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Andrew is a friend of mine. Andrew's direct boss is Brian who is the head of the department. Unfortunately Andrew doesn't get enough work from Brian and he often bored and idle there. It also causes some friction between Andrew and other colleagues since other people usually has a lot of work. (He asked for more work from Brian several times before.)

Sometimes Andrew helps other managers. (These managers also report to Brian and they are not between Andrew and Brian in the hierarchy.) Brian insists that he has to know (and accept) every work item that Andrew does.

Today Craig (a manager from his department) gave Andrew a few documents for processing, this kind of work was allowed by Brian formerly. A few hours later Andrew talked with Craig and it turned out that Brian revoked his allowance of this work and Craig wants to hide from Brian that Andrew does this work. The work should have been done by the Craig's already busy employees although Andrew also could do this (and has free time).

Additionally, it seems that this was not the only one occasion, there will be more similar documents next week.

Andrew struggles. He wants to be helpful, wants to avoid further frictions between colleagues but also does not want to do anything which Brian would not like. He could talk to Brian and unfold that he did some unallowed work (and earn a bad reputation from Craig and other colleagues and still be idle), could do the work and earn a bad reputation from Brian if the secret turns out or could just ask Craig to get an allowance from Brian (friction again, Craig said that he does not want to do that). Is there any other option?

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    You are telling a very confused story. I just can't tell who is who. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 12 '14 at 21:45
  • Huh? I can't figure out who is what and doing what to whom. This might be a lot more understandable if you make up short fictitious names for everyone. – Olin Lathrop May 12 '14 at 21:59
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    So is this a real situation or are you copying an example from an HR training handbook? – JakeGould May 13 '14 at 4:21
  • @JakeGould: Unfortunately not, it happened with my friend. – user19458 May 13 '14 at 17:05
  • @user19458 Then whatever happened is so complex none of us understand what is happening. – JakeGould May 13 '14 at 17:12
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As Brian is his manager, he should start his discussions with Brian. He needs to let Brian know that

  • he does not have enough work to do
  • he needs clarity on when he is allowed to work for others when his own work is slow, and what the procedure should be for getting approval for such additional work
  • he needs to know what he should be working on when he has nothing assigned

Once he has answers, it might be wise to follow up with an email to Brian detailing what he heard, so that there are no misunderstandings in the future.

For what it's worth, Brian does not sound like a great manager. Andrew might need to polish his resume and move on.

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    I would add that if Brian still insists Andrew doesn't do work for Craig, Andrew should ask why that is the case. He may have a perfectly legitimate reason that is only clear to him. – David K May 13 '14 at 12:53
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Seeing this, I would believe either/and of the following:

Brian does not trust Andrew, either due to the quality of Andrew's work or due to his ethics. The 'papers' might involve something like credit card numbers, health data, or personal identification (drivers license numbers, etc.) and Brian suspects Andrew will abuse this information.

Brian may also have a cultural, racial, or ethnic prejudice - 'those people aren't allowed to do that stuff'. Since it isn't clear where this is taking place, it isn't clear what specific prejudice is likely.

Brian may not be able to discharge Andrew, so he simply leaves him 'benched'. Brian might have been forced to take Andrew as a subordinate and simply wishes that Andrew would quit.

The best thing for Andrew to do is find work for a different boss, one who should be able to trust him with whatever responsibility he is assigned.

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    It might not have anything to do with Andrew. Maybe Brian doesn't like it when other people assign work to his employee - it could be a territorial thing. Maybe there are billing issues that are being complicated by Andrew doing work for multiple people. Maybe Brian wants Andrew to concentrate longer on assigned tasks instead of rushing through to do someone else's work. – MJ6 May 13 '14 at 14:19
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Instead of approving Andrew's tasks, Brian should prioritize them.

Whenever anyone gives Andrew a task, it gets into is task list as a low priority task. Brian can decide which tasks will get higher priorities. Andrew does the higher priority tasks first. If Andrew needs to do something short and simple for a low priority task - like replying to an eMail regarding it - he can do it even if he has higher priority tasks, but otherwise he should focus on the highest priority tasks that he has.

This way, the lower priority tasks(formerly "unapproved tasks") will not get in the way of the higher priority tasks(formerly "approved tasks"), but Andrew will still be able to do them on his (no longer) idle time.

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    Maybe Brian should, but he doesn't. What should Andrew do? (This is the question) – Dukeling May 13 '14 at 1:32
  • I'm saying that you're describing the ideal situation in your answer - you're not answering the question, which is, as I read it - what should Andrew do? – Dukeling May 13 '14 at 1:44
  • Since Brian keeps Andrew on a short leash, Andrew can't really do anything without Brian's consent - unless he wants to operate in secret(which is not healthy to neither Andrew, Brian or the company). Like MJ6 said in his answer - Andrew should talk to Brian about this problem. If Brian won't be part of the solution, he's not going to let the solution work. – Idan Arye May 13 '14 at 1:45
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    @Dukeline - Andrew should propose this ideal situation to Brian, and hopefully Brian will either (a) agree, or (b) give some reason for disagreeing which clarifies the situation and leads to possibly finding another solution. – Carson63000 May 13 '14 at 1:54

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