my coworker is trying to do all the work

A reader writes:

I started working in my current position after my now-coworker, Betty, was promoted to a higher position in the same office. I am in her former position. We’re part of a larger department, but our office was just three people: me, Betty, and our supervisor, Wilma.

Wilma left our department a few months ago. She has not been replaced yet, so Betty and I are doing our best to keep things running smoothly. We are both hourly employees, and our office has had little supervision since Wilma’s departure. Betty is not my boss, but on a day-to-day basis I report to her.

Since Wilma’s departure, Betty has been working overtime every week. She comes in early, leaves late, skips lunch whenever she can, and regularly responds to email on nights, weekends, and even while she’s out sick.

Our roles overlap a lot, but she discourages me from working more hours too. She even goes out of her way to complete tasks of mine if I suggest that I have more to do than I can complete by 5:00.

I’ve tried to bring up my concern about the imbalance of work to her, and make it clear that I’m willing to help more, but I suspect she’s started to conceal how much work she does outside of the office instead.

It’s to the point where I have to make extra effort to maintain ownership of my work or come up with my own projects, which she often tries to take over anyway. It stresses me out to be pressured not to put in extra time when it’s clearly needed. I can’t keep up with her pace when the workload is so imbalanced. It feels like a lack of confidence in my ability to pick up the slack. As a result, I feel less ownership and pride in my work, and end up questioning my value as an employee.

I get coddled a lot in our department because the most junior and the youngest, so this all might be an extension of that dynamic.

Betty attributes all this to the fact that she loves to work, but has also expressed guilt about delegating too.

I’m worried that her behavior could misrepresent how badly our office needs another person, and that from the outside it looks like I’m not pulling my weight since she’s working so much overtime and I’m not.

Is there something else going on here that I’m not picking up? What can I do when it’s so imbalanced and I don’t have the power to enforce someone else’s work boundaries? Our official supervisor isn’t very involved with our office and has a very hands-off approach to managing, so I don’t know if it’s worth bringing this to her attention. What do you think?

Talk to Betty about it.

Betty is either:

A. trying hard to position herself for Wilma’s job (I don’t know if she’s in the running for that or not, but this could be the behavior of someone who thinks she is)

or

B. the sort of person who’s so overly conscientious that she’s not making good decisions about priorities and trade-offs, doesn’t realize that “keep the department running while we look for a manager” doesn’t usually mean “do all the work that previously was being done by three people, one of them higher-level,” and in the process of attempting this unrealistic task is running herself into the ground.

The fact that she describes herself as someone who loves to work and that she also sucks at delegating points to it being B, but there could be some A in there too.

Regardless, she probably doesn’t realize that she’s sucking all the joy out of your job, so talk to her and let her know that.

Say this: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been finishing some of my projects, even though you’re already so overloaded with other work. Do you have concerns about the way I’m approaching assignments? If you, I’d definitely want to hear them. But if you don’t, I want to ask that you let me keep ownership of my work — that’s where my fulfillment in the job comes from, and it can be tough to have work taken away from me that I was planning on completing. When you step in, it makes me second-guess my work quality and my value here.”

Say this too: “I’m interested in taking on more as well. I know that you’re very overloaded right now, and I’d like to pitch in. Can we find a few specific things that I can officially take off of your plate?”

And since she’s pressuring you not to put in extra time, ask about the reasons for that. It’s possible that you’re not approved for overtime, and it’ll be useful to know if that’s the case. It’s also possible that Betty hasn’t been approved for overtime either and she’s working all that overtime in secret. Say this: “I know you’ve discouraged me from working extra hours in the past, but I’d really like to pitch in while we have this vacancy. Is there any reason I shouldn’t do that, like an overtime budget or something like that?” (If it does turn out that she’s not reporting her overtime, tell her that it’s illegal for the company to let her do that and that she could get them in trouble if it comes to light.)

At a minimum, this conversation should get you more insight into what Betty is thinking and why she’s operating the way she is. But it’s also pretty likely that by being up-front with Betty that you don’t actually want her doing your work for you, she’ll back off. It sounds like currently she thinks she’s doing you a favor, or that she’s so frazzled that she hasn’t slowed down to think about the impact on you. If you lay it out for her, she’s likely to at least try to give you more space to do your own work.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.

