I’m sick of having to do my incompetent colleague’s work

A reader writes:

A few months ago I left a senior-level job in a prestigious but dysfunctional industry for a job at a nonprofit. It was a lateral move salary-wise, but a huge upgrade in benefits and work-life balance; my workload is a fraction of what it was at my last job, and I have a fantastic boss, Joe. My mental health is better than it’s ever been, I have time for personal projects outside of work, and I’m getting great feedback. I can see myself staying here for a long time.

My only complaint is about one of my coworkers, Ronald, who started a few weeks after I did. We work in different departments and report to different managers, but the nature of our work means we frequently have to collaborate, and it has become a nightmare.

Ronald has boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup. His incompetence is frankly staggering and he’s created several Rube Goldberg sequences of unforced errors in under three months. He’s made multiple serious mistakes on projects, and plenty of minor ones. He doesn’t seem to fully understand the strategy elements of his role and doesn’t show initiative or bring ideas of his own to the table very often. When he does, they are bizarre in both content and presentation. Most importantly, he doesn’t give me any kind of data or analysis about the assets I create, which means I’m not getting the feedback I need in order to do my job well.

(I will also admit that some of my personal animus against Ronald comes from an incident where he referred to me as “Joe’s assistant” in front of a number of our coworkers — I am not an assistant, and I outrank Ronald. Joe did a great job handling this, but that incident was the catalyst that turned my feelings about Ronald from bemused to actively annoyed.)

Lately, as Ronald’s sloppiness and incompetence have become more pronounced, I’ve noticed that his manager, Kate, has been coming directly to me for insight on projects that are under his purview. More than once I’ve ended up having to work late in order to ensure projects are finished and corrected on time, and I’m frequently roped into his projects because he can’t be trusted to handle them on his own. Joe and I are both having to spend days working on these projects when we shouldn’t have to, and it’s extremely frustrating.

I believe there’s a shared understanding on our team that Ronald is incompetent, so I don’t think I need to speak up. I would desperately like to implement some processes to mitigate the need for Joe and I to be involved in these projects for days on end because Ronald’s judgment can’t be trusted. However … a lot of these fixes will just add to the additional work that is not part of my job that I’ll have to do, and mean I’ll spend a lot more time (indirectly) reporting to Kate rather than Joe. If Ronald leaves (or is fired), I also worry that some aspects of his job will fall to me because I’ve demonstrated proficiency in those areas. It’s already kind of happening. But I don’t want Ronald’s job! I took my job for a reason (in part to recover from burnout), and unless I’m getting paid a lot more I have no interest in being tasked with his duties. (Maybe not even then.)

I would love to continue to grow within the organization as part of Joe’s team. In an ideal world I’d be able to collaborate with the person in Ronald’s role. I’d hope my willingness to pitch in to resolve these issues would reflect well on me … but I’d rather not have to pitch in at all. How would you suggest I navigate this situation?

Talk to Joe.

The real solution here is that Ronald’s manager needs to start managing him — figuring out if the problems are coachable (they sound like they’re not, but that’s something she needs to assess) and either quickly getting him up to speed or moving him out of the role. It’s possible Kate is in the process of doing this (you wouldn’t necessarily know if that were the case), and if so, having you pitch in more could be a reasonable temporary solution while that’s happening. But that should be very temporary, and someone should be acknowledging to you what’s going on. I suspect you would feel very differently about all of this if Kate or Joe had said to you, “We’re working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, but it won’t happen overnight. Can you help keep things moving over the next month with the understanding that it won’t be the permanent solution?” But no one has said anything like that, and so of course you need to worry that this is the long-term plan and that it might even get worse.

It also sounds like the issues with Ronald are severe enough that they shouldn’t have been allowed to go on this long regardless, which suggests Kate isn’t a terribly effective manager and, therefore, might not be working on resolving this at all — especially since she can lean on you and Joe to keep things functioning.

So talking to Joe is your move here. It sounds as if he’s aware of the situation since it’s impacting him, too, but he might not realize how frustrated you are by it. He also might not be fully aware of how much it’s affecting your work or your hours. Say something like this: “I was happy to pitch in while Ronald was getting up to speed, but over time I’m doing more of his work rather than less. Kate is coming to me for help with things that are under Ronald’s purview, and multiple times I’ve had to work late to ensure his assignments are finished on time. And, of course, you and I have both been pulled into days of work on his projects. Again, I was happy to help at first, but it’s not sustainable for me to continue doing his work plus mine, so I want to know that there’s a plan in progress to solve this.”

The ideal outcome from this conversation would be that Joe talks to Kate and pushes her to resolve the situation with Ronald one way or another. (If he can improve enough, great. If he can’t, she needs to recognize that and get someone else in the role.) If Kate won’t budge, then Joe could let her know that you won’t be available to do Ronald’s work anymore, or he could escalate the situation to his own boss (who might not know what’s happening since your and Joe’s willingness to help has probably made the problems less visible to upper management).

But if Joe isn’t willing to do that for some reason (though he should be), then it’s reasonable to say you want his blessing to set your own boundaries with Kate and Ronald — that you want to be able to turn down their requests for help when it would interfere with your or your team’s priorities or would add to your work hours. In theory, you could just start doing this without talking to Joe first, but the situation is a serious enough problem that it makes sense to involve him.

