How To Refuse Tasks Given By A Senior?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about old assignment tags after new one:

I work in a small government office with two general departments. There are no separations by doors or partitions, we just have desks. Both departments provide similar types of information. Procedures vary per department. I’ll refer to them as dept1 and dept2. When I started working at this office I was assigned to work in dept1. After working there for about 6 months, I was reassigned to dept2. Dept2 has more things to be done and the department only has a few people to get them done.

There is a 3:1 ratio between Dept2 and Dept1 (in terms of work to be done). One note about me, I learn tasks really fast and have a tendency to remember them. Here is where my issue comes in; I used to be junior to a considerably older person whilst I was in dept1. Since I have been in dept2, I have had issues breaking away from dept1 as the considerably older person constantly uses the customers or “supervisor asks for” me to do certain tasks. As the office is customer-service oriented, I perform customer service with gusto. On multiple occasions, however, I checked with supervisors to find out about tasks I was asked to do by my senior and many times this information was found to be wrong.

In dept2 there is a lot of work to be done and I would much prefer not to busy myself in dept1. (We have our slow times but not very often). So how do I respectfully refuse to perform these tasks without having to constantly check with supervisors or look bad in front of the public?

Please note: I have developed a good working relationship with public servants from both departments, since I started there. I am naturally soft spoken, however, it seems the only way to make the senior actually listen is when I raise my voice, which I am not very comfortable doing. The effect of the raising of my voice and sudden assertiveness only lasts momentarily and everything will start over again.

Signed, Uncomfortable Raising My Voice

Dear Uncomfortable Raising My Voice:

The key to resolving the problem of being told you are requested might lie in the rationale for separation into Department1 and Department2. You say they are similar types of information but they differ in procedures. Why can’t boundaries of who does what not be different? The supervisor of these two departments should prevent the overlap or should treat the department as one and should cross train and assign work equitably. That could be hammered out in an office-wide meeting or in a committee representing each department. Another tact would be to have a skull session on talk about talk. Such a session would surface issues as how assignments are made, when it is acceptable to say “no”, and what is the way people must speak to be heard. Such a session also could spell out do and don’t communication rules; possibly, don’t gossip, don’t shift assignments, do offer to assist when one’s assignments are finished, listen to reasonable requests and don’t attend to coworkers only when they raise their voices. Communications rules are most effective when they are department and task specific.

Supervisors are responsible for appropriate and fair allocation of work load. They, however, too often do not know what is really happening and should spend a day each week doing what work is done in each of your two departments. Such a policy is in keeping with “hands-on” management. Have your departments focused on lean management and ways to circumnavigate about bottlenecks in supplies, processes, services? Government offices have heard of almost every fad, but there is a continuing need to work on such matters as civility, engaging, career mentoring, and quality improvement.

Concerted efforts in some of these areas can serve as a vehicle for improving on how things get done; and how things get assigned and done appears to be one of the topics of your concern. I hope some of these suggestions encourage you to find voicing yourself more comfortably. They should direct your attention beyond the immediate frustrations you have to the larger purpose of your departmental mission. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Applying the thought in my signature sentence can make going to work gratifying rather than a headache.

William Gorden