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‘Should I Tell My Boss About My Slacker Co-Worker?’

Photo-Illustration: The Cut

Dear Boss,

My co-worker, Gary, started at my company five months ago in the same role as me. We sit ten feet apart and can see each other’s every move without even trying. Since his first week, he has had punctuality issues — and I’m not talking being five or ten minutes late. He was an average of 40 minutes late every day on his first week at his new job. To really illustrate this, here’s how his day went today (and this is pretty typical): He arrived 45 minutes late, took an hour and 45 minute lunch (we get an hour), spent at least one hour on his cell phone, and then “stayed late” while pretending to work just so he could leave after me. (I swear I’m not crazy! We were the only two people left so it was very quiet and I could hear him not typing/clicking and could see him playing on his phone. I was still in the building when I saw him leave three minutes after me.)

In a different situation, I’d find this frustrating but still realize it’s none of my business. But what makes this an issue is that my boss, Kate, works remotely (she has probably been in the office with Gary five times total) and has been assigned to an extremely time-consuming project that’s leaving her little time for managing — a whole other issue on its own. Of course, every time she’s in the office, Gary becomes an exemplary employee, so she’s not seeing these behaviors herself. Up until Gary arrived, I thought very highly of Kate, and I think that if this other project wasn’t going on, things would be handled differently. 

So what I’m trying to figure out is, should I share with our boss what I’m seeing every day, or is it not my business? I’m positive she knows some of what’s going on, since she sees his work, which has been subpar at best, but I don’t think she knows all the details of what’s causing that low quality.

It might be worth noting that in Gary’s first week, Kate asked us what we thought of him as a new employee, and other coworkers and I brought some of these issues up. But of course they’ve only gotten worse as he’s gotten more comfortable. I should also say that, based on our office culture, I know this is not an arrangement they have where he just works different hours, and I know exactly what his workload is. 

This ends up affecting all of us one way or another because he’s not finishing his work on time or correctly, so the rest of us, including Kate, have to step in to help and there’s really no way to say no to that.

Ugh, Gary.

The standard advice you usually hear about slacker co-workers is, “If it’s not affecting your work, it’s none of your business and you shouldn’t say anything.” I do think that’s true when you’re talking about something relatively mild — like someone who’s 15 minutes late every day or spends too much time watching YouTube. But when something is a bigger deal and impacts your team’s work — even if it doesn’t impact your own work specifically — and you suspect your manager has no idea, there can be an argument for having a onetime, discreet conversation with your manager.

The point of doing that isn’t to get someone in trouble (and if that’s ever your motivation, that’s a sign that you need to step back and rethink). The point is to flag for your manager that there’s something significantly impeding your team’s work that she’d probably want to know about — and, importantly, which your team would benefit from her knowing about.

In your case, the problems with Gary are affecting your work directly. You’re having to step in and finish or fix his work for him. That gives you a lot more ground to stand on if you choose to raise this. It also gives you an easy framing when you talk to your manager: Your workload has increased because Gary isn’t working full hours, and you’re wondering if that can be addressed to limit the impact on you.

In many situations where a coworker is causing problems, I’d recommend speaking to the coworker about it first. Sometimes that will solve the problem, and if it doesn’t, it’s at least fairer to give the person that opportunity before you escalate things. In this case, I’m skeptical that talking to Gary will do much good; he seems like someone who Does Not Care. But if you want to give that a shot, you could say something like, “I don’t know if you know that Kate wants us here from 9–5 every day, and generally we’re only supposed to take an hour for lunch. I’m mentioning it because sometimes I’m asked to finish your work when you don’t have time to get to it, and I thought sticking to our normal hours could help.”

Keep in mind that if you have that conversation and nothing changes and then you talk to Kate, it’s likely to be obvious to Gary that you did. That doesn’t necessarily matter — he’s not entitled to his co-workers’ silence — but you’d want to factor that in when deciding whether or not to do it.

Ultimately, though, it’s fine to speak to Kate about what you’re seeing. One way to approach it would be to primarily address the impact Gary has been having on your workload, and mention his hours only in passing as part of that larger conversation.

Or you could just lay it out directly, framing it as, “I’m not sure if this is something I should flag for you, but because I’ve been needing to finish or fix Gary’s work, I wanted to mention that I think part of the problem could be the hours he’s working.” Then explain the specifics.

You could also say, “I know there might be more to this that I don’t know, or need to know, and I don’t intend to harp on it. But in case it’s something you didn’t know about and would want to know about, I thought I should mention it.” That’s useful to say in case Gary does have, say, a medical accommodation you don’t know about — but it’s also useful to demonstrate that this isn’t the opening salvo in an anti-Gary campaign, and that you understand that Kate may have more context than you do and ultimately it’s up to her whether to do anything.

And ideally you’d really mean that. Kate might not take action — she might disagree that it’s causing the problems with Gary’s work, or she might need to keep her attention elsewhere right now. There are all sorts of possibilities and, ultimately, that’s her call to make. Once you’ve brought it to her attention, you’ve got to leave it in her court to handle (or not handle).

But certainly if Gary continues to create extra work for you, that’s something you can press with Kate. That’s very much your business, and you wouldn’t be overstepping by raising that as a work problem you need help solving.

Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘Should I Tell My Boss About My Slacker Co-Worker?’