I know you’re worried that if this all leads to Ronald being fired, his work will just get moved over to you more officially. But, first, it doesn’t sound as if there’s any reason to think the organization wouldn’t rehire for his role, especially since you’ll already have pushed back against taking on his work. And, second, if that does happen, you have the power to set your own boundaries — to stand firm and say, “I took this job because I wanted to do X and not Y, and taking on these responsibilities would be a fundamental change in the work I came onboard to do.” While you can’t force them not to expand your job description, you can make it clear where you stand. Most organizations will understand the subtext is that they risk losing you over it and won’t want to have to replace two people rather than just one, particularly one capable of doing the work you’ve been doing and particularly when there’s already a slot budgeted for the other job.

If none of this works — if you hear, “Nope, this is just the way it has to be” — then you can decide whether you want the job under those conditions. But there’s a very good chance that by laying out your concerns with Joe and holding firm on your own boundaries, the organization will be pushed to deal with the Ronald problem.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. learnedthehardway*

    It sounds like Kate (Ronald’s manager) is somewhat aware that Ronald is incompetent, but I DO think that you should speak up to your own manager about this. I wouldn’t assume that everyone else sees this as clearly as you do, because you’re the one most directly affected. Also, you have a stake in this because your performance will be affected by Ronald’s failings.

    “head full of soup” is my new favourite phrase.

    1. Emily*

      Right now Kate is able to avoid the problem of Ronald’s incompetence because LW is doing the work Ronald should be doing and therefore Kate can just continue to work around the problem instead of actively managing Ronald. Joe needs to put his foot down about LW being treated this way and Kate needs to start actually doing her job as a manager.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This. Were Kate a better manager, she would be managing Ronald. But as it stands, she is not forced to put in the effort.

        1. Massmatt*

          Right, it seems like a coworker problem, when really it’s a management problem. And I would lean towards including Joe, the LW’s manager, in that somewhat as well. Why isn’t he aware that his employee is being pulled into fixing another person’s work? For someone in a different department, no less. If he IS aware of it, why isn’t he doing anything about it?

          Kate has no motive to do anything about this because LW is filling in the gap, allowing her to avoid the work of managing Ronald.

          LW needs to extricate themself from this situation of fixing Ronald’s terrible work. Only when Ronald and Kate have to deal with the consequences of missed deadlines and late nights fixing shoddy work is this likely to change.

          And, it’s worth asking how Ronald got hired in the first place. Yes, the job market is still tight, but this person probably should never have made it past the interview stage.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I’m guessing the “boundless enthusiasm” part of his personality was what won him points at the interview stage. Genuinely enthusiastic people can really shine and that makes them a pleasure to talk to, especially when they’re showing said vim and vigor towards something you find important, like a job offer.

            Unfortunately a enormous St. Bernard puppy bumble-flopping around the office may be adorable but not really reliable when it comes to actual projects getting done.

      2. Tinkerbell*

        Yes. It’s also possible (likely?) that from Kate’s perspective, the easiest way to “manage” this is to continue putting all the extra work on the LW – there may be a reason she can’t fire Ronald, either because of pressure from higher-up or just because she’s bad at confrontation, and as long as the LW is willing to fix the problems Ronald creates she can get away with not actually managing. If the LW doesn’t speak up, and fast, they risk getting in a situation where them having a backbone gets viewed as its own problem :-\

      3. Sloanicota*

        I agree, this is the part that OP can control. We all have incompetent coworkers (some of us statistically are the incompetent coworker) and there’s an art to managing the fallout so it doesn’t affect things you care about / choosing carefully what to care about while also letting the pain flow upwards. OP is worried they’ll be asked to permanently take on tasks she doesn’t want to do because she is doing them well now – so stop doing that, OP. This is also an art. Decline to take things on, do not do them especially well and quickly, and make sure it is noticed when you do it.

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          OP seems to also be worried about it making her own job harder because she depends on someone with a head full of soup to do things that are critical to her job, and if they’re done wrong then she has do to them again/work harder in other ways.

          She can’t care more about her organization’s work product and timelines than her bosses do, and that’s why souphead’s pain has got to be returned to sender (and sender’s boss).

          1. Nonprofit Lifer*

            +10,000 to the above. This sentiment–you shouldn’t care more about your organization’s success more than your bosses do– lives on a permanent post-it in my nonprofit worker brain. Bailing out incompetent/ underperforming colleagues and shielding their bosses and the organization from the consequences just breeds resentment and burnout. Ask yourself: what happens if I just drop my end of the rope? And then: what happens if I continue to kill myself to fill in these gaps? If the answers to both are somewhere close to “nothing major or career-altering” (for better or worse), then take a risk by allowing natural consequences to run their course and blow back on your supervisors.

      4. College Career Counselor*


        It also sounds to me as if Ronald might still be in a 90 day probationary period (assuming they’re in the U.S. and depending on how long ago this letter was sent) and it might be easier to let him go NOW and see if there’s anyone else in the applicant pool who could be brought in.

        But, failing that, Kate should put Ronald on a PIP, re-assign him to other work, or MANAGE HIM. I feel for the OP; until it becomes Kate’s problem, it’s unlikely to change.

      5. Clobberin' Time*

        Precisely. Right now, LW is absorbing the cost of Kate’s bad management. LW (with Joe’s help) needs to put that right back on Kate’s plate. Being direct with Joe about the problem is the only way to do that. Otherwise, Kate (and possibly Joe) can continue to pretend everything is fine, because after all LW isn’t complaining.

      6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > Joe needs to put his foot down

        I think this is unlikely to happen, as Joe is picking up Ronald’s slack as well rather than be assertive… going to Joe I suspect will only get a “I know how you feel, I’m in the same boat” sort of response. This will only get resolved if the level above Joe and Kate gets involved, imo.

