What Counts as Tattling and Complaining?
I started my first real job about a year ago and have a good rapport with my coworkers (as is necessary when working in a collaborative work environment). However, there is one, we’ll call him “Fred,” who is causing me some stress. Fred will frequently slam his keyboard into his desk, loudly curse, and generally disrupt the workplace environment. I never feel personally threatened, but it is disruptive and unprofessional. Fred and another coworker started dating last year, which led to a good amount of office drama, and their subsequent breakup (police were involved), led to more office drama that I cannot even begin to recount while keeping this brief.
Fred has been reported to HR several times, but most recently he was sent home because of a fight with his ex-girlfriend/coworker. This led to a meeting with HR and he may or may not be back tomorrow, depending on their decision. In the meantime, our boss has told us that if at any time we feel that our work environment is not safe, secure, professional, or positive, we are more than welcome to go talk to him and voice our concerns. My main question now is, in the event that Fred returns to the office, what is the difference between complaining about Fred’s workplace habits (again, I never feel threatened) and keeping our boss informed about the workplace environment? Where is that line drawn? I worry that if I go talk to our boss about him (or any other concerns I may have), that I will be seen as a complainer and a tattler. Can you help me figure out that line?
This is a really good question and I have often wondered where the line between tattling/complaining and open communication lies. Over time, I’ve come to define complaining and tattling in the workplace as:
- Complaining: expressing negativity in an unproductive manner
- Tattling: escalating a situation to a higher up when unnecessary
For your situation specifically, keeping your boss informed about incidents falls under open communication. You may feel safe, but the behaviors you mention are definitely not professional, positive, or conducive to a productive team environment. I would consider it crossing the line to complaining if you mention a single incident more than once or pester your boss about what is being done about the situation. I’m not sure tattling applies at all since your boss specifically asked for information.
You express concern that you might be seen as a complainer. Do you worry that your boss, Fred, or your peers will think this? From your boss’s perspective, he has already asked for that specific feedback—unless he is also giving mixed signals, it sounds like he would appreciate your input. In order for your boss to do what he can to keep the atmosphere professional and collaborative, he needs your help to support making that decision. Fred, of course, would view this negatively but I think it is fair to say you can discount his opinion. Perhaps the only one who might judge you negatively for this would be a peer—but I suspect your conversation with your boss would remain confidential if you do it one-on-one and request it to stay private.
This was my answer to the April reader question on the Intuit QuickBase Blog. To see the other three experts’ answers, please view the original post at 360 Answers: Am I Being a Tattle?