my new coworker is questioning and redoing my work

A reader writes:

I find myself in a difficult position at work and I hope you can give me some advice. I was hospitalized and then had to spend 3 months in recovery. When I came back, we had a new hire (not to replace me, but another coworker who moved away) and, although we don’t have much in common, he does his job and seems to be a good fit.

However, recently I’ve noticed that he’ll go review my work and redo it, while changing minor details that not only didn’t need to be changed but sometimes hurt the outcomes overall. Furthermore, he occasionally reports to my boss that I have done my job incompletely or incorrectly when in fact I have addressed what needed to be addressed and moved on to the rest of my work.

At first I thought that I was being too sensitive, that perhaps because he knew about my hospitalization he was just making sure things were in order…but it turns out he has been doing this to all of the employees. He also doesn’t take breaks or a full lunch, which makes the rest of us seem unproductive in comparison because we do take our full breaks and lunches. Most of us are frustrated with this situation, and many of us feel like we’re being edged out. However no one is sure what to do, if anything.

As a manger does this seem like a problem to you? Am I being overly sensitive or is this coworker’s behavior as intrusive and/or disrespectful as it seems? What if anything would you advise?

There are two possibilities here:

1. He’s overstepping appropriate boundaries. If this is the case, you can ask him to stop.

2. He’s doing this with the approval of — or maybe even at the behest of — your manager. If this is the case, talk to your manager and find out why it’s happening.

The first step is to figure out which of these two it is. You can do that by asking him or by asking your manager. I’d start by asking him, because that’s the most direct approach. Say something like this to him: “Bob, I’ve noticed that you’ve been reviewing my work and sometimes making changes to it. I’m confused about why.”

If his answer is that your manager asked him to, then you stop here and go talk to her. But if his answer is anything else — whether it’s “I have extra time and wanted to help out,” “I’m a compulsive proofreader and love checking things over,” or whatever — then you say this: “I appreciate your desire to help, but I prefer to complete my work on my own. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop checking over my work, and I absolutely don’t want you changing anything in it without checking with me — but even that shouldn’t be necessary, because there shouldn’t be a reason to be checking it in the first place. If you ever feel that there is, please talk with me so we can figure out what the problem is that’s causing your concern.”

And then if it continues after that, you have a more serious version of that conversation: “Bob, we talked a few weeks ago about how you shouldn’t be reviewing my work, but it seems to be continuing. What’s going on?”

Now, if instead he tells you that your manager asked him to do this — or a more mild version of that, like that he offered to do it and she said it was fine to do — then you go and talk with her instead. When you do, say something like this: “I noticed that Bob has been reviewing my work and sometimes making changes to it, and when I asked him about it, he said that you’d asked him to do it. I was surprised by that, and wanted to talk to you about whether you have concerns about my work, or whether there’s something else that makes you want someone reviewing it.”

Then, you listen with an open mind. It’s possible that she does have concerns about your work, noticed that Bob’s work is excellent, and asked him to play this role for that reason. (If that’s the case, she should have told you herself, of course, but better to know now than not at all.) It’s also possible that she’ll tell you that she didn’t ask him to do it, but since he started doing it, she figures it’s better to have two pairs of eyes on things than one … and if that’s her answer, then you’ll need to decide how strongly you feel about not wanting this. It would be legitimate to say, “I agree that two pairs of eyes are better than one, but it seems to be only Bob reviewing others’ work, and because he has less experience, sometimes his edits are wrong.”

As for your broader question about whether you’re being overly sensitive — no, I think most people would be bothered by this part of it. Butting into your work without a clearly-communicated mandate to do it is annoying. However, in being annoyed by that, don’t let it bleed into your perception of other things — namely, the fact that he doesn’t take breaks or a full lunch. That’s his prerogative, it’s not something to hold against him, he’s probably not doing it to make the rest of you look bad (maybe to make himself look good — or maybe just because that’s how he works; lots of us do), and disliking him for that reason won’t reflect well on you. So the work intrusions, yes, but his personal break schedule, no.

