my employee is way too helpful and accommodating

A reader writes:

I’m a department head and team leader, and I currently manage about 25 people. I’m also fairly new to management, so I’m still learning the ropes of proper management and how to handle certain issues.

I’m very lucky because my whole team works well together and there are no “bad seeds.” We are one of the highest performing departments in the whole company, and I’m very honored to be a part of it. That said, I am having a very backwards problem with one of my reports, Jill, being too accommodating and self-sacrificing.

We have very general hours that we work, but it’s not uncommon for things to change at a moment’s notice whenever something comes up. Everyone is aware of this when they sign up, and we do our absolute best to rotate who has to stay late versus who gets to leave at their normal time, etc. Everyone seems pretty content with how things work as long as there is equal division of overtime and such.

Jill, however, will often volunteer herself to work the longest hours to take the most un-enjoyable part of the work every single time. A lot of my conversations with the team will go something like this:

Me: We have a large new project that’s just been brought it us and the client has put in a rush order, so we’re really going to need to push over the next few days.

Jill: I’ll do it!

Me: That’s okay, you did it last time, plus you’re going to be on vacation the next couple of days. We’ll see if we can get someone else to handle it before we come to that.

Jill: No need, I’ll do it. I’ll cancel my vacation immediately!

And the next thing I know, Jill has put in a request to cancel her time off and has already told the others they can go on home and she’ll stay late. She does this even if I tell her to wait!

In any given month, there are at least a few times where Jill volunteers herself to stay late, work through lunch, cancel scheduled time off, or even do someone else’s work for them so they can leave early.

For context, while might sound like an overachieving grad student who is desperate to prove themselves, Jill is actually an older woman who has been working in this role and industry for several years. As far as I can tell, she has always been this way. She also does not seem passive-aggressive or upset about all the extra work or cancelling time off, and her work is always well thought-out and excellent. I really have to change very little when I edit her projects.

All of that said, though, I simply do not know how to tell her to please back off and let us distribute the extra responsibilities a bit more! Asking her to cancel a vacation would be an absolute last resort for me, not a first or even second choice.

I have had one sit-down talk with Jill in my office where I emphasized that she was not in trouble, but I explained everything I said above and how it’s okay for her to allow others to do the extra work once in a while. It’s supposed to be rotated so that it doesn’t fall on one person’s shoulders every single time. Throughout our conversation, she kept insisting to me that she didn’t mind and that she was happy to help in any way needed. Our talk ended up not being much more than me saying “you don’t have to do it every time” and her saying “I don’t mind!” After that, her behavior did not really change.

I’m at the point where I’d like to address this again because it simply isn’t fair to Jill, but I’m struggling to come up with a better way to phrase it. I suppose I could “pull rank” and ban her from working on certain things, but that seems too harsh for this situation. Any ideas on how to better handle this?

It sounds when you spoke to Jill about this last time, you framed it as “it’s okay to let others do some of the work.” It sounds optional and it leaves the door open for her to say, “oh, but I don’t mind!”

Instead of framing it as “it’s okay to do X,” you’ve got to frame it as “I need you to stop doing Y.”

So, sit down with her again and this time say something like this: “I apologize for not being clear enough about this the last time we talked about it. It’s important to me that our work is distributed evenly among everyone. I know that you’re willing to pitch in and do more than your share, but I actually need other people to take an equal share. When you rush to pitch in so others don’t have to, you are interfering with my ability to manage the team fairly and equitably. So when I decline your offer to help with something or tell you that I will find someone else to do a project, I need you to respect that. It’s okay to offer, but when I say no, you need to leave it there and not tell others they don’t need to pitch in.”

You could also say, “Going forward, I don’t want to see you canceling scheduled time off because you think you need to be here. I realize you may not mind doing that, but I don’t want the rest of the team thinking there’s an expectation on them that they’ll do the same — and right now you’re creating that pressure. That’s a real concern for me about the health of our team, so I cannot let you continue to do that.”

In a different context, I might tell you not to interfere with her decisions to stay late, work through lunch, or help someone else with their work so they can leave early, especially if that’s only happening occasionally. In some contexts, I’d say that’s really her call, and it’s her call if she wants to build good will with people in that way. However, in this case it seems like part of a larger problem and so it might be worth also saying something like, “I know that you like being helpful to coworkers and will sometimes do their work for them so they can leave early. I can’t let you keep doing that. I assign work to specific people for a reason, and I need those assignments to stay where I placed them.” (You could add that there can be exceptions when someone is in a bind, but I’m concerned she doesn’t have the judgment yet to distinguish when that is and isn’t the case.)

All of this is about reframing it for her from what she’s willing to do, to what you need her to do differently.

Also, because Jill sounds like someone who derives a lot of her self-worth (or her sense of how others value her) from Being Helpful, it might be worth making a conscious effort to give her positive feedback on the things you value more about her work. Make sure she’s getting recognition for what she does well (it sounds like there’s a lot of it), some of it public. It might be that over time emphasizing her value in other areas will ease some of whatever internal pressure is behind this.

Or not! But in that case, being firm and clear about what needs to change — not just suggesting she doesn’t need to help so much — should get you where you want to be.

{ 231 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloan Kittering*

    I wonder if there’s a way to tie this into Jill’s “helpful” instincts and ask her to do this in the spirit of building up the team / help her coworkers develop? “When you jump on these types of assignments, it limits the chances of other teammates to grow”?

    1. HR Jeanne*

      This. She may not understand that she is taking opportunities from other, possibly more junior team members. Maybe framing it around their development would help.

      1. boo bot*

        Yeah, I was thinking this. It would drive me crazy to be on this team, and basically not have the opportunities I would otherwise have, because Jill is taking all the work – including the opportunity to step up, be a team player, and take on something extra from time to time!

        On a similar note: when you are always the first to volunteer, you’re rarely the first one voluntold, when it’s something you “don’t* want to do. I generally recommend taking advantage of that fact – step up fast for the things you want to do! Then, you’ll be too busy when the stuff you don’t want to do comes around.

        In this case, though, I think it’s possible that an unintended consequence of Jill volunteering all the time is that she’s also able to avoid whatever she doesn’t want to do. If there are real discrepancies in the kinds of projects that are handed out, her constant volunteering might not only mean that other people don’t have opportunities, but that the opportunities they do have are lesser.

        1. Alienor*

          “On a similar note: when you are always the first to volunteer, you’re rarely the first one voluntold, when it’s something you “don’t* want to do.”

          This was my strategy for surviving my daughter’s elementary school years. I’d volunteer up front for tasks I didn’t mind, like stapling together classroom activity packets or shopping for supplies for the Girl Scout camping trip, and then I rarely got stuck with the actual hands-on chaperoning, which wasn’t my thing at all. (I would do it if my daughter specifically asked me to, but other than that, no thanks.) Worked amazingly.

          1. Eliza*

            I do think this is somewhat workplace-dependent. I’m familiar with some places where people follow the strategy of “if you need something done, ask a busy person”: taking on extra work proves that you’re willing to do that, and so you end up saddled with more of it. If you see signs that a few people at your workplace are getting all the work piled onto them, it might be best to avoid showing too much initiative in taking on additional work, unless they’re also getting rewarded appropriately for all that extra work and that’s something you’re willing to deal with.

            1. Cherries on top*

              Yeah, this is my experience. (Not saying that I necessarily think that’s the case here.) Often helpful and/or competent people get stuck with everything extra, especially the less attractive tasks, if there isn’t good leadership. But this sounds more like either a martyr problem or a self worth problem. (I usually volunteer for the gross tasks.)

        2. TardyTardis*

          That’s how I easily passed a ‘group participation’ final in college–eagerly volunteered on the first bit, which I knew very well and then ‘graciously’ withdrew to let others talk when I had no idea.

    2. JustMyImagination*

      That’s what I was thinking. When I took over a team lead type of position, I felt bad delegating the complex tasks, or projects with serious time crunches out to others and would take them myself so as not to burden others. My manager pointed out that most people need to be pushed past their comfort zones to really develop and by taking the “bad” projects and assigning the easy ones to people, I wasn’t giving them the chance to leave their comfort zones.

    3. nnn*

      I was thinking a script like “Give someone else a chance” or “You had the last one, let someone else have this opportunity” might help. That would depend very much on the nature of the work though.

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      Exactly my thoughts as well – reframe it as:
      “By stepping back you are HELPING you coworkers grow into their roles. We all know you are a absolute rock star and it really helps all of us knowing that we can count on you when needed but I really want Jane and Fergus working on this project as things have been slower for them and they indicated they really wanted to get more exposure working with X system. I was hoping that I could tell them that you are available for questions on it since you have so much experience with X system. Would that be OK with you?”
      Alternately, is there an “internal” project you could have her work on? Maybe some training documents or process mapping that really highlight her strengths and attention to detail?

      1. Flash Bristow*

        I really like that reply. Hopefully it will appeal to her if it’s framed like that.

        As long as she doesn’t think “being available for questions” means popping up and overseeing or even micromanaging the others, of course… she doesn’t seem good at waiting til she is explicitly asked in any regard.

    5. wondHRland*

      That was my first thought as well – frame it as you want the others to get the experience doing X and by jumping in all the time, she’s depriving the others from learning experiences that will help them grow in their carers.

  2. Jennifer*

    I wonder if Jill is worried about ageism and not being viewed as a valuable member of the team because she’s “older,” so she’s overcompensating. I mean being a team player is one thing but canceling a vacation is extreme, especially when there are other people who could do the work. Is there anyone else on the team with her level of experience?

    I also wonder if everything is okay at home.

    It could be true that she just gets a lot of her self-worth from being helpful, but I wonder if there’s more going on.

    1. Legal Beagle*

      I also wondered if she was avoiding being at home for personal reasons. The ageism factor is a good consideration, too! Especially if the manager and the rest of the team are younger. I don’t think it changes what OP should do, but she might be able to offer reassurance to Jill if there is something deeper behind it.

      1. KR*

        Agreed, I came to mention personal reasons. I had an employee who consistently worked very late when there was no business need to do so. After bringing it up with them several times and encouraging them to leave on time, they disclosed that they stayed at work to avoid going home. At that point, I referred the employee to EAP resources and checked in with them occasionally to see if I could support them in anyway without getting to much into their business. I also made it a point to model good work life balance and refrained from emailing or otherwise contacting my staff outside of work hours. When the employees situation improved, they stopped staying late.

      2. Batman*

        Yeah, I was wondering about both ageism and not wanting to be at home. Good things to consider when responding.

        1. Snark*

          It’s a good thing to consider if, and only if, Jill gives a sign, which she has not so far, that those factors are operative. And even then, considering them isn’t worth much.

      3. Mongrel*

        My partner’s first job was in the (UK) healthcare sector with a company that tended towards understaffing then relying on the ‘well, you’re letting the patients\colleagues down’ to shame all the staff into working extra. And no, it wasn’t overtime it was time in lieu – which was functionally unredeemable.
        When we first started seeing each other they didn’t see a proper week off, they’d always be called in to cover someone, “we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t really need you!”.

