my coworker slacks off whenever my boss is gone

A reader writes:

I work in a small office at a job I love, reporting to a boss who is fantastic. My one coworker, who has been friends with my boss for many years (they are neighbors), was hired a little over a year ago and I began here as a temp a few months later. Several months ago, I was offered a full-time position with more responsibility and a slightly higher salary than my coworker. I am not, however, her supervisor, which is fine with me.

On a normal workday when the three of us are in the office together, my coworker takes frequent personal calls, often loudly complains about tasks she dislikes, and asks for a lot of time off to do things with her family. Our boss generally speaks to her when this becomes unacceptable/unbearable. When our boss is out of town, however, my coworker finds this an opportune time to take advantage of the situation. She comes in late, takes/makes personal phone calls throughout the day, complains about how “stupid” much of our work is (ok, I agree that filing is boring, but it’s necessary), leaves to run errands, and then leaves early. It’s driving me crazy! I’ve told her in the past that I will not cover or lie for her, and that if our boss asked, I would have to tell the truth about her hours. This afternoon, when she left early again (after arriving late and then taking a two-hour lunch!), I stated that I think it would be nice to go home early, too, but our workday isn’t over yet. She encouraged me to leave with her and told me I was “too good” when I politely refused.

My quandary is this: our boss, who is very strict (and fair) about our work hours, would go through the roof if she knew about this more extreme behavior. Telling her, though, would make me a tattle-tale and certainly would strain my relationship with my co-worker. I think that the right thing to do is to confront my co-worker directly, but I don’t know how to do that without inciting a dramatic response. I’ve tried ignoring it, keeping my nose to my own business, but I’m really ticked off. I have a family and friends, too, but they respect my work boundaries, and when I’m being paid to work, that’s what I do. It’s not fair! Is there any way to obtain justice in a situation like this?

Personally, at this point, I’d probably skip trying to reason with the coworker and just go straight to your boss — because I don’t think talking to your coworker is going to solve anything. But if you want to try talking to her first, the next time she’s slacking off while your boss is out, say something like this: “Hey, I’m really uncomfortable with how things change here when Jane is out. We still have the same amount of work to do, she’s trusting us to do it, and I think she’d be furious if she found out that either of us is working less when she’s not here. I feel uncomfortable even knowing that you’re doing this, so I want to ask you to stop putting me in that position.”

But I doubt it’s going to change anything — your coworker has a fundamental character problem.

So your next step would be to talk to your boss — and you should talk to your boss, because knowing about your coworker’s behavior and not speaking up about it does to some extent make you complicit in it. If your boss eventually finds out about it, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be tarred with the same “things go to hell when the boss is gone” brush.

You said you’re worried about tattling. For the record:  There really isn’t such a thing as “tattling” in the workplace. There are petty complaints, and there are significant ones. You of course want to avoid the petty complaints (“Bob chews too loudly,” “Kate is two minutes late every day,” etc.) … but when something has a real impact on the work, good managers want to know about that. It’s not tattling to bring a serious issue to your boss’s attention.

You said yourself that your boss would go through the roof if she knew about this. And that reaction wouldn’t be unreasonable, given what your coworker is doing. That’s a signal that you need to say something.

And sure, start with your coworker if you want to give her the chance to address it first. But if that doesn’t change things, then you need to talk to your boss pretty soon afterwards.

{ 113 comments… read them below }

  1. BCW*

    Here is my question, does her leaving early actually affect the amount of work you have to do, or make your job more difficult, or does it just bother you? If it actually does affect your ability to do your job, I’d say bring it to your boss. Or is it something that could prove a liability to the company itself? If it just bothers you that she is getting away with stuff, I think it is somewhat petty to tattle about (and I do think in a work situation there is a such thing as tattling personally).

    I work in a fairly small office of about 15 people. Some people are constantly coming in late or taking long lunches. These people aren’t in my department, so as much as I may think its unfair, I don’t think me running to their boss to report their comings and goings is my business either.

    And you “think” your boss would go through the roof, but maybe she doesn’t think its worth it to bring up because the other person is a valuable asset. Maybe she would be angry. But I think you should let the boss figure this out on her own. To me this falls under mind your own business (unless of course it truly does affect you)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think at a minimum it’s an integrity issue. The coworker knows what she’s doing is wrong, because she only does it when the boss won’t know about it. By involving the OP in that knowledge, she’s forcing the OP to be complicit in it. The OP now has knowledge that the coworker is deliberately deceiving the boss. If I were that boss and I found out what was going on, and the OP had never mentioned it to me, I’d seriously question her own judgment and integrity.

      That said, in a small office, I’m assuming it does affect the OP’s work as well.

      1. Jamie*

        Yes – to all of this. I’ve worked with two such people in my career and it was infuriating. You knew you had to get what you needed from them before the boss went out of town, because it was going to be pulling teeth while the cat was away.

        And of course if you know it’s something the boss would be upset over (as well they should) and you don’t say anything you are guilty of lying by omission.

        If someone was using petty cash to order lunch whenever the boss was out of the office most people would find that unconscionable and theft. It’s similar in that she’s getting paid for services not rendered only because the person signing the checks is being deceived.

      2. Heather*

        but the thing is it’s not fair if you (the OP or anyone else) is expected to be at work until 4:30 (or whenever) and the other employee doesn’t bother. So you (the OP et al) is penalized for having a good work ethic and working while the other employee slacks off and doesn’t get punished.

        I’m not sure if I’m explaining it correctly.

        but yeah it’s not fair.

