You know the scenario. You’re tucked away in your cube, typing away, when you hear the little voice say, “Hey, you got a second?” You try to resist making eye contact, but the moment that you turn your head, you’re trapped. The voice says “I was wondering if you could help me out with something?”
You listen, you nod, and you mutter “mmm hmm,” and you’re stuck. Another item has just been added to your to-do list. Before you know it, what started out as a little project suddenly becomes a big project. You’re not helping out any more—you’re doing someone else’s job! You wonder, “How did I get myself into this mess?”
When Builder.com ran contributor Jonathan Lurie’s article on this topic several months ago, it kicked off a lively discussion by Builder members. Here are my two cents on the subject, along with some of the highlights from that discussion thread.
Pitch in, but don't drown
I'm not advocating that you say "no" every time someone asks you to pitch in and help on a project. Nor am I suggesting that you have to suddenly stop being a team player. I'm simply saying that even if your first inclination is to say "yes," sometimes you have to just say "no.”
Builder.com member Two Cents disagreed that you should say “no” automatically.
“I can understand the author's reluctance to do [other people's work], but you have to ask yourself if you are willing to act as if everyone is an island. In other words, the next time you are standing in a pile of work up to your neck, are you going to be able to ask for help?”
Member mattohare seconded that idea. “One thing I consider is if it really is [other people’s work]. Sometimes it's really the team's work, and it's just that we [the team] figured another person would do it.”
Are you a team player or a sucker?
If you're the type who goes the proverbial extra mile on the job, watch out—you could quickly end up swamped. Learn to get the recognition or extra pay you deserve for pulling the extra weight by reading this article.
Use your boss as a buffer
One way to prevent being coerced into doing someone else’s work is to use your boss as a buffer. When someone asks you to “pitch in,” make the first words out of your mouth: “I’ll have to get permission from my boss first, because I already have a plate full of priorities.” When your boss meets with other bosses, ask your boss to suggest that if other departments want to take advantage of you, your supervisor has to approve it.
As Builder.com member RSOA Web Weaver said, “I had observant management that noticed the problem, pulled me aside, and actually told me to send people to [him] if I felt uncomfortable declining extra work. Just like [member] HIFI78 said, they stopped asking when they realized they'd have to ask my boss first.”
Keep track of what you do "unofficially"
When you do get sucked into the vortex or “unofficial involvement” in someone else’s assignment, keep a log of the extra work you do. Sure, documentation is a pain. But it might very well provide the ammunition you need when you raise the issue in your yearly performance evaluation.
Keep your priorities straight
If you must say "yes" whenever you’re asked to pitch in and help, don’t let your own work suffer. Make it clear to the person you’re assisting that, unless your boss tells you otherwise, your work comes first.
Take the unpaid work and shove it
Are you tired of doing other people’s work? Tell us about it by posting your comment below or contacting the editors with your opinions.