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FAR NIENTE

An imposition inquisition:

As a manager, I believe in maintaining an open door policy.  One employee, however, repeatedly and throughout the day walks into my office uninvited and sits down in one of my chairs and begins to talk to me about whatever work issue is on his mind.  This is quite disruptive to my own work.  I do not, however, want to give the message that I am unapproachable.  Please advise.

LISTEN: 

This is the dilemma one always finds in such egalitarian efforts – a difference between having an open door and an inconsiderate employee.  What you’ll want to do is manage expectations with this employee during one of his unscheduled drop-in sessions.  The key phrase you’ll want to use here is “Close the door.”

You start in the established way – you busily working, him idly stopping in.  Invite him to sit down (after he’s seated) and tell you what’s on his mind (after he starts talking).  Ask yourself – is it crucial?  Is it necessary?  Is it important?  I’m guessing from your description that these criteria won’t apply.

Now you clear your throat.  “Problem Child,” you’ll say, substituting his name, “Close the door.”

At this point you’ll describe, accurately, your estimation of him as an employee.  How you trust him, if you do, to make his own decisions on these day to day operations.  Tell him that “Open Door,” means “Important Issues Should Be Brought To My Attention Immediately, While Your Thoughts On The Coffee Machine Or How Hard The New Reporting Form Really Is” needs to wait for the break room or some other informal venue.

Gently point out that you have your own pile of mindless paperwork to get through, and a lot of mindful work besides, and that in the future consider the door open if you are genuinely needed and merely an access to ventilation if you’re not.

I always hate being the bearer of bad news, but I feel obliged to point out one tiny little detail – this employee isn’t actually doing any work.  I don’t know who you are or what you do or why you have employees like free radicals floating around the office gumming up the works, but I can assure you that isn’t standard behavior.  Maybe at a cocktail party, but not in an office.  Rather, it’s standard behavior, but not productive behavior.

I’m willing to guess that it’s not just the two of you in the building – that means this guy is wandering around annoying everyone, not just you.  He starts with the receptionist, who emits a barely audible groan when he sees this guy walk in – they get to do their 5 minute check in every day.  Woe betide anyone in an office between the front door and his cubicle.  Or anyone between his cubicle and the bathroom.  Or kitchen.  Or copy room.  Or break room.  Or supply closet.

He’s 10 minutes early to every meeting and presentation “to get a good seat.”  If there are doughnuts on the slab, or free sandwiches, he goes back for seconds.  He always has an opinion and uses the phrase “Somebody should…” about 2-3 times a minute.

I bet he’s always more than happy to take the last cup of coffee just so he can waste time making a new pot and going about his circuit complaining about how he had to do it again.

Oh, perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but I doubt it.  Boring friends who wander around being tedious at your social events are one thing – you bear with them because they have other qualities…loyalty, promptness, a large pick-up truck in which to move furniture…or merely history, deep bonds that, while inexplicable, just can’t be broken.  And you don’t really want them to be – you need filler at events anyway and all kidding aside, the reason you liked them in the first place, while perhaps lost to the mists of time, is a brick in the very foundation of your being.  Are you always exciting?

But in the workplace, this guy is poison.  Less motivated people may take his avuncular perambulations with a grain of salt and chalk him up to being good for morale, and they’re dimly envious of his success in avoiding his tasks.  Your actual employees, the ones who get the work done, hate him, and hate you a little for letting him goof off.

Take him in hand, Manager, and slowly prune away the excesses of his behavior.  He’s a drain on resources, time and concentration.

Oh, but you may be in television.

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