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my boss takes all the work, a rogue parker, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss takes all the work

I work on a small team, led by a supervisor, “Ned,” who has normally been great. Our team members, including Ned, have equivalent qualifications in our field, though Ned is by far the most experienced.

He participates in every project he has time for, on top of his normal tasks. He absorbs new skills like a sponge, almost never delegating new projects to us. When upper management passes special projects down to the team, he intercepts them. If there’s a conference, he’s the only one to attend. What’s baffling is that he has been in this position for about 15 years, and doesn’t seem interested in an upper management role.

The problem isn’t that he takes on more than he can handle. It leaves the rest of us drumming our fingers and without enough work to do. When we suggest new projects, he immediately shuts them down. He won’t consider sharing his responsibilities. I’m fighting for work I’m qualified to do. I don’t have a sense of what could be making him think that we can’t handle it, or why he’s so driven to outperform everyone else. We’re on the same team!

He does have a good handle on the other elements of management. Getting him to delegate real tasks to the team is the difficulty, especially since it’s hard for us to improve without new skills. Maybe the answer is to be more assertive about asking for projects. Maybe we’re sending nonverbal signals that we don’t want to step up our game. Any advice for taking control of the situation?

Talk to him about it! He may have no idea that he’s stifling the rest of you. He may even think that he’s saving you from work, not realizing that you’d like to have that work.

Alternately, it’s possible that this is stemming from insecurity, where he’s afraid that if other people develop their skills, he’ll be outshined … not realizing that would actually reflect well on him as a manager. (And presumably not realizing that giving people opportunities to increase their skills and contribute at higher and higher levels is what a good manager should do, if the context allows for it.) If that’s the problem, you may run into more resistance.

But either way, step one is to talk to him. Say something like this: “I’m really interested in taking on projects like X and Y. I’d like to develop my skills in ABC and I can’t do that without the chance to work on new types of projects. I also often end up without enough work to fill my weeks, and I’m much happier when I’m busy. Would you consider sending more work my way, and in particular things like XYZ?”

If he resists, you could say, “To be honest, this is directly tied to my job satisfaction here. It’s really important to me to get opportunities to take on new things so that I’m not stagnating. If you don’t think I’m ready for those types of projects now, can we talk about what I’d need to work on improving in so that I’m able to take them on in the future?”

2. Should I tell people they’re supposed to cut the tack stitching off their suits?

This is low-risk question, but I was hoping you or your readers could help me address a pet peeve of mine. I live in NYC and see a lot of people, both men and women, while I commute and who I work with, who don’t cut off their “X” tacking. I even saw one person reinforce the tacking! I think this may be a nuance of professional polish that has been lost from common knowledge and I just want to help educate people. But how weird is it to go up to random strangers and be like, here let me cut this thread near your butt (kidding)! Do I try to tell people, for the betterment of fashion-kind or continue to mentally be exasperated at their ignorance? What should I say without sounding obnoxious or condescending?

Strangers: Don’t do it. It’s not your place and while some people might appreciate it, it’s going to be boundary-crossing to others.

People you work with: if you have a decent relationship with them and think they’d appreciate the heads-up, you could say, “Oh! You left the tack stitching on your suit — that little X there that’s supposed to come off after you buy it. Do you want me to cut it for you?”

But really, this is probably something you’re better off ignoring unless you’re with a close friend. It’s not really your business or your problem to solve. This isn’t in the same category as alerting someone that their fly is down or their skirt is tucked into the back of their underwear or other things people feel urgency around fixing immediately.

3. Should we say something about a rogue parker?

I work at a small office that has a small parking garage. Parking spots in the garage are assigned based on tenure with the company, so the people who have been here the longest get a spot regardless of their position. If someone leaves the organization, they assign the parking space to the next person in line. It’s kind of a fun thing and people in the office joke/talk about when they are going to get their parking spot.

A few times recently, an employee who is nowhere near the top of the list for a parking space has been parking in the CFO’s spot when they are gone. Some people in the office have noticed it and find it strange and annoying. There is no official rule about that kind of thing, but it seems like a boundary crossed. It also seems too petty to bring up to anyone, including the person doing the parking, so we feel resigned to grumbling. Is this something we should just ignore, or should it be addressed?

