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Question 91: Talking To Or About Slacking Employees

By Rabbi Yisroel Belsky

At work I sometimes see other employees who are not working according to what might be considered minimum standards. For example, they might be wasting time, resources, or perhaps even being dishonest. Am I obligated to say something to the other employees or even to a manager? Would this be comparable to retrieving a lost article, in this case being the work that the employer lost?

RABBI BELSKY

Speaking up is definitely something that is commendable. When Yaakov Avinu (Jacob) saw the shepherds who were taking care of Lavan's sheep, he said, "Od hayom godol (the day is still large - i.e. there is still much time left in the day)". He told them that it's not yet time take the sheep away from grazing. He told them to give the sheep a drink, and then take them back to the meadow. We see from here that he was demanding of them that they do their work faithfully and not to slouch off.

Naturally, while doing this sort of thing you have to be very careful. Not everyone can speak as bluntly as the Torah portrays the way Yaakov Avinu spoke. Although the Torah only relates these words describing the event, this is not a proof that Yaacov said only these words alone. He may have said other things to them in a more tactful language.

The fact is that one should mochi'ach (reprimand), or at least hint when it comes to these things. People who are wasting time and resources are being dishonest, and are robbing the employer. You have to say something to them, because it's as if you're watching a robbery in progress, something you can't just ignore. You're watching something in the process of being lost. To speak up does constitute hashovas aveidoh (the mitzvah of returning a lost item).

But remember, you have to be able to do this tactfully to make it work. Otherwise, instead of making things better, you'll end up making things even worse. Not only that, but you'll also cause a rift between yourself and the other employees. They'll run to the employer and complain that "this guy is damaging the morale in the company." Who knows what they could do. They'll look at you as "Public Enemy #1. You'll accomplish nothing by just fulfilling your obligation to mochi'ach (reprimand).

The purpose of tochacha (reproof) is that people should listen, and things should improve. Otherwise, it's like talking to a wall. The people would then be like lulavim and esrogim, or any other inanimate object. You would get your mitzvah, but no one is listening on the other end. That's not the real purpose of tochacha. You have to do it with a smile and show that you care about them. Don't lecture them, or otherwise they'll say, "Look who's talking! You're no better. You also do this and that."

The bottom line is that you do have an obligation, but you really have to know how to go about it, you've got to be extremely careful and tactful.

QUESTIONER

Let's say one tried speaking to the employees but it didn't have any effect. To what extent is one obligated to talk to the employer? Would it be considered a mitzvah?

RABBI BELSKY

Talking to the employer is not such a simple action either, because it makes one person a spy and the enemy of the others. It's can be a ruinous way of doing things, since it can destroy the morale of the people who work in the company. Very often, sometimes for personal reasons, there are those who wish to take out their hostility for a co-worker- some rival of theirs within the company - and try to take him down from his perch, by methods such as spying and snitching. He will peck away at the other person and try to court the favor of the employer. This leads to all types of complex personality issues and it shouldn't be done. One shouldn't be a spy or a snitch.

However, in cases where workers are not working, the employer should know what's going on. If he has no idea what's happening, then he's not a good manager.

It could be that the employer is allowing a certain leeway within the company. He may feel that it's better to allow the workers to do what they are doing, even if it means a certain amount of time will be wasted, since it contributes to the employees being happy. It's possible that this is a conscious decision that he made, which you might not be aware of.

On the other hand, let's say he has a great deal of responsibility, and he's managing many parts of the business, all at the same time, and he doesn't have the time to know everything that is going on. He might take it for granted that he can trust the employees implicitly without looking over their shoulders. It could be he doesn't realize that they're only doing 50% of the work they should be doing. If so, the matter should be brought to his attention. One possible way of doing this indirectly might be to invite him, in a cordial way, to visit your area and so he can observe what is going on. Or you could be a bit more direct, and ask him for his opinion on the work being performed.

QUESTIONER

So you're saying that in some situations you should inform the manager, and in other situations you shouldn't. How do you know what to do?

RABBI BELSKY

There are situations where you shouldn't inform him, when you'll run into all kinds of personal issues, and it will end up destroying much more than it rectifies. On the other hand, there are times when, if nothing is done, then there is the situation of hashovas aveidoh (the requirement to return a lost item). First, you should study to see if the employer indeed knows about it, and if he's consciously allowing it. Perhaps he allows these deviations to happen since he feels they're not important enough for him to be confrontational about it.

On the other hand, something should be done if the workers are causing all kinds of losses that the manager is unaware of. There should be some effort to guide him to direct his attention to this part of the business, so that he should take a look and discover these things on his own. He should not be told directly that so-and-so is doing this and that, since that would make you become an informant, something you should avoid.

A person can't allow an environment of dishonesty to surround him on all sides. He can't just isolate himself in a bubble and divorce himself from everything that goes on around him. He does have a responsibility to do something. Kol yisroel areivim zeh lozeh - All Jews are responsible for one another. Hoche'ach tochi'ach es amisecha - You should give reproof and reprimand your fellow Jew.

