To Tattle or Not to Tattle: When to Tell the Boss and When to Keep it to Yourself

To tattle or not to tattle, that is the question my friends.

When you see a co-worker making errors, how do you handle it?  Ignore it? Bring it to their attention right away?  Sit on it?  Or do you tell the boss?

The answer is, it depends?  Here are a few questions to ask:

1. Is this urgent?
If someone is being rude to a customer, you may want to politely intervene.  Perhaps they’re having a bad day, and need some backup.  If your co-worker is about to show up to a client meeting drunk, it’s your job to make sure they don’t walk into the conference room.  Some situations will require your immediate action.  In other cases, it’s less urgent.  We often have annoying habits and don’t even realize it until someone points it out.  Grant people the space to grow, and help them as a peer.

2. What’s the impact?If you think your co-worker’s sloppy desk reflects an undisciplined attitude,  it’s probably not your business.  But if their lunch wrappers are spilling onto the service counter, or they ask you three times for the form they keep losing, it’s affecting your organization.  Try addressing it with them directly.  Rather than lecturing them on the consequences of their habits, ask them:  What impact do you think this has on our clients?  Or, how does this make you look when you repeat requests?  Don’t be condescending, be inquisitive.

3. What’s the frequency?We all have off days; well-intentioned people make mistakes. As one of my favorite clients says, “We’re a bank, no one is going to be bleed out on the table today.”Grant people some grace. It’s also important to recognize, people who never make mistakes, never take risks.When you make a mistake, it’s powerful for a peer (or your boss) to say, “Don’t worry about it, if you’re not making mistakes you’re not trying hard enough.”

4. Is it intentional?
A peer cheating on expense reports is very different from someone forgetting to turn in receipts. A co-worker who routinely ignores policy because they’re taking shortcuts is different from someone who is untrained.  Ask yourself, is this intentional?  Where is this on the scale of honest mistake to moral lapse in judgment?  If it is intentional, and you feel empowered to address it, do so directly.  You can say something like, “I noticed you writing down extra meals, what’s up with that?  Or, “why aren’t you following the safety rules?” Don’t immediately assume bad intent.

5. How would you want it handled?
Imagine yourself as the co-worker; what would you want your peer to do?  Now put yourself in your boss’s shoes.  If it’s high on impact scale or a severe moral lapse, the boss will want to know.  When you talk to your boss, treat it as reporting, not a complaint session.  Stick to the facts, and don’t make it about you.  Make it about the behavior. You don’t need to include every little detail, just enough for your boss to get the picture.  Reiterate that your primary concern is the success of your team or organization.  After the conversation, don’t keep badgering them about it, or ask if the person is going to get fired.

Once you’ve told your boss, move on, and don’t let it have a chilling effect on the rest of the day.