      3. C*

        I have a coworker that this became an issue with…it turned out she had some deeper personal issues and I had to cover for her a lot (for a period of a couple of months, doing both our jobs, working seven days a week…ugh). I never pointed out directly the constant issue with her coming in late, taking a two hour lunch then leaving early and leaving me to pick up some of the extra work. I figured it wasn’t worth the drama within our two-person department and it wasn’t worth being seen as a tattler. I probably should have spoken up sooner, but I documented extensively the extra work that I had to do when she was gone for extended periods of time, especially on my yearly review. It led to me receiving a raise, high praise, awards, etc. I believe my coworker (whose personal problems are sorted out and whom I now have a wonderful working relationship with) is still respected at work, but my merits of being a hard worker, and team player (willing to take some extra load when I needed to) truly paid off for me and I am regarded very highly.

        Basically, I guess, I’d just bite my tongue unless it’s creating a workload you can’t handle, especially because this person has a personal relationship with the boss. No, it’s not fair that she works less and still gets paid, but things aren’t always fair and I honestly believe if you work hard enough, long enough you’ll be regarded in the light you want to be.

    2. Kelly O*

      The thing that makes it an issue, to me at least, is that the OP mentions her boss is strict yet fair about the hours they work. Some bosses are more sticklers for hours in the seat than others, and that’s their prerogative.

      1. Jamie*

        Yes, and even if this was a results oriented environment the OP’s co-worker doesn’t seem (from the letter) like she’s super diligent at making up the work on her own time.

    3. jmkenrick*

      I would say the issue is more the general effect on atmosphere. If you’re watching other people slack off without consequence, it normalizes it and makes it easier for people who would otherwise be more dedicated workers to cut corners.

      Additionally, it can give the impression to any newcomers that the bar at this particular office is pretty low. Once that impression has been given, it can be a lot of work to fix.

      1. BCW*

        Agreed. Understand that I’m not defending the behavior, I’m just saying personally, I think if it doesn’t affect me (and isn’t illegal) that I’m not going to go running to the boss because I don’t think its fair.

          1. jmkenrick*

            Yeah – it carries with it the implication that the workplace is not even *attempting* to be a meritocracy, and that you’re rewarded for looking out for yourself, rather than becuase of your work. That’s not the kind of incentive program you want in the back of people’s minds.

            I would suggest that it’s detrimental to the work ethic of everyone there, even if they don’t realize it.

            1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

              You know what’s really detrimental to the work ethic? knowing that everyone around me is watching my every move with phone in one hand and dialing finger extended in case I step out of line.

              Unless her workload or ability to do her job is being affected, OP needs to MYOB.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Oh, come on. This isn’t watching someone’s every move. It’s reacting to someone who’s gone most of the day when the boss isn’t there.

                1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

                  Agreed. But, where do you draw that line? IMO, it’s a slippery slope.

                  Since everyone will draw the line in a different place, it’s best to MYOB unless your work is being affected.

      2. Twentymilehike*

        Yes! It does a number on the company morale to be in this position. I work for a small office with myself, another fulltime employee and the two owners of the company. The owners don’t have a predictable schedule, leave randomly for hours at a time, and leave early or take days off without any advance warning (it’s usually by text sometime in the morning, “oh by the way I’m taking the day off for xyz personal reason.” Have you ever had your boss call you on a Monday morning to say he decided to go on vacation for a week? Especially when there was a large pile of work in his desk that ONLY he could do and customers were waiting for it to be done very impatiently and it was already late?

        I’ve been here for years, but when a new employee comes in they first get really frustrated by this behavior and then they just follow suite until they quit or get let go (for things like being late, no less!) It is clearly detrimental to the operating of the business and since things just don’t get done when bodies aren’t here! Not only that but it just sucks to be in that position (“oh you’ll need to talk to Bob about that. .. When will he be here? Oh I have no idea. … No, I don’t know how you run a business like that either.”.

    4. KellyK*

      I think there’s a difference between an office of two people and what you notice from people in other departments. Because they’re not anywhere in your “chain of command,”you wouldn’t necessarily know whether their boss knows about their comings and goings, or whether they’re actually slacking or getting plenty done but just not earning any “perfect attendance” prizes.

      When there are only two people and when the boss has clearly communicated expectations regarding hours, it’s a different situation. It also doesn’t necessarily sound like an exempt job, so getting paid for hours you’re not working is definitely unethical and probably illegal.

    5. KellyK*

      By the way, I do agree with you that there’s such a thing as “tattling” at work, but my definition is a little different. If someone is pointing out a rules violation for the purpose of getting someone in trouble, that’s tattling. If they’re doing it in an attempt to solve a problem, then it’s not.

      1. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

        In this case, the OP is pointing out something because she thinks it’s unfair that her co-worker is getting away with it. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the letter saying why it’s a problem besides it’s unfair in the co-worker’s mind.

        It reminds me of Farris Bueller’s sister trying to get him caught for skipping school. LOL!

    6. Liz T*

      If there’s a lot of filing, then yeah, I’m guessing stuff gets dumped on the OP. Filing NEVER ENDS.

    7. Emily*

      I tend to feel this way too. Babysitting other employees is not my job. If the boss can’t tell an employee is slacking off, that’s a management problem. I am not a manager, therefore it is not my problem.

      I used to have a job where I provided some support to the boss, so my desk was in a central location outside the boss’s office while everyone else had their own offices arranged around mine. People would often say things like, “I’m headed to the bank, I’ll be back in 15 minutes,” to me on their way out the door, and if my boss asked where Jane was I’d say, “She went to the bank about 10 minutes ago and said she’d be back in 15.” But if Harry walked out without saying anything to me, I didn’t ask her where she was going or when she’d be back. Because babysitting Harry is not my job. Harry doesn’t work for me, I can do my work when Harry isn’t there, and until there’s an official decree from my boss that Harry has to tell me where he’s going when he leaves the office, I’m going to let Harry have some privacy.