        1. Lydia*

          Yeah, I am wondering why Joe is going along with this instead of having a frank conversation with Kate about how LW will no longer be able to correct Ronald’s mistakes.

        2. Soup-free head*

          It sounded to me like that was a one-off. If Joe isn’t aware of the *pattern* of issues, it’s more understandable that he hasn’t taken steps to break that pattern.

          1. Alannagranger*

            Yeah, even good bosses aren’t all-knowing — I’ve been in similar situations and my excellent boss often had no idea how extensive it was, or how it was interfering with my other duties. Once I told him, he told me that for awhile, requests for my time from other teams had to go through him (so he could say no, firmly, on an upper management level on my behalf).

            If he’s willing, next time Kate and Ronald try to coordinate you into a project, say, cheerfully, “oh, we need to loop Joe in on this.” Or “Joe asked that I run requests like this by him for awhile, so can you ask him, Kate?” It makes someone else the bad guy, but it also makes it legitimately Joe’s problem to address with him and Kate’s manager.

          2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            I’m not so sure it’s a one off.. . Op says they and Joe are having to spend days sorting out these projects, which sounds like it’s more recurrent (and involving both of them each time or most times).

      7. Smithy*

        Completely agree.

        Because sometimes we do “other people’s work” because they’re bad at it and it needs to be fixed, and other times we do it because while technically it’s their work – we know that by the time it gets to us, we’ll want to make so many of our own changes we might as well do it anyways. And it doesn’t actually take that much time.

        Sometimes going from an awful/dysfunctional job to a more balanced own where people are nicer – it can be easy or simplistic to see the Kates & Joes as being managers who are being “too nice” in a situation like this and also a desire to not ruin their niceness. But the reality is that a lot of times they’re in situations where they just don’t know the extent of a problem or issue. How bad the mistakes are, how long they’re taking you to fix, etc.

        I have a few examples of work that I know technically belong to someone else and if they were better at their job, they’d be doing more. However, I’d still have to edit their final efforts, so because they’re average at their job it’s infinitely easier for me to do all of it. It’s a task that doesn’t take that much time and ultimately is a more niche need I have than one many have. It’s important the OP clarify the issues are in fact not a case like this, because while I know those issues are helpful information to have – they’re not related to urgent needs.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup” is SUCH A GREAT DESCRIPTION for this type of person. I knew what OP meant immediately.

        1. Clisby*

          Lady Glossop: Do you work, Mr Wooster?
          Bertie Wooster: What, work? As in honest toil, you mean? Hewing the wood & drawing the old wet stuff and so forth?
          Lady Glossop: Quite.
          Bertie Wooster: Well… I’ve known a few people who worked. Absolutely swear by it, some of them …

      1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        A++++ character description.

        I have worked with SO MANY Ronalds over they years.

      2. Veronica Sawyer*

        It is a perfect description of someone I did nonprofit work for years ago. They were charismatic, incredibly well-intentioned, and ran the org they founded straight into the ground. In this case, the soup-headedness was pretty clearly connected to being born into wealth and never learning (or even knowing about!) self-awareness, accountability or managerial skills.

        1. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*

          Being born into great wealth can also result, if the parents aren’t very careful, wise and mature, in their scion also never developing the humility and perspective to recognize that “I know that I’M not great at doing X and I never will be; that’s just not where my talents lie. So I’ll look around and hire someone who IS skilled at that!”

          Frankly, it also doesn’t help that our culture is enamored of the asinine mantra “You can be anything you want to be!” (as if all it takes to be, say the President, a movie star or an Olympic gold medalist is will power.) Most of learn early that this just isn’t true. But the best insulation material in the world is money, and some of those born to wealth are insulated from reality until it hits them squarely in the nose.

      3. irritable vowel*

        Yes, agreed! In my previous career, my last role was a lateral move in my organization that resulted in me having to work much more closely with several of the soup-headed among my colleagues whom I had previously been able to keep at arms length. The inability of the organization to do anything but shrug about their incompetence while lauding their enthusiasm was a big factor in me leaving that place and ultimately the field (which is known for protecting and nurturing people like this).

    3. Essentially Cheesy*

      I had a coworker that I referred to as “about as useful as a wet sock”. Poor Ronald sounds similar. And yes, it was the same problem – management wouldn’t be firmer with the coworker about their performance. Their favorite response was “well I don’t know” .. as if they hadn’t been trained several times on the material.

    4. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      I agree that OP needs to speak up to Joe, and be clear about how the situation is impacting her. Both OP and Ronald have roughly the same time at the company, and the situation is pretty new, so fixing it NOW before it hardens into How Things Are Around Here is key.

      And yeah, stepping back and letting Ronald fail/the project not get done on time is probably going to be what you have to do to get any action. Enthusiastic Soup Heads have a deeply enraging way of moving up–while you do their work, they enthuse all over the place, impressing people. Soon you report to Soup Head and he delegates all his work to you. Which is happening now in a slightly less galling manner.

    5. Echo (they/them)*

      Yes! Alison’s answer here is fabulous. If someone I manage came to me with her script I would immediately go to Kate and get the situation fixed.

      1. Echo (they/them)*

        And by “get the situation fixed” I mean I’d say to Kate, “whoa! I just realized Jane is spending over XX% of her time on work for [Ronald’s stuff] and that isn’t sustainable for her. We’re going to need to find a new solution”.

    6. Orora*

      I cackled out loud at “Ronald has boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup.”
      I think we’ve all met a Ronald at some point in our careers.

