my coworker tries to compliment me into doing more work

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.)

{ 126 comments… read them below }

  1. AMT*

    This is almost like Ryan from The Office trying to get Pam to clean the microwave:

    RYAN: Ah ha ha, oh no, trust me. I would just make it worse.
    PAM: How would wiping it with a paper towel make it worse?
    RYAN: I– I would find a way.
    PAM: You’ve seen things cleaned before though, right?

    1. the gold digger*

      A friend said that her husband came home one day and announced, “Oh no! The baby’s diaper leaked! There’s poop on the floor!”

      My friend answered, “Then clean it up.”

      Her husband said, “But you’re such much better at that kind of thing than I am.”

        1. Nom d' Pixel*

          That is my answer, too, when people try that. I just tell them this is the perfect opportunity for them to learn.

      1. Minister of Snark*

        My husband tried this exactly once when our new baby spit up all over our comforter and said I was better at cleaning this sort of thing.

        FLAMES. Flames up the side of my face.

        I told him, “So what you’re saying is that I’m more suited to menial labor and you’re not willing to learn new skills to help your wife care for your baby? You’re not painting a very good picture of either one of us, are you?”

        I don’t know if it was the look on my face or the way I phrased it, but he got out the stain remover real quick.

      2. Ad Astra*

        I admit to sometimes cajoling my husband into cooking dinner or doing some other chore by telling him he’s better at it than I am. It is not, technically speaking, a lie. But yeah, I could probably handle it myself or at least find a different solution if I really needed to.

        1. SRB*

          My (male) fiancé used to be a lab tech who spent most of his time sanitizing things that were meant to use in surgery. He was literally paid professionally to get things to the highest standard of clean. While he has never tried, he would never gets the excuse that he is “bad at cleaning dishes/bathrooms/baby poop/etc.” ;)

        2. Serin*

          I’ve never told the spouse he’s better at doing dishes, but I have told him, “There’s nothing sexier than a man doing dishes.”

          1. BeenThere*

            I made a trade with ironing on this, because it’s a chore spouse can do whilst watching TV and I hate ironing. I may have made myself look extra pathetic while trying to iron so he would take sympathy on me.

    2. kristinyc*

      Ha, I was going to comment something similar. This sounds like the typical sitcom husband who messes up the laundry or dishes and then is like “Oh no, I’m so bad at this! You should do it instead since I mess it up!”

      1. Zillah*

        My partner, his two brothers, and his father all totally did this to his mother. Breaking him of the habit is a work in progress. At one point, he tried to tell me that she didn’t mind and was just nurturing. My response:

        “Babe, I’ve talked to your mother about specifically this. She minded. I promise.”

        1. Beezus*

          I actually ended a friendship with a guy, primarily because he and his girlfriend, both able-bodied and in their mid-20s, asked/allowed his mother in her late 50’s to come over and mow their lawn and shovel their sidewalks when he moved out and they moved in together. He also dropped their laundry off with her on weekends. He told me she loved doing it all for him still. Um, no, I promise she doesn’t.

        2. Ezri*

          My husband and his brother have learned helplessness for all things chores. In husband’s case, it’s not entirely that he’s not willing to do something, but it doesn’t occur to him to do things on his own. He will jump to if I directly ask him to do the dishes, but if I don’t they’ll pile up for weeks or until I get irritated enough to do it. It’s a really weird mental block.

  2. Jill*

    When I was a junior and someone was trying to turn me into their Pile-On my magic words were, “Sure, just let me run that by BossLady.”

    Nine times out of ten, hearing that I’d be revealing to the boss that Co-Worker was passing their work onto me they suddenly changed their mind. This strategy worked because I wasn’t telling a Senior “no” but I was also sweetly making it clear that I was unwilling to take on work that really shouldn’t be mine.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      We had a bit of an issue with this at my previous position. My team was assigned to support projects based on a specific function, but some of our senior folks who by position the team “leader” would ask them to do all sorts of other non-job function related tasks.

      I told my people they were always free to say, “sure, I’ll just have NTDYLF add it to my project task list.” It was amazing how quickly people said, “oh don’t worry, I’ll take care of it” when they found it I would be informed and there would be a record in the project that someone else handled the task.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        the part about adding it to your work plan or job description is important here. That is, if the stuff he’s asking you to do is truly outside you’re scope. Bring it to your boss’s attention for sure.

