my coworker won’t stop asking me for help

A reader writes:

I currently work with a coworker who is the same grade as me. I like my job and have been only in this department for 6 months. She has been doing this same position for at least 18 months. I am still trying to learn the work, as there is a lot to know. However, my coworker is continually asking me questions about how to do things. It has gotten to the point where she is actually interfering with my learning.

I realize we need to work in a team environment, but she leaves all the hard tasks to me. I have been coping with my own self esteem problems and her constant insecurities and self esteem problems are bringing me down. Can you offer any advice?

You can read my answer to this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

    I like the idea of asking your manager as advice. I had a problem with one of my leads cherry picking clients or not taking on new work because she was waiting for favorite clients to renew.

    It probably would have taken me a lot longer to discover had one of my writers not come to me with a time management question.

  2. Anonymous Educator*

    For the job-hopping thing, I would probably use a more indirect approach. If you say “Looks as if you’ve had some short-term jobs… what’s going on there,” it may put the interviewee on the defensive, or at least make her a lot more nervous. I would probably say “I have your résumé here, so I know what you’ve done, but tell me a bit about what you did and how you got here.” Even when candidates aren’t apparent job-hoppers, I still find it useful to hear a narrative of how they string together their work experiences (moving for a spouse, wanting to try something new, etc.).

    1. fposte*

      I like the “Tell me about…” thing, but I still think it’s fine to follow up with a question about the short-term jobs. It’s okay if the applicant’s nervous, and they should be able to discuss their job history nondefensively if they’re not asked in an adversarial manner.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        they should be able to discuss their job history nondefensively if they’re not asked in an adversarial manner.

        That was kind of my point, though. If you say “Hey, looks as if you’ve had some short stints… what’s going on there?” you’re far more likely to appear adversarial, even if you don’t mean to be. Shrouding the question in a larger question about what the whole job history looks like will be more likely to put the candidate at ease.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not if you say it in a perfectly nice, curious tone, and if you’ve been otherwise warm and friendly in the conversation.

          “Tell me a bit about what you did and how you got here” might work but it might leave you still without the info you’re looking for, so I’d rather just be direct about what I want to know.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            I trust that you could pull this off, but I don’t know that we all could. Certainly if my more open-ended approach didn’t get exactly what I was looking for, I’d ask follow-up questions.

    2. Vicki*

      The candidate _knows_ she has a lot of short term jobs. If “I see that you have a lot of jobs that lasted less than a year” puts her on the defensive, that’s important information.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What type of issue?

      If you’re outside the U.S. or using an ad blocker, Inc. may ask you to register in order to read more than one article there. (Otherwise they aren’t able to earn any revenue from those page views.)

      1. Anon1*

        Nothing loads on the page for me. It’s solid white. I tried in an incognito window to bypass my adblocker.

          1. Sami*

            Same here. I’m using Safari on a fully-updated iPad. I also couldn’t get it whilst looking via FB.

          1. themmases*

            In Firefox.

            It loads for me in Chrome, with an ad blocker enabled but not working correctly.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Thanks! Is anyone else having this problem inside the U.S.? If it’s only impacting non-U.S. viewers, that’ll be useful data to have.

          1. Elsajeni*

            I’m having the same problem from in the U.S. (Using Firefox, no adblockers or anything like that.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Inc. is having trouble replicating the issue. Is anyone willing to email me a screenshot of what you’re seeing? (alison @

      1. IT Kat*

        I’m having the same problem, inside US, Chrome/Firefox/IE, no ad blockers on any of them. Just gives me a blank screen. I’m emailing now.

      2. ADL*

        Sent you an email. I tried both Chrome and IE. No ad blockers. I also went to – searched for your name/article – clicked on the link for this article and got the white blank screen as well.

          1. fposte*

            Nope. Blank screen. I was able to read the article earlier today, interestingly, but now it’s a blank screen too. I can see the Inc home page and the couple of articles I clicked to from there loaded okay.

            I checked view source and it’s all full of normal-looking code, but I have no idea what to look for in it that would be doing this.

            (Firefox on a Mac.)

  3. Jessie*

    Am I the only one who thinks this is a really good position to be in? You have a more experienced coworker who looks to you for direction. That suggests that, even though you still might have a lot to learn, you might be picking things up much more quickly than expected. The fact that she leaves all the hard tasks to you, while, annoying, is not a terrible thing. There’s always those tasks that nobody wants to do because they’re difficult and poorly defined, but when you dive in headfirst and make it work, it looks really really good.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes! And when she does what Alison suggested and brings it to boss’s attention, hopefully he’ll pick that up too and Op will be next in line for a raise or a big project or promotion.

    2. always anon*

      Though it could lead to be overworked. My company has a bad habit of taking advantage of people who work quickly by handing them double the number of projects or only the hard projects and there’s no hope for a raise or promotion since raises are standard across the board and promotions only happen when someone leaves. My former company acted similarly.

      It could be a good thing if handled well and an employee is rewarded, but I’d also be cautious of it not ending well either.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        All of this. I’ve seen it go both ways, and it’s very frustrating when you work your tail off and get dumped on in return – no recognition, just double or triple the workload.

    3. Permanent Temp*

      I agree with always anon that it’s not always a good thing.

      At my last job, most of my coworkers took all the easy work, so a few of us got stuck with all the hard stuff. We hated it, and the only thing our supervisor did about it was “remind” people not to take all the easy work. There was no reward for getting stuck with the hard stuff.

      I also had two people that would constantly interrupt me (several times an hour) to ask questions or have me walk through something with them. It was stressful because I was spending just as much time on their work as my own work. My supervisor said they appreciated me helping so much, but there wasn’t any benefit to me.

  4. Engineer Girl*

    #2 – It’s not rude to ask the hard questions or the uncomfortable questions during an interview. That’s just due diligence and is something you owe your employer.
    Just state the facts: “Your resume shows several short term jobs with employment gaps in between jobs.” (statement of fact) “Can you tell me about this?” (Seeking clarification) Making statement of facts and seeking clarification gives the interviewee an opportunity to correct misperceptions. If they get offended by this then they are too sensitive and shouldn’t be hired.

  5. Kathlynn*

    Since the level/field isn’t mentioned, I’d like to point out that jobs of a few months could have been seasonal jobs. 3 out of 4 of my jobs have been seasonal. Only lasting a couple months each. And, in spite of listing it as such on my resume, people have asked about it, having missed it. So, check to see if the job times align with summer or winter seasons.

    1. fposte*

      I think you still want to ask about them, though; you don’t want to evade the possibility that there’s been a problem just because there could be an explanation that you’re okay with.

Comments are closed.