Q: On my job, the staff works together at a “front central desk” where we interact with the public. We also have a regular office, away from the public. We all go by the honor system when it comes to splitting our time between the two locations. I have one co-worker, however, who never seems to be willing to work at the front desk for any length of time. She manages to spend most of her shift in the quiet area, or she finds some other task that allows her to leave the front desk. She’s also been known to go for “coffee breaks” without telling anyone, leaving the rest of the front desk without any backup. She informs her supervisor but no one else, then walks in 20 to 30 minutes later with coffee just for the two of them. Several co-workers have gone to the supervisor to complain, but the supervisor always defends her. How can we get our co-worker to pull her weight?
A: Unfortunately, you and your co-workers have already gone to your supervisor and discovered and unsettling truth: This woman has the supervisor’s protection. So long as that’s the case, a satisfactory resolution of the problem doesn’t appear likely. Your best solution is to work to change the system, not the individual. One possibility is to ask that your company ditch the honor system (which isn’t being honored, anyway) and set up a schedule with defined times when each person is supposed to be on the front desk. As far as coffee is concerned, offer to get her coffee first, before she has a chance to disappear on you, or simply bring your own coffee and enjoy it. Finally, remember that circumstances change. For instance, a new supervisor would give you and your fellow co-workers the opportunity to address the situation.