      Now, had my boss officially told me that keeping track of the other employees’ whereabouts was now part of my role, thus giving me the authority and a legitimate reason besides being a busybody, I would have happily done it and would have given my coworkers a heads-up that, by the way, Boss has asked me to report their comings and goings from now on. But I don’t want to be the volunteer narc–not good for my stress levels, job satisfaction, or relationships with other coworkers.

  2. Heather P.*

    Yes to what Alison said.
    It’s definitely not fair whether it impacts your work or not. Unfortunately it’s easier to bring up with your boss if there is a direct relation between your work and what she is doing. But even if it doesn’t if still affects your morale and your boss as you said, would want to know.
    I hate to admit it but there have been times in my work life particularly in my early 20’s where I slacked more when my boss was gone. I always got what needed to be done completed but I might go and surf the internet or take other liberties being more focused on the fact that I was bored out of my mind with the work than the obvious moral implications of what I was doing. I regret that deeply. Now I have the reverse situation. My boss makes my entire office uncomfortable and I try to be productive both when she is here or when she isn’t, however I seem to always get more accomplished when she isn’t because I don’t have this air of stress all around me. But that is really here nor there.

    You have the right to work in a fair environment and feel comfortable at work. I hope this gets resolved for you soon.

  3. Long Time Admin*

    Of course, you could always go to the boss and ask her advice on how to keep the co-worker “on track” or “focused” when the boss is out of the office. This does let the boss know something is going on, and leaves it entirely to her to decide how to handle this.

    1. Jamie*

      That’s what I was thinking – Alison’s oft stated tactic of asking for advice with the side effect of bringing the issue to light.

      And if you are more cowardly like I was when I was new and outranked/equal to the people doing this. I would always need something from them when they had left early (but hours before closing), or were out getting their haircut, or on a 2+ hour lunch. Since the big boss was their back-up for these things it was our practice to cc the backup if the person wasn’t in the office.

      I know – I’m not proud of the scaredy-cat way of bringing it to light – a lot of people have done things when new with tenuous credibility with tptb that we wouldn’t dream of doing once we found our footing.

  4. Just a Reader*

    The problem with this approach is that the LW is not the coworker’s supervisor. So asking how to keep her on track is actually less appropriate and professional than just letting the cat out of the bag.

  5. Heather*

    I find this very interesting because I’m in a similar situation except said employee slacks off WHEN the boss is here. I know it’s a bad management problem basically (no one has done anything about it) and this person is on a mat leave position that ends in September. But it’s unbelievable how much this person slacks off and gets away with it. I’m talking months (not days, not weeks but months) behind in work. When anyone asks him to do something for them he tells them he’s too busy. He takes forever to get back to people about stuff. He’s rude to coworkers. He’s rude to customers. He’s never here (and I mean never – between “calling” in sick, not showing up, coming in at 11 am (NOT kidding) and leaving early – he’s never here). It’s a nightmare. I’ve never seen an employee so useless and so uncaring about their job. Tons of people have commented to me about him.

    And the thing is we actually have a very relaxed work environment. My boss cares that you get the work done. He doesn’t nickel and dime you on your hours. He wants you here in the office since we don’t have capability to work remotely. Nor do we have that kind of jobs. But he’s pretty easy going about things. And I respect that. I respect that I’m allowed to manage my time and I make sure I get stuff done. And I like that I’m allowed to manage my time so I want to be able to keep doing that. And then! We get this guy who could completely screw it up. He’s going to get a rude shock when he goes to his next job.

    So yeah I don’t need advice since it’s basically almost over anyhow but I find this question very interesting. It is amazing how much of an issue this will become in morale.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, now this is different, because your boss is aware of it. In your situation, the issue is bad/negligent management, as opposed to an employee’s deliberate deception.

      1. Heather*

        Yeah I know – I just needed to vent about it because he’s (co-worker) such a bonehead. :P

        1. Jen*

          Sounds like my coworker! My story has a “happy” ending though: the boss finally figured out what’s going on, gave him a bad review, and when we had layoffs last month this guy was among the victims. He will be leaving at the end of November, if not sooner. Hope your boss sees the problem soon and deals with it!

  6. Anonymous*

    As a manager, I would want to know if this was happening on my team – especially since the OP mentions her boss is a strict (but fair) one and that this manager has had problems keeping her coworker in line. It doesn’t seem like this is the case of taking an extra 15 minutes at lunch or leaving a half hour early on a Friday before the weekend. It seems like this individual is coming late, taking long lunches, barely working when at her desk and leaving early.

    I’d position it to the manager as, “I know from time to time Jane needs some boundaries to keep her on track. I’ve noticed that when you’re out of the office, she’s never around. I’ve commented to her that it makes me uncomfortable, yet it continues. I certainly hate the idea of tattling and that’s not my intention, but I didn’t feel comfortable keeping it from you. I’m not sure it’s any of my business even, but given how fair you are with our time and that it’s something she struggles with, I figured it best to bring it up.” At that point, your boss with either probe for details or tell you she’ll handle it. She’ll lead the way in how you should handle this in the future (or if you should even be bothered).

  7. I once did what AAM suggests*

    Small office, irresponsible coworker (she crashed a company vehicle, I was a passenger). I told the truth to the police. She didn’t stop at the stop sign. She was at fault.

    I paid for it with ongoing and blatant hostility from all my coworkers after that. I left after six months of it.

