Tales of Office Busybodies – Your Nosiest Coworkers

Most office have at least one nosy coworker – that person who asks inappropriate questions about your personal life, constantly comments on what you eat, or tries to find out what every closed-door meeting is about. Sound familiar?

I recently asked readers to share their accounts of working with nosy coworkers. Here are their 10 most outrageous stories – take a look and see how your own colleagues compare. (And if you have your own story about a nosy coworker, share it in the comment section!)

1. Share your weight with the office

“A few years ago, I worked for a large retail store. Our store team leaders decided that, to emphasize the wellness benefits we received, they should do some sort of a fitness challenge. So under two shift leaders, they organized a Biggest Loser competition.

Every week, they posted the starting and ending weights over the time clock for every employee participating, along with combined team loss in pounds and percentage.

The plan originally was to treat the winning team to pizza and ice cream (doesn’t that… defeat the purpose?), but the competition fizzled out soon after people realized the supposedly ‘motivational’ idea of posting others’ weight on the biggest bulletin.”

2. Crawled through the ceiling to snoop

“At a former employer, it was a big warehouse space. To create offices, they built them with drop ceilings (which left a huge gap between the drop ceiling and the warehouse ceiling). The HR and CFO offices were next to the R&D lab. One of the chemists decided to climb through the ceiling, and searched the HR and CFO offices after work one night. He gathered materials from both offices, and then took them to his boss to ask for a raise. When asked where he got the materials, he told his boss what he did.”

3. Covertly followed a sick employee home

“A woman who used to work at my company was notorious for being a terrible manager – one time, she actually followed an employee home when the employee left because she was feeling ill. The manager tried to be incognito about following her, but she was discovered sitting in her car outside of the employee’s house. Yikes.”

4. What real men should do

“One of my current coworkers has trouble believing that I, a 24-year-old newlywed, do not want children for the foreseeable future. During lunch, I was talking to another coworker about how I enjoy volunteering at our local humane society. ‘Nancy’ jumped in and said that I ‘should start popping out babies so I have less free time.’ When she met my husband (he came to take me out to lunch) she told him that ‘A real man would have gotten me pregnant by now.’ After I returned, she asked if we ‘made a baby over lunch.’

At first, I just ignored her but as her comments got worse and more frequent I would stare at her and just say ‘Wow’ or ‘I fail to see how my reproductive plans are any of your business.’
The comments have mostly stopped at this point because she started making them to another coworker’s wife. He ended up yelling at her in the parking lot because it turns out they had been trying to conceive for over two years. It’s really best not to ask about people’s reproductive plans.”

5. Snooping secretary

“Our secretary would wait until you were out of the office (at client’s business or vacation day) and would snoop in your desk drawers and comment later on what you had in them. Whether it was client files, snacks, or pens, she would bring it up exactly what was in your desk drawer.

She took it upon herself to ‘dig up dirt’ on employees that had angered her by seeing who she knew that may know them- their neighbors, possible friends, or relatives and would try to dig for some ‘skeleton in their closet’ to use later against them.

One of our company’s duties is preparing certain types of taxes for high net worth individuals. For a short time she knew where copies were kept and would pore over them to see info on the client’s taxes, income, investments, etc. Through an indiscretion at the company, she discovered at one time what other staff made and had a screaming fit on her manager about how other secretaries made more than her. I think we could have had our own reality show filmed.”

6. Pregnancy prying

“The HR manager at our relatively small organization has, on more than one occasion, pulled me aside and given me the ‘You know, you really need to tell me if you’re pregnant’ speech, all under the guise of trying to be some sort of big sister figure to me. She keeps insisting it’s because I ‘go to the bathroom a lot.’ Obviously I’m thrilled that she’s that interested in keeping tabs on my trips to the bathroom as well.

She doesn’t realize that this is not only incredibly nosy and intrusive, but incredibly hurtful to me- about a year ago I found out that I am not able to have children, so it is a really sensitive issue for me. Yet still, it has come up about 3-4 times this past year.”

7. Executive assistant abusing her access

“Our CEO had to stop giving our office’s executive assistant certain documents to handle (which was part of her job) because she would read them, get the content wrong, and then spread the wrong content around. We had to hide the seating chart from her when we redid the floor plan because, in the prior round, she’d told people that a department was being downsized because she misread the plans. One time a different coworker congratulated me on getting a promotion—which I hadn’t—because Nosy Parker had found a confidential board memo about growth paths personnel, and concluded that anyone mentioned was getting promoted (and receiving raises). If any of the female employees looked ill or threw up, she would instantly start speculating whether that person was pregnant.

She also used to bring up people’s Facebook statuses and personal lives in work meetings: ‘Does anyone know if Sue is in the office today?’ ‘Well, she said on Facebook that her flight was delayed last night, so she’s probably home sick, because she gets the migraines, you know, and they’ve gotten worse since her husband got laid off.’”

8. Inappropriate question barrage

“I had a teenage coworker in a retail job who I think honestly did not know there was anything wrong with asking coworkers incredibly invasive questions. Everything from ‘What do your parents do? How much money do they make? to ‘How much is your rent?’ to ‘You were sick? Were you throwing-up sick, or sneezing everywhere sick?’ to asking about my husband, who’s a different race from me: ‘Where do you even MEET someone like that? Does he speak English?’ After I told her I picked him out of a catalogue, she didn’t talk to me much any more.”

9. Horrible cancer response

“I have cancer and shortly after diagnosis a coworker asked how much longer I was expected to live. I just shook my head, said ‘Wow,’ and walked away.”

10. Food monitor

“My coworker has taken it upon herself to monitor my daily food choices. She regularly comments that I don’t eat much of the food provided in meetings (usually because they are all meat/fish/chicken sandwiches and as a vegan, this doesn’t leave much for me to eat, so I eat beforehand). She even went as far as going through my personal wastebasket at my desk to see if I had thrown out any wrappers, containers, etc. as ‘proof’ of whatever I eat. I caught her red-handed one day and asked her, ‘What the heck are you doing?’
She said she ‘wanted proof that you actually eat, so I’m checking your garbage,’ as though this was a perfectly natural thing to be doing!”

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Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • http://www.emmasiemasko.com/ Emma Siemasko

    This post made my day. I know I’m not supposed to get joy out of horrific some people are, but at some point you just gotta laugh!

    [Reply]

  • Tana Siemaszko

    Totally, I remember when these first showed up on AAM, but seeing them listed out like this, people are completely weird. And seriously what’s with people and women’s fertility or lack of it, or choice to become or not become pregnant. Haven’t people learnt yet not to ask a person these questions (this also includes the men who have partners who are or are not pregnant as well.)

    [Reply]

  • Claire K. (England)

    What I found most worrying about the above posts is that the vast majority of the weird intrusive behaviour seems to be carried out by women…..when you think that it has taken this long to get this far for women in the workplace, women like this make me angry as they just give women a bad name in the workplace.

    [Reply]

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