        This experience has coloured (IMO) their opinion into what’s normal within a working environment, so it may be worth emphasising that “No, it’s fine to not volunteer all the time”

    2. Triplestep*

      I wondered this, and unrelated to this, I wondered if the work comes with overtime pay which she wants/needs.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        This is a question I have, too. My old team got shift differentials, and loading up on later shifts was a great way to bring in a little extra. There were a few of us who preferred late shifts to early ones (for more reasons than that, but that definitely made the list) and eventually it got mandated that we all take one per week instead of loading them all on one person/letting one person have all of them. It may not be a factor here, but if there is any kind of financial incentive to this behaviour, it’s something to keep in mind when you address the behaviour.

      2. Life is Good*

        I wondered the same thing. I had a Jill on my team at old dysfunctional job. She was a terrible money manager and was always mad if I gave other team members extra hours. She not only volunteered for any extra hours, but also would just work them without prior approval from me. She’d offer to help another team with their projects to get extra hours. Of course, that money came out of my budget. Her obsession with money and how to get more of it was pretty obvious. Maybe OP’s Jill isn’t hourly, which makes my point moot.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree that it’s probably something going on on an internal level.

      But just to put it out there, it’s not always a “bad” thing that’s going on in your life that leads to this kind of behavior. Some of us are workaholics because that’s who we are, we aren’t avoiding an abusive relationship or a bad home life. It’s just our “drug of choice” in a way.

      Signed a recovering workaholic.

      She could be a single woman who doesn’t have hobbies, so work is her go-to. She could have older kids or a busy spouse who is never home either, so why bother going home or on vacation, etc.

      In the end it doesn’t matter because that’s her personal stuff. What matters is the team dynamics and work side of things.

      1. who knows why*

        This absolutely sounds like it could be written about my mother-in-law, who is kind, caring, smart, loves seeing her kids and family, but also for some reason is just VERY into her job. Her son (my partner) works for the same company and had to embargo work talk at family gatherings because it’s his mom’s default topic when she can. We don’t really get it because we cherish our outside of work time and hobbies but I totally recognize that this is a “thing” by choice for many.

      2. Jennifer*

        I slightly disagree. If she’s just a workaholic, then you’re correct, but if it’s due to ageism or a domestic issue than the reason behind the behavior should matter to the OP. She may need reassurance or even assistance from the EAP.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          My real point is that it could be a lot of things and not just the worst-case-scenario that we worry about as caring individuals.

          It’s none of your business, unless they make it your business. Unless it’s a child or a vulnerable individual, you cannot make it about their “well being”, it can backfire in your face legally when it comes to the workplace. I would seek to get a manager fired if they ever even gave a hint of whiff that they were “concerned” about me working so much and trying to sniff out if my home life was satisfactory or not.

          In the end you should always seek to create a safe environment, where people can talk to you if they feel the need. You shouldn’t approach them like they “may” be suffering from something that happens. You have to go on what you know and not the horror stories we’ve read on AAM.

          1. SK*

            Whoa, whoa, whoa. I would really reconsider trying to get someone fired for trying to suss out if there’s a problem. Obviously if they’re being really persistent and nosy that’d be an issue, but if they’re just trying to put vague feelers out to see if they should be referring an employee to EAP or other resources that could help, that seems like an appropriate level of concern.

      3. TardyTardis*

        I knew someone like this–she was an older woman, worked 4 10s instead of a normal week, but always found some reason to come in on Fridays anyway. Found out later that she really didn’t have a life outside (and it eventually killed her, was found by a roommate on a Sunday morning, and the only people at her funeral was um, us).

    4. a1*

      I don’t know that we know how old Jill is, though. She is described older in context of the “overachieving grad student”, and she has been in the industry “several years” but not decades or anything. It could be a concern, but it could also be 30s/40s. Also, she’s always been like this, it seems.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, from the phrasing you quoted I also infered that Jill is “older than a grad student”, not that she’s “older” in the general sense of “an older lady”; my mind went to someone who’s about forty.

        1. Jennifer*

          Well, 40 is around the age where some people, especially women, start thinking about ageism, especially if they work in an office where most people are younger than they are.

          I am 40 so I don’t consider that old by any means.

          1. Soon 2be former fed*

            It’s not. I’m 64. Still not old. And I’m not going to work myself to death to prove my worth. I’ve already done that. Ms. Overworker needs to chill.

            1. Mellow*

              Exactly. The psychologism in the forum is thick. As written, the person simply sounds like a classic people pleaser. The thing is, because they get their self worth in service to others, no amount of reassurance is good enough for people pleasers, because they need a constant supply of reassurance from external sources.

              1. Devil Fish*

                I am skeptical of your dismissive claim of psychologism because you immediately followed it by third-hand diagnosing Jill with a load of pop-psych nonsense using exactly the same information as everyone else here. What is the difference? (I’m seriously asking.)

        2. Gotchagonch*

          When I reached 35 in my industry (working for a public relations agency), I knew my chances of getting hired anywhere else would diminish with every year.

      2. Jennifer*

        When she was described as an “older” woman I thought older meant older, not “older than a grad student.” Plus some of her behavior just read that way to me, so maybe that was part of the reason for my assumption.

        1. Soon 2be former fed*

          Please, no ageist assumptions, thanks. Most behaviors can be engage in by people in any age cohort.

          1. Devil Fish*

            I don’t see ageism in reading “Jill is actually an older woman” and assuming the standard meaning of the phrase. Even though people of any age can engage in the named behaviors, LW took the time to clarify that Jill is in fact an older woman and I’d like to take LW at their word on this.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      It could be a number of things. She reminds me of my dad’s GF. Sounds like she wants to be wanted. It makes her feel good about herself to help others, even to her own detriment. Regardless of the why she does it though, OP needs to be more firm as Alison suggested. If the team is supposed to rotate the extra work, Jill needs to respect that and stop volunteering all the time, because while she thinks she’s being helpful, she’s really undermining her manager and the way the department is supposed to be run.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      Maybe she’s had crap jobs in the past where there was a lot of pressure to “volunteer” for stuff. I’ve had Current Job for almost 15 years and I still have moments of panic where, if something doesn’t go as well as I wanted, I think I’m going to get called in for a talking-to by my supervisor, because Previous Job was big on shaming. There is no logical reason for me to feel this way because Current Job doesn’t do this kind of thing, but it’s amazing how hard it can be to let go of something like that.

      1. Julia*

        That was my first thought. Or she was trying to avoid being “mommy-tracked”? (What an awful word to describe an awful situation.)

      2. Mellow*

        But “crappy” to the extent that you’d cancel your vacation even after being instructed not to do so?

        1. Devil Fish*

          Been there. Been explicitly told not to cancel my vacation and was later given a poor performance review for not getting the work done that I explained I would have to cancel my vacation to get done. It happens.

        2. LizM*

          I was on a team once when a big project was due the Monday after Thanksgiving, we didn’t get the final pieces we needed to complete our part until the Tuesday before. A number of us offered to cancel our Thanksgiving plans to work on it on Friday and over the weekend, were told, “no, we’ll figure it out, go home and enjoy your weekend with your family, we’ll figure it out Monday.”

          Come Monday, something got submitted, but the project manager (who did work over the weekend) didn’t have the technical knowledge that certain team members did, and made a mistake that a technical expert would have caught easily. A few weeks later, the team got a very public dressing down for our lack of professionalism in submitting such poor work. It became very clear that “Go home and enjoy your weekend” actually meant, “You should work over the weekend, but don’t tell us because we don’t want to feel bad about ruining your Thanksgiving.”

    7. Snark*

      You can wonder if she’s under mind control from Planet X, too, if you want to really rock out with the advice column fanfic. Absolutely nothing you’re wondering about changes Alison’s advice – and no, referring Jill to the EAP in this situation would be ridiculous unless OP had lots of other evidence not discussed in this letter – and we don’t know and can’t know if there’s anything else going on. So can we please rein in this urge to write advice to a letter that doesn’t exist, as we have been requested not to do?

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, figured you’d dig in. Just stop. This is not helpful, not reasonable, and not actionable and “Limit speculation on facts not presented by letter-writers to reasonable assumptions” is part of the rules.

        1. Snark*

          Also, protip: if it doesn’t actually result in an actionable change to Alison’s advice, you’re not on the right side of that one. And this doesn’t, not until and unless there’s a lot more detail that Jill divulges in the course of that discussion.

        2. TassieTiger*

          This is….very unnecessarily harsh and rude. Alison, are you really okay with regular posters speaking this way?

      2. Yorick*

        It’s a huge leap to assume either of these problems based on this letter, and it’s not really helpful for OP to read a bunch of people’s random speculations.

    8. LGC*

      To be fair, LW doesn’t really specify those things! Specifically, I don’t know if Jill actually cancelled a trip (she could have been taking a “staycation” – which is still bad that she cancelled her vacation time, just not as drastic as you might have thought), and her age may or may not be an issue. (I actually assumed she was in her 30s from the description, from what it’s worth. Ageism might still be a thing for a 30-something woman, but I’m not sure.) More important, it could be a ton of other things – she could be anxious for a promotion, she could genuinely enjoy work and have terrible boundaries, she might feel protective of her turf, so on and so forth.

      That said…I think you’re on to something, and I actually think LW can – and should – ask (casually) what’s up with Jill being a workaholic. Honestly, I’ve found that if there’s a problem, asking about what’s going on can be quite illuminating, and can provide clarity and unexpected solutions. The trick is to be as non-judgmental about it as possible (so, genuinely inquisitive, not accusatory, make it sound like it’s not serious) – what I personally would say is, “Hey, Jill, I’ve noticed you’ve been volunteering for a lot of extra tasks – what’s up?”

      Becky pointed out a lot of the landmines with assuming there might be problems in Jill’s personal life, which leads to the other thing – in general, just take the answer given. (There might be limited exceptions to that, but I’m not in the mood to litigate those.) You’re her boss, not her friend or her parent, and part of that does involve some remove from your employees’ personal lives. (Okay, so I have helped employees with transit wrangling since I’m decent at that, but that’s when their punctuality has been an issue.)

      tl;dr – there’s definitely more going on here, LW can probably ask (once), but I’m not sure if it’s as serious as you made it out to be. (And even if it was, that’s a hornet’s nest LW probably doesn’t want to kick.)

      1. Former Employee*

        No one refers to a woman in her 30’s as “an older woman”, so I am guessing she’s probably at least 50.

        She may simply be wrapped up in the job.

        A lot of people don’t have time consuming hobbies and if their family isn’t local, they may be happiest if they are working longer hours.

    9. Cherry Sours*

      “I also wonder if everything is okay at home.”

      Yes, exactly this. By the end of the first paragraph from OP, alarm bells were going off in my head. What is she avoiding at home? An abusive spouse, drama-creating neighbor, or drama filled adult child? She may or may not be in an abusive situation, but obviously appears to be looking for a productive escape from something.

    10. MK*

      Eh, I don’t think it would be helpful for the OP to start speculating about Jill’s home life, even in her own head. Maybe something is going on, maybe not, maybe it’s as simple as that she doesn’t have much of a personal life.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    One other reason you must put a stop to this?

