My coworkers break the rules!
Hi Ronnie Ann! I hope you can help me. I’m a government employee who has become really irritated at work about something that is out of my control. My coworkers break the rules all the time — and get away with it!
As for me, I’m always on time and always put in my full amount of hours. However, I have co-workers who show up at seemingly whatever times they please each morning (sometimes 9, sometimes 10:30). And they leave in the evenings before they’ve worked their full “shifts.”
No one seems to care!
But there’s no supervisor left in the office at the time to watch them. The fact that this goes on has made me lose respect for my boss, because I see that he does not enforce standard rules. And I can’t fathom how these co-workers of mine have the balls to do this!
I don’t want to stoop to their level. Plus, I simply can’t work the later hours that they do. But I constantly feel like a sucker for working 8 full hours each day.
I’d like to just ignore their comings and goings. But my office is at the end of the hallway to the exit, and I can’t help but notice it. While I’m tempted to just keep my door shut, I don’t want people to feel like they can’t come in to ask me questions that are work-related.
So my question is this: How do I not let things at work that are out of my control bother me?
And here’s my response
First, let me say I really feel for you. I think this is a question many can relate to. I am struggling to come up with a good answer that won’t also drive you crazy. But so often the answer is not with the annoyer, but in what we can do to help change things for ourselves.
I’ve seen this many times. And the truth is that most times there is nothing a person in your situation can do — other than finding a way to let go of thinking about this in terms of right or wrong. Or that you are somehow getting the short end of the stick because of others behavior.
Clearly, it’s not fair
No question you are right about that. But the fact that it’s bugging you to this extent raises questions about whether you are happy in your work. Just a thought. If you are happy (other than this one thing), please skip to the next section.
If not, this may be a great wake up call to forget about those people and start thinking about yourself. And what would make you really happy. Is there something else you’d rather be doing? (If the answer is “I would, but I can’t” please read this post: What If I CAN Be Happy?)
Digging a little deeper
But if you are happy in your work or for whatever reason must stay there, here are some things that would be helpful for me to know:
- Is there any way you can get your office changed so you can’t see the people coming or going? (I’m not kidding. Sometimes what we don’t see doesn’t bug us as much.)
- Is this something you can discuss with your boss or would you worry about being seen as a snitch? Are these employees doing critical jobs? Is their work getting done? Does their behavior impact on your workload? Are other people just as upset about this? (It becomes a much bigger deal if work is not getting done.)
- Out of curiosity, is this the only thing about your boss you don’t like? I’ve worked for great bosses (in government and other types of jobs) and this has gone on there too — although not quite to the extent you are seeing! I still respected my bosses, so there may be more to the whole situation in your case.
- I wonder, in general, about your relationship with your boss. If you are close to your boss and have his or her trust, you can certainly discuss things like this. Maybe s/he’d want to know. Would your boss be in trouble if this got around? (If you aren’t close, maybe something to work on? Jobs are a lot more satisfying when you have your boss’s ear in general.)
- Do the people leaving early have special situations you don’t know about? I had employees when I worked in government who had physical conditions that made it ok to come in late and leave early, but not everyone knew about it.
Please forgive me for asking so many questions and trying to look at this from all angles. So often when I get a question, there are many levels of useful details I don’t know.
When coworkers break rules
If your answers are that these people are just sneaking out with no special conditions. And the boss knows but doesn’t care. Plus you want to stay in your job (which may very well be the case here). Well, then we come down to one basic question. How to keep yourself from being annoyed by them no matter what else is going on.
And that’s the hardest thing. It really is about changing focus (meditation or for some prayer is a good place to start). Also learning to desensitize ourselves to what others are doing.
One way to think about it is … why should their choices have the power over you to make you miserable? So what if they break the “rules”? Is it your job to worry about that?
There is a world of rule-breakers out there, but I’d rather live my life proudly by my own values. Otherwise, I’d lose too much energy (and sleep) worrying about all of THEM.
A good place to start
Step one is deciding to focus on what you have control over, rather than coworkers breaking the rules. Are you getting enough out of your work? Are there relationships you can build that would get you to different work or maybe even to a different job?
Is there a project you want to work on or an idea for improving things you want to pitch to your boss? What kinds of fun things are you doing away from work? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but never given yourself permission?
The more a person focuses on things to add richness to his or her own life, the less the other stuff matters. Not that it isn’t still WRONG. It is. But we’ve reached the point of SO WHAT? If you can’t change it and it’s not harming you personally (except in the idea of fairness, which I agree sucks) let it go!
You don’t have the power to change their behavior. But you sure do have the power to change the way you feel about it. And, believe it or not, if you can work on perspective and attitude while focusing more on stuff that’s good for you, then you can even reach a point where maybe you can forgive them for being so weaselly in the way they treat their jobs and those around them.
It’s been my experience that life gives you back what you give to it. Don’t worry about what they are getting away with. It really isn’t helping them in the whole scheme of things. Think more about what you can give yourself that would feel uplifting.
One more possible good thing
If their selfish behavior gets you to change something in your life, they’ve actually done you a favor. And once you get to that point, you can see them leave early and feel just fine about it. Which is all you can really do at this point.
Again, their actions and choices are on them. How you feel about it is yours to help make easier for yourself. And that’s a skill you can take with you anywhere — even if coworkers break the rules!
[Article updated in 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
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