        1. OP*

          I think the issue is nothing is outrageously out of scope it is just the frequency and which I am asked to do things most people don’t do all by themselves with little help or supervision. For example, twice people have emailed us and said “why’d you do a on project x?” Once I emailed him and said, I think because of y and z. He replied. ” Wow. That is from so long ago!! I can’t remember!!” with no offer to check his email or notes. Last time, he just stayed silent as emails went back and forth and didn’t even chime in with “that’s sounds right”. Most people would try to check their notes unless they were way to busy or on vacation. I suppose, I should have said “Bob, please confirm you agree with me or please let us know know your thoughts”. Similarly, if someone senior to me was busy they might say “can you please led the call?” With him, I show up the call starts he turns to me and says “Why don’t you lead?” or “Would you like to lead?”

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Yep hahahaha. I had to do this at Exjob too. I didn’t mind helping when it was feasible, but sometimes people would try to foist stuff on me simply because they didn’t want to do it, not because they genuinely needed help.

      1. HM in Atlanta*

        And then it would suddenly become written in stone as “your job”, even though you were just trying to help someone out once.

      2. Sammie*

        I get this at CurrentJob. We are all peers on the team–but I (the lone female) get all the paperwork, coordinating, scheduling tasks. I work for a tech company–so this is pretty typical.

        1. unagi*

          Typical, but only because you let them do it. You can refuse outright, arguing that you’re swamped with your real work, or pointing out that you’ve done it the last n times. You can then apply a bit of light sabotage, letting things drop horribly and then acting uncharacteristically ditzy when people notice. In my teams, if the woman gets the paperwork it doesn’t get done. They get over it, you don’t have to demonstrate more than once.

  3. Nina*

    It sounds like OP is on the right track, just follow Allison’s script.

    Assuming the guy isn’t just pushing his work on the OP, is this what they call “learned helplessness?”

    1. AMG*

      The important thing I see about Alison’s phrasing (other than the direct professionalism) is that she reiterates the same message over and over.
      ‘can you do xyz?’: “I won’t be able to fit it in with the rest of my workload right now”
      ‘but you’re so good at it’: ‘But I won’t be able to fit it in with the rest of my workload right now”
      ‘I’m so busy’: “But I won’t be able to fit it in with the rest of my workload right now”

      when you keep it like that, you remove the possibility of giving Manipulator a different angle to work.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Oh I can’t -wait- for an update! AAM is right, OP, you’ve got to push back on this. I have one more suggestion.

    Instead of taking his compliment, you could respond by telling him that these are regular tasks not talents. As in, having a good relationship with a client is expected in this line of work, and it is not a talent like juggling. “Thank you, but I should tell you that fostering a good relationship with clients is a big part of what we do. Because you feel like you’re lagging behind, you should step up.” Or this, “I hope I’m detail-oriented because we all should be, including you.” Or “But if you keep forgetting what to include, how will you learn? You should take this opportunity to do so.”

    Show him how to do stuff one time and one time only. After that, he’s on his own. Make sure you don’t start answering his every question either because he bug you so much in hopes you’ll do it yourself.

    The more he talks as though your regular job description is a list of “talents,” the more you need to disabuse him of that notion. Don’t bag on yourself or anything because what you do is important but not so important that no one else could ever do it.

    1. Kvaren*

      I was trying to come up with my own alternate responses and all I could think of was “Thank you for the compliment but you’re the senior. Of course you can do this just as good as if not better than I can.”

      1. MAB*

        “I am glad that I am so detail oriented. Its really cut down on my looking for stuff and missing deadlines. Would you like me to show you how I do it?”

        “I am sure the client likes me but I don’t feel comfortable calling them on this subject. Since you have more experience in this area I think it would be better for you to talk to them.”

        “I’m sorry but Bossperson has noticed that I am staying late regularly and wants me to make it out of the office by X most nights. I need to get Bossperson’s approval to stay past X unless it is an emergency. I need to run this by Bossperson before I can help.” (note get boss to be be signed onto the deal)

        “I am surprised you think my organizational skills are a talent. I have worked very hard on this skill and I am happy to give you a few tips.”

        “I’m sorry Coworker but I showed you how to find that piece of information earlier this week. I have a project that I am working on and I can’t pull away. Could you ask someone else or wait until I am done?”

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I love these. How about “well I’m sure you’re great at it too after all you are senior teapot account rep correct?”