    Jill’s work ethic will make you look bad. If I were your boss and I saw the same employee working so much outside the regular workday and cancelling vacations because of it? I wouldn’t assume the worst, but I would want you in my office ASAP to explain this pattern.

    Your reputation can and probably will take a hit if this continues. Your team will not act like a team, and your bosses may think you’re unfairly distributing the work load.

    That said, my coworker’s only source of purpose and reason to live is her job. She needs to be needed even though she’s not needed all the time. It’s sad, and I empathize, but it’s not okay to leave this personality type alone.

    1. Marty Marts*

      Another reason, and this probably doesn’t apply here but it is a concern, is that typically people are encouraged to take time off because it’s good for the employee, but it is necessary as a check on the organization as well. I’m an employment lawyer and we regularly remind people that if there is fraud, wrongdoing, or god forbid someone embezzling, the only way to catch it is for person doing the wrongdoing to go on vacation or take time off. This is why in most workplaces there is a top down pressure to have employees, especially ones with access to financials, take time off. Like I said, this probably doesn’t apply here, but the eagerness to not leave work is concerning and has many time before been a sign that there is something fishy afoot.

      1. Chaotic Neutral*

        Came here to say this. I used to work for a company where everyone was off randomly a few days a month as kind of an internal checks-and-balance system.

        1. LovecraftinDC*

          Yep. I never understood my company’s ‘you must take one full contiguous week off a year’ policy until I was taking an ethics class and they highlighted how many fraudsters had been caught when they were on vacation.

      2. TardyTardis*

        I had a friend with some job insecurity issues (and very well-reasoned ones too) who was in the financial sector and worried about taking a vacation–and I told her that the one thing worse than a bookkeeper than took too many vacations was one who never took any at all. She figured it out. :) (and then there was the car dealer who double-billed several parties at once that I advised her to run like the wind from, as the first person who gets blamed for something like that is the bookkeeper).

    2. TootsNYC*

      yeah, I had someone working for me who was late every night.

      But I knew her workload didn’t warrant it.

      So I spoke with her about it, and said, “You are making me look bad. You make me look like I can’t manage the workload. And that’s inaccurate. You need to go home.”

      She had been sort of casually commenting on all the late nights, as if it was work keeping her there. But she was working on special projects for personal things, or an extra project she took on for another department (though even that didn’t need her to stay late; she had time). and she needed the internet access.

    3. Mellow*

      “…it’s not okay to leave this personality type alone.”

      AMEN TO THAT. Left alone, and the rest of us have to manage this type on our own. Completely unfair.

  4. Shinobi*

    One way to add to this framing is also that some work can be assigned to people for development reasons and that by taking it over she could be hurting the ability for other members of the team to develop in different directions or be recognized for different types of work.

    Ultimately the work assignments need to go through you. We had a similar issue on my team where one of my senior members was passing work to one of my new members without discussing it with me (or the group, we are a small team.) So the Jr member was getting different ideas about his priorities and it caused problems. Jill clearly has the opposite problem, she needs to do only work that is assigned to her unless she discusses it with you.

    1. Close Bracket*

      I like this point. People get assigned things for reasons sometimes (although not always). I advise the LW to shutdown Jill when you really want the person you assigned to do the work. Other times, though, I would let Jill work as she likes, including cancelling time off. Treating workers like grown ups means respecting that some of them like to work.

      1. Shinobi*

        I don’t entirely agree. Sometimes people like things that are unhealthy – working all the time and not taking vacation time can be linked to burnout and all kinds of issues. It’s good that Jill hasn’t hit that wall yet but we are all only human.

        It also sets a terrible kind of work life balance for the team and really should only be done as a last resort. I would hate to feel like I had to complete with someone like that on my team, I would quit before I canceled a vacation! So I would have one foot out the door if I thought it was expected.

        1. Close Bracket*

          “I would hate to feel like I had to complete with someone like that on my team”

          You aren’t competing, so you need to avoid framing things in that manner. And “terrible” is a value judgement. If Jill likes her work/life balance, then it’s not terrible at all! If you are concerned that you might be asked to cancel a vacation, then bring up what the expectations are around that. I’ve been in jobs where cancelling time off was expected in case of emergency. It is unsettling, but the expectation was set by management. It wasn’t something I projected based on one individual contributor. You can’t expect people who enjoy working a lot to change their behavior so that you can manage your feelings and expectations. That’s on you to manage.

          1. boo bot*

            The thing is, I think that communications around things like how much vacation time you can take and when you’re expected to cancel it are often very indirect. I have a friend with “unlimited vacation time,” where it’s clearly frowned upon to take any time off. We’ve heard from lots of letter writers with similar situations, where what’s expected is communicated through coded signals, rather than clear language.

            Given the existence of that culture, I think many people would see the top worker cancel her vacation, and understand that to be the expectation, unless directly told otherwise.

            So, I think it’s incumbent on the OP here to clearly say to the rest of her workers, “I do not expect you to cancel your vacations except in dire circumstances, and I will tell you if things are that dire.” I wouldn’t force Jill to take her vacation, because it’s her vacation time and her life, but I absolutely wouldn’t let her take the project.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Yep. I know the OP isn’t doing this, but if the other employees see that this is accepted and even appreciated, they’re going to feel obligated to do it too. If I were them, I’d feel like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for management to suddenly decide they could push me to cancel a vacation, etc.

          2. NothingIsLittle*

            I think you’re missing the point on the work-life thing. It’s objectively unhealthy to be working all the time (as Shinobi and Alison mention, burn out, but there can be other adverse results). I think at a certain point the work-life balance becomes a health risk, and I think it’s important to recognize that just because someone enjoys working too much, doesn’t mean it’s good for them or the company.

            Also, employees may not be directly competing, but one employee pulling this type of overtime starts to create the expectation that everyone can and should pull that type of overtime. It’s not sustainable, just in terms of the precedent it sets. I think boo bot puts this point well.

            1. BonnieVoyage*

              “Also, employees may not be directly competing, but one employee pulling this type of overtime starts to create the expectation that everyone can and should pull that type of overtime.”

              Yeah, my coworker does this and it really does have an effect. For example, we have set work hours because we have to start much, much earlier in the morning than everyone else, and our colleagues are aware of this – they’re told “if you need X, BonnieVoyage and Colleague can help but their shifts end at 4”. But my colleague always, always works late, and it’s got to the point that I’m always being asked why I’d “gone home early” or being given big tasks at 5 to 4, because she’s set up this expectation that we just never go home. And I can remind people of our actual hours til I’m blue in the face, but the expectation is now there and if I try to enforce our actual hours (which are there for a good reason!), I’m the one who looks lazy.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The manager has an interest in ensuring (a) Jill doesn’t burn out, (b) she and others on her team know what workload is reasonable for each of them in case Jill ever leaves or decides to pull back (she doesn’t want people feeling like they’re having a sudden unfair workload increase at that point), (c) others on her team don’t get the wrong signals and assume behavior like Jill’s is valued, and (d) the workload is evenly shared among the people she’s hired to do it.

        1. LovecraftinDC*

          I think C is particularly applicable if Jill’s work is fantastic compared to that of others (as OP indicated). Jill might deserves higher pay/better bonuses/etc due purely to quality of work, but if people see her getting promoted they’re going to assume it’s because she canceled her vacation.

          1. Daffy Duck*

            Yes, I agree. Especially when you are new to a company having an older employee doing these types of things can make this behaviour expected. When I was being trained for one job (hourly) I had mandated breaks, my coworker/trainer (salary) definitely approved of clocking out and continuing to work then clocking back in at the expected time (although never actually TOLD me to do that). HR realized what was happening and I got a very stern warning about not working during break time.

        2. Close Bracket*

          a) Burnout is not an objective thing that every person reaches after the same number of hours of work. I don’t see anything in the letter that says LW is concerned about the signs of burnout that Jill is showing. Some people thrive on 70 hours weeks. It’s not my jam, but I find it infantilizing to tell another person that they are going to burn out bc they want to work more hours than I do. Not to mention, some people burn out at 40 hour weeks.

          b and d)I explicitly agreed with these points by advising the LW to shutdown Jill when they really want the person they assigned to do the work.

          c) LW can make clear to the team what the expectations are and that Jill is an exception, not a rule.

          In places where I have worked which had a person who loved long hours and working weekends, that person had free reign to do so, and management made clear that nobody else was expected to emulate them. That includes places where everybody was expected to cancel vacations if work emergencies or conflicts (like external audits) arose. It can be done. People do not have to be shut down just for the sake of shutting them down.

        3. ToS*

          This is dysfunctional, and your list is a great way to see the unbalance, whether Jill is experiencing the outgrowth of dysfunction on a personal or a professional level.

          She may have survived abuse as well (in any roll, including with a former boss, or from a parent she was not allowed to say “no” to), and has not yet found a healthy “relational” balance at work. It’s still to be addressed “for the health of the team”, no need for deep dives into anyone’s past.

          1. Lock Stock and a Barrel of Rum*

            This is going to be a very unpopular post, but so be it. In my field (finance) and geography (US citizen in Asia) people routinely work very late. This is well known in Japan and Korea but it is equally true in Singapore or Taiwan or Hong Kong, for instance. I once called an accounting firm at 8pm or so to ask where some deliverable due that day was, and I was reproachfully told, “we work until ten” in the tone of voice you would use with a wayward kindergartner.

            Views like this (“it’s dysfunctional,” etc.) are a big reason why Asians think that Westerners are lazy. Why do you think US test scores are so bad? It’s because schools emphasize extracurriculars over academics, and God forbid that modern US teachers assign 2-3 hours of homework, as we had growing up.

            I think Jill is committed to excellence and is an ambitious employee. Yes, the other explanation (office-as refuge, etc.) are possible, but I think they are less likely. People who make the jump from middle management to the C-suite are often workaholics to some degree and I think Jill aspires to that. (America did not win the moon race by knocking off work at 4.) If there the other employees do not want to work longer, let her pursue these goals. If they do want to work longer, OP should set more ambitious goals for the whole team to take advantage of her good fortune.

            As I say, this post won’t be unpopular and I suspect OP is going to tell Jill to cut back on her hours. In that case, I would advise Jill to use the extra hours to launch her own company, network, get some kind of amazing professional certification, read more books in her field, or do something similar. In 2009 during the recession, those of use who were not laid off still had a LOT of downtime. I used this to earn a professional qualification. Everyone was surprised when I did it (think mailroom clerk Jimmy getting his law degree in “Better Call Saul”) and I parlayed that into a better job and a move to Singapore, where the economy improved before the US, where I have stayed.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I don’t think the OP is in Asia, so the advice is going to be geared toward the norms and work culture of the U.S., where we can assume her company is located.

              You may be right about Jill being merely ambitious, but it’s still a problem that she’s taking work the manager is trying to assign to other members of the team. It’s creating an imbalance of sorts. If Jill really isn’t just trying to suck up, I think you made a good suggestion about getting a certification with her extra time, or doing something else to upgrade her skills.

            2. ExpatInTheHat*

              Only going to post once so as not to derail, but – that kind of work culture is dysfunctional and unhealthy, though (and Asians thinking Western people are lazy is a huge generalization and not actually that common)! I live in one of those countries you named, and this kind of work culture where I live contributes to incredibly high levels of alcoholism and suicide, mothers or grandparents essentially parenting kids alone because their dad/both parents can never get out of the office, among other things. And those “test scores” you mentioned – those don’t measure actual learning, growth, or engagement. They measure students’ ability to memorize the “right answer,” and also create a high-pressure environment where if you take one wrong step in high school students think their future professional lives are over before they’ve even gone to university, and they regularly only get three hours of sleep because of all the cram schools they go to (not all that different from some demographics of US students).

              I’m one of their teachers, and it’s not something to be held up as an ideal, nor is it something everyone in these cultures uniformly believes is a good thing.

            3. Devil Fish*

              Americans are lazy because we don’t aspire to karoshi? Weird flex but okay.

              Our test scores are low because our schools are underfunded and there are systemic problems all the way down. Assigning more homework doesn’t do much when the curriculum is garbage to start with.

            4. Cherries on top*

              And I live in one of the countries at the top of happines and freedom indexes and we’re apparently consider very lazy.

    2. TooTiredToThink*

      This is exactly what I came to say as well – she’s ultimately hurting the team, not helping (I mean, maybe not, but it could be framed this way if need be).

      1. TootsNYC*

        she’s certainly hurting her manager.

        Becuase if the other team members DON’T have to take on extra now and then because Jill always does it, how will they feel when they actually are made to?

        Remember our manager in publishing, from last week, who was always taking the last-minute overtime?
        Now when she needs to spread it around, she has to worry that people will resent the change.

        This manager needs to keep the expectations even and consistent over time and across the staff.

    3. Red5*

      This is super important. Team members need to be given the opportunity equally (as their skills allow) to contribute to the team. If one person is taking on every extra assignment, where is the chance for other team members to shine and show what they can do?

  5. BlueWolf*

    Are these roles exempt or non-exempt? I was going to suggest that she might want the overtime pay if she is non-exempt, but since it wasn’t mentioned I’m guessing that is not the case?

    1. CAinUK*

      THIS. I immediately thought: she is jumping on the overtime pay, which in fact would be unfair to her collegues.

      1. Devil Fish*

        If her colleagues value the extra pay more than having extra time, sure, but some people would rather have the extra time.

        Whenever I’ve had a job where overtime pay was a factor, people complained about not getting it if they wanted it. I assumed the colleagues hadn’t said anything to LW about it because they’re generally okay with the status quo (which doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to change).

    2. NothingIsLittle*

      That was my first thought as well. OP should still try to distribute the overtime more fairly because that’s the right management thing to do, but I wonder if she might need the money, in which case pay increase (which it sounds like she would deserve on merit) might help curb these tendencies.

    3. YetAnotherUsername*

      I immediately thought that too. If she is hogging all the overtime then that’s not fair on colleagues, but if they don’t really want the overtime and she really wants in then I say let her at it.

      OP, you mention “overtime” in your question. If this means paid overtime then I suggest you ask the rest of your team individually which of them would like to be assigned more overtime. Some people want it, some don’t. It sounds like you could share the overtime equally between whoever wants it and leave whoever doesn’t want it to just work their normal hours

    4. CM*

      Yeah, two strong possibilities are that Jill needs extra money or Jill doesn’t want to go home (even if it’s just because she’s lonely or whatever, not necessarily because something bad’s happening). Another thing I’ve seen before is people feeling like they’ll get edged out of future assignments if they don’t stay super involved and front-of-mind on the current assignments.

      Regardless of the reason, it’s pretty clear that Jill doesn’t just “not mind” taking these assignments — she actively wants to. And telling her to stop (which I generally agree with) will mean taking away something she wants. So, I’d keep that in mind, and maybe try to probe to find out why she wants these assignments and whether there’s another way to give her what she wants.

  6. been there, never going back again*

    I was once Jill. I was in an abusive relationship and had no choices for how to spend any of my time outside of work. I dreaded “vacations” and any chance to work longer hours or more days was a godsend. Not that this should necessarily change Allison’s advice in terms of what to say to her even if that’s what’s going on – because I agree other people should be pitching in too – but I thought it might be worth throwing this possibility onto folks’ radars.

    1. Lena Clare*

      That was my first thought too, that she’s trying to escape a horrible domestic situation.

      1. Mystykyn*

        And mine. I am currently still in that position – the only reason to go home is the cat – and it is only too possible she regards her job as respite from a hard and laborious home life. Very often someone caring for an old person or learning disabled adult who also has a paid job regards that job as their respite from the caring; it’s a thankless task as there is not going to be any improvement.

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          Sending you and your cat all the good thoughts. I hope everything improves for you very soon.

        2. Lilly*

          I totally agree. Even as a new mother, returning to work felt like a refuge from taking care of my infant.

    2. Jennifer*

      I was thinking the same thing. I know a woman who took a job at a fast food place and loved the long hours because she just wanted to escape the hell she was living at home. A vacation is not really a vacation under those circumstances. Work is the vacation.

    3. old foof*

      I had a similar thought. It is definitely important that others pitch in, but this could have broader ramifications for her.

    4. Shinobi*

      Yeah I thought of this too. I wonder if the LW could refer her to some counseling resources(if the company has them) to help with managing work life balance – and maybe they can see if there is a deeper issue.

    5. Soon 2be former fed*

      How does this impact what the LW should do? Jill could leave work and not go home.

      1. Tara*

        If she is in an abusive relationship her partner may keep tabs on her by her phone location. It might not be possible to leave and not go home.

        1. Snark*

          Jesus Christ, can we PLEASE restrict ourselves to details in evidence in the letter? Good gravy, what the hell do you think wildly spinning scenarios based on zero evidence is going to accomplish?

    6. Jady*

      I had thought of something like this. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an abusive situation, though. There could be lots of reasons someone wanted to avoid going home – depression, loneliness, difficult family situations, obnoxious neighbors, or even just pure boredom.

      I understand the various reasons why it’s not good for the company, boss, and other employees. But at the same time I worry that for that employee, the extra work is contributing to her life in a positive way, and losing that might be difficult for her.

  7. animaniactoo*

    It might help to put this in “Jill terms” – “I know you want to help, please help ME by letting somebody else take care of it. That is what would help *me*, so please do that and go on your vacation [etc.].”

    1. Anonym*

      Yes. It might also help to emphasize the big picture. It certainly seems helpful to Jill that she pitch in in this way right now (understandably), but in larger scheme of things, more balance on the team would, perhaps counter-intuitively, be of greatest help.

  8. voyager1*

    I think you should sit down with Jill and ask her why she does this. There could be a lot of reasons why she does this. AAM suggested one. I was thinking maybe she has been let go from a job so she is trying to make sure she is is indispensable. I am sure some on here will suggest domestic issues in the comments.
    In the end though you need to talk to Jill, all the hypothesizing isn’t going to help.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think why really matters, though. Jill is doing something that is hurting the team, and the OP is allowed to tell her to stop without trying to solve the underlying problem, assuming it’s not a work problem.

      1. voyager1*

        The LW states they want to have a conversation with Jill. Asking why she is doing something would be a good place to start a conversation.

        LW states they don’t want to ban Jill in the letter.

        1. ooo*

          No, I get what you’re saying, voyager1, but it’s not the OP’s business! If the answer is that Jill is using work as an escape from an abusive situation at home, as some commenters have suggested, or that it’s rooted in a mental health issue, Jill may very well not want to share that information, and she shouldn’t feel like she has to. As Colette says, the why is really irrelevant — it’s not the OP’s job to dig into that.

          However, the OP would be wise to mention company resources (like an EAP) that could help Jill if the why comes down to a bigger problem outside of work, and definitely OP should make clear that her door is open if there’s any way she can help Jill shift gears or any information that might help — because if Jill wants to broach the subject herself, that’s another story.

      2. NothingIsLittle*

        I think it might matter in the sense that it will change how the OP asks her to stop. If she’s doing it because she needs to feel helpful, then framing it as unhelpful will be more successful. If she’s doing it because she’s not making enough money, a raise might help curb her working so much overtime (but only if she deserves it). If she’s doing it because she has a bad domestic situation, there are usually employee programs to help (and she could take an extended lunch or something to extend her hours without it actually being overtime).

        OP absolutely can just tell her outright to stop, if that’s their inclination. They’re certainly not obligated to look into their employee’s motivations. But they’re more likely to be successful and less likely to have pushback if they frame the request/demand in a way that accommodates, or at least acknowledges, their employee’s motivation.

        1. Colette*

          If the issue is that she wants to be helpful, that might be good to know – but getting into things like a bad domestic situation would be a little too far. And ultimately, it’s not the manager’s job to solve Jill’s motivation.

          I think the OP should explain why it’s an issue (because it’s stopping other people from developing; because it’s setting incorrect expectations about workload; because she wants to avoid setting the expectation that people will cancel their vacations) and what she wants Jill to do (only take difficult/tedious projects if the OP directly asks her to do it) and let Jill deal with the underlying issue.

          1. NothingIsLittle*

            I’m not saying that you’d ask her about her domestic situation or even her financial situation, I’m suggesting that you’d say something to the effect of, “I’m confused as to why you’re taking on overtime work even when I ask you not to. We’ve spoken about this, and I thought we agreed that you would let other people take some of the overtime work. Can you help me understand what’s happening?”

            As I said, OP could do what you’re suggesting, but I think they’re more likely to have positive results if they can understand what’s going on. They can’t, and are not obligated to, fix the motivations, but knowing them gives them a frame of reference for how to handle it. As a more benign example, the employee may have misunderstood that she seriously needed to stop asking for overtime instead of it just being a “you don’t have to.” You would treat that differently from someone being deliberately obstinate about overtime.

    2. Snark*

      It doesn’t matter why she does this. OP is not Jill’s coach or guide or parent or guru. She’s her boss. At some point, she just needs Jill to not do a thing, and whatever that uncovers on Jill’s side is Jill’s business. Because this is an employment relationship. It’s screamingly boundary-ignorant to even speculate about domestic issues or her inner motivations, because that’s not the kind of relationship they have and its not necessary to speculate to get the result OP needs.

      1. NothingIsLittle*

        Her motivations matter because the response to her is different if she’s misunderstood that she “doesn’t have to” take extra hours to mean that she can continue working them versus her having understood very well what OP has said and chosen to ignore it. It’s admirable that you’re fighting for her right to privacy (a right she does have), but it is important as her manager to know whether she’s been obtuse or insubordinate. Given that OP said they were a new manager, they might not have the experience assess that without asking directly. OP could try saying something like, “We agreed you wouldn’t take this much overtime anymore, can you help me understand why you keep doing it?” which can help determine if they need to be more explicit in their instructions to Jill or if they need to monitor her behavior for other areas of defiance.