    Sometime honesty doesn’t pay. It’s just the way the world works. Life isn’t fair. Sorry to be Debbie Downer but I think AAM sometimes has rose colored manager spectacles on.

      1. Jamie*

        Yeah – this reminds me of that one post from ages ago where someone faced retaliation at work because they reported a burglary which happened while they were at work. Tptb were mad that they were truthful to the police and even wanted her to say she wasn’t authorized to work that day – but she was.

        It’s official – I know way too much about previous AAM posts…you’d think they were Brady Bunch reruns.

        1. Anon2*

          Jamie, what is “Tptb”? You’ve used it twice now. The first time I thought was a typo but then you did it on this comment too.

            1. Josh S*

              Though often interchangeable, TPTB is not to be confused with The PHB, which is the Pointy Haired Boss, a Dilbert reference to inept management.

      2. I once did what AAM suggests*

        Agreed Elizabeth, but I am just trying to point out that it might not feel like a great thing in the short term. OP may face hostility, and probably will from at least one coworker, unless Boss is very sharp and handles things well.

        In my case, I knew what was likely to happen, and went home on crash night to update my resume. It just took me six months to land an equivalent job. I had to manage my expectations about work life until then.

        1. C*

          Agreed, sometimes it just pays to keep your mouth shut. I’ve had a lot of times backfire when I tried to make sure that people were doing things the “right” or “moral” way. Not everyone’s compass points due north, so I just keep my head down and do my work better and better unless it’s illegal, paints a negative picture of the company, or could otherwise cause major trouble.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What was your alternative — to lie to the police? Sometimes things are hard, yes, but you still do them because they are logical/right/the best option.

      I don’t think I have rose-colored glasses on. I’m well aware of how many bad coworkers and bad managers are out there — acutely aware of it, in fact, since my mail is full of those stories every day. To the contrary, I actually think some commenters have a skewed perspective on these issues — they’ve had some bad experiences and see everything through those lenses from then on and assume that that’s how workplaces will always work. But they don’t.

      1. Peter*

        I’ve been following the blog for about a year now, and I just want to say that one of the strongest points about it is the realistic, results-based approach taken in the advice dispensed. I recall that a significant number of posts had taken into account the very real possibility of retaliation from managers or colleagues.

    2. fposte*

      Yes, but other unpleasant possibilities are that the boss may fire both the coworker and the OP, or the OP will leave because she’s so fed up with doing twice the work for the same pay. It’s not like not saying anything is a ticket to sure joy either.

    3. Sara*

      That is so shocking….I’m so sorry to hear that. I don’t understand why they would be so hostile? was there more to the story? In any case, I’m glad you got another job. sorry but stories like this make my blood boil

  8. Anonymous*

    “My one coworker, who has been friends with my boss for many years (they are neighbors)”

    What about the fact that Coworker and Boss have a relationship beyond the workplace? Alison didn’t mention that at all in her response, but that seems to me like a big potential backfire.

    1. A Bug!*

      I’m optimistic about it because the boss has apparently had to discipline this employee in the past: ” Our boss generally speaks to her when this becomes unacceptable/unbearable.”

      If the boss is a good boss, she will look at the situation as the coworker putting her in a difficult situation by being slacking off. Because that’s what she’s doing.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s what I was thinking too — it seems like the boss has a record of being willing to address problems with the coworker. Not as quickly as she should, it sounds like — but that statement, combined with the fact that the boss is willing to be “strict” about their hours and the fact that the OP knows that the boss would be really angry about this if she knew about it, signals to me that we have reason to believe the boss would deal with this if she knew about it.

    2. ruby*

      I agree with you, this sounds like a very small office and that the boss has a long-standing friendship with the problem employee outside the office. Speaking up is much more complicated because of both these things.

      The OP also says:
      On a normal workday when the three of us are in the office together, my coworker takes frequent personal calls, often loudly complains about tasks she dislikes, and asks for a lot of time off to do things with her family. Our boss generally speaks to her when this becomes unacceptable/unbearable.

      If the manager sees this behavior she’s there, then she would be foolish to assume that the emplyee didn’t act up even more when she wasn’t around. Also, the manager tolerates this behavior (though she does speak to the employee about it occasionally, it doesn’t sound like that has really changed anything).

      The manager is not in the dark – it’s not like the employee is doing a 180 when the manager is out , she’s doing the same things as when the manager is in, just to a greater extent. I think unless OP’s work is being directly affected, there’s no reason to bring it up unless it comes up organically or the boss asks her point blank.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        I understand every point you make in your post, and I agree that the boss is aware of the co-workers deficiencies. However, the OP is feeling the need to do something about this. It *is* affecting her and therefore should be addressed.

  9. LowMorale*

    I have kind of the opposite problem at my job – a boss and co-workers who frequently crap out on the workday for silly or nonexistent reasons (“I have to hit the road before traffic picks up…”, “I need to take a long lunch and clear my head…” and the like). I walk to work so I have no excuse to leave early. Plus, someone has to answer the phones and put out fires that happen in the office.

    This has been really hard on my morale. Even though I’m not an administrative assistant anymore (I was promoted nearly 7 months ago) I feel like people are essentially signalling to me that I’m still only good for answering phones, putting out fires, and other administrative tasks.

    I’ll admit that, after several months of this, I’ve started to feel really worthless and resentful of my coworkers and I do sometimes leave early or surf the web when I’m here alone, as long as all of my deadlines are met. It just wears on you to work with a bunch of people who seemingly have no respect for the job!