    7. AnonInCanada*

      This indeed. If it is at all possible, could OP be untangled from Ronald’s incompetence? Does Ronald’s input (or lack thereof) play a big part of OP’s work? If it were possible to separate their collaboration and thus make Kate Ronald’s sole responsibility, I’m sure Kate would step up to the plate and start managing Ronald in a heartbeat.

      And ‘head full of soup’ is my new phrase of the day. Good luck, OP!

      1. Yay! I’m a llama again!*

        Like many, I am taking ‘boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup’ into my vocabulary – brilliant turn of phrase! Good luck OP!

    8. SometimesCharlotte*

      “head full of soup” and “Rube Goldberg sequences of unforced errors” are both just gold

    9. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yup, it seems like one of those situations where Kate will take the path of least resistance. Right now, that’s dumping a bunch of work on you and Joe. With appropriate boundaries around where you can and cannot help, it’s no longer the path of least resistance and Kate will need to find another way.

    10. goddessoftransitory*

      That description made me think of my “giant derp dogs happily flap-slobbering along the beach at full speed” meme collection.

  2. Emily*

    LW: You say there is a shared understanding of Ronald’s incompetence, but unfortunately it seems like there is not a shared understanding of how to handle it. Kate is handling it the way managers unfortunately too often do, by pushing the work off on you instead of managing Ronald. You definitely need to speak to Joe and if he is decent at his job he will speak to Kate and find a way to deal with this that does not unfairly burden you. If not, then like Alison said, hopefully he will at least let you start setting boundaries with Ronald and Kate.

    1. irene adler*

      “not a shared understanding of how to handle it.”

      And, little realization on how Ronald’s shortcomings affect OP. Sure, they recognize OP’s competence and see that the OP is “taking care of business”. But they don’t see how this is unfairly burdening OP.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! And OP’s boss. This is something that Joe should be handling- “I’m losing X amount of productivity from my team because we’ve had to handle Y, which is something Kate’s department should be handling.”

  3. Three Flowers*

    OP, I feel you. My organization just parted ways with my direct colleague, who was just like Ronald. For a variety of reasons, I’ve been doing most of their job for a year after discovering they hadn’t actually completed anything for months.

    The organization probably isn’t going to replace them. Which is said organization’s failure (former colleague might not have accomplished anything, but there sure as hell was stuff they should have accomplished) and a freaking Soviet flag factory as far as my desire to be employed there goes, but I will blame former colleague forever for creating the situation.

    tl;dr I really, really feel you.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      This sounds like an excellent time to put up your own boundaries, then – “I was picking up Colleague’s slack for a while, for the good of the organization, but it is not in the bounds of my job description and I quite frankly don’t have the time or the energy to do both jobs indefinitely. If you choose not to re-hire for this role, we will need to discuss who will be taking on X, Y, and Z tasks because I cannot do it all.” Often if you point this out right away, they realize they can re-hire after all – if you wait, the money gets spent on something else and suddenly you’re expected to make do :-\

      1. Three Flowers*

        Yeah…it’s not that simple, unfortunately (there is context that I’m not comfortable giving). My boss and I have both made that point repeatedly. Grandboss seems to have decided we can just operate outside the limitations of time, which is easy to say since they can lay the fallout at our feet. I’m working on retraining outside of my current industry, and *greatly* looking forward to contributing an epic story about telling your grandboss exactly what you think of them to one of Alison’s roundups someday.

        But thanks, regardless.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Ugh, this sounds tough. I wish that the change from parting ways with the Ronald would be a good opening to have that kind of conversation, but it sounds like it isn’t.

        2. Calanthea*

          Oh yikes, that really suck. Cheering you on from the internet, and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to your 2I told the grandboss where to go” story!

  4. Elle*

    “Boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup”! I’m sorry for your frustrating situation (and think Alison is spot-on) but that turn of phrase absolutely slayed me. I will absolutely be stealing it to use in performance reviews.

        1. allathian*

          Oh yes, me too! I’ll think of Ronald when I see my friend on the weekend, they have a new Labrador puppy, she’s 13 weeks and goofy.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Totally a Maine Coon in the cat world.

        They are characterized by their sweet personalities, huge fluffy ears, and the echoing expanse of fluff in between.

        1. Feral Humanists*

          I was thinking it was a good description of orange fluffballs, who seem to share custody of a single braincell. The Maine Coons I have met have all been scary smart! (But perhaps I’ve only met mixed breeds.)

          1. Gracely*

            I don’t know about the others, but orange fluffball part-Maine Coons are definitely part of the fluff-for-brains contingent.

            1. laser99*

              I have to disagree, mine is smarter than I am! Generally, however, you are correct, the marmalades generally are highly derpy. :)

            2. Liz*

              I think it’s the orange cats. I have a tabby Maine Coon who’s very loyal and regular intelligence, and a fluffy orange cat who’s ditzy… just like the orange cat before him, and the two before them…

      2. Julia*

        I worked with someone who was a human golden retriever in the worst way. He was incredibly friendly, kind and enthusiastic. He was shuffled around a department for far too long because everyone liked him and he sincerely wanted to improve. He ended up being the department’s IT guy due to his love of technology which sadly didn’t include understanding technology. I was part of the central IT department and he called me needing help with so many basic things. Usually you could tell what a good idea he started with but sometimes the mistakes were deeply confusing. He was employed in that department for at least three years.

      1. Love to WFH*

        I immediately visualized a former co-worker. He had a sign over his desk that read “Thank God For Mondays!”

        He was so enthusiastic, and so ineffectual.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          That is so wild it took my brain legitimately like 3 seconds to figure out that sign.