    That’s interesting – the last time I saw something like this, it was someone who was trying to shine in front of management by taking away the opportunity of others to do the same thing.

    1. PatPat

      Yeah, that was my first thought, too. I’m suspicious that Betty is trying to make herself look good at the OP’s expense. Alison’s script would serve to put Betty on notice in a nice way, though. But OP definitely needs to have that talk soon.

    2. Working Mom

      I had the same thought initially, that Betty is just trying to position herself to take Wilma’s now vacant position. Unfortunately she is going about it the wrong way. Instead of just doing all the work, she should be making sure top priorities are completed and clearly documenting and communicating the need to fill the role to management. Depending on the how conversation with Betty goes, maybe OP could voice her concern to Betty that the role may not be filled, if they don’t make it clear to management how much that position is needed? Also, OP I’m not sure if this aligns with where you are or not, but if true – maybe you could find a subtle way to let Betty know that if she wants the promotion you’d support her in it? (Maybe letting Betty know you’re not looking to compete with her for Wilma’s position might help Betty ease off a bit?) But only if that’s really true, of course!

      1. Jadelyn

        My experience with people like that – if indeed Betty is approaching things from that perspective, which we don’t know for sure – is that you can point-blank tell them “I DON’T WANT YOUR JOB/THE PROMOTION/ETC.” and they’ll still see you as competition and treat you accordingly.

    3. LQ

      Interestingly I had a very opposite thought because the last time this happened in my office we were trying hard to make sure that the new person we liked would stay despite some problems so another coworker and I split the extra work up and did everything we could to make her job easy and fun in the interim. (It was a bad idea and we both burned out pretty hard.) We weren’t trying to take away opportunities, we were trying to make the job seem less bad and less stressful. Once we eased up and let a few things fail it got a bit better. But I think that you’d be better off assuming good intentions. If they have good intentions they’ll be more likely to share if you have this conversation. If they don’t it isn’t like you are going to do much beyond “put Betty on notice” anyway and this conversation would do that just as well.

      Assume good intention will get you a lot farther here I think.

      1. Purest Green

        I agree that it’s best to approach this assuming good intentions, because there very likely is nothing ill-intentioned going on here, but I have to admit my cynical mind always draws the worst conclusions first.

        1. LQ

          If you draw the worst conclusion that’s one thing. But going into the conversation with an accusatory tone is almost never helpful so managing to shift that to acting like the other person is acting with the best of intentions (or at least not bad intentions) will help. If they are doing the worst possible thing you’re rarely going to get good results acting like they are doing the worst possible thing (embezzling!), but you might get good (or less bad) results if you act like they have good intentions (they stop embezzling because they think they’ve been cause), and if they have good intentions (I don’t want this job to stress you out) then you are more likly to get good results (yes you can take your projects back) with an assumption of good intentions.

          It’s just game theory. You don’t have to actually think people are good to treat them like you think they are trying to do good.

          1. PatPat

            I don’t believe I said anything about having an accusatory attitude or tone. I said to use Alison’s script, which is very kind. But the OP needs to “trust but verify” and do her due diligence to find out what exactly is going on so she’s not blindsided if Betty is being sneaky.

        2. NW Mossy

          Another reason to assume positive intent is that then you don’t end up fighting with the person about intent when what you’re really concerned about is behavior. If you go in with the assumption that they must be doing something ineffectual intentionally, the other person picks up on that and starts defending herself with “But I mean well, and I’m just trying to make things easier for you, and [good reasons]…” That may be, but it’s not going to get you the outcome you want, which in the OP’s case is for Betty to balance the workload more evenly.

          If you go in assuming positive intent, there’s nothing to fight over – you agree that Betty is well-meaning. Then you can shift to the more concrete ground of discussing the impact of her work-hoovering on you and ask her to try something else, like delegating more or talking to their shared boss about how to handle it better.

          1. LQ

            Absolutely. It is about getting the outcome you need, which is for Betty to start giving back the work. (or maybe for OP and Betty to let things fail so they don’t decide that the work can be done with only 2 staff)

      2. Mike C.

        It feels nice to always assume good intentions, but that’s not always the case and you’re going to get burned badly if you never consider it.

        1. ZenJen

          I AGREE–OP needs to be aware, if Betty is like this now……whether Betty gets the chance to try for Wilma’s job or not, I think Betty has problems delegating and being a team player. I’d be very wary, and if the initial convo between OP and Betty doesn’t go well, I’d talk to the boss above, so they know there are issues going with Betty trying to hog all the work and the SECRET overtime (WHAT is that about???).

