6

I work in a UK-based software development company. I've seen it happen in previous IT or development workplaces; if a developer is found to be job-hunting or sneaking off for interviews, they are asked not to come in the next day or are simply escorted off the premises. It may be an extreme and rare occurrence but one that others have witnessed as well.

One of my colleagues - let's call him 'Fred' - left the office to take a phonecall. Soon after, I left the office on my lunch break and passed by Fred who was standing just outside the office door and still on his call. From what little I overheard, he was obviously talking about an interview and arranging a time for the next one. He apparantly did not notice me until I passed him by. On another lunch break, Fred was very nervous and asked me if I overheard anything of his call. I said no, but as he did not mention anything more specific, I added that if he needs to take a private call, it's best to stand further from the office doors. I've had to do that for doctors appointments before. Since that chat however, Fred's attitude has changed. He has become very anxious and quiet around most of our peers. He has been offering to work on tasks assigned to me, to fetch my coffee, stay late or volunteer to take extra slots in the on-call rota. My fear is that Fred suspects I know he is job-hunting and am somehow holding this knowledge over him (which I'm not). Fred and I have worked together for more than a year, he is a trusted colleague and to my knowledge, no-one has ever had to question his competence. So far, my manager's only observation has been that Fred is less chatty but more eager than before.

I would be disappointed to see Fred leave the company, willing or otherwise, but I don't want to be a hindrance to someone who simply wants to progress their career. I am Fred's senior as a developer but not his line manager. I would be concerned to blatantly say to him "I know what you're TRYING to do and it's unnecessary. You've got nothing to worry about from me," as it may confirm beyond doubt that I know he is job-hunting.

My questions are:

  • Without putting his job or nerves in jeopardy, how can I dissuade a colleague from attempting to gain favour from me?
  • If a colleague is trying to curry favour with a superior, should I make it known to MY/OUR superior that this attitude is not something brought on by me? It is not a workplace practice our company encourages, nor one I would personally approve of.
  • 5
    I find it interesting that the work culture in the UK has people genuinely afraid to speak to recruiters for fear of having their current employer retaliate. – AndreiROM Mar 9 '18 at 16:15
  • IMOE this largely happens only within IT or development roles, and even then is probably not that common. I'll tweak the question to emphasise that. – user34587 Mar 9 '18 at 16:32
  • 3
    I'm British and not only would this be completely illegal but in 25 years of employment I've never heard of anything like this happening. – TheMathemagician Mar 9 '18 at 16:52
  • 3
    I think favour tastes much better with chilies than with curry. – Retired Codger Mar 9 '18 at 17:17
  • So.. what's wrong with letting Fred get you coffee? I mean, if the guy wants to do that then it's not exactly the end of the world. – NotMe Mar 9 '18 at 23:22
6

I would be concerned to blatantly say to him "I know what you're TRYING to do and it's unnecessary. You've got nothing to worry about from me," as it may confirm beyond doubt that I know he is job-hunting.

You originally said "no, I didn't catch your phone call" to be polite and keep your nose out of his business. That was a good move. Unfortunately, he seems to have figured out you know (or is operating on the assumption that you do) and is making things awkward as a result.

I know it isn't what you want to do, but I would personally address this head-on. I suggest this because the longer this goes on, the more likely it becomes that someone else will notice what Fred's doing and stick their nose in it. (It sounds like people have already noticed a change in Fred's behaviour, although they haven't necessarily figured out why or connected it to you specifically.)

Here's what I'd do in this position:

  1. Go over to Fred one day (ideally just before lunch) and ask him if he'd like to go grab a bite somewhere outside the office.
  2. If anyone else tries to horn in on the lunch, politely decline. Perhaps explain that you wanted to discuss Project X with Fred (whatever the most recent thing he volunteered to help you with was.)
  3. At the lunch, when you two are decidedly alone, confess that you did hear something of that phone call that suggested he's job-hunting. Then immediately tell him that you have no intention of saying anything about it, and that you would prefer if he stop trying so hard to butter you up, as it's making you uncomfortable and it may inadvertently draw attention to the fact that he's hiding something. Emphasize the fact that he has nothing to fear from you, and that you wouldn't stand in the way of someone making a career move.

Hopefully, Fred will get the message and calm down a bit.

If a colleague is trying to curry favour with a superior, should I make it known to MY/OUR superior that this attitude is not something brought on by me?

I would not recommend this. In particular, because it's going to beg the question "why is he trying to curry favour with you?" You can, of course, claim not to know why, but you've still drawn attention to Fred's behaviour. If they can't get anything out of you, they'll go straight to Fred next. If your objective in all this is to stay out of Fred's business, then drawing other people's attention to it is unwise.

  • 1
    'Fred' nearly had a panic attack when I emphasised to him that he needn't worry about me hindering his job-hunting. He has stopped trying too hard, still quite quiet though. Sound advice not to mention it to anyone else. Seems to be helping him. – user34587 Mar 14 '18 at 15:53
0

Without putting his job or nerves in jeopardy, how can I dissuade a colleague from attempting to gain favour from me?

One option is to do the following. Without referencing the phone call or any relating policies, you could politely tell your colleague when certain offers or behaviours are not necessary, the same as you would if the colleague was engaging in this behaviour for some totally different reason, like sucking up for a promotion, or they just have a personality with a huge need to be liked socially.

If a colleague is trying to curry favour with a superior, should I make it known to MY/OUR superior that this attitude is not something brought on by me? It is not a workplace practice our company encourages, nor one I would personally approve of.

In this case an option to consider is not to bring it up unless your manager brings it up first and asks you direct and specific questions. Otherwise, it's irrelevant, likely a nuisance, and at worst could be seen as some weird political jockeying or tattling. If your manager brings it up, then you can consider trying to be as objective and fact-based as possible, sparing your colleague from trouble as much as you can, but not at the expense of misleading your manager.

Overall, it is often a good course of action to do nothing at all except politely remind your colleague that certain generosities or offers are not needed and you are happy to focus on your tasks as normal. These possibilities are only suggestions-- you'll have to analyze the situation and decide the best route given that only you know the detailed specifics of the situation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy