Career Q&A | By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

Tips for overcoming the woes of being a 'task magnet'

Q: I work for a demanding boss who apparently feels that I can handle any task in the office. He assigns all the extra work to me instead of spreading it out among the staff. Even though he has no problem with my co-workers, he rarely gives them any additional responsibilities.

After I talked with him about my overwhelming workload, he did allow me to delegate some of my duties. But the work always trickles back to me eventually, because the others either cannot or will not get the job done. I'm beginning to think the only solution is to just stop being such a good employee.

A: This quandary is frequently experienced by extremely conscientious people. Work tends to flow toward those who are most reliable, so by consistently demonstrating competence, you have turned into a task magnet. This trend can be hard to reverse, since intentionally screwing up is not really a viable option.

The first step in solving this problem is to be sure that you are not contributing to it. Hard-working, meticulous employees often feel compelled to stay on top of every single little detail. As a result, they have a tendency to take on extra duties or reclaim tasks that have been given to others.

Some administrative assistants, for example, have been known to assume responsibility for refilling the coffee, cleaning the break room, keeping paper in the copier, organizing birthday celebrations, reminding people to complete expense reports and so on, even when no one has required them to do so.

Highly responsible people may also have difficulty delegating, because they expect others to handle every assignment exactly as they would themselves. When they sense that their personal standards are not being met, they quickly take the work back. If you see yourself in this description, then it's time to relax and let go of a few things.

On the other hand, you may simply be the victim of a disorganized manager who has failed to differentiate roles in the office. To remedy this oversight, draft job descriptions for the key players and review them with your boss. If you can get him to sign off on a clear division of labor, that should provide a structure for reassigning some of your duties.

Turn overload concerns into problem-solving opportunity

Q: Over the last six months, my duties have gradually increased to the point where I could easily work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and still not get everything done.

My boss understands the problem and has asked for permission to hire another person, but top management won't approve his request. I'm always swamped with work, so I feel exhausted and depressed most of the time. What should I do ?

A: Because workload issues can seem so overwhelming, they tend to make employees feel helpless and hopeless. There are only three possible solutions: Increase staff, reduce responsibilities or streamline work processes. Since the first appears to be off the table, you will need to explore the other two.

Fortunately, you don't have to face this challenge alone, because your manager is responsible for helping you determine which tasks are more or less important. Assistance with prioritizing is actually one of the benefits of having a boss. However, you will need to invest some time in preparation for this discussion.

Start by summarizing your responsibilities and tasks, then create sensible guidelines for designating their priority level.

When you meet with your boss, present your concerns as a problem-solving opportunity, not a complaint. Instead of griping about long hours or impossible goals, request his help in evaluating priorities, then review your rankings to see if he agrees. Once the two of you have settled on a priority list, the next step is to identify tasks which can be reduced, simplified or eliminated. Since your manager seems sympathetic, you might also try to agree on a reasonable length for your workday.

Mobilize in an effort to restore restroom equality

Q: A few months ago, an angry female customer made a mess of the women's restroom on our office floor. Since then, management has kept this restroom locked, even though we have 30 women working here. Now the women have to ask for a key to use the restroom, while the men's room remains unlocked. Would this be considered sex discrimination?

A: To restore both equality and rationality, all 30 female employees should visit the highest available executive en masse and request that the restroom be unlocked. The prospect of dealing with 30 outraged women should be frightening enough to get the attention of almost any manager.

Tips for overcoming the woes of being a 'task magnet' 05/26/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 26, 2012 5:31am]

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