I am afraid it will have a negative impact on my position
Question: I get on very well with a new colleague in my workplace. We share a hobby so we have a lot in common and, over the past few months, we’ve met up outside of work and met each other’s partners and children.
He’s become a very good friend but, from a professional point of view, he’s just not cutting the mustard. He’s constantly late or off sick and he hasn’t once met his targets.
I’ve been with this business for a long time so I know what the directors and managers are planning and I’m aware that he is about to get dismissed.
I know it’s not my fault and there’s nothing I can do to change their decision. At the same time, I feel awful when he talks to me about a holiday he’s planning later this summer. I’m also aware of his home situation and their money worries. Part of me wants to tell him so he can manage his budget accordingly, but I know it will cause more trouble than it’s worth.
What should I do?
Byrne replies: When it comes to getting involved in other people’s business, the general rule, across all areas of life, is to stay in your own lane. People are rarely thanked for intruding in someone’s else’s affairs. Indeed, they often find themselves bearing the brunt of someone else’s mistake.
I shared your dilemma with three expert career consultants and they all, more or less, shared the same advice. They cautioned against disclosing this information to your co-worker, but they were also curious as to how you became privy to this information in the first place.
Workplace coach and mediator William Corless of The Workplace Podcast says you’re in a “no-win situation”. But he also notes that dismissals very rarely occur without warning. “If this person is being managed correctly, this [dismissal] will come as no surprise to them,” he says.
“If the person is not being managed correctly, and they are dismissed without due process taking place, the company might be liable and a case might be presented to the Workplace Relations Commission.”
You’re conflicted about whether or not to share this information with your colleague, but perhaps a frank conversation with management is more appropriate, says Corless. “The key issue is that this person is privy to information that the other person isn’t aware of… and the organisational behaviour principles of justice and fairness should apply.”
It comes down to one question, says Corless. “Are procedures being followed within the company, and if not, should you raise these concerns with management?
“Maybe this could be turned back at the company, with the question of, ‘Are you helping this person?’,” he adds. “At least then, behind the scenes, you can say, ‘I knew what was going on and I did my best to make sure they were being managed correctly’.”
Dublin-based career coach Ciara Spillane of Positive Prospects made a similar point, noting that disciplinary procedures must take in verbal and written warnings before a dismissal takes place. “The person in question should be given every opportunity to improve their performance and their timekeeping and whatever else is a factor here,” she says.
“It sounds like the letter writer doesn’t have all the information so they could put themselves or their colleague in a very awkward position by mentioning it.
“For all the letter writer knows, perhaps their colleague is aware that he is not meeting expectations and doesn’t want to disclose it. Maybe he is already speaking to the company about these things.”
This might seem unlikely considering the close relationship you have with your colleague, but remember, some people choose to keep very clear boundaries between their work lives and their private lives. And just because they let you into one, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll let you into the other.
Still, it seems like you’re experiencing a feeling of powerlessness in this situation. You want to intervene but you’re also aware that you can’t control what’s happening right in front of you. But as you weigh up your options, perhaps you’ve overlooked the middle ground, says Spillane. “Maybe the letter writer could help this person with his performance by coaching or mentoring him. They could say it in a way that is helpful and doesn’t give away any of the background.
“For example, they could say something like, ‘I see you didn’t hit X target last month. I myself had struggles with that initially. Would it be helpful if I talked you through some of the things that worked for me?’”
If you’re still thinking about sharing this information, it’s worth weighing up the impact it may have on your relationship with your colleague and, more to the point, your own career.
Career & Coaching Psychologist Sinéad Brady says: “Judgemental advice or advice that is very direct can always come between a friendship, both personally and professionally.”
She also advises against “putting your professional credibility on the line”, especially if you’re in a more senior position to your colleague. “It’s a trust issue with your peers, your superiors and colleagues,” she says, “and to breach that trust has high professional ramifications for you.
“Trust is something that has a very high currency in the workplace,” she continues. “It’s your reputation, it’s your brand and it also has a massive amount to do with your ability to work on teams, so breaching trust of information that you have become privy to is something you need to think long and hard about. Once you’ve crossed that line, it’s very hard to repair.”
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