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When I am focused on a task that is assigned to me, my coworker will frequently shout out "Liz, come here." I go to his desk and find he has been working on my task and he explains to me how to solve it. I will for example be on Step 5 of solving a problem and he will be explaining to me Step 1-2. I say to him "Yes, I did that this morning," or "Actually, when I solved this yesterday, I did it this way instead." This doesn't stop him, he just keeps going, and he can interrupt me this way multiple times in a day.

I have tried refusing to come to his desk by saying something like "I'm focused on this right now. I can help you later," but then he just comes to my desk, visibly annoyed that I didn't come to him, and explains my task to me.

At daily stand-up meetings he says that he spent the day "helping" me with the task that is assigned to me. I have tried responding by saying that I'm fine doing my tasks on my own, as politely as I can, but nothing I say seems to get through to him. I'm worried I will sound catty and ungrateful if I push this any further.

The explaining is annoying, but the biggest issue is the constant interruption and the fact that he is wasting time instead of doing the tasks assigned to him, which can result in missed deadlines for our team. How can I get through to this guy that I don't need his help (or that I will ask if I do need help), but without being rude and ungrateful?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Oct 29 '17 at 21:41
  • He might be using this as an excuse for not doing the harder work he would have to do otherwise. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 29 at 15:54

16 Answers 16

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I experienced this early on when I joined a company fresh out of college. I was the new, lady engineer in a team of men. I found a specific coworker would be very enthusiastic about 'helping' me with my work to the extent that it was disruptive. I suspected he just wasn't sure how to treat me and got a bit enthusiastic about it all. I found that as soon as I proved myself and earned the respect of the team, he backed off.

What your coworker is doing is a sign of disrespect. He doesn't respect your ability to do your own work, so he's attempting to do it for you.

It is highly unlikely that you will be able to say anything that will convince him otherwise. He's not listening to you.

The only option is to go to your manager and talk to him about it. There is an easy way to enter into this conversation, just ask if your coworker is also working on this task.

"Hi, I just want to clarify if Bob is also working on x?, he's approached me a number of times to discuss solutions he has developed. You didn't mention it before but I'd be more than happy to collaborate with him."

For all you know, Bob is assigned to this task too. If he is, you have a new teammate. If not, your boss now knows about the problem.

Adam Davis also suggested a more explicit wording in the comments which highlights the duplicate work:

"I understood I was the only one working on this task, but after I've worked on it for some time X tells me he's working on the same issue. I can complete this on my own, or X can complete it, but it appears we're duplicating work. Can you clarify the assignment?"

Edit regarding your most recent comment:

If your boss knows and isn't fazed, then the only option is to work hard and prove you know what you're doing. At the end of the day it comes down to focusing on doing good work. If the rest of your team respects you and you function well with them, then your coworker is just going to continue to look like a fool in front of everyone for wasting time and duplicating work where everyone knows the 'help' isn't needed.

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    I like this approach. It brings the problem to the manager's attention without placing blame and instead framing it as a misunderstanding. That said, I'd be a little more explicit. "I understood I was the only one working on this task, but after I've worked on it for some time X tells me he's working on the same issue. I can complete this on my own, or X can complete it, but it appears we're duplicating work. Can you clarify the assignment?" Do this when X bothers you about it, and ask X to come visit the manager with you. This is a problem the manager should handle, not you. – Adam Davis Oct 7 '17 at 17:03
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    When approaching the boss, I'd say that not only he has been working on the OPs tasks, he has been working on things she already solved. – Diego Sánchez Oct 7 '17 at 17:32
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    @Skipper my coworker will frequently shout out "Liz, come here.", This doesn't stop him, he just keeps going, and he can interrupt me this way multiple times in a day, "I'm focused on this right now. I can help you later," but then he just comes to my desk, visibly annoyed, At daily stand-up meetings he says that he spent the day "helping" me with the task that is assigned to me - I think interrupting your coworker whenever you'd like, ignoring their replies, and telling the team they needed your help does qualify as disrespect. Pretty definitively, actually. – Lord Farquaad Oct 10 '17 at 18:27
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    @Jodrell I don't think it counts as flaming if it's done anonymously. Regardless, you're focusing a lot on possible intent, but I think we're better served looking at facts and addressing those. Whether the coworker is attracted to OP, is secretly tasked with looking after her (which would be odd, I think), or is just a jerk, he's still causing an unproductive environment for OP. Stacey's answer addresses and hopefully removes the core issue here, regardless of the coworker's intent. – Lord Farquaad Oct 11 '17 at 12:42
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    For any guys who think this is a viable romantic strategy, please stop. This is as unromantic as it gets and is akin to stalking which creeps women out. – HLGEM Oct 11 '17 at 14:06
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You have already tried communicating to this individual several times that their help is not required and is in fact disruptive. They have not paid attention.

