Should I report him to management?
Question: I work in a big company where employees are given a lot of autonomy. Micromanaging is frowned upon and, after lockdown, we were given a choice to work from home or come back to the office. Everyone works hard, but one of my colleagues just isn’t pulling his weight.
He joined the company 18 months ago and behaves as if it’s a part-time rather than full-time job. He postpones Zoom calls, files reports late and finishes early almost every day to collect his children from school.
I understand that it’s difficult for people who started new jobs during the pandemic, but I also think he’s exploiting the situation. I’m thinking of reporting him to management, but I don’t want to cause workplace drama. What should I do?
Answer: The pandemic has fundamentally altered organisational culture, but this isn’t to say the shift towards remote-first work has been seamless. Employees are still trying to find a sense of structure within their new working arrangements, while others are trying to balance their new-found autonomy with accountability.
It’s clear from your letter that you’re frustrated with your colleague, but you haven’t made clear the impact it’s having on your role. Is your colleague adding to your workload? Are you working longer hours? Has the overall quality of output decreased?
If your colleague is impacting your work negatively, strategic career consultant Rowan Manahan suggests addressing it head on.
“If his inconsistency is resulting in you missing deadlines, then that is an immediate reason to raise the problem,” he says. “I’d start by raising it with him. Give him three to four instances of when his postponements or non-availability have caused ripples of which he may not have been aware.”
It may sound confrontational, but this issue can be approached tactfully, he says. “Do this with a tone of, ‘I wanted to raise this quietly with you, rather than cause a big stir, but…’ and let’s see how he responds.”
The other option is to bring the matter to management, but Manahan urges you to consider employee expectations within your organisation first.
“For management, as long as he’s delivering against his expectations or metrics, they may not have a concern as to when in the day he gets his work done,” adds Manahan.
“If you do share a boss, and you’ve got nowhere with the quiet, direct approach with your colleague, you could raise the subject interrogatively: ‘How’s X doing? Is he delivering the goods? He seems to keep funny hours.’
“The other perspective you can have a look at is that of your colleague — how does he respond to your quiet approach? Is he serious about his work? You mentioned that ‘everyone works hard’, so there’s clearly a culture of seriousness and delivery in the organisation. Does he fit that mould?”
This could also be an opportunity to reflect on the dominant culture in your organisation.
Workplace coach and mediator William Corless of The Workplace Podcast says this issue is “essentially about clarity of expectations”, but perhaps your expectations aren’t in alignment with your colleagues’ or, indeed, with management?
Perhaps you have rigorous pre-pandemic expectations whereas your colleagues have relaxed into a way of work that suits their lifestyles, but which still gets the work done?
Another option, says Corless, is to bring the idea of a team alignment workshop (with an external facilitator) to the team before suggesting it to management. Corless has facilitated hybrid teams with such workshops and he says they can be very helpful.
“As part of that, it would be useful to understand what are people’s values and motivations, and be curious about how they are approaching their work. Often when I’m doing facilitation, I’ll create a work agreement or contract with the team,” he says. “When it’s co-created, the team decides how the team will work together.”
A team alignment workshop may also help to cultivate empathy and a deeper understanding of the challenges your coworkers are facing, especially those who joined the company during lockdown.
As Manahan says, we’re all learning in these new models of work and everyone has their own way of doing things. “People who thrive on face-to-face contact or who like to fit work into a defined segment of the week, strictly delineating between personal time and work time, may find it challenging to work with people who don’t share those core needs, rhythms or beliefs,” he says.
“Ultimately, it’s all about whether the work gets done or not and also if that work is completed in a streamlined and stress-minimising way.”
I also shared your dilemma with psychotherapist and corporate counsellor Thomas Larkin, who says he can appreciate how a colleague who isn’t pulling their weight can impact everyone else in the office. “It’s demotivating,” he says, “and it can be very passive-aggressive.”
At the same time, he thinks it’s important to leave this issue to management, especially in an organisation where, as you say, “micromanaging is frowned upon”. He advises you to “stay in your lane”, just as he wonders why you’re “so caught up in someone else’s work”.
Corless made a similar point. He says reporting the issue could undermine management and he encourages you to ask if it is in fact “your place to give feedback”. Like Larkin, he’s curious as to why “this is so much of a stressor or a trigger for you” and suggests conflict coaching as another solution.
“Obviously the person who wrote this letter is highly motivated,” he says, “but their colleague might share a different perspective on their approach to work.”
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