Should Still Be My Job

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a boss
assigning coworker’s my tasks:

I am an engineer working for an oil and gas company and have been in this position for quite some time. I have been in my current project for about 2 years with same boss. He has allocated my tasks to my coworkers without any consultation

There is one particular task which I was running with for quite some time. My boss has attempted to assign the task to one my coworkers. I have spoken to him and explained my frustration for the lack of consultation prior to his pulling the task away from me. I told him that I would like to keep working on the same task. He denied that he assigned the task to some else and explained to me that is a misunderstanding.

3 months later, I was surprised in one of the meeting that that task is under another coworker’s to do list! I know that my boss disagrees with my views around this particular task but am not sure this is the only reason!

I feel offended that my tasks are getting taken away from me without any prior communications. This is the second time. I am planning to speak to my boss, explaining my frustration about the way he has been managing the team. Am looking for an advice, please.

Signed –It Should Still Be My Job

Dear It Should Still Be My Job:

You are frustrated. Unstated, I suspect, is a worry that losing an assignment that you have performed for long enough to feel it is exclusively yours implies you are not doing it well enough. It might seem to you like a demotion. You confronted your boss once about this and he told you it was a misunderstanding. But then three months later, in a meeting you saw that the particular task about which he said was not assigned to a coworker was a misunderstanding has again be re-allocated to a coworker.

Can this be corrected? Maybe. Previously, you were wise to immediately speak with your boss regarding his assigning a task that was yours. He said that was a misunderstanding. How do you go about talking with him again—now that the task has been actually published on a coworker’s to do list? Before you speak with him, I’m suggesting several things to consider:

  • How the tasks you have been assigned link with those of your coworkers and how well does the operation of your work group contribute to the productivity of your company? Answering this kind of two-pronged question is the job of your boss. He is expected to find the best ways to carry out the plans of those who manage the overall operation.
  • How have jobs usually been assigned?  Have they come to be certain coworker’s particular jobs because they do them well and are they assumed to be theirs and theirs alone? If and when have they been changed? Why and what was the process? Might it be good for work teams to be cross-trained to do each other’s jobs?
  • Is providing your work group written to do lists a new way for your boss to state job descriptions and assignments? If so, might this be an improvement over past practice of making assignment orally?
  • If you were boss, how would you like those you boss to talk with you about how you have made an assignment? Putting yourself in your bosses shoes might help you to understand his thinking and for you to talk with him in a cooperative way—one that achieves what you both want—a smooth running operation.

With these considerations in mind, I suggest the following steps:

  1. That you request a meeting with your boss to discuss your assignments. If the tradition in your company for doing this is to do as you did before to informally say you were disappointed he had assigned your task to a coworker without consulting you, you can do that again. But this time, you will say, “Boss, remember three months ago, you told me my thinking this particular task had been assigned to someone else was my misunderstanding? Now I saw in a recent meeting that that task is on a coworker’s to do list. Is this another misunderstanding?”
  2. Listen for his reply. And here is when you can again express your desire that he consult with you about assignments, by saying, “Boss, I know you are trying to make our operation run smoothly and that entails finding ways to make that happen by assigning us certain tasks. Before you assign a task, might it work better if you consulted with us separately or in a group meeting first before handing out to do lists? Wouldn’t doing that help us to work together more as a team?”
  3. The goal of such conversation, would be creating a climate that makes your boss’s job easier and more effective and also of generating a highly committed work group.

Of course the language suggested in steps 1, 2 and 3 should be in your own words and in keeping with the tradition and culture of your company. What I am suggesting is a cooperative mindset—not one that is adversarial to authority. We need bosses and we need those bossed to willingly accept assignments, and to be willing to accept different assignments. I sometimes suggest that as an individual we need to have an I think, you think, I think mindset. That helps us understand what the other guy probably thinks we think. Consequently, questions are asked to clarify what is in each other’s minds—words are ambiguous and they sometimes, especially with assignments, need to be spelled out and spelled out more than once.

Your concern for consultation, I predict, will become a practice—your boss’s regular way of bossing—as a result your conversations with him. Also I predict he will come to think of helping you and your coworkers to have an efficient and effective working relationship. I encapsulate this kind of thinking in my signature sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. By that I mean you and your coworkers along with your boss generate good feelings about what you accomplish by coordinating assignments, by helping and cheering on each other. Please let us know if these thoughts help you know how to approach your boss and then how things work out for you and your coworkers over the next few months.

William Gorden