1. Good morning, friends,
    Back in May I was promoted within my office to a position left vacant by a person moving to a new town. I received this promotion over others due to my taking on several additional responsibilities (learning a second language, for instance). I intend no immodesty with that statement; it is simply the truth. As a result, my old position (essentially a glorified admin assistant) opened.
    I was part of the hiring process, and half-way through May we chose an older woman. She is a very friendly person. My problem is that she appears to be inefficient; i.e., projects my predecessor and I completed in a timely manner are a couple of weeks overdue. She doesn’t seem to be simply wasting time on the internet. She just takes forever to do simple tasks. Yesterday while she was at lunch, our boss asked me to sit at her desk and essentially do her job for her since I already knew what to do. I completed a large portion of an overdue project within that hour, but I was irritated that I was expected to handled someone else’s job for her. When I was new to that job, my predecessor did not come back in to help me.
    Does anyone have a workplace etiquette suggestion for this?
    I don’t want to be stuck doing her job, but offering suggestions on efficiency aren’t helping much (and yes, our boss is aware). One friend said it’s time for a frank talk with the boss, but that feels as if I’m tattling, which I find unprofessional.

  2. Elizabeth

    You may have already done this, but the first person to talk to is the woman herself. You can note that the workload seems to be a lot for her, and projects are being completed late. Ask if there’s any questions or confusion that you can clear up. If you are not this woman’s boss and don’t have the authority to instruct her, then it is time to talk to the boss – it became time when her lack of productivity became your problem and responsibility. You can couch it in terms of being helpful – you and your boss can discuss strategies for additional training or help in streamlining her workflow. It may be that this woman isn’t clear about due dates and other expectations, so it’s important that all of that be spelled out clearly. There seem to be a lot of steps between now and her losing her job – steps that could help her increase productivity and become a useful member of the team. If you approach your boss with that goal in mind, I think s/he’ll see it as a mark of good leadership in you.

    • Boss and I had this meeting about streamlining yesterday. I made certain to not say anything negative, and stuck with statements such as, “I’ve found that doing this is helpful,” and “When I use this Microsoft shortcut, it seems to cut down on time.”
      Boss asked me to share my efficiency suggestions with her when she returned from lunch, and I did so without using the term “you,” instead using statements such as the above. One was, “I used to do each form in the order it was handed to me, by date. That way we don’t have to worry about mixing them up and forgetting some.” She said, “I do that too.” We know she does not as they were all out of order, and one was dated three wks ago, but had not been completed. I chose not to mention this.
      My boss knows I’m annoyed, but instead of doing something about her, he is finding very tiny flaws in what I do. Just now, he felt that my number “11” could be confused with the Roman numeral 2. I responded, “how would you prefer I write the number eleven?”
      He said I should make make the “one” very clear. I replied that I would try not to make that mistake in the future.
      As you might imagine, I’m frustrated that she seemingly gets a free pass (perhaps he’s deferring to her age?), while my writing style is suddenly getting critiqued. In case anyone is curious, no one has ever found fault with my 1s before.

      • Elizabeth

        Hmmm….that does not sound like a particularly supportive attitude for your boss to take, and the ’11’ thing is just ridiculous. You mentioned that this woman was hired in mid-May, so that would have her on the job for about 3.5 months. It is possible that she’s still getting used to things and that she may yet improve, especially since your talk with her yesterday. Despite her defensiveness, she may have realized that she is making mistakes and will hopefully work to correct them (but just did not want to admit them). It sounds like your boss is also her boss, and so he has the ultimate authority over her and is also the one who must keep track of her performance. Perhaps it would be best to distance yourself from her and her work, and if asked to help her, perhaps just decline apologetically, explaining that you’re really swamped with your own work, have lunch plans, etc. Either she will improve or she will continue to perform badly, in which case hopefully your boss will come around to seeing that she’s not a good fit for the office. Unless her work directly affects your ability to do your job, I think distance is the way to go here.

        Congratulations on the promotion, by the way, and your program of improving your skills. Based on some of the things you’ve said in the past about this place, the working environment sounds less than ideal. It may good to work 6 months in this position, and then capitalize on your new skills and experience to find a new job!

        • I suppose I sound a bit whiny about my job, when that assessment isn’t entirely fair. I’m fortunate to have the job, and it offers good benefits. My boss is possibly the most qualified person his field, and most of my coworkers are really nice people.
          I’m just used to working in a fast-paced for-profit world where people work efficiently and quickly as anyone can be fired at anytime. This is a large institution, and like most bureaucracies, business doesn’t move very quickly and people are typically not fired (unless there’s something illegal happening). Because there aren’t many good jobs in this area, I’d like to keep the workplace peace here (which is why I turn to you all!). Thank you for taking a moment to respond.

          • Elizabeth

            Not at all, I think your frustration/irritation are very normal and understandable. Happy to help in any way I can!

  3. Elaine


    I wondered if you could all give me some advice.

    I received a wedding invitation (ceremony & reception) for one of my university friends this morning. My problem is I’m in two minds about what to do. On one hand I’d love to be there. On the other I don’t really want to go to the reception without my other half (who isn’t invited). Is it OK to attend the ceremony only and make my excuses for the evening reception, or would that be really bad form?

    (I’m not upset my other half isn’t invited, he and my uni friend have never met. just for personal reasons I’d rather not be at the evening reception without him.)

    • Elizabeth

      If you really can’t see your way to going to the reception (which I would encourage – you can catch up with other old friends, make new ones, duck out early if you’re not into it), I think you could definitely RSVP and explain in an enclosed note that while you already have other plans during the evening reception, you’re excited to be there for the ceremony to witness their union.

    • Nina

      Hi Elaine,

      I certainly agree with Elizabeth on all counts. As long as you decline the invitation apologetically and promptly, there’s no real faux pass in not attending the reception. However, if you think of it from the bride’s point of view, that means she won’t get to speak to you or possibly even see you at the event–she’ll arrive shortly before the ceremony, get married, and then more than likely be whisked away for photos. Her first chance to socialize with her guests won’t be until the receiving line or cocktails at the reception. If I were the bride and you were my good friend, I would be sad you weren’t there!

      If your worry about the evening is simply the awkwardness of not knowing people and not having your partner to turn to, it might be worth enduring in order to see your friend and celebrate with her and her new husband. I’ve attended weddings where I didn’t know a soul but the happy couple, and while it’s not the *most* fun in the world, they did make an effort to seat me with friendly folks, who in turn made an effort to get to know me. And I know the bride and groom appreciated the effort I made.

      If you concern is other than the above, or even if it’s exactly what I suggest, you could still gracefully decline at this point and no one would be offended. Sad, perhaps, but definitely not offended.

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