When I started to answer this, my initial instinct was “let it go — if the space is free, why not let it be used?” But then I realized that it’s just one person who’s doing this. It is unfair that this is a known system and one person is circumventing it for their own benefit.

The right move here isn’t to try to stop to it completely, but rather to get the rules clarified. If this is allowed — if temporarily vacant spaces can be used on a first-come, first-served basis — that should be announced to everyone, so everyone can benefit from it, rather than just this one person. The system shouldn’t be “everyone follows the same set of rules except for one person with the audacity to ignore them.”

4. My boss promised me ownership in the firm, but it’s not happening

I work for a small firm. My boss promised me ownership in the firm when I was hired eight years ago (unfortunately this was not in writing – lesson learned), but when I ask him about the timeline or any details, he gets defensive and refuses to answer the question, or tells me I’m impatient. I was hired as an analyst, but that somehow morphed into me being responsible for the growth of the firm and bringing in business, which is a completely different skillset. He’s now pushing out the timeline because I haven’t been successful at bringing in business (again, not my forte and I’ve been honest with him about that), but I excel at everything else and feel a bit over my head. How can I approach a negotiation about my future at the company?

It’s actually pretty normal that ownership in the firm would be tied to bringing in business and helping the firm grow. It sounds like he didn’t spell that out originally and should have, but it does sound like you should assume that it’s going to be a prerequisite before the ownership discussion will move forward in any meaningful way.

Aside from that, though, a manager who refuses to discuss any details about this and tells you that you’re impatient for asking (after eight years!) is not a reliable player here. So given that, added to the fact that business development isn’t a strength for you, you might be better off figuring that unless you see very solid evidence from him that this is moving forward, it’s likely not going to happen, and then deciding what you want to do from there.

5. I’m getting a lower raise because I took paternity leave

I am underpaid by at least 20-30%. This isn’t just my opinion, or some salary site cherry-picking; it’s performance review time, and my manager disclosed that that’s what the “compensation tool” he has to use to make compensation decisions says. He agrees, saying he wants to retain me, knows he’d have trouble replacing me, and that I’m a good performer. Likewise, there’s a lot I like about my job, and I’m not ready to pack it in yet and find another job to get that last 20%. But I’d sure like to get it at this one.

During a recent 1-1, he indicated that he would try to close the gap between my salary and my market during this year’s review cycle, but said couldn’t make any promises because, of course, doing so would put him over his budget, which means he’d need to take it up with his boss, etc. I get that. However, when I asked what objections he expected to face, one of the things he mentioned was how many “benefits you’ve used this year.” When I pressed for clarification about what he meant by that, he said, “paternity.”

I have used about three weeks of leave so far this year to care for my newborn. My company has a paid parental leave program, so I’ve been paid for those weeks. But the leave is also considered FMLA. Grey area?

I don’t yet know what kind of raise I’ll be getting; we’re at the beginning of the review period which lasts another few weeks. I don’t want to get anyone in hot water, but I sure don’t want to miss out on thousands of dollars because someone thinks it’s okay to hold my use of FMLA against me. But I’m not sure bringing it up will help anything either; I feel like it would just put everyone on the defensive. If you were me, what, if anything, would you do at this point?

Well, that’s illegal. Employers aren’t allowed to consider FMLA leave when making employment decisions, including things like performance reviews and salary increases. Your boss probably doesn’t realize that. I suppose he could be referring to the paid part of that leave rather than the FMLA part (since FMLA can be unpaid), but it’s not a good spot for your company to be in legally.

I’d go back to him and say this: “I’ve been thinking about your mention that you might get some push-back on a raise for me because I took paternity leave this year. I’m hoping that won’t come up since under federal law, we’re actually not allowed to consider FMLA leave in making salary decisions — but if (decision-maker) doesn’t realize that, could you point it out? It occurred to me that it’s one of those things that people outside of HR might not immediately realize, so I wanted to mention it.” By saying “we’re not allowed” rather than “you’re not allowed,” and by giving them the benefit of the doubt (that they might just not have realized this), you’re less likely to put him on the defensive than with a more adversarial approach.

You may also like:my coworker over-delivers and it’s causing us major problemshow do I get my direct reports to be better managers of their own teams?what to do when you’re the boss’s favorite — and coworkers resent it

my boss takes all the work, a rogue parker, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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