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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Workspace Intrusion

Dear Sue: I work in the Human Resource Department of a state agency. We are a small department, all female, and all in our mid forties--including my boss. Today when I came to work after taking a few vacation days, it was obvious someone had been at my desk and gone through my personal belongings.

I am very neat and organized and always leave my desk and office clean and in good condition. My desk had pens all over it, and my stapler was moved. I could tell someone had been on my computer, and I noticed that my group phone directory had been removed from the wall. It was the only one I had, and I recognized it as mine when I saw it in the conference room because it had pink, purple, and yellow lines all over it.

I am fairly certain it is my boss who was rummaging through my things and that she is the one who took my phone directory. She doesnít show any respect for me, yet she and the others stand around and talk while I do most of the work. She eats my snacks almost every day, yet never offers to replace them. And most days, she only brings enough snacks for herself. She never repays what she borrows.

My boss was an only child and appears to be a very selfish woman.

I donít know whether to stand up for myself and say that I don't appreciate the way she treats my things, or if I should continue to keep my mouth shut. I donít want to lose my job or have her make my life miserable, but I feel as thought my boss does not show any respect for me. What should I do?

-- Peg

Sue Says: If you want respect from others, you have to earn it. Keeping your mouth shut and allowing your boss to treat you in whatever manner she pleases isnít helping you gain the respect you seek. The more fearful and timid you are, the more likely it is that your boss will continue to take advantage of you. You say your boss already is making you miserable, so what have you got to lose by speaking up and saying something?

Start empowering yourself by making your own decisions about sharing; bring in treats to share every now and then when you chose to do so. If your boss wants some of your snack on the days you didnít bring enough for everyone, tell her you donít have enough to share that day.

The next time your boss borrows something from you, but doesnít return it, ask for it back. There is nothing mean or disrespectful about keeping track of your belongings.

Write your name on your group directory or anything else you want to keep track of. If possible, keep your most valuable items under lock and key. When it is obvious people have been on your computer or rummaging through your desk, say something. Try to find out who it was and why they were there.

Use your personal experience as a catalyst for discussions about boundaries and respect for each persons work area, and how all of you can help spread the word. When you sense your boss is the one rummaging through your things, ask her about it. You donít have to accuse her of anything, just find out why she was there and what she was looking for.

Work at earning the respect of your boss and anyone else you encounter during the day. Every person you interact with is important. Demonstrate your respect for yourself and others and you will earn respect in return.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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