My coworker is very shrewd. She’s nice, buys people birthday balloons, cards for everyone to sign, gives other people food in the building, etc. Whenever I must be out of the office, she works my desk, which is fine, but she keeps on trying to do my do work even when I return. It makes me very angry, and I don’t know how to handle this diplomatically. How should I handle this?
Dear Very Angry:
Isn’t it good that you don’t have the opposite problem; a coworker who doesn’t think of others’ birthdays and allows work to pile up when you are out of the office? You say she’s “shrewd” and you title your question “Coworker Wants My Job.” This picture you paint of her is of a manipulative individual. Perhaps she is this way, but your description of what she does doesn’t provide evidence of ill motives. So there must be other aspects of her behavior that have caused you to have a negative opinion of her or you are mistaken in assuming she is out to get you.Let’s say you are right; that she does want your job. Should you watch your back because she might sabotage you work? Yes, that is a possibility. You must then make sure that nothing she does that goes out in your name is in error. You need to define who does and doesn’t do tasks that come to your office. You will need to match her thoughtfulness to others. You might do for her what she is doing for you when she’s out of the office. Get my point? To work with this fear that she is “shrewd” can make you wary, stressed and constantly competitive. Your question is a symptom that something is not right. That is not psychologically healthy even if that uneasy feeling and anger is only a fiction of your insecurity and imagination. Don’t allow this anger to fester. Do what you can to deal with what is real and dismiss what is not. The feeling that your coworker is shrewd and calculating might be real. If so, confront that. If she commits underhanded acts, confront her, and if they continue bring them to the attention of you supervisor. Ask that they be investigated and stopped. However, since you say you have no problem with what your coworker does when you are out of the office, the chances are that you can clarify who does what and come to an understanding that lessens your frustration with her. Coming to work each day worrying a coworker is after your job is uncomfortable and can escalate into an antagonistic relationship. And if it does escalate into a competition, you, too, then could be seen as insecure and manipulative, especially if you gossip with others in your office about a negative assessment of your coworker. Therefore, rather than thinking these negative and possibly correct thoughts about your coworker, you have the choice of bringing these thoughts to the surface. How? There are several options, some which are overlapping: 1) At the moment she does something that is your job, you can kindly say, “Alice, that is my job, please don’t do it.” If she protests, this is when you can make it clear by repeating yourself. I don’t recommend this option because you first need to clarify who does what. 2) Talk candidly with your coworker. Share your feelings that she is plotting to take your job. Tell her why you have this feeling. Ask her if there is any bit of truth in your worry. Confront that possibility, even if she denies it, and brainstorm of ways to compete and or cooperate in ways that will benefit each of your career goals. Plan and plot on ways for you each make your current jobs easier, more effective, and your future more satisfying. 3) Have a time-out meeting with her. Come to a clear understanding of: · What assignments you each will do solo · Which you can do when the other is out of the office · What you can collaboratively do together. Specify a trail period, such as two weeks to determine if you both think this satisfactory or if the definition of who does what needs some tweaking. 4) Don’t reveal your anger and worry that she is out for your job. Rather focus on enlisting your supervisor and all coworkers to work as a team. To do this, speak of your supervisor as a coach and enlist her/him to weekly skull sessions committed to finding ways to cut waste; wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted money and ways to innovate; innovations of improving the products you deliver to inside and external customers. Become a cheerleader for your coach and teammates.These are options for you to think through. If they don’t strike you as worth trying, hopefully they will prompt you to find more creative and viable approaches. Can you? Can you work with your coworker with hands, head, and heart? Can you do what it takes to make what I call big WEGOS? If you find time, please tell us what you elect to do and how it is working out after a few weeks.