coworkers are flooding me with basic questions that they shouldn’t need help with

A reader writes:

I’m the head of IT for a company of just over 100 people. I’ve been at this company for three years. When I started, the company was about a third of our current size. During that time, I’ve always had a team under me to deal with most of the common user requests, to free me up to focus on managing the department and special projects. I’m really happy when I can focus on my “official” responsibilities, but I’m also one of the first to take on additional tasks to make sure the operations of the department and company run smoothly. I don’t think I’m stubbornly sticking to just doing “my job,” but maybe others would want me to be more flexible — it’s hard for me to be objective on this point.

I’m getting burnt out. I’ve been feeling this way for basically two years now. I feel like we have a de facto IT process of “check with Bob,” which is inefficient, takes time away from higher priorities, and doesn’t scale to our size. And frankly, lots of the questions I get each day are stupid. By stupid, I mean the answer has already been provided, sometimes numerous times, sometimes in numerous formats (conference calls, face to face, email), the answers are well documented, the processes have been in place for years, and the company has been trained.

One example: a system-generated email telling someone they need to reset their password, and how to do it, and when to do it by, which the person then forwarded to me asking for more info. These aren’t stupid people, either — they’re all highly intelligent. And I like my colleagues. I have certain repeat offenders at work who tend to produce a high volume of these questions, but the behavior is not limited only to them. I should mention my project and management workload is pretty high — typically 50 hours a week, without the extra questions.

I’ve discussed this with my boss, with the head of HR, and with other leaders in the company, but it seems like they’ve had a hard time relating and have been short on answers. I’m feeling really stuck. I’m committed to this company, but I’m miserable when I’m so overwhelmed with all these questions, on top of my heavy workload. Do I just start ignoring the questions? Do I respond that I don’t have the bandwidth? Do I add staff to free me up to work with people who are repeat offenders? Any advice would be appreciated.

Well, wait, with a staff under you, why are you the person fielding help-desk-type questions? It sounds like you’re assuming that just because something was sent to you, you’re the one who should be answering it — but at your level, it probably shouldn’t be you. Delegate more, and forward easy-to-answer emails to someone more junior on your staff.


1. If you don’t have a centralized spot for well-organized, easy-to-search documentation, create one so that you can direct people to it. I know that you said that these questions are often ones you’ve answered before, that the answers are well documented, and that everyone has been trained … but when it’s stuff that people don’t have to do every day, it’s pretty normal for people to forget the answers. If there’s one central place to go to look things up, it’s reasonable to expect them to go there, but it’s a much harder sell to say “you need to retain everything we ever tell you, even if you only use it a couple of times a years” or “it’s an email from six months ago that you may or may not have kept or be able to find now.” Create something centralized, and then direct people there when they can get answers that way. (And if you already have it, do an audit to see how helpful it really is: Take a random sample of questions you’ve received in the last month and see if the answers are in there. If they’re not, you may need to update or expand it.)

2. Talk one-on-one with the coworkers who are the biggest offenders. For example: “Jane, I’m happy for my team to help you when you’re stuck, but we’re in a big work crunch and so we’re trying to cut down on the number of questions we field that we’ve answered for people previously or which you can look up on the intranet wiki. Can I ask you to look back at previous answers and check the wiki first before coming to us? Otherwise we’re left with no time to tackle our biggest priorities, like the new website functionality you asked us to create.”

3. Is it possible a ticket system would help this, since for basic help requests you could require people to fill out fields like “have you checked the wiki for an answer to this?” or “what troubleshooting have you tried so far?” A ticketing system would also presumably allow easier requests to go to your staff rather than ever getting to you.

4. If you do all of this and it doesn’t significantly cut back on the problem, then the next step is to talk to your boss. That conversation wouldn’t be “people keep asking me stupid questions,” but rather “the staff has a high need for help desk support, and my team doesn’t have time to do it without seriously interfering with other projects like X and Y. I’ve tried A, B, and C to minimize these interruptions, and it hasn’t solved the problem. So at this point, if it’s a priority for us to provide this kind of support, we need to add staffing to make it possible.”

But try 1-3 first and see where that gets you.

{ 182 comments… read them below }

  1. Casey in Human Resources*

    Mu company has an internal website, “Employee Central”. EVERYTHING that anyone needs to know is there. Stuff for new hires, stuff for IT questions (we do things like update our passwords about every 3 months–that’s in there), HR info–it’s all there. Is your company in a position to do something like that?

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      My company just updated our intranet site to one that’s not nearly as user friendly as the one we had before, so now I’m sure our poor IT people are dealing with this too. Why can’t people just leave well enough alone? *sigh*

      1. Kyrielle*

        Much as I dislike the “upgrades” to our own intranet recently…because software ages, and because new software happens. Reasons to upgrade or change include new features (which may be needed for only one part of the site, but require the whole thing to be updated), security patches not available in the old version (sometimes because they required changes to extensive to port backwards), the old version has gone unsupported, the old version is only compatible with older OS’s that are themselves unsupported due to age and thus can’t be kept fully secure…. And desire to add features that you don’t appreciate but others do. (The upgrades to our intranet here appear to fall in that category – the new thing I really dislike has been positively received by others.)

        There’s also “the old version wasn’t good enough and someone decided to make their mark by changing it but didn’t make sure it was an improvement” and “the IT department hired a new director who thinks everything should be done with Tool Y”, but those two aren’t terribly good reasons, IMO, unlike the others.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          There’s also “the old version wasn’t good enough and someone decided to make their mark by changing it but didn’t make sure it was an improvement”

          I’m going with this as the most likely explanation because we’re running the same software as before, they’ve just moved everything around and made the site ugly. I think that’s my biggest pet peeve about it: I’d be fine hunting around for things if this site wasn’t so dang hideous to look at!

          1. GreatLakesGal*

            Do we work for the same company?

            Someone decided our logo colors should change, so now the intranet is red print on a white background.

        2. Susan C.*

          YES. I sympathize, I really do, we are still in the process of aligning our HR systems with those of the company that acquired us last year, and it’s a hot mess, but I might also one day snap and yell at a customer who really, definitely wants to upgrade to our newer, faster and more stable software generation, but won’t sign off on it unless it looks and works EXACTLY like the one from five years ago. Including all the custom McGuyver sh*t that led to the instability in the first place.

      2. CMT*

        Honestly, probably because there was something about it that was causing more problems than it was worth (like the things Kyrielle mentioned).

    2. Jen RO*

      My department’s job is writing documentation for external customers… and yet my coworkers can’t for the life of them use the internal documentation I create for our processes. Drives me nuts sometimes. What has worked for me (partially) is a combination of Alison’s #1 & #2 advice – I documented everything I could on a wiki, including troubleshooting, and I direct repeat offenders there, with instructions to come back only if something is not clear. I also document new processes and changes regularly.

      As for our IT department… they tell me I am one of the few people in the company who actually reads the emails and instructions they send out. I don’t know how they handle it.

      1. Karo*

        We have a similar site, and I’ve gotten to the point of always checking the site first to make sure the info is there and up-to-date, and then telling them that it’s there. With some people I can tell them how to access it and provide the link, but if I do that with others they will never ever ever check there first.

        1. BeenThere*

          This is when the email nest / CYA audit trail begins. The way it works is each time the user asks the same question you attach your previous response, and say see attached.

          For example the first time you make sure you are very helpful and given them everything including links and taught them how to fish for themselves. On the second request you then attach the first email you sent them in your reply. On the third email they get the previous one attached, which has the first one attached and their manager gets CC’d. Step three gets repeated until one of you cracks, it is very low effort to write an email like this and continue to send it:

          Hi Lazy Bob,
          The solution is as we previously discussed, please see attached.
          Kind Regards, Not Your Personal IT Slave

          What happens is they end up with a nest of emails with attachments so they have to click however deep to get the original response.

          I had only one internal customer who ended up with a nest seven deep. I left that place but heard he was let go within a few months.

    3. JayemGriffin*

      Looking forward to the comments on this – I’m in a very similar position. We have an internal website with documentation and guides for every process I support and a robust ticketing system. Despite that, we still get the same questions from week to week – and often from day to day, from the same people. They’ll open a ticket, and then email us immediately afterwards. We can send them the documentation (and we do), but they will refuse to read it, or even open it. We haven’t had a boss for over a year now, so there’s nowhere to escalate it. I’m really hoping commenters can suggest some alternate ways to handle these issues. It’s probably my biggest frustration with my job.

      1. Blossom*

        Can you escalate it to the person your boss would report to? She needs to be aware of the resource implications (of this issue and of your manager’s role being left vacant), and might be in a position to do something about it.

        1. JayemGriffin*

          Maybe? Our boss (when we had one) reported directly to the CIO, but I’m not sure this is a C-level problem.

      2. Adlib*

        I handle similar requests (and still have a support site and documents for everything). Depending on what systems you support, is there any way that ongoing training sessions via webinar or similar would help some of these people? Maybe they need someone to show them the way once and it will finally click. That’s what we try to do with the systems that my team supports.

        Also, I would not respond to the emails and just deal with the tickets, especially if your company tracks your time on those tickets. At least that will teach them that’s the only official way to get any answers from you.

        1. JayemGriffin*

          I also run training on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, the people who are willing to make the time to come to training are usually the ones who can figure things out on their own in the first place. We haven’t done a webinar in a while, though – that might be worth a shot!

          1. Troutwaxer*

            Keep track of which employees are capable of basic IT stuff like replacing a keyboard or changing a password. Then you can reply to an email from one of your problem people with “If you’re having trouble changing your password, why don’t you talk to Brian in your department? He’s pretty good with computers.” Then you can find some way to reward Brian.

            1. Bob the Flood Victim*

              If you’re in IT you should absolutely NOT expect someone outside of IT to do this sort of thing. At least at my company this would be seen as completely unacceptable.

            2. Clever Name*

              Ugh. No. I’m pretty competent with computers, so I rarely need help from IT, but I’d be really annoyed if I found out IT was directing others to solicit help from me.

            3. Connie-Lynne*

              At one place I worked, there were a few abusers who expected the System Engineering team to be their personal hand-holding IT sherpas through stuff that realistically any developer should be able to figure out (ie, you can set up your own github and dev environment, and write application code, but somehow making the VPN work eludes you? Yeah no.).

              For those known problems, our perspective was that if their manager found their skills useful enough that giving them extra time and handholding was important, then it was up to their manager to sort out that extra handholding. So after their need for assistance topped 4 hours (setting up a VPN connection was a well-documented process that took maybe 30 min if the client app was being fussy), it became the manager’s issue, to either handhold or delegate handholding to another member of the team.

              That worked out well, it surfaced problematic employees but removed the burden from our team.

      3. Bob Barker*

        In the absence of a boss, this may be difficult to implement, but you can try for peer training. I was in a building with 100 staff but only 3 IT people (only 2 of them competent), and one of the ways we dealt with it was to go peer-to-peer instead of bothering IT at all. We didn’t have a wiki, but also, going peer-to-peer tended to help the people who just needed their hand held by a warm body, any warm body.

        That is to say, peers started sharing tips and tricks informally, at meetings, and individual staff not in IT would get reputations as “able to fix things” (whether or not this was actually true; I often just ended up googling the question right in front of the person who resolutely refused to google), and we would fix things informally amongst ourselves.

        This can be annoying, when you’re the peer who is able to fix things. Aside from the time suck, and the “I’m not your therapist” suck, it’s sometimes hard to know when it’s an issue a peer can’t actually fix. But if you have good relationships with certain departments, you might be able to talk one or two people into helping out on the softball questions within their own departments. (Try to think of something to “repay” them with, though, and be upfront with them about what you’re doing. Probably this wouldn’t be a good idea in a functional workplace, but in a workplace short of bosses, it might!)

        1. Chinook*

          Bob Barker, this idea works 100%. It also has the advantage of helping the peer get in good with IT (because you are taking work off their back) which allows for said peer’s issues to be dealt with more quickly (or so I have experienced as said peer), but it also takes the mystique of being able to fix computer problems away.

          After all, if the Admin Assistant in heels can fix the problem with a few clicks, then anyone should be able to do it, right? ;)

      4. silence*

        perhaps include the boss of the people who use the system incorrectly with an email along the lines ‘jim has done x instead of the proper procedure y 5 times this week’ and recommend training in proper procedures

      5. Perse's Mom*

        Could you possibly escalate it to the manager(s) of the repeat offenders? Wouldn’t they want to know that their direct report is wasting your time and ignoring your coaching?

      6. Chinook*

        “Despite that, we still get the same questions from week to week – and often from day to day, from the same people.”

        I am late to this and am dealing with the same issues at my job (because word has gotten out that I can translate tech into user English) and I feel your frustration. In fact, the colleague in the office next to me can tell when one person calls just by the tone of my voice.

        But, I do have patience with these few people because I see these from the perspective of my teacher training and some people just need to have things spoon fed them to them 5 different ways before they make the connections. Jane isn’t lazy or dumb – I have worked with her at her desk with these issues and I see her write notes on what I am saying. She just isn’t making the logical connections that some of the tech requires in order for it work smoothly. So, each time she asks me the same friggin’ question, I answer it slightly differently (the facts are the same but I approach it from a slightly different perspective, like rotating a Rubik’s cube). This technique must be working because I have 3 or 4 Jane’s and the time between their requests for help expands each time.

        Lastly, I know most support has to be done remotely (heck, most of my time is outside my city), but there is something to be said about sitting down at the user’s desk and having them walk through the steps while you watch them (no matter how eye-twitchingly wrong or slow they are doing it). Sometimes they are doing something unexpected, like their double-click technique is too slow for it to count as a double-click, that can only be seen by an expert. If you can fix that user technique, suddenly you fix their problem and become a hero.

  2. ZSD*

    1) I think the ticketing system is a good idea. If you don’t want to set up something that involved, you could just set up an email address like and have the lower-level people on your team be responsible for checking that email address.
    2) Regarding the person who asked for more info on resetting the password, is it possible that they just wanted to verify that the email was legit? At my previous job, sometimes our IT team would send out head’s-up emails saying, “Next week, you’re going to get an email from [email address] telling you to change your password. This is a real email and not phishing; please do change your password.” Conversely, if there was a phishing email that was managing to get through people’s spam filters, they’d send out an email telling us not to click on anything in the fake email. So having someone on your team proactively letting people know which unusual emails to trust could be helpful.

    1. AMT*

      The writing workshop where I worked in grad school had a really simple email-based “ticketing” system. Students would email their papers to a shared email address. We’d just move the email from the inbox to the “Done” folder when we responded to it.

    2. Sketcheee*

      I like the email address ideas as another option. It could even have an autoresponder that reminds people to check the wiki and perhaps links to some of the most common questions.

    3. mccoma*

      Ticketing systems are a good idea, but I would skip it for a company of around 100. It probably won’t be used because you are too small a group to be impersonal. The special e-mail address is the way to go. If they e-mail you directly then forward it to that address with a cc to the original person and a note that all such queries should go to your team and not an individual. After about the fifth time they’ll get the idea, or you might have to take it up with their manager.

      I’ve given up with the sending anything involving passwords through the e-mail. Its way too risky these days. You want to train people that any e-mail involving their company passwords or ids is a scam. If you cannot handle those with a handout or as a face-to-face with one of your team, then setup some company wide chat or instant message. There are a number of open source and commercial offerings such as Slack.

    4. smokey*

      I’m with you on the head’s-up emails. My company sends out long, long newsletters and buries the useful stuff in the middle of every 5th or 6th one, and also reminds us constantly to avoid phishing scams.
      The result is everyone is afraid to do anything IT-related.

    5. Phoenix Feather*

      My company requires passwords to change every 90 days. The email they send out does not include a link. It tells you how to navigate to the place on our website to make those changes, but there is no website listed or clickable. Just a “go to the main website, click on Staff, then click…” But it also has a simple to remember shortcut ( password DOT companyname DOT com ) that can be bookmarked.

  3. Confused Publisher*

    I work at a medium-sized company, where staff are based in offices in Europe and the US but our IT manager (who is also essentially our entire IT department) is based out of head office in the UK.

    For each of the satellite offices, in addition to a central database where all this information is, and a central intranet where all the documentation is also available, there is one designated (slightly less afraid of IT) person whose project load has been minimally lightened so that they can provide training/refreshers/answer questions whilst also being familiar with the type of work being carried out. For my office, that person is me, and the IT manager gets involved only if I get stuck/can’t find the resources, etc. It’s reduced demands on his time to a smidgen, at least from our office.

    Would something like that have a chance of working at your organisation?

  4. DGP*

    I feel this pain. Where are the stamps? The staples? The paper? The same place as last week/month/year. What is the password to this and that? The same password as last week/month/year. Do we use FedEx or UPS? FedEx since 2007. I’ve been with my company for 9 years…

    1. Sketcheee*

      It definitely can be annoying! It helps me to remember what Alison said here. Forgetting things you don’t do all the time is pretty normal. Why remember when someone else is storing the answer in their brain. Best to keep this information written somewhere so it’s not in minds. Then I just hand them the paper, send them the document, or remind them to look at the site, and be comfortable with repeating as needed

      1. Ange*

        It could be worse. I have a co-worker who asks for help and then argues with me that what I’m telling her is wrong (it’s not). I’ll take someone who asks me the same thing repeatedly over that any day.

    2. Althea*

      I’ve seen two sides of this. One is a learned/purposeful helplessness, when people ask for help when what they really mean is, “Could you do this for me because I don’t want to do or learn it, ever?” The other is office manager types who get annoyed at being asked questions even the first time, because they’ve gotten the same question from others. And to them it feels like the same question over and over, even when new people ask it.

      1. Bob the Flood Victim*

        I’m the longtime reader first time asker… Really good points. I want to make sure not to become the second option.

        1. Clewgarnet*

          I realised I was becoming the second option, so started making a note of who I’d shown various tasks to. There was one person who kept coming back to me again and again, but everybody else was a one-time-only deal. It’s made me a lot more pleasant to deal with!

    3. Nonprofit Nancy*

      I sympathize, truly. But as Alison says, if somebody only needs something once a year, or even once every few months, they’re not going to remember what to you is obvious if you deal with it every day. I was constantly reminded of this while I was an expense report approver – to me, living and breathing expense reports, this stuff was all basic. For other people, it just wasn’t a priority and they needed constant assistance. A wiki is a good solution, and I also found a deep previously unknown vein of patience. (The difference of course is that my job was entry level so helping people was par for the course; it would have been more frustrating if I had more important tasks that were being delayed … can you hire an eager young person? :D)

  5. Beancounter in Texas*

    This sentence from the LW’s question stuck out to me: “…but I’m also one of the first to take on additional tasks to make sure the operations of the department and company run smoothly.” It’s one thing to always be willing to take on additional tasks and be eager to improve things, but it’s another to take on everything. Like Alison said, delegate the easier stuff.

    And if you set up a wiki or other central knowledge dump for the company to reference, continue pointing to that resource. Eventually everyone will reference it first.

    And I know you’re super annoyed about being asked the same questions over and over, but honestly, that’s part of IT, in my experience. Buffer yourself from this and route these questions through a helpdesk.

    Deep breath! This is a fixable situation!

    1. LBK*

      Yes, that stuck out to me, mostly because I relate so much to that impulse and the conundrum the OP is in now. If you’re a natural helper, it can feel wrong to pass off an email to someone else, especially when you know you could answer it yourself in 30 seconds. But when you do that for so long, it adds up and burns you out.

      Delegate, delegate, delegate. If you are 100% certain someone else on your team could answer an email you got without requiring further input from you, forward it. This not only takes it off your plate, but it gives the person another direct point of contact; this doesn’t always work, but in my experience most people just reply to the last person that emailed them about an issue. If the last email they see about their password is from Jane instead of you, they’re more likely to email Jane instead. I’ve done this pretty successfully when we redistributed the work on my team so I wasn’t doing everything – now most of the people that used to bug me bug my coworkers, and I can focus on the executive management requests that I’m supposed to be handling.

  6. Temperance*

    I think you might be going TOO above and beyond your actual duties, which is fueling the problem. I can’t imagine anyone asking our CTO for tech help with a password request, for example, and if they did, I imagine he would send them to the Intranet and/or Helpdesk.

    You aren’t going to be able to retrain people who have taken advantage of your accessibility to look something up, but you can kick lower-level requests to your staff.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Exactly. This is what I was getting at in my comment. There’s going above and beyond and then there’s teaching people that you’ll hold their hand whenever they need you.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      “I can’t imagine anyone asking our CTO for tech help with a password request…”

      This happened at a government agency. My boss, the agency head, was a licensed, board certified practitioner with two high level degrees after her name. On her second day at work, some ding dong from an outside group, emailed her to ask her where something was on our website. Not only that but he called her a shortened version of her first name that she does not and never will go by. (She told me later she’d never met this guy so they were definitely not close friends.)

      The saddest detail of all? What he was looking for was on the main page slide show.

      Yes, some people are that stupid.

      1. Darkitect*

        I work at a Government agency as well, and he performed what I like to call the “scattershot” technique (albeit poorly). It is virtually impossible to ascertain the correct point of contact since EVERYONE is either an “analyst” or “specialist” and our org chart is particularly opaque. Plus people are constantly changing positions. So you send an email to anyone who seems marginally related to the issue at hand and hope they pass your request along to the right person, or to someone who’s a step closer to the right person. This is surprisingly effective. You just have to be clear in your email that you’re issuing a scattershot, and be polite. Meh, Bureaucracy.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I feel your pain, and I’ve been there. Here’s my radical solution: no response. If it’s important enough, people will figure it out on their own.

    Of course you have to know your own work environment, but it worked for me.

    At an old job, there was a certain department that was notorious for being unhelpful and unresponsive. When I took on a *slightly* related organization-wide project, the influx of cries for help got directed at me. Keep in mind that I’m an office director in an unrelated field with no specialized technology experience. That unhelpful department had no qualms with this new redirection.

    Examples of cries for help:

    Set up a new email account.
    Copy and paste the content of a webpage into an email and send it back to the person who sent me the original link.
    Fix a computer that wouldn’t turn on.
    Take down an outside webpage and URL.
    Fix something on the company’s intranet.
    Figure out how to turn on a monitor.
    Set up a projector and order lunch.

    At first, I’d answer with sincere cluelessness and a reminder to ask the respective department, but then some people would complain about the unresponsiveness. Then I couldn’t respond anymore because nothing changed so I didn’t do anything. Either the request was important enough that the person figured it out or it was unimportant enough that it was immediately forgotten. (Yes, that lunch got ordered. No idea who did it.)

    Some of these I wonder if you could ignore like the instructions to reset the password. If so, that could be a good start? Then follow AAM’s advice too because if you’ve got instructions in a centralized location, you can ignore even more as word will get out where that information is.

