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I have a co-worker in my team (let's call him John) who is supposed to be working with a woman from another company. She's on a fixed duration contract. It's bit like outsourcing because her employment contract is with another firm, but she's on site with us in the office every day. She has a desk right next to John. For all practical matters she's a colleague. Let's call her Alice.

I'm on good terms with her. Today she came into my office (a couple doors down the corridor) and as we started chatting it became clear that she has nothing to do. She's been really bored for the past weeks and she complained that receiving no assignments from John is affecting her mood and dead-locking her career. Her contract lasts for at least 4 more months and she is considering quitting because she is so bored.

Now here's the thing, John is supposed to manage her by delegating tasks and tutoring, but he largely refuses to do so (despite her numerous requests) because he has a hard time trusting others with his work. But he specifically requested this outsourcing help a few months ago (he's often doing overtime despite management asking him to go home on time).

I recommended that she talks privately about the situation with her boss (back at her company) or John's boss (who's also my boss). She said she's not comfortable doing that because she fears it will upset John because it would shed light on his inability to delegate or the fact that he did not need outsourced help after all (or is unable to use it), and ultimately fall back on her.

I empathize with her difficult situation and I want to help if possible. But I don't want to overstep boundaries or upset John. I should add that John is an experienced senior engineer (close to retirement) and Alice and I are both in our early twenties. Plus, John's work and mine are largely unrelated.

Should I talk to John's boss (who's also my boss) or mind my own business?

closed as unclear what you're asking by gnat, mcknz, scaaahu, Michael Grubey, Lilienthal Aug 18 '17 at 7:56

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  • "put on hold as unclear what I'm asking"?? But I've gotten great answers so far! How can it be unclear? It's a specific yes/no question with plenty of context... Sorry but I don't understand this moderator feedback. – fouronnes Aug 18 '17 at 16:14
19

Short answer: You should mind your own business.

By talking to your boss you could severely affect Alice (and even John possibly) in a negative way, as the situation may come down to her as you mentioned. It would be even worse if you talked to your boss's boss, as going over your boss's head is something you should seldom (if not never) do, and even less if it not something that directly affects you.

People like John are not rare to find in companies; some people have a hard time delegating, plus some senior engineers sometimes have a hard time tutoring and teaching. This may be the case of John.

In any case, Alice should be the one speaking. It seems that she may needs to be more assertive when speaking with him.

Edit: Here are some relevant questions regarding delegating work and bosses doing more work than they could/should.

  • I don't think this is a good answer. Alice clearly asked the OP for advice. It would be rude for him to say 'I'm not getting into this'. Now advising her to talk to her boss' boss is the wrong advice, but you should still give advice. – David Grinberg Aug 18 '17 at 0:05
  • 1
    Well, the OP asked "Should I talk to John's boss (who's also my boss) or mind my own business?" not "What advice should I give?". Besides the OP already gave advice to Alice as stated in the post – DarkCygnus Aug 18 '17 at 0:13
  • Dura lex sed lex. The boss is the boss. Having said that, Alice has a true boss in the contracting company. John is a client. – Simon Hoare Aug 18 '17 at 6:34
15

She should talk to her real boss at the contracting company and ask to be reassigned due to no work. She should show documentation of the times she has asked John for work to prove that she is not just lazing around. That person should discuss with their contacts at the company what to do. Many people hate to delegate and whine they are overbooked, but won't let go of any of the work. It is affecting her career, so she needs to move to another contract or get the company to get someone else to do the delegating. But which action happens is entirely the choice of the company that let the contract. There is no shame in being released from a contract due to there being no work.

She should also start applying for jobs because sooner or later they are going to realize she is doing no work and she will get laid off. The longer she works a contract with no achievements to show for it, the worse it looks on her resume. Contracts are often short-term so this is a case when having a quick turn-around should not negatively affect her as a job hopper.

You however, have no business in the problem at all other than to possibly suggest she discuss being reassigned with her boss (not John, her actual boss at the company that pays her.)

6

Should I talk to John's boss (who's also my boss) or mind my own business?

Unless this impacts you directly or your performance, you should most definitely mind your own business. This can have a very adverse affect on your working relationship with your co-worker, and make you seem as though your just a self serving nark.

If however it does impact your ability to perform your duties, then you should report it to the proper manager to be addressed appropriately. You are definitely within your rights to protect yourself. ( and keep your job )

5

There are two issues here: one between Alice and her manager and another between John and his manager. The issue isn't yours.

There are a couple of statement that stand out to me.

She said she's not comfortable doing that [informing her supervisor] because she fears it will upset John because it would shed light on his inability to delegate or the fact that he did not need outsourced help after all

She needs to inform her management of the current situation/status so they are no blindsided by the client (your company) raising the issue she didn't engage in any activities. Remember, the contractor incurred an opportunity cost; a contract was signed meaning a resource (Alice) was allocated for a project that the client didn't utilize. I guarantee you I would bill the client even if they gave me no work.

John is supposed to manage her by delegating tasks and tutoring, but he largely refuses to do so ... But he specifically requested this outsourcing help a few months ago (he's often doing overtime despite management asking him to go home on time)

(emphasis mine)

John already has the attention of management and I would be surprised he's not under a microscope already. He asked for an outsourced resource which he's not utilizing. At some point he's going to have to account for this.

As I mentioned from the onset, this issue isn't yours and you should steer clear of both of these minefields. That said, it doesn't preclude you from giving each a friendly piece of off-the-record advice as to what the reality is (not what to do). Keep in mind they need to make their own decision as to what their course action is .

1

may i suggest something completely different?

pair-working (like pair-programming, except that it's not programming)

john seems to have trouble delegating, yet this appears to be what he asked to be able to do. so it's a matter for him learning how to get started with that.

john is supposed to tutor alice, so it makes sense to start working together. they could start by just having alice watch john work. then slowly let alice take over doing some tasks while john watches. depending on the nature of the work, working together like that could already be more efficient. (it certainly works that way with pair-programming, less errors are made, etc)

while working together, this will also allow john to gain the needed trust to let alice work unsupervised, and thus achieve the initially intended outcome.

of course this depends on john being comfortable to have someone look over his shoulder initially.

-3

I'd say that you leave it alone and mind your own business. She's complaining, but they're apparently still sending her paychecks. She could be using that time to brush up on her skills, or to improve herself; you know, the ol' When Life Gives You Lemons approach. You could suggest that, and it would put a positive spin on her career aspirations.

The idea of Alice going back to wherever she's working at and raising a concern is a waste of time. There's no abuse, or anything unethical going on. Simultaneously, there's a ridiculous amount of competition in contract services of all types, and the account exec isn't going to be bothered with such a trifling complaint because as long as Alice is at the workplace, it's ALSO helping the account exec put food on the table. If Alice quits, everybody involved right now loses as John is not likely to replace her, or if he does, there's no guarantee that he'll get staff from the same firm.

  • 3
    The idea of Alice going back to wherever she's working at and raising a concern is a waste of time In 4 months from now, the customer will probably say to Alice's company: "Well, show me what you have done all this time that I have been paying you". Answering by "Now that you mention it, John did not assign us any work so we have done nothing" may be truthful and fulfill the contract obligations, but it will ensure that Alice's company will not get hired again. – SJuan76 Aug 17 '17 at 23:14
  • And at such time all Alice has to do is pull out documentation that she's been asking for work. Problem solved. – Xavier J Aug 18 '17 at 0:19
  • If Alice's at the workplace and no longer in academia, she's likely not looking to spend all day learning new stuff alone all day long. – Winter Aug 18 '17 at 1:09

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