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What’s Wrong with My Coworker?

From the U.S.: I started a job 6 months ago and work with a girl who seems to be a bit off. She always stares very intensely at other people and never says anything. She stands very uncomfortably close to other coworkers, behind them, next to them, etc., and never says anything, just stares and listens. She eavesdrops on other people’s conversations and reads over their shoulders on computer screens. She’s very socially awkward and we all think she has some type of disability or diagnosis that we don’t know about.

It’s becoming very uncomfortable for all of us. The eavesdropping and invading on people’s conversations as well as inviting herself places with some of us, and always standing so close to us it’s creepy and very uncomfortable. It gets to the point where she stands so close to co-workers that we literally run into her on a daily basis, bump into her, bump into her while we have food in our hands going on our breaks, step on her, etc. and she doesn’t say anything, just stares at us when we run into her.

It seems as if she doesn’t understand where to draw the line and anything about privacy or giving people space, boundaries, etc. It’s become a very serious problem and we all feel very uncomfortable and creeped out. We don’t want to say anything to our boss because we’re pretty sure she has some kind of diagnosis and don’t want to create a problem but the behavior is becoming intolerable and extremely creepy. Some of us have anxiety issues ourselves in this type of close encounter behavior is making our anxiety much worse.

The work environment has become on edge and uncomfortable while she’s at work. Something just isn’t right. What should myself and others do about this individual? Is there any possible diagnosis for this behavior that we don’t know about?

I’m sure this is very uncomfortable. It wouldn’t be ethical for me to diagnose your coworker since I haven’t interviewed her. What I can do is remind you that you and your colleagues have a right to a comfortable workplace. Although I certainly appreciate your compassion about your intrusive co-worker, you are not obligated to work under these conditions. It is not a service to her either for her to not get constructive feedback and support so that she can be an effective and cooperative colleague.

Please talk to your supervisor or to the Human Resources office about your concerns. Tell them just what you told me — that you empathize with your coworkers challenges but that she needs to be helped to understand how her behavior is interfering with other people’s work. Hopefully, she will then get the supports she needs and you and your fellow workers won’t have to be working around her issues.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie



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