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Q. I recently discovered that my supervisor is behaving inappropriately. “Gina” often has to attend meetings outside the office, so she is frequently gone for long periods of time. Sometimes, when she is supposed to be at a meeting, Gina goes shopping instead or returns home for several hours.

Now I’m trying to decide whether I should report Gina’s misconduct to her boss or human resources. Although I like Gina personally and don’t want to be a tattletale, I believe this is actually a form of theft. Should I say something or just let it go?

A. Informing on the boss is always a risky proposition. But if you have solid evidence that Gina misrepresents her whereabouts and uses paid time for personal business, then you have a valid reason to do so. However, you should carefully assess the hazards before taking such a serious step.

Talking with human resources would probably be a safer bet, since upper managers may be tempted to “protect their own” by suppressing negative news. A competent HR manager is less likely to dismiss your concerns and more likely to launch an objective investigation.

If you do go to human resources, ask for explicit assurances that your identity will be protected. While this might seem like a logical assumption, some HR folks are not as strict about confidentiality as they should be. If you have any qualms about their trustworthiness, keep your information to yourself.

Should you choose to make this report, please understand that any subsequent investigation will be confidential. So if your supervisor is eventually disciplined for cheating, odds are that you will never know.

Q. One of my co-workers is a chronic complainer. “Matt” gripes about the thermostat setting, the building layout, the meetings we attend, the assignments he receives, and the fact that no one appreciates him. His constant whining drives me absolutely nuts. However, I’m afraid to say anything about it, because Matt is very easily offended. Do you have any suggestions?

A. If you are actually listening to this litany of grievances, then you have become part of the problem. Since it takes two to have a conversation, the solution is to simply withdraw your participation. This does not require you to be rude or critical, but you will need to be firmly assertive. Here are a few examples.

At work, productivity always trumps casual conversation: “Matt, I hate to interrupt, but I really need to get back to finishing my report.” During breaks or lunch, introducing a new topic can help to shift the focus: “I’m sorry you’re so unhappy about the staff meeting. By the way, you won’t believe what happened at my son’s ballgame last night.”

But if all else fails, simply use the direct approach: “I can tell you feel strongly about this, but I’m afraid I don’t agree, so I’d rather not spend time talking about it.” The bottom line is that you can’t control Matt’s choice of topics, but you can decide whether you want to listen.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

www.yourofficecoach.com

Twitter: @officecoach

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