Help! My Co-Worker Tries to Do My Job
One of my colleagues seems unable to separate my duties from his own. “Henry” constantly interferes with my work and makes critical comments about the way I do my job. When I offer friendly explanations for my decisions, he dismisses them by saying “that’s just your opinion.”
Henry and I work in different areas but have overlapping responsibilities. Although his constant meddling is driving me crazy, I’m not sure how to address this or with whom. We report to the same manager, but I haven’t discussed this issue with him. Any advice?
A: Many co-worker squabbles are inaccurately labeled “personality conflicts’” when the real cause is that roles have been poorly defined. If the boundary between jobs is fuzzy, people inevitably step on each other’s toes. Therefore, to solve this problem, you must first clarify your responsibilities.
To accomplish this, you will need to agree with your boss on the scope of your position. Start by drafting a detailed job description with particular focus on the areas of overlap with Henry. Describe your duties as you think they should be and then request your manager’s input.
For example: “Henry and I often seem to be working on the same things, which can be very confusing. To avoid this, I’ve drafted a more detailed description of my role and would like to get your opinion. I believe that clearly defining my responsibilities will help to prevent future misunderstandings.”
Having delineated your boundaries, you are now ready to begin managing communications with your annoying co-worker. Previously, your “friendly explanations” only served to reinforce Henry’s intrusive behavior and encourage him to continue. So if you want him to change, you will need to provide a less rewarding response.
When Henry launches into one of his critical commentaries, do not attempt to justify your actions. Simply state that he’s entitled to his opinion, but these decisions are yours to make. After that, just go on about your business and ignore any further remarks.
Q: During my last performance review, I told my supervisor that I hoped to replace her when she retired. When I asked if she had any suggestions for achieving that goal, she said there was nothing else I needed to do. As soon as she announced her retirement date, I applied for the position.
Even though there were other applicants, I believed I was clearly the most qualified. I not only have 20 years experience and excellent appraisal ratings, but I also am the team lead for our group. So I was shocked when management announced that “Danny” would become the new supervisor.
Danny worked with our team a few years ago, but he was not a good fit and eventually transferred to another department. Many people have said they were surprised by his selection because they expected me to be promoted. Now I’m in the awkward position of having to report to Danny, and I’m not sure how to handle it.
A: Although your disappointment is completely understandable, there is actually only one way to “handle it.” You must swallow your pride and face this new reality with professionalism and grace. The alternative is to publicly exhibit your true feelings, which would not be to your benefit.
Qualified or not, Danny is now your boss, so you need to respect his position even if you don’t admire him personally. Any display of frustration, anger or resistance will only convince management that promoting you would have been a mistake. And that’s not a conclusion you want them to reach.
Promotional decisions can be difficult, and you have no idea how close you may have come. Unsuccessful applicants who make a strong impression often are considered for other opportunities.
However, to find out where you stand, you need to get some feedback.
Without protesting this decision or complaining about Danny, ask some appropriate managers how you might become a stronger promotional candidate. If they praise your potential, that bodes well. But if they express concerns about your readiness, at least you’ll know what you need to work on.
Q: I run a small business and try to be generous with giving my employees paid time off because I truly believe in work-life balance. However, my employees often return from vacation exhausted and unable to concentrate on their work. How should I address this problem?
A: Kudos to you for recognizing that employees need leisure time. But when vacation is over, you have every right to expect their full attention, so don’t hesitate to make this expectation clear.
For example: “I’ve noticed that after taking vacation, you frequently seem tired and have difficulty focusing on work. Although I believe time off is important, I need everyone to be fully engaged when they come back. How can we avoid this problem in the future?”
If everyone shows up in a post-holiday stupor, you can appropriately make this a group discussion. But if only a few people are guilty, then you need to have individual conversations. Managers should never chastise an entire group for the sins of a few members.
Q: I recently learned that my boss received sexual favors from one of my co-workers. I believe this is why she was given a promotion. I have considered sending an anonymous letter about this to the owner of our company. Would that be a good idea?
A: In order to answer this question, you must consider several others. First, how did you come by this knowledge? Unless you personally witnessed illicit contact, you are dealing in grapevine information, which is notoriously inaccurate. So if this is merely speculative gossip, don’t repeat it to the owner or anyone else.
Second, why does your co-worker’s promotion seem unjustified? If she met the qualifications and proper procedures were followed, you might have difficulty proving that ulterior motives were involved. And if this is a small business, remember that the owner may have personally approved the move.
Finally, assuming that the sexual favors are a proven fact and the promotion was clearly bogus, do other colleagues find these events disturbing? If so, then a group meeting with the owner would have much greater impact than an anonymous note, because those often wind up in the trash.
Q: A staff member recently informed me that I have enemies at work. This was both surprising and distressing, because I try to be professional and friendly with everyone. However, on stressful days, I will admit that I have been known to lose my temper.
As a supervisor in an elder care facility, I am responsible for a unit with 95 residents. Sometimes everything seems to go wrong at once, making it hard to remain calm. Despite this, I have never sensed that anyone felt angry or resentful toward me.
My employee is reluctant to identify the people who are upset, so I don’t know how to resolve the problem. What should I do about this?
A: Under different circumstances, I might think your staff member was being a bit snarky. But given your admitted fits of temper, these “enemies” could easily have been created by your previous outbursts. Adults who throw tantrums typically underestimate the residual effects of their anger.
Once an emotional storm has passed, the perpetrator immediately moves on, but those subjected to yelling, cursing, or belittling tend to have much longer memories. So even if your normal demeanor is “friendly and professional,” intermittent bouts of rage can still wreak havoc on relationships.
For a supervisor, these explosive reactions are even more reprehensible, because they constitute an abuse of power. Despite the sad fact that many top executives fail this test, managers should always be expected to act like mature adults, even during difficult times.
If remaining calm seems impossible, consider whether you ever direct these tantrums at your boss. If not, this shows you can control them if you try. And for the sake of your department, you really must try, because unrestrained venting just transfers your stress to everyone around you.
To begin correcting the damage, list colleagues who have faced your wrath, then plan on making an apology tour. But first, be absolutely sure that you’ve mastered anger management, because apologies mean nothing without a change in behavior.
Q: A woman in our department seems to enjoy creating problems. “Gina” has a history of meddling, but because our manager is new, he may not be aware of her reputation.
Recently, Gina sent a co-worker the following email and copied our boss: “Needed to see you this morning, but couldn’t find you anywhere. I don’t believe you have meetings, so I wasn’t sure where you had gone. Are you coming back today?”
This co-worker’s brief absence had been clearly noted on the department calendar. How would you interpret Gina’s motivation for sending this email and copying our manager?
A: Gina’s intentions seem quite transparent. By forwarding this reproachful message to your boss, she obviously hopes to get your co-worker in trouble. And perhaps she just enjoys being a tattletale.
The key question, however, is not what Gina wants, but how your manager responds. If he chooses to ignore her petty gossip, then Gina’s tattling is simply a nuisance. But if he allows her to become the department monitor, the rest of you may need to help him see her motives more clearly.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.