my boss wants me to pick up my coworker’s slack

A reader writes:

I work at a company that faced serious downsizing a year ago. I became the head of a newly-formed department, and my old position was dissolved and split among several staff members.

One coworker has consistently avoided the part of her job that used to be mine, which means that suppliers keep contacting me when they don’t hear back from her. I recently approached my boss about this issue, and he told me that I am probably treating her like a baby and that’s why she isn’t performing, and that the only way for the job to be done right is to do it myself.

He places such a high value on getting along that he his happy to let the more efficient, energetic employees carry a heavier load rather than confronting non-performers. Since the downsizing, when lack of performance in this area has become apparent to him, he has turned to ME for a solution rather than the coworker who is now responsible. I told him that I am now taking a hands-off approach even if balls drop, and he has endorsed this strategy. However dollars to donuts he will be coming to me when everything stops working.

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • When an interviewer asks if I’m interviewing anywhere else
  • Does it look bad that I leave work at 5 on the dot?
  • Why would an employer check references after making a hire?
  • Should I disclose that my boss is my fiancé?

{ 90 comments… read them below }

  1. Government Worker*

    I think Inc. edited OP1’s “huge amount of respect” line out of the original letter. Or is there something I’m missing?

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I saw the same edit. But even without it, I’m shaking my head at OP#1’s boss. This kind of nonperformance would get most folks who do client relations/sales fired. Either give OP firing authority or do it yourself, but don’t abdicate management for the sake of “getting along.”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, that’s on me. I edited the original letter down and didn’t realize my answer was referencing part that I edited out. I’ve fixed it over at Inc. but it’ll take a while for the change to show up there.

  2. Sarah*

    I actually interpreted OP#5’s question as that she is not actually employed at/paid for the work she does for her fiance (since she says “I can’t exactly say I’m employed …”). I’m curious if it changes the advice if this is more “helping someone out” versus actually having a job. I would think employers would see that pretty differently. And also, if this really is taking up a substantial amount of your time, maybe it is time to talk to your fiance about that?

    1. Naruto*

      Yeah, if it’s “helping out” rather than actually “having a job there,” I can’t imagine it would still be a good thing to list on the resume.

    2. Grad student*

      If they live together/share finances it could be more like a joint business than “helping someone out”. Still not the same as being employed but more like a grey area of self employment.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, it sounded to me like this was uncompensated. If OP is part owner, that’s different, but it sounds like unpaid labor at a “family business.” It would be helpful to know how many hours that work amounts to and us OP has another, paid job, because I think it would change how the unpaid work appears on her resume.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She says she runs the office portion of the business, which sounds like more than “helping out” to me, but it depends on the specifics of what she does.

  3. Parenthetically*

    LW3, In addition to talking to your boss about expectations, I think some of it is workflow and work-style dependent. I (teacher) have coworkers who are here until 4:30 or 5 every day, and coworkers who are out the door at 3:15 on the dot. Some people need or prefer to finish up their work daily, others are able to choose a different pattern, and as long as your boss is ok with your workflow style, I don’t think it’s something to worry about.

    (It’s obviously also an office culture thing, whether your coworkers feel pressure to look like workaholics, I mean very committed employee.)

  4. Emi.*

    he told me that I am probably treating her like a baby and that’s why she isn’t performing,

    Um, okay.

    and that the only way for the job to be done right is to do it myself.

    But … that’s how you treat babies.

    1. Songbird*

      Based on this hope the OP runs screaming from this job like it’s on fire, because a manager who thinks like this is 1) Probably going to keep thinking like this regardless of all evidence that it isn’t working, and 2) Going to drag the whole thing down with him.
      Rat, sinking ship, you get the idea.

    2. Purest Green*

      And just like so many resentful, older siblings who have come before, when OP allows the baby to throw all her food on the floor, I know who’s getting blamed for it.

    3. CDL*

      I have had this exact conversation with my manager as well – we have two new folks on the team who are not performing where they should be, and my manager has said it’s because I don’t give them a chance/take all the work. When I explain that I do actually give them assignments that they should be able to handle and they drop the ball on them, she then says that I’m overwhelming them and that I’m not being fair. Despite being senior, I don’t have any authority over them and when I give them direction/recommendations, they ignore my input.

      I like the script that Alison provided – I’m going to use it too.