    1. Jojo*

      This perfectly describes a coworker who I’ve considered writing in about for all the same reasons as the LW. I will forever imagine that I hear soup splashing around in his head when I am speaking with him. (I haven’t written in because the answer is “you have to decide if you can live with this or find another job.)

    2. Danish*

      Same. Like in the kindest way possible (ergo still not 100% kind) the description makes me think, oh, bless his heart.

  5. Starbuck*

    “I believe there’s a shared understanding on our team that Ronald is incompetent, so I don’t think I need to speak up.”

    And that’s where you’re wrong, OP! Definitely time to speak up. Name the incompetence! In the most graceful, ‘I’m concerned for the efficiency of the business’ manner that you can, of course. So tricky sometimes to make sure you’re pointing out a problem, while not being perceived as becoming the problem yourself. Best of luck.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Squeaky wheels are needed in this kind of situation. It’s one thing to have a shared understanding that someone is kind of a pain, but it’s easy to ignore when someone else is absorbing the impact. Don’t be the cushion to make management more comfortable. Speak up.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Exactly. This is currently the path of least resistance for Kate. If you can, make it so the path has much more resistance than before.

    2. Dust Bunny*


      You definitely need to speak up. “Shared understanding” is only the beginning–it won’t change until it’s a shared problem, and right now it’s mostly your problem and sometimes Joe’s problem, but not really Kate’s. Make it Joe’s and Kate’s problem.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yes, this. “Oh I can’t complete X because Ronald hasn’t gotten me the figures yet” ‘Well we really need to get this done today so let’s put those figures together ourselves’ “I’m so sorry but I have plans I can’t miss tonight and will have to leave at my usual time”. Just repeat that until the bosses get it. If they have to work till 8 picking up Ronald’s slack because you have plans (to do just your job), then either they just continue doing someone else’s work, or they step up and deal with it.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Exactly. Right now they all know Ronald is a Newfie puppy in human form, but that’s as far as the understanding stays together. For Kate it branches off into “well, let Joe and LW handle the spillover” while for them it’s still “can no one see what is happening?”

      You need to speak up because as far as Kate and probably Joe is concerned, the problem is “handled” as much as it’s going to be without somebody pointing out that this can’t go on.

  6. Chairman of the Bored*

    Stop doing Ronald’s job and covering for his shortcomings.

    Unless it will cause a safety issue or otherwise active and irreparably harm people, let his balls hit the floor and let his management deal with it.

      1. Czhorat*

        I just got back from teaching tourists how to juggle in the park during my lunch break, so my visual is completely different.

  7. Cyndi*

    The ad placement within the article made me think for a second that “Talk to Joe.” was Alison’s entire response! And I gotta say, as I read through the letter I was more and more surprised OP hasn’t already. If he’s a good manager then she’s written out the exact things she needs to say to him directly, just about word for word.

  8. grumpy old lady*

    Document, document, document. Every single time you put in effort to cover for Ronald. How much time and effort. How it pushed your work back. What was wrong that needed to be corrected. Then take it to Joe, and if necessary his boss.

    I can’t access the New York Magazine so sorry if this is what Alison said.

    LOL – Ronald! Maybe he can get a job as a mascot for a hamburger chain.

  9. Not a SuPURRvisor*

    “Boundless Enthusiam but a head full of soup” I love that line and felt that in my bones. We’re STILL cleaning up after an ex-colleague of mine with that description.
    I agree that talking to Joe is your move. My company, who I’ve loved working with, only got my Head of Soup Ex-Colleague under a microscope after I sent an email with a detailed hourly breakdown of how much time I was spending on HIS work vs my own, and that it wasn’t sustainable.

  10. Nesprin*

    I worked with my own version of Ronald, and a chain of managers who considered firing “too mean”.

    It got to the point where every time my Ronald did something that added to my workload I would email my boss and ask them how they wanted it handled. This made these screw-ups not my problem when this person screwed up, and ‘papered the file’ as lawyers would say towards actually putting this person on a PIP.

    1. grumpy old lady*

      Oh I like that idea! Email both Kate and Joe. And also send the email to any higher ups when critical projects are involved. It’s the best way to document as I suggested above.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yup. And/or make the decision explicitly clear: you can accomplish your tasks or Ronald’s tasks (and make it clear which are Ronald’s tasks), but not both, so you need Joe and Kate to make it clear what the priority is. Maybe it will force Kate to recognize just how much work is getting dumped on you.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I think a big problem with dealing with the Ronalds of the world in general is that everybody sees not a pattern of behavior, no matter how egregious, but a series of one-off “let’s just fix this” incidents. It’s a lot like how Carolyn Knapp in her memoir described how active alcoholics process their drinking–not a systemic weather system that is drowning your life, but just random clouds of bad luck and you’re just unlucky.

        Every time Ronald messes up they fix it, so nobody but the LW is acknowledging the big pattern of incompetence that is going to hurt their business in the long run.

  11. Mel*

    “he referred to me as “Joe’s assistant” in front of a number of our coworkers”

    I feel this. When someone is both this much of a disaster, and they think they’re looking down on you from on high…makes me see red.

    I had a co-worker a few years back. He had two coordinators in his department – because he was a disaster. Eventually, both of the coordinators quit and this gentleman was moved to sit right outside the boss’ office. He thought this was a promotion, but really it was so they could monitor him more closely.

    Meanwhile, I was in a whole other building with minimal supervision because I was trusted to do my job (and did). But one day I told him something wasn’t possible (I worked in events, and he wanted the emergency lights turned off so we could have more ambiance) and he told me I should learn how to do my job and then skulked around flicking light switches for 45 minutes.

