A reader writes:
How do you express concerns about a slacking co-worker to your boss without coming out sounding like a jerk? There is a co-worker in our office who can work hard when they want to, but also likes to spend quite a bit of time visiting with other employees. This same person expects others on the team to "offer" to help with work not finished. In trying to gently point out that if less time was spent visiting and more time working, then maybe help wouldn't need to be offered, the silent treatment is given and makes for an uncomfortable work environment. This person is also extremely critical of what is perceived as others' mistakes or not following through on an issue, and is almost always guilty of the same thing. Now this person wants to re-arrange some of the work assignments so their work load will be lightened, but I have a problem with that when if more time was spent working and less time visiting there wouldn't be a need to re-arrange.
First, excellent job in not giving away the slacker's gender. However, for ease of discussion, I'm going to decide he's male and refer to him as such. No slight intended to the men.
Okay, I'm going to break this down into two questions: how to deal with his attempt to push his work onto you, and how/whether to talk to your manager about him.
1. In dealing with his attempt to get others to help him finish his work because he wasted time goofing off, just politely refuse. Be nice about it and don't try to teach him a lesson by explaining that he created his own situation, but simply don't let him pressure you into doing it. Sample refusals: "I'm sorry but I'm slammed with deadlines." "Wish I could help but I've got my hands full." And so forth. By not helping him cover up the results of his slacking, you'll make it easier for your manager to spot what's going on.
And along similar lines, who are these employees the slacker is spending so much time visiting with? If they have the same objections you do, can you get them to stop enabling him? Ideally, when he stops by to chat, they'd be too busy to talk.
2. On the question of how to talk to your boss: Some of this depends on your relationship with your boss and what she's like. (Yes, I'm assigning genders at random.) If you have a good relationship with her and she's known to value directness over protocol, I'd just tell her straight out: "Hey, I'm not sure if it's appropriate to raise this, but I'm concerned about how often Bob tries to get me to take on his work. I'm happy to help when it's needed, but I see him chronically spending an enormous amount of time socializing rather than working, and I feel like he wouldn't need my help if he focused on work more. Can you give me advice about how to handle this?"
Notice that this is couched in terms of asking for her advice on how you should handle it, rather than you dumping it in her lap to handle. If she's a good boss, she's going to handle it herself anyway -- hopefully by paying more attention to how Bob is spending his time and addressing it with him if she sees that there's an issue. But by asking her advice, you make it less about "tattling" and more about seeking her guidance.
Of course, there's still an element of tattling in it. But tattling shouldn't always get a bad rap -- there are some things you should tell your manager about. Even the most perceptive manager won't see everything that goes on, and when someone is taking advantage of that, it's nice to be clued in.
Not every manager agrees with me on this, but personally, I appreciate it when a good employee gives me a discreet heads-up about something I might not have known about on my own. Of course, they need to realize that my take on it might differ from theirs, but as long as they're okay with that, I'm always grateful to be filled in on something that might be a problem.
Good luck, and please let us know how it goes.