Rona Maynard’s career as a pace-setting magazine editor, award-winning journalist, acclaimed author and inspirational speaker owes much to the lessons she has drawn from coping with difficult people, both professionally and personally. Rona edited Chatelaine, Canada’s number one magazine for women, during a decade of innovation in which she attracted a new generation of readers. Rona continues to share her life-tested wisdom on her award-winning interactive website, ronamaynard.com, and at the podium. Her most sought-after speech is “Life-Changing Lessons from Difficult People.” Readers continent-wide have found themselves reflected in her memoir My Mother’s Daughter (Emblem Editions).
Dear Office Politics,
Please can someone help me sort a work situation out?
For the past year I have been covering two full time roles, my own and that of a colleague on maternity leave. This has involved a huge amount of extra hours and unbelievable pressure. To make matters worse, I have now been told that the colleague will not be returning to work and that I will be expected to cover the two roles on a permanent basis.
My boss has agreed that I have been swamped with work and promises to arrange help but it never materializes due to lack of funds. During this time I have sat opposite a co-worker who has a very low workload (she actually boasts that she has nothing to do) and so spends a chunk of every day either surfing the internet, talking or texting. It has driven me to despair and and even though other colleagues have constantly asked how she gets away with this behavior, they do not complain to our boss. My problem is that I resent her attitude so much the only way I can cope is to completely ignore her, I just want to block her out. Another colleague has now told me that she plans to complain to my boss that I blank her, etc. etc. I know this makes me sound awful but it really is the only way I have been able to deal, or not, with her.
Can you please tell me how to deal with the situation if she does complain to my boss? He is aware that she is not fully utilized and has said it will be addressed but that was months ago…
REPLY BY OFFICE-POLITICS ADVISER RONA MAYNARD
Nobody likes to be a snitch. Not you, even though you’ve been struggling to carry the load for two people. Not the colleagues who grouse behind Ms. Do-Nothing’s back. It seems so mean, so sneaky. It brings back memories of playground spats in which the kid who complained to the teacher was cast as a lowly tattle-tale. Maybe you were once that kid. Many of us have been at some time or other. But the time to start acting like a grownup is long overdue.
The illusion of the powerful boss to solve all problems
You’ve been counting on a powerful person, your boss, to step in and save you from frustration. But your boss has been following the path of least resistance, as bosses tend to do when budgets get tight. It’s easy to smile and nod and make vague promises, not so easy to restructure a department and all but impossible to wangle what’s been deemed an extra position from higher-ups determined to “reduce headcount,” as the corporate mantra goes. By biting your tongue and gamely soldiering on, you’ve encouraged your boss to believe that you can cope–not happily, but capably enough. These days, most bosses don’t expect their staff to be happy. They won’t take action unless a credible person rings the agony alarm bell. And now that person just might be Ms. Do-Nothing. Okay, so she’s not exactly Ms. Credibility. Not in the eyes of the staff, anyway. But the average boss has only the vaguest notion what’s going on in the trenches.
Your own worst enemy?
Do I have to say you’ve been your own worst enemy? It’s pretty clear you already know this. Giving your colleague the silent treatment makes you “sound awful,” you admit. You couldn’t think of anything else to do because, like so many (especially women), you’d rather have root canal surgery than confront someone. Have you ever asked the texting, talking layabout to give you a hand? If you perform related duties, it would be a fair and timely question–maybe even an urgent one. The stronger the collaborative spirit on a team, the faster the work gets done. You and your colleagues aren’t exactly a team, to judge from your letter. You are mired in resentment and distrust. And while you didn’t create this woeful situation single-handed, you do have the power to start turning things around in a frank conversation with your boss.
Follow a plan to turn this around
You need to book a meeting, at the earliest opportunity, to talk about a work-load crunch that is undermining morale and compromising efficiency. Don’t just walk into the boss’s office and exclaim at how exhausted and overworked you are. Follow a plan. Get your most trusted colleagues involved. Document problems that could have been avoided with a fair distribution of effort. Don’t just point the finger at one person who isn’t doing her share and should be given a talking-to (or shown the door). Let Ms. Do-Nothing play the blame game while you wrap yourself in the mantle of cooperation. It will become clear enough in the course of this discussion that someone isn’t pulling her weight. There’s a saying in management circles: “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
I don’t mean to make this sound easy. Fact is, it won’t be. If I were in your boss’s shoes, I would certainly ask why you waited so long to tell the complicated truth. You didn’t have a good reason, did you? Seems to me you gave your colleague the evil eye because you couldn’t find the courage to do something more constructive. There’s a name for this kind of behaviour: passive/aggressive.
You’re wise to own up to your mistake and commit to being honest and direct from now on. There’s a name for this kind of behaviour, too: leadership.
In one strategic conversation, you can start to cast yourself as the kind of solution-oriented ally every smart boss needs–courageous enough to tell the truth and to admit when she’s in the wrong.
Good luck. Here’s to the next chapter of your career. I’ve enjoyed meeting you here at officepolitics.com and hope you’ll check in again to let us know you’re progressing.
Rona Maynard, Author
Rona Maynard’s career as an award-winning journalist, leading magazine editor, acclaimed author and inspirational speaker owes much to the lessons she has drawn from coping with difficult people, both professionally and personally.
Rona edited Chatelaine, Canada’s number one magazine for women, during a decade of growth and innovation in which she attracted a new generation of readers to the franchise. While meeting every benchmark of success, she contended daily with complaints from readers, directives from corporate brass and the strong personalities on her creative staff, who ranged from seasoned baby boomers to Gen Yers with sharply different expectations. The team Rona built was honored internationally for journalism, design and overall editorial excellence. A dedicated mentor, she groomed five people who went on to edit national magazines—among many others who are now viewed as leaders in their industry.
When Rona had fulfilled her vision for Chatelaine, she stepped down to write the memoir her readers had been asking for. In My Mother’s Daughter, she tells the no-holds-barred story of how she became her own woman because of—and in spite of—the enthralling but domineering woman who formed her. From her struggles with a crazy-making boss, an undermining colleague and an alcoholic father, she draws a road map to living with integrity, purpose and joy. Alice Munro has called My Mother’s Daughter “wonderfully honest and enthralling.”
Rona continues to share her hard-won wisdom on her award-winning interactive website, ronamaynard.com, and at the podium. Her most sought-after speech is “Life-Changing Lessons from Difficult People.” Audiences say that Rona’s message brings them energy, hope and pointers they can use to transform their own lives.
Rona’s personal honors include a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, a National Champion of Mental Health Award and a Woman of Action Award from the Israel Cancer Research Fund, as well as numerous writing awards.