Coworker Teammate Lacking!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about disclosing a coworker’s lack of ability and commitment: Should I have kept my mouth shut? How should I handle this situation in a diplomatic manner?

My coworker and I work on the same team. She is extremely nice, friendly, but sensitive when under stress. She is new to our industry. Hence, her insight is limited. We have been working together for a year. I’ve trained her patiently and thoroughly in all the basics. Since my schedule is loaded with meetings and work, it is hard for me to cover everything. If I were in her position, during my downtime I would be reviewing materials, reading books on work-related topics, practicing, and offering my services to other team members to further advance myself. However, during her downtime, she is surfing online, gossiping, and talking on the phone. Besides the lack of initiative, she lacks attention to details and is always late to meetings.

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Forgotten Birthday


I work in an office with 8 other people and birthdays are celebrated with a cake or we take up money and buy a gift. My birthday was December 31st and it was not afforded the same celebration as others. My feelings are now hurt and the team has picked up with the next birthday in January.. I don’t want to appear petty and immature but my feelings are hurt. I need guidance in how to approach my supervisor about my feeling.




Dear Hurt:

Before I answer your question–a valid one, and I can understand your frustration–let me make a few comments for the benefit of those reading this because they are checking on birthday policies.

The fact that birthdays are often overlooked in the rush of other holidays points out what many people maintain: Birthday celebrations where everyone participates whether they are close to the birthday person or not, are often more about taking a break from work and eating cake than they are about joy over someone’s birthday or the positive benefits of coming together as a team.

I receive many complaints from people who resent the requirement to spend money or time on a birthday celebration for someone they don’t feel close to or even like.

I’ve received complaints from those who don’t want their cubicles decorated or don’t want happy birthday played over the intercom. Some have noted the lack of equality between gifts for very popular people and those who aren’t so popular.

Bosses complain because they often have to add to the money that has been collected for a gift. I was once present when a supervisor went cubicle to cubicle saying, “Look, I know he’s a miserable person to deal with, but I’m ordering you to go in there and smile and sing happy birthday!”

Your question has been asked as well: What if one’s birthday is skipped for one reason or another? In your case, your birthday is on a day when people often take the day off or leave work early. There are treats on every desk, everyone has spent every available dime, and it seems rather superfluous to bring people together to have a cake and give a token gift.

And yet, I can see why you would want to be included in the same kind of birthday recognition that others are given. As you think about what to do, answer some questions for yourself as a way to get a clearer picture of the situation: 1. Have you been through this before in this office or was it your first time to celebrate your birthday there? 2. Do you have reason to know it was intentional on the part of one or more people, to bypass your birthday? 3. Does anyone realize your birthday was overlooked? 4. Were there other December birthdays that were remembered and only yours was not celebrated in the office? 5. Does anyone know that you care about it? Were you asked ahead of time or told that your birthday wasn’t going to be celebrated?

Those will tell you whether you should feel the incident was personally directed at cutting you out of an office birthday remembrance. If it was accidental there is no reason to be hurt, only frustrated. If it was done on purpose, behind your back, by people you thought were friends, that’s something else. Now, you need to decide what will make it right for you. You certainly don’t want a birthday celebration at the expense of losing the respect of others or having them make fun of you or resent your insistence. The birthday event only lasts an hour but you’ll be working there every day!

Will you be happy if you are included in the first January event or do you want one just for yourself? Do you want a gift or will having a cake and a get-together with those in the office be enough? Do you want the gift, but you don’t care about the cake and get-together? Would it be enough if your co-workers simply told you happy birthday and sounded sincerely happy about it?

Those are important for you to think about as you consider your own motivation as well as what you want to ask for if you talk to your supervisor.

And, by the way, it’s perfectly OK to admit that you WOULD like a gift! After all, you’ve chipped in for the gifts of others, so I don’t think that’s selfish of you.

Consider these options: 1. If you have a friend in the office, talk to him or her and say that you were wondering if it would sound silly to ask that you be included in the January birthday recognition. Get that perspective, as well as letting them know your birthday was skipped. Your friends might take some action on their own or talk to the supervisor for you. 2. Talk to your supervisor or the person in charge of the birthday events and ask if you can be included in at least the cake part of the celebration in January. Let that person decide to include you in the gift as well. If she doesn’t you will probably be better off not to push it.

