New Office, New Office Creep
September 5, 2017 5:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a creepy guy who watches me all day while I work?

I started a great new job a few weeks ago, and realized that this weird guy on another team watches me while I work. It's an open office—much of my role involves sitting at my desk and looking at my screen, which faces his workstation.

This individual on the phone a lot of the time, and I can tell he’s watching because his voice changes as my expression does—whether I look engrossed in my work, or annoyed that someone is literally watching me while I work. He often wanders around the office while on the calls, talking loudly.

As time’s gone on he’s only become more emboldened to hover more closely by my desk while on his calls, and I can tell he’s angling for an introduction through members of my team.

As far as I know, none of this is anything I can report to HR, and in any case, I’ve only been there a few weeks.

My company is moving offices next week--my team will be on a different floor from this person's, so I won’t have to deal with the problem in this particular way. But how can I get through the week until then? It's distracting and making me uncomfortable.

Appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!
posted by shelle to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
His behaviour is affecting your ability to get your job done, so I'd be talking to your line manager if I were you.

The conversation would be something like this:

I'm really enjoying the work here, and very happy with my job. However, I am sometimes finding that the office culture of people [you don't need to specify who at this point] wandering around on long phonecalls very distracting when I need to do concentrated work. Would it be ok for me to work remotely/work from an office for the remainder of this week, to make sure I meet my goals?
posted by greenish at 5:35 AM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Bushy potted plant on your desk as extra coverage?

Working from home for a day or two?

Joining several long meetings?

Attending a work-related event, workshop, class?
posted by gakiko at 5:36 AM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can you put something on or near your desk that will obstruct his view? A large plant, maybe.

If he hovers nearby, can you say - rather crisply - "Can I help you with something?" There's a way to say this that strongly indicates that the answer had better be a professional question, and carries an undertone of "you are where you should not be and I do not like it."

Are there other women in the office? This is almost certainly not the first time he's done this, and you might have some allies.

On preview - working remotely would be great but might be hard to pull off as a new employee. Is there an empty desk further away from him? You could present the same problem to your boss but offer to temporarily move desks if working remotely won't work. Shadowing another member of the team might be good too, even if that means having them at your desk.

I'm sorry this is happening. what a freakin creep.
posted by bunderful at 5:38 AM on September 5, 2017 [36 favorites]

STMFD (stare that motherf-er down).

Meet his gaze directly and hold it until he looks away - he will.

He may not realize he's doing it, or he may get off on making you uncomfortable. Either way, staring right back at him tells him you know exactly what he's doing and you're not afraid of him. You don't need to say a word.

And later that day, once the adrenalin and cortisol subside, you will feel like Wonder Woman.
posted by headnsouth at 5:46 AM on September 5, 2017 [69 favorites]

In our open plan office, a lot of people take their laptops to the lounge or conference room or other public spaces. If that's an option, being away from your desk might get you through.

But yeah, I'd probably make eye contact and politely ask if he needs something, since he was looking at you. If he tries to make conversation, you can cut him off with "so you don't need anything from me? Okay, then, back to work!"

Ugh, I'm sorry for the creeper.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:50 AM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

About the staring... Just wanted to say that I've done that twice (albeit with starey strangers), and it did not have the aggro-defense effect I'd hoped it would. Rather, the other parties kept staring back, and seemed to enjoy it (ie *smiled*, barf). Never underestimate the power of a creep to misinterpret (especially nonverbal) communication...

I'd go for a combo of: obscuring plant/s and bunderful's "can I help you", along with continued cold shouldering. It's Tuesday, though, just four days to go until the move! Maybe get some kind of countdown clock or calendar and tick off days and hours as they pass, remembering that each is a movement towards relief.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:32 AM on September 5, 2017 [8 favorites]

Uh, I'm pretty sure staring back will prompt this person to talk to you. Ditto I'm afraid large flowers or a plant might encourage this guy to talk to you by virtue of the fact something large on your desk becomes a conversation piece.

I think you need something small and pleasant on your desk to re-focus your attention to. Ice him out. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore.

Temporarily switch desks with someone else.
posted by jbenben at 6:40 AM on September 5, 2017 [7 favorites]

(IMO it's better if he does talk to you because that's something you can respond to openly and that is possibly reportable, if he says something objectionable enough. It's awkward to walk over to someone and say "I noticed you staring. Please stop." If he asks you out you can say no. If he tries to chat you can say "oh hey do you mind toning down your phone calls I'm trying to concentrate on my job thanks." That's my personal preference - OP, you should consider your own).
posted by bunderful at 7:04 AM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding the "Did you have a question?" approach.

In my classes, when (adult) students are chit-chatting when I'm speaking and being a distraction to me and others, or hovering annoyingly in my oersonal space, I've found the best way to handle it is to engage, because if you don't, it will keep happening.

However, a confrontational opening sours the whole learning environment for everyone. The best way I've seen other professors/teachers handle it is how I've been doing it for a decade now, with good results. That's basically to pause, look at them directly, and say with a smile, "Was there a question?" (Note that this wording avoids personalizing it by mentioning "you" or "me".)

Almost always, this leads to them shaking their heads and saying no, and then settling down, so we can get back to work.

The power dynamic is different in your situation, and this may not immediately work. But I think it's a good place to start. It maintains professionalism, opens nonconfrontationally, acknowledges that you have noticed the other's anomalous behavior, and places the burden on them to clarify or adjust.