    3. Zillah*

      I think the issue with some of those suggestions is that the OP is junior to this coworker – a rebuke might come off poorly.

      1. Evie*

        That’s my feeling too. There’s a great collection of comments above but some of them (even if said in a super polite tone etc) could come off as too aggressive/pushy/inappropriate given the hierarchy in a ways they wouldn’t with a similar level colleague or a junior person.

      2. Nom d' Pixel*

        That is what I was thinking, too. They should be phrased a little softer, because someone senior to the OP would bristle at that kind of language. I definitely agree with the sentiment, though.

  5. AdAgencyChick*

    Isn’t the first step in this situation to see what OP’s boss’s expectations of her are? If it turns out boss expects OP to cater to this guy, then the conversation becomes one with OP’s boss: “If I help Wakeen with X, Y, and Z, I won’t have time for A, B, and C. How should we handle that?”

    If the boss is, all, “Wakeen is being outrageous!” then OP can stand up to him politely as Alison has suggested.

    The key, I think, is not to bring this as a problem to dump in the boss’s lap (“Wakeen wants me to do all his sh!t! Make him stop!”) but rather a sincere request for clarification (“What takes precedence, Wakeen’s requests or XYZ projects?”). Because maybe the answer *is* “Wakeen’s requests,” although I suspect it isn’t (because Wakeen wouldn’t need to butter OP up otherwise).

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      You’re absolutely right. If Wakeen’s requests were reasonable and in line with what OP’s boss’s expectations are, then Wakeen probably wouldn’t do any buttering up at all… and then, if the OP pushed back, Wakeen would instead go to the OP’s boss and say “Hey, OP isn’t helping me with such-and-such.”

  6. Kai*

    Ewwwwwwww, I work with someone exactly like this, and he does it to not only me but several of my coworkers too. It’s easy to see right through it. Good luck, OP!

  7. Bend & Snap*

    A plan may help. Scoping out roles & responsibilities is a good way to hash out the division of labor and gives you ammo for pushback.

  8. neverjaunty*

    OP, do you work in a law firm? Because there is unfortunately a special breed of senior associate who thinks that one of the perks of seniority is dumping work on junior associates, despite having no authority to do so. And since
    they can’t actually assign tasks to you, they use flattery and acting like it’s a special favor for you to do their work for them. (For which they will take all the credit, while assigning you the blame if there are any problems, even if the mistakes are theirs.) This is particularly common when the junior associate is female, because they play on the social convention that women are supposed to be nice and helpful to men.

    AAM is 100% right. This dude has no authority to assign you work, so politely make it clear you have plenty on your own plate. He’ll probably move right on to trying to dump work on somebody else, but at least you won’t be staying until 11 pm or midnight helping him make his billable hours at the expense of yours.

    1. Not Myself*

      My sister actually made a gender discrimination complaint about a coworker for this reason (not at a law firm). Said coworker would ask the ladies – and the ladies only – to do his copying, filing, etc., which was far outside their job functions, because ‘they are just so good at it’. The guy was pretty openly sexist – I’d worked with him before as well, but was too young to know how to assert myself properly.

        1. Not Myself*

          He had a history (i.e. lawsuit against him from a previous position at the same employer), so he did get in trouble with HR. I can’t remember if he was let go or was encouraged to quit, but I don’t think he worked there much longer after that.

    2. OP*

      Yes. I work at a law firm. As you know, he can’t assign me work, but once I am working with him he is the senior member on the team. Sometimes, he says the partner suggested we work together and sometimes it comes from the partner. We are a smaller group so avoiding all work with him is difficult.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        Aha, I knew it! I’m an attorney in a law firm, too, and I recognize well the type of senior associate the you are describing! It is very, very difficult because, in many firms, the “I-don’t-have-time-in-my-schedule” response is not acceptable for an associate to say, and the “I-was-in-the-office- till-10 p.m.-three-nights-in-a-row” line doesn’t matter. There is always so much pressure to work more, I think especially for women and moreso for women without kids. I had one partner who chastised me because one day I told her I wasn’t sure I could get to something until the next day — I worked past midnight — yet I was at the office women’s group lunch for the first 20 minutes to eat. She snapped at me later, “You could have been BILLING instead!”

  9. Student*

    This is one of very few letters where I sincerely disagree with AAM’s advice. If anything, you should offload other projects to manage your time in favor of focusing on this guy’s work.

