A reader writes:
Do you have any strategies to stop people using me as the in-house tech support?
I am by far the most technically savvy employee in my consultancy, and I’m happy to help with complicated or unusual IT requests. Lately, however, people who should have good IT skills are plaguing me with questions about everything from how to make cell borders visible in Excel to how to (no kidding) browse files in Explorer. Literally, a 20-something colleague with a degree and recent experience in an office, did not know how to browse directories on a Windows machine!
I don’t feel I can say I’m on a deadline or can’t be interrupted because each request takes only a couple of minutes, but the time adds up and up. I also don’t want to pretend to be too busy to stop for a second, because it’s an obvious lie if I then take a time out for a chat.
How do I cut this out? I’m getting increasingly frustrated that I’m doing the same or better work as colleagues on my pay grade, while also showing them basic computer skills they should already know.
Well, first, you absolutely can say that you can’t be interrupted even though the request would only take a couple of minutes. It’s perfectly reasonable to say, “Sorry, I’ve got to finish something up” or “I can’t break my focus right now” or “can’t help — having a hectic day.”
But I hear you that you want to still be able to chat with people or whatever without looking like you were obviously lying when you declined to help Fergus 10 minutes ago.
So I’d just tell people that you can’t help with this kind of thing anymore and explain why. For instance: “I’m pulling back on helping with this kind of thing because it’s started taking up a significant amount of my time. But if you google the question, you should find lots of help. That’s how I’ve figured out most of this stuff.”
Or, if you want to make it clear that you’re willing to help on occasion, but only if they’ve tried to figure out the answer first, you can ask, “What have you tried so far to solve it?” If the answer turns out to be nothing, then you can say, “Do me a favor and Google this stuff before pulling me in — I’m getting a lot of requests for this kind of thing, and need to limit them. If you’ve spent more than 15 minutes trying to figure out it and are still stuck, then feel free to come check with me, but that should solve a lot of them.”
But aside from suggesting specific wording, I also want to tell you that a big part of solving this is you believing that it’s okay to protect your own time and say no to this kind of stuff. If you truly internalize that it’s okay for you to do that, the sorts of responses above are more likely to come out of your mouth naturally … and you’ll probably deliver them in the sort of matter-of-fact way that will reinforce the message to your coworkers that you’re not in fact their on-call help desk.