        2. LQ

          What would you do if you assumed the worst case and went ahead like that was the case here? Report your coworker for embezzling?

          I’m not saying it is about feeling good. I’m saying it is about being effective. You’re going to get burned if you always assume the worst of people because they won’t always be and you’ll burn some bridges of people who could have helped you and were trying to do the right thing if you always assume people are embezzling. Do you want employers to always assume the worst of their employees?

            1. LQ

              If you assume the worst intentions, someone below mentioned it, and it certainly crossed my mind for a moment. The only situation I’ve been in where someone embezzled they suddenly started working like this. But approaching it that way wouldn’t help anything.

      3. Honeybee

        I had the opposite thought, too. I have a mentor like this; when we worked together directly, he took on so much work but actively discouraged me from doing the same. It was because I was newish, and he didn’t want me to get the impression that I had to work the crazy hours he did in order to stay on the team. He knew his work-life balance was out of whack and that he was doing it to himself, but he didn’t want me to adopt his bad habits. It was also the kind of job where the work expanded to fill the time.

    4. Stranger than fiction

      Yep that’s sure what it looks like. Betty the super star is completing a-z daily, while Op is “only” completing a-m, but if course that’s because all the extra time she’s putting in.

  2. Christine

    If she isn’t authorized for OT, and management sees all the work being completed by 2 people vs. 3, they may not fill the “empty” position for a few months, or decide to cut it totally. It’s also possible that OT has been approved, and she wants all of it? I’ve seen that happen. A department authorizes 20 – 30 hours of OT per week for a particular project, employee out, short staff, etc., and one individual will hog up all the OT. Sometimes not even sharing the fact that the OT is supposed to be shared by 2 or more people. Sometimes it’s the more senior employee, because management has meant for them to pass along the environment. When OT is rarely granted by an employer, there is a great deal of competition for it when it happens.

    I would also recommend that you talk to your supervisor, discuss the work load and request some OT along with talking to your co-worker.

    1. BRR

      I was thinking that maybe she wants all the overtime. I would still approach as Alison suggested but that might be a big factor in this letter.

    2. k

      This was my thought as well, but I tend to be a pessimist. The wording Alison suggested here works if this is the situation, since OP would ask if there is some budget reason they can’t work more hours. That way if she does have any nefarious motives for her behavior, OP is making it clear that they aren’t oblivious to what’s going on.

  3. Mrs. Fenris

    By any chance do you and she work with company finances? Because if so, I bet she is embezzling. Just a thought.

    1. JoJo

      If she is embezzling, there’s a real possibility that Betty is using the LW’s computer or using another way to make the LW the fall guy.

      I’d go to a supervisor immediately, not to accuse Betty, but to let them know what’s going on with the workload and Betty taking over the LW’s projects and let them handle it.

    2. Mazzy

      Interesting. I think embezzling is a stretch, but I did once see someone try to cover up a mistake, and then they realized how many other things the mistake impacted and showed up on, so they had to try extra, extra hard to cover it up…

    1. Blue Anne

      Eeesh. I work with company finances and that would really not be my first thought. That’s a really serious thing to level at someone.

        1. NonProfit Nancy

          Haha that was a funny mix up, I was like, wow angling for more overtime is a really serious accusation now? Agree it makes more sense in the context of the above!

    2. Aurora

      I worked for a supervisor who worked all the overtime she could, even giving some of us days off, saying she could handle all of it, because it was only a few hours more each day. Three hours every day added up to almost $2500 in overtime pay for her for one month. Since the boss found out about it, she is not allowed ANY overtime unless it is preapproved. Her plan backfired on her, and caused a lot of animosity within the office. I felt that it was theft.

      1. Artemesia

        Always a possibility. Whenever a manager has access to resources or compensation there is the possibility they will hog them. I know someone who for years took the entire bonus pay budget and awarded it to herself because ‘I do all the important work.’ When the CEO eventually found out (he was at another site and hadn’t observed her carefully), he insisted that it be distributed as intended to the rest of the personnel she supervised.