3. Talk to your supervisor and say that you aren’t asking to be part of the January event, but would like to ask if next year, even though it’s a long way away, you could remind her to have your birthday event early in the month, so you could at least have ONE place where your birthday doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of holidays. That will not only set the stage for next year, but will probably prompt her to suggest you be included in the January event. If she doesn’t suggest that, you can decide if you want to ask for it.

4. If you think the situation was intentional, ask your supervisor about that as well, and ask about what else might be going on that would have caused it.

Some might tell you not say anything, but I don’t agree with that. If you are working there next year it will happen again and you’ll be hurt and frustrated again, after spending a year participating in the birthdays of others.

Be honest with the person or persons who can make a difference, and let them know you would like to be included in the January birthday event, or the first January event if there is more than one planned–if that will work for you.

You might want to use some self-deprecating humor to imply that you know it might sound funny to them, but you want a birthday celebration like everyone else gets and you will feel left out otherwise.

If you have a good working relationship with most people in your office, they will not think badly of your desire to have a birthday recognition. In fact, they will probably be anxious to make it up to you for forgetting it.

Best wishes as you decide what to do. And, a very happy birthday to you! On this date, in your birth year, you were probably getting a lot of attention as a cute three week old baby. Those were the days!

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Boss Puts Us In Danger, Then Makes Fun Of Us!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a lead who fails to provide safe working conditions and also gossips about teammates.                   :

There is a Team Lead at my workplace that I often find is not taking her position in a professional manner. There have been numerous times when this Team Lead has not taken my co-workers concerns on safety issues seriously. Instead of helping solve the problem correctly, she gives them a quick fix, which I believe is more hazardous to my co-workers. For example: My co-worker unloads the trucks at work and often cannot see the heavy boxes that are hidden on top of everything, thus he ends up getting injured due to the hidden box falling on top of him. He told our Team Lead so she could e-mail the Distribution Center like she is suppose to about such issues but instead she told him to get a stool and put it in the truck to check for hidden boxes. However, the truck is slanted and the stool she provided him has wheels on it, which could cause more harm to my co-worker than the falling box.

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Continuously Emotional Employee


I have an employee who is very emotional due to a recent personal event. This employee has overheard comments from others that could be taken personal. The employee has complained on numerous occasions about what the others have said, as well as took a question concerning the title of a song personally. This employee has been noticed crying at the work station when she has made a complaint.

I have taken disciplinary action against the other employees for some statements made, as well as instructed everyone on the production floor to not play music loud enough for anyone else to hear or wear headphones. The majority of the time the complaint seems unjustified and could be due to the employee being paranoid. However, I investigate each incident to be sure and take any action necessary after discussing with HR. THe other employees complain about this employee “getting away” with some actions, which none of them have ever been disciplined for and I have not actually caught this employee doing any of the things they have complained about. However, I believe sometimes this may actually be happening. HR is holding back on doing anything because this could be considered retaliation due to the complaints.

I agree with HR’s argument however something needs to be done about all of them on both sides. My question, however, is yesterday the employee came to me and stated that the other employees were going to play X-Mas music today even though they know the employee does not like it.

Actually the statement was made to sound more like the others were going to play X-Mas music BECAUSE the employee doesn’t like it. Occasionally I have heard music coming from an area and have walked over and asked the person to turn it down. So, this morning, before most people arrived, the emotional employee came up to me, crying, and said they were playing X-Mas music and she was going to leave. I stated that I did not hear anything at all and that I am suprised since it so quiet this early but I will check it out. The employee re-stated that she was going to leave, and was still crying, upset, angry, etc. I stated that I couldn’t guarantee what would happen if she left, and that I am not approving this. The employee left. I plan to perform disciplinary action for an unexcused absence after discussing with HR. Sorry, here is the actual question(s)… Is the playing of the music something that could be considered offensive, since the employee believes it was done only because he/she did not want to hear it?

