Who’s Got Your Back?  Covering Up for a Colleague

It’s a well-known fact that good relations with your professional colleagues help create a more enjoyable work life and smoother sailing overall in your daily job duties.  From lighthearted chat about the latest episode of your favorite television show to niceties about the weather and how your children are growing like weeds, these interactions help lubricate the day to day cogs of working in the company machine.

When it comes to supporting those you work with, however, there are certain areas where the lines between support and problematic or unethical behavior can become blurred.  In some situations helping out a coworker can even be a detriment to your reputation or job security. To help you navigate these turbulent career waters, let’s address the do’s and don’ts of covering up for a colleague.

Support Versus Concealment

We’ve all had situations in the workplace where we’ve felt overwhelmed, understaffed, or otherwise buried under a pile of work or a complicated problem that seems unsolvable.  In these situations, it’s helpful and even right to have the benefit of a trusted colleague to fall back on. When you pitch in to help out your coworker with either the down and dirty labor or ideas on a more efficient way to tackle a problem, you should do so without expectation of claiming the effort as your own.  If you’re the member of a quality team with other employees that you can rely on, even if management or your supervisor isn’t aware of your efforts, you can rest assured that your coworker will either give you credit or return the favor down the line.

There are times, however, when supporting a colleague without getting accreditation can quickly turn into covering up a deficiency in their ability or a lack of effort.  If your co-worker puts off performing a task because they are lazy or unmotivated or asks you to falsify records or lie about some aspect of their job, these are obvious situations in which you should politely decline.  Aiding in outright poor behavior or speaking an untruth is not only unethical, but it can also make you an accomplice in the eyes of your employer and put your position at risk. Other scenarios may not be quite so clear cut when it comes to whether you should have your colleagues back or spill the beans to a person in charge.

When Bad Behavior Should be Reported

As we touched on above, some situations may not be as black and white when it comes to supporting your colleagues in the office.  If that single instance of asking for help, for example, turns into repeated pleas for assistance, it may be time to speak to your coworker or manager about the issue.  While you may be hesitant to rat out your colleague, it could be that your department or the situation is understaffed in which case your constant assistance is doing more harm than good in the long run. It’s a positive trait to be there to support your co-workers but use good judgment. In the end, Don’t be afraid to put your foot down if the situation calls for it.

Have you ever been placed in an awkward situation when covering for a colleague?  We’d love to hear your story in the comments so all our readers can learn from your experience.

Article updated from original May 20, 2019