      2. Hornswoggler

        Many years ago I worked in a very large corporation and I remember overhearing a conversation between two managers who were really concerned about the amount of overtime one of their technicians was taking. The question on asked was ‘shouldn’t he be able to complete his workload without doing overtime? Does he have too much work, or is he slacking during the day and padding his overtime?’ The consensus was to talk to him about workload and workload management.

        It sounds as thought hat’s what Betty’s manager should be doing.

  4. Christine

    The more I think about it, talk to your supervisor so they are aware of the OT she’s working. Not in a tattling mode, but letting management know that you wish to carry your weight, etc. I would be concerned that she is doing it unauthorized, they see only the results not the method of achieving it. That they would assume that you two can handle it, and not fill the 3rd position.

    OP – you state your manager is hands off, she may look at results only. If that’s the case it’s a good possibility that she turns around and tells her supervisor that the two of you are handling it fine, and they chose to never fill the position.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Yeah, just because she’s normally hands off or prefers to be hands off doesn’t mean she wouldn’t want something possibly serious brought to her attention. You’ll never know if you don’t at least try to mention it.

    2. Emmie

      I second going to the hands-off manager either now, or after she’s talked to her coworker. As a manager, I try to be hands-off in a I-don’t-want-to-micromanage-you way, but this is precisely the kind of thing I’d like to know about if I did not see it personally (and I might not have seen it.) I’d especially like to know about the impact on OP’s morale. I’d like to keep quality employees, especially when I’m understaffed.

    3. Letter Writer

      Our supervisor is aware of it. She’s the one who has to review and approve our timecards, and she and Betty have discussed it before. For what it’s worth, I am also approved for OT. As far as I’m aware, we haven’t been given a limit on OT hours.

      But it might still be worth trying to express my willingness to work more to her!

  5. Merida May

    It’s possible Betty could be gunning for a promotion, but I actually just had a similar situation going on in my office where the co-worker in question has zero interest in advancing. Ultimately, co-worker is just super uncomfortable about delegating work to others, but this winds up with her feeling like she has to show up to the office hours early in the morning and grind away anxiously all day so she doesn’t inconvenience anyone. If something similar is going on with OP, it’d be a good idea to point out that it’s actually preferable for you to keep certain tasks for one reason or another, and the current state of affairs is actually more problematic for you than whatever she was trying to spare you of. From my own example, until it was pointed out, it didn’t occur to my co-worker that the people who serve as backups for her task would rather be aware of the work earlier in the day and pitch in to move it along, instead of having it show up on our desks a half hour before we’re about to walk out the door because she couldn’t get everything done.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yep, I could see myself doing this early in my career, out of an over-abundance of conscientiousness, without understanding how it was affecting other people.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow

        Not thinking about how something affects others is so, so, common in a variety of contexts.

        Take this situation between shifts in a manufacturing setting:
        A shift at a finishing station decided to get really great production numbers for their shift. So they exceeded their allotted work and used up all the “WIP” (work in progress, or raw materials) intended for the next shift.

        Next shift comes in and they can’t work because there is no material to work on. Some of the people have to be sent home for the shift because there is no work. Some people have to be reassigned to the up-stream production stations to create the WIP for the shift and the next shift. More people have to be put on the up-stream production stations for the shift after that so there is enough WIP in the future.

        Basically, one shift’s great production numbers messed up the next 3 shifts. I’m sure none of them thought “if we do this, we may be screwing some people out of a day’s pay and messing up the production managers’ plans.” But that’s what happened.

        1. sstabeler

          To be fair, that’s NOT actually the finishing station’s fault- it’s actually a management failure, since it sounds like there are too few people working the upstream stations compared to the finishing stations if one shift can clear out the WIP for two shifts. That suggests you can get at lest 50% more production by reassigning people between the stations.

          1. sstabeler

            to illustrate(I’m using a model assuming 1 upstream station per finishing station, but the principle works regardless):
            if you have 1 person on the upstream station to 1 person on the finishing station, and it turns out that the finishing station takes 1/2 the time of the upstream tasks, then it sounds like it would be better to go to a ratio of 2 upstream stations per finishing station- meaning you reassign 1/4 of the finishing people to the upstream stations permanently, so that instead of having a shift of upstream personnel- which is what you described functionally happening- and a shift of finishing personnel, producing say, 100 widgets, you have two shifts producing 75 widgets each- resulting in production of 150 widgets overall- hence, you have produced 50% more widgets for no increase in labour costs- and anywhere up to about a 70% increase in profits.

            or, to summarise: the first shift merely showed that productivity could be improved by a more efficient allocation of people between the stations- it’s not precisely their fault the factory was inefficient.

            1. Candi

              That’s assuming all the teapots are the same quality as those produced under the original conditions.

              If the shift produced twice the teapots, but a greater percentage are returned for defects or breakage, then the new set of production conditions is not viable in the long term. Particularly if the percentage then two shifts’ normal production failure rate together.

              Also, the factory may not be able to procure enough chocolate to consistently make the teapots at the higher rate, increasing the number of shifts unworked as the factory waits for the next shipment.

              And if the failure rate is higher, there is the cost to the company of repairs and replacement, as well as the cost of word-of-mouth as people talk about how Eleanore’s Teapots have gone down so much in quality.

      2. Merida May

        I’ve been guilty of this as well. Determining when it’s more sensible to loop others in to complete a project versus me feeling like with enough gumption I can pull myself out of the weeds is still very much a struggle!

      3. Mookie

        Yes, I hate when people interpret “conscientiousness” like this. Betty is working on an unsustainable schedule that may eventually result in sloppy or more serious errors, she’s setting a precedent few people holding her position in the future will want or be able to meet, and she’s also denying the LW, a rookie in this department, opportunities to own greater chunks of more important work, develop skills, and collaborate with a senior colleague. This needs to be explained to her, preferably by their manager.

        1. Mookie

          Also, if Betty is angling for a management position, she’s making a bad case for herself and wasting time she could be using, with the LW, to improve her performance as a leader, mentor, and instructor.

    2. Artemesia

      It is also common for people who are promoted to continue doing their old job because it is easier for them to do than to step up to the new job. Pretty common with new supervisors who are good at gilding teapots and that got them promoted but now they need to delegate gilding and take on other tasks and they can’t manage that and continue to gild.

      If there is overtime of course then it is just greed. If there isn’t overtime then Betty is distorting how the department is perceived and shooting them all in the foot.

    3. XP

      Yep, I have been this exact person (and still am, but I’m more conscious of it and actively trying to work on it now). It can turn into a cycle: “I’m uncomfortable delegating so I’ll do all this work” -> getting exhausted and burnt out -> finding the work miserable -> “Now I REALLY don’t want to delegate this work because I don’t want to make anyone else this miserable” -> and on and on until the whole thing implodes.

      For me specifically, someone pointing out how and why this was affecting them, or asking to do specific tasks (thus removing some of the delegating pressure), would both be effective ways to break the cycle.

    4. AnonAnalyst

      It took me years to realize it, but this is my manager’s issue. In her case, I think it is also partially that she thinks it will be easier and faster for her to just do the thing rather than teach someone else how to do the thing. A little bit of it is that she doesn’t fully trust anyone to do the thing “right.”

      At this point, she has created an enormous workload for herself and really can’t get away from the office for more than a day at a time. I think she truly believes that if she delegates anything it will make someone else’s workload as unmanageable as hers.

      Unfortunately, while she acts like she understands our perspective when we have approached her in the past about this, she hasn’t changed her approach at all. Instead of stepping in and helping her to prioritize and delegate, her manager has decided to just continue to assign more and more work to her with the idea that at some point she will be forced to start delegating in order to get everything done. So far, all that has happened is that she works later into the evenings and more on the weekends to stay on top of everything.

    5. Letter Writer

      Due to some department restructuring, the new position will be focusing 100% on the part of our work Betty hates. She definitely doesn’t want the promotion.

      Betty’s a very conscientious person, so this makes a lot of sense. She thinks about other people before she thinks about herself, and is the type to apologize on reflex. I’ve worked with her for almost a year now and have no reason to be suspicious of her intentions.

      It’s difficult to explain to someone why something they’re doing out of kindness is frustrating, though!

      1. Mints

        I think this makes it a better overall situation, even if it’s more complicated to deal with. It’ll be easier to sound collaborative than accusatory when you talk to her

    6. Honeybee

      Yessss. I was in a situation like this myself with a coworker, and I had to explain that to him, too. I can help you get projects out the door if you give me advanced notice, but I’m going to be really upset if I find out at 4:30 that I have to stay behind an extra 2 hours to help you finish something because you tried to do it all yourself. Especially if I spent the first 2 hours of my day twiddling my thumbs or doing non-essential stuff.