Now, you need to talk to your team leader or manager - making clear that you have already tried to resolve this between you and the individual concerned. As you say, the team is ultimately suffering as this person is not getting their work done and slowing you down, too.

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    In talking to the manager, I suggest emphasizing the negative effects on productivity. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 7 '17 at 12:02
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    You also need to make it clear to the manager that this "help" isn't desired. If I was a manager, I'd be upset that one engineer has to spend so much time helping another that they can't get their own work done. The manager needs to know that you are not asking for this help. – corsiKa Oct 8 '17 at 1:48
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    May be he is just trying to flirt with her? Trying to spend time with her? – smith Oct 8 '17 at 21:12
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    @smith We have no way of knowing the person's motives. The OP might be in a better position to speculate about them, but the OP should not do so. Stick to the facts: actual behaviors observed, negative impacts of those behaviors. – jpmc26 Oct 8 '17 at 21:37
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    @smith All the more reason to avoid accusing them of something based on speculation. – jpmc26 Oct 8 '17 at 21:47
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How can I get through to this guy that I don't need his help (or that I will ask if I do need help), but without being rude and ungrateful? How can I get him to focus on the tasks assigned to him so we can meet our deadlines?

Try something like "Go away. I'm busy with my work. I'll ask if I need help. Maybe you should be focusing on your own tasks rather than worrying about mine."

Clearly you need to be more direct and stop worrying about being "rude and ungrateful". And if this doesn't have the desired effect, you need to talk to your boss.

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    The guy is implying the OP is incapable of doing the job unaided. That is extremely rude. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 7 '17 at 13:13
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    @PatriciaShanahan I'm not seeing that. "I'll ask if I need help" is a direct statement that one doesn't need help at present. If anything, Joe's advice is a quite aggressive "back off" statement, similar to "when I want your opinion I'll ask for it". He's suggesting that we're past diplomacy here. – akaioi Oct 7 '17 at 20:12
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    I would go even stronger and especially drop anything, like "If I want help, I'll ask for it." or anything else that could even possibly be misconstrued. "Look, dammit, I've tried to be polite about this but you keep ignoring what I'm saying. I neither need nor want your help. Worry about yourself. Do not call me over to your desk and do not come over to mine." – Kevin Oct 8 '17 at 2:03
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    @akaioi - "The guy" mentioned in Patricia's comment is the "helpful" co-worker in the question. She's saying he's being rude and disrespectful to OP, and agreeing that OP shouldn't be worrying about that aspect. That's the person she is saying is rude, not Joe (through his answer). – PoloHoleSet Oct 9 '17 at 16:11
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    This guy is potentially ruining the OP's reputation and could get her fired. Some people may have the impression that the OP cannot do the work and is dead weight. Whether this is intentional or not, it needs to be stopped. – JimmyJames Oct 9 '17 at 19:05
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Firstly, make sure he has not actually been tasked with helping you. This can happen.

I suggest you ask him straight out along the lines of 'Is there some reason you're working on my tasks?'. At the very least, this will give you some info and allow you to move forward in different directions dependent on the response.

If there is a reason, then you can deal with it.

If there isn't, then you have a perfect excuse just to ignore him.

Whining to management etc, is a last resort. I don't see the need in this situation. Just ignore him. If he presses, politely tell him to do his own work, and you have yours under control.