    This was just one instance of him questioning my ability to do my job – but its the funniest because I just continued working while he turned lights on and off for almost an hour before conceding that the lights that are on 24/7 don’t have an off switch for safety.

    I’m not sure if he left or was let go (none of my business) but it was a relief for me.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      I’m laughing at my desk, mentally following this doofus around as he looks for the off-switch that douses the safety lights.

    2. Parenthesis Guy*

      Or maybe this guy thought that the OP really was Joe’s assistant. Ronald doesn’t appear to be the brightest, so if he got something wrong it would be par for the course.

      1. Janeric*

        Mmm, but if you made that mistake, wouldn’t you follow up with a sincere, public apology? And maybe be a little bit deferential going forward? Say things like “OP is actually the expert on that, so I’ll defer to her knowledge.”

    1. PoolLounger*

      There’s a paywall—being linked fron this site doesn’t negate it. People deserve to get paid for their writing.

    2. Frank Doyle*

      I wasn’t stopped because I’ve paid for NY Mag content. I believe they’re doing a promotion right now, you should sign up!

    3. CharlieBrown*

      This is how Alison gets paid. If you’re seeing the paywall, then you’ve viewed your limit of free articles on The Cut.

  12. The Green Lawintern*

    I work with a Ronald. I’ve found the best thing to do is to just divest myself as much as possible from her work. This does mean that the finished product is…bad, but I’ve learned to leave it and let it be bad. Not my circus not my monkeys!

    There are inevitably projects we need to collaborate on (which drive me up the wall), but otherwise I try not to know anything about her work and how she does it. Do I know on a macro level that she is incompetent and doing a disservice to my company? Yes, but I don’t need to know the specifics, and that goes a long way towards helping me keep a pleasant demeanor and fortifying myself for the times I DO need to work with her.

  13. What She Said*

    The bosses have to feel the hurt. Stop doing Ronald’s part. Keep emailing him for his parts to show you are trying to work with him. And when boss askes for your projects, it’s stalled on Ronald’s side. Rinse, repeat, etc. Boundaries can be hard to put up but don’t be afraid to use them.

  14. Abigail*

    The “assistant” comment made me curious about the gender of the OP and how much of that is playing into this as well.

    I’ve seen a lot of useless dudes push off their work onto highly competent women who keep being told to cover and be a team player.

    Hope the OP can talk to Joe and Kate and get things off their plate!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yup. It definitely rung the sexism bell for me, though we do not know OP’s gender. Or Ronald’s (though I’m assuming based on the choice of fake name).

  15. BalanceofThemis*

    This being a non-profit, I wonder if the reason they are putting up with Ronald’s incompetence is because they know the position won’t be refilled if he is fired. I have worked for non-profits most of my career, and while there’s nothing in the letter to directly indicate that is the issue, it’s not uncommon.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I suspect they’re putting up with it because Kate hasn’t felt the burn enough yet to trouble herself to manage it. It’s easy to ignore people like this if the work is getting covered by somebody else.

      1. Artemesia*

        Rather than doing Ronald’s work might try ‘Kate, I need the figures for the Winchel project and Ronald hasn’t gotten them to me yet — could you touch base with him and get them to me?’ Since you don’t manage Ronald, expect his manager to cope when he drops the ball.

        If the numbers are bad, send it back to Kate with that information and request to get this fixed.

  16. yala*

    “Ronald has boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup. ”

    Well, now there’s soup up my nose, so thanks for that

  17. Frank Doyle*

    My only note on Alison’s response is that I wish she had capitalized the last three words of the response: The Ronald Problem.

  18. Parenthesis Guy*

    If you’ve been there for only a few months and Ronald got there a few weeks after you then that means he couldn’t have been there for more than two months. If so, it’ll be hard to tell whether Ronald is truly incompetent or if he’s just learning. Especially if he’s junior.

    It sounds like there’s a lot of blame to be passed around here. If he’s made some huge mistakes for a long period of time, then that indicates he wasn’t onboarded properly because he shouldn’t have been in that position when he just got there. There should have been at least a few weeks of onboarding. That’s on his manager. His incompetence is on him.

    You should definitely talk to your manager about the situation. Two months is early to fire someone even for complete incompetence, especially if he has a good attitude and is trying. It’s not too early to set the framework for it. Setting up boundaries for yourself will be key.

    Honestly though, if he gets fired, his work is going to be on your plate for awhile. Just the nature of the beast.

  19. Mockingjay*

    OP, when you talk to Joe, ask how to handle Kate’s requests: “…his manager, Kate, has been coming directly to me for insight on projects that are under his purview.”

    My suggested response: “Sorry, Kate, you’ll have to check with Joe first. I’m full up on my own tasks right now.” This will alert Joe to what kinds of tasks and problems Kate is passing onto you, and how often. That’s info he needs to address the impact of Ronald’s disfunction on yours and Joe’s department. It might be that Joe agrees that you’ll handle Task X in this instance, but overall he should be the one setting the priorities for your work, not Kate.

  20. BRG*

    This reminds me so much of a situation I was in. She was a peer, but our work was intertwined. I did mention gently to others my concerns. I’m not sure why, but everyone was very invested in pretending there wasn’t an issue. And because her incompetence impacted my ability to get my job done, I kept covering for her.

    One day I just decided to stop covering for her. An incident occured shortly after that was her job to address, and normally I would have stepped in. But I didn’t. Sh*t hit the fan, and she was “moving on to another job” within 2 months.

