I Feel I am Being Pushed Out of My Subcontractor Job.

Question:
I joined my company 3 years ago as a subcontractor working 2 days a week. I stayed on after the project with other production tasks, as well to operate a new piece of equipment, and started working the full week.

Months later a part-time staff in a managerial position was leaving, and the boss asked if I wanted to take over their correspondence, bookkeeping, and database management tasks. I accepted the offer, and organized my roles accordingly. These tasks usually combine together into a full work week, while otherwise each task would only take half to one work day to do.

Around a year ago a senior co-worker switched from working two days a week to a full week for a new project. Sometimes I also ask this person for help with setting up the piece of equipment that I work on. Also their project requires my operating of the equipment.

Recently I made an error on our database system. The issue got fixed and I apologized, but my boss got concerned about my performance since I seem to be quite busy with all the other tasks. The senior co-worker suggested to the boss that since another workmate needed more work, to delegate the database task to them and the boss agreed. I hesitated but ended up showing the coworker how to use the software while letting the boss know that I still would be available and able to do database as needed.

The same week the senior employee asked me to finish a couple of big projects in a row on the equipment. I agreed to this and as I worked on the first project he had given me some specific instructions on it. There ended up being an issue with the product, which was a result of how the specifications were communicated to me by the senior co-worker.

The boss was concerned and I told him that we will set things up properly for the next product. Unfortunately this also had an issue with it due to a random error between the computer to the equipment. At this point the senior co-worker asked the boss if he could be trained on the equipment to prevent future errors.

The boss then told me that the senior coworker wants to stay working full hours and that it may be a good idea for him to learn the equipment. I felt a bit discouraged and the boss told me not to worry and he won’t cut my hours, saying he understands that errors can happen. He came up with some set-up protocols for the projects. He also mentioned that I would still be able to work on all the tasks. I apologized again and thanked him.

This week the senior co-worker asked me to show him how to use the equipment, I hesitated and suggested that we first see how things go as we implement the new set-up protocols. Then he said that I still have a couple of other tasks that no one else knows how to do and should still be able to keep busy even if he starts helping out on operating the equipment.

He also emphasized that he is not trying to take away my job. As a result, in addition to feeling like my job is being torn apart, I worry that I won’t have enough work to do in the future.

Please let me know what you think is the best way to deal with this situation, given that I want to keep being involved at the company within the same capacity.

Response:
It may be that your coworker isn’t as encroaching as he sounds, but he certainly sounds as if he wants–and you have given him–a supervisory role over you. He probably doesn’t wish you any ill-will, but he wants to make sure he has plenty of reasons to work full-time, just as you do.

Your workplace situation and the staffing issues involved will dictate what you can do about this. But one thing I know you can do is to put your focus on doing good work and maintaining a positive and confident relationship with your boss, rather than focusing on your coworker. You have no control over him and he has none over you. But your boss is responsible for who is working on what and who is kept full-time or part-time. He also is the one to talk to if you are unhappy with the way work is being changed.

You sound beat-down, lacking in confidence and worried. Your boss has reassured you, your coworker has reassured you (which I imagine made you grit your teeth in irritation.) You must be giving off a lot of vibes that indicate you lack assurance about your future there. You don’t want to be a sympathetic figure, you want to be a much-valued and effective employee.

Do an inventory of the tasks in which you are a specialist. Consider other tasks you may be able to add to your inventory. Don’t give up anything permanently unless you are directed to do so. For example, don’t stand back and let the other employee always do a task you formerly had. Occasionally say you’ll do it to keep your skills honed and step in to do it.

Make sure you are a great trainer for the other employee. Consider creating some checklists or refresher cars or notes. Show your boss what you’ve developed and suggest he keep a copy on his computer in case someone else needs to be trained. Be gracious about passing the torch, without acting as though you don’t want to do it at all if he’s going to do it too.

You refer to the other employee as a senior employee. That might be just a way to identify him in your mind. However, it could indicate that you are intimidated by his seniority and think that makes him have more influence. It may, but it may not.

I once consulted in a non-union office where there was talk all the time about so-and-so being the senior employee or so-and-so having seniority over someone else. I heard it so much, I asked the manager to tell me the tenure of each of the employees. She couldn’t do it and didn’t think it mattered anyway. To the employees, tenure was a big deal, but the boss only wanted the work done right, in a cooperative way. That may be true in your situation as well.

Think of “Greg” the other employee as just Greg, not “Greg, the guy who is senior to me.” He has a job to do and so do you. You have the same opportunity to present your case about work as he does. You both are necessary for the effective accomplishment of work–the key issue is how many hours do you get to work.

It doesn’t sound as though there is a pot of hours that has to be divided among the two of you. You could both work full-time if each of you can show the ability to be effective full-time.

I often talk about the value of influence and how to gain and keep it. It takes three things: 1.) Credibility 2.) Value 3.) Effective communication. You want to have influence with your boss and it appears that you at least have his support at this time. Keep that support and build on it in any way you reasonably can, given the nature of your work. Often ask yourself what more you can do to add to the team, the company and the success of your boss. In the process, you will be more likely to solidify your position.

It sounds as though you already have a degree of influence with your boss, based on his comments to you. If you talk to him again and you haven’t already fully discussed the matter, don’t hint about your concerns, express them and say how important it is for you to continue with the most hours possible. Then, tell him you would like to stay part of the projects you’ve been involved with.

If you have discussed it fully already, you don’t need to keep bringing it up. He knows what you want and probably prefers to not rehash the topic.

If you find out you can only stay full-time if you change some of your work, you will need to decide if you want to stay there or not. But rather than worrying excessively about it now, keep working as though you will be there full-time forever, working in the way you want and contributing to the team and the company.

Best wishes as you continue moving forward in this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this situation works out for you.

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors