What do I do about my coworker's extended lunch breaks?
January 3, 2006 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Should, and if so, how, should I say anything about my coworker's long lunch breaks?

I am one of two secretaries working together in an office. The way things work is that in theory we work on flexitime, where there are 'core hours' where we must be present, and aside from that we can work whatever hours we choose. In practise, this falls by the wayside when you consider that the office must be staffed at all times, and there are only two of us. The morning core hours end at 11:45, and the afternoon ones begin at 2:00. She takes her one-hour lunch break between 12:00 and 1:00, and I have mine between 1:00 and 2:00, and all is sweetness and light.

Except that she's frequently (more than twice a week, sometimes as much as every day) coming back from her lunch break well after mine is supposed to start. Sometimes as much as fifteen or twenty minutes after mine is supposed to start. This means that I'm caught between either sacrificing as much as half my lunch break or staying out for the full hour once I get to leave, and therefore not being present during 'core hours'. Sometimes my coworker leaves dead on 12:00, and stays out for more than her allotted hour. But at other times she starts her lunch break late and comes back one hour after she leaves, so she's not actually stiffing the company out of any working time - she's only stiffing me out of my lunch break.

I'm at a loss as to what to do. Do I just suck it up and let her appropriate my lunch breaks, or do I talk to either her or our mutual manager about it? My concern is that due to depression, I'm not considered the world's greatest productive workerbee, whilst he thinks that the sun shines out of my coworker's orifices. I'm worried that if I say anything, my manager will just tell me to stop complaining because I have no right to whine about my coworker when my own work performance leaves room for improvement. What should I do?
posted by talitha_kumi to Work & Money (16 answers total)
Ask to switch lunchbreaks so you go first.
posted by handee at 6:27 AM on January 3, 2006

I think you should talk to her first. Just remind her gently that if she's late from coming back late from her break, that you get screwed out of yours. She might not realize that it bothers you, since you've never said anything. I've worked with people who prefer to never leave their desks for lunch.

Or maybe you could ask her if you could switch lunch breaks. You go from 12-1, and she goes 1-2. Then you don't have to worry about being dependent on her anymore, if she's up for it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:28 AM on January 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

I would talk to the manager without complaining about the coworker. Just explain to him that in order to keep your post covered you've had to leave for your lunch hour late, which extends the time into the core hours. If he tells you you can't do that, ask him when he would prefer that you take the hour you are entitled to. If he minds you missing the first fifteen minutes, he'll probably talk to the coworker by himself.
posted by leapingsheep at 6:30 AM on January 3, 2006

Swithching is a good solution.
Your productivity is a separate issue. The issue is lunch break that both of you deserves. Mention it to your manager and if he brings up anything about the level of your worker beeness then tell him you would be glad to discuss that in the future however your main complaint is the lunch break.
It seems like your co-worker is taking her glowing orifices versus your sad worker bee. It is so inconsiderate!
posted by TheLibrarian at 6:37 AM on January 3, 2006

You should take your lunch break at 1, no matter what. If your job ended at 5 and someone was late to replace you would you stay late? I wouldn't. Work's over.

This isn't your responsibility. If no one's there, they should be wondering where your co-worker is. You can't be responsible whether or not she's there.
posted by xammerboy at 6:40 AM on January 3, 2006

xammerboy: that's a truly terrible idea. There are any number of other solutions that don't involve screwing the employer.

I really like the idea of switching to go first.
posted by I Love Tacos at 6:45 AM on January 3, 2006

Is there a reason why you can't speak to your co-worker about it? I would just politely mention to her (NOT at lunchtime) something along the lines of, "Oh, listen, it's not a huge problem, but I wonder if you could try to be back at your desk right on 1 o'clock? I need to be back by 2, and that way I can make sure that I get my hour in."

Obviously it IS a big problem, but a lot of people get defensive when you complain about any aspect of their behaviour, so a white lie like that can help keep the atmosphere sweet.

