Doing The Work of Others

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about work dumped on one and others loafing:

I inherited my previous position from my boss, when she became my boss. We had both moved up one position. When we were in our previous posts she would always push work back to me. If palming off work was an Olympic sport she would be a gold medal winner. It was only when I took over her position I truly realised just how much work she had let build up. Certain items of work had not progressed for literally years. When we were both promoted my previous post was given to two people who worked it as a job share. Unfortunately, both were not motivated and could not cope with the work and so a lot of it was taken off them.

Of course if a worker reads the newspaper in front of my boss for 45 minutes every morning and she does nothing about it, it is hardly surprising that work will suffer. Not only does my boss ignore the fact that they are blatantly skiving (which to be honest isn’t my concern) but to make matters worse, she has allotted some of their remaining work to me. I am already a very busy person. They are not. In fact she is not and she does not have enough work in her new position. However, she does feel the need to help out the other two job share employees and she does some of their work. But only the easiest, most straightforward tasks.

The most irksome and time-consuming parts of the job share employees’ work, she has transferred to me.What can I do? I feel depressed and angry at work and do not join in the conversation. Mind you I am usually too busy. I have been accused of being sullen and ruining what would be a good office atmosphere.Of course it’s a good office atmosphere for them when effectively 3 people are not doing a days work and the bulk of the office work falls on me!

Signed, Tired and Angry

Dear Tired and Angry:

Consider the following thoughts as you develop a plan that fits your specific situation.You know your own work environment best and also know the personalities involved. However, before you say, “That wouldn’t work!” give it a chance, or at least work at adapting to it. Often we feel so caught in a trap we feel frustrated and helpless when there are effective methods to get out if only we allow ourselves to consider them.

1. Perhaps you could find an approach for talking to your boss directly about this. Until you communicate your feelings, you’ll never be able to explain why you seem to be unhappy and unsupportive. That seems to be an important issue to clarify. One way to approach it would be to say you have reached the limit of what you can do and have exceeded it. You need help. And the people who originally had the work should be doing it now. You might tie that in to admitting that you have sometimes acted negatively and regret it. Then you could say that one reason you have had trouble feeling very positive about work is because you are overwhelmed with work yourself. Then, you could ask for the help of your boss in realigning tasks.It may be that you’ve made it look easy to give you work. If you can’t get it done, your boss may be less likely to think of you as a dumping ground for every chore no one else wants. To make that a successful tactic you need to document what tasks you have been given, who had them before and why the person who had them is the most appropriate person to do them now. Since your boss had your job before, maybe you can use that as a comparison. Be able to show how much more has been placed on your assignment than when your boss had it. You might also want to point out the lesser amount of work the other employees have than you were responsible for when you had their assignment. Also, if you can show the tasks your current position had before (minus the ones you were doing for him), then show the tasks you now have, it might help explain to your boss why you are frustrated over the current situation. It may take some time, but it doesn’t have to be fancy or precise; just a heading with the assignment title and a list of the most obvious and routine tasks, for the two employees and you. Perhaps you can have suggestions for reassignment of work, so he can see a way to make it happen without having to do much work on it himself.It sounds as though the people who took your place were not trained well, and they may not want to try to do work that is too difficult for their skills. That is a very human response. If they are trained to do the tasks that are part of their job description, the boss may not feel so badly about having them take those tasks back. Perhaps you could provide the training that is needed, then turn the task over to them.

2. It sounds as though you are in a company large enough to have an HR section. Perhaps you would want to get a copy of your job description, to determine if you are doing work not in your description. If you know someone there who could be an adviser, perhaps they could assist you. If there are others in the organization who you trust, perhaps they could advise you as well. Someone who knows the culture of the group involved is always more helpful than a complete outsider, when it comes to knowing how to apply general advice.HR might be one place to discuss how to get training for the employees who should be doing the tasks you have been given.

3. Does your boss have a boss? If so, perhaps you can go directly to that person and express your concerns and feelings. That is risky. But, if you are considering quitting or changing work anyway, that might be a good alternative. It doesn’t sound as though you’ll be able to be satisfied enough to stay there for much longer! If you do talk to that person, approach it from the viewpoint of how to best develop the entire team, rather than only criticizing your boss. Tell the manager-level person that you feel overwhelmed with work and know that one reason is that you are doing your work and the work you used to do as well. Discuss the training issue. You might even mention that your boss is attempting to help by doing some of the work of others and he too could be freed up for other things if work was realigned.

4. If you have the job your current boss had, and when he had your position he delegated work to you, can you delegate work to the women who work in a lower position than you? If you have that authority, use it in an appropriate way. If your boss refuses to let you use the authority you are given organizationally, you’d certainly have something to discuss with HR and with your boss as well. This entire situation reflects a poor understanding of supervision. The task of a supervisor is to do his or her own assigned work, then work with and through others to get the rest of the work done. Often, his or her own assigned work can be delegated to free-up time so the supervisor can do more one-on-one interaction, planning, networking and observing. That is not pushing work down, it’s delegating. The prime concept of an organization is that work is delegated to the lowest level capable of doing it. That capability may reflect the skills possessed by the employee, the appropriateness of the task, rules and policies, and time available.Perhaps you can document the issues about the time that is wasted by the other employees and use that to show your boss that giving work to them won’t make them over-worked.None of those thoughts are sure-fire solutions, I realize. Maybe you can adapt some of them. But, whatever you decide you’ll also want to see about developing a reputation that is different than the one you now have.People aren’t inclined to want to help someone who is seen as ruining the work environment. The fact that you are unhappy shouldn’t show so obviously that others are aware of it. You think of them as lazy, and I’m sure that shows.

Perhaps you can instead think of all of you as products of a group that is not managed or supervised very effectively. Your boss is at least not explaining his thought process very well. His boss is not managing him very well. You do not seem to be communicating strongly enough to your boss about work problems.I can imagine how frustrated you feel. But the bottom line is that if you choose to keep your job, in spite of the negative aspects of it, you will likely have to tolerate this ineffective sounding boss. And, unless you can get results by talking to your boss or others, or helping your boss develop a new approach, you’ll have to find a way to conceal your anger and frustration. It doesn’t make anything better, and in fact makes it much worse. I often use the thought: “The organization doesn’t own your attitude, but your paycheck rents your behavior.”I know that’s not easy to apply, and may seem unfair. But, if you choose to stay you may have to keep that thought in mind on a daily basis.It is difficult to work all day in a setting that you feel is extremely unfair.

You see the others not working as hard as you and it galls you every time. But, it is important for you to get up and walk around now and then and be part of the group, not apart from it. Say hello to people. Talk to them about family, travel, shopping, their concerns and so forth. Discuss your own world as well. Become a real person to them and let them become real to you. That might help them develop a connection with you that would help you in the future. And, since you seem to know the work better than they do, you could help them. One of the best ways to help each INDIVIDUAL is to help the entire group, and vice versa. That is the basis of the WEGO concept that Dr. Gorden talks about.In this case you may have to be the leader, since your boss apparently is not going to be! You may not be able to establish that role now, since there is a negative history. But sometimes the people we think are least likely to work with us are just waiting for us to extend our hand.I hope these thoughts will help you develop a plan of action for this situation. 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.