Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about correcting boss’ error but get no credit:
I’m pretty tired today because we had a big deadline and I spent all night last night working on this project. I wouldn’t have been working late, but I discovered a HUGE mistake that my boss made and had to put in 8 hours on a Sunday to fix it before deadline. She is constantly telling me not to come to strategy meetings for projects, and wants everyone to go through her for information and coordination, but this mistake is just one of hundreds that she’s made because she doesn’t actually know the material, or try to learn it. She consistently asks me how to do the same things over and over and requests that I do things that are HER job because she doesn’t know how to do them.My boss’s boss has indicated that he thinks she puts too much of her work on my plate, and wants to change my job so that I report to him instead of her. How can I bring up this most recent error without sounding like I’m complaining? How can I navigate the change in job role so that I don’t A: come off like a jerk because I won’t do her job any more B: am assigned her job because she can’t do it C: help her without taking on the same duties.
It’s a small office (about 20+ people), and to have a tense relationship with her would make it awkward for everyone. I also don’t want to just be conflict avoidant about the whole situation and make her boss address it all.
Follow-up message: Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. In response to your note asking for more details: 1. I hadn’t considered telling her about the error and asking her to fix it. I’m anxious about our deadline and thought she had given me a finished product. Because she frequently asks me how to do things that are her job, I think I assumed that she didn’t know how to fix it. 2. I am close to my boss’s boss, but I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. He has a very high opinion of me, and like I said – I’m a bit conflict avoidant. 3. I agree with you that as whom I report to changes, I’m going to ask for my responsibilities to change as well, but what’s a tactful way to do that? I suspect that my boss’s boss will actually give me some of her projects because she doesn’t do them well. I’m afraid THAT will be awkward, and want to make sure I handle it well. I don’t particularly like my boss’s work style, but I know it’s important to have a good working relationship with everyone in the office. I’ve tried not to come across as threatening to her by being better at things then she is, but it’s frustrating because I feel like she takes for granted that I’ll do all the stuff she can’t or won’t, and she’ll still get the “power” of being in charge.
Signed, No Credit
Dear No Credit:
Thank you for providing additional insight about your concerns–and for allowing me the delay in writing. I’m back in my home office now and can give full attention to your letter. I will share some thoughts that perhaps you can use to trigger your own thinking about this delicate and touchy situation.1. I notice in your messages–admittedly not fully indicative of your communication style or all of your feelings on the subject–that you express concern about not coming across as threatening or complaining, and not wanting things to be awkward, as well as not wanting to sound like a jerk. You noted that you tend to avoid conflict.
The thing to consider is this: Where has all of that gotten you so far? Is this the way you want things to keep going? I ask that because often people spend vast amounts of energy trying to figure out how to be everything to everyone without offending anyone in anyway. And the result is that the only one who is really unhappy is the person who spent all that time concerned about something that no one else was at all concerned about. Does it seem to you that your boss is likely sitting at home right now worrying about coming across badly to you, or creating an unpleasant work situation for you, or treating your unfairly? Has she ever expressed concern that she may be putting too much pressure on you and she wants to ensure that you know you don’t have to do more than your share? Has she said to her boss, “Monica is the one who is making me look good and I want to make sure we reward her for that.” Really, doesn’t it seem to you that this is rather one-sided on your part? And here’s the thing: It may be that it isn’t expected of you–it’s just understood that you’ll do it–and you would be thought of just as highly if you didn’t do it. Maybe even more so. I remember reading one time that the one thing we can’t forgive in others is when they cause us to show our weaknesses. It may be that your boss is torn between wanting you to keep her from showing her weaknesses and resenting that she feels you think you have to rescue her from herself.
2. I don’t know your work requirements and limitations, but I would suggest, unless you have no options at all, that you stop rescuing your boss on tasks that clearly are within her area of responsibility, unless she has directed you to correct her mistakes on your own. I understand that your job is to get work done and to help her with her work. But, unless you are required to stay as long as it takes, working on Sunday nights and other times, you should set limits for what is your responsibility and expect that she will fulfill hers. For example, you noticed a problem with a project. If you were solely responsible for that project, I can understand staying as late as required and working on a weekend, to correct it. But, if it was your boss’s project and responsibility, you could have contacted her immediately and said, “I see a problem with this. I won’t be able to stay to fix it and wanted to let you know so you can decide what we should do.” You couldn’t have gotten in trouble for that and you would have given her the option of ordering you to stay (for which you could have had a genuine reason to complain if you had wanted to), coming in herself to work on it or delaying the project by a day if necessary. If it involves day in and day out things, perhaps you should “upwardly supervise” on occasion. I have a friend who is adamant that there is only so much work she can do without wearing herself out. And, she feels that her boss tends to expect too much, given her salary. When her boss asks her for work she thinks is excessive for the time frame or the stack in her in-basket, she says, sincerely, “I don’t see how I can do that and everything else too. I really don’t. Could I wait until… (She picks a date a couple of days away.) Sometimes she’s told she has to do it, but more often than not, her boss wanders off and does it himself! That might not be something you’d be comfortable with. But I will say this much: It sure seems to work for my friend!