If you still have a problem, then you can speak to her more firmly. I know it sounds weird, but a lot of people just don't consider how their behaviour affects others - she sounds like one of them.
posted by ask me please at 6:46 AM on January 3, 2006

Have you said anything? Like, "hey, you're late. Been waiting for you so that I can get lunch." If it continues, let her know that it's not cool to take up her lunchhour and part of yours. (If you haven't spoken up before, she may think that you don't care that she's late.)

It would be in your best interest to make sure that you are always there for core hours. Beyond that, following office protocol/rules regarding work hours and personal performance are two different issues, and your manager should recognize that. But see if you can work it out with your co-worker before you go to the manager.
posted by desuetude at 6:46 AM on January 3, 2006

On the days that she doesn't leave at 12.00, is there any reason you shouldn't go?
posted by biffa at 6:49 AM on January 3, 2006

Yeah, definitely say something, and definitely talk to her directly. Just tell her that when she's late, you can't take your full break without infringing on core time, and you're concerned that it will get you in trouble. Ask to either switch hours so that you go first, or ask her to make sure she's back at 1:00 every day so you can take your full hour. If that means she leaves at 11:45 some days, whatever; it's not your responsibility to make sure she only takes one hour, it's just up to you to make sure you can get your entire lunch break without breaking company policies.

If she agrees to start coming back on time but doesn't actually do it, point it out to her each time. If she doesn't shape up after a couple of weeks, then she probably has no intention of doing so. That is when I would suggest talking to the manager, and you can demonstrate that you tried to resolve it with her first.

Oh, and your performance shouldn't affect whether or not you deserve your full break. If you work a full 8-hour day, you should get the proper break. There are other ways to deal with subpar performance, none of which should involve stiffing you of your break. In fact, your manager will probably want to make sure you do get your full break, so that the company isn't in violation of any labor laws. Good luck.
posted by boomchicka at 7:15 AM on January 3, 2006

I had a similar situation. Thankfully, I had a very understanding boss who said: leave at 1pm. If anything happens between 1pm and the time that he was supposed to come back, it is on him.

But switching first lunch break seems like the easiest thing.
posted by k8t at 8:13 AM on January 3, 2006

If you are going to suggest switching your lunch breaks you might consider making up a little white lie to facilitate the switch. You might, for example, claim that you've begun to notice that your blood sugar gets too low if you wait until 1 to go to lunch. Anything like this might get her to see the request in a more agreeable light and make the whole affair easier. Of course, little white lies can backfire, especially if the other person is just an ass, so take my advice with a bit of caution.
posted by oddman at 8:40 AM on January 3, 2006

Don't lie. There's no need to lie when the other person is acting unfairly. Plus, if the lie doesn't work, you'll probably end up having to exposing it anyway and it'll make you look worse than you say you already do.
posted by boomchicka at 8:47 AM on January 3, 2006

To be fair, maybe you should alternate days with your coworker (you take lunch at noon one day, she takes it at noon the next) so that niether of you has to worry about the other coming back late. It will also probably be easier for her to swallow this deal.
posted by nomad at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2006

I worked at an office where the two receptionists had to do a similar thing.

They took turns each week going at 12:00. That way they were divided evenly. I believe they both preferred the 12:00-1:00 lunch, and felt that rotating weeks made this more fair.

Would this work for you?
posted by Sheppagus at 9:50 AM on January 3, 2006

You don't have to look any worse for having lied. A simple "Well, I was trying to get you to switch without having to make this into a big deal.' Will get you off the hook for the (little) lie and make you seem even more reasonable.

My suggestion traded on the assumption that she would see through the lie but take it as a polite cue to compromise with you. Most while lies are pretty transparent but in my experience they provide a way for people to accommodate your needs without making themselves look foolish. In a sense, this way of doing things trades on the notion that people would prefer a functioning and pleasant atmosphere over an honest one.
posted by oddman at 7:23 AM on January 5, 2006

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