    In my industry, this behavior is called grooming you for higher level work. Leverage it into a promotion opportunity! You’re demonstrating that you can do the work of senior-level co-workers, which means you should be able to parlay that into a promotion or a raise. If he’s a reasonable human being and thinks well of your work, he might even help you with it. It’s not like you’re being asked to do less important work, you’re being asked to take on his more senior work. You’re being asked and encouraged to develop relationships with clients!

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Fostering good relationships and remember where files go are not “higher level work” tasks. That’s grunt work.

      Plus your logic doesn’t make any sense. If he doesn’t know how to do many of these tasks and he’s higher level, then that knowledge is obviously not required.

      1. steve g*

        +1, in this case at least. This brings up bad bad memories of two jobs ago, someone who was very “managerial” used to give me all of their customer followup. Magically, only for partners that didn’t bring in much sales + for difficult customers. Almost never for something good. I realized over time they just had an apprehension to calling people and having difficult conversations. But he always expected the lower paid folks to suck it up and make those calls while he sat there and looked important and busy.

      2. MashaKasha*

        +100 to your paragraph one. I came here to post that all of that guy’s compliments are backhanded ones. “Why don’t you busy yourself with things your junior brain can handle, like chatting on the phone with customers and remembering to include things, and leave the real high-level work to me? What, my high-level work ends at six every evenings and yours takes you till ten? well tough luck.”

        Kinda reminded me of that scene in The Catcher In The Rye where Holden’s roommate asks him to write an essay for him, but instead of acknowledging that Holden is a good writer and he’s a crappy one, he says something like “you always know where to put the commas.”

        OP will never grow their skillset if their days are spent running errands for that coworker. Worse, they may fall behind on their actual work assignments because of that – you know, the ones people usually get from their bosses, as opposed to from random colleagues? Not a promotion opportunity at all.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Reaching back further- Mark Twain. I am remembering something about Tom Sawyer (?) got people to do his work painting a fence.

          1. So Very Anonymous*

            Yup, that’s Tom Sawyer. And IIRC, he got people so jazzed about fence painting that they paid him to let them do it.

              1. OP*

                I have often thought he thinks he is like Tom Sawyer when giving me work by telling me how easy it is for me to do things and how amazing I am at them when they are either super easy tasks or not fun.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      If it were her manager, or someone with authority to promote/recommend her, it might be considered grooming. However, this is typical handled differently, like, “I spoke with your boss and we think it would be good experience for you to take the lead on client interaction.”

      Also, in the way this post reads, there is nothing in the post that makes me think this coworker is the type of guy to give the junior employee credit or let anyone know she is handling the majority of the work on a project.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      Disagree, especially because OP is doing this kind of work for other people at the same level and is doing less for those others. It smells of this person trying to get away with doing less than his share by buttering up OP. It may in fact be OP’s job to pick up after this guy (which is why my earlier response was “why not find out what the boss expects first?”) but if it isn’t, providing the extra help is not necessarily going to get OP any recognition. In fact, I bet it won’t, because the senior person probably doesn’t want the whole office knowing how much work he isn’t doing!

      I still think the first step is to take it to the boss, because at least if this *is* the expectation of OP, at least OP can then make a case with her boss for some combination of offloading lower-level tasks, more money, and/or a better title.

    4. Dot Warner*

      Did we read the same letter? I didn’t get the impression that the senior colleague is trying to help the OP develop new skills or thinks she’s special and deserving of more advanced work. I got the impression that the senior colleague thinks the OP is a sucker who will do everything while he plays with his iPhone all day.

      IDK, maybe all those years of class projects where one person (me) worked and everybody else goofed off has made me too cynical…

    5. neverjaunty*

      Serious question: was this comment meant to be satire? Because I’m not familiar with any industry where grooming a junior co-worker for higher-level work is phrased as “I’m not so good at X, and you’re just soooo amazing at it, can you do it for me?” Especially when X is menial work like ‘find the file in our system’.

      Grooming junior co-workers for increased responsibility involves assigning them tasks you that yourself already handle, so that they can get experience doing them. And it doesn’t involve making them slack off on work your boss has assigned them to do.

    6. Ad Astra*

      That’s… not how it would work at any company I’ve worked at. It sounds like the work this senior employee is asking OP to do leans to the direction of administrative and customer-service tasks, things the senior employee just doesn’t want to deal with, not actually higher-level work. What is the OP getting out of this arrangement? Is she actually learning new skills or forming relationships with important clients? Or is she just strengthening her relationship with a run-of-the-mill senior employee who may or may not become a useful connection?