  10. Jennifer*

    I see a lot of people talking about how it matters more if OP’s job/work is being affected rather than it simply being a rules issue, however, I still have a major issue with this either way. If it’s company policy that you need to work X hours a week and you are being paid based on that expectation (which seems like the case in this situation as the letter states the boss is strict about hours), isn’t it in a way stealing from the boss if you are working less hours without letting them know? I would refuse to be complicit in something like that, assuming it’s egregious and ongoing, as OP’s letter seems to indicate that it is.

    1. Heather P.*

      This sounds like a pretty extreme example of time theft so in this case I would report it regardless of whether it is affecting the OP’s job directly or not. However, I don’t know about your workplaces but if I were to actually want to pay attention to the total amount of time that gets wasted in a day I would just drive myself nuts. In fact my co-worker who counts people’s break minutes does drive me nuts. Also, if one was to go to their boss for every example of this it would just reflect negatively on them ultimately I think because why on Earth are they wasting work time on this? So I think a line needs to be drawn here. In this extreme case, yes, go tell the boss. In other less extreme cases, it might not be a great idea.

      1. Heather P.*

        Not mention, it depends greatly on the field of employment. What on the surface appears to be “time wasting” might actually be someone who was at work all night and is finally taking a break or going home the next morning. This is the case with many scientific facilities where we have different rules for unionized and non-unionized emplyees.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, what makes this something to report in this case is how extreme the behavior is. If it were more minor, I would have told her to leave it alone unless it were directly impacting her own ability to get her work done.

  11. NewReader*

    Slackers definitely can pull down a whole group…
    Two things that I have come up with and made work for me…

    I will not cover for other people. Not ever. That sounds harsh, the other half of the story is – if someone is having difficulty, I have absolutely no problem jumping in and helping out. I have helped numerous coworkers. It helps to have a reputation of helping out, when I draw my line at covering for people. It sounds like OP is similar- OP helps out where ever needed.

    The other thing that I watch for is that some people (not all slackers, just some of them) are testing the waters. If they get away with X, they will move to Y which is an even more questionable activity.

    OP, you have already started the process. You confronted her and it did not go well. I am concerned that if you do not follow through, her actions will become worse. Maybe not, we don’t know for certian.
    At one job I had there were so many problems. I decided that if I did not have the energy/inclination to follow the problem through to its conclusion, then I would not open the problem up for discussion. I picked my battles. And, yeah, I was selective, over look A and handle B, skip C and go on to D. The one thing I learned was if I opened a problem for discussion- it would rain on me if I backed down half way through. Follow up is everything. Documentation is a wonderful, wonderful thing, too.

    Lastly, OP, you are at work and she is not. This means that you are in touch with what is going on. You are up to the moment in how things are going. Knowledge is power. Look at the knowledge you are accruing, can you show off your special skills and talents because of it? For example do you excel at organizing? Are you great at streamlining a multi-step process to make it easier? Showcase what you do best. There can be hidden opportunities here.

      1. NewReader*

        Ditto, LTA. From what I have read so far, we think along similar lines from time to time.

        Facebook. naaaahh. AAM, Yes! Learn lots more here. Added bonus- people speak to each other with basic respect. What a good deal.

  12. Gail Williams*

    This is a very good and informative article. However, do we really think companies are going to hire someone after they ask such direct and intense questions during the interview? Really?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh! Gail, if so, that was actually the point of the article — it’s about things job seekers want to know but don’t feel comfortable asking, and other ways to get that information.

  13. Wish to remain anonymous*

    I do have my own story about this which I hope I can share here….I was in charge of a smallish team. I got along well with almost everyone but this was my first time in a “managing” role so I know i made a few mistakes. Ok so I had one person who–amongst some other issues– would occasionally nod off during office hours. We were required to be there during our scheduled hours; it was understood that if there were no clients, we were free to go have lunch (obviously not for hours and hours) or take a small break. I did speak to him about it and said that while I understood his situation (full time student + full time job) it was unacceptable. He listened to me, fixed his behavior (the sleeping and all the other problems that were coming up) and I truly had no problems with him after that.

    Well, some time later my boss got wind about his “sleeping on the job” and she was extremely upset at the both of us, at him for doing it and at me for allowing it and my judgment and credibility was brought into question; we both almost lost our jobs because of it. Turns out, wayyyy after hte incident was over, someone on my team had gone to tattle on us–yes I call it tattling because no one on my team had been suffering for his “naps”…no one was ever dumped with extra work or treated unfairly. I truly thought my coworkers liked/trusted me (I was managing them but I called them my coworkers and treated them as such) enough to come to me with any problems but this wasn’t the case here.

    This was an extremely rough lesson, and amongst the many other lessons learnt, one of them is exactly how terrible slackers can be for a group…as bad as it sounds, I realize the importance of that now, to NOT be a slacker employee and not let it ever happen at work.

    1. Seal*

      So you had someone slacking off, confronted him about his behavior as any good manager should, and he got his act together. But months later the two of you got fired for THAT??? Sounds like something else was going on here.

      1. Wish to remain anonymous*

        No, we didn’t get fired, but the fear was definitely there, and fortunately we were allowed to finish out our contract (it was a temp position). Yeah, there was definitely something going on–I’d also had a conflict with one of my coworkers and although I’d chosen not to go to my boss about it, I’m not sure if the coworker had said anything to her or not (they were friends too). I trusted all of my coworkers, and there are some I still keep in touch with and loved working with, but the whole expeirence left a bad taste in my mouth, esp because it started out so well. I wish I could go back and done a better job.

