0

Background

I am working in a small business (< 15 employees) as a software developer. Roughly half of us are. The rest is working as IT specialists for system integration. The coworker I am speaking of is working in this field. He is doing his apprenticeship here and is currently in the second year, if I am not mistaken (could still be first year too). Even though he is an apprentice, he has customer appointments, so he is away for 2/3 of the time.

For simplicity, let's just call him 'Jake' from now on.

Our office is located in a building with apartments in every floor above the base floor. So there are ~20 parties living here, who are regularly passing by our office. Most of them are old and already retired. Some of them are kinda weak, so we sometimes have to hold the door open. Of course there are a few seniors who are annoying and seek to talk to us more than we would like to, because we need to work. And I can understand that, because I guess they might be a bit lonely living here. But almost everyone living here is very kind and doesn't do that.

What upsets me

Now to create the connection between the two situations described:

Rarely a senior needs help with IT and we are glad we can provide it. We also do it for little money, just as a gesture (our boss likes and propagates a nice and friendly behaviour in and around the office). When Jake was asked to help an old man with his IT stuff, he did so. No problem at all.

Later that day, the old man came into our office, to give some money to him, because he was helping nicely he told us. Unfortunately, Jake was working somewhere else. So the senior left it on his place. The sum doesn't matter, as this is symbolic for me. I just thought 'what a kind man'.

So when Jake was back the other day and the old man was going to his apartment, I told him: "Yo Jake, the man who left money on your place is there. If I were you I'd go there and say thank you."

He replied "No. I don't mean to be rude, but..." and cut his sentence, staying inactive. I was kind of speechless, because I can recall childhood memories where I could have returned everything I got from people trying to gift me if I did not thank them. Anyway, I was confused and left.

Note: By no means was this man annoying to any of us at all. So this couldn't be the reason.

What happened after that

This left me pretty upset, because even though he saw him a few times after that, he never went to say thanks for the money. I find this situation pretty unbelievable. To put it in perspective: He is 20 years old and doesn't seem to have learned the same lesson I did.

Because we work in a small business, I can say that everyone except him would have thanked the old man with no problem. As I was left in a state of disbelief, I talked to the two coworkers I have a really good connection to and told them what happened. They thought the same.

What I am thinking of doing

I am by no means manager of anyone here. We have a flat hierarchy and most of the time the people who are oldest and have worked here longest are the people who make a decisions here and there, but mostly that responsibility belongs to our boss (of course).

So what are my options? My thoughts are:

  • Leave it, it's not worth it
  • Talk to him why I think this behaviour is unacceptable socially and why I think it gives a bad image of our company
  • Talk to our boss (which I think might be overkill and put me in a bad light)
  • Don't care if he knows, but adjust my behaviour to a very distant one

The last option would be my option of choice if it wasn't in a professional environment. Normally in non-professional environments I begin to avoid people like that on the spot, because I respect old people and can't stand any misbehaviour against them.

  • 14
    What is your personal issue here? That you are ashamed to work for a company that has no disciplinary consequences for employees who fail to thank after receiving gifts? For sure, it would be nice if he thanked the guy for the gift. But to me you seem to have this issue out of proportion. – Joe Stevens Aug 5 at 14:30
  • 12
    The money wasn't a gift. The man was paying for a service. He most likely felt it was his obligation. I agree thanking the man would be good for neighbor relations. The phrasing of this as a "gift" seems highly inaccurate to me. – Joel Etherton Aug 5 at 14:36
  • 3
    I'm finding the pronouns in this question confusing. There are too many "he/him/his" and in one instance there is a "her" but no females listed in the question. – shoover Aug 5 at 14:37
  • 1
    A better analogy is maybe a tip in a restaurant. Let's assume I go to the till, and the person who served me isn't there. If I give someone else the tip to pass on, I would maybe expect thanks there and then. I wouldn't expect the waiter who finally received the tip to follow me to my home to give thanks. I can see why you feel bad the guy wasn't thanked, but maybe this could have been done at the time? – Joe Stevens Aug 5 at 14:41
  • 1
    @BernhardDöbler I'd say he is socially engaged. No problem at all with any of our colleagues. He talks frequently about accomplishments, exchanges technical opinions and jokes with everyone from time to time. – Gender Y Aug 5 at 22:25
21

Why don't lead by example instead of trying to "teach"?

As you mentioned, Jake is junior and still learning things, (maybe both professionally and personally).

