A reader writes:
I perform the same job functions as a couple other people in my office. There’s one person who consistently does more work than the rest of us combined. She works late into the night, sometimes late into the next day, she gives up most of her weekends and always makes sure we know how stressed and busy she is and how much she’s working.
My problem? I want to do work, too! I like to be busy. But she hoards almost all of it. I’ve asked her for stuff when she complains about how stressed she is, but she says she has trouble delegating.
I also have let my boss know that I’m low on work, and I have also let her know that I am free and available and eager to take on others’ work to lighten their loads. Nothing really changes, though.
The part that kills me is that the hoarding colleague gets all of the praise for sending emails at 3 a.m. on Saturday or for the very long hours she works and her incredible rate of output. I don’t even have enough work on my plate to put in those kinds of hours. And frankly, it also seems like she’s being rewarded for something that is completely unnecessary. She’s working such long hours because she won’t pass off work that others could tackle for her. It’s starting to make me feel both angry and not very valued here. I go home having little to show for my days sometimes.
At this point, my boss is risking losing two people: one of us will burn out, and the other will leave out of boredom.
Is there anything you could suggest I do? Or is this just one of those things that won’t change? Maybe I need to start looking elsewhere? I’m tired of spending my days surfing the internet and trolling the office for tasks while my colleague drowns under a mountain of work and gets praised for it, while I feel like a useless slacker.
I should also add that I am good at my job and knows that my boss thinks so, too. This isn’t because I’m seen as incompetent (at least, to my knowledge!). This colleague has just been here longer and has a far deeper understanding of this place. I’m very happy here otherwise, but if this continues, I feel like I may need to think about other options.
Talk to your coworker, and if that doesn’t work, talk to your boss.
To start, you need to lay out the problem more directly for your coworker than you already have. Don’t just ask for work when she’s complaining about being stressed — that makes it sound like you’re offering to help her with a problem she has, and that it’s up to her whether she wants help or not. Instead, you need to make it clear that this is a problem for you — and that’s the crucial distinction.
Schedule a meeting with her — and possibly with the other people performing the same function as you two, depending on where they stand on this — and say that you’d like to discuss a better system for dividing workload. Then, be explicit. Say something like, “I do not currently have enough work to keep me busy, and it’s very frustrating to me. I need more work to do. At the same time, Jane, I see that you’re very busy. Since we’re all charged with performing the same work, we need a better system to divide workload so that it’s more evenly spread between us.”
If she resists, say, “My job is the same as yours, and yet our workloads are very different. And while I understand that you prefer to do this work yourself, I need to take some of it on, both because it is my job to do so and because it is my strong preference to have a fuller plate.” (And frankly, if you’re willing to, you might consider adding in that you’re at the point where it’s affecting your satisfaction with your job, because you are and it might be helpful for her to hear that.)
Come to this meeting prepared to suggest a new way of dividing up work. For instance: “My thought is that I can take everything related to A, B, and C, while you handle D, E, and F.” Or if the nature of your work doesn’t lend itself to that, “Let’s meet at the start of each week and figure out how to evenly divide that week’s projects.” Or just simply, “I’d like to start handling A, B, and C.” Or whatever — just come prepared with a proposal and share it.
If she argues with your proposal, then say, “Okay. What division would you prefer?”
If she absolutely won’t come around, then you say, “Okay. I think we should talk with (manager) about this and see if we can figure out a better solution.”
Then you talk with your manager. And you should be fairly candid about the fact that you’re frustrated with this, and that you’ve tried to solve it to no avail. That’s something your boss needs to know. After that conversation, you should have a better idea of whether this is going to change or not.
One other thing, though — it sounds like there’s a dynamic where you’re asking your coworker to share work with you, and she’s talking about not wanting to delegate it to you. But if you’re equals, how is she getting all this power over the work to begin with? How is it hers to delegate or not? I don’t know what type of work you do and how it’s assigned, but it’s worth looking at how it’s all ending up with her in the first place. If someone else is assigning it directly to her, that’s an issue to tackle too. Or if it’s up for grabs but she gets to it first, you may need to change your habits in that area. It’s hard to say without knowing how the work is generated in the first place, but don’t neglect this piece of the issue.