Office coach: Save career, leave crazy workplace

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. My manager doesn’t like dealing with people. “Karen” usually asks me to handle any matters involving the staff or other departments, while she spends her time working on the computer. She also has me rewrite her emails because she has a history of getting into conflicts.

Although my official job title is assistant manager, I have many duties that aren’t management-related. Whenever I propose delegating certain tasks to the staff, Karen says the staff members are too stupid to be trusted. As a result, I’m stuck doing a lot of work that should really belong to other employees or my boss.

To make it worse, my pay is based on a job description that doesn’t reflect the management duties I’ve been given. When I asked human resources to review my position, I was told that despite my title, I’m not considered a manager because I don’t do performance reviews. They suggested that I should just refuse to do Karen’s tasks.

I can’t seem to find a solution to this problem. Our higher-level manager never intervenes in department issues, so he won’t be any help. Human resources is obviously useless. Karen says she would be lost without me, so I can’t abandon her. What should I do?

A. To sum things up, you have an immediate supervisor who shuns human interaction and insults her staff, a senior manager who refuses to manage and an HR department that advises you to blatantly defy your boss. It’s no wonder you’re feeling hopeless because that is one screwed-up organization.

Since you can’t fix this dysfunctional management culture, it’s time to reconsider your reluctance to “abandon” your boss. Karen is a grown woman whose problems are clearly of her own making, so you have absolutely no obligation to save her from herself. Instead, you need to save your own career by getting out of this crazy place.

Q. One of my co-workers is constantly asking me for advice. For example, “Brad” might want me to review a report or give my opinion about a project plan. Although Brad earns twice what I do, he seems unable to operate independently. I’ve tried to be helpful, but his questions take up a lot of time. What can I do about this?

A. Your pesky colleague continues to ask questions because you keep giving him answers. If you want Brad to become more self-sufficient, then you must stop rewarding his needy behavior. Although you don’t have to be rude, you do need to be consistently non-responsive.

In the future, when Brad asks for assistance, be prepared to offer some standard discouraging replies. Examples might include “I’m sorry, but I really don’t have time to talk right now,” or, “That’s probably a question for your manager,” or, “I don’t think this is something I can help with.”

To avoid seeming harsh, always remember to deliver these comments with a friendly smile. If you keep this up and avoid offering any advice, eventually Brad will find a new security blanket.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

Twitter: @officecoach