  • Next time you see the senior resident, thank him for his kindness in front of others, preferably the junior being present.
  • The time after, never lose an opportunity to thank someone, be in amongst the peers or others, repeat the act for all other occasions, and the behaviour should spread.

In my experience, most good behaviours are contagious, just like the bad ones.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    I like the fact, that you point out the contagiousness of good and bad behaviours, because I believe in it too. Also the consistency you point out in showing good behaviour is the way to go I think. I will mark this answer as the solution, because this is what I will try to do. IMO, this answer is constructive to me and hopefully others. Thank you. – Gender Y Aug 5 at 16:06
  • 1
    @GenderY it's akin to the "broken window" theory. People mirror behaviors. If the standard is good behavior, that's what is met. – Old_Lamplighter Aug 5 at 17:18
20

Either mind your own business, or engage with him in a constructive way.

You are blowing a minor slight way out of proportion, and one customers are certainly not going to notice.

Furthermore, you are showing exactly zero interest in why this happened. Perhaps the part after the "but..." was "but I had to listen to that old guy's racist harangue for 30 minutes while fixing his computer and there was kiddie porn on his computer and I don't really want anything to do with him." Being old doesn't make anyone more kind or moral; the BTK Killer gets old too.

Maybe it's something more personal, like he thinks "I got into IT so I wasn't a barista working for tips and I resent these old weirdos I work with continually pressuring me into doing free work that's not part of my actual paying job. They're at the end of their careers but I'm trying to build mine." Maybe it's something that will make it difficult for your company to retain newer talent in general.

Your chosen options are all aggressive and do not bother to even attempt to come to a place of understanding. Instead of "telling him his behavior is unacceptable" or narcing him out to the boss or shunning him, how about asking him questions? "Hey, you seemed bothered by helping OldGuy23 with his computer, did everything go ok?" In an honest spirit of inquiry, using camaraderie instead of blame, you should be able to find out the underlying causes of this behavior you find so disturbing. Was it something about this person in particular, is it something about needing to do this at all, is it just not thinking someone needs to be thanked multiple times for allowing someone to do mostly unpaid charity work for them?

Find out why. Maybe it'll change what you're thinking; if not, you can just show maturity yourself and continue to set a good example. Or if for whatever reason you're unwilling or unable to unearth those reasons, just do the same and mind your own behavior.

| improve this answer | |
  • I would normally choose this as an answer, because the options are good and it points out another view. But no matter why this happened, this is still a workplace, right? So I see a problem with this particular behaviour, especially when doing work around customers. Also the fact, that you interpreted speechlessness as zero interest is just not true. I admit there are more shocking things to see, but this is just a "out of the blue"-situation I couldn't think of. And as already pointed out, it was already payed for and the money was in fact a gift. Fun fact tho: The barista guess is right. – Gender Y Aug 5 at 16:06
  • 4
    No customer is going to notice "that guy didn't go seek out a random old person who wandered into this company seeking computer help to thank them", how would they - that's a bizarre leap colored by you wanting to label what he did "bad behavior." I hope you'll consider how things like this make junior employees feel and maybe put some of your spare effort into making sure they see benefits to their careers from working there, so you have a next generation of staff. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Aug 5 at 16:47
  • Did you mean "major" slight? Not thanking someone for thanking me after I performed a heavily discounted service would seem more minor than major to me. – Player One Aug 5 at 19:55
  • When you are making more vague assumptions about this, it would be benefitial to ask a new question under your new circumstances. You can never know what impact you have by showing a bad attitude. But that is not worth discussing here, since this point was made up. I guess these assumptions would continue, if I keep answering you, but that's gonna stop right here. I will not put any spare effort in people behaving badly. – Gender Y Aug 5 at 20:43
  • 5
    @GenderY you seem to ignore the most important question raised by this answer: did you ask Jake if anything went wrong during this task, or made him unhappy? Or do you just want to force Jake into expressing politeness the same way you are accustomed to, without any concern about his feelings and about any problems that may have happened? – IMil Aug 6 at 0:38
5

When accepting the apprenticeship, Jack probably thought that he would get valuable work-experience regarding systems integration. Not that he would spend many hours fixing old people's computers. When working on the computer of that old man he didn't learn much related to his study/future line of work, which is the idea of an apprenticeship. I think the notion that Jack should have to thank someone for a few dollars (which I assume the amount was) after performing many hours of skilled work for him is beyond me. If anything the man should thank him for taking him away from his apprenticeship for hours and not insult him with a token reward far below market-value.