    7. V*

      I don’t think this is grooming, for the reasons people identified above, but I do think that OP has a good opportunity here if she can play it right. Taking on the higher level work — especially client contact and relationship building — can help OP develop skills and relationships that she car parlay into a promotion or use to secure a better job elsewhere. OP – when you tell this guy that your workload is such that you can do X, but not Y and Z, I encourage you to cherry pick what task X is, and treat more mundane tasks as Y and Z. I work in a law firm and have seen situations where a junior associate develops a very good relationship with a client, and the client end up bringing new work directly to the associate, or ask that the associate be more involved in existing work, and the associate earns a partnership position because of it.

    8. Squirrel*

      My coworker, who is senior to me but not my boss, pushes significantly more work down to me than other coworkers in his position.

      He isn’t the only person giving the OP work, so your reply doesn’t really make sense. She doesn’t need all of the extra work the senior co-worker is giving her just to show she can do that level of work–she is already doing that level of work for him and for other people as well. Why should his work requests/demands/cajolings take priority over theirs? I believe that you are incorrectly inferring that his opinion is the only one that matters in this case.

    9. OP*

      Fostering the great relationship with client sometimes includes things like emailing and saying “Could you confirm Bob’s title?” It appears different in document A and B. I could have clarified in my letter some of these comments are exaggerated. He does have me doing some higher level work which I like and learn from. However, its sort of baptism by fire because I do it with little guidance from him. There are other people that I do my less senior work for (just like with him) and when I have time can do more senior work (like with him, but with more guidance). I get much better feedback form them on all the work.

  10. Yoshi*

    I think you’re handling this the wrong way, and this is a fantastic opportunity to flip the script. Next time I was talking to my boss, I would say (very cheerfully) that it was great working with this senior person because I got to take on a number of assignments above and beyond my normal pay grade (and then I’d list them out). And senior worker even mentioned afterwards that he client was very happy. And that I have been happy to take on the stretch assignments because I do hope to get promoted one day and performing this kind of working is an essential part of becoming a senior (whatever) and it’s great to learn blah blah blah. This should a) impress your boss that a more junior employee has been completing higher level tasks, and b) give your boss a the knowledge that you are expecting to move up and c) clue your boss in to the fact that the senior person isn’t doings the work they’re supposed to do.

    1. alexcansmile*

      I’m kind of with you here. OP is doing his work, demonstrating that they can do tasks at a higher level. The OP should be documenting these tasks and use them to negotiate for a more senior title and/or pay raise. I don’t agree with other commenters saying to offload and prioritize this guy’s work – he’s not grooming, he’s being lazy and that would reward him. Instead keep on keeping on, with reasonable pushback where necessary, but document, document, document and turn it into a raise. If he ever says any of these things via email/writing, keep them and use his praise as support for your argument that you deserve a raise.

      1. Melissa*

        But, as OP already pointed out, this coworker is not asking her to do higher level tasks. The coworker is simply asking her to do things he doesn’t want to do. Moreover, the OP does not have enough time in the day to do her work and his, so she’s trying to not leave at 10 pm every day.

      2. SRB*

        I’m late to the party, but I used to work for someone just like this, and this was part 1 of my 2 part response to it that worked well.

        I work on multiple projects for multiple people. When I was entry level, this guy pawned a task off on me that should have gone to someone with years of experience and higher levels of education. At the time I didn’t know to push back, but I did save *every* bit of praise I got, presented the work myself to clients and was careful to tactfully take credit when it was all my work (e.g.: “*I* made the change you asked for, Mrs. Client” not “we”). I made sure the people above him knew the tasks I was doing, and turned it into a promotion and a 15% raise 2 years in a row.

        Part 2 of my strategy was aggressively filling my time with other peoples’ projects. I was 110% billable for people who were not him, so my manager had a hard time justifying putting me on any of his projects even though he asked. It also helped that, at 110%, my other project leads would push back against him if he asked for any more of my time.

        So I would recommend 1) documenting any higher level tasks you are doing. It sounds like some are menial, but definitely write down or save emails showing you did anything that should have been done by someone at his pay grade. And 2) get as many hours as you can on other peoples’ projects, and if you can’t avoid working some with him, get them on your side if you will have trouble meeting either deadlines or quality standards on their project bc Lazypants needs you to do [menial task]

        1. Jenny Next*

          Sock puppetry is when one person pretends to be multiple people, for the purpose of pretending that there is consensus on a particular viewpoint.

