How Should I Treat A Co-Worker Who Is Given Preferential Treatment?

A Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about relationships with a co-worker
who seems to be getting preferential treatment.

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Question:
Should I stop talking to a coworker who is clearly given partiality on the work line by the line leader? I have been a good sport about this for a long time and it has not changed. I am now very resentful that I am given jobs that are difficult and she is exempt because of their friendship.

Answer:
Without knowing any details of the situation it is difficult to give specific advice, but I can certainly give you something to consider: If your coworker is a friend of the line leader and you stop talking to the coworker, it is probable that the line leader will hear about it and will not view you favorably. Do you think that will help you get better jobs or even more difficult ones? Refusing to talk pleasantly to a coworker is never the solution to a work problem related to a supervisor.

Besides, unless there are only two people on the line—you and the coworker–there are others involved too. They may feel they are the ones being treated unfairly or they may see no unfairness at all. The bottom line is that the only one you should communicate with about it is your line leader, because he or she is the only one who can make a difference. (The co-worker may not be asking for preferential treatment and may not think there is any of it happening, so she might be in the clear anyway.)

I do understand the frustration of feeling that friendships are making a difference at work. Once a person thinks that–or can prove it—it, becomes a continual irritation and every day becomes a time of looking for another example of being treated unfairly. Once that takes seed in your mind, it’s hard to get it out.

Consider talking to your line leader the next time you think are getting a tougher assignment than anyone else. You could approach it this way: “Carla, is there a reason I’m doing all of the packing and shipping lately? That’s the toughest work and wears me out. Is there a way we could share that between all of us?” (I realize that kind of talk is difficult, but it is probably the only way to remind the line leader that you have noticed there is an inequity in work.)

Or, you could be a bit less honest and ask, “Carla, I notice I’m getting a lot of the time consuming work lately. Have I done something to get on your bad side or what?” (You know why you think the work has been assigned unfairly, but this might be a way to bring to the line leader’s attention that you have noticed.)

The next thing to consider is what you will do if the work continues to be assigned unfairly. You probably need your job there and another one will not be easy to find. Is there something you are being asked to do that is clearly outside your job description? If so, you have a valid complaint to take above the head of your line leader if needed. If all you are being asked to do is part of your job description, you would not be viewed as having very much of a valid complaint, unless the coworker was being given time off or doing absolutely nothing for hours at a time while you and others worked.

If you are part of a union, you may be able to get advice from your steward. If you are not part of a union, talk to someone you respect who is outside of work but who knows your work situation better than we do, as strangers. Maybe they can give you some thoughts that would fit your specific situation.

Work is a big part of our lives but it is only one part. Unless you are being asked to unfairly do work that is unsafe or not achievable, you may find your best action is just to do what you can, the best you can and keep moving forward. If there is a performance review time, you could bring up your concerns, or you may at some point feel that you must say you simply cannot do the work being requested. Until then, if you have no other options, your best choice will be to stay courteous and friendly to everyone, as a way to make an irritating work situation at least bearable. Then go home and make life good there, so you can recharge before another day at work.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Rowe
Ask The Workplace Doctors