Our focus this week is on financial behavior in the office.
People find themselves in difficult situations with co-workers where the proper course of action isn’t always clear. To start, what should you do if your co-worker asks you to grab a sandwich or a coffee and never pays you back?
So I think the most important thing is to avoid getting bitter if this situation occurs. If you begin to resent a co-worker over a cup of coffee, that leads to a very unhealthy working environment. I think one really good strategy is to politely ask for the money before you leave. This is as simple as sending an email saying, “Hey, I’m going on a quick coffee run. I’ll come around to collect your money and your order before I leave.” This way they know: they’re paying you first and getting the coffee or lunch later, so there’s no misunderstanding or problem. I also think it is okay to set up a give-and-take system for something as basic as food. If you end up paying one time, then it’s okay to ask your co-worker to pick up the tab the next time. Costs even out, and nobody feels taken advantage of. Lastly, if you don’t get paid back or if somebody doesn’t reciprocate in the give-and-take, just don’t pay for that person any more and leave it at that.
What about gifts for someone in the office? People love to pool their money together to get birthday gifts. What should you do if your co-workers want you to chip in for a birthday gift for someone at the office that you don’t like?
I think in this situation you need to do a cost-benefit analysis. The bottom line is that your money is your money, and no one can decide how you spend it except you. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to contribute to a gift, that’s fine. If you feel that your co-workers might be upset if you do not donate, it might be worth it to give a small donation in order to show that you are a reliable teammate. If you support your co-workers, then they will support you and may be more reliable when it comes to important business tasks. The most important thing is to have a good feel for your work environment.
What about when co-workers help their kids sell things at the office? They have Girl Scout cookies or candy or whatever else kids sell. If you want the cookies, you’re buying them, but say you don’t really want to: should you?
You have a few choices in this situation. You can tell them that you have allocated your charitable contributions for the year. You can also handle it the way you would treat a request to pitch in for a gift for a co-worker. You can either buy a small amount as a show of support if you feel it will make the work environment healthier or you can explain that you are on a strict budget. Another good way to handle it would be to tell your co-worker you are happy to contribute if their child comes in and asks you face-to-face. If the child comes in, follow through with your promise. It teaches the child to take responsibility for their project, and it allows you to demonstrate that you keep your promises.
What do you do if you know your co-worker is misusing their expense account?
So at first I think you should try to talk to them and make them realize that what they’re doing is wrong. I think that people are afraid of being labeled a snitch if they report the person or they think that it’s not that big of a deal. This is a huge mistake! Not only are you encouraging a lack of accountability among your co-workers, but you are putting yourself at risk. If you are complicit in a co-worker misreporting expenses, then you are committing fraud. You are jeopardizing your own career in order to avoid reporting a co-worker. This is crazy. Your job is your livelihood, and you need to protect it by being an honest and ethical employee. Don’t let someone else’s mistakes ruin your career.