UPDATE

I don't say it is wrong to request Jack or any other intern to perform some favors for the elderly in your building. Actually I think it is nice that your company does this. However I do think Jack or any other intern who does this should get some respect for this. Because as I and others wrote earlier, they are essentially doing extracurricular unpaid work. They should not be treated as ungrateful schoolboys when they react coolly after receiving some insignificant token reward for it.

| improve this answer | |
  • This is a horrible attitude. Also, where do you read that it took many hours? – guest Aug 5 at 17:13
  • I was about to ask the same thing – Gender Y Aug 5 at 20:34
  • The thing with this being described as extra work, it really is not. With this small company, there is heavy workload, but not in his field. The worst thing he has to do is to commute everywhere. But he can use a company car for that. I'd describe his work as interesting – Gender Y Aug 5 at 21:19
  • 2
    @GenderY it has always been my understanding that in an apprenticeship you are paid significantly less than a regular employee in exchange for getting valuable work experience. In Jack's case, work experience regarding system integration. Because he is not really learning anything valuable/related to his study in fixing old people's computers I think from his point of view this work is extra. If he would be a regular (paid) employee it would be different. Are regular employees also doing these tasks btw, or are they too expensive for that? – thieupepijn Aug 5 at 21:57
  • 1
    @GenderY the fact that he does this task about twice a year isn't really relevant to your question/my answer I think. Anyway, I gave you my two cents regarding your issue. If you think it is a bad answer feel free to ignore it and go for one of the others. – thieupepijn Aug 5 at 22:41
4

What makes you certain he didn't thank him? I doubt you are aware of all conversations (both in person and telecommunication) that your co-worker is privy to.

Regardless though:

This comes across as looking for something to be upset over as opposed to an actual grievance. Lets look at what you have put forward as options and see if they sound like reasonable behaviour based on assumptions of a co-workers inaction.

Leave it, it's not worth

I think you already know that I am going to say this is the sensible answer. It is the professional and mature way to handle such a trivial grievance

Talk to him why I think this behaviour is unacceptable socially and why 
I think it gives a bad image of our company

Talking to him if it is something that bothers you this much may be appropriate but "gives a bad image of our company" is a pretty extreme assumption of both the situation and others perspectives.

Talk to our boss (which I think might be overkill and put me in a bad light)

This will likely reflect poorly on you and not on the person who helped an elderly man with his computer and may make him less likely to help others in the future.

Don't care if he knows, but adjust my behaviour to a very distant one

This is petty and reflects poorly on you and your professionalism and maturity not on the person who helped an elderly man with his computer.

It may be wise to ask if this is really what is bothering you about the colleague or if there is some other factor aggravating this trivial matter into a larger issue.

| improve this answer | |
  • What makes me certain is my perception. I sit right in front of him. I hear every call, even If I don't want to. There were no phone calls. The man just has no far way to us. We are, as described in the same building. I also see everyone coming in and going out. Lastly, he would have answered in a different manner if her did thank him. To point out the exact reason that is upsetting me: I see no respect for elderly people from him. I did not point that out tho, because that would be related to other situations. But I take your criticism serious and will reflect especially on the options. – Gender Y Aug 5 at 21:07
  • 1
    @GenderY I guess it may also be worth considering varied cultural norms and also social anxieties can have a big impact on what expectations and practices one might consider respectful. For example there are places in the world where it is disrespectful to not tip waitstaff and there are places where it is disrespectful to tip waitstaff. – Patrick Kelly Aug 5 at 21:23
2

He replied "No. I don't mean to be rude, but..." and cut his sentence, staying inactive. I was kind of speechless, because ...

We could guess all sorts of things that he was going to say. There would be an indefinite number.

My feeling is that you were so busy being shocked because he hadn't learned your childhood lessons, that you simply didn't ask politely and sympathetically, "but what?" and give him time to answer.

Maybe he is shy. Maybe he is embarrassed that the man gave him money for help freely given, maybe ... maybe ... maybe.

There's only one person who knows and it isn't too late to ask him but ask non-judgmentally.

Anecdote

Once when I was quite young (about 11) my sister's boyfriend took me to a football match. I wanted to say thank you afterwards, I wanted to all the way home, I was desperate to thank him, but words failed me. It was only at the very last moment before we parted that I managed to mumble, "Um ... thanks anyway." It was the feeblest of thank-yous but I was shy and simply didn't know the right words. As you can tell it stuck in my memory. I'm good at thanking people now.

| improve this answer | |

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .