On-the-job strategy: Workload adjustments

Two TechRepublic members are facing opposite problems--one has too much work to do and the other not enough. See what our career expert has to say about their situations.

Here's another edition of our career series in which we offer advice to members who are currently dealing with troublesome work situations. (Click here to read the first installment of the series.) Thanks to Emma Hamer of HamerAssociates, a career and performance management company, for providing professional advice to the TechRepublic members who submitted the questions.

Question: My problem is I'm a civil servant that happens to not have the seniority of a programmer. Therefore, he is now my supervisor. Now when it comes to our AS400 mainframe, he's the man. But in everything else I seem to be more knowledgeable and more experienced. Everyone knows this, and WILL NOT utilize him, so I'm overworked and, of course, underpaid. I work out of title so often that it has become second nature. How do I go about getting the people who matter to make a change in my status, without seeming like I'm trying to backstab the programmer?

Emma's response:Ever heard of the "hero syndrome"? Doesn't it secretly make you feel needed, indispensable even, that you can solve the problems that your boss can't? The situation you're in, Sir, is entirely of your own creation. As far as the brass is concerned, there is no problem. And they'll never realize there's a problem, or how great your contribution is, until you stop catching every ball your boss drops. Now, to stop cold-turkey would be counterproductive, so I won't advise you to do that, but you do need to start gently pushing back. Next time someone comes to you with a problem that your boss should be handling, let them know that you're really swamped, and for them to take it up with him. If your boss then assigns the problem to you, as he most likely will, do the best job you can, and then send your boss, and the person for whom you did the work, a thank-you email - thanking them for letting you solve this interesting problem. The reply you get from the problem's owner will thank you in return ... Save that e-mail! You can even cc: your supervisor's boss... Gradually, people will become more aware of all the things that you take care of, and recognition will follow.

Question: I am a recent college grad now in the work force. I work for a small company (70 users). I was hired to help the one man IT show, and am currently handling much of the help desk tasks, he handles everything else. I am very eager to assist and take on other responsibilities as delegated but he doesn't want to give it up. My experience isn't immense as I am just beginning but I do possess the skills to learn at a quick rate. It is frustrating sometimes because I'm just sitting there at times with nothing to do and he has a slew of network projects that need to get done. I occupy myself by reading my study guide for CCNA but I would rather be working on more complex stuff. He is good at training and explaining concepts, but he does not want to delegate. He takes all the projects and works on them until he finds the solution; then has me deploy. I would much rather be working on the project myself, that way I have more hands-on learning. Is this normal? Am I too eager ? This is my first "real" job in the field, so I don't know if this is how it goes. Please advise."

Emma's response:

Delegating tasks to "a new guy" is often a stumbling block for the same person who had complained about needing "a new guy" in the first place! As paradoxical as it may sound - your co-worker doesn't want to give up the work, because he likes feeling needed and indispensable (see the "hero complex" response above). You need to arrange a sit-down meeting with your co-worker, possibly before your probation review, or your next performance review meeting. When you meet with your co-worker, you need to explain that you feel under-utilized. Let your co-worker know that you understand that you're a rookie, but that you need him to show you the ropes, and let you help take some of the load off his plate. Suggest that you would like to work on a couple of projects together, so he can see for himself that you can handle the work - then it won't be as big a risk to hand off future projects to you. If this direct, one-on-one approach fails, you have no alternative but to go to your boss (and his) and formally discuss your concerns about your development and deployment. But try addressing the issue with your co-worker first.

About Toni Bowers

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.

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