Still, the Talmud says, "tama ani im yesh b'dor hazeh mi sheyodei'a l'hochi'ach," - "I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to properly give reproof". Although the Talmud there says that you should give reproof 100 times, it means doing so over a long period of time, and with great delicacy and sensitivity. The achrayus (responsibility) that a person carries has to be handled delicately and very carefully. It can be done both in the right way, which would constitute a mitzvah, or the wrong way, which could be an aveiroh (sin).

QUESTIONER

Perhaps then there should be a course on how to give tochacha (reproof).

RABBI BELSKY

I think there are three main principles that allow for tochacha to be effective.

The first principle is to avoid telling a person, "What you're doing is wrong." Instead, you should question your own understanding of the action. Say something such as, "I may be wrong, but perhaps that's not the best way to do it?" Make it seem as if you're confused. Say, "It could be that's the right way, but I seem to be confused here. It appears to me that it may not be the right way to do it." By speaking this way you're trying to add an element of doubt in his mind. You're not coming down on him harshly. You don't want him to think you are moralizing, and criticizing his actions. You should never seem as if you're a superior being looking down on him, making him feel he is inferior or a bad person. The idea is to make it seem as if you are an ordinary, even inferior, person, who doesn't know much. Even if you do know, you're still allowed to say, "I don't know."

Another way to be indirect would be to say something like "I've heard such and such," or "Someone once told me." Even though you need to imply he's doing something wrong, you don't want to tell him in a way that's obvious that what he's doing is wrong. One way is to say that you heard this from someone else. That gives the impression that you also really don't know yourself, you just heard it from another. This is really an extension of the first principle.

The second principle is to include yourself in the tochacha (reproof). Say something such as, "I used to do the same thing, and then someone came along and told me that this shouldn't be done. I was upset and hurt. I wanted to say something to him. But then I was stunned when I discovered that he was right!" Be sure to add yourself in the tochach, mentioning something that took place to you in the past.

Similarly you could say, "I think we're running into a problem with our work habits. We might be short-changing the company." Even if you're doing everything right, you should still include yourself in the tochacha. There are many variations, but that's the essence of the second principle.

The third principle is "lo sisna es achicha b'lvovecha hochei'ach tochi'ach." "You should not hate your fellow in your heart. Give him reproof." In other words, don't hate him while you are mochi'ach (reproving) him. The first thing to do is to work on yourself so that you will love the person who you are criticizing. In this way, when you see him do something 'wrong', you will tend to see him as being justified in doing what he did. You will think that he is really a better person than you are, and he's entitled to think the way he does. Anything he does wrong is only because of specific circumstances. You'll think that if the same thing would happen to you, you'd probably be doing much worse. Thank G-d you never had the nisoyon (test) that would have brought you to do this, since you know you would have failed miserably!

Once this ahavah (love) is present, and you have driven out every vestige of lo sisna es achica b'lvovecha (you should not hate your fellow in your heart), and you have fulfilled v'ohavto l'reiacho komocho (love your neighbor as you do yourself), your tochacha (reproof) will be effective because he'll sense your comments are being made only out of love and care, not out of anger or disgust.

There are many tips for being mochi'ach, but these are the three major principles that I have found work well. Once you observe them all, your chances of being successful with tochachah are much higher.

QUESTIONER

It seems that all this boils down to humility and love. Like throwing rocks on Shabbos isn't really effective.

RABBI BELSKY

It's being in doubt, including yourself in the tochacha (reproof), and showing that you honestly love the person that you're being mochi'ach. It goes without saying that if you're mochi'ach someone, you shouldn't use any sarcasm, ridicule, anger, or harsh language. Remember, this falls under the topic of proper communication.

By the way, when we say you should "love" another person, it doesn't mean that you have to feel some deep ahavah (love) or friendship for the other person. If you're not a very close friend of his, it may be that you don't 'love' him in that sense. What "loving" him means is that you don't intend to find fault with him. Your intend only to make him more successful. You feel hurt by his failure to be a better person, and you are gladdened by any progress that makes him be a better person. This type of ahavah doesn't necessarily require a personal bond. It's having an interest in his success, and wanting to help him avoid failure.


NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 92: PAYING FOR WATER, GETTING LEMONADE

I went to a restaurant where you first pay at the register for a drink that you want, and then get the drink by yourself. I paid a small amount of money to have water. Then accidentally, I pressed the wrong button and got lemonade. Since I am a senior citizen, I'm entitled to a certain discount. This time, I forgot to ask for the senior discount. It just so happens that the senior discount makes up the difference in price between the cup of water and the lemonade. In other words, they cancelled each other out. Should I offer to pay for the lemonade and mention the senior discount, or should I just forget about it?


Text Copyright 2004 by Rabbi Yisroel Belsky Shlita and Torah.org.

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