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    I found other answers valid but a little rude to start with. I rather this direct aproach first to try to see if can understand why he keep working on your tasks, – Juan Carlos Oropeza Oct 7 '17 at 14:40
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    I disagree with your approach, since it's only going to hurt the OP in the long run. From an outsider looking into this situation (and I'm referring here to other teammates, team-leader, project-manager etc.), that guy makes it look like the OP is incapable of doing his/her job and is constantly needing help. Therefore, ignoring him is simply going to strengthen that perception, since the same thing will be said during daily standups. I say this is the perfect time to "turn up the heat" by being more direct and, if that doesn't work, get management involved. – Radu Murzea Oct 7 '17 at 19:20
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    @RaduMurzea and if it turns out that the employee has actually been tasked with helping the OP... then the OP will look silly, best to find out the reason first and assume good intentions before going to management. – Kilisi Oct 7 '17 at 22:58
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    @Kilisi If the other person has actually been tasked with helping the OP then (a) it's very unusual that the OP wouldn't have been informed of this and (b) they're doing a terrible job of it. If you're supposed to be helping someone with a task then you start by talking to them, you don't go and work on their task independently (imagining that the helpee is doing what with this time?) so that you can later summon them to your desk and explain what you've done as advice for how they should (re)do it. – Ben Oct 8 '17 at 1:12
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    @Ben, sure, I agree, but still best to assume good intentions and CHECK FIRST before escalating... just seems the sensible thing to do. – Kilisi Oct 8 '17 at 3:49
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You mentioned "daily stand up meetings", and "team performance".

So it sounds like you are in a Scrum team.

If you are, then you go to the Scrum Master and say exactly what you typed in the question. It is that person's job to make sure that the team is as productive as possible - give them the information they need to do their job!

  • Indeed. And don't hesitate to bring it up during the retrospective -- point out that you haven't been as productive as you could have been if it weren't for the constant interruptions from your coworker. – Abigail Oct 9 '17 at 20:45
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    Or report to the scrum team, yes, in front of everybody, preferably right after this guy tells them all about how he spent the day "helping" you, that you spent the day trying to recover from unplanned interruptions. With the scrum team as an audience, he shouldn't get away with saying he's sacrificing his own productivity to "help you" when you have a completely different side to that story. – Beanluc Oct 9 '17 at 23:40
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    @Beanluc - no reason to create friction and animosity in public. Right now the OP is neutral and an "innocent victim" - launching a counter attack changes the dynamic completely. Turning to the Scrum Master is the way to do it. – Vector Oct 10 '17 at 8:34
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    This is a correct and concise answer - nothing more to say here. +1 – Vector Oct 10 '17 at 8:34
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    @vector, he has already created friction publicly. He has repeatedly stated that she is unable to do her job. That needs to be be shut down in public and shut down hard. He made it public, so he can deal with the fallout of doing so. There are times when you have to publicly stick up for yourself and when someone is attempting to destroy your professional reputation is one of them. – HLGEM Oct 11 '17 at 14:11
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This is a classical displacement activity. He will completely ruin his own as well as your productivity if this isn't curbed, will likely sort-of blame you for it, and will probably get away with it.

He has tasks of himself to do. Those do not appear as important to him as helping a damsel in distress, never mind that your workload is less distress to you than his attentions are. He believes you must need help and keeps pushing, and uses it as an excuse for not doing his own work.

You are not getting through to him, so the next step is asking your manager to help get him off your track.

Getting out of this situation is not easy. The first step might be to make him aware just how incredibly insulting his behavior is, basically accusing you of being an impostor unable to do the job you are collecting a salary for.

The next is making clear that his objective has to be pulling his own weight rather than that of others in your team. This has to be made clear to him, and if that doesn't help, in a team meeting. It must be very clear that you did not ask him to interfere with your job and have tried several times to stop him.

If nothing else helps, ask to be put on a different team.

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If he says during a stand-up that he spent long hours helping you, then when it's your turn you say that you wasted an hour getting rid of him, when he tried to "help" you with things that you had long done.

Usually you will also mention possible obstacles to achieving your goals during the next day. There is an obstacle, mention him. "I'll probably have to waste another hour today getting rid of my colleague who for some unfathomable reason thinks I need help".

Edit: Some people apparently think that when someone spreads lies about you during a stand-up, that is in front of everyone, it is "whining and unprofessional" to stamp these lies out during the same stand-up, in front of everybody. It isn't. On the contrary. Allowing someone to tarnish your reputation is unprofessional.

Edit: Someone said this strategy was "passive-aggressive". It isn't. It is aggressive. Does it look like she is trying to shame him? Absolutely. That's the idea. Anything that will make him stop his behaviour. Is it in a public forum? Absolutely. It is in the exact same public forum where he told lies about helping her. And telling him directly has been tried and didn't work.

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    Even when you are right that will sound like whining and unprofesional thing to do in front everyone. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Oct 7 '17 at 14:42
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    How does that sound "whining and unprofessional"? If Liz has to spend an hour trying to get rid of someone who claims to be helping, then it's absolutely professional in a standup to say what she wasted an hour of her time on. And in a standup, you mention obstacles that you expect. That is professional. If this guy doesn't like it, tough. – gnasher729 Oct 7 '17 at 18:00
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    While I disagree with others who are saying not to be assertive or even aggressive in handling this situation, this particular answer does strike me as rather passive-aggressive. If the OP wants to bring up this colleague's "help" as an obstacle, she should do so directly and plainly. I would also suggest that it's better to handle this with the colleague directly or with help from a manager/lead, rather than in a public setting where it might look as though you're trying to shame him (except as a last resort). – Bloodgain Oct 9 '17 at 17:34
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    IMHO this needs to be brought up with the manager, but publicly stating "I did not ask for help, I requested that I be left alone, the 'help' was no constructive and I am being impeded by my teammate" is absolutely called for. The co-worker tarnished the OP's reputation and is using them as a scapegoat for their own performance issues. – Jonathan Vanasco Oct 9 '17 at 20:10
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Here's another alternative that might be a middle ground between politely refusing help and escalating to the manager: get the task assigned to him.

The next time he offers unsolicited "help", call the product owner (or whoever assigns the tasks) and tell them:

I just found out that <coworker> has already started working on this task #1234. Could you please assign me another task, and let him continue with this task?

Keep repeating this for as long as it takes. This will lead to one (or more) of the following outcomes:

  • The product owner refuses to reassign the task, and tells <coworker> to mind his own business work on his own tasks.
  • A lot of unfinished tasks pile up against <coworker>'s name, and he will have some explanation to do at the retrospective meeting.
  • The frequent requests to reassign tasks will raise the product owner's brows, and he will want to have a "little chat" with <coworker>.
  • The product owner will run out of tasks to assign to you, and realize something is fishy that needs to be fixed.
  • The coworker realizes that he has to drop his "white knight in shining armour" act because doing so will make him responsible for all the tasks he was formerly "helping" with. As a result, he can no longer use this "helping" as an excuse for failing to complete his own tasks.

Personal anecdote that led to this idea: While there are no coworkers in my team that "help" others in this manner, it does often happen that someone has already analyzed part of a task while working on a closely related previous task. The first few standups at the start of iteration usually make that clear, and a fair amount of reassignment of tasks happens as a result.

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    That strategy could backfire before it pays off. The product owner might --- fairly --- decide that the OP doesn't enjoy the tasks, and therefore wants them re-assigned. – employee-X Oct 7 '17 at 15:51
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    This strategy seems self-destructive. An essential component of the OP's problem is that this guy has actually made less progress than she has. In order for her to make this strategy work, she'd have to pretend that she's made even less progress than him; in other words, she'd have to make herself look bad for no reason. Feigned obtuseness is a useful tactic sometimes (even if it's a bit dishonest), but this is not one of those times. – ruakh Oct 8 '17 at 4:13
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    I'm not sure if I can use this, but I think it's kind of genius and definitely made me smile. – Liz at work Oct 8 '17 at 8:08
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    I am sorry to hear this idea may not work for you, but done tactfully, the net outcome would be a lot better than the more confrontational approaches. Remember you would likely still have to work with this coworker after this issue is resolved one way or the other, and making them eat humble pie may feel like a great victory today, but it may come back to bite you when the tide turns in their favour. By taking an approach similar to what I have described, you are actually showing the coworker in a bit of positive light, and the confrontation is reverse delegated to the product owner. – Masked Man Oct 8 '17 at 8:33
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    @Erik In a strict sense of the term, yes, that is not their job. However, even within the Agile/Scrum team, there is a need for some sort of an "arbitrator" (for the lack of a better term) who supervises the internal discussion. If picking up tasks is left entirely to the team, in my experience, it usually leads to chaos, because everyone wants to pick the "interesting" tasks and nobody wants the "boring" tasks. That arbitrator is usually the PO since he is responsible for the tasks backlog. I guess I will just do a rewrite of this answer when I get freed up a bit. – Masked Man Oct 10 '17 at 3:17
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At daily stand-up meetings he says that he spent the day "helping" me with the task that is assigned to me. I have tried responding by saying that I'm fine doing my tasks on my own, as politely as I can, but nothing I say seems to get through to him. I'm worried I will sound catty and ungrateful if I push this any further.

Speaking as a man who has led technology teams with women on them, you need to immediately talk to your manager and tell them that:

  • You have not asked this for help, but would absolutely ask teammates if you needed it.
  • The "help" this person is imposing onto you is nothing more than distraction for their benefit, because they insist you need their advising. They are showing you how they would handle tasks you have already checked off.
  • The other person's distractions are responsible for loss of team velocity, not you.

From your manager's perspective – perhaps the entire team's perspective – you are an under performer who needs help, and the "help" you are being given is costing the team productivity.

If this only happened once, I would talk to the Project Manager who is managing tasks - but since this has happened multiple times, I would not risk the fiction of this narrative becoming more important than the truth and escalate it immediately. Too many of your colleagues already think you are weak because you needed "help".

I would not be surprised if there was a bit of bitter misogyny in your co-worker's actions, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they are well-intentioned and honestly trying to look out for someone more junior, but socially inept - both behaviors can be typical in this situation. The problem, however, is that they've chosen to do something that inflates their importance, diminishes your capabilities, and paints you as the cause of their workload problems. Their behavior is 100% uncalled for. When they publicly deflected their workload problems as caused by you, they threw you under the bus. That made it a "talk to your manager" problem, as you need to worry about your own career.

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I suggest you get more aggressive at the stand up and say you did not request any help. By saying he spent the whole day helping you makes you look bad. Management should not let him neglect tasks assigned to him.

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    @reirab: Lies that are not contradicted may be believed. During the standup, the guy spreads lies that the OP is not capable of doing her job. That kind of lie must not be allowed unchecked. – gnasher729 Oct 7 '17 at 19:28
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    @Paparazzi: You should add that not only was no help requested, but what was given was less than useless and actually just distracted OP from doing her job. – gnasher729 Oct 7 '17 at 19:29
  • @gnasher729 Yes, I agree completely about that, hence the "I would definitely clear this up with the manager" part. – reirab Oct 7 '17 at 19:51
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    This. Or better, jump in earlier than that guy during standup, expressing what you did and what your blockers were (including his 'help' offers) before he gets to sell the help as a positive contribution. Make him the whiny, unprofessional one. – mcalex Oct 9 '17 at 18:58
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I have tried refusing to come to his desk by saying something like "I'm focused on this right now. I can help you later," but then he just comes to my desk, visibly annoyed that I didn't come to him, and explains my task to me.

Hi, I am also a female dev of many years. If this happened to me where he came over to my desk after I said I was busy, I'd like to think I would say, hey, I am in the middle of something, we can talk later, like maybe at 2. Then you can go over to his desk in a few hours and explain you already have finished the task and act annoyed with the whole situation and repeat that it's done, is there anything else, you have other work to do. It's hard to know the exact specifics of the tone and situation so it may not be that easy. If this happened to me, it would make me upset and angry, his behavior is completely out of line. I would also hate to talk to the manager or speak up in the team meeting about this issue. If it doesn't stop, I would talk to the manager about how he is impeding my work.

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Part of your problem is that you are too focused on being polite and nice to him. I realize that women are socialized this way. But in 40 years in the workplace, I have never once seen a man let a situation like this get to this point. I have seen a lot of women, including myself when I was young, get into this kind of situation. You need to be less concerned with his feelings and more concerned with your professional reputation.

I bring this up because he is not the only person causing this problem. You have allowed it go on. You need to examine your own response to things like this and learn to be assertive from the beginning or these things will continue to happen to you.

I was terrified the first time I had to smack someone down who was harming my professional reputation. But after I did, I realized that it wasn't as bad as I thought. And if you stop things the first time they happen, you get a lot less of this sort of stuff. I am polite and kind to just about everyone at work, but no one there tries this nonsense on me because they know they will regret it if they do. I won't start a problem with someone one else, but I will not let anyone get away with putting me down either.

