A reader writes:
My coworker, who is senior to me but not my boss, pushes significantly more work down to me than other coworkers in his position. With other coworkers at his level, I do somewhere between 40% to 60% of the work on a project; when I work with him, I end up doing almost 80 to 85% of the work.
I think this is largely because he doesn’t know how to do some of the work, he just doesn’t want to do it, and my work is often better. I also suspect he is pretending to know less than he does just to avoid doing the work. For example, he can’t find where a file is on our system even though the file name is in footer.
What is most annoying is that he says things like “You should call the client; she likes you so much. You’re developing such a great relationship and I like to foster that” … “You are so much more detail-oriented. I’ll feel better if you do it” … “I just don’t know how to that. You’re really the expert at that” … and “You never forget what to include so you should do it.” I feel like these are usually true, but they are being used to punish me, not reward or praise me.
Outside of me explicitly saying that I will not able to get something to client by a deadline with everything else I have to do, he will not offer or attempt to do more than the minimum. I can’t say this every time. And it feels aggressive to say, “I have time today, but was the office past 10 p.m. the past three days, but you left at 6 p.m. every day and I’ve see you playing on your iPhone almost every time I have walked by your office” or “I think the client expects you as the more senior member to be more involved in this and so you should really should be.”
I am tempted next time a project comes up to say, “If I have to do as much work as I did on the Teapots project, I just don’t think it is feasible for me to help out with this unless there is someone else added to the team or if you feel like you’ll have time to help me out. Let me know.” And if the work gets pushed down, I can use this to make a case for allocating it more fairly. What would you say or do?
I’d start getting more comfortable with saying some of the things you list here but don’t want to say — or at least versions of them.
“I was the office past 10 p.m. the past three days, and really need to leave on time today” is a reasonable thing to say. You should leave off the “I’ve see you playing on your iPhone almost every time I have walked by your office” part because he’s senior to you, but you can certainly assert your own time management needs.
“I think the client expects you as the more senior member to be more involved in this” is also a reasonable thing to say, if you legitimately have that sense from the client.
It’s also reasonable to say, “The last time we worked together on a similar project, I ended up covering X, Y, and Z. I don’t have room in my schedule right now to take all that on, but I could do X if you can do Y and Z. Will that work?” (Of course, that needs to be true; you shouldn’t say that just on principle if you really do have room in your schedule, even though it might be tempting to.) And if he pouts, there’s no harm in pointing out that when you work with Jane and Bob (other coworkers in his same role), they routinely handle Y and Z.
If he tries to wheedle you into doing things with compliments, practice being immune to that. For example, I’d handle it this way:
Him: “You are so much more detail-oriented. I’ll feel better if you do it.”
You: “With the rest of my workload right now, I won’t have time to do that. Bob normally handles that when I work with him on similar projects.”
Him: “But you’re soooo great at it.”
You: “Thank you. But I won’t be able to fit it in with the rest of my workload right now.”
You could also try turning it back around on him:
Him: “You never forget what to include so you should do it.”
You: “You’re great at that yourself! And I won’t be able to get to it this week, so I think we should leave that with you.”
Keep in mind, he’s doing this at least in part because you’re making it pretty easy for him to do it. Stop making it so easy, and see what happens. My bet is that he’ll back off at least a bit.
Of course, the risk here is that he could complain to your boss that you don’t have time for the work he needs from you and that you aren’t being helpful, so you might want to consider looping your boss in ahead of time. That said, whether and how to approach it with your boss depends on what your boss thinks of this dude and what his standing in the organization is, as well as what your boss knows about your workload and work habits in general. If your boss knows you do awesome work and make good prioritization calls, she’s more likely to back you up, and the same is true if she’s not super impressed with him.
(Relatedly, you do want to have a good sense of how your boss would want you to handle this. If your boss’s stance is that helping these senior coworkers is part of your job and that it’s this guy’s prerogative to ask more of you than his peers do (which isn’t inherently an unreasonable stance in many contexts), you’d want to soften some of the language above. It would still be reasonable to negotiate workload and timelines relative to your other priorities, and it’s still reasonable to say “I can’t stay until 10 p.m. a fourth night in a row,” unless you’re in a job where that was part of the deal going in. But in that case, you’d want to limit the pushing back more to times when it truly would create a conflict with other things you need to get done, and at that point you might want to loop your boss in for input about how to handle the conflicts.)