How To Deal With Co-workers Who Develop Bad Habits


After a coworker let me know that another coworker had a domestic violence restraining order filed against him, I looked the man up on Court View. What I learned worried me and I decided I needed to look up everyone I worked with and see what was in their backgrounds.

I learned a lot and some of what I found made me uneasy. I don’t know what to do now.  I want to ask several of them questions but I’m afraid that they’ll ask me why I’m asking the questions. Is there a discrete way to learn what I need to without directly asking?


If you have a legitimate interest in someone’s background, for example if you fear a coworker and for that reason check out his background and learn he has assault charges pending against him, you can ask HR for protection. You can’t, however, ask HR or anyone else to discuss your coworkers’ personal stories with you. When you move beyond looking at public posts into further probing, it seems as invasive as following up after reading a private letter you found on a coworker’s desk. After reading the letter, you can’t then ask questions based on what you’ve read, as in “how come your brother wrote you and asked you to loan him money?” when the real question is “how is this any of your business?”


Our team is so small that we don’t have our own administrative person, but instead share a staff member, Wendy, with three other departments. Wendy’s great. She’s smart, organized and good with customers and I know she hopes for a promotion and a raise.

She started out strong and several of us thought she’d be a rock star and talked among ourselves about developing her so she could get a promotion, but then she started to slough off.  She let herself pick up poor work habits from others in our company. Many of the lower-level staff sign in to work and spend the first twenty minutes of their work day heating up breakfast in the microwave or getting a coffee drink or something to eat from the building’s cafe. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if it happened once in a while, but for some of these employees, it’s their every day routine.

When the office manager asked me how Wendy was doing, I told her the truth about the time waste and now feel guilty about it because I’ve never said anything to Wendy. But I’m not Wendy’s supervisor and it’s not really my place.  Should I talk with Wendy?


You don’t need to be a supervisor to offer helpful feedback to a coworker whose behaviors are getting in the way of receiving a raise or promotion. We all need a small amount of downtime and the freedom to grab a cup of coffee or heat something in the microwave. At the same time, when it’s a regular part of our routine and stretches beyond five or ten minutes, it doesn’t put us in the “here’s someone who excels” and deserves a promotion limelight.

You need to do two things. First, make sure you’ve let the office manager know what Wendy’s doing right. If you’ve only mentioned the time waste and didn’t balance it with how appreciative you are about how Wendy handles customers and keeps things organized, you haven’t been fair.

Further, you mentioned that Wendy started out strong. She may have expected her positive attributes to have already secured a raise or promotion and when they didn’t, she felt her hard work didn’t matter because it wasn’t rewarded. While that was short-sighted thinking, as it can take time for upper management to make decisions concerning promotions and raises, Wendy may have decided, “if others take it easier in the morning, I can too.”

Second, if you can do it without sounding like an “office mom” giving a lecture, offer Wendy career advice. Praise her for what she does right and let her know that you and others initially thought she was a rock star. Then, suggest she rein in her morning downtime.



© 2019, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and founded The Growth Company, an Avitus company and now serves as Regional Director of Training & Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group company.  Send your questions to her at,, follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10 or via

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