{ 39 comments… read them below }

  1. Rana

    Plus maybe the reason that he doesn’t take breaks or a full lunch is that, what with all the re-doing of his co-workers’ work, he wouldn’t have time to complete his own otherwise. ;)

    1. The IT Manager

      Yes. “Having to work through lunch” makes him sound less productive than other people who can get their jobs done while still taking their scheduled lunch break.

      1. Forrest

        Maybe. But I personally hate taking a lunch break. I’d prefer to just work straight through. (I’m lucky in a work environment that just stresses getting your 8 hours in, rather than being at work between certain hours.)

        1. Tiff

          I eat lunch at my desk, pay bills and catch up on AAM. My whole day is spent talking to people, lunch is my sanctuary. Even if I’m just catching up on more work, I’m not talking about it!

  2. Andie

    I am curious as to how he is getting access to everyone’s work. Is everythng on a shared server? Do you have to send your work to everyone?

    1. Another Emily

      I can think of a lot of situations where there would be an opportunity for this. One is a shared server like you said. Or it could be that the OP works on Part A and her coworker works on Part B. Instead of just doing his job, he also checks Part A. Maybe the OP updates a shared database.

      There can be value in having a second pair of eyes on your work, but it sounds like your coworker’s efforts are a collosal waste of time and counterproductive. I think Allison’s advice is spot on.

    2. PPK

      There could be some sort of source control — if it’s code or documentation or something that is shared and needs to be controlled. The “master” copy is on a remote machine and people check in/check out. Depending on the internal controls (actual or social), people can change other people’s work pretty easy. If it’s a formal source control, the history is maintained (who changed what and when). If the OP has some sort of change history, it will probably be to OPs benefit — especially if the changes are revealed to be petty or bad.

  3. Schnauz

    Should the Op also mention that sometimes these revisions are hurting instead of helping? Also, if he’s reporting back to the manager that the Op is not finishing or doing their work properly, hasn’t there been an opportunity to talk to Op’s manager about it? Are we supposing that the manager just didn’t stop to wonder how Op’s coworker knew?

    1. AB

      AAM actually addressed your question in her answer, suggesting the OP tells his/her manager:

      “I agree that two pairs of eyes are better than one, but it seems to be only Bob reviewing others’ work, and because he has less experience, sometimes his edits are wrong.”

  4. Jenna

    Skipping breaks and not taking a full lunch may or may to be his prerogative, depending on if he is an exempt or non exempt employee and what state the office is in. My office is in California, and hourly employees were advised by HR that they had better take their lunch within 5 hours of their start time and clock out for the entire half hour or the company could get in trouble. Working while not on the clock was also not permitted because the company didn’t want to tangle with the state regulators over this.
    It may not be the letter writer’s place to deal with this, but, it may be an issue for the manager or HR to deal with at some point.

  5. Esra

    If OP’s manager did ask Bob to do this, I’d say it was a misstep on the manager’s part not to let OP and the other workers know.

    I would have the sternest raised eyebrow ready if I found out a coworker was doing this without being directed. And then they would get a stern-raised-eyebrow-accompanied talking to.

    1. Jessa

      This, very much. And if he’s making corrections that are wrong, even if the manager DID ask him to, they need to revisit this.

      1. fposte

        Though I’d say she should bring up the corrections as queries, rather than for-sure wrongnesses–if this is manager-instigated, it’s possible that Bob may be righter about this (or at least more in tune with the manager) than the OP realizes.

  6. Adam V

    For those of us who are less direct, is there a downside in going straight to the boss and saying what you suggested, leaving out the “I asked him and he said you’d asked him to do it” clause?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Well, some managers will ask if you’ve talked to the coworker about it yet and if you haven’t, will suggest that you start there. In general, it’s good to look like you handle stuff directly with coworkers on your own, only involving your manager if that doesn’t work. (It’s especially good if you ever want to move into a position involving managing people or projects, because they’ll be looking for evidence that you’re comfortable addressing that kind of thing.)