        The OP can absolutely choose to just act on the assumption that Jill didn’t understand and tell her outright not to do it again (which it sounds like would be Alison’s recommendation, given that her reading of the letter suggests that OP’s conversation wasn’t insistent) and have that be the end of the conversation. I wonder, however, about Jill steamrolling the OP when they write, “She does this even if I tell her to wait!” because that could change the context of “she kept insisting to me that she didn’t mind,” and “her behavior did not really change,” from misunderstanding the OP to ignoring the OP’s instructions. It’s not a foregone conclusion, but I don’t think it’s reaching too far based on my reading of the letter. I don’t have the information to make that call and thus have provided an actionable suggestion if that does turn out to be the case.

        I have added other ways it can be helpful above, if Jill is the type of person to share more than the bare minimum, “Oh, I thought you just meant I didn’t have to,” or, “Oh, I didn’t think you were serious,” but that was mostly because I hadn’t been able to clearly articulate to myself why I was so concerned that she may have chosen to ignore the OP rather than misunderstood them. I will grant that I have harmed my argument by leading with that before being able to identify why I was so bothered she’d continued taking overtime.

  9. House Tyrell*

    I have a coworker exactly like this- she actually came in and worked one day while she was out on vacation and all of us had to beg her to leave and enjoy her time off (she’s scared of planes and hates long drives, so she uses her vacation to relax at home and catch up on shows, sleep in, get some errands taken care of, etc, but that still doesn’t mean she should be working just because she physically can!)

    Some thoughts I had, aside from Jill just being a workaholic:
    – Maybe she wants to avoid being home for some reason. I used to be a violence prevention educator and sometimes work is the only place people can avoid a rocky home situation (at least until the violence escalates to the point it interferes with work.)
    – Maybe because she’s older, she wants to still feel relevant and needed because she’s nervous about ageism or being fired/laid off to open a spot for a younger (and cheaper) person
    – And then more nefariously, depending on the type of work you do, maybe she’s committing fraud and doesn’t want to get caught. One of the signs of fraud is never taking off too much time, working late hours, over lunches, etc so no one has time to catch you. A lot of companies dealing with finances require 1-2 weeks to be taken off consecutively every year so that a coworker overseeing your work at the time is able to catch any potential fraud. Not that I automatically think the worst of people, but just something to think about depending on your field and her role.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Related to your final point but much more minor…. if she is compulsive about minutia of how projects are completed, she might feel twitchy when someone else releases things.

      In which case I’d suggest roping that instinct into updating the department procedures manual & style guide, or streamlining the workflow. Or mentoring a newer person through a project — just not when she was scheduled for vacation. If she’s interested in moving into management, she needs to learn how to delegate.

    2. Jerk Store*

      These scenarios all crossed my mind, as well as Jill being one of those “There’s two ways to do this work, the wrong way and my way” type of people, although these types usually critique and redo their coworkers’ work, which the LW didn’t mention.

    3. Marty Marts*

      The fraud thing was my first thought, and I replied above about it. Employees must take time off, it’s literally the only way fraud can come to light for various organizations, and this is a really high level of involvement that makes me suspicious.

    4. Goldenrod*

      I have to agree with this! My first thought was, “She’s embezzling and doesn’t want to get caught.”

      1. ThatoneOverthere*

        Unless she’s working for a rather small company, fraud is actually pretty difficult to commit. There are so many checks and balances in big corporations and organizations. Of course not impossible, I means I am sure there is that small chance that someone managed to get away with it.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah….one of the checks and balances large entities use is the practice of requiring 1-2 weeks of time off in a chunk so that they can audit your work.

          Fraud is not that difficult if you are determined and you find the loopholes left open by your organization, large or small.

        2. Marty Marts*

          You’d be surprised. Spend enough time at the office and have enough oversight over things, people find ways of getting away with a lot. It’s very common. It’s the reason why most companies require people to take time off – sending people on vacation is the only way to catch fraud or other, maybe less nefarious, wrongdoing.

          1. Cat Circus*

            I’m glad someone mentioned fraud. My first thought was “uh, Jill is embezzling,” and then I felt bad.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I’m a bit sensitive to the manipulative martyr type, so my mind jumped to the thought that Jill is trying to set a standard where she is the Saintly One, to be venerated and emulated above all others. (She may or may not intend to cash in on this later.) Then shitty managers who love this person say, “Well Jill is willing to step up anytime she’s asked; she’s being a team player. I need you to be more like her.”

      I know the OP isn’t doing that, but unless she puts her foot down, the rest of the team might be wondering if the dynamic is going to change. If higher-ups accept Jill’s lack of boundaries, no one else will feel like they can set any.

  10. WantonSeedStitch*

    I’ve had to tell eager beavers like this, “Thanks for volunteering, but I’d really like to make sure other people have the opportunity to work on projects like X.” before. And also “Please don’t offer to do this work over the weekend–I don’t want other people to think they have to be willing to do that, and if you can’t get your work done during the week, it might be a sign there’s too much on your plate and we need to adjust the workload.”

    1. Natty Bumpo*

      You’re comments are spot on. I’ve had to manage employees like these, and I’ve usually found an underlying arrogance that overshadows any altruistic impulses she might have. I’ve shut these people down by letting them know that it is not them I’m concerned about (sounds harsh but there it is), but coworkers who are losing out on the chance to acquire additional experience they might otherwise miss out on. Everyone needs to see what an important project in crisis looks like and what might be demanded of them. Not everything is a forum for her wonderfulness.

  11. Sharikacat*

    In addition to Jill’s work ethic making the rest of the team look bad from an outsider’s perspective, I’d want to shut it down because I wouldn’t want the rest of the team to take advantage of Jill’s willingness to drop everything and take on the extra work. They may not do it intentionally, but people can learn some bad habits over time. Why offer to volunteer for extra work if Jill will always offer instead? Get used to taking the holidays off because Jill always volunteers to work those shifts? Jill won’t be at your next job.

    Worst case scenario, Jill suddenly pulls a 180 and claims she was made to do all of this extra work and was forced to cancel her vacation plans. It’s always the nice ones that flip the hardest . . .

    1. Reformed Jill*

      “Jill won’t be at your next job.”

      Right! Also, Jill might not stay at this job forever either. If other employees get used to Jill doing way more than her share of the most unpleasant tasks, it’s going to be a pretty miserable time a few years from now when she moves on to a new job, they have to adjust to a higher workload with more unpleasant tasks, and you have to manage them through that.

      I used to be like Jill. I firmly believed that the more work I did and the more I was willing to take on (cheerfully) the more valuable I was to my employer and the more opportunities I would have to move ahead. Instead I burned out hard and also learned that I was totally feeding into my former employer’s M.O. of expecting people to do way more than 100% of the work that one person should be able to do. At my new job, my manager talked to me about how the expectation was that I would work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and not work during vacation or sick leave. It took a little while for me to get used to it, and I still stay late more often than I should. But I’m a firm believer in the underlying theory, which is that we will never get more funding for projects if we can’t show a need for it. So if the work is getting done with 1 FTE working 60 hour weeks, we’re not getting funds for an additional .5 FTE. You only get those funds to hire an additional employee if the work *isn’t* getting done when the 1 FTE is working 40-45 hours a week.

      1. Lock Stock and a Barrel of Rum*

        At my new job, my manager talked to me about how the expectation was that I would work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and not work during vacation or sick leave. It took a little while for me to get used to it, and I still stay late more often than I should. But I’m a firm believer in the underlying theory, which is that we will never get more funding for projects if we can’t show a need for it. So if the work is getting done with 1 FTE working 60 hour weeks, we’re not getting funds for an additional .5 FTE.

        I would not want a job like that and think that the manager should inform the job candidate of the corporate culture during the interview process, not after. Also, your “use it or lose it” setup is very zero-sum and much more common in government/non-profits than private sector jobs.

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You could also think of distributing work differently. Instead of asking for volunteers, you could start by going directly to individuals who you know could handle the task if they are able to take on the project?

    Right now you’re throwing out a bone to the entire room and she’s the eager beaver that’s jumping in on it. You’re setting her up for this instead of just going to people directly and asking them to handle things. Then you can make sure that everyone is getting their equal share of projects.

    The volunteer option in a group setting isn’t ideal for things like this. People aren’t always going to fight a long timer for the projects they actually want. So that’s bad for morale and stunts people’s growth potential. It also lets people skate by if they prefer to just do the bare minimum.

    This isn’t all about Jill, it’s about how things are done on a management level. So I would focus on both aspects, you both should be changing some behaviors!

    1. Jennifer*

      That’s a good suggestion. Don’t offer it to everyone, just make the assignments and tell them to come to you if they need to make changes, that way they can’t go around you and still dump it on Jill.

    2. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, was gonna say this also.

      Instead of throwing out the project to the group as a whole, go to an individual who isn’t Jill and say “how do you feel about taking on this project? It’s okay to say no.” And then go to another individual if they do.

      Or, just have a rotating schedule of who will work the extra time and assign it, instead of asking for volunteers. If you don’t want to be that authoritarian, follow the above process and give your first choice an out if they’re not in a position to stay late.

      You’re the boss, you can assign work to people. The team is clearly not self-assigning well if one person takes everything, so step in and assign.

    3. MizShrew*

      This is what I came here to suggest. Assign the overflow work rather than throw it out to everyone to volunteer. That way you can distribute the work evenly, and make sure your team has the development opportunities they need and/or play to their strengths as needed. If you want to involve Jill, then you could assign her a specific aspect of the task, like, “Jill, I’d love it if you could make time to review Fergus’ quarterly teapot report, I want him to get up to speed on our reporting system and you’re an expert with it.” But I’d avoid even that for awhile.

    4. Budgie Buddy*

      I was thinking this as well. The boss can decide how they want to hand out assignments. Don’t want Jill again? Directly offer the project to someone else first.

      There might be some people who are happy to volunteer but Jill keeps bearing them to the punch.

    5. LizM*

      I was going to come here and say this. I’ve also seen subtle sexism play out in situations where volunteering is offered to the whole group. Women are generally more conditioned to be helpers, and may offer to do a project they don’t really want to do or that doesn’t really use their skills because they feel awkward just letting it hang there, whereas men will often hold out for the more glamorous, high profile projects, which they have time to volunteer for because they didn’t pick up the more menial projects. This is, of course, generalities, but it’s a dynamic a manager should be on the lookout for, I’ve seen it on more than one team. It’s a really easy trap for a manager to fall into if they’re not really paying attention to the gender dynamics of a team.

  13. MagicUnicorn*

    Nothing in the letter implies this, but aside from the advantage of having multiple employees who know how to do the work, if one person is always doing it and excluding others there is a possibility they are attempting to hide something about their work or access that they don’t want their employer to discover.

  14. hbc*

    Like some others have said, I think there are ways to frame this so Jill understands that more effort from her is actually a bad thing, which you can do without actually chastising her. Something like, “It’s really important to me that we have a team atmosphere where everyone chips in, and that no one thinks that canceling a vacation is a requirement. I truly appreciate the dedication you have that leads you to do that, but it’s actually better for me and the team if you redirect that.”

    And if it’s true: “You’re really a great example and role model for the team in terms of your work and dedication, and I don’t want you to make others feel that they have to put in the same hours to be a good employee. Or, worse, that they never have to because Jill will always do it.”