If I would have heard anything I would have been there right away to have them turn the music down. Usually I can barely make it out, if I hear anything at all. I know there are multiple causes for the problems in the department, which I have been told have been happening before I took the position. But, besides the possible abuse by other employees, which seems to have stopped since discipline was taken, the emotional state of this employee and the complaints she has made are bringing down morale of all employees, not just the ones who were part of the problem in the first place. I hate to say it but due to all the events, the quiet employees and others that have not had any part in this before, are now taking the side of the employees who were compained about in the first place. DO you have any suggestions that would help me raise morale, allow some of the benefits, such as music, and talk to the emotional employee to better explain that the problems are not only due to the others and that it will take all employees to make this work? The above paragrapgh is basically what I have already said to all employees. I have asked HR for some specific training that would help stop some of the issues that have happened so far, but was told that it was too expensive and that they are looking for something else.

Sincerely, Dan

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Meeting Interruption Protocols


We are having discussions on establishing a protocol on when and for what type of reasons for interrupting a meeting. We had an incident where an assistant knocked and interrupted a meeting (disciplinary & emotional session) for a message that was not urgent. Anyone have a list to work from?


Looking For Thoughts


Dear Looking For Thoughts:

Thank you for sharing your concern, especially since it is one which may others may very well have. It is very awkward and irritating–and can even be a liability problem–if a confidential or emotional meeting is interrupted for a non-emergency matter.

Dr. Gorden may wish to reply to this as well. But I think we both would say that this is a tremendous opportunity to allow some employee participation in the development of workplace procedures related to courteous communications, meeting protocols and so forth.

We get many letters about noise, disruptions and accidentally or purposefully inconsiderate actions around cubicles, offices, in breakrooms, and when meetings–especially confidential ones–are going on. It would probably be helpful to include in your employee handbook a list of requirements and suggestions for working effectively together in those settings–especially if similar situations frequently occur. I often teach that the six words that get us no where but frustrated are: “They shouldn’t have to be told.” I always say to replace those with, “Here’s how I know they understand.”

I believe that concept. So, I do think there needs to be some kind of information at the entry level, then reinforced routinely, about office courtesy and effective practices for working in an office setting.

However, it is also true that many incidents are only symptomatic of something else that should be corrected first. For example, was the action you describe–of an assistant interrupting a disciplinary meeting for a non-urgent message–typical for that employee? Does he or she often use poor judgment and this just happened to be more problematic than the other times? Perhaps the overall knowledge and skill level of that employee needs to be considered and action taken to retrain, reassign, or reassess job fit.

If he or she has done this type of thing before, what was the result? If he or she has never or rarely done this kind of thing, why do you suppose this was handled differently?

Did someone clearly tell the adminstrative assistant that the meeting was not to be interrupted except for urgent matters–and even that should be cleared with a supervisor or another person of status in the office?

Just saying, “I’m having a meeting in my office” isn’t enough to provide guidance about how messages should be handled–unless the matter has been discussed previously and guidelines have been made clear. Was there an understanding that the administrative person would be told when the meeting was over, so he or she would know when it was OK to check the room for occupants and to deliver a message?

I once told an assistant to hold calls and messages while I was in a meeting. After the meeting we left through a side door and went to lunch! It was several hours before she finally decided to peek in the door–and the room was empty! I was wrong to do that and promised it wouldn’t happen again.

Was there some aspect of the message that could have been interpreted by the assistant as urgent? Or, could the caller have put some pressure on the assistant about how important it was for the message to be delivered right away? Assistants often feel caught in the middle of messages, trying to figure out what will get them in the least amount of trouble!

Does this kind of thing happen often? If this is a rare event and the assistant now understands and it seems unlikely that this will happen in this way again, you may not need a written set of guidelines.

There are so many variables about situations like this that almost all guidelines will have a zillion exceptions–and if there are very many exceptions a list of guidelines won’t be helpful.

Perhaps the issue instead is clear communication at all levels about what is needed generally. Then, about specific situations, as those situations occur.

