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First of all, let me say that I have read How should I handle an incompetent coworker?, How to deal with an incompetent colleague? and How to deal with relatively technically incompetent coworker?, but my question is slightly different.

The setup

I am a software engineer working for a large size outsourcing company in Europe. Right now, in the project I´m working on, we are 2 software engineers: my incompetent coworker (let's call him Bob), and myself. What I mean by incompetent is that he barely reaches the deadlines, asks rookie questions during client meetings, and has almost no experience with programming. I do not exaggerate if I say that I am responsible for 80%+ of the whole work of the project.

My approach

When dealing with Bob I have always been there to help him with whatever he needs. I always solve his coding errors, show him which libraries are helpful in any specific case, and teach him all he needs to know to fulfill his tasks. I´m taking this approach for 2 reasons: 1) I don´t want to be an asshole. 2) If the overall project due date is compromised, somehow can also be seen as my fault.

Also since Bob´s tasks are very similar to mine, he is used to copying the roadmap I use in my day-to-day tasks (or even whole pieces of code), which doesn´t really matter to me. But what really drives me mad is that, in our daily meetings with our boss, he never gives any credit for my help when solving his issues.

I believe that our boss has noticed his underperformance since he usually tells Bob "to ask me for advice" and he gets assigned the easy tasks, while the challenging ones are always on my side.

The question

We are about to hit our yearly payment raise, and all I care about is making sure that my boss notices that I am the one leading the project so I can get the best raise possible (since we work on the same project I assume that we are somehow "fighting" for it). Therefore my questions are:

  • What is the best way to make sure that our boss gets the best impression of me so I can get the best possible raise? (not when having our yearly promotion meeting but on a day-to-day basis instead).
  • If I don´t help Bob anymore my work on the project will shine brighter, but can this backfire on me? I´m afraid to be seen as a worker who doesn´t play as a team.
  • Should I help him just a little to make sure that he doesn´t steal too much time and still be seen as a team player?

I have always avoided to point his mistakes and focus on all I have done to help him. Should I keep doing this or should I take a different approach? For example, stop helping Bob at all so the work I do is taken more into consideration.

Also

Let me say that I like my job and the company where I work. I do not consider changing companies, I want to learn how to deal with Bob, and most importantly, get the best salary raise I can.

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    I've been told to never compare yourself to anyone else during your review when you are asking for a raise because it will always be turned against you. Instead, talk up your accomplishments and how your coworkers follow your example. Be positive instead of negative. Your boss already knows the negative bits.
    – Trevor
    Dec 7, 2022 at 17:19
  • Thanks for the comment @Trevor, I will definitely do that. But my question is more focused on what actions should I take on a day-to-day basis. Dec 7, 2022 at 19:09
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    You have a fixed-mindset. Instead of framing the situation as you competing against Bob, you need to frame the situation as your employer competing against other employers to keep you around because you can not easily be replaced (not by Bob and not easily by anyone else either). And if you want to practice selling yourself, you need to start interviewing with other employers, even if you have no intention of ever leaving. This will help fine-tune your elevator pitch and your resume. But most importantly, this will give you the psychological edge and the confidence to negotiate for yourself. Dec 7, 2022 at 21:37
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    Just do your job. It seems your boss already knows. Dec 7, 2022 at 23:16
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    It might be helpful to set boundaries with your coworker and have regular check-ins with your boss to discuss your progress and any concerns you have. By focusing on your own work and performance, you can increase your chances of getting the raise you deserve.
    – shuberman
    Dec 8, 2022 at 11:38

3 Answers 3

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There are a couple of great answers already, but I want to give an answer from the perspective of a manager.

You say:

I believe that our boss has noticed his underperformance since he usually tells Bob "to ask me for advice" and he gets assigned the easy tasks, while the challenging ones are always on my side.

This says the boss knows the relative strengths and weaknesses of you and Bob. As a manager it is literally their job to know that. As a manager, I pay very close attention to who is strong at something and who is not. It means I know who I should assign tasks to and it also means I know who needs training or mentoring in a particular task to improve team resilience.

The point here is that you don't need to tell your boss about your strengths and Bobs weaknesses, they already know.

You also say:

When dealing with Bob I have always been there to help him with whatever he needs. I always solve his coding errors, show him which libraries are helpful in any specific case, and teach him all he needs to know to fulfil his tasks.

This is good. As a manager, I love talented team members who go out of their way to help less able team members and improve their skills. This is exactly what I want my people to do. This reflects well on you. Your boss has almost certainly noticed, but you can discuss this with them in a positive light, the answer provided by TheDemonLord has excellent examples of how to do this.