This is a book you should read to understand how your communication techniques may be undermining you and how to fix that. https://www.amazon.com/Talking-Women-Work-Deborah-Tannen/dp/0380717832/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1507733511&sr=8-5&keywords=Tannen

At this point strong action is necessary. Personally, I would talk to my boss about the issue. I would show him exactly what I have done and talk about how the person is trying to show you how to do parts of the task you have finished. I would ask him to code review what you have done to make sure your boss is in agreement with your methodology. I would discuss What you have done to try to get this guy to back off. I would discuss the impact on the project schedule. The I would discuss what he needs to do to help solve this problem. At this point, you likely need management help to get this guy off your back and, more importantly, to get him to stop ruining your reputation. The boss needs to publicly support you. He needs to make it clear that you have his confidence. If your boss won't support you, then you have a much larger problem.

The boss needs to privately discuss the issue with the guy and tell him in no uncertain terms that he is out of line in his behavior and that throwing other people under the bus will not be tolerated. He also needs to make it clear the he has authorized you to respond in kind if he does this.

Then, with the boss, develop a plan for if he spouts off again at the Scrum meeting. I would suggest that you immediately state that you didn't ask for or need his help and that he is preventing you from doing your work effectively with his constant unwarranted interruptions. Then your boss should question him more closely about his progress on his assigned tasks. If you and your boss coordinate this way, he and everyone else will know that you are fine and he is in the wrong.

Edited to add:

In a comment you said, "My boss responded by bringing up that he has done this with female coworkers before I started working here, but he laughed it off as "That's just how he is."

This is a serious problem you must address as well. Your boss needs to tell him in no uncertain terms that he will not treat female coworkers as incompetent and that he will not disrespect their work. This is harassment. And it is something he should be fired for if it continues. It is not just how he is. It is how he is not allowed to be ever again. He doesn't have to like it, he doesn't have to like you. He has to treat you the same way he would treat a male coworker of the same experience.

I have a male coworker whose religion tells him that it is immoral for women to work, yet he works very effectively with me and I do with him because we are both professionals who understand that our personal feelings about each other are irrelevant to getting the job done that we are paid for. If that guy can do it, your guy can do it.

In fact your boss is condoning the harassment by laughing about it and is also legally culpable as a result if you choose to sue. I would in fact suggest that your entire workplace probably needs some training in sexual harassment because your boss's response is part of a pattern of harassment as well.

I worked for the Navy in the 1980s when the Tailhook scandal happened (look it up in Google). The Navy at the time was pretty much the epitome of a harassing environment. I was frequently grabbed, I had a boss who used swear words quite literally every other word, one woman that the men disliked they did something so disgusting to her I can't even spell it out here, I was physically assaulted at work, people made frequent remarks about my bra size and physical attributes, and on and on (It would take hours to describe all the ways this work place was harassing.) But after Tailhook when management got serious about cleaning up the environment, things got a whole lot better. (From what I have read, I think this has gotten worse again. Some battles have to be fought multiple times.)

When managers don't stick up for their employees who are female, gay, black, Muslim, etc. then the workplace often descends into a chaos of subtle and overt harassment that is simply unacceptable in the 21st century. Your boss is now aware of the issue and it is up to him to provide a safe work environment free of harassment to you. If he cannot do that or chooses not to try, he is also harassing you and also should be fired. He is exposing the company to legal jeopardy that could be costly by not taking action when the problem was reported to him.

4

As a man, if another man or woman (who wasn't my boss) was repeatedly trying to duplicate my work and trying to take credit for "helping me" to my colleagues and to my manager, I would be absolutely livid. You can call me an asshole if you want, but I would call this out immediately at the daily stand-up meeting.

After all, an accusation made in public has to be defended in public, otherwise, no one will take your defense seriously.

And sure, the guy could have been tasked to keep an eye on my work, but trying to duplicate the work I've already done, and insisting that I look at his duplicate work anyway (or he gets upset), only implies that keeping an eye on my work is not what he's doing.

And yes, the guy might think that I am ungrateful and hate me as a result, but I'm not about to let the delusional emotions of a coworker be the reason I allow someone to step all over me. After all, if you're a software developer and if someone keeps on implying that they keep on helping you (despite the fact that he's actually harassing you by constantly disrupting you and patronizing you). How much do you think you might lose in unrealized raises? $20,000? $30,000? Aren't those amounts worth standing up for yourself and potentially hurting that harasser's feelings?

