I'm a developer at an agency and there is a photographer who works in office.

She often has trouble with her computer: accounts, the internet, etc. She comes to me when she needs assistance with things such as clearing cached files (when she needs more space), downloading files, finding a file or link, sending files via drop box, a scary pop-up that says her computer has a virus, etc.

We have a service desk where we can create and submit issues to get help from the IT guys in office. I sometimes send her the link and encourage her to use it more often, but she does not use it. I've walked her through using the service desk, but it is faster and easier for her to just walk over to my desk and ask for help.

Sometimes I try to teach her how to do some things she often asks for help with, but I guess I must be an awful teacher because she usually responds with "That just went over my head- so I should just come to you, right?"

She doesn't seem reluctant to learn because sometimes she says things like, "How can I learn?" Or, "what should I do when this happens next time?"

She does sometimes ask other coworkers for help but I think she comes to me the most because I've overheard other coworkers express grumpiness, annoyance, etc. while helping her.

I do not mind helping her- at the most I spend an hour of my week helping her. But the issue for me is that when she does come to me, she always wants immediate assistance as if her problems were extremely urgent. This sometimes stresses me out when I'm trying to meet a tight deadline or finish something before a client meeting.

When I tell her I can help her in xx minutes/hours, she is very persistent and usually says "Can you just come look for a second?" and I typically give in. She's a nice lady, for me it's hard to say no.

I've mentioned it to our boss and manager before and what usually happens is either nothing (it's just an hour from my week) or they bring it up to her but her behavior does not change.

I've realized that I've gotten myself in this situation because I always give in when she asks for immediate help, but I would like to know if there are steps I can take to better set expectations for when I can help with her computer issues.

10 Answers 10

Let's start here:

I've realized that I've gotten myself in this situation because I always give in when she asks for immediate help

Exactly. Now you have to get yourself out.

As an old boss of mine used to say "If you do it once, it becomes your job". Here's a new word for you to learn.

no

You need to start sending this person through the proper channels and make no apologies about it. When she asks for special consideration, tell her "no" and refer her to the proper procedure.

Then you'll learn just how "nice" this person is (hint, she isn't)

Being "nice" is a tool that some people use to get their way, and she's doing just that. Worse, you are compounding matters, and essentially undermining your bosses by doing the work after they have told her not to ask you to do any.

Say "no", guide her to the proper procedure, and repeat. She will eventually get the message.

This is a person who likes to take the path of least resistance.

Don't be the path of least resistance.

  • 7
    This this this. No one can take advantage of you without your permission. The user has trained OP to be instant tech support. Now OP has to train her that she'll get the best (and only!) support by going through help desk. – Rocky Jun 20 at 17:15
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    +1 For learning to say "No". It took a director of the company I was working at the time to point this out to me quite bluntly before I finally understood the importance of this skill and learnt to apply it effectively. I was already 40 at the time and wish someone had pointed this out to me earlier in my career. – njuffa Jun 20 at 17:59
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    Couldn't have said it better myself. Saying "no" is almost an art form in and of itself, try to think of different ways to say it and keep using those till they give up or figure it out. Ex. One way of saying "no" is by doing a sh*t job fixing OP's user's stuff and then saying "I don't know" :) – RandomUs1r Jun 20 at 23:02
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    To continue with the closing electrical analogy, If you're the path of least resistance, in a moment of actual crisis you're the most likely to burn out. – Kroltan Jun 20 at 23:37
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    "(hint, she isn't)" Not necessarily. He's merely the path of getting things done quickly, and hasn't really objected. It's entirely possible she has no problem going through the official channels once this channel closes down. – Mooing Duck Jun 21 at 17:38

The top-voted answer here is very good. However, I think that there is another option worth considering - the issue isn't really the assistance; it's the immediacy. You stated that you do not mind helping her. As such, if you must, you can agree to assist this coworker in troubleshooting issues. You must learn, however, to defer the immediacy.