      1. Joey

        To further this point if you can’t be direct with co workers and don’t want to try to address basic problems on your own you’ll get on my radar. I’ll start watching to see if you have the same problems in dealing with more important work issues.

  7. Anonymous

    I am getting pop up ads from Blogher that cover up the letters at the top of the page. One for Ulta, another for Crystal Light, etc. Is this normal?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Does it only happen when your cursor is hovering over the ad in the sidebar, or the rest of the time too? If the latter, could you send me a screenshot when it happens? That’s what I need to get them to fix it. Thank you so much!

  8. Nodumbunny

    “Furthermore, he occasionally reports to my boss that I have done my job incompletely or incorrectly when in fact I have addressed what needed to be addressed and moved on to the rest of my work.”

    This seems like the more rage-inducing thing he’s doing. WTH? What happens when he does that – what does the manager say?

  9. Hearditall

    I have worked at a company that fired managers for employees who were told over & over to step up & do a better job by there mangers. Managers always got the blame for slackers. Slackers always always had a reason to slack off & get away with it. Mangers got fired if they tried to hard or not hard enough, never the employee. If he wants to keep his job I see where he’s coming from.

    1. Mike C.

      I don’t – the most important thing about management is communication. If you have a problem with someone’s work, you tell them, if their work changes you tell them, if they’re supposed to have someone else go over their work and report errors, you tell them, etc etc.

      That’s the reason why the managers are getting fired for the slacking off of their reports – because they didn’t solve the problem.

      1. Hearditall

        The employees when approached about there slacking, scream about getting there union rep because they feel harassed. I feel for the managers as I watch people day in & day out do 4 hours work & get paid for 10 hours. As long as the employee can get a valid excuse why they don’t work, they get paid & back paid, but the manager only gets frustrated & we work harder to cover the slackers. The managers have no union so they work for there money, but get blamed for useless people. Trust me no one has to work through lunch when they can slack off & be paid. Highest turnover job ever.

    2. Vicki

      Seriously?
      Wow.
      I’ve never heard of this. The slacker employee is rarely fired but the manager? Never.

      Also, OP is not slacking, as far as we know. WHy are we talking about slackers??

  10. Not So NewReader

    Maybe it is just me. But I tend to feel that people who have to work through lunch (when no one else is) don’t know how to budget their time and work efficiently. There are times where everyone works through lunch- I don’t mean that type of setting.

    I would also have problems with someone putting errors in my work for me. I can do that on my own- yikes! OP, is there a way you can keep a log of what is happening?

    1. AB

      Yes, when someone has to work through lunch, in particular when others doing the same type of work don’t, my first thought is that they are not being very effective with their time.

      OP, you said “He also doesn’t take breaks or a full lunch, which makes the rest of us seem unproductive in comparison because we do take our full breaks and lunches.”

      I’ve always worked with people who gets in earlier and stays later at the office, often not taking lunch breaks, and I’ve never found it to make me unproductive in comparison. Both my husband and I are considered top performers in our jobs (and have received promotions and raises as evidence), and we both take a break and go out for lunch every single day. We rarely work over 40 hours a week.

      This is not to say that people who work long hours or have to work through lunch from time to time are necessarily being inefficient; it’s just that at least in my husband’s and my experience, managers aren’t equating long hours with high performance at all, because in the end what matters is the quality and quantity of the work you produce (unless you are dealing with an incompetent manager, in which case the best thing to do is to start looking for another job — but your letter doesn’t seem to indicate that’s the case here).

    2. Jamie

      Maybe some door due to had time management, but some (and I’m one) just prefer to keep going. I don’t know what kind of job he OP has where there are (what reads to be) assigned breaks – but in jobs without those most people get up to grab coffee, stretch their legs, whatever when they choose and I certainly can’t imagine having to leave my desk for an entire lunch hour just for lunch when I can eat at my desk.