    1. Pwyll*

      I think this would be good advice if the OP were, say, an Admin or some kind of person unrelated to IT who has repeatedly told folks that he is not the right person to ask questions to. But in this case, OP -is- in charge of IT, and not responding at all would reflect as poor “customer service” to the other staff.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sure, but being unresponsive isn’t great for someone’s reputation, especially when they’ve previously responded to this stuff. The OP can direct the person to the correct staff member or just forward it along.

      1. Not really a newish lurker anymore...*

        No. It’s managing the users. My System Admin has unpublished work numbers for both his desk line and his cell phone. People were contacting him for password resets, which drew him away from network and software issues. If you want him, you have to go through the rest of the IT staff. And if you do get him and ask for a password reset, he’ll follow the process and kick them back to us.

        We have a helpdesk phone # that rings at 7 desks.
        We have email accounts dedicated to 3 specific operation areas that generate a LOT of issues. And they’re monitored by multiple people. I don’t remember what hoops we had to jump through to recreate them on Outlook but it’s doable in an Office 365 setting.
        And the IT staff gets reminded to ask people to email to those accounts for those issues. We are NOT supposed to reset password based on a phone call. We do, but we also ask if they submitted an email and we make sure it gets put in the “closed” file after the call.

        And the frequent flyers on password resets were told they needed to keep track of the process. That it was unacceptable for them to email IT every 6 weeks asking for a password reset instead of following the prompts for doing it on their own.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          We have something similar where I work. Phone rings all desks, with certain people designated to answer the phone before other people. Tech director answers last. Likewise, any walk-ins will immediately be greeted by one of the staff. Tech director will do support only if all other staff are busy helping other people.

        2. Elsajeni*

          Sure, but “people can’t contact him directly (but, if they manage to, he redirects them to the right place)” is very different from “people contact him all the time, but he ignores them and if it’s important enough they figure out another way to handle it,” which seems to be what Snarkus Aurelius is suggesting. I think the route your system admin has gone is one that might work for the OP, but she’d have to start by making some major changes in how easy it is to contact her and letting people know about the new policy, not just go directly to ignoring requests.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah… one of our past IT leads decided that he was just going to ignore email queries that he deemed stupid. This did not end well for him. (His frustrating was understandable, but he also had a higher than reasonable bar for what he considered a ‘stupid’ question–he was one of those people who’s so steeped in IT that he doesn’t realize that not everyone realized how e.g. to set up a VM for themselves. But his biggest problem was that word got around that he was just… trashing emails he didn’t think were worth his time, and after that, nobody in management trusted his judgment.)

    2. TCO*

      If you can’t outright ignore help e-mails, OP, could you respond to them more slowly? If you respond as if this is actually at the bottom of your priority list, you’ll train people to find the answers themselves and/or direct their inquiries to the correct channels. You could even be explicit about this by telling your repeat offenders, “Now that we have a Help section on the intranet and a special e-mail address for help requests, I will no longer be able to personally respond to e-mails quickly. Please expect a response time of 1-2 days for requests you send me directly.”

      1. Jen RO*

        +1 for this. I had a certain coworker who always needed help for things that were documented and had been explained to her several times. I started being “busy” when she asked… and lo and behold, most times she was able to solve the problems herself!

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        That could or could not work, depending on the culture of the company. Lots of places I’ve worked have people who just walk right into the tech office for help. If they’re right in your face, you can’t exactly ignore them. You can, however, delegate (as the OP should, since he has staff).

      3. Bob the Flood Victim*

        OP here. Possibly, and sometimes I’ve done this. It’s harder when I know there’s urgency.

        One of the reasons I want people to go directly to the Helpdesk is so they aren’t waiting on me – I may be in a daylong offsite meeting, or a two hour long meeting that I’m leading, I don’t want things to grind to a halt while I’m unavailable.

        1. hbc*

          I understand, but if you’re always jumping on the urgent items, they have no reason to stop emailing you. You have to let things grind to a halt, or at least make clear that they’re not taking the fastest possible path to an answer.

          One way to do this is to just forward their email on to the helpdesk without response. Another is to respond back *without even a hint of an answer* and tell them you don’t have time to get to it and they should contact the helpdesk–even if it takes longer to tell them that than to solve their problem. Set up Out-of-Office messages that say you will be in an all-day meeting and will not be responding to any support requests that come in during that time.

          You’re playing the long game here. And if something grinds to a halt, that’s on the person who can’t follow clear instructions.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      As a department head, ignoring emails does not reflect well on you, regardless of how low-level and lazy the request is. It’s your job to delegate the request to the appropriate person and let the requester know who will be helping them. I feel like I spend 1/3 of my day rerouting requests, which involves one call to the person I need to take care of the request, and one email to the requester, ccing the responsible party, letting them know who’s going to help them OR directing them to the intranet/other resource where they can get the answer.

      There is little that makes me madder than people who ignore business communications, and timely response during business hours is a Day 1 expectation set with my team, even if that communication is a redirect. There is a department that ignores about half of what is sent to them until it becomes a big, hairy deal, and I just think their level of customer service is awful. They just got a new department head, and I feel so bad for the newbie because the department has such an awful reputation for non-responsiveness that has to be fixed. I’m sure some of the questions I have for them are really basic for people who work in that field every day, but for those of us that need help once every other month, just answer the damn email and either help me or tell me who can.

      1. Chinook*

        “It’s your job to delegate the request to the appropriate person and let the requester know who will be helping them. I feel like I spend 1/3 of my day rerouting requests, which involves one call to the person I need to take care of the request, and one email to the requester, ccing the responsible party, letting them know who’s going to help them OR directing them to the intranet/other resource where they can get the answer.”

        This. I deal with the results of one of our departments not answering calls/emails about issues they deem unimportant. I have no power in that department and no knowledge. But the amount of vendors I make happy once they are directed to me (usually word of mouth from field staff) because I answer my phone, listen to their issue, agree that it sucks, and then say I will contact someone who can help them (and then they actually get a response from the first person they tried calling because I was the one who made the connection and they aren’t allowed to ignore internal staff requests) or can have the problem fixed by making the exact same request the vendor did is mind boggling. Nobody should be that happy to have my phone number!!

        Delegating and forwarding requests for help is the easiest way to fix this issue. Often, the next time that person needs help, they will go to the person who actually helped them, not the person who passed them on (or maybe I just work with good people?).

    1. Beancounter in Texas*

      My husband used to run his own IT company for small businesses and when he merged with another company with a Help Desk, his stress and frustration scaled back considerably.

  8. Pwyll*

    Yeah, this is definitely an area where delegation is important. When you get these e-mails, (depending on how your helpdesk is set up) forward them to your help desk staff and say something like, “Cindy, please send requests to the Help Desk e-mail account so we can make sure that you’re getting help as quickly as possible. Bobbie, please assist Cindy.” You’ve basically trained people that they should contact you directly based on your actions, so stop making such requests rewarding for them.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I think the letter writer’s problem is his own, and he needs to fix it. People will always try to bother him. That will happen at any organization. I work in a similarly-sized org., and our tech director, if he got bugged directly with some mundane thing would forward the email (or person or phone call) to one of his staff to handle the issue.


      Forward to staff under you.

      Phone call?

      Transfer it to staff under you.

      In-person drop-in?

      “Hey, _________. Can you take care of ________?”

      Not that difficult. At a certain point, most people are like Pavlov’s dogs. If they see they won’t get any help from Bob, they’ll lesss and less often come to Bob for help.

      1. Bob the Flood Victimss*

        Sadly a lot of my repeat offenders still aren’t getting the message. They just learn that if they come to me, the problem will get resolved. It’s hard to sell people on the idea of not involving me unless something needs to be escalated. They see their needs in the moment, not the long term pattern, and not how much time gets taken away from higher priorities.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      I actually would leave off part 2 of that. I frequently get requests for changes to my documentation work, and I always say, “Can you please send this through the change request system? That way the request won’t get misplaced and the change can be verified by someone else, and if I go on vacation or am out sick someone else can pick it up in a timely fashion.” (I actually have this saved as a snippet, so I don’t have to type it out each time.) If they have to write it out twice, they are more likely to go to the helpdesk system first next time.

      I mean, I don’t do that if the CEO asks for a change, or the head of development; in that case I figure if they spent the time on it, I should just do it now. But everyone else, yeah. And as long as I word my request in a polite and friendly way, and with a good reason, I’ve never had people–even people who outrank me–be upset by it.

      1. JessaB*

        Yeh, create boilerplate responses for stuff, and include one for anyone who keeps asking the same question to “save these instructions,” because I won’t send them out a 6th time to you.”

    3. Bob the Flood Victim*

      OP here, this is what I do now, and have been doing consistently. The extra emails are still a big time suck, and I don’t think it’s changing behavior (at least not as fast as I’d like it to – maybe it’s just hard to notice the change).

  9. alias*

    I think the problem may be that everyone knows your name and thus it’s too easy to just forward you these questions. Can you set up an easy to remember email alias that creates a helpdesk ticket assigned to someone other than you? My company uses superman@company which is easy to remember and serves as a one-stop-shop for these types of questions.

      1. fposte*

        Ours is “help@” too, and it was a pain when there was somebody at the university whose last name was something like Helpington, because autocomplete would pull him from the directory. Poor guy must have gotten a lot of tech requests.

    1. Temperance*

      There’s also the whole dependency thing – I’m going to email CTO because CTO will know the answer, she’s #1 in that department. It feeds the learned helplessness thing.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep! For years, corporate culture was to go to department head for any and everything. We have been able to transition away from that the past few years, and it’s so much better! Department heads aren’t wasting time on trivialities, and staff doesn’t feel like they’re not trusted to handle routine tasks.

        Doesn’t always work, though. We had one manager who would email our CTO every. single. time. she needed an email distribution updated, and the CTO dutifully noted that the Help Desk (distribution group: Help Desk, email would take care of it ASAP every time. And they did. Still didn’t stick until her boss and the CTO had a chief-to-chief conversation about appropriate thing to email a c-level employee about.

        1. Bob the Flood Victimss*

          So my boss (CFO) would probably have to get involved to tell certain people to stop some of their excessive nonsense. But he wants me to deal with it, and I don’t want to have to involve him. I think eventually with enough documentation and evidence of what I’ve done and what the other person continues to do he’d get involved.

          1. hbc*

            If you’ve told these people enough times, I would just respond with a one word email: “helpdesk”. Because seriously, what is going to happen? It sounds like your CFO would be pretty likely to tell any whiners to “deal with it” and use the helpdesk.

      2. LBK*

        I am sure that IT and customer service reps around the world hate me for this, but I’ll be honest – if I find someone who seems like they know what they’re doing in any given department, I’ll absolutely go to that person directly first if the alternative is submitting a ticket into some black hole of a request system, likely to be fielded by first-level support reps who are useless more often than not.

        Although that may exclude a CTO that I know probably shouldn’t be resetting my password, unless this was a super small company.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yyyyep. And the only way to avoid it is to not make the “wrong” way be easier. I realized that if I always was like “okay, just this once I’ll fix it for you, but in the future do it via the request system, kay?” people would always come back to me, over and over. If I was like “sure, I’d be happy to help, just file it with the request system first” and didn’t fix it until it came in ‘properly,’ they learned pretty damn quick.

          As I mentioned elsewhere, if the CEO asks, I’ll do it right away. If the CEO decides to circumvent the system and get me to do something rightthissecond, okay, that’s her priority. But otherwise, yeah, the only way to get people to use the system is to make using the system more effective than not using the system.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I had a staff member who referred to this as “the curse of competence”.

