Doing Someone Else’s Work

Question:

What do you do when there is a staff member who delegates most of her work to others, while she sits in her work place and reads the paper, talks to others and God knows what else?

Her delegation of responsibility to others causes them to even get sick because of the amount of work being delegated. Somehow, she is given the autonomy to help direct staff and because of her weak management skills, upsets not one, but quite a few other staff members.

This staff person has a close bond with the “real supervisor” and seems like she’s been with the company for many, many years, so it feels as not much can be done. Don’t want to step on those toes. Mrs. “Wanna Be Boss” is not encouraging in meetings, but actually is discouraging, drawing attention to other people’s weaknesses, when she has a lot of growing to do, and much work to do, as well. For the sake of the whole office environment, please help.

Signed,

Caught In-Between


Answer:

Dear Caught In-Between:

How you handle this will depend upon how open your office is about communicating, how well you and others communicate with the real supervisor, how concerned the supervisor is about employee morale, how much solidarity there is among the employees, and, if the reality of the situation is as you view it.

It would appear that Mrs. Wanna Be Boss has the full approval of the supervisor. If she has been officially given approval to delegate work, and the supervisor has announced that fact, you have very limited options. But if there has been no official announcement of that type, it may be that her delegation is not known, or the negative impact is not known.

Or, it could be that the supervisor sees her in a much different way than others do, correctly or incorrectly.

If you can talk openly to the supervisor, why not do so? Use a heavy workload as the starting point and ask the supervisor if you can give it back to the coworker, since you can’t help her after all. As part of that, perhaps you can then ask if perhaps Mrs.WB could go through the supervisor, so the supervisor would have a better idea about how work was being distributed.

Keep the attitude of wanting things to work better, and making suggestions, rather than doing it as though you are complaining. BUT, if you have the opportunity to talk about the negative impact of the current situation, don’t avoid it. Perhaps the supervisor has no idea how detrimental it is to morale and effectiveness.

If you really want to make this light up, consider, the next time she delegates a new task, asking if the two of you could talk to the supervisor about it, since you are too busy to do it. If everyone stuck together and responded in this way, you might get something done about it. You mentioned staff meetings, so apparently you have those. Maybe the overall workload should be brought up, and the supervisor should hear the discontent. Keep this in mind though: If Mrs. WB is distributing work she is supposed to do, and it’s enough to break the backs of everyone else, there is probably a good argument that it’s too much for her to do as well. It could be that she is doing exactly what she was told to do. But at least you might find that out. Also in that staff meeting you could talk about figuring out a way to distribute work more evenly. Consider doing a survey of the office and finding out how many open projects each person is involved with. Or, how many times someone has not been able to go to lunch or leave on time.

It may be your coworker is considered by the supervisor to be the office manager. If that is the case, a person in that position HAS the authority to delegate, and likely nothing can be done about it. However, that still doesn’t mean you can’t use the chain of responsibility to go to your actual supervisor and talk about the workload.

If your supervisor does your performance evaluation, use that as the reason. Say that you’re concerned because you can’t do your regular work if you keep having additional work piled on. Ask if there are priorities about work, and ask where the work Mrs. WB gives you fit into those priorities, since it is on top of your regular work. As for the meetings, why not stand up for others, strongly and send a message? The next time Mrs. WB says something cutting or hurtful, say, “Wait! Let me give my thoughts about that. I think Mary does a great job of……” Or, whatever the subject is. On the other hand, if Mrs. WB is pointing out actual problems, you may find the employee should fight their own battles.

For example, someone contacted me last week about the fact that a coworker was critical about someone during a meeting. But, upon questioning I found out the other person had made a very bad error, on purpose. The coworker was right to be critical, and the meeting was the appropriate forum for that because of the circumstances.

So, be sure you’re viewing this objectively, and not basing your actions solely on a personal dislike.

Finally, as a psychological tool, once you determine that Mrs. WB has not been given authority, and is doing what she is doing solely on her own, or much more than the supervisor would have approved, be sure that you do not treat her like a supervisor. I have noticed that often someone who is bossy starts being treated like a boss. People defer to them, ask them questions, look at them first when they talk, seek their approval and so forth. Don’t do that. Treat your real supervisor like a supervisor and everyone else like a coworker.

That may not be possible in your office setting, but if it is, take full advantage of it, as a way to send a message. Be courteous, never be hostile, but ensure that you do not treat her in a deferential manner. For example, ask her to help you with something–holding the door, helping with some work, turning on or off equipment or similar things that are not punitive but that you might ask a coworker to help you with.

If you are very busy and she brings work to you–assuming she has not been given complete authority to distribute work every day–don’t just take it as though she is the boss. As I suggested above, ask her if you two can talk to the supervisor about it. Or, say you can’t do it. And say it, not as though you are talking to a boss, but rather to a coworker who has asked you to do something for her–courteous but firm.

If things are really, really bad, your only other option is for several of you to meet with the supervisor and complain about the situation. Keep in mind that you will still have to work with that person when it’s all over. But, if it’s bad enough to make people suffer, it would seem it is bad enough to complain out formally.

You may find that for many others, Mrs. WB’s mannerisms and style are the biggest issues, and they aren’t willing to take those on. That’s when you will have to decide how far you want to go with it.

I do believe though, that some of the actions mentioned above could be adapted to the situation, to get some relief. As a last resort, perhaps you could suggest that you would like to apply for the role now being held by Mrs. WB!

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

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.