my coworker keeps doing my work for me

A reader writes:

I work on a team of three (plus our manager) as a supporting associate for two salespeople. I like my role and have no problem doing what other people might view as menial tasks, such as data entry and filling out form letters, in order to free up the salespeople’s time so they can focus on their clients. I knew that was a lot of what the job entailed when I signed on and I willingly accepted.

One of the salespeople is a more recent addition to the team. In the last few months, he has taken to doing parts of my job himself. He did ask me to show him how to do some of these tasks and I gladly agreed, but at the time it was framed in more of an informational way or so he could cover those responsibilities if I’m out of the office. Now I find him doing them a few times a week while I’m here — writing letters I should be writing, responding to emails I should be answering, and so on. I don’t get the sense that he does it because he has problems with the quality of my work, but because he views it as a favor to me to do some of these tasks on his own.

I appreciate that he might feel bad that I get stuck doing some rather dull work, but it is why I’m here and what I’m getting paid to do, and I genuinely don’t mind it. In the past when we’ve been extremely busy, he would constantly apologize for the amount of work he was giving me, and I would always reply with “That’s what I’m here for!” or “Well, that’s my job!” in a sincere and friendly tone. I really don’t know what triggered his deciding to take on my work for himself because I can’t imagine that I’ve given off the impression that I am overwhelmed or annoyed by my responsibilities. Frankly, what does annoy me is that he spends his time doing my job when I think that time could be better spent focusing on his sales — especially since I receive a monthly bonus based in part on his performance.

I have experience dealing with slackers who aren’t doing enough work and have no problem with those conversations, but asking someone to actually do less work is a new one for me. How do I get him to stop doing this without seeming ungrateful or rude?

I answer this question 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.

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. Specialk9*

    “As so often is the case, this is mostly about being straightforward but finding non-weird, non-accusatory language to do that with.”

    Ask A Manager, in one beautifully summarized sentence.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This advice is timely for me. There is an administrative task that I usually handle and one of my coworkers has started doing it himself. I did recently push back on him giving me other busy work of his (filing) that has never been part of my job and I’m wondering if he thinks I expect him to do the administrative task as well.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      That’s such a fine line to walk. I always had that problem with faculty and students. Yes, I can send a fax for faculty, no, I can’t send one for the students. It’s an important distinction but one that people (read: students) found perplexing. And just because once you had a serious filing deadline and were stuck underground and absolutely needed me to do it (and the prof is the one who made the ask) definitely *does not* mean you get to ask me forever after that. (Not bitter at all, why do you ask?)

  3. fposte*

    I don’t know anything about sales, so I was interested in the structure where the support person got a sales-based bonus as well. Is that common?

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’ve worked at places where this is the case. It’s nice, because it acknowledges that sales aren’t made in a vacuum and you need the whole team behind you. In the same places, I worked on a team that was technically sales support but didn’t get the bonuses because we reported in a different structure. A bit demoralizing, not gonna lie.

    2. Morning Glory*

      In my last position, I served in a support role that included drafting business proposals, client coordination, etc.

      I didn’t receive a commission based on that, only the account lead did. But the firm’s overall financial success and my performance both determined my annual bonus. I wonder if the OP’s situation is similar, but paid out monthly rather than annually.

    3. LBK*

      This was actually my letter! So I can provide some background here: I wasn’t directly compensated on his sales in a percentage-based commission way, but rather I got normal salary and then a relatively small (for the sales world) bonus every month based on what percent to goal our department achieved as a whole.

      It was definitely a double-edged sword because ultimately I couldn’t directly drive sales, so it was frustrating to feel helpless in months when we were below our target – I basically just processed sales other people made, so even if I processed my heart out, I couldn’t increase my compensation if they weren’t making the sales. But it was nice to have that acknowledgment of how my work contributed to the success of the department and it caused me to be more in-tune with our department’s performance than I probably am now (still working adjacent to a sales team but in a different division and very different role).

      Ultimately I didn’t end up saying anything to my coworker about this issue; there were bigger problems in that department and “helps me out more than I need him to” was a very petty complaint compared to all the issues I had with the other salesperson I supported. I think I probably redirected my frustration from guy #2 to guy #1 because guy #2 was basically a lost cause in trying to get him to get his sh*t together, so if I could remold him I thought maybe I could do it to guy #1.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        Is it possible he just didn’t have enough to do, being new, so handing that stuff off to you just seemed pointless?

        Different people are more or less comfortable handing administrative stuff off, too. When I was support staff to the heavy hitters, they all wanted varying levels of assistance.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Yep, been there got that bonus. It’s super nice when companies recognize the folks who support sales in this way, especially in orgs where the salespeople make salar plus huge commissions plus bonuses. It says they recognize how you helped get them tontheor goal.

  4. Murphy*

    I wonder if the co-worker didn’t have enough work to do. And/Or I wonder if they were trying to help out the OP to make up for “giving them more work”.