      And to respond to it making other people look bad, I would bet he has no idea how the rest spend their lunches. Not everyone notices that kind of thing.

    3. Tiff

      Meh, I hide out at lunch because I’m tired of talking to people. Or like Jamie mentioned, I’m on a roll and don’t want to stop. I was very relieved to leave the world of hourly wages and forced breaks.

  11. Sniper

    If I were the manager, I’d be interested to know why the new coworker was working through breaks/lunch when everyone else was not doing that. That leads me to believe that the manager is not aware of what is going on.

    That being said, how is the manager on other issues? If s/he is not aware of what a new person is doing prior to them proving themselves, what else is s/he not aware of?

    1. Jamie

      Is this something postman angers would care about?

      When I was temping and paid hourly was the last time anyone cared whether I took lunch, because it meant OT. Since then I’ve never worked in a place that micromanaged that stuff.

      1. Long Time Admin

        The world’s largest retailer will not allow associates (either in the stores or at the home office) work through any breaks, before they have clocked in, or after they have clocked out. They enforce this policy rigorously. Once when I worked there, I clocked out and then noticed my manager was having a problem with the copy machine. I offered to help with it (since I was the department admin and knew that machine inside and out), and she wouldn’t allow me to because I was off the clock.

        My present company also has a break policy and we’re expected to follow it, but without being micromanaged. It’s nice being treated like a responsible adult.

        1. Natalie

          Anecdotal, but the most recent time I was shopping at said retailer, the only woman in the electronics department was working off the clock while waiting for her relief because, as she said, she was on “lockout clock out”. It seems their time clock system is very stringent so they at least wont get in trouble for falsifying records, but people are still working while punched out.

      2. Sniper

        It would seem to be good practice to keep an eye on the new hire, until they were able to prove themselves. If they are doing something different than everyone else (ie working through lunch and break, and nobody else is), I would want to know why this is the case.

        That being said, I think a good manager would always want to know why one person is doing things differently than everyone else in the group. There could be improvements to the work process for everyone as a result or there needs to be a corrective action that the manager needs to make.

        I’m not saying the manager needs to know what everyone is doing every second of the work day, but being aware of what is going on can keep things from getting away from you. :)

  12. Brandy

    “Furthermore, he occasionally reports to my boss that I have done my job incompletely or incorrectly when in fact I have addressed what needed to be addressed and moved on to the rest of my work.”

    I used to work with someone like this and she was definitely a conniver. At the time I was younger and a little more naive so I didn’t see it coming nearly as early as I should have. She conveniently cc’ed my boss and my boss’ boss on emails when she would question my work, even though she had been there a year less than me and had nothing at all to do with my work. I would have to reply to all explaining exactly what had been done and that I was getting my work completed. At that point though I was “playing catch up” and having to explain myself because she was questioning the things I was doing. I talked to her about it and of course nothing changed. My boss was a pretty horrible person so the new woman sucked up to her and they basically decided it was time for me to go. I was able to find another position before the inevitable happened but the writing was on the wall.

    Of course when I put in my notice the new woman was offered my position and I trained her before I left. I did take some solace in the fact that she took no notes about the position and then tried to call and ask me questions after I was gone. After about the second phone call I said “Jane, that is no longer my job and taking these calls is impeding my ability to do my current job. If you have questions you need to go to boss”. The questions stopped and I found out a few months later than boss was demoted and new employee was let go. What goes around comes around but please be proactive and cut this off QUICK.

    1. Yuu

      I’ve worked with a conniver as well – I would reply all and say basically, thanks for your concern but I’ve already taken care of that, and then any other needed conversation was done with my boss directly. I also tried to kill her with kindness, but in the end she spun out of control behaviorally so that most others in the department didn’t like her and heaved a sigh of relief when she moved away.

      This guy sounds like an overachiever and new to the workforce – my guess is that he just doesn’t get it. Talking directly to him will be doing him a kindness, whether he appreciates it or not.

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