my coworker’s obsession with coffee is an all-day distraction — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

This is probably going to be more venting. It is bugging me, but I don’t want to risk being the office jerk.

I work in an office setting. Bill from another department is a really nice guy. Probably to an obnoxious level. I really am not big on small talk, but usually keep things to a brief, friendly conversation. I think my team is mostly the same way. We have good working relationships, just not big talkers. Bill used to be located one hallway over. I know he’s always been a talker, but we’ve had some distance so it’s usually been limited to passing in the hall or in the break room.

Our office took an old computer room and decided to convert it into two offices to make more space. Bill’s office is now on my hallway, almost directly across from me. So now, I hear every word from every conversation he has. He is very obsessed with baseball, soccer, and a few other topics. He has really long conversations several times a week on those.

He also loves coffee. He had always kept a few special blends in his office and would share them sometimes. Well, I think he really decided to lean into this. He put a sign on his door about his coffee shop and now has a stream of people coming by every day to try the cup of the day. Very nice thing to do in an office. I feel like a jerk for being bugged by this. The problem is, every one of these people stopping by is a 30-minute conversation about how he likes a Columbian vs another country, the taste notes, roasting critiques, and on and on. Multiple this same conversation by four or five times a day.

It drives me nuts for another reason too. He has absolutely terrible time management skills. He talks endlessly about how he is so loaded up and he can’t believe how is expected to handle so many things. I’ve worked on projects with him and have had to hear about it when I have a similar workload, just in a different expertise.

I’ve closed my door on a few occasions when I just had to concentrate or not snap. Generally don’t like doing that cause I’m a team lead and prefer an open door policy. His boss is a co-lead in our department, we’ve talked shop a few times just about our teams and challenges and I know he’s been working with him on some of this. I’m not sure I want to be the office jerk and bring it up with either his boss or him. I can’t really move offices because this is the hallway most of my team is on.

Do I just suck it up and listen to it? Buy some headphones? What would be likely outcome of dropping a hint to him or his boss? He seems to be a pretty sensitive guy who is a people pleaser. If I bring it up with him, I wouldn’t want him to drop it entirely. I just don’t want to hear three hours of coffee talk a day.

It’s lovely to offer a rotating selection of freshly brewed coffee to one’s office mates. It is not lovely to spend hours a day discussing coffee while other people are trying to work nearby (and that’s before we even get into Bill’s complaints about his workload, which he’s apparently trying to fit into, what, four hours of work time a day?).

If Bill were just having a typical amount of office chit chat and it bothered you because you were used to a quieter team, I’d say it was on you to learn to work around (or to try headphones some of the time). But four to five half-hour conversations about coffee per day — plus the rest of his socializing — is over the top and it’s reasonable to say something to him.

I’d say it this way: “Hey Bill, it can be hard to focus over here when the coffee talk goes so long. Could you keep it down or even close your door when people come by for coffee?”

You say you don’t want him to drop the “coffee shop” entirely but … well, that wouldn’t be the worst outcome. What he’s doing is excessive. As someone who clearly has trouble cutting conversations short, he probably should drop it entirely. But either way, the above language is reasonable to use.

If that doesn’t work, it’s reasonable to mention it to his boss. The two of you already have touched on the challenges with Bill previously, and I’d sure as hell want a fellow manager to let me know if one my employees were disrupting people like this, especially if we’d already talked in confidence about issues with them and especially I weren’t well positioned to see the extent of it firsthand. (At some point having someone spend hours a day on coffee reflects on the manager too, which is another reason they should want to know.)

You asked what outcome is likely from that, and it depends on Bill’s manager. A decent manager would find ways to observe it themselves after you tip them off and then would talk with Bill, explaining that it’s taking up too much of his time and disturbing others working around him (without naming you). Ideally they’d take a closer look at what’s going on with Bill’s work overall, too.

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