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Q. The phones in this office are driving me crazy. Whenever my co-workers are away from their desks or on another line, I always answer their calls. Since they seem to be unavailable most of the time, I am constantly being interrupted while trying to get my own job done. How can I tell these people that I don’t have time to do their work for them?

A. First, we need to establish whether covering phones is actually your responsibility. Unless your manager has specifically told you to answer all these lines, you should let them go to voice mail. Problem solved.

But if phone backup is indeed an official duty, then your irritation with your colleagues is misplaced. In that case, you are not “doing their work for them.” You are simply doing a rather annoying part of your own job.

That said, however, I certainly understand that constantly shifting attention from projects to phone calls can be both distracting and frustrating. So instead of scolding your busy co-workers, consider initiating a businesslike discussion with your boss about how this problem might be solved.

For example; “I have an idea for managing the phones that I hope you will consider. Although I don’t mind covering for my co-workers, frequent phone interruptions make it hard to concentrate on my own projects. If possible, I would like to continue taking calls when people are away or in meetings, but let their lines go to voice mail if they are in the office. Would that be OK with you?”

Even if your boss has other ideas, you will have managed to raise the issue without sounding like a whiner. When bringing problems to management, wise employees always include a possible solution.

Q. I recently interviewed an outstanding applicant with terrific qualifications, but now I’m not sure if I should hire him. Because “Jack” worked in this organization 10 years ago, I automatically checked his employment history in our centralized personnel system. Unfortunately, a red flag popped up indicating that he had been fired.

Apparently, Jack and another employee were let go after they got into a physical fight at work. Now I can’t decide whether to take a chance on Jack or just look for someone else. What do you think?

A. Rehiring someone who was terminated for cause is certainly a risk. But on the other hand, 10 years is a long time, and people do change. So I can see why you’re wrestling with this decision.

Before making up your mind, try to gather more data. Start by seeing if anyone in management can provide details of the previous incident. Carefully review Jack’s resume and talk with former employers. If possible, ask your human resources manager to obtain a complete background check.

Once you know what Jack has been doing for the past decade, you can better predict the kind of employee he might be now. Employment gaps, short-term jobs, lukewarm recommendations and any mention of performance problems could all be warning signs. But if Jack appears to have become a calm, stable, productive person, then he might be an excellent choice.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

www.yourofficecoach.com

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