Where they take it from there leads to a wider variety of responses or interventions, but this seems like a reasonable and constructive initial step on your part. Good luck!
posted by darkstar at 7:05 AM on September 5, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Staring works if you're Of A Certain Age. Otherwise, it can lead to a "Hey AskMe, I have locked eyes with this cute coworker in my office on multiple occasions, I'm going to ask them out soon, where should we go?"

Document staring, document his taking phone calls near your desk, and that way if he suddenly starts appearing on your floor next week for no real reason, you already have a paper trail started.
posted by kimberussell at 7:13 AM on September 5, 2017 [20 favorites]

Consider getting some cool tinted glasses, a hat and some earbuds for a sense of privacy for the week and shut him out that way.
posted by effluvia at 7:22 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a real fan of letting your manager actually manage, and had typed up a whole answer about doing that. But then realized you are moving offices in a week. And the first question you will be asked is whether you told him to stop. This is pretty much a requirement for HR to take action, so you will need to find your voice.

You can do it in a non-confrontational, professional manner. The next time he's too close or staring, just say "you must not realize how much you stare and hover. It awkward for me and I would appreciate it if you would stop." Plant your feet, figuratively, and be firm but polite. Look him in the eyes. Document everything, including your exact words and his response. Practice ahead of time in a mirror until you get your tone just right.

If this direct approach doesn't fit your personality, just kind of remove yourself emotionally and look at this as a practice for dealing with future jerks. For me, when I could see these as "experiments" in learning human nature, it really helped. Try to change your emotional response from feeling threatened to being curious and looking for answers about yourself and others.
posted by raisingsand at 7:28 AM on September 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Put up a not interested sign. Or a sign on the back of a paper stand of some sort, that says, "Look away, not interested in personal interaction."
posted by Oyéah at 9:05 AM on September 5, 2017

I think the way that will be least annoying to you is to ignore him for the rest of the week.

I know it's gross and uncomfortable. I think it will be ultimately less gross and uncomfortable than engaging with him in any way, this early in your tenure, will be. If you weren't moving in a few days, I'd say you need to have HR talk to him about not taking his calls by your desk, at least; but you are moving, and it's better not to be involved in conflict this early on if you can avoid it, which you can, because you are moving.

[edit - the phone thing in particular, JFC. Can you at least keep headphones handy and put them in when he starts being noisy by your desk? Not that this guy is likely to get the hint but MAYBE?]
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:21 AM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

First question I have: who is *his* supervisor? Get to know that person. Find out if they are a creep enabler or merely unaware their report is a creep. You will probably need this info later; if he is a determined creep, you being on another floor won't necessarily stop him from coming by to "visit" in which case you will need to complain.

You may also want to talk to fellow women in your team, first to tell them "under no circumstances help this guy bug me" and second to find out if this is a thing he's done before (chances are high!) and what happened then.

Third, while you're stuck on this floor, I'd get a pair of headphones and put them on the minute he starts his wander/talk routine, avoid eye contact, and act deaf even if you do hear him. If your computer screen can raise up, I'd do that too so that he has a harder time seeing your face.
posted by emjaybee at 9:40 AM on September 5, 2017

You don't have to tell him to stop. Just tell HR
posted by Ironmouth at 11:11 AM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Creeper may well pull off/out the headphones if op uses them .

I would tell him point blank"stop crowding/staring at me" and if he doesn't go to hr.
posted by brujita at 11:21 AM on September 5, 2017

Take videos of his behavior. Either discreetly (have your phone on a stand where you can just tap to start recording), or blatantly, as you see fit.
posted by at at 1:36 PM on September 5, 2017

You're moving to a different floor, not a different building altogether, and you'll still have the same employer. You're going to have to say something before he becomes Elevator Creep. I think bunderful's crisp "Can I help you with something?" is what you want.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:34 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another idea - not skillful, but could work - a framed photo of yourself and your "partner." Obviously there's no need for any actual partner, but maybe the frame could be covered with hearts or have a phrase like "to fall in love with your best friend is to know true happiness."

Yes, this means you'd have to lie if a non-creepy coworker came by your desk and said "Oh! Is that your SO?" You'd have to come up with a backstory "Oh yes, this is Pat, we met backpacking in Peru. Pat is so perfect for me, my office doesn't feel right without a picture of us!"

For some creeps this would not work. For some, it would deliver a nice bucket of ice water. It all depends on whether you have an un-self aware creep who thinks he is flirting sexily and has enough integrity to stop staring at a partnered woman, or a creepy mccreeperson, who doesn't.

I'm not saying it's a *good* idea, and I'm not exactly recommending it. But for some reason I like having a wide range of possibilities, even iffy ones, so ... there you have it.
posted by bunderful at 7:25 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have had some success getting creepers to bug off by doing things like rubbing my eye with my middle finger while steadfastly ignoring them. It's childish, sure, but actually pretty fun. The gesture can be ramped up by pulling weird eye-rubbing faces at the same time. If you really want to go for broke, pick your nose!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:55 PM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these suggestions--they're really great.

I had actually attempted several of these tactics before posting my question, from the staredown, which I think only encouraged him, to the subtle/childish middle finger (yup). He's a clueless engineering type, and any overt acknowledgment of him has only made him stronger and more determined, it seems. :(

I've tried looking forbidding/not smiling, but obviously I don't want to alienate my other new colleagues, either.

Ultimately I think I'm going to have to ignore him and possibly let my manager know, but it still sucks--especially since it turns out I still have another week before the move. Oh, well, hopefully it goes by quickly...

Thanks again for the great suggestions.
posted by shelle at 9:30 AM on September 7, 2017

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