          I will say, though, as someone who managed the department of the competent people who got called on to do other people’s jobs because they were faster/had better customer service, it’s tough on morale. They also cringe inwardly when they see the same person calling them for something that’s not their job, particularly if it’s a more seasoned employee being asked to do something really low-level. Working around the system doesn’t FIX the the system and, in a lot of cases, obscures the real problem while punishing the competent people.

          At one point, I had to start intervening and doing the redirects myself, because it was pulling my staff off work that only they could do to perform work that could and should have been done by someone else. I got a rack of shit about it being the path of least resistance for the callers, which I do understand (I’ve got my favorites on the tech support team, too), but we don’t pay people consultant-level pay to do tier 1 tech support, particularly when it impacts revenue-generating work and productivity.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, and if you are sending out these emails as Bob@company, people are going to be lazy and just hit “reply”. So send the “time to reset your password” emails out from helpdesk@company or superman@company or whatever, so when people hit “reply” it goes to an address your staff checks, not one you do, or even better automatically starts a help desk ticket.

  10. Newby*

    I found that a way to cut down on stupid questions where they already have the answer was to say that I didn’t understand the questions (because I didn’t, they had the answer) and ask them to be more specific while also cutting and pasting the instructions again. Password reset response: “I’m sorry but I’m not sure I understand your question. You need to reset your password by (paste instructions). Please let me know if I misunderstood or if that does not work.” They either follow the instructions and it works or I hear back “I tried that but this weird thing happened” in which case it is not really a stupid question. Either that or I forward the e-mail to the person who they should have asked and let them respond.

    1. Joseph*

      That’s actually a great suggestion since it forces them to respond with actual information about what went wrong – presumably cutting down on the common scenario where people *say* they’ve followed the IT directions but haven’t even tried Step #1.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yes–I’ve had good luck with “the instructions are here [link]–can you let me know what step of that is giving you problems?” 75% of the time the response is, “Oh, I guess that did work!” or even an apology like “oops, I guess I missed that, sorry.” 25% of the time they’re like “I get to step 5 and it says ‘open the splines tab and select reticulate’ but there’s no splines tab,” and then, as you say, it’s not a stupid question but a real problem.

  11. Bluesboy*

    +1 for the centralised documentation!

    I’m not IT, but a few years ago in a small company I was the most computer-literate person in a small company and often got these types of questions.

    I created a manual which was literally step by step, like “1. Click on start. 2. Click on Printers. 3…” It took quite a while so I had to do it in a quiet period, which you might not have, but long-term I saved an incredible amount of time. The people who, like Alison says, have just forgotten how to do something or can’t find the email don’t necessarily want to bother you. If they know that you’re busy, might take an hour to get back to them, and also know that with the manual they could do it themself in 5 minutes, they may well start to become more self-sufficient.

    Also, bear in mind that you can delegate the creation of the manual itself, dividing responsability for writing different pages among different members of your staff. You can also update it, and add pages where new software comes in or things change.

    Finally, if people keep asking questions you can just reply with “Please see page 8 of the online manual”, saving you time and encouraging them to refer to it first.

    Good luck!

  12. NW Mossy*

    Oh, OP, +1000 to Alison’s response. You need to stop answering this stuff, period. It’s creating a false sense that the capacity of your team is higher than it really is because you’re reaching down to cover work that isn’t your core responsibility, and I suspect it’s part of why your leadership isn’t taking your concerns seriously. To them, it looks like everything works just fine, but that’s only because you’re spending so much time concealing the imperfections.

    I run into this issue a lot because I’ve got a diverse skill set and have a big network of people that I accumulated during my individual contributor days that still tap into me with questions. Sometimes their questions are directed correctly to me in my current role, but if they’re really individual contributor questions (either to the team I was on previously or to the team I manage), I don’t hesitate to redirect. You don’t have to be unpleasant about it, but you can absolutely tell Fergus to submit a ticket or tell Jane to contact Lucinda. Do it consistently and pleasantly, and most people get the message.

    I also took some time a few months back to create a couple of one-pagers for my unit’s SharePoint site that list the places where we house commonly-requested items and the right points of contact for different types of questions. I push those documents at people when I redirect them (“I think you’ll find this helpful!”) and encourage my team to do the same. Teaching people how self-serve on common questions and ask their more complex questions of the right people the first time isn’t putting them off or being rude – it’s helping them learn about the tools they can use to get a faster answer than emailing you and waiting until you can get back to them.

    Put bluntly, you get paid too much to spend your time on things that can be successfully handled by your staff, whom you presumably employ for exactly this purpose. Heck, your staff probably gets paid too much to handle some of the really easy ones, which is where the self-service tools are great. But by all means, you need to start leveraging other strategies to get this stuff off your plate. As you rightly note, you’re going to burn out if you don’t.

  13. Episkey*

    You are much nicer than one of my past companies. We used to call the Help Desk the Unhelpful Desk lol. I was like pulling teeth to get them to help with anything.

  14. AW*

    a system-generated email telling someone they need to reset their password, and how to do it, and when to do it by, which the person then forwarded to me asking for more info.

    Do they literally just say “more info” or are they asking for something specific? It could be that the email needs to be redesigned to make the info they think is missing more prominent. But if they are being vague about what info they want, then Newby’s suggestion to kick it back with “I don’t understand the question” makes sense.

  15. Elizabeth*

    I attended a session at a conference years ago about documentation for a ticketing system. One of the speakers had struggled with her staff constantly coming to her with questions about the system that were easily answered by the documentation and help menus of the ticketing system itself, which was driving her crazy. She took the approach of responding to these types of questions with “Have you checked the documentation/help menu?” every. single. time. so that eventually she trained, through excessive repetition, her staff to check there first. She felt rude doing it at first, but eventually it paid off because when they’d come to her with a problem they’d start with “I’ve checked the documentation and it says X, but I’m still wondering about Y…” which indicated that they’d done their due diligence but were still struggling with a problem not addressed by the documentation.

    [In this case, the documentation was quite excellent. The ticketing system had both contextual help menus — e.g. depending on what section of the system you were working in, the help menus would be relevant to that section and the tasks associated with it — and an option to upload your own documentation to the system (which this organization had done) so that any organization-specific tasks/tools not covered by the standard software documentation was still covered by these additional help files.]

      1. JustaTech*

        I once had a very difficult computer program tell me to RTFM. It was supposed to be a joke (the next thing it said was “because I hate you”), but I was so frustrated at the absence of a manual that I nearly threw my computer out the window.

    1. NW Mossy*

      Years ago, I had a boss who responded to questions with a consistent opening follow-up: “What does the document say?” If your response was “I don’t know,” she’d send you off to go look and report back. She trained me pretty quickly that my answer needed to be something like “Well, it says X but I don’t understand how to interpret that” or “It doesn’t seem to address it but there’s Y which is similar.” To this day, I use the same technique with others who are learning in our industry, because many of the answers are there – you just need to be taught to look.

    2. Ama*

      Yes — I’m not a tech person but I’ve been in several roles where I was the main person updating a centralized source of information and in my experience the only way to train people to start looking at the central documentation first is to answer any questions about info found there with — “All that info is here, check there first.” You can’t even say, “here’s the info you asked for this time, but in the future go here” because people will not even register that part and the next time they’ll just remember that they got the info from you last time.

      I still get questions about a directory I manage because even now that they all (mostly) know how to access it, my coworkers seem to think I’m hiding some super secret special directory that has additional info in it, so now I’m training them to understand that the most updated info I have is always in the shared drive.

      1. JustaTech*

        I created a lovely, up-to-date, easy-to-use database for my department that I was very proud of. I was showing it off in a meeting one time and our new VP told me I needed to lock it down so no one could accidentally mess it up. Which meant that no one but me could run any searches, which pretty much was the end of anyone using the data.

    3. BRR*

      I agree that it’s about training which will involve repetition. It will require a good library though. My last job had someone who created an amazing knowledge base….that nobody used.

    4. Mona Lisa*

      This is what I did at the awful non-profit after spending a lot of time customizing the Standard Operating Procedures Manual after a database conversion. Sometimes if I was feeling generous, I would tell them the exact page number/section title to go and read. If they came back after that with questions, I would either e-mail them an answer or set up a time to meet and go through the steps. My biggest accomplishment was convincing the technophobe of how to do this and eventually she scheduled a meeting to learn how to pull reports with me. I was so proud of her that day!

      My manager eventually reported to me that she was getting significant complaints from other departments that I was “unhelpful” and purposefully not answering questions because I always directed people back to the manual. This was an organization where everyone ran around like their heads were on fire and every question was an emergency that any other employee should immediately drop their work to help with. *sigh*

    5. Mazzy*

      Help Menus are usually pretty lousy. In many I’ve worked in, they don’t have sections on simple/common problems, or they use weird/technical language that you’d understand if you’d found it but never search by. So you end up not finding it until someone else searches for you.

  16. EddieSherbert*

    One thing to keep in mind as you implement these is to always, always push your Help materials/wiki. It can take people a long time and a lot of reminders to remember and use it.

    I create the help materials at my company – and they did not have a centralized help site before I started.

    I have gotten many [SO VERY MANY!] calls and emails about things that are there.

    I have gotten reprimanding me for “not telling then about change X from 6 months ago,” when it has been emailed, highlighted in the blog, posted to social media, and is the main slider for the website.

    And along with getting them answers, I always make a point of either sending them the link to the help documentation, asking if they are part of (and checking) the email list and social media.

    If I don’t know something or it’s unsupported, I will flat-out tell people I’m not sure, that’s not part of the software, LET’S GOOGLE IT. And then I Google it. With them there. And then I say “Google sent me this” or “Google says try this.”

    And it’s slowly cutting back over time – I think my responses have helped :)

    1. Bookworm*

      Yeah, I think that you have to be really diligent about reminding people. Recommend that they bookmark the wiki in your responses.

      After a few requests, stop cutting & pasting the answer into your e-mail and instead just direct them to the wiki. Ask them what they’ve already tried before offering additional help.

      Also, it can really help to have some ready-made templates that you just use when someone sends you a question that can be answered by the wiki.

      1. Joseph*

        “Ask them what they’ve already tried before offering additional help.”
        Make sure they give you a specific response, because otherwise you often get ridiculous answers like “well, I tried everything”, which is both (a) probably untrue and (b) completely useless for troubleshooting.

  17. Adrian*

    Stop answering. Today.

    Pick any manager in your department and tell them they’re now responsible for solving this. Give them a day to decide how they want to structure help requests, get out of their way and let them get on with implementing it. Send a company wide communication out with the new process then ignore anyone who doesn’t follow it.

    If you’re uncomfortable with this then you need to change your mindset to realise that you’re wasting your company’s limited and critical resources (you) by doing low value work.

    When you stop answering, people will stop asking.

    1. Mazzy*

      This is a bad idea and is addressed above.

      Among other reasons, we were only given one example of what type of request we’re talking about.

      There are other “stupid” or “petty” requests that are actually logical when you think about them.

      For example, I may ask a seemingly dumb question about a part of my computer because I wasn’t given the manual.

      I may grill you about a $2 computer piece so I don’t waste time going to Staples when you have a bucket of said pieces in your storage closet.

      Not to mention that sometimes IT is wrong and they may think you’re request was solved when it wasn’t. I recently had a long back and forth with our IT about access to a shared folder. They insisted I had access so probably thought I was annoying them, and it turned out I was right. There was some glitch along the way causing it to be blocked.

      1. Beezus*

        All of those things should be covered with the process. The head of IT should not be dealing with *any* of them.

  18. hayling*

    I like the idea of a wiki/intranet and a ticketing system. The ticketing actually accomplishes several things:
    1. Organizes tickets so your team can prioritize
    2. Forces the asker to fully document their problem (assuming you have appropriate form fields)
    3. Some people will end up figuring it out themselves rather than going through the steps of ticketing.

  19. Realistic*

    My response to questions like this is always, ‘What have you tried already? and what happened?”
    If nothing else, it buys me time during which they may find their own answers via already-available resources… but mostly it tells them that they should try something before they contact me.

  20. anon (the other one)*

    I do not use an in house help desk, but I do use one for a third party service we contract. I’ve often wondered if the disconnect between the help desk and the users is because the IT people are so close to their info and don’t understand that the user doesn’t have their fundamental knowledge and familiarity. The help desk I use is massively frustrating to me. A recent example: “In attempting to input an account for client A, I received error message 1004. Can you tell me what this error is?” The response from the help desk: “What is the error?” This resulted in a lot of needless back and forth as I simply tried to communicate that I don’t know what that error code is and that’s why I’m asking you!

    1. Chinook*

      “ve often wondered if the disconnect between the help desk and the users is because the IT people are so close to their info and don’t understand that the user doesn’t have their fundamental knowledge and familiarity.”

      I think this is very true. I am dealing with it now as I write up a manual for a new in-house program I wasn’t involved in developing and the programmer keeps giving me patronizing answers to the questions that I am asking for both my knowledge for the manual that will be used by field staff. He knows it inside out and he will never use it as anything other than a programmer, so the questions I ask are eye-rolling to him but the exact same ones that will come up 1 month from now when it goes live (only they will be much more vague).

      Luckily, he does this in meetings with his boss watching and, since his boss is the one who asked me to write manual and knows my track records with other programmers, this patronizing attitude is just burying himself deeper as a walking stereotype of the “dude programmer.”

  21. nunqzk*

    I think some of the comments above are maybe too optimistic about how much you can do to prevent stupid questions. Trying to get the repeat offenders to back off will help to some degree, but they’ll probably still take up a disproportionate amount of somebody’s time no matter what you do. For the rest, if you could get 100 employees to each forget something only twice a year — which I would argue is very, very optimistic — somebody would still need to answer a stupid question almost every day.
    I sort of hate to say this, because I’m only a few years out from being the junior person stuck answering all the stupid questions, but I think the real solution has to be freeing up your time by dumping all of this on somebody else.
    One tweak I’d suggest to Alison’s advice: Don’t take the time to decide which questions are easy to answer. Choose a junior employee who doesn’t overestimate their own knowledge, and forward all of the tech-support questions to them. Let them kick things back up to you if they don’t know the answer.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      they’ll probably still take up a disproportionate amount of somebody’s time no matter what you do.

      But that’s the nature of IT. It shouldn’t be the tech director or CTO’s job to be that somebody, but somebody (one of his staff) has to be that somebody. People don’t suddenly stop asking questions or asking for help.

      1. nunqzk*

        Yeah, that’s the point I was trying to make: Whatever the solution is, it can’t depend on assuming that you can make the questions stop.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah. You can do a lot to help with this–better documentation, better training, ticketing systems, consistently sending people to the docs first, etc.–but probably someone is going to have to do some degree of this, possibly even a high degree of it, forevermore. That’s just the nature of the beast. So at that point the question is ‘who,’ and the answer is probably that there’s someone better to delegate it to than the head of IT.

  22. LizM*

    So I’m in a slightly different role, but I tend to be a good researcher. So I end up getting questions about other people’s programs. I’m the planning lead, so I know the regulations for tea pot planning really well, and I know how to google other regulations, so I get a lot of questions about tea cup manufacturing regulations, often from the tea cup manufacturing program lead.

    Refusing to take on the work, while still appearing to give a helpful answer, helps. “I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, but I’ll bet if you checked your regulations, it’ll have the answer. Have you checked there yet?” Or I’ll suggest a google search term, rather than sorting through the links. I’ve found that some personalities just need to be empowered to find the answer on their own. It seems like, especially with technology, there is a lot of learned helplessness. People convince themselves they’re not computer people, and need IT’s help to do anything unusual. Telling people where to find the answer, rather than finding the answer for them, will help teach them how to seek out the answer. Since I instituted the policy of not just automatically taking on other people’s jobs, the number of questions have gone down, and the questions I get are a lot more complex and actually do need my attention.

  23. HelpdeskManager*

    It sounds like your department would benefit from a helpdesk, or at least a helpdesk person. Helpdesk isn’t just for answering low-level end-user questions; helpdesk is for providing customer service to your users, and being the smiling face of your IT department. My initial thought was that you could consider outsourcing, however outsourced resources tend to require a larger time investment from whomever is managing them.

    If you can convince your boss to allow you to hire a good helpdesk person, I think you’d find you have a lot more time to work on the projects you like, without having to focus on user interaction. The key to success would be to find someone with a strong technical aptitude who also possesses strong customer service skills, then spearhead a PR push to transition all IT department communications– both inbound and outbound– through that person.

  24. OG OM*

    I would argue that you need to make a hire for one person to do “helpdesk” and admin assistance and that is their only job.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I’m a bit confused as to the problem here.

      When I started, the company was about a third of our current size. During that time, I’ve always had a team under me to deal with most of the common user requests, to free me up to focus on managing the department and special projects.

      So, yes, the organization has grown, but I didn’t see anything about the “team under me” disappearing. Maybe the team isn’t as big as it should be, but that still means the team should be taking the brunt of these everyday help desk requests and not the CTO or tech director.

      If the team is taking all the requests and the CTO is also tech those requests, that means the team is understaffed (which may be the case), but that’s not a problem of people coming to Bob… that’s a problem of just not enough people to come to.

      1. Bob the Flood Survivor*

        The team is in place, including a fully staffed outsourced helpdesk. A person on my team is responsible for being the coordinator and point person for “quick questions.” The problem is I still get frequently pulled away from high value work just to forward emails/reply to people and remind them to go to the Helpdesk.

        The ideas I like best so far:
        1. Set up one-on-ones with people who still do not go ton the Helpdesk after being told repeatedly. If there is still no change, escalate to my boss/their boss.
        2. Set up a minimum 1 hour delay in responding – turn my email off for a few hours a day so I can focus.
        3. Set up training, starting at the top and down to the managers, laying out the Helpdesk process and why we have it, and set expectations that managers need to follow and enforce these processes.

        1. Parfait*

          As a person who gets a lot of very basic questions, I have found that the delayed reply helps a LOT. Quite often, 5 minutes later I get a follow-up email saying “Never mind, I figured it out.”

  25. crazy8s*

    when I read this question, My immediate response was: I bet they don’t have a centralized location where people can find processes, procedures, etc. It is not enough to email somebody an answer and expect them to retain it for months and months until the question pops up again. We are dealing with this in our office and finally somebody has been assigned to create some “how to” documents.

    1. Bob the Flood Survivors*

      We can certainly update the documentation and audit it, refresh it, etc. that being said our culture is not very “self-serve” in general at this point. I think the one-on-one follow ups are the most likely to succeed.

  26. memyselfandi*

    I have to admit that I recognized this behavior – asking before researching – in myself at one point. This was for everything, not just IT. I really had to train myself to look at the resources made available or ask where to look first. I think it is an easy pattern for some people to fall into because when you are new you have to ask, but at some point you need to move past that. I think you need a script that moves people toward thinking about their behavior. There are some good suggestions in the comments.

    1. Bob the Flood Survivors*

      Ideally all of our managers would be enforcing this same discipline in their people. I certainly had these sorts of habits drilled out of me early in my career. I hope we are doing the same thing for our people – it will serve them well in the long run.

  27. Sketcheee*

    I was surprised when I joined a company I learned that every company and department in the world doesn’t do this:

    ‘When it’s stuff that people don’t have to do every day, it’s pretty normal for people to forget the answers. If there’s one central place to go to look things up, it’s reasonable to expect them to go there, but it’s a much harder sell to say “you need to retain everything we ever tell you, even if you only use it a couple of times a years” or “it’s an email from six months ago that you may or may not have kept or be able to find now.” Create something centralized, and then direct people there’

    They pushed back and always found forgetting to be weird. Employees would really act ashamed if they ever forgot anything. Very different cultural norms than I was used to

    1. Chinook*

      I work a for a company that is transitioning from “documentation, we don’t need no stinkin’ documentation” to having a procedure for everything under the sun stored in on central database. It is a painful process right now but we all see the advantages of the final product and could never imagine going back to the way it was. Believe it or not, it is so much more efficient to have a place to go and find information than it is to have to track down someone to answer your question.

  28. sarah*

    Well, first of all, don’t make people constantly change their passwords since it’s annoying and research shows it does not make your system more secure. :)

    Aside from that, I would try to keep in mind that while IT is your priority and you’re thinking about it all day everyday, it’s simply not the priority for anyone else at your company. Remembering the password reset rules or the “where do I go to look up X?” process is not and probably is never going to be their priority, regardless of what you do. So, accept that and build your system around it. Setting up an official help desk/ticketing system (staffed by lower-level people) is a great idea, as well as reviewing the materials you send out to make sure everything is as centralized and clear as possible (especially to a person who is not tech-savvy). I love the idea of asking questions of frequent offenders who you know are smart people — either you or someone you designate should be saying “Ok, it seems like our password reset procedure/email is unclear. What questions do you have and how can we fix this?”

  29. ElleKat*

    My organization is requiring that all staff go through security training and one of the basic tenets of the training is if in doubt contact computing services. So, it may be good business practice to ensure that the password change is a valid request and not a phishing attack.

    Also, my expertise is not in computing services and often the instructions make assumptions (e.g. leave out steps) that everyone knows to do something which is often not the case. And frankly, I don’t have the time to search through multiple emails to figure out how to do so. For example, the emails for the security training had a link to the trainings but the only time the steps on how to sign in (username/password) were in the initial “heads-up” email which required another search to find . We’re always being told to delete unnecessary emails so I can see where someone would have deleted the initial email and had to ask for help on how to access the trainings.

  30. Turtle Candle*

    Another thing: you may want to look at how your internal documentation is set up. We had a problem at my workplace where the developers wrote the wiki with all the troubleshooting info, but they wrote it in a way that was… well… written to be understandable to themselves, rather than to non-developers. Like, broken down into sections based on what component the thing was related internally, except that if you were a user of the system rather than someone who had experience digging around in the guts of the Visual Studio project, you had literally no idea which component the message was coming from. And the TOC was slapdash. And the useful information (“here are the steps to troubleshoot/resolve this problem”) would be buried under several paragraphs of what were, to non-developers, unintelligible jargon. And the search was, as is sadly IME common for medium-sized wikis that have sort of outgrown themselves, poor and prone to false positives. And some info was more comprehensively stored in the bug tracking system and not the wiki. And some was stored in the user-facing documentation and not either of the other two. And on and on.

    This resulted in a lot, a LOT, of mutual frustration. Someone in another department would need an answer and not be able to find it, so they’d ask dev for help. The developer would go “ARGH, I spent all this time last year documenting this in great detail, WHY did I waste my time on that when people keep bothering me?” They both had a point. The developers really had spent a lot of time on a bunch of internal docs that did not seem to be being used, and they really were trying to make it useful, and that frustrated them–and they were hired to think on a highly technical level, not to break things down into easy bite-sized steps and arrange them for a non-technical audience. On the flip side, the other departments really could not readily use the documentation, and the VP of Marketing really didn’t have time to spend several hours digging around in a barely-organized wiki, or attempting to figure out which of the thirty paragraphs on the internals of the certificate store was the one to explain why her PDF signature wasn’t working–let alone how to fix it. And furthermore, for a long time the two ‘sides’ were talking entirely past each other: the developers felt like nobody was even putting in the effort to look, and the non-developers were frustrated that they couldn’t find answers to things, and neither side was thrilled that they kept having these (increasingly tense) conversations.

