Chances are you have a few co-workers who get on your nerves. While it's easy to head straight to human resources when it's someone you don't like who's slacking off, choosing how you approach the same situation with a friend is a lot more difficult. Here are a few ideas for how to approach a situation where you need to complain but don't want to get someone in trouble.
Depending on the type of business you're in, a complaint can lead to a slap on the wrist, a written note or even a firing. Because of this, you need to be very careful with how you handle the co-workers you actually like. Heading straight to a manager is a good way to blow things out of proportion. If you can, it's best to start with a direct conversation before escalating it. I polled a few former bosses and human resources managers to find their solutions. Here are a few ideas for dealing with issues in ways that won't get your co-workers permanently canned.
Approach The Co-Worker Yourself
If it's a relatively minor complaint, say, your co-worker is always 10 minutes late and that means you take your break 10 minutes late every day, then it's usually best to approach them yourself if you're comfortable doing so. Doing it tactfully can be hard, but here are a few ideas.
The I Don't Care, But They Do Method
One of the easiest ways to complain about a co-worker's behaviour is to be the friend that you are. As a co-worker they're not your responsibility, but that doesn't mean you want to see them get fired for something stupid. When they're doing something they're not supposed to, take them aside and mention they're breaking a rule. If they're late everyday, mention that the boss is bound to notice at some point. If they're eating loudly at their desk, point out that food is not technically allowed.
This is a simple way to get a minor complaint across without putting yourself in the spotlight. It's a little backhanded, but it's nicer than pretending you're the boss.
The 'You're Encroaching Our Friendship' Method
If you don't mind being a little needy you can always point out to your co-worker that they're putting an unnecessary stress on your friendship. To return to the lateness issue, point out simple facts like, "I'm sick of covering for you", or "You're making my break time later and I'm hungry. Could you please try to be here on time?" It's selfish, but that's part of the reason why it's effective. You can also word it like a favour if you're uncomfortable with the direct approach. For instance, in the same lateness example, try something like, "I get grumpy when I don't eat, is there any chance you can get here at 9?" This switches the conversation away from a critique and into a favour, which keeps them from going on the defensive.
If you're struggling for a way to form your approach, we've covered the basics for having an uncomfortable conversation with a co-worker before. It's a good place to start with issues you don't want to escalate to a boss. Photo by star5112.
Talk to the Least-Powerful Manager Above Them
Going directly to a human resources department is a sure way to guarantee your co-worker will get in some kind of trouble. Even heading for a manager can be trouble. If you can, hit up your co-worker's direct supervisor with your complaint. This ensures the problem won't escalate too far. If you do have to hit up an upper level manager, make sure your complaints are valid and you stress that the co-worker's performance is usually solid, but lacks in one certain area.
The Direct but Praising Method
If you absolutely have to talk with a boss or supervisor, then make sure you're putting as much praise as possible in the same conversation. Make sure you spend some time stressing how they always get their reports in on time before you mention the fact those same reports are always done incorrectly. If you've spent some time helping them personally (and you should do that before heading to the boss, if you can), then mention you tried to work it out, but there must be another issue causing the problem. Try and shift the complaint away from a problem with the person and to something else, like poor training or a badly planned schedule.
This helps create the slap-on-the-wrist scenario with a benefit of getting training for your co-worker. Hopefully, they can recover, get to work and move on without ever knowing there was a complaint about them.
The Anonymous Method
The anonymous method is great for trying to get minor complaints under control. When you talk to your boss suggest that someone is doing some horrifying thing, but you're not aware who. This trick works when you have a co-worker who's always stealing other people's lunches or yelling at customers all the time. For example, if you work in a customer service job, say that someone complained that an employee was too busy talking on their phone to take an order. The next thing you know, a note will probably pop up reminding people not to use phones on the clock.
The flip side is to make a suggestion for a new rule or policy. This turns you from a complainer into a problem solver, and no boss on the planet is going to be upset when you go to them with a solution. Obviously this only works with a small set of complaints, but it's a method to consider if you can. It's one of the only sure-fire ways to guarantee the complaint gets solved and doesn't get your co-worker in trouble. Just make sure it's a rule you can also follow.
As always, it's important to remember that complaining isn't always the answer. If an issue isn't serious, a good talk should work things out without resorting to bosses or formal letters. If it's an issue that doesn't really affect you, don't bother with it. Have you ever felt the need to complain about a co-worker you liked, but were worried they'd get in a lot of trouble if you did? Share your experiences in the comments.