For example, if this coworker asks you for trivial assistance in the morning, you can say "I can't take a look right now, as I'm trying to hit a deadline, but I may be able to help you at x time" (end-of-day, next business day, whenever). She may attempt to say "it'll only take a second, a minute, etc". Stand firm with your offer to help at a different time. This has a couple of benefits:

  1. If it's a real issue that needs you, you will still be able to address it.
  2. If the issue doesn't need you, the coworker will likely seek other avenues for help.
  3. Not addressing the immediacy will force the coworker to try making progress on her own, giving her the chance to try what she's learned.
  4. (Possibly the most important) This also allows you to be gracious and generous, while setting boundaries - you won't be straining your work relationship, and you won't be inviting any complaints.

You may find that, if you honor a morning request for help at end-of-day, it has already been resolved by then. If not, you can always ask what she tried and what progress she made with the issue. The coworker sounds non-technical (she is a photographer) and it's possible that she's just trying to eliminate her blockers as quickly as possible to continue working. Giving her the tools to do this (and forcing her into a position where she must use them) will help both you and her in the long run.

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    I disagree. Even if the most annoying part for the OP is the immediacy they still shouldn't be providing the help at all. He says they have a service desk and IT guys so she should be using the proper channels. Assuming the OP is halfway competent as a developer he should be making noticeably more than the service desk guy who can help her clear her browser cache too. Additionally providing help without it being tracked may be interfering with IT's ability to provide remedial training or other long term remedies to the situation. – Evan Steinbrenner Jun 20 at 22:49
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    A professor colleague of mine routinely answered students' requests for programming help with "I'm busy now. Come back in [10 minutes / half an hour]. He did this because he found that many students fitgured out the answer for themselves in the meanwhile and never returned. – Ethan Bolker Jun 21 at 0:12
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    "I'll help you write the service desk email after lunch..." – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 21 at 18:33
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    It would be easier for OP to say (and for her to accept) "not right now" instead of an outright "no". Even a delay of 30 minutes is good enough to get the point across, and if she continues to insist then it demonstrates that she cares more about her problem than any of yours. If it is really blocking her from getting her work done, then she can get a more immediate fix by going to her boss. IMPORTANT: do not lie... her going to her boss may actually come back to you and you have to justify your reasons for saying no while she is standing right there. – Phil M Jun 21 at 23:29
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    What works for me is to say something like "I have to concentrate on (some task) right now -- can we deal with this at 2:30?" (some time about an hour away). When the immediacy is removed, people tend to find the solution themselves or by asking elsewhere. – RedGrittyBrick Jun 22 at 11:16

First, if your company has a help desk, send her there. That is what they are paid to do.

You are paid to develop and her quick one-second fix takes you out of your groove, breaks your concentration, and takes you time to get back to your flow. A one-minute fix to her has cost you potentially 15 minutes of full blown creative productivity.

When it comes to review time and your boss says your work is not up to snuff or you missed a tight deadline, will he/she understand and be sympathetic when you say that you have been helping a colleague on her immediate computer issues instead of doing your work?

One thing I have done in the past is put together a top 5 or 10 checklist that should be thoroughly completed prior to asking for help. If you have done all those things and you still have issues, then open a help desk ticket. That should be the extent of your contribution to helping this person. Start saying no, tell her to open a help desk ticket, and follow the proper channels.

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    If it were me it could cost me the entire remainder of the afternoon, not 15 minutes. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 22 at 9:54
  • I agree with the checklist idea.... But feel like that's helpdesk's responsibility's.... Not OP's – Patrice Jun 24 at 13:45

Because she has stated that she wants to learn, here are some tips to help her learn how to do tasks that she has to do multiple times (and which will drive the service desk crazy too if she keeps asking them).

  1. When helping her with a task, make her do it. Do not touch her keyboard or mouse.
  2. Have her write down the steps as she does them so she can refer to them later.

This will take more time in the beginning, but you'll be able to tell her to refer to her notes and not just refer her to the service desk.

Having to do all the work herself, and writing down what she's done should help her remember the steps.

I'm not a programmer but I have to do some programmer tasks sometimes. It's not often enough for me to feel secure when doing them, so I've written down the tasks and the steps I need to take to accomplish them. (Git, here's looking at you)

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    I think the OP is pretty naive assuming those comments are willingness to learn. I interpret more them as "this stuff is too complicated, I will be coming back to you instead" – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 20 at 19:49

The main point of my answer: Give her the reasons why you don't want to help her right now.