    After that, you have to be pretty strict with Jill about not taking over and you need to label it a problem when she goes against your wishes. If you can reject a vacation cancellation in the system, do it. If she tells everyone else to go home, tell her no, she doesn’t have that authority (and maybe be a bit quicker to pick someone else to do the work.) It may take a little retraining for her to really get that you’re actively against her putting in the hours versus just not requiring it.

    1. Eloise*

      Yes! Your last paragraph addresses what really jumped out at me — Jill is (perhaps with the best intentions) disregarding and undermining her manager.

    2. lost academic*

      Except… she’s NOT a great role model. She’s setting up a standard whereby it appears that you should volunteer for every late night, last minute rush and cancel your vacation to commit to work! That is NOT a good example for staff to follow.

  15. Language Lover*

    I also wonder if it might help to point out that her willingness to help could hurt the team in the long run.

    I manage a team and when someone always volunteers to cover an extra shift or extra work, the expectation is suddenly created that they’ll do it. So no one else plans their lives with the expectation that they may occasionally have to fill in or flex their schedule to meet an important deadline. Whether it’s part of the job expectation or not, if a task isn’t regularly required, it can be difficult as a manager to enforce it without potentially difficult conversations or morale hits.

    So if she does go on vacation or is out for something more serious or doesn’t volunteer one time, you’ll have to get someone else and it may become a game of “not me” hot potato since they know, if they can avoid it this time, they may never have to out in extra time again since she’ll likely return to volunteering.

    In sum, you can tell her “no.” You should tell her “no.”

  16. robot*

    Yeah, canceling a vacation takes this from “helpful” to something where it must be actively uncomfortable for her coworkers, too. I might be fine with “someone does more of the extra work than I do” up to a point, but canceling time off would make me feel very bad. And it’s worrying to me that Jill will do this when you explicitly tell her not to. Does she usually disregard your instructions? You’re a new manager, but you should have the authority as her manager and a department head to tell her that she can’t cancel her time off at the last minute like that.

    OP, is there a way that you can formalize a rotation for work that happens out of business hours, or just extra work in general? It may not work depending on the different skillsets of the people you’re managing, but one way that this is handled in software engineering is an explicit on call rotation. Whoever’s on call that week is also usually the one who has to handle things like requests from other teams, or fixes that need to happen quickly. It’s tracked in a calendar, and if you can’t cover your automatically assigned shift (like because you’re on vacation), you swap shifts with a coworker who can take it. It’s relatively self managing, and it makes it easier for your employees to plan. If my shift is this week, I know that there’s a possibility that I might have to work later than usual, so I don’t make plans that would be hard to cancel. If a formalized rotation doesn’t work because the work is less interchangeable, consider tracking who has done this extra work recently explicitly, and assign it explicitly, with a backup. It’s not clear to me whether Jill is interrupting you, but assuming she’s just volunteering, you probably need to stop asking for volunteers for something like this. Instead of asking who can do it, you say: “Jim, I’m going to ask you to work on it this time, unless you have a commitment this week, in which case it’s Pam’s turn.” You’ll need to keep an eye out to make sure that your employees feel comfortable raising when they have a commitment, but it’s going to be very challenging to fairly assign this extra work by volunteering when you’re managing 25 people. (Another thing might be to talk to the person you want to do the extra work on this project in person first, rather than bring it up at a group meeting where Jill jumps in.)

  17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I also think you have an issue on your hands in terms of her just “doing” things, when you are going “Oh no no no, pump the brakes, Jill. Don’t cancel your vacation.” and then she just goes “LOL nah, I do what I want, he-he-he-he”

    You’re losing control in these situations and that’s undermining your position as the manager. What you should be doing is saying “no, you won’t be doing this assignment.”

    She doesn’t get to just snatch and run away. That’s not how any of this works! Just because she’s a good employee doesn’t mean she’s not capable of exhibiting bad behavior that needs to be corrected. Don’t give her the option to steamroller and just pounce on the project. Pry that thing out of her hands [figuratively, don’t do that literally]. Say “No.” put your foot down and give it to someone else. Then you can discuss the issue after you have reassigned the project.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I actually bristled a little at that part. I doubt Jill is trying to maliciously go against her manager, but go against her manager she does. OP seems oddly helpless when she describes that situation:

      “And the next thing I know, Jill has put in a request to cancel her time off and has already told the others they can go on home and she’ll stay late.” – when I read that, I literally clawed at my face and said “You can say No!!” out loud. You can probably deny or at least interfere with (if it goes to someone else) her request to cancel the vacation! You can tell the others that no, Jill is not going to do this task, so who else will be doing it this time? You can demand that Jill go home!

      The core problem here really seems to boil down to an unwillingness on OP’s end to say a loud and clear “NO” to Jill, so, OP, I’d really try to reframe your thinking here – nothing about telling a subordinate to not behave like Jill is “too harsh”, it’s simply appropriate and makes you a good manager.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I attribute it to being a new manager, the OP feels blessed to have a good crew and doesn’t want to be too harsh with Jill perhaps. However in this situation, she needs a bit of a “I said that’s not necessary and won’t be happening, Jill! Thank you but no-thank you.”

        Sometimes we worry too much as a manager that we’re being “too harsh” or “too bossy” but gurl, we’re the managers because someone has to be in charge otherwise people run away in both good and bad ways.

        It’s up there with people who want to save a company money, so they walk miles with equipment instead of taking a cab or berating others for opting for the guacamole [did you know that’s $1 extra, my goodness just think about if we all opted for the guacamole!!!!!!!!]

        1. Lynca*

          If a manager is harsh or bossy for telling someone to go home, take that vacation, and “we’ll have someone else do this overtime so you don’t get burned out” sign me up.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


            But we have people who are concerned and want to know if they can “require” people to take their vacation, require them to take their lunch/breaks, require them to not work more than their designated hours, etc. Sadly a lot of folks are overly concerned with “how much can I tell my employees to do?!” Even when it’s things that directly benefit the employees, they’re worried.

            1. MMB*

              People who won’t take breaks…..why is this a never ending battle?
              It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them that the company can be fined out the wazoo, they still look you right in the eye and argue that it’s ok. {Sigh}

              1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                Because we don’t fire them for it enough. Seriously, if we fired people for this kind of stuff, that we’re trying to enforce, they wouldn’t play these games.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      I think there was a letter in the past where a boss denied an employees request not to use their vacation as planned last minute. Coverage was already booked and plans had been put into place. That may be an option in a circumstance like this (but obviously you don’t want to be unnecessarily heavy handed).

    3. Batgirl*

      Yeah that actually struck me as highly insubordinate. Jill probably doesn’t mean it to come across that way, but she can’t just reassign other people’s tasks after the boss has made the call. In the big picture conversation I’d say “You’re not the boss and it’s a huge overstep to second guess my staffing decisions.” When she says “But! halpful!” I’d have to say that having her undo your decisions is the opposite of that. Management is more nuanced than “who doesn’t mind doing this?” and Jill is making herself look a bit naive on that score. Would anyone promote her while she’s exhibiting these behaviours? Possibly something to raise.
      Regardless, any future “reassignments” need to met with a swift no, and if you’re finding out that she’s pulled a switcheroo after the fact, pull everyone into the office for a “what the hell” meeting. “Jenny why did you leave when Jill asked you to? Jill isn’t the manager?” If Jenny was given the deceitful impression that the call came from you, she can go (with the knowledge/empowerment that Jill can’t take work off her) and you can turn to Jill wanting to know:
      a) Does she remember talking about this very problem with her performance?
      b) Does she know whose job it is to allocate tasks (i.e. not her)? and..
      c) Can she be trusted to stay in her lane in future?
      Treating her helpfulness as unhelpful isn’t harsh; it’s refusing to go along with the favour-sharking and recalibrating her professional norms to ‘normal’.

  18. Delta Delta*

    I don’t know exactly how assignments get made at this business, but maybe OP could, for a while, just assign things rather than ask for volunteers. Maybe OP could say something like, “We just got the big Tapioca Job. Jill is on vacation next week, so Othello will do X, Cressida will do Y, and Juliet will cover Z.” If Jill leaps to cancel her vacation, tell her no, and tell her to have a good time and send photos of herself waterskiing while drinking a margarita. Jill will protest and will say she doesn’t waterski. OP will say, “so they’ll be great photos!” Jill will understand OP isn’t kidding about the assignment (although is likely kidding about the waterskiing… or maybe not).

    Later, a conversation with Jill can be that the team has this, and that she needs to take her vacation. OP can say that she’s got a ton of faith in the team members, and that she made her assignments for Reasons, and that Jill has to let the team do the work.

  19. Alanna of Trebond*

    In addition to Allison’s great advice and scripts, which should definitely be your first move, a kind thing to do would be to think a bit about ways to develop Jill that would encourage her to grow and help your team and company. (To be clear, I recommend doing this as a separate conversation.)

    I’ve been the Jill on my team (in part because I was in a role that demanded some of that last-minute flexibility and willingness to do the tasks nobody wanted, in part because I’m someone who tends to give too much to whatever I’m most occupied with at the moment), and ended up feeling that my value to the team was defined entirely by my helpfulness and flexibility — that I would be layoff-proof if I were so invaluable that the machine would grind to a halt without me, logistically speaking.

    When I was promoted, one thing that helped me let go of was my new boss making clear what was no longer my responsibility. So did him saying things like “That’s Anastasia’s job now — you want to step back and have the same change you did to shine.” But he also consistently challenged me with more complex tasks and bigger responsibilities that required skills beyond a willingness to drop everything on a weekday evening.

    As I felt my role on the team expand beyond “feel responsible for all the scut work and after-hours stuff,” I started focusing on how to fulfill my new and more complex responsibilities, and it made it easier to let go of some of the small stuff.

    Maybe Jill’s role doesn’t have any room for growth — and the most important thing is to have a conversation with her about stopping the volunteering now. But she sounds like a skilled and dedicated worker who’s willing to take on whatever she needs, and down the road, it could be a win-win if you find other ways to channel this energy.

    1. Jess*

      This is what I was thinking too. She may be eager to help because she thinks it’s going to help her get a promotion, raise, or bonus, and it would be kind to sit down with her and find out what she’s aiming for and tell her what it would take to get to that next level, if that’s a possibility.

    2. WestCoast*

      I agree with this too. I am one of those weird people who *love* working, even long hours, especially when there’s a big challenge or problem to solve. Unlike Jill, I take all my vacation time and leave at a regular hour… but I can also relate to Jill in terms of wanting to step up. Some people are just wired that way. (Annecdotally, it’s also made for a highly successful career in my case).

      I agree with the need for coaching, but rather than coming down hard on her, can you redirect to other tasks. Maybe she’s not feeling sufficiently challenged in the work she does have?

  20. Goldfinch*

    The manager who assigns my work is the same person who approves my vacations. If I tried to do what Jill did, my boss would refuse to cancel my PTO.