          Maybe there actually is a substantial group here that thinks that doing a co-worker’s scut work is a path to advancement, though.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think there’s any reason to think that’s happening here though (and think we tread on dangerous ground if we accuse people of that just for holding a minority opinion!).

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I was thinking along the lines of if the project includes tasks A, B, C and D and OP gets asked to do A, B and C, then OP should ask if his name can be first on the paperwork since she is doing three out of the four tasks.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I do too. And what really sucks is that she does this not to me but to the junior person we share, and I’m not in a position to say, “Knock it off and do your own work.” All I can do is encourage the junior person to push back (she does) and make sure I’ve scheduled her far in enough in advance so she’s busy with my projects and just free enough to do her work on my peer’s projects.

    2. pony tailed wonder*

      I am someone like this for certain tasks. Upon occasion in the library, we have to use a hammer, screwdriver, or some other kind of hardware store staple. I know which co-workers love to do that and which ones don’t. I am honest though and let them know that they can refuse to do it, however, the ones that love to do it have the Thank You Santa Claus face on when they are asked so I don’t feel much guilt. I suck at these tasks and they don’t. I just have to remember to not over do it.

  11. Venus In Furs*

    I think handling this properly will require some good and accurate knowledge about OP’s job scope and the office culture. I don’t mean to second-guess OP – it’s just that it’s not clear what boundaries this senior person is pushing, how far they’re being pushed, or if they’re being pushed at all. In short, I think that step #1 should be for OP to determine for sure if / how much this senior co-worker is abusing her (and I think I’m more or less paraphrasing part of Alison’s advice).

    One other thought: if this senior co-worker is indeed asking for more than they should be, is there a way for OP to get something out of it? A favor? A few good words to her boss? A raise?

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yeah, I think the fact that the senior co-worker is all “ooh, you’re SO much better at this than me, can you do it?” is a pretty good indication that he’s dumping work.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It least you know the request is on the horizon that way, sighh. When she finally makes the request I would be sooo very tempted to say, “Well, you are not going to love, love, love me any more!” Then I would use that NO word.

    2. Windchime*

      I have this person in my family, too. Weeks (or months) will go by with very little contact, and then there will be a ton of it, right before the hinting about how poor she is starts.

  12. Dani X*

    Does he only do this to you, OP? Or to everyone he works with? If it’s only you then I would see what the other people do to keep him from dumping his work on them/.

    1. OP*

      He does it to other people. The two I have talked to about it most like me find it really frustrating and overwhelming. I think the issue is you can avoid a project with him (to a certain extent), but once on the project it is hard to go to the boss and say this is just too much for me to do for one project when I have others going on. Also, sometimes if you don’t do the work it goes to the boss and the boss is like “I think this needs a another good read”. No one I know has figured anything out as far as I know.

      1. Bob, short for Kate*

        I haven’t read all the replies yet but it strikes me that what smarts more in this situation is the assumption you’re too dumb to see it for what it is.

        So what would happen if you said “it’s OK, I know you’re offloading scutwork, no need to pretend” with a neutral expression?

        Resetting the narrative this way – if you’re still helpful – might encourage him to see you as more of a future equal? Best case – could a secretary be given some of the work? Worst case, you’ve made him a little uncomfortable and he’ll prefer to work with other juniors, no?

        1. OP*

          I have given my secretary (who is also our boss’s secretary and great at her job) some of the work. She helps me out a lot. Also, it was amazing how quickly he learned how to do some tasks one my secretary would do them for him. It was like he didn’t want the boss to know he was pushing that work down.

        2. OP*

          And yes it also does annoy me that he thinks I am stupid enough to believe that I need to send a routine email because the client likes me soooooooo much more or that I label attachments better. Sometimes part of my job is sending the routine email, but just act like it is a routine task and if I say “I have to go to a long meeting in 5 minutes so I can’t send an email because I have to prepare, but it would be great if you could so this resolved when my meeting ends” it shouldn’t turn into a back and forth where he says he thinks it can wait and I should send and I have to justify that with all I have to do the sooner it is resolved the better.

  13. Katie the Fed*

    Oh, I’m REALLY good at this, because I’ve dealt with a lot of attempt to foist “women’s work” off on me. I do it like this:

    Coworker: Hey Katie, can you take notes at the meeting?
    Me: Nope!
    Coworker: But you do such a good job at it!
    Me: Ha, nice try! You could ALSO do a good job at it with a little practice!