    I wish I could say my lesson was to never cover someone else’s incompetence again. I’ve run into it again recently, only this time the incompetent person was my boss. I covered for a while, but when sh*t hit the fan again and she tried to blame one of my direct reports, I quit.

  21. ProducerNYC*

    The succinct insult “has boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup” is now a firmly established part of my lexicon. Thank you for this gem, OP.

  22. Aspiring Great Manager*

    This is the most beautiful insult I have ever read: “Ronald has boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup.” Thank you, my life is richer for it! Truly gorgeous in its descriptiveness.

  23. Chelsea*

    I could have written this post. I got a great job 1.5 years ago, which was a huge bump in title, pay, and perks. The problem is that I liked my old job too and want them to succeed – the person who replaced me there is also “full of boundless enthusiasm with a head full of soup”. She has been at my old job almost as long as I was (1 year 9 months), but still needs her hand held on almost everything. She reaches out to me frequently and just doesn’t seem to be grasping the basic concepts. I know I should take the advice in this post and either talk to my old boss about it, or just stop helping, but I really liked them and I don’t want them to fail. My job is very significant in that doing it wrong can lead to huge fines, and they are just a startup without funds to absorb that. I am frustrated with how much I have to help her, and people at my old company have begged me to come back because they also acknowledge her incompetence, and I’m stuck because there’s no way I’m going back there and I also feel responsible. They begged me to stay when I left for the new job. I just don’t know what to feel morally right about.

    1. Chelsea*

      I forgot to add that even if they do decide to fire her, they will probably ask me to step in and help, and I will feel obligated to because I have a very specialized skill set that is hard to hire for. So same conundrum as OP – if I stop covering for her, then I’ll just be adding more work to my place (the exact type of work that I escaped from going to my new job!). Also I didn’t mention she is a new mom as of late last year so I am trying to go easy on her and pick up the slack.

      1. SofiaDeo*

        You no longer work there. There is no moral obligation to help. If it were me, I would be setting up a consultant contract, and getting paid for any helping. It doesn’t matter if they are a startup, there are fines for doing the work wrong, even if it’s a non profit doing much needed services in your area. IT IS NOT YOUR JOB ANYMORE. If they can’t pay people/run the business adequately, in the long run they need to be allowed to fail. You have no moral, legal, or other obligation to help. I like my neighbors, but I don’t give them money every time they ask just because they ask. You are giving money away (your valuable time) just because they are asking for it! You are NOT obligated to help just because you can. If this were true, the wealthy wouldn’t keep trying to get wealthier, and corporations would not be run along the “profits must be constantly increasing” model. The fact that someone has a specialized skill set does not in any way mean they are obligated to give it away for free. No one is ever obligated to give anything away! We should only give what we *choose* to give, whether that’s our time, actual money, possessions, etc.

      2. Two Dog Night*

        You do need to stop helping her. Tell her if she has questions she needs to ask her boss, not you. And if they do ask you to help out, absolutely do not do that without a contract, including a fair rate of pay, and getting the permission of your current employer. You need to put your energy into doing a great job for your current employer, not rescuing a company that you don’t work for.

        Sorry, I know that sounds harsh, but they have no motivation to fix the problem at this point. You’ve moved on–you need to let go.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        They can ask, to quote Allison, for your firstborn son, too.

        You don’t work there any longer, you are not obligated to do anything for them, no matter how nice they are or what good memories you have of the place.

    2. zinzarin*

      Am I correct in understanding that you’re doing this work for an entirely different employer?

      Yeah, you need to stop doing that yesterday. You’ve given way to much already.

      1. Southern Ladybug*

        This. Stop working for free for another organization.

        If you want and can do so without a conflict of interest, set up a consulting contract with them (and make sure your rate is appropriate to cover your time, taxes, etc.). But stop.

    3. Clobberin' Time*

      You don’t “have to” help her. You don’t have a moral obligation to help a BUSINESS succeed.

      You can’t care more about their profits than they do.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      They can fire her.

      It’s harsh, but it’s their business to tend to their business. If she’s so incompetent that they’re running the risk of being fined OUT of business, then you cannot solve the problem.

  24. raida*

    “If I’m going to be expected to do my job plus half of someone else’s job, I expect to be paid for it.”

    It’s blunt, it isn’t a refusal, it makes it clear that you are aware of the issue.

    And IF your boss and his actually say “Of course, we’re thinking twenty percent for the next year!” You make it clear that it’s not a job you want, it’s not something you’re interested in taking over, you left your last job from burnout and learnt to speak up when you see workload just getting… moved onto you.
    You say “I’m not his manager, I completely understand this is something you have to deal with. I’m not going to be the solution to how-do-we-keep-him-employed-here-long-term, but I am happy to help transition in a replacement when it comes to projects and cross-team processes.”

  25. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    Me, as I begin reading paragraph #5: *shakes head* “Mm mm. MM MM. Nuh uh. No. NO. No ma’am.”

    If I’ve learned one thing from reading AAM (and I’ve probably learned 500), it’s not to repeatedly cover someone else’s mistakes/incompetence. And especially not to work overtime and neglect my own job to do that.

  26. My Name is Mudd*

    Get your direct boss’s blessing/make him aware ahead of time and then step away to let Ronald fail.

  27. FormerTVGirl*

    Just here to say that “Boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup” is just one of the best things I’ve read in months. Perfect descriptor!

