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Office Tattletales

July 8, 2011

As a kid, one of the worst things you could be called was a tattletale. It meant you went running to mom/dad, the teacher, the priest or Mrs. Kerbupple next door, and snitched on another kid.  You betrayed the code of kid-dom by betraying secrets or ‘telling on’ others.

I guess tattling is just one of those stages all children go through – trying to keep order in their world, right a wrong (as perceived in an 8 year old brain) or to get attention.  And most kids outgrow this as they age; sometimes going to the other extreme as a teenager (“no snitching!”) but then ultimately settling back in the middle of the spectrum – and having the ability to discern WHEN it’s appropriate to share information.

But lo and behold – there are some adults who never move past the tattletale stage.  And thus, I present to you – the Office Tattletale (OT):

The Cry Baby – like the kid who throws a tantrum when his piece of cake is the smallest slice, this OT likes to claim that everything is unfair.   Trixie snuck out and took a long lunch today! Gary ordered extra fancy pens from the office supply catalog! Bobby spends a bunch of his downtime playing Angry Birds! The injustice! 

The Ass Kisser  – just like Sally always made sure to sit in the front row in the grade school classroom, this OT wants to be front and center.  Grown-up Sally believes she’s the ONLY one who can tell it like it is to the boss and has christened herself the eyes-and-ears of the management team.  With the diligence of a modern day Jessica Fletcher, she ferrets out information, takes copious notes, and schedules meetings with her manager so she can pass on ‘what’s really going on in the department.’

The Obstacle Remover – this OT has truly subversive motives and they often have all the subtlety of a Hummer Limo (one last shout out to #SHRM11).  Joe wants that next big promotion and believes that the only thing that stands in his way is competition with Kristy, so he’ll do all he can to undermine her chances.  He’ll watch her every activity and become her friend so he can probe for (and then use) personal information about her family life.  He’ll feel bad about doing it of course, but believes he has no choice but to send a company-wide email explaining that the next product launch has been delayed because Kristy ran into some delays.  Yeah.

The Sadist – let’s face it – there are just some people who delight in the misfortunes of others.  This tattletale derives secret pleasure from spreading news, rumors and innuendos that belittle her peers and therefore, in her mind, elevate her own status. Schadenfreude anyone?


So yeah – we all recognize these folks.  I’m pretty sure I’ve worked with every one of them over the years. They present a challenge for co-workers, managers and HR folks alike and are just a colossal waste of time and energy for all involved.

Now it can be a challenge in the workplace to make it OK for people to pass on the right information.  Obviously creating a climate where that’s expected and appreciated is all part of the organization’s cultural landscape.  Heck – there may even be positive connotations to being an OT… we want employees to pass on information/observations regarding incidents of harassment, discriminatory treatment or even potential violence in the workplace.  That’s when it’s right and necessary to tattle.

Maybe, as with most things, we just need a better word? 

And I’m not sure that whistle-blower quite cuts it.

image courtesy of zazzle

2 Comments leave one →
  1. harrisr708 permalink
    July 8, 2011 2:24 pm

    I don’t think covertly digging up dirt without reason is a good ides, but if one becomes aware of an … “issue” ,,, that might affect the moral or operational status of an organization perhaps a little investigation might be in order to verify its correctness or truthfulness. Omce this is verified, then going to the bosses with a “Just for clarification, were you aware of …” with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude and then letting the issue drop from ones radar seems the best approach.

    • harrisr708 permalink
      July 8, 2011 2:25 pm

      make that “morale”

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