Caught in a pickle? How to extricate yourself from a situation you never sought in the first place.
Q: I recently had a casual conversation with a co-worker about her upcoming vacation trip to Asia. I asked her if her flight was leaving at midnight, as such flights originating in our city often do. She said yes, and we talked more about where she would be staying and who was traveling with her. (She did not mention what night she was leaving.)
The next day, I told some others at the office that I was excited about our co-worker’s trip, and mentioned the midnight flight in passing. There was an assistant manager in this group, who promptly asked me to “write up” the conversation I’d had with my co-worker. It turns out she had called in sick that day — the day before her vacation technically began — and the assistant manager surmised that this was to accommodate the unusual flight schedule.
That’s probably right. But I was shocked because this was a casual conversation between me and a co-worker, and now I’m supposed to send an email about it so this manager can forward it to human resources. I find this unethical and against my personal values.
At the same time, it seems like insubordination if I don’t do it. Our management team frequently engages in retribution or retaliation. But I think it should have handled this itself without putting me in a difficult spot with another staff member. — Renee
A: Given management’s likely attitude here, your colleague didn’t handle this particularly well. Calling in sick the day before a vacation starts is not a cunning maneuver, and seems likely to raise a suspicious manager’s eyebrow no matter what the details.
I don’t really see why your company needs to involve you in whatever action it might pursue. It seems to me that this assistant manager could just write an email to human resources saying, “Here’s what another employee just told me.”
Probably the thinking is that enlisting you somehow makes a more convincing case. But this is shortsighted: It essentially pits employees against each other involuntarily, potentially adding needless tension to the workplace. It also, ultimately, discourages communication if you’re never sure what offhand remark might plunge you into somebody else’s drama.
So it’s too bad you’ve been dragged into this — and I understand you may feel guilty about perhaps getting a colleague in trouble by mistake. But it’s not your fault.
Your best way out is to go minimal. Make the requested email terse: Your colleague told you about her vacation; you mostly discussed her plans at her destination, and in passing she indicated a certain flight time, although not a specific day. (Really, for all you know, she really was sick that day, and wasn’t flying until later. I don’t think you should get into speculating about that, but be clear about what you know and what you don’t.)
I think it would be fair to give your fellow employee a heads-up as soon after her return as you can. Just say what happened, and that you feel bad about it. Don’t speculate about implications or veer into passing judgment on management. Remember that you really don’t have all the facts. Who knows how this incident might relate to other issues your bosses may have with this colleague?
Don’t be hard on yourself. Your goal at this point is to extricate yourself from a situation you never sought in the first place.