When the boss is away, the mice play

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Office Politics,Workplace Communication

What should you do about a co-worker who takes advantage of a boss-less office? One reader posed the question on our Admin Pro Forum recently. She describes the situation this way:

“My boss’s main office is in Massachusetts, but she also manages my two-person office in New York remotely. My co-worker walks into the office late, but leaves on time every single day. Plus, she stops working 10 to 15 minutes early to use the restroom, shut down her computer and pack up. Further, she constantly makes personal calls on the office phone, which we share! How do I bring this to my boss’s attention without appearing like a troublemaker?”

What torture. If you’ve ever been bothered by a slack co-worker, you can relate. It’s hard to ignore bad behavior.

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Telling your boss may seem the best way to bring the problem to light. But it’s the very thing that could make the problem worse. If she’s going to trust the office to run smoothly on its own, she also needs to trust that her employees are capable of working out problems.

“You might want to look at this as an opportunity to gain favor with your boss,” says Dawn Rosenberg McKay, the career-planning expert from About.com. “If you make this relationship work, your boss will be thankful.”

Ideas for addressing a co-worker’s slacker behavior:

Double-check your assumptions. Before you launch into any talks with her, make sure you haven’t exaggerated her offenses in your mind. Observe objectively: Does she arrive late every day, or does it simply seem that way?

Make sure you can describe her behavior without generalization or exaggeration, or you risk undermining your credibility.

Focus on the areas where her bad behavior directly impacts your work. For example, using the office phone for personal calls could block incoming calls or put the burden of answering incoming calls entirely on you. Track her phone usage for several days, then raise the issue.

Example: “Jane, for the past week, you’ve tied up the office phone on personal calls an average of one hour a day. Can I count on you to make personal calls on your cell phone in the future?”
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Flatter her. What’s she good at? Where could she be making more of a contribution? If you can think of her behavior as a challenge you want to take on, rather than as something that’s driving you nuts, you may come up with some creative ideas.

Tip: Next time you speak with your boss, suggest a “team project” that you and your co-worker could take on. Tap into your co-worker’s skills and see if you can spur her to rise to a new challenge.

Say, “You seem so talented at ___, I think it would be helpful if you could handle this part of the project.”

Who knows? Maybe she’s just bored and needs a challenge. Worst case, she fails on delivering her part of the project, which your boss will certainly notice.
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