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The question

I share an office with a slacker. Three-hour long lunches, sometimes not returning at all. When at their desk, anything but work. On average, this individual works one to two hours a day. This has been going on for ages. Part of me wants to tell the manager but 1) I don't want to be a rat; 2) it may make the manager feel as though they are not on top of their employees and they could shoot the messenger (me!); 3) it may result in the micro-management of the rest of us; 4) my co-worker may find out I'm the rat, thereby jeopardizing our relationship; and 5) do I really care enough? The perks are 1) that this person may start working, which would reduce my already overwhelming workload (as I'm having to carry the weight of their slackery); 2) the organization/company will not be ripped off any more re: time theft; and 3) I would be less distracted and thus, more productive. And, yes, I've spoken to the individual first and they're not interested in making any changes.

The answer

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You know, over the course of my professional life, I've pretty much come full circle on the question of so-called "ratting out" one's colleagues at work.

I remember my first-ever (career-related) job, fresh out of school, me a little green around the horns, as a junior reporter for a weekly newspaper on Long Island, thinking: "Not only will I admit openly and honestly to all my own mistakes, but I will also nobly 'fall on the grenade' as the occasion arises and take the blame for my co-workers' screw-ups as well."

My new-found colleagues, when they discovered this was my policy, couldn't believe their luck! A rube, a patsy, a sucker with a target on his back had wandered into their midst, willing to take the blame for their mistakes? They started dumping their blunders, slip-ups, faults and errors on me wholesale. After a few months, "my contract was not renewed," shall we say, even though I was good at my job and worked hard.

Nursing my wounds, back on my mother's couch, I thought: "Hmm, have I maybe misjudged human nature?"

But still, the misguided urge to cover for colleagues persisted until fairly recently. I was trying to cover for a co-worker who was actually hurting me professionally, when my boss – a boss of the laser-like focus, don't-even-try-to-b.s.-me variety – sensing a problem, said, in effect: "Dave, you owe it to me, and the company, to tell me what's really going on here."

And I realized he was right. He had hired me. He was putting bread and meat on my family's table – not the person I was covering for. So I spilled the beans.

I think you should too. "Rat" your colleague out to your boss. For any number of reasons. For one thing, a person such as that is potentially dangerous – they could, and I think would, do anything to cover their backside if it came down to it, including feeding you into the (metaphorical) wood-chipper.

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Also, it's hurting the organization. If that makes me sound like too much of a "company man," well, then, so be it. I've referenced the book Sapiens before, by Yuval Noah Harari, but let me do it one last time. It's a big, fat book full of excellent points, but here's the gist: 1) It is our ability as a species to organize/co-operate that has enabled this slow, weak, fangless, clawless, mostly hairless animal to be at the top of the food chain; 2) what we call "gossip" is a crucial tool, as it helps us identify weak links in the organizations we create.

You have identified a weak link in your organization. That weak link is hurting not only the company as a whole but also your own ability to perform your duties, as you attempt to pick up the slack for this slacker.

As I see it, your path is clear – a path straight to your boss's office, whereupon you unload forthwith and in great detail your colleague's goldbricking.

Don't worry about being a rat, for reasons stated above. And don't worry about your boss becoming upset and "shooting the messenger." Quite the opposite. You are doing your boss a favour, you owe it to him or her and the entire organization, and you should be and I believe will be thanked for coming forward.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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