IT Employment

HR problem waiting to happen: The perpetual volunteer

It's time to talk about the opposite of the "it's not my job" employee. We're talking about the "volunteer for everything" person and the problems that entails.

As I promised in yesterday's blog about employees who refuse tasks with "it's not my job," I will now talk about the opposite of that person: the Perpetual Volunteer.

Managers love the ever-giving over-achiever -- if that person can get the job done. The problem lies with the person who volunteers for everything but then never makes things actually happen. I'll talk about both types here.

Some employees volunteer for new duties and are great at making things happen and producing results. And too many managers will lean on this person excessively. (If my email and the discussion posts are any example, most managers lean heavily on these people.)

Some people just get charged up by being extremely busy and challenged, but there are those who only do the extra stuff out of fear of repercussions. I know this is asking the impossible, but managers need to wise up and figure out which is which. If you have a person on your team who consistently takes on any new duty, you need to make sure that there isn't some underlying issue that drives that. Otherwise, that person could one day wind up in the nearest clock tower with a sniper rifle and you in the scope. (I just had a mental image of that scene, but with a manager on the ground yelling into a bull-horn, "Do you have your laptop with you?")

The perpetual volunteer

Lazy managers love a bottomless well of productivity. That is, until they see that things aren't actually getting done. Often the person who is the first to raise his hand to volunteer has no idea of how to do the assigned task. He is a little delusional as to his own capabilities or time availability. So all of the things that are dependent on the tasks he volunteered for have been pushed back and then the manager has a real and ongoing mess to clean up.

So there is an in-between. You want to be seen as dependable and flexible but you don't want to take on duties that you can't possibly fulfill. Also, you want to avoid being pigeon-holed by your manager as the place where all little responsibilities go, because, whether consciously or unconsciously, that manager will use you up until you're as tired and overworked as Lindsay Lohan's probation officer.

How to get out from the hole

So what do you do if you've gradually and almost imperceptibly become the receptacle for all extra duties? I"m being optimistic here, but maybe your boss really doesn't realize what a burden the extra projects are for you. In that case, you should have a chat. If not, I would try gradually weaning the boss away from depending solely on you. The next time a project comes up, say, "I'm covered up right now. I don't think I could get to it in the time you need it." That might be a wake-up call for your boss.

But then, it might not be. Your boss may turn on the Mafia death stare or threaten you with firing, if he or she is a real jerk. If the person is really that unreasonable, then it's time to look for another job.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

9 comments
Englebert
Englebert

that the work is distributed equally. Strong sophisticated managers should be perceptive to pleasing personalities and the risk they carry by sucking in too much work. Come to think of it, there are some PM's who themselves like to boast about how many projects they're leading as if it's any reflection of success.

bobbycornetto
bobbycornetto

"...tired and overworked as Lindsay Lohan's probation officer." Heh!

tina.miller
tina.miller

There is also the person who starts with the day-to-day tasks to learn about the job but never really gets out of that. The leftovers and items the project employees no longer have time for, might move to the day-to-day person. Eventually the day-to-day person is perceived not to have as much value since there are no projects to show for it but in reality may be struggling and craving more satisfaction and accomplishment. Meanwhile those with the projects could be perceived as more productive and more valuable as a result. It?s even harder if there are any barriers, perceived or otherwise, by either side of the equation. Experience talks, but there also needs to be opportunities as well. Otherwise, you never really get progress. A good supervisor should balance this to the skill set of his/her employees but also provide tools and opportunities for those on their team.

DPeek
DPeek

I love the bullhorn: "Do you have your laptop with you?" Classic. Just like getting a call on the company cell at 130am asking: "Are you busy right now?"

tbmay
tbmay

You were correct. There are plenty of bad attitudes out there that weren't caused by management.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

Mustn't forget the famous adage, - actually two of them: 1. Give the job to the busiest person, they are the one actually accomplishing anything. Someone who is sitting around twiddling their thumbs or FB'ing, isn't keen or likely to be a completer. 2. If you want a job done properly, do it yourself.

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

"she" is the boss and "he" "is a little delusional"

scott
scott

Why did the article go from the perspective of the manager to the perspective of the employee? It switched right in the middle with no warning, it's very confusing.