Black holes are scary yet fascinating. The fact that some force is so strong that it might suck us up and never let us out makes most want to stay very far away from it. Well, in the workplace, we have our own black holes. They are the culprits that eat up our time and zap our energy. It’s important to more clearly define some workplace black holes, so that you may tiptoe around them and walk away unscathed.
The Draining Boss
Some bosses simply drain your brain and then come back for more. They may offer you mindless tasks or have you work full speed on a project for 2 weeks straight, only to tell you that the team is going in a different direction. Draining bosses do not offer you time to relax before hitting you with the next stressful task. They demand your undivided attention and expect you to place work above everything else in your life. Draining bosses cause unnecessary stress and tension.
The Strategy? Your goal is to maintain professionalism while setting clear boundaries with your boss. Prioritize projects and confirm expectations before you begin work on a new assignment. Use clear language to share that your time is important, too, and that you are most effective when you have reasonable deadlines for task completion. When your boss pummels you with more than one urgent assignment, say something like, “Which of these two projects is a priority for today?” or “Just to be clear, do you want me to put Project [X] to the side while I dive in to Project [Y]?”
The key is to remain a team player and to demonstrate loyalty to your boss and to the company. Manage your manager by showing her how to best help you to be successful.
The Needy Colleague
Some colleagues appear so helpless that you feel obligated to comfort them, coach them, or even do their work for them. A needy colleague is a peer who needs you. You want to be seen as that helpful individual who is there for his fellow man (or woman). Still, you can’t possibly get all of the work done on your plate if you keep stopping to help your needy colleague. While every employer wants an employee who exhibits high organizational citizenship behavior, we must use care to maintain a healthy balance so that work time is primary and help time is secondary.
The Strategy? Your goal is to set clear boundaries while remaining friendly and tolerant of your coworker. If you have the most tenure in the office and are the best suited person to coach and support your colleague, set specific times each day when you are free to help with questions about work related issues. Politely ask that your colleague respect the hours so that you can get your job done, too. Say something like, “I want to be of help. But, I can only do so if I first get my work done. Why don’t you check out this resource and I will touch base with you when I’m free at 2.” Or, if you are not the right person to help, yet don’t want your needy colleague to grow even more needy, then offer a specific resource that can help. Even make the connection for the colleague, if appropriate. “I know that this is an overwhelming time. Our HR department is set up to help with this exact issue. I’d be happy to walk you there, if you’d like.”
The key is to maintain a team player attitude while ensuring that your work doesn’t suffer. Be gracious and remember that everyone is needy at some point or another. Still, recognize and set specific boundaries so that you may be helpful yet still go home at the end of the day with your work done, too.