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The Boss brings the office snitch soda pop

soda pop photo-illustration franke james using licensed one istockphoto can as base ŠiStockphoto.com/Kirsty Pargeter

Dear Office-Politics,

I work in a CPA office. There are two partners and three employees. The secretary is what I call an “office snitch”. She bad-mouths everyone. Plays both bosses against the other. Has become too close to the male boss and uses it to her advantage. For example, he will go run her errands because she doesn’t want to leave the office. He brings soda pop and shares them with her, but has never offered them to others in the office.

I tried to talk to him about this once and he insinuated that we were perhaps “jealous’ of the fact they had become friends!!! I just feel that a boss is not supposed to become “friends” with employees and certainly that one employee should not be treated better than others.

The problem I have is in knowing that both bosses know exactly what she is doing, but they use it to their advantage by using her to keep them informed as to what the other is doing. It is such an unprofessional environment. It is hard for me to put on blinders and “just do my job”.

What can I do, if anything?

Bothered by Bad-Mouthing

jennifer glueck bezoza
Dear Bothered by Bad-Mouthing,

I understand your frustration working in a small office with a secretary who “bad mouths everyone” and “plays the (two) bosses against each other” for personal interest. I also sense your irritation with the secretary’s friendship with the male partner, which earns her “perks” and special treatment.

While it is your perspective that she receives special treatment through manipulative means, I would ask that you objectively examine the stakes of her manipulation. What does she really gain from her friendly interactions with the male partner? A shared soda pop? Her mail dropped at the Post Office? Satisfaction from her rapport with this partner?

Rewarded with extravagant gifts or a can of soda pop?

I imagine her pay is still the lowest on the scale; you do not report that she has been given the largest corner office with a window or that she receives a daily car service to and from work. I also don’t hear you saying that the secretary has been relieved of her administrative responsibilities or that you are being asked to step in and do parts of her job. She is still expected fulfill her role as a secretary at the end of the day.

Small Favors and Courtesies Make Work Pleasant

So, I ask in the greater picture of life and work, how significant is it if one of the partners does a small errand on her behalf? Or if the partners gain useful information through this individual? Is this situation really worth your time and energy?

You are equally entitled to build a personal relationship with the two partners in the office, and to do so with respectful goodwill in mind. This brings me to two other underlying assumptions apparent in your letter. It seems that you do not feel comfortable with the idea that colleagues, particularly those at different levels in the organizational chain, could be friends. You also do not sound comfortable with the practice of managers treating employees differently.

There is nothing wrong with friendship at work, and sophisticated managers do adjust their communication style and set of rewards to meet individuals’ unique personalities, needs, goals and abilities. In fact, both these practices – work friendships and employee differentiation – are absolutely encouraged by this author.

Close friends in the workplace may be key to good performance

The Gallup organization has found consistent correlations between individuals’ engagement at work and their maintaining a close friend in the workplace. Also, global engagement research from Towers Perrin in recent years demonstrates that a critical requirement for employees feeling connected to and engaged in their jobs and organizations is whether their managers take a personal interest in them as individuals.

So, to get to your key question of “what can (you) do, if anything,” I think reframing the way you look at work friendship and also the role of managers would be instrumental in you having a different outlook on your work environment and also your own relationships with your colleagues at work.

I hope you find this helpful and thank you for writing Office Politics.

Best wishes,

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, MA

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a BA in psychology and humanities from Stanford University. She currently works in Organizational Development for the largest not-for-profit home health organization in the country where she focuses on succession planning, leadership development and coaching. Previously, she worked for GE Commercial Finance and HR consultant, Towers Perrin.

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