  6. Jerry Vandesic

    “Betty is not my boss, but on a day-to-day basis I report to her …”

    Not sure what this means. If you report to someone, that person is your boss. Will Betty be writing your performance review? If so, she’s definitely your boss.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It means that because Betty is in a more senior role, she’s in charge of delegating work to the OP, answering questions, etc. Someone else is in charge of managing her but isn’t physically present.

    2. MlleALX

      My “bosses” are the 4 partners of my firm, but on a day-to-day basis I report to the CFO’s assistant because the partners don’t care about the minutiae of my job. She doesn’t write or deliver my reviews but she has input, nor can she discipline me if it ever comes to that. She’s definitely not my boss.

    3. DCompliance

      I was also a little confused by this. I didn’t think I could really comment any more than I did without fully understanding what this meant.

    4. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      Not necessarily and especially not in an interim situation like this.

      When my boss was let go, my actual reporting line boss became the division VP. However, for day-to-day stuff we all reported into the Director of Project Management. She was technically our peer, but had been there a long time and had a good view of all our projects.

    5. Perse's Mom

      My employer has managers -> supervisors -> team leads -> various ranks below lead. I fall sort of at the higher end of the “various ranks” section, and I delegate to people. On a day-to-day basis, those people “report” to me in the sense that they ask me questions and let me know if they’re swamped and need help or have time and need a project/training, etc.

    6. Elizabeth West

      Eh, not necessarily. In NewExJob, we had a team lead who delegated work to me but she was not my boss. She had no hire/fire/disciplinary power over me, and although she was higher than me in terms of seniority, etc., we both answered to the same manager.

  7. L

    OP, how long have you been at the company? Do you have the knowledge necessary to take on some of tasks Betty is performing?

    I struggle with delegating work to new coworkers when I know I will have to spend quite a bit of time explaining a task, answering questions, and reviewing the work. It is better to help my coworkers understand tasks so they can complete them without guidance in the future, but when faced with deadlines, it is tempting to do the work myself. I wonder if that is happening here.

    1. LQ

      This is the trap of being my mother “It would be faster if I just did it myself” it can be a dangerous trap and so easy for people to fall into (especially if they aren’t good at explaining things – even if they don’t know it).

    2. Jadelyn

      I’m absolutely the same way! There’s stuff I should be able to hand off to our admin, but it’s urgent and I don’t have time to sit and go through it with him, then check afterwards to make sure it was done right, so I end up just doing it myself so I know it’s done on time and accurately.

    3. Letter Writer

      This could be a big part of it. I’ve been here for almost a year, and while I am comfortable with most of the work and can do many of the tasks Betty does, when we take care of certain tasks is based on an annual cycle that I’m still learning. Our job also requires being delicate and diplomatic in the face of internal politics. This could lead to it being easier sometimes for Betty to do it herself rather than explain why it’s better to do things this way to appease this person for this reason.

  8. DCompliance

    In my experience, the Bettys of the world try to take on so much, it all comes crashing down. Additionally, it is also very normal, to start to doubt your self-confidence when this happens. I agree with Alison’s approach. Try talking to her. It should at least give you some insight on thinking.

  9. BBBizAnalyst

    I’ve worked with a Betty. They tend to be short sighted and overall frustrating to work with. Why would anyone be inclined to fill a position when people like Betty will do xyz to complete everything? She’s going to burnout eventually. Working overtime all the time isn’t sustainable and she’s doing OP and herself a huge disservice by not delegating.

    1. Seal

      I took over a department run by a Betty. The 2 years I had to work with her before she left were a nightmare. She had been working 10 hours a day 7 days a week for YEARS when I started. Yet she never made an progress on anything because she refused to delegate, insisted on checking her staff members’ work daily, and despite constantly complaining that she was overworked steadfastly refused other department heads’ offers of advice or assistance. Her department was supposed to support my department, but after 6 months she threw a screaming tantrum when I suggested a project our boss had recommended. She was eventually forced out, but it took far longer than it should have. The sad thing was that she absolutely hated her job, knew on some level that she wasn’t very good at it, but thought that asking for help made her look weak, so she compensated by putting in ridiculous hours. No one was fooled except her, though. The sadder thing is that since I took over we’ve undone literally everything she did because she never understood that working hard is not the same thing as working smart. In the end, all her time and effort was for nothing.