This is exactly the kind of behaviour good managers want to encourage. Speaking personally, I prefer this more than outright individual attainment as this helps the entire team and the benefits last way beyond the end of the current project.

If I don´t help Bob anymore my work on the project will shine brighter, but can this backfire on me? I'm afraid to be seen as a worker who doesn´t play as a team.

From what you've said about your manager, they know you both pretty well. This sounds to me like a very bad idea. Ultimately your employer pays you to get the best results for the company, which means ensuring the team does the best work it can do over the longer term as well as the short term. If I were your manager and your attitude to work changed in this way I would be very concerned and also quite annoyed. As others have said, in your conversations with your manager, focus in a positive way on your contributions, how you've shown leadership and teamwork in helping a less able colleague for the good of everyone, not just yourself.

One final word is that from what you've written it sounds like you have an engaged boss who knows what's going on, but doesn't micromanage you to death. That's a very good boss to have.

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  • Thank you very much for your answer! Dec 8, 2022 at 12:15
  • One way to look at it is that your manager wants to see how you contribute to the company, not just in deliverables but in skilling up co-workers. Bob might be pretty bad right now, but your boss needs to know that you won't go chew someone out (which you haven't) just because they're not as skilled as you. You can also add your training duties as part of your justification for a raise.
    – Nelson
    May 25, 2023 at 1:43
  • +1. “My coworker sucks so I compete with him and minimally help him” would get you a much, much worse review from me than “my coworker sucks so I mentor him and make sure the projects are successful.”
    – mxyzplk
    May 29, 2023 at 17:54
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The simple way to address this is all in how you frame the issue:

Bad: "Bob does virtually no work on this project:
Good: "As you can see from the GIT commits, I've taken the lead on ensuring this project is delivered in a timely fashion"

Bad: "Bob keeps asking stupid questions, he should know better"
Good: "In addition to my project work, I've been mentoring other staff members and upskilling them to meet the company requirements"

Essentially, anytime you think you are bad-mouthing Bob, don't do it. Instead talk about the issue solely from your perspective. Don't talk about what Bob hasn't done, talk about what you did.

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    I feel like these are great tips when having a meeting with our boss. Thanks! But my question is more focused on 'what my working relationship with Bob should be so that when I finally have my yearly review with our boss, my work shines the most'. I edited the question so this can be seen better. Dec 7, 2022 at 20:49
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    @ArrozconTomate The way you've phrased that sounds like you're weighing up whether to help Bob less until the review so that his shortcomings become more obvious, providing a contrast so you stand out more and get a higher raise. I wouldn't suggest doing that - from what you've described, your boss is aware of how things are, and it's possible he'll notice the change in your behaviour either directly or via the change in Bob's output. Given the boss already has a baseline for how you assist Bob, giving less help there may come across as your performance dropping, resulting in a bad review.
    – Kayndarr
    Dec 8, 2022 at 5:46
  • And in your comments to your boss, you can mention specifically that you are helping Bob, again taking the positive by talking about what you have done. Dec 8, 2022 at 16:34
  • @ArrozconTomate from this answer, you would optimize your interactions with Bob to be able to report good stuff. So, the more you make the team (you and him) succeed, the better. Don't tank your own performance, but optimize for overall success. Especially if you can develop him enough to support long term success.
    – fectin
    May 18, 2023 at 0:46
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    In the past I'd have logged all that time as training time with Bob. Then in the yearly reviews I have the timesheet entries to go back to and say "I spent X hours helping Bob this year, which is 50% more training time than the next highest amount of training by one person" That really helps shift the focus from what Bob does to your provable X hours of teamwork. This does rely on everyone doing timesheets to compare, but you can still do timesheets for training time on your own. May 24, 2023 at 13:51
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I believe that our boss has noticed his underperformance since he usually tells Bob "to ask me for advice" and he gets assigned the easy tasks, while the challenging ones are always on my side.

This indicates your boss already knows that you are performing much better than Bob, and you have good potential leadership too. So, this is a great recognition that will likely give you an excellent performance review by the year end, and possibly potential promotion over Bob in the future if the boss has to choose between you and Bob to be the team lead, for example.

Therefore, I think you should keep showing your TEAMWORK spirit and LEADERSHIP to the boss , and help Bob whenever it makes sense to do so in order to improve the overall productivity of the whole team. This will make your manager happy, and in the end, it will help you a lot more than you thought.

Of course, you have to take care of your work first, and then you can help Bob when it seems a reasonable thing and a good idea to do so.

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