The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


July 4, 2014

Watercooler: When colleagues are expected to carry a co-worker who is suffering

Q: I work in a small government office. Over the last few months, one co-worker, "Steve," has lost both his parents, and his adult child was permanently disabled in an accident. I am sympathetic, but he has spent every day at his desk calling funeral homes, insurance companies, doctors, etc., and then going home without having done any work. We're in an open office, so we all have to listen to him make these very personal calls while we work.

Meanwhile, I have been assigned the bulk of his work. I haven't said anything, but after several months, I am starting to get resentful. After receiving yet another of Steve's tasks, I asked my supervisor if Steve could do it. I was told that Steve doesn't need to be doing any work right now, and the rest of us need to just cover for him since we're not dealing with anything like what Steve is going through.

I may not be going through everything Steve is, but I'm in grad school, buying a house, going through the break-up of a serious relationship. . . . I have problems, too! If I need to deal with those problems, I take a day off.

Should I just shut up and do the work? Ask my supervisor if he can force Steve to take time off? Let the inspector general know a government worker is claiming eight hours of work a day while doing nothing?

A: I rarely hear complaints about bosses erring on the side of kindness — but letting this arrangement go on indefinitely at others' expense is not actually a kindness to Steve. My thoughts on more compassionate solutions for all involved:

— If headphones or a desk fan can't block out Steve's calls, you might suggest to the boss that a phone room with a door would better protect Steve's privacy.

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