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Thursday, June 24, 2010

my coworker relies too much on my help

A reader writes:

I have a friend at work, Anne, who joined our office a couple of years ago. She is frequently asking for my help - most of the time, it's to explain procedures or policies (not to actually do her work for her). She seems to be understanding most of it, but she still comes back to me "just to check" that her plan of action is correct.

I wonder if I'm actually hindering her progress, because she relies on having that "safety net" there. I get that she might not be confident in her ability, but in our line of work, if you make a mistake, you just go back and fix it. Obviously, we don't want to make mistakes but we all do at some point and it's not like we're doing brain surgery or something that can't be fixed.

It doesn't bother my bosses that I help her and it doesn't affect my work. In a way, it helps me sharpen my skills by having to teach her. However, Anne is in a higher position so it looks strange to our coworkers and other people in our office that she has to run stuff by me. Sometimes people go to her for help, and she asks me to join the conversation. I've heard from coworkers that Anne's boss is befuddled that I seem to always be helping Anne. Anne's boss has made one teasing comment (in my presence) about how she should just give me Anne's job since I do the work. And Anne doesn't hide the fact that she asks me - she tells everyone how much I help her out.

So I'm wondering if there's some way that I can tell Anne that I believe she understands enough of what she's doing and that she should trust that she can take care of her work alone? I obviously don't want to just say "stop asking me - figure it out yourself!"

I think you should be straightforward with her and tell her something like, "You know, I'm happy to be a resource for you, but I worry that you're selling yourself short by not trusting your own instincts more often. I'm worried we're creating a dynamic where your boss and others think you rely on me, and then you won't get as much credit as you should."

However, Anne may not care. She may be someone who is simply happier having the security of the safety net you provide, even if that comes at a cost to her career advancement. So your obligation is really just to point out to her the impression she may be creating and the fact that it may have consequences to the way she's perceived. What she does from there is really her call.

Now, if you were annoyed and wanted to get out of helping her so often, I'd give you different advice -- along the lines of setting boundaries, being unavailable more often when she comes to you for help, and so forth. But you don't sound annoyed, and in fact -- wisely, in my opinion -- recognize that it's developing your own skills to be put in that role.

So I would say point out to Anne what she may not see, but then let her figure out how she wants to act.

And by the way, at your next performance review, you should definitely point out that you are a much-relied-on resource for Anne. This is the kind of thing that is often a precursor to higher level positions.


Kristin said...

I had a co-worker who did that at my last job (but she was my peer, and in the same job title). She'd constantly ask me to re-send things to her because she couldn't find them (even though she also constantly made fun of the way I organized my e-mail).

I acted annoyed (because I was), and she still did it anyway. I left the job a few months ago, so hopefully she got her act together.

Anonymous said...

I have a coworker like this. She is a director and she always asks other directors how to do her job! She always goes to them and they get annoyed because she is so pesky. Her boss actually moved her closer to his office so he could "keep an eye on her."

Anonymous said...

The glorious part of this letter: People have noticed what you do for Anne! That makes all the difference.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that it's nice to read about situations like this, where no one's being a jerk, the question writer is looking out for a co-worker, and said co-worker appreciates the help and gives credit where credit is due.