30 August 2023
Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a tracked car, an office space in high-demand and awkward icebreakers.
I work from home and my boss put a tracker on my car without my knowledge or permission. At our next team meeting, he displayed a map showing all the locations I’d visited, including one that caused me great embarrassment due to its private nature. I was completely shamed. Do I have a right to remove the tracker?
Say what? He did what? There are some letters I receive which floor me and yours did just that.
If you did not give consent to the tracker and were not given notice the tracker was going to be installed, your employer may have undertaken covert surveillance. That is a serious issue, which you have every right to act against. I sought some advice from a workplace lawyer and learnt that your remedies depend on the state you live in and whether it’s your private car or a company car. I suggest contacting your union, a lawyer or the police to get advice.
If it wasn’t bad enough you were put under surveillance without your knowledge, what your boss did next is also reprehensible.
What was your boss trying to achieve by sharing your trips? Was he trying to prove you weren’t working when you said you were? Or was he simply wanting to humiliate you? Either way, this action is well beyond anything you should have to tolerate. Even if the tracking had been done with your consent (which it wasn’t) your boss should have brought this up with you one-on-one, so you could rectify the issue or explain.
There’s a private room in my office, which can be used for anything. I use it to make private phone calls and some women use it to express milk. Lately, however, it’s primarily being used as a prayer room – several times a day, every day. I don’t mind my colleagues using the room for prayer, but it means others rarely get to use it. How do I raise this delicate issue?
Office etiquette seems to cause the most friction when respectful conversations about the root cause of a problem are missing. It sounds like the real challenge in your office is there is only one space available, which makes it hard to use the room any time you need it. (For what it is worth, this is not an uncommon problem – just ask anyone trying to navigate the internal nightmare of meeting room booking systems.)
The easiest way to resolve this issue is to talk about it with your workmates. Why not have a meeting and sort out what everyone uses the room for during the day, then see if you can allocate time for everyone? You may not be able to predict when you’re going to have a private call, but if you know the room will be occupied at certain times of the day, at least you can manage your expectations and plan to take a call outside if need be.
I’m due to attend a meeting in Europe, which will be run by US and UK senior management from our parent company. We’ve been asked to bring a two-slide “icebreaker” and I don’t know what to share. Do you have any advice?
I feel your pain. Icebreakers can drain the life from your soul and the fact you are worrying about it weeks in advance – and that you have to make slides – really takes away from the impromptu relaxed “bonding” moment they are supposed to create. It is also tough with an international audience, since it is hard to judge what will be cultural faux pas, so best to avoid anything too contentious. If you Google “workplace icebreakers” you will find dozens of safe ideas. Good luck!
To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit kirstinferguson.com/ask (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).