How Can I Remain Neutral in the Cold War Between My Supervisor and Co-worker?

Question:

My co-worker, “Aly,” texts on her cellphone held under her desk, surfs the Internet, fakes going to the bathroom so she can make personal calls from a corner in the hallway and sneaks out of work early.

Our supervisor suspects some of this. Several times a day, she walks by Aly’s desk, trying to catch her in the act. She never catches Aly surfing because Aly hears her approach and maximizes her work screen.

I’d like to tell our supervisor to sit at Aly’s desk and minimize what’s on the desktop. If she did, she’d see Aly’s other screens; they’re right there at the bottom. I feel sorry for her because she’s so naïve and Aly plays her. When she catches Aly texting, she asks with mild reproof, “Is that a work text?” Aly gives a wounded puppy look, saying, “It was only for a minute.” Then our supervisor says, “Please put your cell away” and Aly rolls her eyes at me and pouts for the rest of the day.

Aly despises our supervisor and calls her the b-word and vents to me about her. The supervisor isn’t any better. Several times a week she asks, “What time did Aly get here in the morning?” I always say, “I don’t know,” because I don’t want to tattle.

Even though Aly never arrives on time, she seems to have boss-radar, and manages to dash in just before our supervisor arrives. Sometimes, though, our supervisor arrives first and looks at Aly’s desk and asks, “Is she here yet?” I answer, “I don’t know.” Since Aly knows what our supervisor’s car looks like, if she arrives after our supervisor she darts into the washroom, leaves her coat there, and saunters in with a cup of coffee as if she’s been here all along.

This morning our supervisor met with me. She said she didn’t have any “integrity” issues with my coworker but wanted me to log Aly’s arrival times and slip them to her without letting Aly know I was doing so.

I want to get out of the middle, I’ve been suggesting they read your blog, so maybe they’ll read what I wrote and realize I’m done.

Answer:

When you work for a supervisor and a co-worker mired in a game of cat and mouse, you have two choices. You can take a side or refuse to let either person use you.

Aly hopes you’ll ally with her against your “wicked” supervisor. You somewhat have by not outing Aly’s late arrivals and not protesting her immature name-calling and eye-rolling. Further, when she doesn’t handle her workload, what she shirks slides onto your plate.

Your supervisor seems passive-aggressive and hopes you’ll partner with her and become her informant.

I don’t blame you for not wanting to choose either side; however, you’ve chosen to act passively, just like each of them. This leaves all three of you caught in dysfunctional work environment.

If you want to be done, step outside this three-way dance by refusing to play the sidekick role these two offer you.

Call game over. Let your coworker know you won’t cover for her tomorrow. If she asks, “What’s up?” say you’re uncomfortable with situation and tired of lying.

Next, reconnect with your supervisor and let her know you’ll record Aly’s arrival times, but if Aly asks you whether or not you’re doing so, you’ll say yes.

You risk things getting worse, but they may also get better. You won’t feel you’re an unwilling participant in a toxic drama. Your honesty may hold a mirror up to both your supervisor and Aly.

If you get them to read this blog, here’s what I’d like to them.

Aly, you justifying your behavior, but what does it gain you? A year from now what will you have earned from your job other than a paycheck?

Supervisor, while you say you don’t have integrity issues with Aly, you apparently do. You need to step up to the plate and not ask your employee to do your job. Instead, pull Aly into your office and let her know she needs to change, starting with arriving on time, emailing you to let you know she’s arrived, and putting her cellphone away for good during work hours.

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at lynnewriter10@gmail.com, visit her @ www.communicationworks.net or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

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5 thoughts on “How Can I Remain Neutral in the Cold War Between My Supervisor and Co-worker?

  1. This is a very interesting look at a bystander role.

    Making people responsible for their own choices is always excellent, as in holding the bystander responsible for her own passivity.

    I would hold her responsible for listening to Aly vent about the supervisor. By listening, the bystander gives Aly permission to vent about her. The bystander could stop listening in a variety of ways. I once stopped a man from using what I call ‘bad gossip’ about a business owner simply by saying I didn’t want to hear any of it. The bystander could add, “I don’t want to hear any of it because I’m focusing on my work.”

    The bystander could also ask, “Do you realize you are inviting me to talk about you in the same way?”

    The bystander has a number of choices. She’s responsible for any choice she makes.

    1. Paula, great comeback — “I don’t want to hear any of it because I’m focused on my work.” And you’re right, she’s responsible for her choices.

  2. Lynne–these are courageous and ethical steps for the question-poser to take. They will take energy and consistency and may be wearing, but they sould like a good way to approach this. There are too many people like the constant social media updater who are in the workplace–and they are of all ages and “work generations.”

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