3. Having said all of that, it seems to me that your primary focus should probably be the boss of your immediate boss. Not that you don’t care about your immediate boss and shouldn’t be concerned about working well with her and so forth. But, it is HER boss who has the clout concerning your job. He apparently is aware of your strengths and her weaknesses, so even if your own boss becomes difficult to deal with, it likely wouldn’t hurt your position there. In fact, it seems that your boss’s boss has failed to do his job by letting this continue, when he is aware that things are not as they should be. It may be that, because of the small office and the need for everyone to work together as a close team, he hesitates to tackle the problem. But sadly, his lack of action has negative results for you. On the other hand, I agree with you, that there is no point in creating conflict and contention if it can be avoided. So, a goal might be to develop an approach to work that keeps you doing what your job involves–and perhaps a little more–without becoming burned out, used or used up. Also, to present your self as an employee who is ready and willing to handle challenges, without being viewed as ladder climbing at the expense of others.
4. It may be that your best response is to start now with a plan of action for any further situations, rather than trying to remedy something that has occurred–unless the opportunity clearly presents itself. Even in the best situation it would be almost impossible to tell your boss that you are frustrated over her excessive delegation and the fact that you feel as though you do both her work and yours. There’s just no way to do it without causing some offense! But, it would also be very difficult to ask for an interview with your boss’s boss, solely to tell him of this recent incident. So, why not approach this another way: Start actively working to change your assignment, under the guise of career development. Everyone understands that desire.
5. I don’t know how your organization is structured or how your boss’s boss intended to make his suggestion work. But consider this: Talk to your boss’s boss and be honest about what you want to achieve. Tell him you love your work and want to accomplish more, but feel that you have gone as far as you can currently and would like to explore his earlier suggestions about moving your assignment. Tell him you know that might be awkward and ask his advice about how to handle it with your boss. Be honest about what you want to achieve–but do it without talking directly about problems with your boss. I think your boss’s boss knows anyway. Ask him if it would be appropriate for you to write a letter to your boss, with a copy to him, discussing your desire to grow and develop and gain additional insights about the work of the organization. You might mention a project you know would come under the supervision of your boss’s boss, or something else that your boss might suggest that would require a change of assignment for you. You don’t need to mention that it could include some of the things your boss is currently responsible for. Just say you want to gain experience. You know your organization and how you might have to word that. But again, ask your boss’s boss for ideas. Put your resume together and include that with the letter. Make it appear as though this is solely a career development move on your part. It may be that taking that action would indicate to your boss and others that you might not be inclined to stay if you can’t gain further experiences. If you do the good work I think you do, they won’t want that to happen anyway.
6. If you were to get to make the change and your new boss gives you some of the work of your old boss, don’t even worry about it. That’s his and her problem. You can’t make it seem less irritating to your current boss, so you might as well let it go. Just be as nice as always, express appreciation for getting the added experience and assure her you will ask for her input when it’s needed. Then, focus on doing very good work.
7. Finally, I don’t know how you can do it, because I don’t know your life there, but I do think you need to take some pressure off yourself in some way. You obviously want to do a great job and are willing to do what it takes to help everyone succeed. But it may be that you put more pressure on yourself than is required. I do understand when your boss brings in something or asks you to take care of something, you must do that. But perhaps you shouldn’t always have the answer, and perhaps you shouldn’t always be able to correct every problem. It’s wonderful to be almost indispensable–but eventually you’ll get so inundated with the work of others that you don’t do as well as you’d like anyway. And, sadly, the more you do, the more tasks you will be expected to juggle. Maybe you can find a way to back off just slightly. I hope some of these thoughts will help you decide what you can do about your current situation. The bottom line is that something has to change. Your boss certainly won’t be the one to move you into a better situation. Only you and your boss’s boss can do that. So, keeping that in mind, what is most likely to make that happen? If you have the time and wish to let us know, we’re always interested in hearing how things develop. Please stay in touch. Best wishes as you work through this challenge!Finding alternative approaches is the best way to think WEGO.
Tina Lewis Rowe