Colleague is not pulling her weight and nothing is being done about it.
April 6, 2016 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Our main customer service person has basically stopped doing her job and it's reflecting badly on all of us. The managers don't manage. We haven't had performance reviews in years. Nothing is changing. Can anything be done?

When she puts an appointment in a calendar, there's usually an error. Sometimes she just tells people to email instead of making an appointment or transferring them to someone who can help. In her role she should be able to answer basic questions but no longer does, she transfers them to someone else. If she is approached about a different way to do things or asked why (or if she noticed) something was done incorrectly, she gets snappy and outwardly frustrated and still won't follow through. There is strong suspicion that she is experience some Alzheimer's symptoms. Also her husband has been out of work and she's made comments about how they're low on money. The managers will ask the middle people (including me) to talk to her because "maybe she'll listen to you". Her duties are getting picked up mainly by our newest, youngest colleague, who has so much potential but is getting stuck with basically doing this other woman's job. We suspect she'll be out the door in no time since she has no ties to this area. I would too if I didn't have ties and if there were other equivalent employment opportunities here.

Has anyone else dealt with a situation like this? It's such a small place I don't think going to HR is going to help at all. The managers are open to talking/venting about the situation at any time with us but no action or change comes from it. They talk about how they need documentation and don't follow through on it. Any insight or advice into what I could do (or how similar situation may have been resolved) is helpful.
posted by wannabecounselor to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Any insight or advice into what I could do (or how similar situation may have been resolved) is helpful.

As a non-manager, your entire list of options are:
  1. Find a new job.
  2. Continue to do her job for her without additional compensation/recognition.
  3. Refuse to do her job for her without additional compensation/recognition.
  4. Refuse to do her job for her for any reason.
I suggest option 1 or option 4.

Also, this:

There is strong suspicion that she is experience some Alzheimer's symptoms.

is entirely inappropriate for you to comment on, and I strongly urge you to never bring this up in a professional context.
posted by saeculorum at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2016 [15 favorites]

It sounds like the way this situation is being handled is just a symptom of a poorly-managed workplace. That is, it's A problem but not THE problem. If you are otherwise happy biding away your working life at this place then keep at it but realize that there is really nothing in your power that you can do to change it.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:57 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Providing documentation of your own instances of "had to do her work" might be helpful. Be factual: names, dates, times, places, exactly what was done/said, and absolutely no commentary. Just what you witnessed, not what you were thinking or feeling. You can include anything a customer says out loud, though.

This, by the way, is mostly so that they will see what "documentation" looks like in this context. If your HR team is any good they'll have a preferred form or example to show them.

Definitely drop out of any "she totes has a neurological disorder" conversation you find yourself in, BTW. It's bad as a general thing but you run the risk of this becoming a discrimination-on-basis-of-disability thing.
posted by SMPA at 9:59 AM on April 6, 2016

If you are committed to staying at this place, you and the new employee with potential may need to do your own documentation. For example, I asked an assistant to file something with the court for me once and she responded that she would need several days' notice. She always had her headphones on and appeared to be watching videos or texting so it seemed odd that she would need multiple days' notice to do 5 minutes of work that was within her job duties. So I forwarded the email she sent me to her supervisor, with the note that within minutes of sending me that email, I had seen her making a personal call on her phone to schedule lunch plans, so she did not appear to be overworked. After a few of these documentations, the assistant quit because it was clear that it wasn't working out. Apparently, others had just stopped giving her work in frustration without sending her supervisor any information or asking her directly about it so nothing got fixed.
posted by *s at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are you cleaning up her mistakes regularly, without prompting from the management? Is there any way to just allow her errors to stand until something breaks? That sometimes is the only option.
posted by xingcat at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

If a manager comes to you to ask you to 'speak with her,' decline politely. "I don't feel right, since she doesn't report to me." It is a manager's job to reprimand, coach or discipline an employee, not yours.

You want your co-worker need to band together to do yours and only your work. Or do what makes sense.

Do document, as a favor to your managers. It helps with the frustration, truth be told. Perhaps encourage a weekly departmental meeting where you all get together to discuss processes and things that could be improved.

If you truly have to stay, this is the way to make the best of it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:24 AM on April 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

Don't speculate on her medical condition; that's a rocky path to follow.

It sounds as though she has recognized that there are no repercussions for doing a crappy job. (She's right!) The issue is above the fold in your question. "The managers don't manage. "

If you want to see improvement, then you need to address that issue. Unfortunately, your ability to influence managers to have performance improvement conversations is probably limited. Are you willing to stay in your job if this situation never changes?
posted by 26.2 at 11:56 AM on April 6, 2016

If the problem is that she's no longer up to the job, is there any possibility of just kind of putting her out to pasture? Changing her job so that she has less impact on others? I mean, obviously that's not within your power to do, but the next time management asks you to talk to her, can you just say, "I don't know if she can do this work any more; no matter what any of us say, it's not getting done. Could she be put in charge of [low-stakes task X] instead of [high-stakes task Y]?"

This could be a case of management trying to be compassionate and not fire someone who is older and may have been with the company for a long time.

Of course it could also just be a case of crappy management failing to manage a crappy worker.
posted by mskyle at 12:04 PM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

If the managers aren't willing to crack the whip on her, there is nothing you can do. It sounds like they'd have to be cracking the whip on her all the time to get her to do something, and most people aren't that nitpicky/don't have the time/want to do that. This question also implies that she's older, which makes me wonder if future retirement/not giving a fuck is a possibility. If she's only a few years away from going out on the door on her own, she may be hard to motivate and it's a lot easier to let her choose to leave on her own than to kick her out. You could try asking the managers if there's any way you can HELP them get documentation, but I have no idea if that's feasible.

What it really boils down to is: are you going to do her work for her or not? Is it more important to let the work go down the tubes to point out that she's problematic (which they know)? That sounds satisfying to say, but in reality it ends up biting everyone else in the butt. And possibly making YOU look bad. I hate to say it*, but younger coworkers having to compensate for slackers just plain happens. It's kind of a life requirement.

Her passing on answering questions to others is annoying, but at least in those cases she's not outright making mistakes or giving the wrong answers. Maybe that's a blessing in disguise. However, the error making in the calendar is a problem. You may just have to ask the managers to officially take that work away from her and pass it on to someone else, because lord knows asking someone to proofread who DGIF doesn't work either*. And yeah, aging may or may not be a factor there too. You need to learn to compensate for her like a missing stair you can't do anything about, unfortunately.

* Disclaimer: I have a somewhat similar situation going on at work with my coworker who's going to retire in a few months, and I feel ya. I do a lot of compensating for her.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:44 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Basically you are having to do your coworker's job, and when you speak to a manager, they want you to document/talk to her, so you're expected to do the manager's job, too?

Man, you need a raise. Save yourself some grief, quit doing their jobs for them, quit doing the job you were hired for, and spend your time at work updating your resume and practicing your exit lines.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:21 AM on April 7, 2016

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