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What Should We Do About the Office Narc?

And other questions you’d rather not ask your own HR Department

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

We have an awful narc at our office who runs to HR about everything. And I mean — everything! Even super minor stuff like someone who accidentally left a television on overnight. Do you find such people useful, or as annoying as the rest of us? — Richard C., New York City
These types of people are neither useful nor annoying — they just irritate the hell out of everyone they work with. More largely, in my experience, if they go to HR about missing paper clips rather than talk to their supervisor or colleagues, they fall into one of three categories:

  • The Snitch. You’ve seen these people your entire life. In kindergarten, they ran to the teacher about how you took four crayons instead of three. In high school, they ran to the assistant principal and told on the kids smoking in the bathroom. At work, it’s ratting out someone who orders mechanical pencils instead of Staples #2 by the box. A tattletale disguised as moral authority.
  • The Suck-Up. Always looking for approval, this person doesn’t run to his or her supervisor because that person is small potatoes in the organization’s hierarchy. Instead, they go running to the corporate department that might care. They’re most likely thinking, “If I go to HR enough, someone will consider me for a promotion because I’m a good steward of company resources.” Unfortunately, because they can’t tell the difference between what’s important and what’s a nuisance, they typically get referred back to their department management. Trust me, no one in HR wants to deal with numerous “missing toilet paper” reports.
  • The Lone Wolf. This person doesn’t want to be friendly at work. They may eat lunch by themselves, come in early or stay late to avoid casual conversations and decline to participate in Secret Santa or any other team-building activities. For them, going to HR is easier than talking to their supervisor or another colleague. In this respect, regular HR visits create new friends. They’re safe, and no one in HR is ever going to turn them away.

The bigger question, of course, is how you handle each of them. Confrontation doesn’t work: The Snitch is offended; the Suck-Up is oblivious; and the Lone Wolf is threatened. Flattery, however, most likely will: Let the Snitch know you appreciate their pipeline to HR; find an opportunity for the Suck-Up to take an informal leadership position because that’s what they’ve wanted all along anyway; and invite the Lone Wolf into the group. It might not completely change their behavior — a leopard being unable to change its spots and all that — but at the very least, it will alleviate some of the suspicions among the team and make them more than just a narc.

Inc. recently had a fun slideshow on famous friends who worked together only to see one have to fire the other after things went bad. Personally, I’m always leery of recommending friends or family members for jobs at my company since if it doesn’t work out, I feel like it’s going to reflect badly on me. Do you have a general rule of thumb on friends hiring friends or recommendations for hires that come from close friends or a family member? — Tracy K., San Francisco
These days, companies are having a tough time finding qualified candidates, especially in high demand, hard-to-fill positions in engineering and data science. As such, they’ve turned to employee-referral programs to source candidates. In high-tech hubs like San Francisco, L.A. and Austin, employee-referral bounties for critical skill talents can reach $10,000, and the very best of these programs can produce up to 45 percent of all new hires. Why such interest? Because an employee referral is a cheaper, faster way to hire, generally produces a better hire and lowers the turnover rate at your company.

The downside? You may discover you don’t really know or like this person who is now your colleague. Some family members are enjoyable (or tolerable) in small doses, while some friendships last because they’re pleasurable — but only in the narrow confines of a concert or baseball game. Working together adds a new dimension of time and intensity that likely didn’t exist before. You may discover that your friend’s depth and breadth of knowledge is more hyperbole than reality and that your cousin is relentlessly obnoxious over the course of an eight-hour workday. Compound this with potential competition, ego and disappointment, and there’s a good chance things will end up breaking bad.

Now, that’s not completely on you — even if you were the one who referred them. Remember, your friend or family member still has to go through your company’s interview-selection process. If they flame out at that stage, it’s not your fault. (That’s on them.) Nor is it your fault if they ace it and flame out once on the job. (That’s a collective failure.) Generally speaking, if you’re a discerning individual with good emotional intelligence, you shouldn’t worry about a referral coming back to bite you. Of course, that’s provided you’re not knowingly referring assholes. You do this, and everyone will consider you just as big of an asshole.

What’s the worse way you’ve ever heard of someone asking for a raise? — Kenneth B., San Antonio
The most offensive approaches are those in which the employee demands an increase as though it’s a right and not something that has to be earned. This presumptuous lot typically throws out a bunch of different “me” comments — they’re the best, the smartest, the most important, the one person you can’t do without. There’s arrogance in the approach, and more often than not, they’re incredibly condescending throughout the whole ask.

It’s similarly depressing to have someone pitch their request for a raise because of personal circumstances. I feel for you, I really do, but asking for an increase because you can’t pay your rent or your spouse just lost their job isn’t the company’s problem. Instead, talk to me about your contributions, what you’ve accomplished and your goals. Honestly, talk to me about anything but begging!

The worst story, though? That belongs to one of my colleagues from back in the early 1980s. She was in her late 50s at the time. But when she was much younger — back in the 1960s — she discovered that the men in her department had all received pay increases but she had not. She made an appointment to speak to her boss and told him she thought she was being treated unfairly. He responded by saying that the men deserved the increases because they needed to take care of their families. She pointed out that she was a single mom — her husband had walked out on her and the kids — and she needed the money as well. “That’s the problem,” he told her. “You shouldn’t be here working, you should be out finding a husband to take care of you.”

Needless to say, she didn’t get the raise.

So that’s the worst. Not because of how she asked. But because it was okay for a sexist prick to deny her just because she was a woman.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at terry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.