  • The only think I would add is to ask the person one on one first. Let them correct the behavior first. If that doesn't work, under the bus he goes. – Mister Positive Oct 12 '17 at 15:46
  • @MisterSortofPositive, Yes, you're right. I need to incorporate that in my answer. She should talk to him one-on-one. But she must be dead-serious when she speaks to him. He needs to know in no uncertain terms that she will call him a liar in front of every one of his colleagues the next time he tries to say something like that. Or that she will call the manager/HR the next time he tries to waste her time. And yes, this will make things super uncomfortable. But for this kind of behavior to stop, he absolutely needs to feel super uncomfortable and he needs to be afraid of doing it again. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 16 '17 at 9:42
  • Also, she needs to talk to him as soon as possible, and not wait until he duplicates some of her work again. She needs to intervene soon, the sooner, the better. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 16 '17 at 9:46
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Many of the answers here are useful, and some quite entertaining. I think Kilisi is on the right track saying that you need to have a talk with the guy.

I would pull him aside -- into a conference room, this is not a hallway conversation -- and ask him, directly, "Why are you working on my tasks when I haven't asked for help?" Then clam up. Give him a level look until he answers.

His motivation will likely be that he's "just trying to help", "just trying to be friendly", etc. I don't get the impression that he's working a calculated plan to destroy you or anything.

Once you understand where he's coming from, tell him you understand where he's coming from, but that this has to stop, as he's making you look bad in front of the team. Ask him if he understands this. When he doesn't (he won't) explain that by announcing how many hours he's "helped" you every day during standup, he is undermining you and effectively damaging your reputation.

Wrap it up by telling him that you do appreciate his willingness to help, but that it's counterproductive to preemptively help if you're not actually stuck. Tell him you're sure you will come to him for help betimes (How not? We all need help sometimes, this is why we work in teams), but that he should wait until you call on him.

Then wait. See if his behavior improves. If not, explain the whole story to manager.

  • 3
    I'll caution that OP should exercise judgement here and decide whether this coworker is the kind of person with whom you can have said discussion or whether this coworker may simply take offense and then claim something that's not true -- turning it into a "my word" vs "your word"-type situation. TL;DR; Always take precautions based on what you know. – code_dredd Oct 7 '17 at 20:34
  • @ray well taken point. In part, this is why I'm suggesting a direct approach. If this guy is in fact (for whatever reasons) her enemy, this will at least draw it out into the open, instead of silently letting it continue. If OP makes it very clear that his actions are harming her, whether or not he stops doing it makes his intentions very clear. Sounds like you're suggesting that a discussion of this nature may in fact turn the guy against her. I disagree, but am glad you called out the possibility for OP to consider! – akaioi Oct 7 '17 at 20:41
  • I don't know that it would turn the guy against OP, but I wouldn't discount the possibility, since I don't know what kind of person the guy is and/or how reasonable and/or trustworthy he may or may not be. I agree that it may be unlikely for it to turn out badly, but as unlikely as it may be, it's not impossible. – code_dredd Oct 7 '17 at 20:46
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This is an X-Y-problem, i.e. you are trying to solve the wrong issue (the incidents only).

As Brandin and Vandroyi already commented under the question, the issue is not that he is working on 'your' tasks, the issue is: How is it possible that two people are working on the same task?

You (plural) need to restructure the way you distribute tasks. You use the phrase taking on tasks which suggest that you all just pick one, and that there are no agreements and structure in place indicating X is now working on task 23, so pick another.

Sit together and agree on the way you distribute tasks, or let your manager set this up. And part of this structure has to be the agreement that nobody offers unsolicited 'help', because that only interrupts. If anyone needs help, (s)he can ask.

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I would draft an email, and carbon-copy your supervisor:

"Dear Bob:

I've noticed a pattern of behavior in which you interrupt me often to show me how well you can complete tasks that have been assigned to me and not assigned to you. Please, let's make it clear. If I need your assistance, I'm quite capable of asking you. Otherwise, please stick to your assigned tasks unless our supervisor has asked you to get involved with mine. There's no need for duplication of work.

I'm also aware that you don't show the same type of unsolicited involvement to the males on our team. I'd really hate to have to escalate your behavior to management as a gender concern. Thanks for your understanding."

Done.

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