfriend is allowed to be in the building (either you're open to the public, or she's associated with your institution). If that's true, she's allowed to sit in that chair-- your employee didn't "let" her do that. It would be unprofessional if he allowed her to interrupt his work or make a lot of noise; but if she's respectful and quiet and only speaks to him briefly when he isn't busy, I don't think this is an issue.

I think this makes you uncomfortable not so much because it seems "unprofessional" but because you can imagine other employees doing the same thing in a less professional way. If you allow your circulation desk staff members to have their friends hang out nearby for the duration of their shift, other employees may do so in a way that is less respectful, that introduces noise, or that makes the staff member seem unavailable to legitimate customers.

So, you could say "Can I give you some feedback? I've found that when employees allow their friends to sit next to the circ desk during their shifts, it can impact their work performance, and even if it doesn't, I've found that it sets a bad example for the rest of the team. Shifts aren't social time, and if I let you do it I'd have a difficult time stopping other people from doing it. Can you ask your girlfriend to sit somewhere else? Thank you."

However, I don't think you should do this unless there have been ACTUAL incidents where others have followed his example. Aside from the reasons mentioned above that already make this awkward, "it sets a bad example for others" is pretty much always the worst justification you can have for revoking a privilege an employee has enjoyed. I've found that using this justification creates resentment and can impact employee retention.

So I think you should give positive feedback about this. Stay with me.

"Can I give you some feedback? When your girlfriend sits next to the circulation desk during your shift, and you don't let socializing with her interrupt your work, you stay focused on the customers and provide excellent customer service. Can you make sure it stays that way? Thank you."

You've said yourself that there isn't a performance problem. The management issue is that something unusual is going on, and there *could* be a performance problem, either with this employee or with others.

Giving positive feedback does a few things:

1) It lets the employee know you're aware of what's going on, which he may not know.
2) It recognizes that the employee (and his girlfriend) are making an effort to keep things professional.
3) The feedback focuses on your employee's behavior, not his girlfriend's. YOU don't allow this to interrupt your work. YOU stay focused on the customers. YOU provide excellent customer service.
4) It sets a clear boundary-- this is okay BECAUSE it isn't impacting your work. This sends a clear message that your employee will get different feedback if his girlfriend's behavior changes and his work performance is affected, or if you get complaints that he isn't serving customers promptly.
5) That boundary also lets you draw a distinction with any other employee who tries to use this employee's behavior as a reason to justify their own-- if some other staffer spends their shift making out or cracking loud jokes and ignores the customers, that's clearly a totally different thing.

I'd be interested in hearing other responses to this.

Atypical IT Guy's picture

I worked in a University library in various roles from student staff, to supervisor, and manager for 10 years all dealing with a face to face service point. I have encountered many variations of this situation and I have to agree with Davidcl, your staff member is enjoying a perk of the job without letting it interfere with his work. The real question that you have to ask yourself is: does the girlfriend presence impact the approach-ability of your service desk? Anything that makes a face to face service point less approachable needs to be fixed. But in my experience, in a student centered environment (I am assuming that your main clients are students and that this staff member is a student), having a friend sit off to the side of (but not behind) the service desk would not detract from the approach-ability. Positive feedback would show him that you appreciate the work he is doing and set expectations at the same time. Additionally should you encounter this situation with other staff members, you can use this staff member as a example of behavior that is acceptable. Unless you are getting feedback from other people (staff members or clients) that the girlfriends presence is seen as unprofessional or distracting. Than I think the feedback could look like this: When your girlfriend sits next to the service desk for your whole shift - Our clients feel uncomfortable approaching the service desk - It looks unprofessional to our clients - I get negative feedback from our clients - It makes our service desk look unprofessional