    People who do this know what they’re doing – it’s ok to call them out directly with it and laugh a little. They know what they’re doing – just raise your eyebrows and throw it right back at them.

    1. Gene*

      I might follow that up with an announcement at the beginning of the meeting, “Coworker and I talked before the meeting, he’ll be taking the notes today.”

      But I’ve been called Satan on here. :-)

    2. steve g*

      Mmmm but it’s actually pretty sexist to assume the OP is getting “women’s work” dumped on them (as that usually denotes lower level work no one wants to do when it is used that way), because there isn’t an assumption that that is going on. Pretty sure the file example was just an example. I really don’t think the OP is doing secretarial/assistant type stuff if they are managing projects and staying to the office at all hours.

      The fact that OP says there work is usually better would definitely suggest it is mid-level or higher-level work. Menial work is either right or wrong, there most usually aren’t different levels of quality when it comes to menial tasks

      1. Ad Astra*

        I’d be more likely to agree with you if the compliments weren’t things like “You’re so detail oriented” and “You never forget what to include.” I’ll admit that some people are naturally better with details, but these are not rare skills that command professional respect. These are skills that anyone can develop, but they’re skills we typically attribute to women and skills that we expect administrative assistants and secretaries to possess in spades. The senior coworker is absolutely capable of remembering what should be included (um, make a list?), and the junior coworker likely gets no real credit for being able to perform these tasks.

        If he were saying “Well, you’re the one with years of experience manipulating this particular DNA sequence,” I’d be a lot more confident about the senior coworker’s intentions.

      2. Kelly L.*

        It’s not sexist to say, in essence, “I think it’s possible that somebody’s being sexist here.”

        And I would say there are degrees of quality in menial work, in a lot of cases.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        I was talking about my own experience, not saying the OP was getting women’s work dumped on her.

        I’m just saying that this works pretty well if you call them out directly and laugh at the blatant attempt to pawn off work on you.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        BTW, I don’t really appreciate you calling me sexist. I made absolutely no assumption whatsoever about the OP – you read a lot into that. I was clearly talking about my own experience.

      5. Anonymous Educator*

        Mmmm but it’s actually pretty sexist to assume the OP is getting “women’s work” dumped on them

        When did Katie the Fed assume that about the OP? I didn’t see that in her post.

        1. A Bug!*

          Me neither. The reference to “women’s work” was clearly not in relation to what’s happening to the OP, but rather in providing context to Katie’s applicable experience with the issue of people trying to dump undesirable work unjustly.

  14. OP*

    This doesn’t seem to be a sexism thing. From what I can tell, he dumps as much work as possible on whoever is junior to him. I am sure this does happen as a result of sexism or other biases sometimes.

  15. Higher Ed(na)*

    I work in academia so “senior” may not be quite the same as in the corporate world, but when I first started at my job, I ran into this a LOT with a handful of male co-workers who had been there for decades longer than me. They had zero interest in going beyond the bare minimum, and they couched their laziness in compliments/self-denigration. “Oh, I don’t know how to work Excel- you better handle this one!” When I complained to my (conflict-averse) boss, I was told, “That’s just how Joe/John/Tom is.” But once I realized my boss was so conflict averse they weren’t going to react against *me* either, I became proactive. “Hey, Joe/John/tom- here’s an Excel YouTube video for you. I’ll keep working on y; let me know when the Excel thing is done.” Like Katie, I learned to treat their comments as suggestions that I could easily and lightly shoot down- and became pretty assertive about assigning them work. “I’ll call customer smith, and Tom, that would leave customer Lee for you.” Eventually, Joe/John/Tom retired.

  16. AcidMeFlux*

    I think I’ve said this before on this site but when I’ve received a godawful insult /compliment / request/ bullshit manipulative con-job, my favorite response is to repeat, word for word, whatever was said to/ asked of me, starting straight at the offender, in a totaly deadpan voice. “You want me to photocopy every page in that document. In an hour.” Stare impassively. To whatever response the offender give, repeat robot-like, “You want me to…”… Eventually, he’ll go away.

