Who’s my boss?

Q. My employer rents an office to another professional and made it very clear to me that I was not employed by this person and was not to answer his phones, etc. Unfortunately, he often says things to me like, “I’m going out now,” “I’m having clients this afternoon,” or “I’m going downstairs for a minute.” He periodically asks me to help him with problems with his computer, or to answer his phone while he’s out because he’s expecting an important call. I have told my employer about this but nothing has changed. Would it be appropriate for me to talk to this person and tell him that since I don’t work for him I don’t need to know the details of his schedule? And to tell him that it is annoying? This is a very small office, space wise, and it is annoying to me to hear about every move he is making all day. He is not a bad person, but I’m considering leaving this job because of this.
Boston, MA


A. It’s clear that the tenant didn’t get the message or he’s trying to take advantage of you. As it currently stands you are between a rock and a hard place. Either you disobey your boss’s instruction or you confront the other professional, which you’re not sure is the right thing to do. In the absence of any direct communication and resolution, the other professional will continue to inform you of his whereabouts and ask for your assistance. A reasonable first step would be talk with him. Don’t be accusatory or caustic. “Jim, I know we’re all in this space together, and it’s easy to ask me favors or let me know what you’re doing. The problem is it’s making it hard for me to get my work done, and Tom (your boss) expects me to focus on my work for him. I hope you understand.”

However, given your frustration level and the need to have everyone on the same page, it might be quicker and more effective if you, your boss, and the other professional have a face-to-face meeting to address your situation. Give your boss the head’s up, then offer to set up the meeting yourself. “Tom, you’ve made it clear to me that I’m not working for Jim. Unfortunately, he informs me of his comings and goings as if I’m his receptionist and asks me to cover his phone or help with his computer. Is it okay with you if I set up a meeting between the three of us so we can make my status clear?” Then in the meeting, take care to remain calm and focused on facts. Explain the situation but avoid comments like “It’s so annoying when you…” that could be perceived as a personal attack. Also, don’t let your frustration with the situation tempt you to make rash statements. Unless you are willing to follow through, don’t threaten to quit. Good luck.

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