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Chomping at the bit to get “into the game”

Dear Office-Politics,

I recently started working as a full time temporary employee with a college institution in their athletic department. I made it clear that my intentions were to hopefully become a permanent full time employee at some point. The pay is several hundred dollars more a month and is really where my husband and I need to be financially.

My department’s director has been trying for several months to get the approval to switch me to permanent. Here’s the catch:

Within the same department as mine, there is am employee, a coach, that was hired on as permanent full time. She is the only coach out of four that has this classification. She was able to hire on under this classification with the exception that during the summer months while school is not in session, she will have to continue working in the student information center answering phone calls and taking applications. The other coaches will get these summer months off to be with family.

However, she has been taking all her vacation time during these summer months. When she does come to work, it’s for a few hours and then she leaves saying she’s doing “coach” business in her athletic office. This is not the case as she is really leaving for the day. The college knows she is doing this, but will not demote her back to a normal contract or fire her. If they demote her down to a normal contract, there is a law stating they still have to pay her the same amount as if she were still permanent. However, if she decides on her own accord that she doesn’t want to work over the summer and then gets demoted, it will open up this same opportunity for me to become permanent. She knows of this stipulation and is riding it out.

One would ask, “Why don’t they just fire her if she’s not doing her job?” They could and should. But, she is a great coach while school is in session. They probably won’t take such a grandiose action when her performance as a coach of a ball team is wonderful.

This is where I’m stuck. Office politics is keeping an uncooperative employee in a position that I am much more willing and qualified to do. What should I do, if there is anything I can do?



dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear On-the-Bench,

It does seem unfair that superstar athletes get the playing time, the big contracts, the media attention, and the special perks at restaurants or shows; while the referees look the other way when they foul an opposing player, or the player is allowed to break rules, skirt practice requirements, or worse. Some star athletes even start to ride their own hubris into a feeling of entitlement that includes feeling above the rules, accepting booster club gifts or recruiting favors, even feeling above the law (Officer, do you know who I am?). And meanwhile, other competent, well-intentioned players are on the sidelines, chomping at the bit to get “into the game” and show their stuff, putting in the practice time, following the rules, and paying their dues.

No one is saying it’s fair, but let’s face it –– that’s life in the big city and that’s the reward package that often flows to those responsible for a team’s winning percentage. The alumnae association or even city government can reward this cycle when the wins keep coming, the fans pay for tickets, and the headlines are raving about the post-season. So you’re in a similar scenario, and it’s unrealistic to expect a great coach to do the laundry and grunt work when the powers that be at the college are fully aware of her actions (and non-action). So, sorry to say, there’s no magic pill or elixir on this one to get you off the bench.

It seems the only actions you have are:
1) Let people know your goals that are supported by the department director in ways that do not upset those in power, and lobby graciously for consideration since you love working there and really want to stay. Stress what you believe you can contribute, not how the star coach is coasting on the peon part of the job. Offer to pay your dues big time, but request some sort of pathway to greater stability and job security, possibly through some additional funding or loophole that could pave the way. After all, it does seem the college is not a stranger to finding ways of making allowances, so if you’re valued as a team player then perhaps someone will push a bit withOUT threatening the star coach.

2) Keep paying your dues so that your stats are impeccable–– no strike-outs (including no striking out at the coach who should be fouling out!), no high-maintenance activity, and no slumping your way through practice drills –– play all out on the job! Meanwhile, stay good natured, a cheerleader as well as “role player” that you are awaiting your opportunity, just like pro athletes do (and sometime that chance comes by injury to the star, a roster spot, a special need, whatever, so you just need to be available and ready to play on that day your time comes…that’s what the newspaper articles about bench warmers always say!).

3) You might consider, depending on your own relationship with the slacking off coach, somehow tactfully offering to take some pressure off the fouling coach by good-naturedly discussing your willingness to do even more of HER grunt work (analogous to being water boy!), taking the heat off her and making it even easier for the power holders to let the scenario continue. Yes, this is counter-intuitive to suggest helping the situation get even worse, but maybe it has potential? You are getting close to the coach and helping her to be a goof-off! Why? Possibly to earn favor and gingerly explore whether you can make life even easier for the slacker, hoping for a good word to the Director and others in return about how invaluable you are. The coach is getting plenty of extra favors already. Any chance your ongoing support and coverage for her guaranteed could eventually become another benefit the coach enjoys in her eyes? You never know, stranger things have happened.

Otherwise, we’re realists. We feel for you but also read about this every day in the sports section! Play fair, but be aware. Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com.

Good luck,

Rick and Marty

Rick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

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