TL;DR: By the end of the day, a colleague of mine told the high level boss that she must go home and that I can handle the task by myself. While the task had nothing to do with me except for her asking for my help during the day. What should I say to my boss, if I'm not ready to do the job for her.

A bit of a long read:

I have a colleague, let's call her Anna. We share the same office, we sit around 10 meters apart, but we never work together on anything.

This morning, while I was working on something of my own, Anna came to me to ask for my help regarding a specific project which I worked on for about 10 minutes, several months ago. Anna never worked on this specific project, but she does know the whole architecture and technology behind it better than me. Either way, I helped her, I did what I could and it only took around 5 minutes of my time. A couple hours later, Anna came and asked me to check some more things, which I did, around 5 minutes again. It happened once more a bit later.

*There's also a third side, which Anna should cooperate with in order to solve the problem, this third side is called John and only available by the phone.

The end of the day comes closer, the boss of my boss comes in and asks Anna how is it going. Anna tells him all her conclusions, which sum up to:

"I've got no idea, I believe it's on John's side, but I have to check it. Sadly I have to go home now. I've already late by 30 minutes, and really must run now, but Peter (that's me) is here, so he can do it instead."

Now... All in all, I honestly wouldn't really mind doing it for her, if not for many of the following points

  1. It's not my job.
  2. I don't know much about the project.
  3. She just threw me in front of the moving train
  4. It's the end of the day, and I was going to leave in less than a hour.
  5. She didn't think of talking to me about it beforehand
  6. Regularly she leaves the office 3 hours later, so something here's fishy either way.

I didn't argue with her right on the spot. John was on line, I really didn't want to sound unprofessional, and really didn't know what to say at that moment. I didn't even sit near them by that time, I was doing my stuff, they could discuss it between themselves in another office for all I know.

Later, when the boss left and John stopped the call, I began to consider my options for the next step. For clarity, I wasn't willing to do her job. I didn't like her behavior in the least bit.

My thoughts were as follows:

  • I can't tell the boss how it all went around, and that she just threw this task onto me. The reason is, he's not our boss (again, he's the boss of our boss), he simply doesn't care, he needs results. I might sound pathetic.

  • I don't want to tell him that I simply don't know how to handle the job. I don't want him to think worse of me. Again, it's not like he's going to fire me, but I would lose some virtual points.

  • I could go home too, whatever, not my job. That would be just cowardly and wouldn't look good in boss's eyes even more than anything else.

  • I can just man up and do the job. Not even considering that it might take me several hours, I'm just not ready to do something for her under current circumstances.

In the end, before she left home, I told her that I don't want to do it without her, and that she better call John (3rd side) and tell him to wait until tomorrow. While talking to John, Anna sounded apologetic for my reluctance to work with him, trying to convince him that I'm the bad guy here, or whatever. Later the boss came around and asked how's it going, to which I responded that I can't do it without her, so we (her and me) postponed it until tomorrow.

The question is, in two parts, what could I do and tell my boss to get the best out of the situation (considering I wasn't willing to do the job all in all). How should I handle it with her tomorrow morning.

Edit: Our real boss isn't accessible right now, hence I couldn't ask for his opinion

  • 2
    I'm a little confused. From your second-last para, it sounds like you and the 'Boss' Boss' agreed to leave it until tomorrow anyway. In which case, where is the problem? – Time4Tea Dec 9 '18 at 16:53

Just send an email to Anna and copy your boss:

Dear Anna, It was great helping you out today on few occasions. It was interesting to learn about your project. I am happy to help you out more but I am tied up with other projects. If your project requires immediate help, X (i.e. your boss) would have to approve my time spent on this. Also, you mentioned to Y (your boss's boss) that I will be working on this but I was not aware of this. Again, let us get it approved by X first considering my other commitments. You may have to inform Y again about the miscommunication.

Your exact wording may change but the idea is:

  1. Instead of talking to boss and your colleague separately, deal with them in the same email so that everyone is on same page and you have written document of all discussions.

  2. Subtly indicate to Anna that she informed Y something which she was not suppose to and she would have to clear that confusion again with Y.


What I recommend is that you speak with your boss, explain the situation and your concerns, and ask them how they want you to handle it. That's what your Boss is there for: to manage the team and decide on what the priorities are and who should do what.

I can't tell the boss how it all went around, and that she just threw this task onto me. The reason is, he's not our boss (again, he's the boss of our boss), he simply doesn't care, he needs results. I might sound pathetic.

No. The Boss of your Boss is also your Boss, as is anyone else directly above you in the org structure. If they are pressuring you to get this done, I think you need to explain the situation to them and that you don't feel you have the knowledge of the project to do it in the timeframe required.

You shouldn't feel bad or inadequate about any of this. It's not your fault that your colleague isn't taking responsibility for their project and has just dropped it in your lap. If anything, if you explain what happened, it should reflect badly on them.

  • Well said. The OP has a choice: either become the person who gets others' work done for them, or the person who also has boundaries that should be respected by colleagues. Having to go home is not an excuse for offloading work onto another person without their consent, except in emergencies. You have reasons to go home too and others should be aware of that and respect that. Talk to your boss, say that there was a miscommunication and that you have other commitments as well. – A.S Dec 11 '18 at 13:47

You are viewing this as her throwing you under the bus, you should instead be viewing it and promoting it as her saying ‘user95519 is da Man’. The goto guy for getting stuff done (in this context you can be the man regardless of sex).

Tell your Bosses Boss what you are currently working on, and ask if he wants you to pick up this other task and do it, or leave it to your coworker.

She’s not throwing you under the bus unless she doesn’t believe the task can be done or can’t be done in the time available, if she does and you disagree it’s an opportunity to shine.

  • +1 for opportunity to shine. Accept the challenge, just be sure to reframe it into your own terms and communicate clearly. "I'd be happy to come on board and help, I believe I can handle the problem. I almost certainly won't be able to finish it today, since I'm missing some important context, but I'll give it a shot. When Anna returns tomorrow, I'll work with her to get this done. I'll postpone /these other things/ until the next day." Copy your immediate boss, and get to work! – Peter Dec 10 '18 at 14:57

You've dug yourself into a hole and there isn't much that you can do at this point other than working with Anna and John to complete the project. There isn't much you will be able to tell your boss to save face and get out of this task because you:

  • Stayed silent when you were unofficially tasked with this project.
  • Told Anna you didn't want to do it without her instead of telling her that you wouldn't do it.
  • Told the boss's boss that you and Anna postponed until tomorrow ( implying that you're working together on this project ).

Next time, you need to speak up for yourself to avoid getting into a situation such as this.

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