When you walk past your co-worker’s desk, you notice he’s on Facebook. The next time you walk by, you see he’s on it again. In fact, you start to notice that more often than not, every time you pass your colleague, he’s on Facebook.
So, do you tell your boss?
The reasons why you may feel the urge to tattle on a co-worker are many, says Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Perhaps you want to stand out to your boss or supervisor by making yourself look better than the co-worker.
“It could also be a passive-aggressive way to sabotage a co-worker about whom you have ambivalent feelings,” Levine says.
But tattling could have repercussions on your career.
“Your colleagues or supervisor may feel like you have loose lips and can’t be trusted,” Levine says. “You may be seen as someone unable to be a ‘team player.'”
It’s important to discern the difference between tattling and reporting. Tattling is when you tell on a co-worker for making personal phone calls versus reporting someone for sexual harassment, for example. While tattling has its consequences, reporting someone’s behaviour can have benefits if done correctly.
“You may need to tattle to protect your own reputation or to protect the reputation of a supervisor,” Levine says. “An employee may be in a situation that is over his [or] her head and may require someone else’s support and intervention to resolve it. Or, it may curb the co-worker’s inappropriate behaviour and help out colleagues who don’t feel confident enough to tell someone.”
Before you make accusations, Levine warns that you need to be absolutely sure that your allegations are valid. You also need to assess your own motivations.
“If you decide to go ahead, focus on the inappropriate behaviours rather than on the person, per se,” she suggests. “Be especially cautious about tattling if the behaviour isn’t related to the workplace.”
We asked you to share some of your tattling tales and the motives behind your admission. Names have been withheld to protect privacy.
“Years ago, I worked for a very well-respected accounting firm. We were hired to copy thousands of documents for a law firm involved in a high-profile insider-trading case.
“A co-worker made a photocopy of a check bearing the signature of a well-known individual and pocketed the copy. He later showed it to another co-worker and me. After a moment of deliberation, we told the partner in charge, and our copying co-worker was fired on the spot.
“We decided to tattle as he was tarnishing the integrity of the company and violating the very principle upon which we had been hired in the first place. To this day, I do not regret the tattle.”
“I reported some questionable decisions by a colleague, and my superiors looked at me like I was from Mars. When I saw my colleague next, he was aloof and a bit smug. I suggested working separately on a project in the spring and he concurred instantly.
“Ultimately he needed to know that as a junior member, he was accountable and that others noticed his actions. For that I have no regrets. Could I have gone to him with my concerns rather than going over his head? Yes. But I also don’t think he is receptive to others thoughts so I felt it would fall on deaf ears. In the end I stand [by] my decision and hope he will grow and mature in his field.”
“She and I were both social workers at a small not-for-profit hospice. I had been there a few years, and she was newly hired. Her second day on the job, she came to me and asked me if I would loan her money to fill her car up with gas, as she had very few funds until her first pay check. I agreed to help her out. I did it twice more, and I know some of the nurses helped her out, too. By that time she had received her pay check and her payment for mileage, but she didn’t start paying any of us back.
“Still, I kept my mouth shut until one day she was sick, and my supervisor asked me to see one of her patients who was in a crisis situation. I went over to the patient’s house, helped resolve the issue and was getting ready to leave when the patient handed me a $20 bill! I gave it back to her and said, ‘You don’t have to pay me. I get paid by hospice. It’s part of my job to come out here and help you however I can.’
“She gave me a puzzled look and said, ‘But that other social worker said she couldn’t come see me unless I gave her money for mileage.’ I drove back to the agency, went into my supervisor’s office and sang like a bird. I’ve never ratted another employee out before, but I’d never run into a situation like that before, either.
“The other social worker ended up losing her job, partly because of what I had revealed but also partly because she hadn’t documented a single patient visit since she’d been employed there and she hadn’t updated any of her care plans. The agency also contacted all of her clients and discovered that the lady I had visited wasn’t the only one she’d scammed. They made sure that the clients got their money back.
“I normally say I have my co-workers’ backs 100 percent, but my first responsibility is to the clients that our agency serves. If I had it to do over again, I’d make the same choice.”
“I once had to report a colleague for inappropriate contact. This person would playfully yank my ponytail and once stuck his fingers down the back of a female co-worker’s blouse to tuck in her tag. The final straw happened one morning when I had pulled into the parking garage and reached over to grab my bag. Suddenly I heard someone trying to open my car door. He had walked up to my car and decided to open my door without tapping on the window or calling out good morning. It was creepy and scary and I waved him on pretending to take a cell phone call.
“When I reported him, he was written up for sexual harassment and it changed his behaviour real quick. Admittedly at the time I felt bad for getting him into trouble. But looking back, he was extremely inappropriate and if he hadn’t been checked, he might have escalated against me or another colleague.
“He never knew who reported him and at the time, he’d demanded to know. Luckily my boss protected my identity and no one had any more problems with him. I have no regrets and actually felt relief along with my colleagues when he left the company six months later.”
By Rachel Zupek Farrell, Special to CareerBuilder