In this case, what would a guideline to prevent the interruption have said? “Do not interrupt disciplinary meetings, meetings that are confidential, or meetings in which personal or job-related problems are being discussed, unless the matter is urgent and cannot be handled by anyone other than the supervisor or manager in charge of the meeting, or the specific employee involved.” That sounds rather cumbersome! (And probably isn’t the way it would be written–but that is the general idea to be conveyed.)

Wouldn’t it be better if everyone were told, as part of orientation, staff meetings and regular communcation, that working together takes flexibility, empathy and understanding at all levels? It could be emphasized that each employee is responsible for communicating in a way that makes those possible.

Then, when Sam Smith is going to meet with Rob McGinty and the director of HR, Sam is responsible for telling Karen, his assistant, “Karen, I’m going to be in a meeting for at least an hour. It needs to be handled as a confidential meeting with no information given out about it and no interruptions. Please make sure we aren’t interrupted for anything other than an extreme emergency. Just tell callers that I’m in a meeting,without saying what it’s about, and that I will return calls this afternoon. OK?”

At the end of the meeting, Sam would say to Karen, “Thanks for holding calls and messages, I’m back in my office now and you can start buzzing me when you need me. Thanks again.”

That would achieve the desired results much more directly and certainly than hoping Karen understands and applies a set of guidelines given to her months or years ago.

However, if you believe having some written protocols will be helpful–and I can see that they might be in some settings–I think it should be a project for all adminstrative assistants, or a small group of the staff, or a mixture of staff and supervisors–with the understanding that the list will likely be edited and revised by HR and managers before finalizing. But as much of the original suggestions should be retained and used, as possible.

I hope these thoughts help you develop your plan of action. If you have the time and wish to do so, we would be very happy to hear what you decided to do.

Best wishes!

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Creatively Confined!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about feeling her/his ideas are unwelcome.

I work in the field of higher education with 4 co-workers instructing a course entitled media and society. I’ve been with the company 3 months and my position is lowest on the totem pole, instructing labs. I’m a highly motivated, self-reliant, creative individual who is also capable of collaborating with others on team projects. Keeping that in mind, perhaps you could help me with the following issues. In the workplace, I’m always asking questions, whether it’s during training or about something that will benefit the team or my class in particular.

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Definition of WEGO?


Can you post the definiton of WEGO. I see it in all your articles but no where is there a definition of what it is. Thanks.




Dear Wego???:

Many moons ago, I was asked this question. My answer is in our old archive. Please share your reaction to this word that I coined and think it especially applies to the workplace. I have often said, There’s plenty of ego in wego. By that I mean each of us needs to be concerned about ourselves, and that self-interest is not lost in working constructively with others. Rather it is enriched by interdepentend-mindedness. Do let me know if and when you find some our Q&As apply to your career and work situations. FOLLOW UP:

Thank you for the link. You may want to consider posting it in the new archives so other’s can find it too.

I get it, though I may not be able to verbalize it. It’s like a combination of being the best employee you can be in a team working together for the greater good. Sounds hokey, but that’s my take.

I am an assitant manager of a customer call center. My team consists of 12 women, so I’m sure you can imagine the myriad of unique situations my manager and I face daily. Your site is one of many sources I consult for advice.

THANK YOU for that suggestion. Do keep in touch we can learn much from you who are managing challenging situations day in and day out. The original Q&A will now appear in the new Archive along with your question.

What Does The Word “WEGO” Mean??

