should I tell my boss my coworker is working a second job during her hours for us? — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I wanted to get your thoughts on something that has bugged me for a while. My coworker has a second job as a photographer and does photoshoots during work hours when we are required to be in the office (only three days a week, mind you). I am aware that Covid created a new way of making money with side hustles and taking on a second remote job, but we are required to be in the office three days a week, and she will show up for a few hours one day, and then we won’t see her for two weeks. To add to that, she does not respond to emails or Teams messages, only doing the bare minimum.

I usually mind my own business, but I would also like to work remotely with no repercussions like my coworker is. Can I tattle? It’s not my nature to tattle, especially since all I’d get out of it is seeing her downfall, but I asked to work remotely in another state and was told no.

I wrote back and asked: “Does it impact your/your coworkers’ work at all? For example, does more work fall on you when she’s not there, or do you have to wait on responses from her that you don’t get while she’s doing her second job?”

Her work doesn’t fall on me, only my coworkers. I don’t work directly with her. But from what I’ve heard, yes, they (and our clients) wait on responses from her. I know leadership is aware as they’ve received complaints about her, but from what I know, haven’t done anything about it. I don’t think the complaints involve her second job, though. I’m not sure a lot of people know about the second job.

This is interesting because it’s not affecting you directly — meaning her work isn’t falling on you — but it’s understandably frustrating that you’d like to work remotely too and have been told no one’s allowed to, when right in front of you is an example of someone flouting that rule with no consequences.

If her absences were affecting you, the answer would be easy: talk to your manager and explain that your coworker is rarely available and you’ve having to cover her work because she’s not around. That keeps it about the impact on you.

I do wonder if it’s really true that it’s not affecting you at all. While you don’t have to pick up actual work for her, if she’s not responding to your messages, that’s a legitimate issue to raise. And you can encourage coworkers who are more affected to talk to your manager themselves.

Beyond that, should you report it if it really doesn’t impact your work? My stance differs depending on your relationship with your team, your boss, and your company. If you like your manager and company — if you’re treated well, you’re invested in the work, you care about seeing your team succeed and see this hurting them, and you know your manager puts real effort into creating the conditions where people can thrive — it could make sense to have a discreet word with your boss.

If those things aren’t true … well, I still understand the impulse but I’d lean away from acting on it. That’s not out of some idea that worker solidarity should keep you quiet (your coworker isn’t entitled to have colleagues cover for her when she’s claiming for herself a benefit you’ve been told no one can have) but simply because it’s not a mess you need to wade into.

I’m also curious about why your manager doesn’t already know what’s going on from her own observations (not the second job, but the lack of availability). I’m guessing she’s not a super effective manager if she doesn’t already realize she’s got a team member who’s AWOL for weeks at a time, not responding to people, and only doing the bare minimum. That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that she’ll handle it well if you do tip her off (and makes me worry the whole group could be penalized with less remote flexibility overall).

It’s also notable that your leadership has already received complaints about this coworker but that doesn’t seem to have resulted in any changes. What do you know about your leadership, in terms of how assertively they address problems? Do they address things forthrightly or allow problems to fester? (Even managers who are conflict-avoidant will often be moved to act if the volume of complaints goes up. But it’s useful to view this in the context of what you know about them in that regard.)

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