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(Cinders McLeod For The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod For The Globe and Mail)

NINE TO FIVE

My spineless boss won’t rein in my useless colleague Add to ...

THE QUESTION

About two years ago, I left the company I work for to move to a different city. When I returned to my hometown, I got my old job back.

The lady I work with is 20 years older than I am, and has been with the company for over 30 years. But I have more experience in our administrative department. When I returned, I could not believe how many questions she had about things she should know. But when someone came to the front desk to ask us a question, she made sure she was the one to answer, even if I had just told her the answer a few moments earlier. I began to feel used.

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I’ve taken hardly any vacation and she has taken every holiday she wanted. When I asked for two days off at the end of the year, she seemed okay with it but later accused me of asking for a day off when her dad was dying. This was not true and I have the text messages and e-mails to prove it. I told the boss about her explosion and he said it was all just a miscommunication.

This woman really doesn’t know what she is doing. She comes in late, goes to lunch for over an hour and leaves early. If you tell her she’s done something wrong, she gets her back up, but has no problem telling others they’re wrong. Others have asked me to correct her work so they don’t have to bring up her mistakes and feel her wrath.

I’ve tried to talk to the boss about it, but he told me that if he says something, that might make it even worse for me. How is this fair? How do I cope with a spineless boss and a user?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Pamela Jeffery

Founder, Women’s Executive Network, Toronto

I can feel the frustration in your letter but I think that with effort and introspection on your part, there may be an opportunity to resolve this in a positive way. My first question is about the broader corporate culture in your company. If the rest of the company operates fairly and this is a case of your boss being a poor manager, then you should reach out to your human resources department to try to come up with a solution. If the company is big enough, perhaps one of those solutions could include exploring other avenues within the organization.

I cannot speak for your co-worker, but since you are peers and do not report to each other, it sounds as if you need to reflect on your general reaction to her and what you can do to improve the situation. Once you’ve had a chance to do this, I suggest you schedule a meeting with your boss in order to clarify your role and responsibilities, those of your co-worker, and to get feedback on your performance.

I also think you should offer solutions as to how you can improve the situation with your co-worker. From what I’ve read, you haven’t offered a way to resolve the conflict. By approaching your boss in this way, he will see that you are committed to making things better.

If you take these steps and there is no change, then I suggest it’s time you update your résumé and start job hunting.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Sandra Safran

President of Sandra Safran HR Services, London, Ont.

In difficult work situations such as yours, there are usually three options – live with the problem, quit, or approach management for help. You have already tried the third option, but your boss is too weak to do anything about your co-worker’s behaviour. He seems afraid of her and is unlikely to change his methods of avoiding his responsibilities, which should include motivating staff and addressing problems. Is there anyone else in authority who might help you?

Your jealous and defensive co-worker successfully uses her volatile personality and partial truths to make other people do what she wants. From your description of her disrespectful behaviour, there may be nothing you can say to make her treat you fairly. For now, keep being helpful to other staff and try not to antagonize her.

Learn as much as you can about the business, and try to find a job in a company that is managed better than this one. After you leave, they may regret how the situation was managed. But you will be happier.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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