    So, is LW not actually being given the authority needed to reign Jill in, or did LW give in and allow Jill to claw back her designated vacation days? Both are problems, but in different ways.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yep I’ve worked at places where, once vacation is approved, you can’t go back and “take it back” without separate approval. In my case it was because shifts had already been rearranged for coverage so other people had made plans around my absence. My boss literally said “you don’t have to leave town but you can’t come here” !

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Some years back I had a boss who escorted me out the door – when I was in on a Friday morning…. originally planned vacation (plus the week to follow)….

      I began to realize what burnout was…

  21. irene adler*

    Could you divvy up the extra work by enacting a rule that each employee can volunteer twice to take on the extra project. Then, after everyone has had two turns, folks who wish to tackle the extra project may have a third turn. And then a fourth turn, if needed.

    This also makes it easier to tell Jill to wait this project out, if she’s had her two turns.

    I know, it means someone must track who has had their turn and who hasn’t. But that’s not too difficult a task.

    (Then start over at the beginning of the next year with tallying who has volunteered twice and who has yet to get their two turns in. )

    It won’t make things entirely equal because the extra projects aren’t identical, but will allow some flex for others as to when they’d like to have their turn doing the extra projects. Might also allow for those who are especially interested in one project over another, to get a shot at doing what they are interested in doing.

  22. Miles Togo*

    Is she paid hourly? Does she earn more when she does the extra work? Maybe she needs the extra $$

  23. It'sJustaVeneer*

    I work with one of these do-gooder folks. It makes my work a whole lot easier, but there are times I miss out on opportunities as a result. For instance, we all answer phones, but Ms. DoGooder hops on to that call in half a ring, so I don’t always get the chance to work with as many inbound situations.

    She also apologizes if the call is specifically for me, like I don’t want my own call. I’ve explained that I like my job and the phone calls, and yes, please transfer. I’ve explained that I like taking calls, and please don’t take them on your lunch break.

    I’m sick of explaining to let me PLEASE do my freaking work. You’re causing me to get less on the job training, Ms DoGooder, and you’re making assumptions about how much I love my job. I secretly call her “The Martyr”.

    1. UKCoffeeLover*

      I think this is a really important point. OP your other team members may well resent Jill, and you need to be aware that by not setting strong boundaries for her, you are potentially alienating others.

  24. theletter*

    If you can rule out fraud and get her to respect your assignments, can you ask when was the last time she got promoted? Maybe she’s overdue for more responsibility and value.

  25. Jessica Fletcher*

    Is Jill paid hourly, and maybe paid extra for overtime? If so, maybe she volunteers because she has financial trouble and needs the extra money.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Or she just wants the extra money even. I come from an industry that is notorious for overtime, most people live comfortably but that extra money means they get to take their kids to Disney an extra time this year or they get to upgrade to a nicer car.

      [Of course don’t ever assume people’s finances, these are things I’ve literally heard people say though. “Oh man, loving this OT this month, my wife wants to upgrade her car.” “Is there any OT? Kids are asking about when we’re going back to Disney, we just went a few months ago but you know, kids!”]

    2. ooo*

      Seems reasonable to assume she’s salaried, because “It’s not in the budget to pay you 10+ hours of overtime every week when there are other employees who could be doing this work” would be a much simpler conversation, and OP would likely have her someone higher up breathing down her neck to enforce that. I mean, certainly there are companies that do let that kind of thing slide, but it feels like something OP would have mentioned.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I assumed if she got paid overtime this would be a very different conversation and fellow employees would probably be angrier about her hogging the extra work.

  26. Oh So Anon*

    Thinking of the underfunctioner/overfunctioner dynamic, is it possible that Jill is over-compensating for a colleague who either doesn’t want to or struggles to handle more complex work? If Jill keeps jumping in to volunteer herself for assignments, then you may get very little visibility into how another team member handles these tasks themselves. If you’re new-ish to the team, there may be a well-established history of certain team members not being as strong workers as you may assume. Even so, you need to slow Jill’s roll as a way to diagnose whatever issues may be at play.

    In my experience, our “Jill” on a small team was covering for a well-liked colleague with serious skills gaps as a way of helping to maintain team morale. Another “Jill” I’ve worked with took on too much because their set-in-their-ways peer had so many difficulties taking on new tasks (think questioning as an avoidance tactic) that it was just easier for everyone involved for someone else to jump in and do the work.

  27. BRR*

    I had a coworker like this and I wish my manager would have put a stop to it. Obviously I can’t know for sure but I’m pretty confident she did this to appear as a “rock star.” Her work was pretty good but management responded well to the show of how much she did. I think it made it harder for my own work to look good, even thought the quality was good and I was regularly putting in extra hours, because I wasn’t cancelling vacation etc.

    1. ACDC*

      +1 employees are inevitably compared to their peers and if one peer is cancelling vacations to get extra work done while another coworker is otherwise a high performer who actually takes their vacations, it is not an apples to apples comparison anymore.

  28. Dave from the Bronx*

    I like your answer and how you’re positioning it. The tone should be a “let’s build this team up”

    1. CM*

      I thought Alison’s script sounded harsh! I agree with being direct, but I’d soften it by saying, “I know it seems weird for me to be giving you the feedback that you need to be LESS eager to do work. And I really appreciate both your positive attitude and the consistent excellence of your work. But I need you to do this for the good of the team.”

      1. ACDC*

        I like this wording a lot, but I think Alison was suggesting what she did since the OP had previously had a softer conversation with her employee that didn’t go very well.

  29. LolNope*

    I have a coworker like this who does it for martyr points. She likes the attention she gets for cancelling plans or working on off hours/weekends (we’re state workers and absolutely not supposed to do that).

    1. Auntie Social*

      We have one who wants “I’m in charge” points. When we left for a Bar Association meeting we left Laura in charge. Theresa sulked and sulked–she had been in charge before, she should be in charge again, etc. We had to sit her down and explain that we already knew what she could do, now we wanted to see what LAURA could do. It was a growth opportunity for her, and appeasing Theresa’s ego wasn’t a good reason not to give Laura a chance. It took a while but she finally got it. The good news was, Laura never knew of Theresa’s poutfest, and she did a great job.

    1. ArtK*

      Yes! “Jill, if I need you to stay late, I will ask you to. The constant volunteering is putting pressure on the other team members.”

  30. StaceyIzMe*

    Rather than trying to move the employee’s entrenched attitude, go around it. Instead of opening up the “we need to push” conversation to all comers, slot a few people at a time to offer it to and keep track of who volunteered most recently. It doesn’t have to be perfectly even, but it will prevent extra hours overkill. On doing the work of other employees without express review of what happened to allow for that? I wouldn’t. That’d be a single warning and a write-up thereafter. It’s not worth debating because “I don’t mind” doesn’t cover the other considerations in play when work is assigned, evaluated or rewarded.

  31. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    “I suppose I could ‘pull rank…’”

    This isn’t “pulling rank”; it’s managing your team effectively. Part of your role is to ensure resources—including people—are used appropriately. That’s why you’ve been made the team’s manager—your leadership trusts you to use you authority when needed. It’s needed in this case.

    1. Noah*

      that is literally what pulling rank is: using the power of your position to require somebody to do something when asking or suggesting isn’t working.

      1. ooo*

        “Pulling rank” is typically used to mean “using your position to get some kind of special treatment”; there’s a negative connotation that differentiates it from just telling people what to do because you’re their boss.

  32. Soon 2be former fed*

    Ugh, I ran into this at my former church. A perfectly nice woman volunteers to do everything, denying others the opportunity to learn and fully participate. I’m sure that she doesn’t see it that way, but I find it offputting. She may derive self-worth from being “helpful”, but it comes across to me like a power grab sometimes. If you do everything, you know a lot more insider information than others.

    OP, shut it down! Insist that others be given the opportunity to shine also. This kind of off-balance dynamic you have nowis not healthy.

  33. Noah*

    I think the problem here may be that OP doesn’t know what she wants. Like, maybe OP wants to tell Jill she’s not allowed to take on as much as she has been. Or maybe she really does want Jill to have the choice, but she wants Jill to make a different choice.

    If it’s the former, great, do exactly what Alison said. But I’m concerned it’s the latter, in which case OP needs to let it go because this is not a good way to manage somebody.

  34. Sara without an H*

    I suppose I could “pull rank” and ban her from working on certain things, but that seems too harsh for this situation.

    OP, I’d like to shift the focus from Jill (that’s been handled upstream) and talk about you. I’m concerned that when you express reluctance to “pull rank,” you’re really expressing discomfort with the authority of your role as manager.

    You’re the manager. You’re in charge of making sure that your team meets it’s goals on time and at an acceptable level of quality. By not setting firmer boundaries for Jill, you’re undermining you’re own authority. You don’t need to be harsh, but you do have to rein in this behavior. Alison’s script is a good one, but I warn you, one application probably won’t do it. So be prepared to politely and cheerfully repeat: “Thanks, Jill, it’s very generous of you to offer to cancel your open heart surgery to work on this, but I really want Fester and Morticia to have a chance to work on this type of project.”

    I speak from experience, having made similar blunders back when I first began managing people. Whatever Jill’s motives — whether she’s insecure about her job, or has a miserable home life, or has built her identity around being a Good and Caring Person — you’re the manager and you need to step up, clarify your expectations for Jill, and then politely and firmly enforce them.

    1. Snark*

      This is a great point. Pulling rank is pulling rank when someone who isn’t actually fully entitled to exercise a prerogative exercises it anyway. A boss managing her direct reports is the very opposite of pulling rank.

  35. Former Young Lady*

    Another dynamic that might be playing in: if Jill is significantly older than the OP, OP needs to double-down on speaking from a place of authority.

    OP mentions being new-ish to management, and that Jill has been in this role for a long time. This is a situation where some people mistake one kind of seniority for another. “You don’t have to” sounds like guilty gratitude from a dinner party host whose guest commandeered the dishes. The response to Jill’s martyr antics needs to be “Stop, no, please do not do that, because…”

  36. SigneL*

    It seems to me that you, as the manager, make the decisions about who will take on projects. Jill is undermining you, especially when you tell her no and she continues to cancel her vacation, etc.

  37. MommyMD*

    She may like the overtime pay. If she indeed is paid OT another way to put it is “we’ve got to give someone else a chance to volunteer”

    1. jack*

      If OT pay is a factor, I would guess OP would mention it as it would be clear WHY Jill is doing so. And if that’s the case the company needs to have a OT structure so that one person can’t hog it all like this.

  38. Utoh!*

    I don’t think there was anything written about what the others on the team think about Jill always volunteering herself. Are they okay with it? If so, then let Jill knock herself out. I work with someone like this, I can’t remember the last time he’s taken off from work for more than 1/2 day, and he works over the weekends too (from home). Seems like it’s his only outlet.

  39. Brett*

    I think the OP also needs to consider the work environment. I see a ton of red flags in the OP’s language that this team might be overtaxed/understaffed resulting in an environment that encourages this type of behavior in well-meaning people.

