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TL;DR: My colleague receives way too much work and intends to work on holidays, without realizing the problem let alone airing it to management. How can I convince her to discuss with her manager?

"My manager gives me too much work" has already been asked a zillion times here and I could point her to any such post of those, but I feel there must be a more diplomatic way to bring it up.

Super-detailed background

I work for the R&D subsidiary (a few hundreds employees) of BigCorp (>100k employees), both of which are financially sound (AFAICT) and do not suffer from generalized workaholic culture. We are basically a subcontractor for BigCorp's other subsidiaries: they pay us to solve scientific problems they cannot solve of their own. The subcontracting unit is called a "study" - a study will typically last 1 year, involve 1-2 persons on our side and 2-5 on the client side; each employee on our side handles typically 3-4 studies in parallel (maybe 2 for project managers/high-commitment matters, 5 for more simple stuff). Cultural/legal background of every relevant entity is France.

My colleague is actually an "office roommate": we share an office but are assigned to entirely different teams with different expertise areas, management etc.

She is a recent hire, still under probation period. She was hired after her PhD so it's her first "real" workplace position. She is foreign-born (Balkan country), but has been in France for the last 7 years and has recently acquired citizenship; she speaks perfect French, is aware of all common cultural tropes, has more friends here than in her home country, etc.

While she has quite a stellar résumé and could easily find another job, she no money left at the moment and I believe that stresses her out into avoiding firing at all costs.

The problem

My colleague is overburdened with work. She is currently tasked with 4 studies in parallel, but with the lead role in each, which would already be on the higher end for established engineers (let alone junior hires that are still onboarding). She told me her manager is considering adding two more studies to her workload, with nontrivial responsibilities in both.

A rough guesstimate (since I do not know the details of the projects) is that she would be doing the work of two people. It kinda matches with my knowledge that her team had some recent turnaround and they still have one vacant position after hiring her.

However, her reaction is a mixture of fatalism and impostor syndrome. She told me she intends to work on holidays to make up for the extra workload, otherwise her boss will realize they should have hired someone else. She puts in quite long hours already, and quite a lot of that time is in meetings (*).

I told her that she should under no circumstance work on holidays and should speak to her manager. She was walking away to go for lunch and did not reply, but she seemed shocked at the idea of giving her manager feedback regarding her workload.

Question

How can I convince her that she is not the problem and needs to talk to her manager about her workload? Ultimately it's not my business what she does, but I want at least to give her my read of the situation in a way she can understand.

I considered reaching out on my own to her manager, or HR, or union representatives, but I cannot see a scenario where it helps if she is convinced there is no problem.

(*) It is possible to be bad at core areas of her job (experimental design, bibliographic studies, planning coordination etc.), but there is no way she can be really bad at sitting in a meeting and listening. She spends about 2/3 of a normal work week in meetings, which is again unusual - in a similar position I spend about 1/5. She is rarely the initiator of such meetings, but is still required to attend as the project lead.

  • 1
    do you have a manager? – Oct18 is day of silence on SE May 7 at 20:02
  • @aaaaaa Yes, but since it's not her manager, and her being miserable does not directly impact my work duties, I fail to see how that's relevant. – user104473 May 7 at 20:27
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    I am convinced that the real problem is "I don't like when X works too much", not "X works too much". You escalate problems with your manager. What'd you do if X was working so much they stopped showering? – Oct18 is day of silence on SE May 7 at 20:54
  • If she stopped showering I would complain to her then to my manager but again, it has no impact on my work (no sobbing or anything). – user104473 May 7 at 21:16
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How can I convince her that she is not the problem and needs to talk to her manager about her workload? Ultimately it's not my business what she does, but I want at least to give her my read of the situation in a way she can understand.

It's nice that you are concerned for her, but...

It's definitely not your business to decide for her how much work is too much. And it's definitely not your business to intervene with her manager, HR, or her union rep on her behalf.

We each get to decide how much is too much. And we each get to decide if we should act or not.

If she complains to you about the workload, that's an invitation to ask her something like "Would you like a suggestion that might help?" If she responds "Yes" then you have an opening to give her ideas on what she could do. Personally, I'd suggest that she start with her union rep before escalating it to her manager or HR.

Her union rep will also advise her of all the relevant union rules and local laws.

I told her that she should under no circumstance work on holidays and should speak to her manager. She was walking away to go for lunch and did not reply, but she seemed shocked at the idea.

I assume you aren't her union rep and aren't her manager. Thus, no matter how well-intentioned, you have no right to tell her when she should or shouldn't work. It's not a surprise she was shocked.

How would you feel if some new colleague told you that you absolutely should work more?

I considered reaching out on my own to her manager, or HR, or union representatives, but I cannot see a scenario where it helps if she is convinced there is no problem.

Don't reach out on your own. Unless invited to do so, it's none of your business.

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    Working during holidays in France is illegal (except if your contract specifies it obviously). Telling her not to do it is the equivalent of telling her not to embezzle money. Furthermore, the employer has a "result obligation" concerning work code violations, so if they catch her doing holiday work (which is likely since she would have to use the company's laptop and network) they have to discipline her or risk significant legal trouble with the authorities. – user104473 May 7 at 20:46
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    Also, she seemed shocked about the "talk to manager" part, not the "do not to work holidays" part. I will edit the post to make that clear. – user104473 May 7 at 20:48
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    Unfortunately this is the correct answer – Dave Gremlin May 7 at 22:09
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    I disagree with some of the points in this answer, mostly the definitive "no obligation", I think that the simple desire to not see another human suffer through a burnout is plenty of reason. But I agree that you should ask if you can help first. – Borgh May 8 at 7:16
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    On second thought, I will accept that answer, because it gave me the alternative cultural view I missed. I will still try to talk to her though. – user104473 May 8 at 17:08
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There might be a few points of feedback to consider:

1) She is in her probationary period, so she may be much less likely to push back against management during this timeframe, especially given her financial situation.