  10. k

    Some others have mentioned that if Betty is getting everything done, the company may push back or decide all together not to hire a 3rd person. I think OP should mention this when talking to her. She may know that she’s doing too much, but is thinking it’s only temporary and once they get a new person she can go back to normal.

    1. Elizabeth West

      I had the same thought. This situation is unsustainable, and if the company decided it didn’t need anyone else because the two of them could handle it, then both will be up the creek.

  11. MsCHX

    My first thought was also that she was angling for the promotion into Wilma’s role.

    If it is ‘B’, I think this due to lack of management. I was equal to a coworker in my last position, but he did have more experience than me. He wouldn’t delegate, was working 50-60 hours a week to my 40-45. I had various meetings with him about it, was direct with him on why it was an issue, and nothing changed. Our manager stepped in and told him this is becoming a performance issue on HIS part. She worries that he is not properly managing his time, delegating, etc. with the imbalance of time and work. And it affected his performance review year 1. He quickly improved and the last 2.5 years we worked together were smooth sailing.

  12. Anon today for this one

    I’ve been in a similar situation and I handled it poorly.

    One year I ended in a position a coworker was more qualified for, except that she was not as well liked. She kind of walked over my job a little bit, but I wrote it off as her being really dedicated.

    The next year I was dealing with my own issues and some burnout at this job (it was a stipend position and I was working overtime for a month with some really trying work). I didn’t know I was depressed or anxious and I was floundering in college. Well, I got back from summer break (only a small group of us work over the summer except for smaller projects since most of us aren’t near the campus in summer). I came back and she had pretty much locked me out of my job.

    I’d stop doing projects because I didn’t feel the motivation. Why bother? She’d just do it her way, anyway. I had a part-time job and was a full-time student. She was a part-time student and fully dedication to this more part-part-time job. I soooo handled it wrong. I didn’t talk to anybody about it and I didn’t stand my ground.

    How did this work out for me? A public call out in the front page of our student paper for not doing my job well enough. True, I had gotten complacent. I was dealing with a lot of personal issues. I was comparing myself to my coworkers and not my own standards. She never talked to me about. I was starting to slack. And I got called it in the absolute worst way.

    I’m still super underemployed, and sometimes I wonder if it’s because that ‘article’ being one of my search engine hits has something to do with it. I don’t think it will end this badly for other people, but if I had just been more protective of my responsibilities, I never would have been in that position.

    1. Jean the Recovering Packrat

      Anon today, this is sad but can you find a way to draw a line under the experience, put it in the past and change your narrative going forward? I hate the idea of you being unhappy for years because of one unfortunate experience during your student career. Probably everyone else has forgotten all about it (or if anyone still remembers, it’s because they haven’t had enough new information enter their brains in the intervening years).

      I can’t recall anything that I ever read in my student paper. Granted those days were decades ago but I probably would not have remembered anything even just a year or two past graduation.

      Go forth and be happier. Find support if you have to. Good wishes to you! Life goes so quickly it’s a shame to spend it feeling stuck and miserable.

      1. Anon today for this one

        Oh, I’m sure it’s not the thing holding me back, but I think it did hold me back my first year or two afterward. And then the resulting lack of confidence, resume gap, etc. has taken a lot more work to get over. I don’t have a very common name, so it still pops up when you look me up online.

        I’ve moved on, mostly. But I still kind of resent that she never talked to me about my slacking off before rallying the student paper and I resent that I got so complacent and didn’t advocate for myself earlier on.

    2. ArtsNerd

      I’m totally horrified, but not by your behavior here.

      What the hell was the editor thinking running a story like that!? Did they even approach you for a comment?

  13. NonProfit Nancy

    I have been a bit of a Betty myself. I’d say it’s a combination of angling for the promotion and also, not wanting a younger and more junior colleague to have to stay late. I feel terribly cruel asking my subordinate to stay late on a weekend – he’s only 25 and doesn’t make as much as I do, so it seems like the buck should stop with me. It’s well intentioned but OP needs to have a discussion with her explaining that it’s impacting them negatively and is in fact not a kindness. Also as other commentators noted it can be masking the staffing needs of the department. However I’m somewhat surprised that so many folks assumed ill will on her part.

