I’m caught in the crossfire of my coworkers’ petty complaints about our company — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

The company that I work for has made a few changes recently, prompting disgruntlement from coworkers in my four-person department. We are all equal in seniority and the HR manager doubles as our manager.

Previously our department was left to its own devices, resulting in a slack approach to work from my three colleagues. However, over the last few months, a number of changes have been introduced with a trend towards increased monitoring of our output.

These changes are not too much of a concern to me, as I already work the correct hours and give my full effort during the work day, and HR has mentioned that I am the quickest to reply to queries from other departments. However, the changes have not gone down well with the other three in the department, who spend a fair amount of their day watching Youtube, catching up on TV, socializing, and complaining about the workload or the company.

As part of the changes, we were each required to complete a spreadsheet detailing how long each task on our portfolio took and submit this to HR. After two of my colleagues left a substantial amount of hours unaccounted for, despite claiming overtime, they were summoned to HR. One of the two, Charlotte, has been frantically searching for additional tasks to add to her portfolio, which included transferring a small number of tasks from my own portfolio without asking my permission (which is the standard practice). I have notified HR that this transfer was involuntary, as I don’t want them to think I am offloading work to colleagues when I have no need to. However, I have not told HR anything about Charlotte’s motives. I also emailed Charlotte (who works from home) telling her to ask before reallocating tasks to herself in future, prompting her to call a coworker and complain that I was being unreasonable.

The other colleague summoned by HR, Amanda, has made no such effort and I suspect is job hunting. The rest of us noticed while covering Amanda’s work during her vacation that she is behind on her work and often completes tasks after the deadline.

As part of a protest against the changes, my three colleagues have decided to boycott staff events, including a company-wide summer banquet in June. I intend to attend the banquet and have accepted the invite. However, I have been trying to tread a line between my desire not to join the boycott, while at the same time not being ostracized from my three coworkers.

I would be grateful for your advice on how to handle the banquet and also what I should do if Charlotte helps herself to any more of my own task portfolio going forwards.

If you’re trying to stay out of it, the best thing you can do is to just project detachment and a bit of boredom with it all. The vibe you want is that you’re not interested in getting sucked into anyone’s battles on either side and you’re just there to do your job. You’re not urging your coworkers to clean up their acts, but you’re also not joining them in their outrage. You’re just … doing your job without a ton of emotional investment either way.

You can’t make them not be annoyed by that. They might be! But you won’t be giving them a lot to work with.

If they ask why you’re going to the banquet or anything else where they’re trying to get you to join them in their (nonsensical) fight with the company, just be very mild and very boring:

*”Eh, I’m not that bothered by it.”
* “I’m not really invested in any of it. I come to work, I do my job, and I try not to get bothered by anything.”
* “I don’t know, I think the banquet could be fun. They won’t really care if we go or not.”
* “I’m not that bothered by the changes.”

This won’t make you their favorite person, but it’s unlikely to get you ostracized. And if it does … well, you’re working with loons but at least it sounds like they might not last much longer there. And who knows, they might even respect your commitment to not caring.

If Charlotte helps yourself to more items from your portfolio in the future, just be matter-of-fact and direct: “I’ve got X and Y in my portfolio and have them covered. Like I said before, please don’t take work from my portfolio.” If she still keeps doing it after that, you probably need to escalate it to your manager (but you can use the same mild, kind of detached approach there — you’re not outraged, you just need Charlotte to stop).

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