Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I work in a small office of just two co-workers, our boss, and me. We all report to the boss, and I am also the unofficial office manager so I answer the phones, receive visitors, etc. This means if I'm going to be even five minutes late, I have to let the boss know so that someone else can cover the phones and door. We have a fairly casual office and don't get a huge volume of visitors or calls, so it's not a big deal if I'm running late as long as I let the boss know.
The boss is frequently late in the morning without letting anyone know, so often when I email her to let her know I'm going to be five minutes late, I'm turning myself in for something it was unlikely she would have otherwise caught me for. Sometimes, I'll hit bad traffic and email that I "might be late" just to make sure everything is covered, but then I have good luck with parking and arrive on time anyway, but the boss comes in 45 minutes late, and doesn't know that I was actually there on time. I send an email that I might be late perhaps once every two weeks, and I'm actually late maybe once a month, and by no more than five to 10 minutes.
My two co-workers email only me when they're running late. If the boss is in the office and asks me if I know where one of them is, I'll let her know about the email. Basically, they're covering themselves by telling me they'll be late so that in case the boss asks, they don't get in trouble for being MIA. But when the boss is also late, she never knows that the others were late as long as they get in before she does--and she's often late, so as far as she knows they almost never are.
Sometimes my boss will make comments about how one of my co-workers is "such a hard worker. First one in the office every morning!" when actually that's me! I'm the first one in the office 98 percent of the time, and most mornings I'm 10 to 15 minutes early!
I don't believe in tattling. Their lateness doesn't affect my ability to do my job. I have good relationships with my co-workers. On the other hand, I worry that it impacts me when the boss is evaluating my performance and determining whether to give me a raise, as I look like the office "slacker" compared with my "hard-working" co-workers. Is there any way I can handle this situation without being a tattletale? One option is to just try even harder to never, ever be late, but traffic is so unpredictable that I'd be waking up super early and getting to my office 30 to 45 minutes early most days to ensure never being late, and the "it's OK to be a few minutes late as long as you let me know" casual culture is supposed to be a perk of working in this office. It just looks like I'm disproportionately abusing it when in reality I'm taking advantage of it much less than others.
Well, it sounds like an office where being late isn't that big of a deal--the boss does it and the others do it too. It's different for you, because part of your job is to cover the phones, etc., but it doesn't sound like it's a problem that your co-workers are sometimes late. And that's typical of many offices where time of arrival isn't a big deal as long as you're getting your work done. So really, your best bet is probably to ignore this.
But you're bothered by your boss's occasional comments that someone else is always the earliest to arrive, when in fact that's you. Frankly, I think you're probably better off just letting it go, but if it's bothering you, there's no reason you can't correct her impression. Why not just say to her at some point, "I know this might seem minor, but I always feel self-conscious when I need to email you to let you know that I might be late, since many of those times I end up arriving on time anyway. I don't want you to have the impression that I'm regularly late; in fact, I'm almost always the first person here, and I'm generally early. I know this doesn't really matter, but I've been worried that you didn't realize that I'm almost always here by 8:45, so I wanted to mention it." The tone you want here is "I know this might be my own neurosis, but I'll feel better for having mentioned it."
As for your co-workers, they're probably telling you when they're running late because it's responsible to tell someone, it would be silly to bother your boss with it, and you're the one answering the phones so you're the logical choice. You're interpreting it as if they're thinking, "I'll tell Jane in order to cover myself in case the boss asks, but she probably won't and thus she'll never know--bwahahaha!" and rubbing their hands together gleefully ... but they're really probably not. They just need to tell someone, and it makes sense for that someone to be you.
If you really don't think that's the case, and you think that your boss would prefer to be told directly, then the next time they do it, reply with, "Actually, would you email the boss directly when you're going to be late? She's the one who wants to be in the loop about it." Or you could just forward their email with "FYI" to your boss, if and only if you really think she wants to know.
But the most important thing if you're bothered by this is to just be straightforward with your boss--just "here's what's happening and I felt weird that you didn't know, so I wanted to get it out there."
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