  5. a Gen X manager*

    Yes to all of the advice! I’d like to add two thoughts:

    1) Could OP ask the sales person for “help” because OP wants to really contribute and to protect her job security?
    2) In the first year of my position I was doing too much of the front end work and was not focused enough on the management work. My boss complimented me on “pitching in” to help the team, but gave me reality check by pointing out the obvious: anyone in the building can support the front end, but I’m the only one who can do the management work, so I need to put my energy there. This made a huge difference for me and I am so grateful that my boss told me this (it also helps me in not feeling guilty about helping on the front end! [unless *really* needed]). Maybe the sales person needs to (gently) hear this concept?

    1. Anononon*

      Your first thought seems much too passive and vague, and most likely damaging to OPC. OP doesn’t need the sales person’s “help” – she needs them to let her do her job. And bringing up her job security makes her position in the organization much more unclear and uncertain to the new sales person.

      1. Anony*

        I agree. The OP doesn’t need “help” keeping their job. That implies that they aren’t actually needed. They just need the sales guy to focus on HIS job instead of OP’s.

  6. Just a thought*

    This may come from a place of the salesperson wanting to maintain a relationship with the client, which makes it easier to win more business from them again in the future. It might not make sense workload-wise when your role exists to support the sales team, but in the ever-increasingly difficult world of customer relations and sales, those little things can make the difference to a client.

    1. michelenyc*

      This was my first thought. The salesperson is new to the organization and needs to build those relationships.

    2. WellRed*

      We have a longtime salesperson who does lots of little tasks, (like mailing hard copies of the magazine every month) instead of letting the very bored and frustrated admin help. Frankly, the salesperson’s time could be better spent prospecting for new advertisers.

      1. Amy S*

        This might be a case where the salesperson does a lot of the admin stuff because the actual sales tasks are harder. It gives them a way to be productive but avoid doing some other tasks. I used to be so guilty of this when I was a director. I was so intimidated by all the the big director type things I had to do that I literally jumped on any admin task I could get. Needless to say, I was not great at that job and thankfully have found something much better suited to me.

  7. Melimania*

    My husband is a salesperson and based on his constant complaint about support staff getting things done on the timeline he would like, my first thought is: Is LW’s timeline not in line with this salesperson’s timeline? My husband ends up doing things himself because he frequently feels that support staff aren’t doing things in a timely manner. Note: This is not to say LW isn’t actually doing it in a timely manner just that what can feel like a timely manner to LW can feel like holding up a sale to the salesperson.

    1. Wendy Ann*

      I had that thought as well, especially with the letters. If it’s a new client, I can see him wanting to get that done asap. Sort of like I can get it done and in the mail today, but OP won’t get to it until tomorrow, so I’ll do it now and get it on its way. Strike while the iron’s hot!

      1. LBK*

        There was definitely an element of that! I’d usually save up the letters I had to do and bang them out at the end of the day since it was easier to process them all at once; he would occasionally note to me “Can you send this one out immediately since they’re waiting for it?” but I think more often he’d probably just do it himself if he wanted to ensure it went out ASAP.

    2. Nita*

      Yes! Our admin staff is awesome, but sometimes I take on small admin duties in the interest of speed. For example, if I complete a report after hours and it has to go out ASAP, I’ll compile the report myself instead of hoping that someone else can drop whatever they’re doing at the end of the day to get it out the door.

  8. X. Trapnel*

    In no way am I disagreeing with any of the advice offered by Alison or by other readers, but, having once (foolishly I know, but I was desperate for a job) taken on a sales type role that I was in no way suited to filling, perhaps this chap is doing the OP’s work as a kind of procrastination strategy in order to avoid actual *selling*.
    I couldn’t *sell* for toffee, but by faffing around doing *paperwork* I felt that I was at least being productive instead of just mucking around on company time.
    Last long in that job I did not.

    1. Meercat*

      I had this thought too. I’m in a sales support-type role, and I’ve seen many an unsuccessful sales person try to appear productive by doing these sorts of tasks, instead of actually focusing on selling.

    2. bluesboy*

      This is EXACTLY what I came here to say.

      It can also be really demoralising in sales to keep hearing “No!” Sometimes you need to just put the phone down and take a break, but it isn’t break time, so…you do this kind of work!

      I’m in sales & we’re about to recruit someone to deal with the paperwork. I really like my job, but not gonna lie, I think in those moments I’m going to miss the ‘boring’ work.

  9. k.k*

    In situations like these where it’s a newer employer, I have to wonder if these are just carry over habits. If they normally handled those tasks in their last job, they might be so used to doing it that it rarely crosses their mind to hand the tasks off to someone else.

    1. LBK*

      Yeah, there was an element of this – his role prior to that one was a mixed sales/operational role (actually kind of a weird role that was always described as a sales role but the duties were almost all operational). So I think he wasn’t accustomed to having someone else to pass things off to.

    2. Helena*

      I thought this too – in my last-but-one job, the medical secretaries would only do admin for the consultants, not the residents (they were supposed to do ours too, but they just… didn’t. Sigh).

      So I got into the habit of doing all my own typing etc, and I just carried on doing the same in this job. And thereby inadvertently offended all the lovely secretaries here, who thought I didn’t trust them.