    It wasn’t until the head of development sat down with a non-developer and said, okay, show me what you did to solve this problem, and watched in increasingly enlightened silence as his non-technical counterpart flailed around trying to find information in exactly the opposite fashion that the developers had organized it. Her mistakes weren’t born of ignorance or stupidity, but simply of not thinking like a developer–which she shouldn’t have to, because she isn’t one.

    Our solution, in the end, was to unleash the technical writers on the wiki. We spent a great deal of time reorganizing it, making a useful table of contents, moving up ‘actions items’ above ‘lengthy descriptions of the internals with every possible caveat included’ on the pages, consolidating as much as possible so people didn’t have to look in a bunch of separate places/dig info out of emails/etc., and mirroring or crosslinking as necessary to the bug tracking or external help systems. (There wasn’t much we could do about the search not being very useful, sadly.) It worked because we were in the middle ground of being technical enough to suss out what exactly the relevant points were, but user-ish enough to have a better sense of how someone who wasn’t intimate with the details of the SDK might need to find information.

    Anyway. This may not be relevant–your internal documentation may be clear, well-organized, and easy to find. But if there’s someone you have decent rapport with, it might be useful to ask them to show you how they look for info when they need it. It might be that a few fairly straightforward tweaks will make them much, much more likely to use your docs.

    (And if you aren’t directing them to your docs, start! Even if your docs are immaculate, you will probably need to do some retraining of people who have gotten used to just going to you for a ‘quick answer.’ When you–or someone else on your staff–gets a question that is amply documented already, point them to your documentation and say, “If you can’t find it there in a reasonable amount of time, let me know where you tried looking.” If they can find it, great, that’s one more step towards normalizing ‘look it up for myself’ instead of ‘ask IT.’ If they can’t, then you/your staff at least get back some useful info as to how they’re trying to look, which you can use either to guide a reorganization of that information, or to guide better training on where to look for info.)

  31. Menacia*

    I’m confused, the OP wrote “During that time, I’ve always had a team under me to deal with most of the common user requests, to free me up to focus on managing the department and special projects.” So where is this team now, and why aren’t they doing their job of freeing you up from common user requests? If the company has grown, I would think that IT staff would as well? Additionally, if you don’t have a helpdesk ticketing system, how are you measuring the number of different types of requests coming in so it can be used to get additional staff as needed? There will *always* be users calling with stupid questions, and lazy users calling to get the answer that’s right in front of them…essentially these make up the bulk of users in general and pay our salaries (I work in IT, on a Helpdesk).

    1. Bob the Flood Victimss*

      OP here, take a look further down the comments for more details. Tl;dr – this stuff is already in place, lots of time is being wasted by people not using it

  32. Jack the Treacle Eater*

    People will always be lazy.
    People will always miss information.
    People will always default to asking whoever they think is the prime candidate to help them out.


    In my experience, IT department communication / documentation is often less clear than you think it is.
    Technical people tend to communicate in technical ways which lay people don’t follow.
    Technical people tend to say ‘You just do it like this’ then whip through at a speed lay people can’t follow or remember.
    Show people and they do not remember. Walk them through it, making them do the actions, and they do.

    Sort out a helpdesk, ticket system, wiki, or all three, push all enquiries back to it and people will get used to going to it; but make sure your usability and UX is up to scratch.

    1. Menacia*

      We always limit the text and up the graphics in our documentation, the majority of our end users are visual learners.

      1. Chinook*

        “Pictures good, words bad!” That’s my motto when writing up the user manuals.

        It also means that those with English as Second Language have a better chance of understanding the directions.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Hah. Yeah. I am pretty technical, and I’ve had discussions where someone would go, “Oh, that’s easy. First, add an HTTPS binding on your default web site in IIS, and make sure the port is correct.” Thirty clicks at the speed of light go here. “Then, open the registry, and….” Twenty clicks at the speed of light go here. And that “first” is something the guy really did think of as ‘easy,’ since he did that kind of thing all the time, but that’s about ten steps for someone who doesn’t do it all the time, folded up in one sentence.

      Again, might not be happening. But it’s worth keeping an eye out for.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      In my experience, IT department communication / documentation is often less clear than you think it is.

      Usually, I’ve seen it as a bunch of “then you do this, then you do this” instructions with no bold type (or even italics) and no screenshots… sometimes not even numbers or bullet points.

      Fellow tech folks who document things: people love screenshots and step-by-step instructions with important things (names of things to click, for example) in bold type.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        My moment of enlightenment came when I realized that even users who were not ‘visual learners,’ who were highly verbal, still often relied heavily on screenshots–because a screenshot can give you a really fast confirmation that you are in the right place. Yep, that’s clearly the dialog I’m supposed to be in, because the screenshot matches what’s on my monitor! Now I put screenshots in everything.

    4. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I once took a “What kind of geek are you?” quiz, and the answer I got was that I was a Geek Liaison. I am not of the geek, but I am near the geek. Which means I’ve gotten pretty good at translating things like “The dilithium crystal matrix was misaligned, which caused the matter/antimatter converters to receive a lesser amount of antimatter, which in turn caused the warp engines to overcompensate by drawing power from the secondary power grid through the Heisenburg compensators, which took the transporters offline and also slowed down the ship” into “There was a problem with the power, but it’s fixed now. You should be able to attain Warp 9.9 again.”

      Which is probably why I’ve gotten pretty good at technical writing, even though I’ve never been trained in it. Translating High Academic or Ancient Geek to plain English is a specialized skill.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Same here. I mean, I didn’t take that quiz, and I’m not a technical writer, but I’ve done a lot of documentation of tech stuff for everyday folks, and I don’t have a technical background, so I think I’m a little closer to the layperson in terms of what probably needs to be explained or how best to have it explained.

        1. Chinook*

          I think I have found my title/position (because nobody here can really figure out what I do and my title is only “contractor”). I think I shall now be called either Geek Liaison or maybe Tech Liaison as my goal is to make the engineers and programmers use words that our field staff can understand while having neither side think they are insulting the other (because they really do get a long).

  33. seejay*

    When I worked at the bank as a Computer Forensic tech, my team was the goto for any computer related problems since everyone assumed we were also the “computer experts” (we were, but that wasn’t “our job”). The problem was that our tech support was a lot more of a headache/process to deal with than it was to come over to my desk to say “how do I fix foo” when something was broken and yes, I could probably fix it in five minutes compared to calling IT Services and going through 20 minutes of holding and walking through their annoying spiel, but when 10 people a day were having me do 5 minute fixes whenever they borked up their computers, I wasn’t getting my real job done (and I wasn’t hired to do tech support).

    We finally had to tape the IT Services support number up on our file cabinet in our cubicle and would just point to it whenever someone would come up to us. Yes, it was only five minutes for me to fix your problem, but sorry, you had to call tech support for it. *silent point to sign*. I had a form email with the phone number in it that I would just copy/paste to send to people if they emailed me their questions as well because again, I couldn’t/wasn’t allowed to fix department computer problems anymore, at least without risking my work.

    Agreed with Alison’s recommendations. Have everything in one central location if it isn’t already and start pointing people in that direction with a form letter. Delegate to lower tier/junior tech support (one of the reasons why everyone hated calling tech support was because they had to go through Tier One first which was usually slow and tedious, but 99% of the time would clear up the basic stuff… if I called tech support, I always wanted someone in the next level up because if I blew something up and couldn’t fix it, there was no way Tier One could either).

  34. Triceratops*

    Only helps with part of the problem–but at my company, all password reset emails come with the instructions included in the body of the email. Can you alter the template so that this information is included?

  35. Raging Dragon*

    I agree with delegating and creating a ticket system. Our IT refuses to answer emails PERIOD for “little” requests. Everything goes through the ticketing system.

  36. KellyK*

    One thing that I would add is that whatever method *works* for getting their problems solved and their questions answered is what you train people to use, whether they mean it or not. If, say, you’re more responsive than your staff, that trains people to go straight to you. (My husband used to work at a company whose IT took months to respond to trouble tickets. But, if you went over and bugged someone in person, you could usually get an issue resolved. Again, this teaches people not to use the established system.)

    So, as an overall strategy, I would consider what you want people to do when these problems come up, and see what you can do to make that as easy and effective as possible, and to redirect people from the methods they’re using. Pretty much all of Alison’s advice ties into that.

  37. A few ideas from a fellow IT person*

    Hi OP,

    I feel your pain. I’ve got over 20 years experience in IT, including starting and running a Help Desk, desktop support, management, tech training, tech writing, and programming. I’ve worked a number of places that started out with a one-person IT department where everyone showed up in person to ask questions (or visit and sneak in the question). Over time, those shops often grow to exceed the capacity of the support person as the IT budget lags behind the volume of calls.

    Before I talk solutions, I’d like to address something else. You sound burned out at this job. The problems you’ve described are common in IT, but so is short-staffing the IT dept. until the workers drop. Are you sure you want to stay? Is the volume of work in proportion to your staff so high that your technical skills are starting to atrophy?

    Now onto the problems you described. It’s very difficult to change people’s behavior, and it requires constant effort. That’s why I addressed the question of whether you wanted to stay first.

    The idea of an online “knowledge base” is VERY popular in IT circles, but not so much with clients. Why?
    1) They require a lot of maintenance
    2) They quickly turn into a needle in a haystack and clients stop using them because they can’t quickly find what they need
    3) Many IT people aren’t the best writers of materials for clients – because they think at such a high level of expertise, they often leave out important context without realizing it. Often people go into IT specifically because they don’t like writing and don’t want to be around people.

    In order to better diagnose the problem, I would talk to both your staff, and your clients. If you have online instructions, check the analytics to see what people are searching for, and if they are even finding the pages.

    Consider a visibility/outreach plan if you have the time for it:
    – modifying the email signatures for yourself and all your staff to include links to important info
    – an email newsletter to catch those irregular pet peeves that come up (e.g. quarterly issues, end of year issues, etc.)
    – brown bag sessions to teach particular topics to clients, both things they might be interested in, and things you want them to know

    The catch is that raising visibility like this can be dangerous – it can increase the calls at the beginning. It may also cause the clients to come vent about all the things they’re dissatisfied with that you don’t know about yet, and you may not be in a position to fix them. It will, however, let you get the issues on the table so you can sort them out and prioritize them, and make an IT strategic plan to address them.

    I’d recommend making a documentation plan too, with an eye to “evergreen” content and keeping the overall number of docs low. Someone will need to take responsibility for reviewing each piece of documentation at least once a year to ensure it’s still current and relevant, and you’ll need a tracking system for that (a simple spreadsheet can work).

    Good luck OP, and please write back and let us know how things work out.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      This is excellent. The ‘needle in a haystack’ and ‘IT professionals may not be the best technical writers’ issues are very real–our IT and development staff had to actually borrow technical writers to get the wiki up to usable speed, which worked fine for us (although it didn’t eliminate questions), but that’s not an option for everyone. Hell, it was only an option then because we were actually slightly overstaffed with tech writers; right now we’re stretched thinner and internal docs would not be as much of a priority. And the ‘needle in a haystack’ problem is still sometimes a problem–smart, competent people will go “I tried looking all over for this info and I just can’t find it,” and they’re just using a slightly different search term than is on the page. The info is there but since they don’t know that we used the term “Word document” and they were searching for “docx” or vice versa, they can’t find it, and might spend a frustrating hour clicking all over–whereas if they ask me, I know exactly where the page is (because I wrote it…). We add new terms to the metadata as fast as we become aware of the problems, but even very intelligent users (sometimes especially very intelligent users!) think of new strange search terms to use faster than we can possibly keep up.