    2. blu*

      I’m concerned that you think there was no unfair treatment or downside to letting this person’s behavior go. Aside from the morale issue, how is it fair to allow someone to be paid to sleep on the job while others must actually do the work they are being paid for. Not only is that unfair, it’s a major waste of company resources and it’s fraudulent to represent to your leadership that this person is doing what they are supposed to when in fact they are not.

      That person wasn’t “tattling” on you, they were going up the chain because they already realized you were not going to address the situation.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I have to agree with this. Letting someone sleep on the job is a really big deal. We can argue whether it should be a bigger deal than, say, playing on Facebook during the day, but the reality is that it’s seen as a real F-you to the job.

      2. Jamie*

        She said when it happened she addressed it with him and it stopped.

        I didn’t read anything about her letting it go.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m going to guess that, just based on what she wrote here, that it took her too long to address it and/or that it was something that she should have been aware of long before she was. Just a hunch though.

          1. Jamie*

            Well, in that case it would be a bigger deal.

            I read it as he was sleeping on his small break or lunch due to being overloaded with work and school – once – and she corrected it and it didn’t happen again.

            Not usually like me taking the most positive view of a situation…apparently I woke up as Pollyanna this morning :).

            To the point though – I do think sleeping would be worse than Facebook. Both take productivity down to zero, but sleeping is such a huge f’ing statement and the visibility of that is hard to ignore.

            1. Heather*

              I often nap on my lunch break – how is that bad? And I’ve never been late coming back to work because of it.

              1. Heather P.*

                yeah but it sounds like this employee “dozed off” at their desk. Very different than going to your car on your lunch break and taking a nap. My work even has a nap room.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Nothing wrong with doing it on your lunch break, if you’re out of view of others. I read this as happening on the job, not on a lunch break (she wrote “nodding off during office hours”).

              3. Jamie*

                It’s not if you aren’t in sight of your co-workers.

                I can’t imagine telling people I was on lunch would erase the image of me sound asleep at my desk or in the conference room, though.

                1. Heather P.*

                  ha! This just brought to mind the image of a friend of mine who once told me she used to crawl under her desk and nap at work! In her defense she was going through a period of clinical depression and left that place of employment soon after. Her workplace had a nap room too so I can’t imagine what she was thinking.

                2. Heather P.*

                  and no, this isn’t me telling my own story “about a friend”. It really was a friend haha

                3. She Who Must Not be Named*

                  I am going anon for this – but it’s a funny story related to your nap under the desk thing.

                  A former boss told me this story: An employee of his (at the time) had a key to the office, as most did…but he liked to tie one on at the bar down the street from work.

                  One weekend when the office was locked, but the factory was open the big boss got a call at home from some very scared people who heard a wild animal growling through the wall. They were convinced there was some rabid beast in the office or the walls just waiting to make it’s way into the plant.

                  He got up and ran into work…to find his erstwhile employee dead drunk and sound asleep atop the table in the conference room – which shared a wall with the room in which the employees heard the sound. He was snoring so loud he terrified an entire shift.

                  He woke the employee up and upon hearing he was fired proceeded to vomit all over the carpet.

                  To be fair, I’m sure the vomiting was unrelated to the firing.

                  And that is one of the ways you do not want to become a legend at work. I never even worked with the guy and I know his name!

                4. Heather P.*

                  hahaha Oh wow!
                  Yeah if my friend hadn’t been going through some pretty serious stuff at the time I would have definitely thought more harshly of her behaviour. The fact that someone is having mental health issues obviously does not excuse these kinds of behaviours nor should they be tolerated should management find out but at least it helps to explain where they are coming from.

          2. Wish to remain anonymous*

            I’m not sur ewhat an acceptable time period was. That had been my first time in that kind of role so while I think I tried my best, I know I made some mistakes. The first time I saw him doze off, I let it go. The second time, I sat him down and told him it was unacceptable. the way I wanted to run the operation was that clients were #1. If they were satisfied and being taken care of, and no major rules were broken otherwise, I was relaxed about other things.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think that’s probably the issue — you can’t let someone sleeping on the job go, even once. And if other staff members knew that you did, I can understand how they’d be irked.

              1. Heather P.*

                Alison, how would you address someone sleeping on the job: A formal reprimand after one time or just a talking to?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  If it’s an otherwise good performer, I’d talk to them immediately, find out what was going on, make it clear that it can’t happen again. I’d also watch that person more carefully for a while after to that, to make sure that there weren’t other problems I’d been missing.

                  I don’t really buy into the difference between a formal reprimand or just a talking-to. I’m not one for “writing people up” — you speak clearly, you’re up-front about expectations and how someone might be falling short of them, you warn someone when something is serious, etc. That’s it.

                2. Heather P.*

                  ah OK. Thanks for clarifying.
                  The experience I’ve always heard of has been with managers who I know have done the step-by-step Talking-to (maybe more than one)-then formal notes are the next step of seriousness-then termination if behaviour doesn’t change. I thought there was a formalized process that it had to be written down. But I guess that was an assumption I had.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I do tend to follow that path, not because it’s required but because it generally makes sense. But I wouldn’t convey a warning to someone in writing; I’d talk to them in person and then follow up with a summary in email to make sure we’re both on the same page (and to create documentation in case there’s any question about it later). It doesn’t have to be as formal as some bureaucratic companies make it.

      3. Wish to remain anonymous*

        “Aside from the morale issue, how is it fair to allow someone to be paid to sleep on the job while others must actually do the work they are being paid for. Not only is that unfair, it’s a major waste of company resources and it’s fraudulent to represent to your leadership that this person is doing what they are supposed to when in fact they are not.”

        I do see your point and I would agree–except this was not the case here, at least I don’t believe it was. Coworker was doing his job. clients never saw him like this, and he wasn’t ditching his duties while everyone else picked up the slack. No one’s ability to do their work was affected.

