How to Deal with an Unequal Workload in your Team

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Christa Ludlow, Principal Consultant of Weir Consulting, discusses what to do if your boss finds it easier to regularly give you extra work because your colleague is underperforming. 

Christa Ludlow Crop

One of my team members is under-performing, which creates more work for me. My boss handles this by giving me his urgent and important tasks because she knows I will get the work done. What should I do?

The first step is to identify what your colleague is actually doing, or not doing. Is your colleague’s performance really below standard? Does he lack the required knowledge or skill? If so, it might be possible for you to show him what to do. 

Try to understand how he sees his performance and if he thinks there is a problem. He may be undergoing health issues or some other personal issue which is affecting his ability. If this is the case, is your boss aware of this?

Even if she is, it might help to approach your boss and express your concerns while requesting that she develop a plan to manage the team’s workload until things improve. Overworking some employees could pose a risk to health and safety, as well as to the quality of your work.

If that’s not the case, or you can’t work out the cause, there are several alternative scenarios.

What may be happening

  • Your boss is unable or unwilling to address your colleague’s poor performance.

Many managers find it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback, and some will avoid it altogether.

There may be another factor here, and that is that your boss may see you as the easy way out of her problem. She knows that you are competent. Giving you your colleague’s tasks means that they get done to a high standard, plus she doesn’t need to have the dreaded feedback conversation.

Something needs to be done to change this pattern of behaviour. Your boss is unlikely to do it, because it’s working well for her – at least until some disaster occurs.

  • Your boss is biased, or is showing favouritism towards your colleague

If one employee is disadvantaged or treated differently on the basis of a personal characteristic such as their gender, race, sexual orientation, disability or religion, this is not only unfair, but it could be unlawful discrimination or adverse action which is contrary to anti-discrimination legislation and Fair Work Act 2009.

On the other hand, if an employee receives preferential treatment because they are friends with the boss, or their children go to the same school, this is bad management practice, but it is not unlawful.

Keep your own goals in mind

It is important not to become trapped by the negatives of your situation. Ask yourself, what do you want your work situation to be? If you want to be recognised and promoted, can you use this situation to highlight your strengths to your boss or others and get yourself moved upwards? Make sure others know what you are doing and how this is helping your boss.

If you like your current job but want a less stressful workload, try to bring the reality of the situation to your boss’s attention. Telling her directly is one way. If that sounds scary, is there another way you can bring this issue to her attention? Introducing a session at team meetings where everyone outlines their tasks for the week or asking your boss for input on how you should prioritise these new tasks are possible approaches.

You could also look at the wider situation. This is not just your problem. It is a problem for the whole team because it is affecting the team’s productivity. What support and resources can they offer?

If your boss’s behaviour remains the sticking point, however, you may not be able to bring about change without help from someone else with authority, such as Human Resources, but make sure you have documented concrete examples of what the boss has done and how it affected you and the team.

Christa Ludlow is a lawyer with over 20 years’ experience in employment law and administrative law, and a qualified coach and mediator. She is a Principal Consultant with WEIR Consulting. WEIR provides workplace conflict resolution, investigation, coaching and training services to clients in the public and private sectors. Contact Christa at christa.ludlow@weirconsult.com.au

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