  5. JHunz*

    Inc is now autoplaying videos with sound in the sidebar when you open the page. Alison, I don’t know how much they value feedback from their columnists, but perhaps you could mention to them that literally everyone in the world hates that?

    1. Morning Glory*

      If you use Chrome, you can mute specific tabs by right-clicking.

      Sorry to go off-topic on this thread, but if you didn’t already know that, it makes auto-play videos way less annoying.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        You can mute tabs in Firefox too, but not until after the video plays and there is something to mute.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Same for Safari tabs – once it starts playing there will be a sound icon in the address bar. I do wish they’d put them up sooner; there are some sites you just know are going to autoplay.

            1. Gadfly*

              I needed that–now I just need to find an answer to the ones that do that while videos I am trying to watch on that tab are playing…

  6. Chairman of the bored*

    I experience this problem. I am an accountant and audit expense reports for employees. Sometimes an employee or their supervisor will ask me to fill out the forms. No can do. That’s your job. It’s clearly written in the instructions. No pretty please, even with sugar on top. My bosses stand behind me and don’t allow anyone to take advantage of me. There’s something about working as an accountant that leads some to treat me like a personal assistant. And thank Heaven for personal assistants; what they must experience has to be another blog entirely.

    And I have also been in the OP’s shoes at several places I have worked over the years. It’s been a mixed bag of results of the resolution of the problem but I always pushed back; up to and including finding a new job. Not every supervisor was so obstinate that it warranted quitting but there were times when that wasn’t the only problem.

    Good luck! I hope your boss will hear you out. I think most of us in the work world have experienced this problem.

    1. paul*

      If we could ask our accountant to fill those forms out I’d love it. I hate hate hate our expense reports. An individual form for *each meal* during work travel? Gaaaha

      1. Parenthetically*

        We always get flat per diems for work travel with no questions asked, which I STRONGLY prefer. No receipt-gathering! Total flexibility in how I use the money! It’s very adulty.

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          My husband’s company does this. When left to his own devices, he eats off the dollar menu plus he gets a check for mileage. We always come out ahead so it’s almost like he receives a bonus for travel. I love it and so wish my company would do it.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Yeah, that’s basically how it’s always worked for us. My mom is a teacher like me, and she’s always gotten a per diem as well — she has texted me from hotel lobby bars saying, thank you, taxpayers for this post-endless-meeting margarita.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This was my favorite part about working for the Feds—daily Meals & Incidental Expenses per diems.

        3. Natalie*

          If I am every in charge of this area I’m instituting per diems because, as the accoutant, I hate reviewing the stupid expense forms too. They’re just the worst, all the way around.

        4. the gold digger*

          A per diem is great as long as they give you more than $30 for supper in Chicago. I am not interested in eating at fast food places just to stay in budget.

      2. KatiePie*

        Individual forms per meal?!? I’m a staff accountant and this makes my head hurt. So much work, not just for you, but for them! One form, list format, total at the bottom, receipts attached! For pity’s sake, what is with your acct. dept?

        1. paul*

          Hell if I know. It makes everyone unhappy. I know the finance department manager socially and all he’s said is it isn’t his idea.

    2. YesYesYes*

      Yes becoming a dumping ground is SO COMMON in the Finance/Accounting world. It can be really difficult to determine whether you’re getting this crap assignment because a) you’re finance b) you’re female c) you’re the newest/youngest on the team d) you’re a rockstar performer picking up slack or e) this is actually expected of your role. Unless you have a stellar boss who can clearly draw those lines, it’s hard to understand where the boundaries are, let alone how to enforce them.

      1. I Get Dumped on Too*

        It never ceases to amaze me that managers want all the perks of the position, but then don’t seem to want to fulfill the responsibilities and MANAGE! It’s a very common theme here on AAM. Why isn’t someone noticing!

      2. KatiePie*

        YES. I think it’s because we need things done a certain way–for compliance, people! sheesh!–and so many people are just so inept at detail work. The number of things I have to hunt down/complete/assist with is ridiculous. Especially with the *cough* sales team.

      3. Chairman of the bored*

        Yup. True that. It’s not expected of my role but so many people think they don’t need to fill out forms to do their job. Until they want to get reimbursed, of course. The majority of my coworkers are fine with it and do a good job but having to nag and cajole the rest who don’t want to work on direct bill expense reports at all make my job difficult. I realize they don’t care but I need the info for accruals.