If a coworker asks you a question, causing a 1 minute interruption, but this knocks you out of the zone badly enough that it takes you half an hour to get productive again, your overall productivity is in serious trouble.
joelonsoftware.com

She is asking you, because it is easier, faster (or maybe you're just better at explaining) than googling or asking the helpdesk. For her, that is.
Explain to her that you can not help her always immediately and request that if she has a question, she should e-mail it to you. This has the following benefits

  • You are not stressed or distracted by her request
  • She will learn that googling it herself can be faster than asking you
    • and she will learn how to find simple things out by herself
  • She will have to write her question clearly. This is often half the process of solving the problem in my experience.
  • If you answer in writing, she can look that up next time instead of asking again.

If she tries to push through, don't give in unless it's very obviously more important than your work. Explain to her that even though it may take just 2 minutes, it still makes you lose more time.

If she actually wants to learn how to do those things, she should be happy in the long term that you make her try it by herself before asking you or the helpdesk.

You simply need to say no and refuse to offer any help at all unless a service desk ticket is assigned to you. From what you are saying in your question you are always giving into the requests which is training her that she can get her problem solved by coming to you.

The only way you will solve this problem is send her to the service desk when she comes for computer help and refuse to help her. After all if she is truly a nice person as claimed she would not be using so much of your time by demanding that you be her personal computer fixer when it sounds like that isn't your job.

When I tell her I can help her in xx minutes/hours, she is very persistent and usually says "Can you just come look for a second?" and I typically give in.

That's your problem.

Stop doing that.

It's really that simple!

She's a nice lady[;] for me it's hard to say no.

You need to learn how to say no.

Pre-empt any problems by asking upfront if she's ok with her computer during a routine pre-work conversation.

If she has problems, then talk about them and then prompt her to enter an IT ticket to get them sorted out (by all means help with the wording here to get the best response from IT).

It's likely that you'll continue to get these ad-hoc urgent requests, but at least talking about things earlier should help to mitigate these somewhat.

You'd hope.

From what I'm reading on your reply, it almost sounds like she's using the "I'm a damsel in distress, please come and save me" type attitude with you, and since you come to her rescue, she's going to continue with it.

Like said by others, you need a way to say "no", whether that is "sorry, but I'm really busy at the moment, I won't be able to help for at least 2 hours", if she's persistent then just repeat it - if she carries on asking you then she must believe that her job is more important than yours!

Once you get the guts up to say "no", she'll start asking less, especially if you're more emphatic about it - if she begs you for help you just have to reply with "no" in a sharper and sharper way - it's almost like training a dog or a child, they have to learn that certain things aren't acceptable.

A very simple way that I've found to stop people pestering you is to wear headphones (if you're able to in your office), then if she comes and ask she is actively stopping you, making you take off your headphones, and pause your music/whatever. That few seconds will give you a chance to get in the mindset of getting ready to reject her request. If she sees that she's causing you actual distraction, she might get the hint that she's actually stopping you from doing something else.

If you want to get a little passive-aggressive, then write little PostIt notes that you keep beside your computer, if she comes over just put one on the desk in front of her and continue with your work. Wording on the PostIt could say something like "learn to use the help desk, because I'm busy" or "my job is just as important as yours, I don't have time to help you with your stupid problems"... but... this will probably make her hate you, so it's more of a nuclear option. :-)

  • While I fully get the intent and feel the same emotions when it has happened to me at work.... 'your stupid problems' is.... More than passive aggressive. It's downright inappropriate – Patrice Jun 24 at 13:48

There are many good suggestions mentioned but aside from the user interaction with the computer, or lack of, it's important that the hardware also be considered a potential weak link in the picture. Age is not always the defining factor in replacing assets - the purchasing department can generally project replacement of computers based on IT ticket trends. - The lack of her entering a ticket only serves to mask problems.

If the user is not working within the designed system then they are stealing your time and abusing the productivity of the company.

protected by Community Jun 22 at 14:47

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