  10. HappySnoopy*

    Since this person is new, it may be more of a culture shift. where he came from, sales is responsible for their own correspondence and OP helped while he was training or overwhelmed. He just may not understand the different culture yet. OP is saying it’s my job. He’s hearing, “it’s nice OP is helpful and willing to pitch in”, not literally “This is my job. This other stuff is your responsibility.”

    Just a slight reframe since the original Q&A are focused on the *why* are you doing my job, and what came to my mind right away is I bet he’s still not getting the role dynamics of *what* is part of my/op’s job.

    1. designbot*

      Right, and to this end I’d even say that mentioning the bonus structure is potentially helpful. OP could frame it as, we all get rewarded if we succeed as a team, and this is the way I contribute to the team. You as a salesperson have these other ways that you contribute that I cannot, so please make sure you’re doing as much of that as you can before even thinking of touching this other stuff that I’m able to take off your plate.

  11. Jesmlet*

    It’s quite possible that he came from a company where it was his responsibility to do all of that stuff, so he’s just not used to a structure where there’s someone to delegate all of that to. Where I work, each sales person has a designated recruiter and the setup differs office to office as to how much admin and data entry work the sales person does vs delegates to their recruiter. Does he know that’s the full scope of your job?

    Either way, I agree with the direct, non-confrontational approach… just ask him why.

    1. crookedfinger*

      This is what I was wondering. I’ve worked with several new salespeople at my office who just had no idea what they were supposed to do with an assistant and had to be trained into what my role was vs. their role. And then there was the time where my company bought out another one and we had to train like 40 new salespeople on how to do basics because their previous company wouldn’t let them even print their own documents, much less manage or organize them…

      1. Jesmlet*

        Oy vey… this is why I’m such a big believer in cross-training (but I work for a small company so there’s a much bigger need for this)

        1. crookedfinger*

          Right?? They did such a disservice to their employees by not letting them figure out how to navigate a computer network, print, or organize their files on their own, and it’s been a lot of basic hand holding-type effort to get them up to speed. Some of them still aren’t, and it’s been over a year since they joined the office.

  12. Jen*

    I wonder if it’s a way for the coworker to procrastinate from his own tasks that he may find challenging.

  13. Stranger than fiction*

    Since I work in similar environment, the two things that popped into my head on this one were 1) he’s new and his pipeline/sales aren’t all that full/busy yet leaving him time to donthese things and 2) he had to do it all himself in his previous sales role and is just plain used to it or feels a bit guilty having someone do it for him.
    Did we ever find out the conclusion on this one?

  14. whosthat*

    Is anyone of these a possibility
    1. the person got hired but it never was explained to them exactly what they can ask you to do?. Sometimes it can be hard to be the new person sharing a support person that everyone else seems to be keeping busy.

    2. the system you have set up is inefficient for some of these activities. Sometimes it is just easier and quicker to do something oneself than it is to put it in a stack of stuff and wait for it to be done. In this instance, it might be helpful to see if your current workflow is the most efficient way to get things done. A lot of companies benefit from regularly reviewing their workflow processes and making sure they are simple and efficient.

    3. the person is avoiding doing the sales work, Sales takes a particular kind of personality, and a successful salesperson generally HATES doing admin work and will gladly pass it off. The fact that this person is doing that work makes me wonder if they are avoiding doing sales by doing this work.

    4. This is part of how the person is learning their job. There can be some advantages to following a transaction through to the end to better understand the sales cycle and fulfillment when you start a new sales job.

    In any event, good luck.

  15. Amelia*

    I’m a salesperson with a sales support person. My rule of thumb is “I handle all important client facing communications.” My sales support guy is critical to what I do. He writes cost proposals, sends samples, tracks items, contacts different internal groups. He’s very competent and I trust him. But fundamentally, I’m responsible for the client experience in a relatively complex sales cycle. There is a fair amount of nuance in terminology and a lot of hand-holding. I’ve been in situations where it was like a game of telephone “Tell Client X, I look forward to seeing them on Monday. Good luck with Y. Look for Z in the mail” and it gets just slightly garbled enough to cause confusion. So I am the best person to write emails, summarize meetings etc. It’s not personal and it’s not a favor to my support person. It’s just how I am most effective at managing client relationships.

  16. Mazzy*

    Been there earlier in my career – sales guys get burnt out doing cold calls etc all day so look for variation by doing other people’s work.

  17. Canton*

    I work at a law firm where a lot of the associates just prefer to do that stuff themselves. I think it may be the sign of the times.

  18. New girl*

    This has come at a perfect time for me. I’ve just been hired out of uni for a great job working as admin for program development team. Anne (who is an excellent colleague) used to have my job before she was promoted but she is still doing many of the tasks that are supposed to be my responsibility. Because I’m a recent addition, people still direct questions to Anne about my duties and rather than letting them know that it is now my job, she will answer them herself. Or she will drafting documents that I’ve been asked to do and so forth. It’s frustrating because I feel like I’m not being trusted to do my job.

  19. Freelancer*

    All I can think of is the episode of 30 Rock where Jenna & Tracy get mad at Kenneth for telling jokes in the elevator (“their job”), and get back at him by asking for his lunch order, which totally throws him for a loop and irons everything out. Not that I would recommend making sales calls to this co-worker’s clients!

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