        I considered it tattling because when it happened a second time, I addressed that person and the behavior STOPPED so I don’t think there was any need for anyone to go to my higher ups. I am trying to understand, what else should I have done if the behavior had stopped?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Since we’re working without all the details you have, what was it that your boss took issue with exactly? And when you say you learned a lot about management from that experience, what would you have done differently, based on what happened? Those questions might get to the core faster than the rest of us speculating on details we don’t know.

          1. Wish to remain anonymous*

            I know that now. :( hindisght is 20/20 right? I had also let several other things go: I had one extremely moody person who was supposed to report to me scream at me in front of clients/coworkers, accusing me of being mean because she didn’t like the tone of my voice (I swear), accused me of liking another coworker romantically (absolutely untrue). This person and I were trying to work it out amongst ourselves and I had decided not to take this to my boss but I know she was good friends with our boss so I’m not sure if she went to her. That’s another thing I should have handled differently.

            If I could do it all over again, I would never have tried to become friends with my coworkers. If I had known how serious dozing off even once was, I would have addressed it after the first time. (Honestly, the sleeping thing wasn’t a big problem for me because that worker had an otherwise good attitude and doing his job well). Bascially at the first sign of “trouble” I would address it right away.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Well, for allowing an environment that sounds pretty chaotic/unprofessional, not handling problems quickly and assertively, etc. — kind of not doing the management part of the job.

                2. blu*

                  Agree with AAM and I would also say that’s probably why that person “tattled.” Given the environment they probably believed you weren’t going to address it. I also wouldn’t be so sure that the two times you saw the sleeping happening where the only times it actually happened. I would bet while that person got caught twice, it happened more than that and often enough to people to take notice.

            1. Lily*

              Thank you so much for explaining the situation! I really appreciate learning from other managers’ mistakes!

    3. NewReader*

      This is exactly what I meant in my earlier post by “raining on me.” I would try to handle something discreetly. The matter would be over/resolved and I would end up being thrown under the bus.

      What worked eventually, was for me to cue my immediate boss. So using your example, I would say “Boss, so and so is sleeping on the job. I feel that I can go over and talk with him/her one -on-one and we can clear this up.”

      Fortunately, my boss was clear in making his points. “The problem is NOT that Suzie is snoozing. The problem is that something was going on and I was not informed of the problem or how it was being handled. Had I known you were working on it- that would have armed me with information to tell the complainant that the situation was already noticed and being handled.”
      The boss was actually more concerned about a problem not being handled than he was concerned about the problem itself.

      This sounds like splitting hairs. And most certianly, I was blindsided by my boss’ statement.

      I added it to my “rain barrel” and went on. I made sure if I was working on something discreetly, I let the boss know first.

      Over time, the boss got to know me better. He got to know how I viewed things, what types of issues I could handle, etc. It was a crockpot, not a microwave.

      1. Lily*

        I was just trying to figure out whether I was wasting my boss’ time / tattling by telling her too much about my reports’ problems. Based on this thread, mentioning the problem and how I’m dealing with it are essential!

        Thanks for sharing!

  14. Anonymous*

    The boss needs to be told for sure, but I think OP is right in thinking that the coworker needs to be addressed first. Unlike AAM I think that OP should first talk to the co-worker, warn her specifically that there might be repercussions, and THEN go to the boss.
    Otherwise, if there is no impact on OP’s work, whatever you call it, it is tattling.
    My 2 cents!

  15. Wish to remain anonymous*

    Please don’t take this as my condoning anyone sleeping on the job. I completely understand WHY it’s seen as a bad thing. But I also believe that people make mistakes and should get second chances if they deserve it.

  16. booboo*

    Is there a difference between outright sleeping at the job, vs dozing off/zoning out for a couple of minutes? are both equally bad?

  17. Wish to remain anonymous*

    Yeah. Oh boy. All this time I thought I had done an ok job but just made a few mistakes. I didn’t realize how awful I did. :(

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, I think everyone sucks in their first management role. The important thing is (if you want to continue managing) to get really committed to learning how to do it better, accepting that it’s hard and will require you to do uncomfortable things, etc. But believe me, you have lots of company in not getting it right the first time.

      1. Wish to remain anonymous*

        Well I didn’t start out as manager exactly. I was hired for one job but my manager liked me enough to hire me for the manager position. and because of the nature of my work I honestly did not think managing would be so difficult. I realized it’s easier to deal wiht clients than it is to deal with troublesome coworkers. I’m not sure if it’s still something I’d want to pursue.

    2. Jeb-Ray Gumpeater*

      I think your boss along with most everyone here came down way too hard on you. So there was a problem months ago, it’s resolved, things are running smoothly now. What’s the point of making a big stink about it now? Your boss was a dope.

      This is the problem with “tattling”. The boss should have recognized it as such and dealt with it just like a 1st grade teacher would have. You assess the issue, decide whether further action is necessary, if not, then you tell the “kid” that being a tattle-tale is a problem.

