How To Stop Tattling (And Should I Stop)?

Question:

I work in a small office where I am the “senior” staffer. Work ethics are not as strict as they once were and new employees come in 15 minutes late, spend time gossping, etc. Why does this bother me? Why do I feel the need to tell the office manager? I feel I am the one with the problem because I seem to be the only one who recognizes it. How do I stop caring?

Signed,

Bothered and Don’t Know Why


Answer:

Dear┬áBothered and Don’t Know Why:

When some employees have a more strict sense of how work should be done and what the rules should be–or how they should be enforced–and others want more freedom and less restrictions, there is bound to be conflict, at least internally, about it.

I don’t think it’s the case that work ethics aren’t as strict as they once were, it’s that your work ethics are different than those of others. You both can be correct, and in the final analysis all you have to do is be true to yourself and your own ethics, and decide how much difference you can tolerate in others.

There have always been issues with some people being more punctual than others. There have always been issues about some people socializing more during the day than others. But most often, that is handled informally and there is a level of give and take about it.

For example, someone may be a tremendously hard worker and do top quality work, but work better when things are relaxed. Other’s are tremendously hard workers and do top quality work, but work better when things are structured.

Others do not obey rules and also do not do good work! That is usually when managers get involved, or certainly should! If both of the work producing groups respect the other and see that good work is being produced in a pleasant way, they both are likely able to accept, with a wry smile, the frustrating behavior of the other group. If there is already a dislike between the groups, and it appears that there is unfairness in work load or other issues, then the differences can’t be shrugged off. The result is that every day something new happens that gripes the soul of someone!

At that point, it’s up to the manager to decide how to get the work done, within the rules and the needs of work itself. That’s why it’s easiest to use the rules as a guideline and not make exceptions. But many managers find that doesn’t get as good a work product as being a bit more flexible. (Some people might define flexible as lax!) One of the problems for managers–and why I think it is better to have everyone comply with rules or get rid of the rules, is that you can’t easily enforce them for some and not for others. Grievances and lawsuits are often the result. When some employees are required to obey the rules and will get in trouble if they do not, while others are allowed to violate the rules and nothing about their worklife is diminished or changed, there is plenty of reason to complain.

So, every work situation is different about what can be accepted and what cannot, and what employees should feel justified in complaining about and what is not worth it.

Here is when I think you should complain in a written, direct and forceful manner: 1. If the work situation is making you do appreciably more work than others. For example, if by being on time, you get the majority of complaint calls that come in first thing. Or, if you always have to do some opening process that is time consuming, because there is no one else there.

2. If the work situation is such that you cannot do as good a job as you would like, because of the problems that are caused. For example, if you are dependent upon others to do some task and your work looks bad when they don’t get their part of it done.

3. If the situation is disruptive to your work, or creates problems with clients and customers repeatedly.

4. If you do not receive a raise or bonus but someone who does less receives it.

5. If you do not have the same flexibitliy options, and the work description is the same.

Those five things are things that affect YOU. Anything else may seem indicative of someone being a bad employee, but if they don’t affect you it’s up to the manager to deal with the fallout, if there is any.

One thing is for sure–when it comes right down to it, most managers will choose a late employee over one who complains about late employees repeatedly. So, you will probably be better off living up to your own view of what work ethics should be. Ask for help if you need it, even if people are socializing. Do your work, but do not volunteer to do the work of someone who should be there doing it. Focus on being a friendly member of the team, and let your work and life be an example to others.

That doesn’t mean you stop caring, just that you accept that your workplace is not as structured as it used to be, and not as structured as you’d like. But, since you like your job and want to stay, you’ll just learn to deal with it.

One day those other employees will go someplace where more is required of them, and they’ll learn to adjust to that–or not.

Someone wrote to me about this same issue. When she complained to her boss about the disparity between her punctuality and the lateness of others, her boss told her that she, too, could occasionally come in a few minutes later than strict starting time. He suggested she take a morning now and then and stop for coffee or simply take her time coming to work.

She did that once a week for several weeks, with these results: 1. On two occasions the office didn’t get opened in time and clients were angry. (She had always been the faithful one to open up.) 2. The manager developed a flextime schedule and rotated people through the office opening time. 3. The writer said she didn’t trust others to open up and actually liked being there early, so she decided to go back to her former early arrival time. 4. She got creative and asked the manager if, instead of coming in on a flex schedule, she could now and then leave work early. He said fine. 5. She left work early now and then for several weeks, but she had no joy in it, because she felt she should be at work.

She concluded her letter to me by saying, she was back at her “early in and on time leaving” schedule. It still irritated her that others didn’t have the guilt about work that she did (or the “work ethic” to use another term) but she decided she was doing it for herself.

One strategy that might help avoid feelng so frustrated: When others start arriving at work (about 10 minutes after start time) take a short break, go to the bathroom, make copies or leave the work area if you can, so you aren’t working while they are doing their early morning greetings. That way you won’t feel that you are grimly working while they are not.

Find one or two of the others that are your favorites and link more with them than usual. Swear to yourself that you will not talk about the others negatively unless you have no other choice. Be a supporter of good work, no matter who does it.

Best wishes as you keep up your good work and good attitude about it and your coworkers.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.