      Another thing that I would like to note–once we (as I mentioned above) improved the internal docs to be much more useful, it didn’t so much decrease the workload as shifted it. People were trained to start looking there for help, which was good! But they also felt, hm, empowered to request changes. I did X and Y weird thing happened, because it turned out I had Z Chrome extension installed, can you please update the page with that info and how to fix it? You have help on how to install the Office suite, but not how to find our branded Word templates, please put that in. Also, now I can’t figure out how to install the branded fonts I need to make the template work properly, please add that. Okay, we’re all upgrading to Office 2016 for compatibility reasons and now all the pages are out of date, when can you update them by? Oh, and I updated to Office 2016 and now the Adobe plugin doesn’t work anymore, can we have a page on how to correct that? Etc. etc. etc.

      In some ways, getting people to start relying on internal docs can be swapping one problem for another–as a tech writer I am inclined to believe that ‘people use the docs so much that they notice as soon as anything is missing/out of date’ is a good problem to have, but it can be a real problem, especially if you don’t have tech writing staff and/or are already stretched thin.

      (tl;dr: I have a lot of Opinions about documentation….)

    2. A Non E. Mouse*

      modifying the email signatures for yourself and all your staff to include links to important info

      First, let me say thank you so much for your reply (I’m not the OP, just an also-nearly-burnt IT geek).

      Second, we recently implemented something similar to what you’ve mentioned above – now all replies, communication, etc. come from “The Help Desk”, instead of our individual accounts. We’ve also increased the “approved” ways you can open a ticket – instead of insisting users have to navigate to the (clunky because it was free and heaven forbid IT get a dime to spend) system to open a ticket, they can also email the help desk or call the specific help desk number.

      It’s definitely “increased” the number of tickets we are seeing, but I don’t think it’s a real increase – we are simply now actually capturing help desk tasks that IT employees were quickly taking care of when interrupted at their desks/emailed directly/asked in the hallway about. I was guilty of this myself!

      Third, *SNORT* at Over time, those shops often grow to exceed the capacity of the support person as the IT budget lags behind the volume of calls.. Holy Understatement, Batman. ;)

      1. A few ideas from a fellow IT person*

        You’re welcome. I agree the ticket systems (like RT) that allow clients to use something they are very comfortable with (email) to submit tickets encourages the clients to ask for help, and for IT to funnel the requests and prioritize them. It can be horrifying at first to see the number of requests, but it will also give you stats to give to non-IT management to justify hiring more help. A side bonus: if you funnel the email requests, then you can login remote if you need to, whether in the building or outside of it. And you can take vacations and know a coworker or sup will see the requests come in without having to let them in your own email account.

        A bad ticket system can burn out the IT staff and make the clients distrust IT in general. Tracking systems are mission-critical to an IT shop; it is unfortunate that so many shops aren’t allowed a proper budget to purchased and upgrade the software. Further, the business needs vary according to the size of an IT shop and what the clients will put up with. Many ticket systems are built on the one-size-fits all premise, and the needs of a huge IT shop with 2 Help Desk shifts are totally different than one person and two part-time students at a university.

        Re the understatement, yes, it was. I took over from a few one-person IT shops setup back in the 80’s and 90’s where the former person gave the clients whatever they wanted. They could do this because the call volume was very low compared to what it is now, and IT was much less complex. These early IT people loved being the tech wizard and having people dependent on them. After that person left, the dependency still existed, and landed on me when I started.

        People dropped by and followed me everywhere – including into the bathroom, asking computer questions. I had to be the “bad parent” and start diplomatically creating and enforcing boundaries, and managing expectations. If I did it too firmly and offended someone, I’d be out the door. It took time and a lot of hard work to begin to change things.

        Kudos to you and your coworkers, A Non E. Mouse for having the courage to be proactive.

    3. Bob the Flood Victimss*

      OP here, thank you – great response.

      I would like to stay, but I would also like to figure out what to do in my “next” career – say ten years from now – where I might be much happier.

  38. bopper*


    Consider measuring how many tickets get closed at the lower level in the IT department…and how many have to get escalated to you. Give your employees a target of what % tickets they should close by themselves.

  39. Human Resources, too*

    I find that similar things happen to us in Human Resources – people ask us answers to questions that can be found on the intranet, they ask the top HR person low-level questions that the top HR person should not be spending their time on, etc.

    Because of this, I make sure to try to follow all of the normal IT processes: submit a ticket when you have a problem/question, try to figure it out yourself first, try to be clear — and honest — in the ticket about whether your question is urgent or not, don’t email the top IT person for a somewhat standard IT question, etc. And certainly never stop an IT person in the hall to “just ask one quick thing.”

    If I know (or think) that one IT person will be particularly helpful for my question, I still send that in a ticket, and I mention it “XYZ helped me with this last year so she might remember what she did.” I don’t email XYZ directly because she might not be the only one who can help, she might have gotten the answer from someone else last year, she might be on vacation, her boss might not want her to handle those issues anymore so that others can be cross-trained, etc.

    I encourage everyone else to do the same (with your IT departments as well as your HR departments).

    OP, try to be diligent about not answering “quick questions” off the top of your head – ask people to submit a ticket. Again and again.

    OP, to the extent that you can get your own boss on board with what you’re doing, that can be very helpful. Alison makes some good points. I would add that you might want to go to your boss sooner, though, just to give them a heads-up that you are changing your practices. That way the boss will understand if someone comes to them and says “OP used to always answer my questions but now they are acting like they are too good to answer my questions.” Your boss can respond, “oh, OP is being smarter about delegating and prioritizing.”

  40. TootsNYC*

    I’m the mother of teenagers.

    Stop helping them. Say, “The directions are in the email–did you try that? I’m too swamped to walk you through this, that’s why it’s in the email. Give that a try, and see how it goes. Gotta go, sorry.” And hang up.

    1. TootsNYC*

      My tech team asks, “Have you restarted your computer? Did you quit the application and log back in? Try that, and then call back if it doesn’t work.”

      I have to think this is a deliberate tactic on their part. And yes, people do restart before calling.

      1. Menacia*

        Nope, not everyone does, and in fact I never ask a user to do that unless I feel it’s absolutely necessary. I think it’s a waste of time for issues that have nothing to do with a reboot. Users are also known to just log off their computers but never actually reboot it which can cause network and other issues.

  41. CanadianKat*

    Set up a separate helpdesk email and phone, and a person whose first priority is to respond to those. I’m in an organization of ~400, and all requests have to go to helpdesk@… It’s usually the same guy who responds, but when I made the mistake of emailing him directly one time, he reminded me that all service requests are to go to that address. If this guy is not in the office, someone else would be in charge of responding, – and it’s seamless transitions for the users.

  42. FCJ*

    If this is possible, delegate one or two of your staff as “help desk,” or hire someone for that role, and redirect all questions like that to that person. A centralized database of information will be helpful to some extent, but there are always going to be people who insist that they “aren’t tech savvy” and that they need you to tell them. I work at a graduate school library, and am friends with people who have worked IT at our school, and I promise you that sometimes the smartest people in the world will completely shut down when faced with anything digital. You can hand them a detailed troubleshooting checklist translated into lay language as much as possible, and they’ll still want you to sit down and run through it with them, if not do it FOR them. It will be a huge load off of you if you have a designated person to handle those sorts of issues.

    1. James*

      This has two benefits: First, it clears up your time for tasks more in line with your role, and second, it gives you a chance to test people in more managerial roles. It will give them some authority and responsibility, but still be a position you can swap out on a regular basis without (if you establish it correctly) making anyone feel slighted. Something like, every 6 months, or fiscal quarter, or annually you select a new person. Then you see how they do in that role. This will give you a LOT of information about who to recommend for promotions, who you can offload what kind of task to, and who you would pick as your replacement if you move up in the world. I’ve used a similar system in the past, with fantastic results.

  43. Nanani*

    Also make sure your wiki/intranet/database is up to date, searchable, and general.

    One client of mine has a wiki for contractors like me, but most of the articles on it are extremely specific (Don’t make the same mistake Bob made on this one project that hasn’t come up again in 5 years) and/or out of date (formatting standard version Q has been superseded by version Z but searching for “Spout formatting” still gets you Q-based articles) so it’s pretty much impossible to know which, if any, parts of it are applicable without asking them.

    Do not be that client.

    1. Nanani*

      Oh and if possible, make the commonest questions available in more than one format.
      Some people like video tutorials that show you exactly where to click for every stop of the password reset, others hate video tutorials and just want to skim text to the one step they’re stuck on, still others understand flowcharts best, etc.

      It could be that your repeat offenders have issues with the most common format of information in your documentation, so it’s worth asking questions to see if presentation in a different form would help.

  44. Suz*

    When you do the audit in step 1, I would recommend you recruit a few staff members from other departments to do this task. Since OP is the SME, what may look obvious to them may be difficult to find and/or understand to someone less familiar.

  45. Bob the Flood Victim*

    Hi All – I’m the reader who submitted the question. Thanks Allison and everyone else for the feedback and suggestions. I’ll tackle some of these in reverse order – you’ve definitely got me thinking about a lot of different possibilities, I’m not sure how effectively I’ll pack them in to a single response :)

    For context, I’ll mention that I work in professional services – there are billable consultants and back office Operations. That definitely plays a part in the work dynamics.

    I should have noted in my original email that we already have a helpdesk – an outsourced company. One of the members of my team is responsible for being the “quick question” guy/helpdesk coordinator. This has actually helped me tremendously, but he’s now starting to feel burnt out on telling the same people the same answers to the same questions over and over again. I can’t say that I blame him… I keep telling him to document the repeat offenders and send them over to me, and I’ll follow up with them one-on-one. I think that’s helping, slowly.

    The helpdesk system, email address (, processes, etc have been in place for years. I’ve had two predecessors in this job, who were here when the company was much smaller. I don’t think either of my predecessors effectively set expectations on using the helpdesk. So for some of our longer tenured people it’s an uphill battle getting them to use the helpdesk. Most of my repeat offenders are people who have been here for a long time.

    In an average week I probably reply to 5-10 emails with “please contact and they will get you taken care of promptly. By the way, handles all such requests, and should be your first point of contact for all IT issues.” I’ve sent at least three of those today alone. If I do the math, I’ve sent that email something like 1,000 times now. Here’s a great example – we recently changed a process, moving certain files that were stored in one location to another location. Our helpdesk now manages this new location (they didn’t before). In the email to the small # of people who use these files that if they have any issues accessing the new location, they should go to the helpdesk. Same day, the Director of this department emailed me asking to give them access. This guy couldn’t even read one five sentence email (nevermind he was replying to it) – he’d rather ask me questions and have me give an answer, than refer to answers already provided. Also, this new file location is something the company has been using for YEARS and this person had no idea how to get to it. So all-in-all a good example of an individual just not paying attention to the information provided to them.

    I’ve had sit down meetings with some of the repeat offenders, the most common thing I hear is “well I don’t know all the things that go to the helpdesk.” My rebuttal to that is always – you don’t have to, you just need to know that for ANY IT issue, make the helpdesk your first point of contact. I’ve tried face to face meetings, individual phone calls, company wide emails, company wide trainings. The IT onboarding process that I implemented has helped a lot to set expectations for new people. Like I said above, the long time people (who are now typically managers & above) are still problematic. In some cases the repeat offender problem went away because a person left the company, and took their bad IT habits with them – which is absolutely not the way I want to see change happen.