        Like I said, my bosses back me up and want me to let them know if someone is giving me grief. It is definitely a boundaries issue. I had to tell a senior director of another department that no, I would not fill out expense forms for his people. It is clearly in the rules of this large corporation that the person incurring the travel/expense must do the forms.

        Quite a number of small businesses treat Finance/Accounting as backup switchboard/receptionist/office cleaner/errand runner. During the downturn in the economy I was happy to take on other duties, like OP #1, to keep busy at work. Then, when times get better, you are still expected to take care of everything no one else wants to do while taking on more and more responsibility in your own role. It is one reason I left several jobs over the years.

  7. LoiraSafada*

    I’ve found that places that get upset that people leave at five after a productive day tend to place more value on butts in chairs than on the work actually getting done. I worked somewhere with mandatory 9.5 hour days on Monday, and we were still excoriated for having the audacity to leave at 5 pm. Keep in mind this was somewhere where people regularly worked nights and weekends at home (I worked Christmas Eve from my parent’s house one year) with zero appreciation for their efforts – leaving at five and taking a breather on the commute home was literally a sanity management strategy. And yet, the people that appeared to be working 12 hour days in the office that produced nothing were still treated far more favorably than people that actually accomplished something in eight.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed, but it sounds like OP may be hourly, in which “butts in chairs” makes no sense (it doesn’t make sense for exempt staff, but at least it doesn’t cost the employer to prioritize facetime over productivity. But a talkbwith the boss makes sense as a prophylactic measure.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        She may not be hourly. One of the things mentioned in last week’s new employee misconception thread was the idea that jobs were 9-5. It wouldn’t be hard to mistake core hours from “you only have to work from 9-5”

        Since she does stay late when her workload requires it, that’s even more reason to believe she’s not hourly.

      2. Elemeno P.*

        But then it’s even more confusing- if she’s scheduled until 5, wouldn’t they want her to leave at 5? I’m hourly and my bosses have told me that I can walk out the second I’m about to hit OT unless it’s something super urgent. This works well for both of us: if they ask me to stay late occasionally I never feel put upon, and if I ask to stay late to finish something they know I’m not scamming them for OT pay. I guess it all depends on expectations.

      3. Princess Carolyn*

        I’m hourly but still expected to work 8-5. If I work through lunch, that means I get paid for 9 hours instead of 8 — but I don’t get to leave early (at least not without making special arrangements). A lot of white collar/professional hourly positions are that way, in my experience. Of course, I’m also allowed to calculate my time in 15-minute intervals instead of writing in that I arrived at 7:59 and took lunch from 12:03 to 12:58 and then left at 5:02.

        Which is a long-winded way of saying “The company may value butts in seats even for an hourly employee.”

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          True! I interpreted the letter to mean she’s butt-in-chair but only for her work hours. I was trying to allude to OT. But as Jessesgirl72 notes, OP could be exempt.

          I just get angry at butts-in-chairs policies unless the position requires interaction with the public during specific hours (e.g., a receptionist or customer service rep).

    2. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Yup. Part of it is the “how dare you leave now” mindset. I used to come in earlier than everyone else in the department to take care of systems maintenance, patches and other tasks requiring interruptions in service. Easy to do at 7am while everyone else is still getting up and heading out on the road. Of course this meant I usually left by 3pm every day. After a few snide comments from folks who didn’t approve me leaving while they had a couple hours left I loudly pointed out that while they were still sleeping I was already at work and they were welcome to join me and help out. The complaining stopped.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        You would think that having an office that fully embraced flex time would eliminate this, but I still had to deal with a Manager who would huff and complain and throw shade because I came in at 10:30 (the start of core hours, and like 50% of the company- the others came in at 7am!) My work was always done, and I never left before 7:30, and routinely it was later than that. He tried to formally discipline someone else over it, and was stopped by HR because everyone had to badge in, and the badges showed the person was working 8+ hours, and always there during the required core hours- and he wasn’t complaining about productivity, just butt-in-chair. I never got a good review from him, and I know that was part of it. I think everyone was happy when he left the company.

