Can’t Get Work Done But No Help From Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about  boss not helping: How do I approach this? I am taking over a coworker’s workload, which I haven’t done in 3 months. When we sat down 3 months ago, he said he would be available to answer any questions.

I recently changed jobs in the same company.  Every time I reach out for help, my boss says I am complaining and didn’t take good notes. How do I approach this? I am taking over a coworker’s workload, which I haven’t done in 3 months. When we sat down 3 months ago, he said he would be available to answer any questions I have when I do the work in the future. But now he is swamped with projects, and does not have the time to help me. When I tell my boss this, he tells me that I basically didn’t take good notes and that I am complaining. On Friday my coworker said he would be available over the weekend but hasn’t responded to my emails, voice mails, or texts since Friday.

My boss then challenges me literally in an email copying one of my other co-workers which is the project manager on the project, and says that I need to follow my notes. If you’re on a team, when showing someone something new you should be available to answer their questions, not just dump it in their lap and expect them to not have any questions at all. What do I do? I have to finish this by end of day tomorrow. Do I need to transfer to somewhere else because he will not change, or do I need to change my approach? I do not know what to do. I always thought your team is supposed to help you.

Signed, Need Help

Dear Need Help:

You alone know whether there is a place for you to go next in the company. If there is a position to which you could transfer and where communications would be more effective, it would seem that is the thing to do. If not, you may have to stay and attempt to find a solution for this very, very challenging situation. I can understand the feeling of the coworker about helping you with a job he was probably happy to give up. It was up to your manager to ensure you were trained properly. However, this frequent reference to not following your notes and not taking careful notes, makes me think someone has trained you in a way that was considered sufficient. If you have received training, they should still help you if you have questions. Perhaps they feel you aren’t trying or that you have had too many questions and now it’s time to do the work.

Only you know the full situation.It would seem now, with a timeline approaching, you have very little time to consider the situation and take some action. Here are some things to consider and quickly:

1. Is there any way at all you can do the work assigned, without having any additional help? If your life depended upon it, could you at least do it to an acceptable level, even if not to the excellent level you prefer? It might be easier with help, but can you show that you have tried to the very maximum?

2. Do you have notes from when you have discussed the work with the former person responsible for it? (The infamous notes!) If so, do they contain any information that could help you complete the project on time? If they do not have helpful information, consider copying them so you can show your boss or someone else, the kind of information you were given, compared to the kind of information you needed to do the work.

3. Put together the list of times you tried to get help this weekend. Try one more time tonight, unless it is far too late, or start early tomorrow morning when you know the time would be OK. Have the list ready, to show your boss. Your goal isn’t to get the colleague in trouble, but he should have helped if he said he would and your boss needs to know you made a good faith effort to get help. If the coworker tried to explain, but you don’t understand it, you may have to simply say you can’t do this work. The problem with that is that it may be in your job description.4. It sounds as though your conversations with your boss end in you just leaving the office or going back to work, without any resolution. You may have to be more adamant and stand your ground to make your point, if that is something you can do without risking your job. If you can’t express your concerns without being fearful, your only option may be to leave.For example, you might say, tomorrow, “Jim, I hear what you’re saying, that you think I didn’t take good notes. The fact is I can’t get the work done without more help. I’m asking you, in your position as my team leader, to get me the help and support I need as a member of your team.”The reason I wrote it in that very definite way; more adamant than I might normally write it; is to help you make the point to your boss that you are part of his team and it is his responsibility to provide support, if you haven’t received it. Be prepared for him to say that you have been helped already. If you have documentation to show that you have not been helped or given information you need, that is the time to show it.If none of that helps and you fear you will lose your job or that the situation will get worse, you may have no other option than to go to your organization’s HR section, explain the situation and ask for a transfer someplace else. If you have a job that is only possible in one section of the organization–the one you’re in; you may need to ask HR for help in mediating this situation.

The big issue will be: Has this or something similar happened before or have you had a great reputation elsewhere in the company? If your reputation is excellent and your performance evaluations have been high level, you will more likely be seen as being a good employee with a manager who is not communicating well. If you have had similar problems elsewhere, you may not receive the support you want now. Hopefully you can show what you have tried to do to get assistance and training and show that it wasn’t sufficient.I wish there was a magic way to ensure that you could get your work done on time. Unfortunately, you may have to do your best, using the notes you have or not do it all and explain why. But, even if you do get the work done, you will be faced with the same kind of situation again. This has been going on for months, so it seems you will have to either resolve it by communicating more forcefully, or accept that there will be no change, then decide what to do; stay or go.Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you do to resolve this matter. Your experience may help others who write to us.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.