    When a member of my team asks me the same questions over and over again, I’ll flat out tell them they are not allowed to ask me that again, that they are responsible for this information. I’d love to be able to do that with the rest of the company, maybe that would even be effective, but like Allison said, I feel I have to give some sort of response, or it will reflect badly on me and my team. At times I’ve had people at the partner/director level tell me to be less approachable so that I don’t get all these questions – then people just complain that I’m unapproachable. So that’s a tricky spot that I’m trying to navigate as well.

    I don’t believe the helpdesk is the problem. They get very high marks on the surveys that we send out. We have regular management meetings to review what’s going on in the helpdesk and make sure standards are being met. We’ve exhaustively compared them to competitors and believe we have as good a solution as is available (without doubling or tripling our costs). Senior management at the company agrees that they are not a problem – they aren’t the ‘not so helpdesk’ that you’ll see at other companies.

    So why don’t people go to the helpdesk? Some combination of old habits, not wanting to (laziness – I mean I’ve had people straight up tell me that they are too lazy/too irresponsible to go to the helpdesk, thankfully those people don’t work here anymore), thinking they’ll get a faster/better answer from me, and confusion. I believe I’m addressing each of these to the best of my abilities. But I do get frustrated and feel burnt out when it feels like I’m just pushing against a rubber band… I can’t force people to pay attention to a training that they’ve already ignored five times before…

    To address the points about centralized documentation – we do have something like that. We have a SharePoint site. Long story short, getting people to use it for its intended purpose has been another issue. Training materials (including IT training sessions and IT updates) are all readily available. We even have a front-page widget that takes all the new materials for the past 30 days and puts them right smack dab on the front page. The search function is smack dab on the front page. But I also have to admit that we don’t store that much of our centralized IT documentation on there – we probably haven’t done many updates in the past year. Definitely something my team can change.

    Last point, about delegating – this is probably beating a dead horse, but I do delegate (see all the above paragraphs about going to the helpdesk or the “quick question” guy). I’m not trying to solve every problem that comes to me. You may be wondering “well what’s the problem then? It’s just ten quick emails a week.” Here’s the problem –

    1. My official responsibilities require a deep focus and any disruption, even a ten second email, take me out of my focus, having greater than a ten second delay for me.

    2. Sometimes I have to dig through an email, ask probing questions, etc. just to realize that it is in fact a helpdesk issue and not something more serious.

    3. I believe that these IT issues are important and need to be addressed so that our teams can be productive and effective. If someone is going to wait for me to tell them to go to the helpdesk (even though they know they don’t have to) then I feel like I have to give them that answer ASAP to minimize the time they aren’t being productive.

    4. I believe that our entire company will become more efficient if they start going to the right people for the right question, they’ll learn to work directly with the helpdesk (instead of working with me or my team as a go-between) which will lead to faster resolution of issues. I believe that this mentality should be adopted for all of our internal processes, that there’s no point in five people being involved in a two person problem.

    I’ve probably covered enough ground for a response. I apologize if this comes across as defensive or argumentative… the longer I typed the more worked up I got myself. I do want to clarify that we have many of these suggestions in place, the problem has more to do with people not making use of the tools that are available to them.

    1. The cheese woman*

      Your first problem (needing an uninterrupted focus) and third problem (feeling that you need to answer straight away to keep other peoples’ work moving) have the same solution.

      Simply don’t answer emails when you don’t want interruptions. Set up an automatic email reply that says ‘I cannot be interrupted until 4pm/tomorrow/next week/December, and will not be replying to IT queries. If you have an IT query or problem, please contact the helpdesk.’ And then (and here’s the real trick), stick to it. Don’t answer IT query emails. By answering straight away you have in fact trained them that you WILL answer straight away.

      By making them wait, they are more likely to go to the helpdesk as their first port of call.

      1. Menacia*

        Yes to this! You need to make them feel the pain (of waiting) if they can’t follow a simple procedure. I have even taken to forwarding the email to the helpdesk address and replying to the person that I’ve done so and someone will get back to them. You are making things way too easy, I think that we do as well, but I’ve found ways to combat this and it seems to be working (slowly, as change takes time). Your onboarding process is a good one, that’s the best way to train someone new to the organization, I do the same and provide them with a packet of easy to follow instructions and a business card that has the Helpdesk contact information, hours of operation, etc. If after our training people start coming to me (calling or emailing) with Helpdesk-related questions, I remind them to contact the Helpdesk (which I am a part of, but am not the only member) and not me directly. Additionally, my email signature does *not* contain my personal work number but the Helpdesk number and the Helpdesk email address.

        1. Amy*

          My company has an internal IT “Chatter” feed as part of our CRM. It’s modeled off Twitter – I love it! Because 1) I don’t have to call anyone. 2) Replies are almost instant with no emails to get lost. 3) Everyone else can see the issues so I can quickly look through the previous queries to see if my answer is already there.

          But I am also going to push back a bit on the “annoying IT users” theme I’m seeing in the comments. The OP refers to ‘billable consultants.’ I am in a similar role. Frequently, I am in the field during a customer presentation when a tech glitch occurs. There could be $100K on the table and if it’s not resolved immediately, my company will lose the revenue. Yes, I do expect to be treated as a highly valued ‘internal customer’ by Tech. Sure, I may have received an email 6 months ago on this very issue. But it’s not about who’s right in that moment, it’s about resolving the situation quickly to bring in revenue to keep the lights on.

          1. A Non E. Mouse*

            But I am also going to push back a bit on the “annoying IT users” theme I’m seeing in the comments. The OP refers to ‘billable consultants.’ I am in a similar role. Frequently, I am in the field during a customer presentation when a tech glitch occurs. There could be $100K on the table and if it’s not resolved immediately, my company will lose the revenue. Yes, I do expect to be treated as a highly valued ‘internal customer’ by Tech. Sure, I may have received an email 6 months ago on this very issue. But it’s not about who’s right in that moment, it’s about resolving the situation quickly to bring in revenue to keep the lights on.

            I think some of the push back you’d get on this is: everyone thinks they are the VIP. :)

            Literally this week, I was working on a company-wide issue with two separate vendors on a conference call at my desk. It’s lunch time, in that magical 30 minute time frame each day I was the only staff member present (we stagger, to ensure coverage), and someone just started blowing up my phone.

            No voicemail (so that I could listen to it via another phone or my email), no calling the group number so that i could answer it via another phone, and it was coming in the switchboard so I couldn’t grab the number and dial it from another phone.

            I finally had to mute the call (again, for an issue affecting most of our users); call the switchboard, have the receptionist dig up the number via her phone (while placing me on hold, because other calls are coming in), then when she got the number. I was then able to call it: it was a salesman, with 100K in sales each year, with a simple (non-urgent) question that’s been answered, communicated (with pictures! And red circles and red arrows!) and posted online.

            So…. There are times that I won’t be able to answer the question immediately, perfectly legitimate Perfect Storm moments where isn’t and can’t be my priority.

            I know these feel personal to the user, and if I am ignoring THEM – I’m not, I’m just having to prioritize on the fly. It’s just as frustrating to me. We do all we can to offer them multiple points of contact, but if they insist on ME as the only point of contact, and I’m busy? Not much I can do.

    2. Adrian*

      I still believe that if you start ignoring these problems they will go away. What do you expect someone will do if they send you a request to help them because they’re stuck and they get no response? They’ll either:
      -#1 Remain stuck
      -#2 Ask you again
      -#3 Ask someone else (or maybe even the helpdesk)

      You may create a situation for a short period of time while people are weaning themselves off you that #1 causes some business impact – this should be offset by the fact that your productivity goes up.

      As soon as you make people doing #3 and #2 more effective for them than #1 you’ll find they reserve #1 for problems that are actually a problem.

      If you strongly believe that each of these needs a detailed amount of focus and can’t be left then you should consider getting an assistant to filter your emails, they can work out whether it should go to the helpdesk or to you, they can even sit there answering every email that comes in with “Can you send me the helpdesk ticket number so I can look in to it?” – no ticket number, no help.

      If you don’t believe that recovering your time is a greater benefit to the business than what you’re currently doing then you really don’t have any options, as the Head of IT you are *almost always* going to be the person who can get an answer to a random IT question the fastest. But… in the same way that the world’s leading Cardiologist doesn’t spend time in clinics diagnosing colds just in case it happens to be a hidden heart attack, you’re spending your resources somewhere to make life nicer for people not to be effective.

      1. Bob the Flood Survivor*

        It’s simply not an option. It would get me fired eventually, and leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths

  46. Narise*

    We created experts at our company in various departments. Our employees check with them first before going to IT. Then the expert reaches out so that they gain the knowledge. Is it possible for you to say ‘Angie had that same issue and knows how to correct it. Please check with her. It will be a few days before my team can assist.’

  47. Anymouse*

    I deal with this all the time. I was hired after a 7-year employee (one of two people on the IT team, with the other being my boss) quit. Around this time, my boss got -really- busy and hard to reach (not that he’s ever been easy to reach…) – this meant people started having to ask me questions.

    This was fine (for certain values of fine) when it was just me on the IT team, but once we added more people (okay, one of the three people who stayed, with the second being incompetent and the third being unhappy with where he was…) I learned to start passing questions to them. This wasn’t a “hey, stop asking me questions” sort of thing, but rather “hey, make sure you’re e-mailing the whole team with these questions, because any of us can answer most of them.” This is one place where “reply to all” is your friend – if you don’t have a ticketing system (as Alison suggested,) sending it to the group e-mail makes it feel like part of a procedure.

    It’s a slowly-but-surely sort of process, especially when you’re dealing with a company where the -average- tenure is about 10years (even with that number skewed by a few recent new hires.) I still get people still asking me questions, but those tend to be the “what the crap just happened” sort of analysis things that end up getting passed to me. That isn’t to say that I don’t deal with user issues, but the load is spread a lot more evenly now.

    One other thing that I’ve found helps is to have the newbies communicate with people – get their faces and names out there… and more importantly, have them prove their competence. Eventually, it clicks that “hey, there’s more than one person over there that can do stuff now!”

      1. Anymouse*

        Another thought while I’m thinking of it and after reading your post above – intentional slowdowns. If someone sends you an e-mail directly for an IT issue, let it stew for an hour or so. Then get back to them with the “oh, please contact for a faster response. Sorry, I’ve been really busy with so I didn’t even see your e-mail until now.”

        With what you said about people thinking they’ll get a faster response from you (something I’m horribly guilty of giving to people,) this might make them less likely to go to you. You can’t -not- answer, but I guarantee you’ve got a bunch of stuff on your plate that you can toss out there as “hey, this is my actual job now.”

  48. BMarie*

    This is my ongoing battle. I am in a different situation. but the same thing happens to me. Unfortunately, the culture of my work and my low-ranking position means I must always be the answered of the questions. I have fielded the same questions on the basic functions of our office from my manager for nearly 10 years now. He doesn’t want to have to remember it. He doesn’t want to have to look it up. He wants constant reassurance.
    We have an internal pager system. I work at a hospital. The person with the — pager from 8- 5 pm is always the person on the — service. I have answered that question from my coworker 3 times this week (she has been here one year, this is the main service pager for our area) and also get routinely asked by my manager who has been here for years. And yet, every time it comes up, they ask. This is a core, basic bit of information. Don’t even get me started on computer skills.

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