        1. gwal*

          This is so interesting to me. I too work at a place where flexibility and awful commutes mean that some people are in their chairs 7:30-3:30. I feel like they give me dirty looks for arriving between 9 and 9:30 (though I stay for 8 hours, too) and even at the nearby coffee shop I recently heard a woman moan “I feel like the day is just GONE when I’m not here before 7:30”. I guess some people will always get disgruntled at deviations from their own personal norms, regardless of policies or flexibility.

    3. Songbird*

      Ugh, I hate that too. My first job out of college was on a completely dysfunctional project where the team leads tried to land bragging rights to who was the biggest workaholic. One of the bragged that she hadn’t seen her five-year old daughter awake in over a month. (Said with pride. Wow.) And none of it mattered, because it was a standard exempt 9-5 federal contract job at a large, international, generally sane company. It was all one little project’s swirl of dysfunction.

      1. paul*

        That poor kid :( Not just not seeing their parent but having a parent that values workaholic bs more than their kid

        1. Freya UK*

          My current manager “bragged” to me that he often forgot his kid’s birthdays but could remember all kinds of sh*te about clients, like their favourite sports team… fortunately I have a very expressive face, so I didn’t have to tell him what I was thinking, and thus couldn’t be fired for it.

    4. Anon today...and maybe tomorrow.*

      I worked for a company where my hours were clearly listed as 9-5. Every day at quitting time my boss would say “What? Leaving already?” He’d say it to all of us. A few people on the team started working later and left with the boss. I didn’t. He accused me of not “taking one for the team” by leaving on time. My work was ALWAYS done and I would stay late for big, end of quarter projects but the daily reminders that I somehow wasn’t working hard for him got to me. Another frustrated co-worker put a spreadsheet together with what she made for the year and broke it down by pay per hours worked…all her hours worked. As she was leaving at 5pm and staying late only for projects like me our results were similar, but those who were being guilted into staying late were coming out worse. At the time, my per pay hour (based on her figures), worked out to less than $10 an hour. I commuted over an hour, each way, to be there. Plus tolls. She passed this around to the team as an FYI and the next time the boss said something to us she showed him and told him that unless there were significant pay raises coming for the team, we were going back to the 9-5 schedule that we were all hired for, that we all agreed to, and that HR had confirmed as our schedules. I never heard him say it again. I was so happy that she was on my team and braver than I was at the time.

    5. Spoonie*

      The CEO of CrazyTown job once sent an email at 530 asking if he had authorized an early out. On a Friday. Everyone at the company’s schedule was officially 8-5. At that point, I had come in at 730, taken only a 30 minute lunch (our lunch hour was a strict and mandatory timeframe, eyeroll). If I had been braver, I would have responded and said I’d already worked my extra hour, kthx.

    6. Anon This Time*

      My boss is like this and it’s obnoxious. He makes sarcastic comments about people who leave at 5:00. But he’s never here at 8:00, routinely takes 2 hour lunches, and is frequently gone by 3:00.

      If someone tried to talk to him like Alison suggests, he’d have a permanent negative attitude towards that person. Like always, you gotta make sure your boss is reasonable before approaching him with something like this.

    7. Freya UK*

      Yep. I’m in a place like that now. I’ll take my strict 9-5 and full lunch hour with the side order of corporate disgust, at least I’m happy – they’re all miserable, negative people!

  8. Evan Þ*

    I’ve got a different interpretation of #2: they’re trying to find out whether they need to speed up their timeline to avoid OP jumping for another offer first. If OP says, “Why yes, I just interviewed somewhere yesterday, and another place just contacted me about scheduling…” they might try to decide sooner rather than later lest her interview from yesterday yield her an offer which she needs to accept or decline before they can get back to her.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Recruiters (not an internal recruiter) always ask this and it’s because they want to find open positions they can recruit for. These positions aren’t usually exclusive to one recruiting company and there’s tons of competition. So they want to find out where people are interviewing so they can call the company and say they have fantastic candidates. I always just say that I’ve been asked to keep it confidential.

      1. The Southern Gothic*

        There are recruiters and temp agencies that ask your to write down on your application with them where you’ve interviewed “so that we don’t send you out on a duplicate”. Shady as hell.