2) Consider culture. I am in the United States and have worked with colleagues from many different countries. Some cultures have a much stronger deference to authority, so that may also be a factor here. If so, let her figure out her own way of addressing this. Even though she has been in France for 7 years, some values can carry with a person for much longer (even up to a lifetime!).

3) Perhaps also consider your motivation for addressing this issue. I have tended to be a workaholic across my career, and that has helped me move forward more quickly. However, I have had situations where I have put in extra hours and been publicly rewarded by management; then the reaction by coworkers was one of jealousy. Instead of a compliment of ,“Good job,” my coworkers explicitly told me not to work so hard because it made them look bad. This kind of feedback can be really annoying. You sound like you genuinely want to help your coworker. At the same time, consider this a potential issue of what the person on the other end of the conversation could be perceiving.

4) She is just finishing up a PhD program. The workloads for some doctoral programs can be insane at some institutions, like 60-80 hours per week, every week. She may still be transitioning out of that structure into a standard work environment.

I would agree with the other posters, to let her make the decisions about this issue, since it affects her workload. Again, if she asks for advice, that would be an appropriate time to give feedback. Your response could include the facts that you have cited here, i.e. average workload, appropriate use of meetings, etc.

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The fact that is is happening in France makes the US-oriented answers completely wrong. This is not a psychological problem, as pointed out in the comments it's at least partly a legal one, besides being an enormous cultural blunder. It would be good @user104473 if you could have this conversation again with her at a calmer time, and point out that she is no longer in the balkans, in fact she's breaking the terms of her contract by planning on spending her holidays working, and potentially getting her employer in trouble over it.

If you know her manager and can talk about their personality, it might be helpful to reassure her that having a frank talk with them about the workload would not in any way get her fired. Some reassurance about the fact that establishing good working habits during her probation period would not get her fired might also be helpful. If you do know her manager personally, a casual hint that she seems insecure about her position and that a reassuring talk would be a good thing might be welcomed.

If she doesn't seem receptive to these ideas, I don't think a talk with your union representative would be out of line at all. It would probably be more helpful than going to her manager, as she might perceive that to be more threatening. But much would depend on their respective personalities, and you'd best be able to judge that. A combination of 'there, there, it'll all be OK' and 'you have to stop jeopardizing the organization' is a hard balance to achieve :-), but necessary here.

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It is hard to change other's behavior. Ask any AA group.

I would suggest you accept two things for starters:

  1. she is an adult that can make her own life decisions, even if they are bad
  2. this is mainly problem with you being worried and frustrated

On the point #1. You can tell her that lifestyle is not healthy, but you have to go away after couple of times. I would suggest letting her know that you are there, you can answer work-related questions, and if there is something she wants to change, she is welcome to ask you or ask on workplace.stackexchange.com. You can share personal experience, and share what are the company policies, as far as you know. Let her know, that you can advise on how to change her lifestyle, if she wants to do so.

On the point #2, which is the real problem you have. I think you have a right to go to your own manager, saying:

My coworker's behaviors bothers me. Is there something you can do to change that? I saw her working too much, taking overtime etc

It might be tricky, but you should avoid trying to "save" your colleague. Again, see #1: she is an independent adult not under your supervision.

  • I totally accept #1 and will drop the matter after having told her once (not twice or even "a couple of times"), but a ten-second chat before lunch doesn't count. If she ignores it then, yeah, it's her life. There is zero value is telling my boss since it's not her boss and it has zero impact on me. – user104473 May 7 at 21:01
  • @user104473 you wrote a post :) it doesn't have a zero-impact on you, denying that prevents learning how to deal with similar situation in the future – Oct18 is day of silence on SE May 7 at 21:02
  • Yeah, writing the post (outside office hours btw, hence, not a matter for my manager) was 90%+ of the impact it had on me. If your point is to practice total apathy towards anyone who is not a family member or a friend, duly noted. – user104473 May 7 at 21:23
  • I think the fact the colleague in question is a recent hire and their R&D projects last up to a year justifies a bit of concern since they might not know what they're getting into. Granted, warning someone of burnout might be more appropriate in an off-hour setting as opposed to bringing management into it. – lucasgcb May 8 at 7:21
  • She's working on degrading the established working conditions for an entire department, this is not an individual psychological problem – user90842 May 8 at 17:55
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Some managers will ask how you cope with your workload, and if you say "absolutely fine, I have spare time", then they give you more work.

If that manager meets an employee who says "absolutely fine, I have spare time" for some reason, no matter how overwhelmed they are with work already, then the manager will give them more and more work.

I have the impression that might be what is happening to your colleague. If her manager knew the actual situation, most likely they would be completely shocked and take work off her. This is France you say, so firing her is virtually impossible.

You might talk to your own manager, tell them that your colleague has in your opinion much too much work on her plate already and is set to get more, and that she even thinks about working through their holiday. A decent manager will either say "leave it to me" and talk to her manager, or will give you advice what to do.

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    "This is France you say, so firing her is virtually impossible." wrong, she is in her probation period. – Matthieu Brucher May 8 at 9:43

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