  28. Rosa Rosa Rosa Diaz Diaz Diaz*

    I used to work for a Ronald. He was a rude, spiteful, sexist, homophobic, racist, patronising, wildly ignorant, and had no understanding of the most aspects of his job. He was an appalling manager, sneering at employees who were praised or achieved things, complaining to people, chatting all day and then going on about how late he stayed at work, making fun of colleagues for their weight… I could go on.

    Managers knew and they constantly made excuses for him, even after one excellent rock star employee had to go off work with stress caused in large part by his shoddy management and behaviours towards her. (Which included claiming people only valued her work because of “how she looks” and telling her she was “a bit of a bitch” while introducing her to the new boss).

    Everyone else was aware of his incompetence because we were all constantly rushing around to pick up the pieces. Once a boss told me eventually that he was too expensive to get rid of, due to the redundancy payment he would he entitled to.

    In the end, I concluded that my employer was communicating to me with their choices that they valued him over me (and other employees). I left and moved to another amazing job which I love.

    This might not be what happens with Ronald! He sounds more junior, less unpleasant as a person, and like he hasn’t been there nearly as long.

    But really do think about what your employer is communicating to you here about what they value, who they’re interested in keeping, and who they’re going to accommodate or prioritise. Especially when you name it directly. If it continues, they are showing you that they’d rather lose you than Ronald.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Honestly, if you let an employee become “too expensive” to fire you’re setting yourself up to fail.

      And if said employee works for the wrong organization, it might become cheaper to take him on a “business trip” to the pine barrens with a shovel.

  29. Anon for this*

    Short story of how I set boundaries with a horrible boss and I was put in a similar situation. Vacancy was in a position almost identical to mine (so yes, our job descriptions were practically identical) but higher up in title and pay.

    Boss: willing to fill in while we interview?
    Me: sure with pay (granted)
    Me: (one month in) I can’t do both my job and hers I need help
    Boss: here is a temp (proceeds to remove temp two weeks in)
    Me: (two months in) I still can’t do both jobs please bring back temp
    Boss: no
    Me to Union and HR: I can’t do both my job and hers I need help (crickets)
    Me to Boss cc’d Union and HR: (three months in): I am no longer assisting with vacancy and returning to my work and only my work. When you hire a replacement I will gladly assist in their training to bring them to up speed.
    Boss/Union/HR: okay

    Two weeks later
    Me: vendor (belongs to vacancy role) hasn’t been paid
    Boss: so pay them
    Me: sorry I am no longer assisting with the job
    Boss: you’re being insubordinate, I’m writing you up (she never actually did)
    Me: okay

    She was a fun one. Oh, the stories I have on that boss.

  30. Look over there*

    Boundless enthusiasm and a head full of soup. First, bravo! That description deserves a standing ovation. Second, I will, willfully and with intention, steal it!! Also, I have a brother named Ronald and he is the exact opposite of this one. Thank goodness.

  31. Wilbur*

    Does two jobs, probably gets a 1% raise because it wouldn’t be “fair to other employees” to give him more.

  32. Apples and oranges*

    The Ronald at my workplace isn’t even incompetent, they simply can’t be bothered to do things like proper documentation or correct calculations.

    My boss is aware of this and has asked me on occasion to stay longer to do certain calculations but does absolutely nothing to solve the problem.

    Sadly I can’t simply ignore their mistakes because it could cause serious harm to our clients.

  33. TeamPottyMouth*

    Yikes, how many times have I opted out of applying for a job because I didn’t meet all (or “enough”) of the requirements, and yet there’s a whole world full of soup-headed Ronalds out there snapping up jobs with their “boundless enthusiasm”.

  34. Workfromhome*

    Sometimes they only way to get rid of someone who’s failure become our burden is to allow them to fail. They need to go under the bus. As long as the issues keep getting fixed there is no incentive for anyone to address the problem because its not THEIR problem.

    You need to document and protect yourself when doing it but when Ronald makes a mistake don’t fix it. send it back to him an CC his bos saying “we can’t move forward until you fix your mistake, and this will delay the process”. Do it every time.

    when Kate comes to you to correct one of his projects tell her “You’ll have to ask my manager Joe if I can drop some of my other responsibilities to do that?” Do it every time

    If Joe comes to you asking you to help out Kate tell him “Sure happy to do it but I can’t have it go into overtime so which of my regular duties, do you want me to put off so that i can fix Ronalds mistakes and still lave on time?’ Do it every time

    Make the Ronald problem THEIR problem and not yours.

  35. TomatoSoup*

    In addition to actively dealing with this with Joe, I suggest redirecting to Ronald any time Kate comes to OP with questions that should fall under Ronald’s job. “Oh, I’m not really the person to ask about (issue). That’s more of Ronald’s role/something I think Ronald is working on.” or similar. Just treat it like anyone who accidentally asked you about something you don’t work on. Over and over.

  36. CubeFarmer*

    When group projects come to the workplace…

    I think a conversation with Ronald’s manager with a list of incidents where Ronald’s soup-for-brains has caused problems might help.

    Although, in my experience, most managers are reluctant to do something when there’s someone else competent enough to backfill.

  37. WhoKnows*

    Ah, OP. I have been where you are. After two years of constantly bringing up issues with my Ronald (which EVERYONE who worked with him had), my boss basically said “Yeah, no one likes him and he’s bad at half his job, but we won’t be firing him.”

    So I left. Without a job lined up. I’m temping, not making much money, and I’m more mentally at peace than I’ve ever been. Ironically, my Ronald got laid off two months after I left, and now is trying to be in touch with me. I blocked him. I feel a little guilty, but I need to maintain my peace lol.

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