      2. Stone Satellite*

        When I was interviewing for my current (awesome) position, the internal recruiter asked me this. I assume it was to gauge timelines. But they recruited me, I didn’t reach out to them, and job hunting is maybe my least favorite activity ever, so I wasn’t applying anywhere else and was honest about it. She seemed surprised, but if I hadn’t gotten this job I would’ve been fine staying at the old one, I wasn’t desperate to leave or anything.

    1. Another person*

      Many years ago, I had a colleague who had been engaged to her fiancé for 20-something years. They were middle aged hippie types who had a very adventurous and free
      spirited youth, and if I recall correctly they finally got married so he could enroll in her health insurance plan.

      1. Cristina*

        A neighbor has been dating the same woman for 25+ years. They got engaged about five years ago and he claimed that he bought her a big diamond so she is happy enough just with that. They maintain separate homes, but do travel the world together. Whatever works I guess.

        1. the gold digger*

          Separate homes! THAT SOUNDS FABULOUS.


          The Introvert married to the (lovely) Extrovert, AKA the Introvert who did not get married until she was 44 and had been living (mostly) alone since college

      2. BF50*

        I had a coworker who was engaged for 25 years.

        When I got engaged my husband proposed without a ring because he wanted me to pick my own out. That same coworker told me it wasn’t “real” until I had a ring and a date. The cognitive dissonance was impressive.

        1. the gold digger*

          She wouldn’t have liked my Engagement Trash Can (which is still in good shape after being used every day for almost the past eight years).

          I don’t like rings for me.

        2. Gadfly*

          I approve–I declared my husband to be one of the smartest men in the world when he did that and said “You have to wear it, not me. You should choose it.”

            1. Lindrine*

              Yep. I was the one who picked out our rings. And mine is a very modest band with a set of small diamonds along it. I did the crazy thing where I bought a ring we could afford. And – you know I kinda like it? It is hard sometimes to see coworkers and friends with big rings, but wearing my dinky ring gives me lots of pleasant memories.

              1. Gadfly*

                Yeah, I went “vintage” off ebay for a carved band small solitaire and a narrow rubies&diamonds set band. We found him a great deal on one on Amazon. And between us we stayed WELL under budget. And I have something unique and that suits me.

                1. Gadfly*

                  I do think for some anniversary I’ll do the make your own ring sort of workshop for us for an”upgrade”

            2. Candi*

              There was a Not Always Right story, Awesome Customers tag.

              Jewelry store in a mall. Frequent visitor was a young woman with lovely manners who worked in the mall and couldn’t afford their products, although she loved them. She was so nice that the staff didn’t mind her visiting at all. A few times her boyfriend comes in with her.

              One day while she’s working the boyfriend comes in and asks for help. He wants to propose to her when she visits the store later, and have her pick out her favorite ring. The staff agrees to help.

              They not only make sure the best stock available is unpacked, the manager nips out to get some glasses and non-alcoholic bubbly on ice. (Company rules is my guess.)

              Couple arrives, he proposes, she is surprised but thrilled, accepts and picks out her ring. Bubbly is drunk, confetti is thrown, everyone is happy.

      3. kewlm0m*

        LOL! +1! I have a friend whose sister and her significant other were together for over 30 years had a now grown up child together, but just got married so he could collect on her social security account

      1. KatiePie*

        The average unmarried female
        Basically insecure
        Due to some long frustration may react
        With psychosomatic symptoms
        Difficult to endure
        Affecting the upper respiratory tract

    2. Megan*

      Yeah I was a little confused by that. In my mind it’s not a fiancee but a life partner then.

      1. CMT*

        Eh, to-may-to, to-mah-to. Doesn’t really matter how two people decide to label their relationship.

      2. Gadfly*

        A lot of people have started using fiance/finacee to mean “long term partner that I don’t want to imply is less with girl/boyfriend but we don’t have anything more legally binding, fiance(e) gets more respect/is taken more seriously” instead of “we have plans to file paperwork.”

    3. Chaordic One*

      I know of a lot of same sex couples who had unusually long engagements. (Apparently there were some legal problems that took longer than they should have to be resolved.)

  9. Brett*

    #4 Another possibility: If the reference check is part of a background check and not just the hiring process, it is not that unusual for references to be checked after the hire. I think it is even legally required to occur after the conditional offer?
    Ideally the check is completely before final acceptance. For detailed checks, though, that could take 6-18 months, and it is not feasible to make the candidate wait that long.

Comments are closed.