  18. Two-cents*

    Late to the party on this, but I get really annoyed about the MYOB messages. If everyone always minds their own business there would be a lot of injustices that go uncorrected. There are, of course, occasional minor annoyances or infractions that can be overlooked if the general tone and culture of the workplace is to be flexible and healthy. But regular bad behavior and low performance affects everyone, even it it doesn’t change the worklowad, it can cause coworkers to feel resentful and angry. Whew! Had to get that off my chest. I’m the person who calls 911 when I see something on the highway that could be hazardous. I’m the person who empties and refills the ice trays . I’m the person who picks up the trash even though I’m not the janitor, etc. And I resent it when others say to me, “Why bother? Someone else will take care of it or someone else is paid to do that.” AARGH! That kind of attitude makes me crazy. Soapbox rant over…for now. :0)

  19. tabitha*

    How do you know she isn’t getting paid full time to do a job that is really a part time job–maybe the boss knows that and doesn’t care! I have a job that I’ve gotten so good at that it only takes me half the time to do as it did in the beginning…my boss knows I’m bored most days and does nothing to increase work load so…I leave early! THe work is done. Nothing more to do but just sit there for the sake of sitting there. However I stay when I need to stay too. And my behavior doesn’t change depending on if he’s there or not… I’m just saying–you may put yourself out there by “tattling” and it may be the manager who is mad at you for basically pointing out that s/he is not doing their job by making sure she is busy/challenged/etc… ??

  20. Jennifer*

    I have sort of the same issue, only the boss is present! but she doesnt care, and no one can do anything about it because my coworker is her niece, same with my other coworker who is the cousin of another manager! they are constantly slacking off, the niece the worst, and forcing me to do most of the work. not only that but they are both breaking the law! we are all under 18 and not allowed to put the garbage in the compacter but they do anyway… I am frustrated and dont know what to do!

  21. Carrie*

    I have a similar situation, only the boss disconnects from it. Two years into the job, I did talk with my supervisor about it. She did talk to the workers but then it seemed like it became more important for her to have personal friendships with them and I felt like professional work ethic didn’t matter. My coworkers would go into my bosses office and ask about her daughter and then be in there for two hours or more. This appears to be the way to my boss’ heart. I will stop and say hello or ask briefly about how boss is doing -but then I head into my work and focus on that. My coworker would come in at 9:30, take 1 to 2 hours to do personal errands and then leave by 3, with the idea that was an eight hour day. I got to a point where I told myself, you are a professional, just come to work do the best you can and put in your hours, be respectful and courteous. Then things happen like after I have a day off, I come in and decisions that affect me have been made by coworkers and the boss is ok with this. I have decided I could stand on my head and still wouldn’t be valued and have began looking for another position that will value that I want to go the extra mile for my employer and I want the company to do well. My coworker that is the worse now got promoted to be my supervisor. Any suggestions as to how to cope with coworker turned supervisor that has earned distrust, until I am able to find another position. I still go to work and put in my hours and try to make them as valuable as possible. I am also grieving because I really liked what I am doing, and try to adjust expectations, but it just isn’t realistic. But this eats at me.

  22. Tess*

    With you leave early, arrive late take more time that
    than is designated for a lunch than you have in near all places of work falsified our timecard as is grounds for immediate termination as an employee. In some cases it could be cosidered a crime.

    I would document it report it and if necessary contact the labor department in your state.

    For any worker to take advantage and involve you in that behavior is a violation of your rights as a worker.

  23. ktess*

    I started a new job a month ago and am working night shift. We have a night supervisor but my boss works days 8-5 pm. I am 53 and have worked since I was 16 and this place is crazy. We work shifts and can not leave until our relief gets here. There are people who repeatedly, daily show up 15 minutes to 1 hour late. No apology, the night supervisor will say oh “they are always late”, no accountability, no write ups- crazy. 4 different times people have called in sick or called in to say they did not want to work at start of shift time. After working a 12 hour shift on my feet-I have to now wait another hour for someone to decide to finally show up to work– INSANE. I have also reported people sleeping on the job 2-4 hours a night, laid out on a couch. This I have also reported to the supervisor at night and nothing is said to the employee, nothing is done and the employee is not fired, crazy. I want to tell my direct supervisor who works during the day because I do not know if she is aware of this but all the older employees here say that she knows-state that is why the turn over is so high here but what if she does not know.. I have been the boss before and would hate for my staff to not tell me something I could have fixed because everyone assumed I knew. She may know since it is not isolated incidences but I don’t want to say “Hey, you have a problem”, or “Are you aware”.. How do you start that conversation off??? Thanks.

  24. J*

    Nepotism is a huge problem in the workplace. I work for a small family business, and have been working there for about 8 years. They’re really good to us, and for the most part I really like my job. But there are many family members who work there, and the boss’ best friend works there. She’s a lovely lady, and I like her very much. But she often takes extra time to go and run errands, or take longer lunches. It’s not a big deal to take a longer lunch now and again if you arrange it ahead of time and don’t take your breaks to compensate for the time. But if you abuse it, there’s definitely a problem. You can MYOB for a long time, like I have. But recently I told my boss exactly how I felt, and told her that if I exhibited that behavior, she would not allow it. If she doesn’t allow it for me, then how come she allows it for her good friend? It’s a matter of what’s fair. She had no answer for that. There should be even expectations for people in the workplace. I’m not pollyanna-ish either. It’s the right thing to do, and it should be done.

  25. jj*

    This is pathetic. There is more to life than work. Good for your colleague on shaving whatever hours she can out of work to get on with her life.

    I dont think on her deathbed she is going to lie there bemoaning that half-assed workday and neither should you. Your colleague said you’re “too good” and you are.

    People like you generally only get the wake-up call about the realities of work on the day when you get dropped like a hot stone because the company doesn’t need you anymore or can’t afford you.

    Suddenly then people go, “Wow, all the work and effort I put in and it didnt count for a hill of beans?” and they get a new perspective.

    Your co-worker sounds fun, to be honest, and you seem a little uptight. If she’s directly affecting your workload, that’s a different issue. If she isn’t, just leave her to it and what will be, will be. And let yourself take it easy once in a while. Life is short.

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