QUESTION: My problem is that people keep messing with my desk. When employees from outlying areas visit our office, they are told to use any empty cubicle. One day when I was out, someone used up all the tissues from my Kleenex box and completely filled the wastebasket with them. Another time, one of the visitors apparently took my favorite pen.

I also find that people frequently change the settings on my computer. For example, they will mute the sound, create a new default font, or send documents to a different printer. I placed a polite note on my monitor asking visitors to please restore the settings, but that had no effect.

I have no idea who these employees are, so I can't talk with them directly. Although I don't want to seem petty, I think their behavior is very rude. What should I do about this?

ANSWER: Almost everyone feels territorial about their office habitat, so I completely understand your reaction. Given your company's shared-desk policy, however, I'm afraid you may need to adjust your thinking a bit. Where you see "my desk" and "my computer," management just sees available space and equipment.

While you may not be able to banish the intruders, you can still attempt to modify their behavior. To clearly indicate that this cubicle is occupied, put some photos or other personal touches in obvious places. When you plan to be away, stash all items which you wish to protect in a drawer. If your desk has a lock, use it.

Retain the reminder about your computer settings, but make it more specific. Since most people won't remember what they changed, provide a detailed list of your preferences. Some visitors may ignore this request, but the considerate ones will comply.

Ultimately, though, the most helpful strategy is to make the mental shift from irritation to acceptance. Try to view these interlopers as a necessary evil and expect to undo their damage from time to time. There's no point getting stressed out over something you can't change.

Q: I was recently asked to share a cubicle with one of my co-workers. Since moving in with "Ashley," I have noticed that she frequently plays games on her computer, sometimes for up to two hours.

When I mentioned this to the owner, he shrugged it off and said she won't be playing games for long because her busy season is coming up. This is seriously affecting my morale, so I would like to diplomatically talk to Ashley about it. How should I approach her?

A: Unless Ashley's gaming habit is affecting your work, this is really not your problem. The reality is that you are not her boss, so it is not your place to correct her performance. You have done all you can do by talking with the owner, who apparently doesn't care.

Hopefully, the "busy season" will soon put an end to Ashley's goofing off. But in the meantime, reduce your own frustration by ignoring her activities and focusing on your tasks.



Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.


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