Co-Worker Conundrum: ‘I’m Being Asked To Spy On Another Employee’

spying in the officeTrouble in the office? The Grindstone is here to help. Write in with your workplace drama and we’ll try to help you sort through the office politics and keep moving up the corporate ladder.

This week’s problem comes from one of our wonderful readers, Debbie. She works with a boss who has difficult relationships with every employee, except one. With one employee, this boss seems to be the best of friends. Upper management has asked Debbie to work closely with these two ladies, mostly because they are worried that this friendship is impeding their performance at work. They would like Debbie to help them determine if the friendship is unprofessional. Obviously, this whole mess puts Debbie right in the middle of a very sticky situation.

In general, getting caught between your direct supervisor and their problems with upper management is dangerous. As the lowest man on the totem pole, it’s too easy to become the scapegoat if the two bosses decide to patch things up.

However, I’m not saying that Debbie can turn down the request to check in on her boss. First of all, the request obviously shows that upper management trusts you to be fair and discreet. This can be a huge asset, especially if your supervisor gets fired and suddenly there’s a position available. Second of all, if your boss is already on her way out and management is just looking for a little proof, you might not be in too much danger. With a boss that you don’t particularly enjoy, it would be pretty impossible to turn down the chance to dig some dirt.

So, here’s a few sneaky tips to help you appease upper management without wrecking your own credibility should your boss and their friend survive the inquiry.

  • Only report the facts. The most important tip of all might as well come first. Don’t report on rumors or gossip. Do not share your own personal opinion about your boss or make character attacks. Let the managers know about actions that you witnessed. If your boss covered for their friend when they messed up. If the boss’s favorite suddenly knows personnel information that they shouldn’t. This is the information to pass along, but only if you are completely positive.
  • No gossiping! Management is putting their trust in you and it would very unwise to make them regret that decision. Gossip travels around an office faster than a high school cafeteria, so don’t assume that just mentioning in to a couple people won’t be a big deal. And don’t convince yourself that you’re just talking to others about it “to gather information.” Don’t talk about it until upper management tells you that you can. You need to keep your boss’s trust.
  • Continue to be respectful. Your immediate supervisor hasn’t stopped being your boss yet. You cannot act rude or superior to them and assume that upper management will support you in those actions. Even if you know this person is on their way, there’s no reason to be disrespectful to them. And it might just lose you any goodwill you obtained by being trustworthy.
  • Give the good with the bad. Consider yourself a journalist. You’re obligated to report the truth, even if it doesn’t align with the story you want to tell. You cannot pick and choose which facts to share so that it fits your own goals. Something like that could easily come back and bite you in the butt. Be fair.
(Photo: Thinkstock)
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