    “We are one of the highest performing departments in the whole company”
    “it’s not uncommon for things to change at a moment’s notice whenever something comes up”
    “we do our absolute best to rotate who has to stay late versus who gets to leave at their normal time”
    “We have a large new project that’s just been brought it us and the client has put in a rush order, so we’re really going to need to push over the next few days.”
    “In any given month, there are at least a few times where…”

    It sounds like an environment where work is allowed to pile up regardless of the team’s capability to perform the work in a timely manner. It also does not sound like _only_ Jill does the extra work, just that Jill always volunteers while there is still plenty of extra work for others. Those last two lines especially are concerning, the last minute large project rush order, combined with Jill having multiple opportunities _per_month_ to volunteer to stay late.

    Having worked in a such an environment, it will turn people on high achieving teams into Jills. It does not take any particularly failings or problems for the Jills on the team, just that the pressure of overscheduling overwork on a high performing high reputation team will lead to otherwise conscientious people making unnecessary sacrifices. (It will also make those who are not quite as willing to sacrifice reluctant to step up, in case they get sucked into being the next Jill.)

    So, I think the OP also needs to look at the teamwide workload and project scheduling and decide if the team is overstaffed or being handed unrealistic deadlines that are driving Jill’s behavior.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This is an excellent point. I’d also suggest that OP take a look at their processes — I once got publicly commended at work for eliminating some procedures that had become “fossils” due to automation. If this team is over-loaded (and it sounds as though it is), OP should look for things they can stop doing.

    2. Brett*

      Last sentence should be “decide if the team is understaffed or being handed unrealistic deadlines”.

  40. Comet*

    I would wonder how this manager is presenting the work project. Are you dumping the work on the team and she volunteers because she thinks she has to? I had a manager dump a big project on me with not much time to do it in, right before a “fun” company event offsite. Of course I didn’t go to the event because there was no other way for me to get the project done otherwise in that amount of time. I doubt I’d ever cancel a vacation but from my perspective, um boss what did you expect me to do?

    And my other thought about Jill was about overtime: either for extra pay, or she’s more senior and could get it done quicker, or the more jr person wasn’t trained on it and she’d probably have to do overtime anyway with the more jr person, or just ego. Or she made her job her “affair partner” to avoid going home.

  41. Hiring Mgr*

    Jill’s “vacation” was probably a trip to see her in-laws or something similar.. “Sorry honey, I can’t make it after all to see your parents.. Last minute work emergency–nothing I can do about it :(. You go without me, I’ll miss it terribly but big client rush order–what can you do?”

  42. A Nonny Nonny*

    I had a coworker like this, and while I think she was a genuinely nice person, her desire to be helpful started to slip into problem territory. She would create problems by not passing things off to more knowledgeable people and/or the people who had real responsibility for that particular function. Sometimes she would work off-the-clock because she wanted to be helpful and do more (we’re hourly, and working off-the-clock is a big ‘no-no’ in my organization). Another time she actually arranged for a vendor to ship something to her home since that was easier for some reason (?) but my boss found out and shut that down. I’m still not sure what her motivations were–she seemed like someone who had spent her whole life focusing on others and had built her identity on ‘being helpful’ and had a hard time understanding that saying yes all the time to everyone and anyone was not helpful and could even cause problems.

  43. Mellow*

    OMG, I work with someone exactly like this, and from a co-worker point of view, it’s a pain in the rear to have to deal with all the time, especially because my boss doesn’t do a thing about it.

    One difference is that my co-worker will retaliate against those of us who refuse to deliver her her self-worth by rolling over so she can do for us, fix for us, rescue us; everything from soft sabotages and misinformation campaigns, she will get back at us. It’s TOXIC to have to put up with. I keep a wide swath, and what might look unprofessional (I’m civil but don’t engage in small talk or joke around with her like I do with my other co-workers) is actually necessary because the minute you build a boundary and step back she will come roaring back as though she’s been given carte blanche permission to people please. Wide swath.

  44. Desperately seeking a cute kitty*

    Yes! I’m a team leader and I only ask for volunteers if I know everyone has a light schedule and I don’t have any reason to assign it to a particular person (and one of the reasons why I assign projects to a particular person is “because I want this person to get more experience in this area”).

    1. Que Syrah Syrah*

      This is totally off-topic, but: ARE you desperately seeking a cute kitty? And if so, are you in the Seattle area, by very slim chance? :)

  45. Margaret*

    I also wonder, OP, if you could help her out in the transition by getting a bit more hands on in your delegation while she’s adjusting? Do what Alison suggests, plus the next time you go in for a team meeting with stuff to hand out, have a rough idea in advance of what everyone is working on or who you’d like to send it to? If you know you want Mary to get a chance to work on more of these kinds of projects, or know Bob’s plate doesn’t have a lot on it right now, then when you go to the meeting you can replace ‘We’ve got a big project coming in and we’re going to need to push’ with ‘Bob and Mary, we’ve got a big project coming in and I want you two to take the lead on pushing it out this week.’

    It’ll be way harder for Jill to jump in to take it from them, more noticeable if she does (and easier for you to shut her down) and can maybe get her into the feeling of working a little bit less before also having to fully adjust to not sticking her hand up. If she tries to step in and ‘take’ the work it also gives you a clearer platform to say ‘No Jill, I specifically assigned this to Bob because X and Mary because Y. Please don’t disrupt workflow I’ve thought out carefully.’

  46. StickyWicket*

    The desperately sweet, very capable Jill in my department is loved but is creating an additional problem for all of us. Her immediate “Yessir! Yes ma’m!” jump to do everything from answer the door to stuff envelopes to generate the quarterly report is encouraging the rest of our institution to see her — and, by extension, all of us in our all-female department — as handmaidens at everyone else’s beck and call. People are not only getting sloppy, giving us crummier material for us to fix up (why wouldn’t they? it comes out of our department looking spiffy, no matter how nice or crappy it was when they gave it to us), they also value our department’s work less and less. Jill-Keisha-Mya-Whatshername over there is all the same to them. If someone in the department tries to push back, Jill’s always ready to sacrifice herself.

    It’s bringing our whole department down, and no one knows how to tell Jill that her perpetual accommodation looks kind of craven, like she doesn’t know how to respect herself or the work she does. (We’re all exempt, there’s no overtime involved.) And that lack of self-respect is inviting other departments to take all of us for granted.

  47. LizM*

    Just one other thought, that I’ve had to deal with on a team I took over about a year ago – has Jill been rewarded professionally for always volunteering? Does she get a lot of praise from her teammates or management, and is the volume of work she completes part of her annual performance evaluation? Before going down this path, I’d make sure you’re not subtly rewarding her behavior, and I’d reassure her that taking a step back won’t negatively affect her performance or any bonuses tied to that.

    I had an employee who I was coaching through a very similar situation, and it took me going back and reading a couple years of performance evals that my predecessor had done with him to realize that there was a much higher emphasis on the volume of work, rather than the quality, and little attention paid to how many hours the employee was actually working to acheive that volume. I am still working on helping this employee understand that he won’t be penalized for acheiving “just” a reasonable workload if it’s high quality, and that I don’t expect him to work more than his scheduled hours on a regular basis.

  48. Clay on my apron*

    It’s not about asking/telling Jill not to put herself forward every time. It’s your job to assign work, even if you first speak to some of your team to find out who is available/interested before you do that.

    Also, Jill tells her colleagues “they can go on home and she’ll stay late. She does this even if I tell her to wait!” – WTH!!

    And people are leaving early while Jill finishes their work – WTH!!!!

    Jill is undermining you as a manager, and I’m sorry to say but you’re allowing it.

    She’s obviously a competent employee, and you probably don’t want to alienate her, but you need to find another way that she can feel valued and contribute, without letting her override your policies and decisions.

    You also need to make sure the team as a whole understands that they are entirely responsible for doing the work you assign and that you are the only person who assigns work. If they can’t complete the work assigned, they speak to you about it.

    You may want to communicate these changes in a way that nobody feels picked out or taken to task, but it’s really critical that you sort this out right away. As your manager I’d be extremely concerned. Jill routinely completing other people’s work without your permission says to me that you don’t have control of your department. Your employees leaving because Jill said they could go, ditto.

    Good luck, OP.

  49. AnnieB*

    2 thoughts:
    1. if you pay overtime you may want to mention to her that others would like to be able to take advantage of that too – if she really wants to be helpful she should understand that others might need or want the extra pay as much as she does.
    2. Maybe she’s avoiding a situation at home by “having” to work all the time. That’s not your problem to solve but it might at least help explain the behavior.

  50. PQ*

    I’ve seen this behaviour happen with people whose personal life isn’t running great, and so work becomes their “escape”. I wonder if Jill is somehow asking for help, even without realizing it herself.

  51. NOK*

    OP, do you have any project/resource tracking software in place? A tool like Harvest, Forecast, or 10,000FT visually displays assignment distribution in a way that, in my experience, really aids these conversations (“Jill, you’re already showing as in the red – we’ll keep your workload as-is. Miles, you look light this week; could you take the assignment?”).

  52. Live and Learn*

    I didn’t read all the comments so someone may have brought this up but here I go…
    Why should an eager, enthusiastic worker be punished for being eager and enthusiastic? No matter the conversation that the manager has with this employee, it is a conversation that is pretty much saying “You bad.” It doesn’t matter how much it’s sweetened, softened, worded. It will be a negative thing.
    Why can’t the manager manage? Why does the manager have to go to the whole department and say “Hey, I’ve got work? Who wants it?”
    Shouldn’t the manager assign responsibilities and tasks to the appropriate person individually? It’s not a lottery. And if there are multiple people that could be appropriate, then the manager should assign the responsibility according to who has the room on their plate, or who is next in line for the responsibility.
    So, sorry, I disagree with AM. The employee shouldn’t be spoken to. The manager needs to manage.

  53. The Other Dawn*

    Very late to the party on this one, but my overall take of this is that Jill is taking opportunities from other people. I don’t believe there’s malicious intent there, though. She wants to do the work, be helpful, etc., but doesn’t realize it’s preventing other people from learning and growing. I’m going through this now with someone and they just don’t want to give up the work because they feel it’s some sort of failure on their part and that they won’t be as valuable. I’ve had to say, “No, Bob is doing this task this month. Show him how to do it. It won’t become his permanently, but I want him to know how to do it.” And boom, now Bob can be Tom’s backup when Tom is on vacation.

    OP needs to manage Jill and explain to her that others need opportunities and OP needs people cross trained (if that’s true). OP also needs to worry about Jill burning out. Maybe Jill isn’t worried about it, but OP should be.

  54. LT*

    One possibility is that Jill might think being known as ‘the workhorse’ will help her with promotions or advancement. She needs to know that very few workplaces actually work that way!

    1. Bryce with a Y*

      I second that. As a previous commenter commented, Jill was rewarded at some point in the past for doing what she’s doing, and still thinks that if she keeps doing what she’s doing, she’ll keep getting what she’s been getting, namely more pay, responsibility, and recognition. In this case, it’s also important to stress that what Jill is doing not only isn’t working toward those ends, but will actually interfere with that.

  55. Jennifer Juniper*

    Maybe Jill is working as much as possible to avoid domestic violence or because she can’t stand her spouse.

Comments are closed.