    1. MsCHX

      But this is her peer. Betty is only positioned as being senior and therefore a resource for the OP. Betty is not her manager/supervisor.

      I think that’s why it immediately looks like Betty is just trying to make herself look more favorable.

      1. NonProfit Nancy

        I’m actually not technically my colleague’s manager either, but I’ve been here longer and I know the work, and our mutual supervisor is hands-off and off site. So I’m still in charge of managing the workload. Maybe this is a nonprofit situation but it’s not at all uncommon in my office. I’m a higher level employee by title and salary than my junior colleague.

  14. Jamie

    I’ve been this person and would have felt terrible if it was making someone else’s job worse. Delegating was a skill I had to learn and practice and I sucked at it for years. I’m okay at it now, but it’s not my default…my default it to try to work something into my own schedule and if I can’t then delegate.

    Sometimes it’s easier to do something myself than check over the work of someone else when busy, sometimes it was I had some weird methodology that worked but was too hard to explain, and sometimes it was just not wanting to foist grunt work at other people when they had enough to do.

    Biggest thing though was I know my approach to work during crunch time isn’t normal and I’ve always been sensitive to that – not expecting other people to put in those kind of hours and definitely not resenting them for going home but why should the widget report wait when I could just do it…even though I’d never ask anyone else to stay to do it unless absolutely necessary.

    This is something people can definitely improve once it’s pointed out it’s a problem. A direct conversation is probably more effective then the email I saw open on a screen when I had to access a users computer telling another employee that I was a workaholic psychopath…..but that worked, too. :)

    And she could totally be angling for the manager job and tbh it’s an approach that has a pretty high success rate if she’s doing the work well.

    1. Elizabeth West

      She’s still risking the possibility that they won’t hire someone, if all the work is getting done. Or that it will take longer than she can sustain this effort.

      Also, good to see you, Jamie. :)

  15. Jen RO

    I am a Betty right now, and here are my reasons:
    * I am better paid than my team and I don’t have much power to give them raises, so the least I can do is shoulder more of the burden.
    * They are all new to the company (<6 months) and I have to oversee most of their tasks. (Except for one, all of them have proven that they are not yet ready for high-responsibility things.)
    * Because of the above, the team's output is lower than usual, leaving me with less time for training, therefore making it even harder for them to learn enough to pick up the slack.
    * I am a control freak in regards to some things, and I think it's somewhat justified – if the quality of the team's work is not where it should be, I am the one who takes the blame, not them.

    It's a shitty situation all over, but things are slowly moving in the correct direction. I am trying to rein in my "only I am do this!" mentality and delegate more…

    1. NonProfit Nancy

      I so sympathize – there’s a really tough period with new employees when it takes way, way longer to walk them through something you already know how to do, than to just do it yourself. And you end up looking over everything they’ve done and making all the corrections that are needed. However, you have to force yourself to take that time if the problem is EVER going to improve. There’s no way to skip it and end up with competent employees.

      1. Jen RO

        Yes, I am the manager, but we do the same kind of tasks (I just do less, because I have managing to do too). My attitude wasn’t much different before I got promoted, I just had less responsibility.

        1. MsCHX

          It’s still not the same as a peer-to-peer scenario, even if you do the “same” work. You are their manager. Betty is not OPs manager thus not responsible for her work product in the same way you are responsible for your team’s work product.

          1. Jen RO

            I wasn’t saying that it’s the same thing… I was just adding another argument for the “let’s not assume Betty is trying to suck up to management” side.

  16. Letter Writer

    Thank you everyone for considering my question! Sorry I’m getting to this so late. I’ve followed up with a few responses to help flesh out the situation as well.

    She isn’t angling for the promotion because, due to restructuring, the new position will focus 100% on an area of our work that Betty hates. She’s happy that it will soon not be part of her job. I’ve been working here long enough and know Betty well enough that I have no reason to assume any ill-intention from her. It’s more likely over-contentiousness and struggling to delegate tasks. She wants to do a good job, but so do I, and it’s difficult to explain that what someone is doing out if kindness is causing me stress.

    In the meantime I have been putting more time into work. I do have permission from my supervisor to work OT, so I am. I think I was waiting for Betty’s permission or something, but I suppose it’s not hers to give.

    That said, I do still intend to talk to her more about this to make it clear that she doesn’t have to carry this difficult situation entirely on her own.

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