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:
How do you express concerns about a slacking coworker to your boss without coming out sounding like a jerk? I have a coworker who spends quite a bit of time visiting with other employees. This same person expects others on the team to "offer" to help with work not finished. We've tried to gently point out that if he spent less time visiting and more time working, then maybe he wouldn't need help from us in finishing his work, but he just gives us the silent treatment and creates an uncomfortable work environment. He is also extremely critical of what he perceives as others' mistakes, even when almost always guilty of the same thing.
Now he wants to rearrange some of the work assignments so that his workload will be lightened, but I have a problem with that since if he just spent more time working and less time visiting, there wouldn't be a need to rearrange anything. Is this something worth talking to my manager about?
Let's break this into two separate questions: first, how to deal with your coworker's attempt to push his work onto you and second, how and whether to talk to your manager about the situation.
In dealing with your coworker's attempts to get others to help him finish his work because he wasted time goofing off, just politely refuse. Be nice about it and don't try to teach him a lesson by explaining that he created his own situation, but simply don't let allow him to pressure you into doing it. For example, you might say, "I'm sorry but I'm slammed with deadlines" or "Wish I could help but I've got my hands full." By not helping him cover up the results of his slacking, you'll make it easier for your manager to spot what's going on.
And along similar lines, who are these employees who your coworker is spending so much time visiting with? If they have the same objections you do to the broader situation, you might point out to them that they're enabling some of the behavior by supplying him with a chatting outlet. Ideally, when he stops by to socialize, they'd be too busy to talk.
On the question of how to talk to your boss: Some of this depends on your relationship with your boss and what she's like. If you have a good relationship with her and she's known to value directness over protocol, you should be able to be fairly direct. For example: "Could I get your advice on something? I'm finding that Bob frequently asks me to do pieces of his work. I'm happy to help when it's needed, but I so often see him spending significant amounts of time socializing rather than working that I'd prefer for him to focus more of his time on work before pulling me in for help. I've tried talking to him directly but haven't been able to resolve it. Do you have thoughts on how I might handle this?"
Notice that this is couched in terms of asking for your manager's advice on how you should handle it, rather than you dumping it in her lap to handle. If she's a good boss, she's going to handle it herself anyway--hopefully by paying more attention to how Bob is spending his time and by addressing it with him if she sees that there's an issue. But by asking her advice, you make it less about complaining about Bob and more about seeking her guidance.
Of course, there's still an element of complaining in it. But that's not necessarily a problem; there are some things you should tell your manager about. Even the most perceptive manager won't see everything that goes on, and when someone is taking advantage of that, good managers will appreciate a discreet heads-up about something they might not have known about on their own.
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