Q: I recently attended a small group training along with folks from various companies. The instructor was knowledgeable and kept us engaged. At my table was a young woman, “Sherri,” who appeared to be in her mid-20s. Sherri was constantly texting and reading messages on her cellphone throughout the training, even plugging it into the wall to charge it. A few times she giggled at something she had read while the instructor discussed a serious matter. I thought her behavior was rude and disrespectful to the instructor, but the instructor ignored it.
As someone at the tail end of my career, I wanted to pull Sherri aside and say something to her. However, I could not think of anything that would not make her become defensive. My children are in college, and I intend to let them know this behavior is an example of what not to do. What would you recommend saying to someone in this situation?
A: No matter how much Sherri reminds you of your kids, I can’t condone your giving a professional from another company a stern talking-to. For one thing, some of the non-giggle-inducing messages might be from a supervisor or client she felt obligated to respond to — still rude, but somewhat understandable from a junior employee not in a position to enforce boundaries. More to the point, it’s not your responsibility to scold another employer’s wayward worker.
That said, common courtesy allows you to say something in the moment to someone who is directly interfering with your experience, the same way you would approach a loud talker at a movie theater: a quiet, “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing the discussion” immediately following an outburst. But if the issue is more that you’re offended on the instructor’s behalf, you could privately take it up with the instructor during a break, and leave it to him or her to decide whether to address it.
At any rate, take it from someone who has led a few sessions with participants staring not-so-discreetly at their phones under the table: The ones with the most to lose were Sherri and the employer funding her attendance.
Q: At the trade association where I work, I was surprised to see job applicants for a fairly high-up legal position utilizing their present employer’s email address — not only to submit their application, but also as contact information on the cover letter and résumé. These applicants included a partner at a law firm and a general counsel at another association.
What are these people thinking? They must have little concern for their own privacy and little regard for their employer’s resources. Shopping on your lunch hour using your employer’s computer is one thing, but private business should be conducted using one’s own personal email address. I would appreciate your thoughts on this subject.
A: Even if these applicants are conducting job searches with their employer’s knowledge and consent, they shouldn’t be broadcasting that fact by using the employer’s infrastructure. From here, it just looks like they’re admitting they’re completely unsuited for any high-ranking position requiring discretion and ethics. (Incidentally, although most employers choose to look the other way, you should assume they’re aware of your online lunch-hour activities, right down to your shoe size.)
Pro tip: If you’re leading a class or discussion, set ground rules about electronics usage from the outset. Examples: “Please silence all ringtones.” “Feel free to step out if you need to take a call.” “Please keep your laptop closed unless you are using it to take notes.”