I have read many of the questions and responses on your page. Although your advice is always clear there is one thing that I don’t fully understand. When you sign off your responses you always seem to mention “WEGO.” What does this word mean? — I’d WEGO if I knew how. Dear Wanna WEGO: What does WEGO mean??? Wego is a combination of three words known to almost everyone: “we,” “go,” and “ego.” The idea for coining this word came to me years ago when I was creating games that teach a lesson. I created two games which illustrate the WEGO principle. One was about cases which were decided by the Supreme Court. This game attempted to teach the players how the case was decided by them reading a summary of the case and sharing excerpts from the opinions of the justices. The other aspect of the game was for the players to deliberate and argue how they would decide the case if they were the jury. In short, by involving themselves in the case, they became informed decision makers. WEGO means that. A second game I co-created was titled Prediction. In this game, players predict how other players’ will answer questions of fact such as “Who said, ‘I think and therefore I am,'” debatable questions such as “Should the police be paid less than teachers?” and personal questions such as “Would I adopt a child?” or “Does he or she prefer a shower or a tub bath?” If a player makes a correct prediction, both the predictor and the predictee advance on the game board. If the prediction is wrong, both, move back. The message of the game is that good communication is a matter of learning to know what others’ values, knowledge, and personal proclivities are. And that together, we humans who live, work, and play together, do so more effectively when we make informed predictions. WEGO is like that. The word “go,” means just that. Go means movement, doing, shaping the work we do and the place we work. It represents pro-active employee involvement. The last word which contributes to WEGO is “ego.” In the workplace, the psychological term ego means personal efforts to advance and benefit one’s self. We can not ignore the individual interests of those who work together. Ego in its rawest form is vicious. It says greed is good. It says that others come second to me. It says my way is the way it should be. The positive meaning of Ego is that it motivates hard work, dedication, and high commitment. But ego in its raw concern for personal advancement creates a hostile work environment. WEGO, with its all altruistic symbolism, tempers the egoistic motivations and egocentric behaviors. WEGO is organization in its best sense: a concern for high performance, a dedication to the external customer, the collaborative-communication-mindedness of those who work together, and commitment to the well-being of not just those in the workplace but to the community and enviornment in which it is located. WEGO thus for me embodies the trinity of words “WE,” “GO.” and “EGO.” WEGO is the mindset I have as I answer questions sent to The Workplace Doctor home page. I do have but partial truth and partial answers to the concerns of those who send in their questions. I submit my thoughts, my answers, for consideration, for disscussion, for argument, and for testing. I invite your feedback. WEGO, now awaits your ideas about what it means to you.

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How To Express Being Hurt By Bonus to Teammates

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about not being rewarded: I am against bonuses for these reasons, but I think if one does them, the team approach is best.

A big project went on. Lots of work was done. I was not asked to be part of the project. A new employee with the same job title as mine, was. I have helped train her thus far and she has only been here three months. I am not mad at her of course, but I am resentful of the situation Anyway, our boss comes into the room and gives spot bonuses to two employees and I suspect everyone directly on the project.(Mind you I can hear this, I don’t think she knew I was there, or maybe she disregarded it)

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Distributing Work Chores


I have been given a task at work to come up with a way to effectively distribute extra chores and tasks that are not getting done in the workplace. When I was a kid we had a “chores board” and if we did all of our chores we would be rewarded. Would a model like this work in the workplace as well? How would and could I monitor something like this? Any suggestions would be great. Thanks!


Someone’s Got To Do Them


Dear Someone’s Got To Do Them:

The first suggestion I have is not to assign the chores to the new guy or gal such as is the pattern some places. The kind of workplace culture I most respect is one of sharing the unpleasant tasks rather than of lording seniority over the newcomer. Should I assume that the chores not getting done are those such as cleaning up a coffee area? If this is the kind of tasks, might you not prepare a rotation of clean up assignments and then present this to the work group to ok or modify?

Associate Workplace Doctor Tina Rowe weighs in with this: My experience is that adults hate things that seem like something they did as kids; and will respond by making fun of it. They may do the chores, but with a lot of negative side-talk. Personally, I like the approach of simply having a supervisor assign tasks and rotating them every couple of months or so. People don’t like that either; but the fact that they hadn’t voluntarily done the tasks indicates to me they will resent anything that makes them do chores they don’t want to do. The writer might bring everyone together and ask THEM how it should be handled, with the clear inference that it WILL be handled and the tasks WILL be done by everyone.

Do you find our suggestions worth a trial period? If not, please use them to prompt other chore distribution options and then share them with us. Leadership is helping a work group understand that working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

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New Secretary Taking Over


I have been working with my boss (an attorney) for over 5 years now. I have been a loyal assistant and have followed him to one other place besides where we are now. Since he opened his own practice a few years back he has 2 associates. Just recently he hired another secretary to help with the workload but it seems she has taken over my job. We are assigned to cases and not attorneys. I feel demoted, almost like I am on the way out. How do I approach my employer about this issue without sounding so petty?

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