I Just Work Here

Tackling the office tattler

Try reasoning with the tattletale first, and if that doesn't work, settle it with a slap fight, then make up over juice boxes.

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If hair-pulling and name-calling doesn't work with the office tattletale, maybe sitting down and reasoning with them will. (Sam Diephuis, Getty Images / August 29, 2011)

Attention fishermen and fisherwomen, loggers, aircraft pilots and farmers. Your jobs are very dangerous.

If you had not already been keyed into this by the sharks, falling trees, stalled engines and giant, scary, wheat-thrashing thingies, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released a report that ranks you the riskiest professions.

The fishing industry, for example, had a fatality rate of 116 deaths per 100,000 workers. The rate across all occupations in 2010 was only 3.5 per 100,000 employed.

The good news is the total number of fatal work injuries last year, 4,547, held about steady from 2009, and since 2006 the number of worker deaths has dropped 22 percent.

For the moment, there have been no fatalities in the category of "America's most beloved workplace advice columnist."

On to your questions.

Q: How should I deal with an office tattletale?

Several readers via e-mail and Twitter

A: Workplaces tend to take on many of the bad characteristics of kindergarten, like whining and tattling, and few of the good, like nap time and free snacks.

That's why it's hard to be a grown-up.

But since we can't handle tattletales by pulling their hair or flicking boogers at them, more mature methods must be utilized.

First off, it's necessary to recognize that the core problem with an office tattletale is not so much that the person is ratting you out for heisting Post-It notes. It's that the snitch is robbing the workplace of trust.

"Whoever is in charge needs to address a tattler quickly," said Bill Krug, an associate professor of technology, leadership and innovation at Purdue University. "A tattler can quickly destroy morale. The long-term outcome can be increased conflict in the workplace."

As much as a boss might like knowing they have an informant among the employees, Krug said allowing a tattler to run amok will do more harm than good in the long haul.

"Employees will get the perception of their leader as someone who has a spy," he said. "Then they start mistrusting that leader because they think he or she is encouraging this type of thing."

Mark Gorkin, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of StressDoc.com, said an employee being pestered by a tattletale can't be shy about bringing the problem to a manager. But the employee should make it clear that they just want to have an open discussion about what's happening.

"If you feel you're being tattled on, talk to the boss and say, 'Hey, if this person has a problem with me, I'm more than happy to sit down with you and them and do something about it,'" Gorkin said. "Ask, 'Would you sit down with us? Let's talk about it. … Get it out in the open.'"

Gorkin added that if you're not comfortable addressing the tattletale issue directly with your boss, find another way to communicate the concern.

"You can try to find a colleague of the boss who has the boss' ear, who isn't going to betray you. Someone you feel you can trust. Maybe that colleague might be able to say, 'I was talking to one of your colleagues, and they're a little concerned about this tattler, and it's beginning to affect morale. Are you aware of this?'"

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