  17. Persehone Mulberry*

    I had a moment like this with my manager a few weeks ago. We were fighting up some tasks while we were between admin assistants, and my manager goes, “would you be able to do x,y,z new hire related tasks” and I replied, “Is there a reason Sheena (the HR specialist) can’t do those things?” Manager goes “well, I assumed she would, but I guess she’s got a lot on..her..plate…” – as my Eyebrow of Skepticism climbs ever higher on my face, as in bad already agreed to take on a, b, and c in addition to my regular work – “…so I guess I can take over x,y, and z.”

    Crap like this is why I’m looking for a new job. I am tired of being the Junk Drawer of Responsibility, and I cannot deal with a manager who doesn’t have my back regarding my workload.

    1. Windchime*

      I love the phrase Junk Drawer of Responsibility. That’s exactly how I feel about my job lately. Files put in the wrong place? That’s Suzy’s job, but Suzy doesn’t seem to give a flying **** and Windchime will eventually hunt it down so it can wait. Bug need to be fixed? Yeah, I know it’s been assigned to Tom for months but it’s Windchime’s customer so Tom put it on the back burner because Windchime will fix it.


      1. Jessica (tc)*

        This kind of thing happened to me all the time in past jobs. In some, IT would just ignore requests from me, assuming that I’d eventually figure out how to fix things myself. I’d wait weeks to get something fixed that I truly needed help with (IT was not remotely related to my job), and I’d have to request help several times. You’d think that they’d realize by now that if I ask for help with something, it’s probably something that I can’t figure out on my own. Just because I’m good at fixing problems doesn’t mean that I never need assistance. (They also sometimes ignored close coworkers’ requests in the hopes that I’d fix them. Depending on the degree of difficulty, sometimes I would fix it and sometimes I’d just say, “Hmmmm…no, that’s something you’ll have to talk to [IT guy] about. Sorry!” if I knew it would take a long time away from my real job, even if I knew how to fix it.)

    2. aliascelli*

      Junk Drawer of Responsibility is a great description of a job problem I’ve had in the past AND my new band name.

  18. Not So NewReader*

    From OP’s letter: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.

    There is a lot you can do with this stuff.
    “Bob, I hear you say that a lot. I think we should fix this starting today. Here’s what I think we shouild do….”
    “Bob, I have heard you say that to me before and I overheard you saying to someone else the other day. I am sorry to hear you berate yourself like this. You do have senior status here, and you got to it for a reason. I think you should stop berating yourself so much. One good way to build confidence back up is to actually do the task. So I feel that you should do x and keep yourself in the swim of things. That way you won’t be so down on yourself.”
    “Bob, you know, you are always telling me that I am better than you at this or that. Would you do me a favor? Would you tell our boss, I’d really like a good review this year and I think this will help a lot!”

    In cases where you do not have enough info or training to do a task you can say something like this:
    “Bob, sometimes I get stuck on parts of the task. I had this happen the last time we did X together. I don’t mind helping, but I really need more inputs from you. In some cases, I may need you to talk me through it step by step, being more senior you are used to this sort of stuff. That is what Mary and Joe do when I work with them on projects.”
    I would like to set up a time right now that we could meet to talk this through together.”
    [Here, you are kind of throwing his technique right back at him. You compliment him then show him where he needs to put in his efforts. Add a dash of peer pressure with, “hey your peers are doing this, so can you!” Then you nail him down by suddenly asking for a particular time to meet and discuss things. Sometimes you have to kind of copy the annoying behavior the person is doing and that gets them to stop.]

  19. maple bar heaven*

    This is one of those occasions when my resting bitch face comes in handy. Plus I’ve been told I have a powerful raised eyebrow.

    *on a different subject my virus software keeps warning me about a certificate that has been revoked whenever I come to this website.

  20. John*

    It’s good news. Congrates Alison Green. My colleagues also appreciated my work when i was working on one email manager software when no body understand how it works i researched and train them.

    It feels happy when someone appreciate your work :) :D

  21. CM*

    I don’t know… as a former law firm associate, I would see this as just part of the job. So this senior associate delegates more work and plays on his iPhone, so what? Is the frustration coming from the condescending/disingenuous way that he delegates (“you’re so much better at this than me”), that he expects you to do things without advance notice or explicit instruction, that it’s adding too much to your workload, that this work is inappropriately junior for you? Because I think there are different solutions to each of these problems. But I don’t think it’s an automatic “this guy is overstepping boundaries and you need to push back.”

    1. CM*

      (Oops, I just noticed that this post is almost a year old… so OP, hope you resolved your problem!)

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