Office morale hits a low point

Q. I work in a small office with a team of seven people. It’s a relaxed atmosphere: no time clocks to punch, and self-reporting our vacation, personal, or sick time. Our boss treats us as professionals. She also is very understanding when someone needs to take time off for family or medical needs. Unfortunately, one particular co-worker does nothing but abuse these privileges. She has called in sick on average about 2-3 days per month. She arrives late on a daily basis. She takes long lunches (today it was 1 hour 45 minutes). She spends work hours on Facebook or other websites, on the phone chatting with friends, or doing other personal tasks all on the company dime. For years this has been the case, and we know that our boss is aware of her misconduct. Office morale hits a low point when the subject of this co-worker’s conduct comes up. We have contemplated chatting with the boss. But here’s the issue, if the boss knows about her misconduct and hasn’t corrected it in all these years, how can she possibly address the issue and not appear to be a poor manager to her own boss?

A. Procrastination causes more problems than it solves, and that’s definitely the case in your office. Most assuredly, the boss’s unwillingness to deal with the situation is problematic, but it’s still better to deal with it now, late as it is, than not to deal with it at all. The resulting morale problems and stress the situation is causing ultimately will affect productivity throughout your office. Unless something changes, there’s no reason to expect your boss to suddenly deal with the situation.
You can certainly try encouraging your boss to talk with the employee. As you and your co-workers have been at this office for a period of time, I recommend that two people who have developed a positive rapport with your boss meet with her. Focus on the effect that person’s behavior is having on office morale. Be prepared to back up all your statements with facts. “Maria, thank you for seeing us. We want to get your thoughts on a problem that we think is affecting office morale. While just Joyce and I are meeting with you, several others in the office share these concerns. As employees we appreciate that we are trusted to take responsibility for managing our work hours, personal time, and sick days. We’re not trying to make trouble for one person, but it appears that Marge is taking advantage of the trust given us. Her late arrivals, long lunches, and frequent sick days are having a negative effect on the team. Are you aware of it?” It’s important to ask that question to get her to reply specifically “yes” or “no”. From your conversation you’ll be able to gauge whether or not your boss will be galvanized to discuss the problem with Marge.
Good luck.

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