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Part II: Needy coworker leaves me feeling swindled

Dear Office-Politics,

The Admin in our department just went through a divorce and has 2 children. Long story short, cubicles are not private and we have all tried to help. Last week, I bought her lunch every day. Others have donated money. I have bought groceries. It is never enough. She has a good salary and drives a new car and gets child support. We all think she is a con. I think so because I gave her $20 to get her “pills” prescription. She instead told me a week later she did not get them and did not return the money.

Finally, a group of us were discussing a film just released, and she said “I saw that and it was a great movie!”

How do I help without being taken advantage of and how do I handle this situation? Is this a common “con” game?

Last, she does NOT do her work and always seeks pity. I am constantly helping her with basic admin duties.

No sucker

jennifer glueck bezoza

Dear Charitable Colleague (No sucker),

You seem like a generous and thoughtful person who goes out of her way to be a good Samaritan. There are many individuals in this world that would appreciate such benevolence. This administrative assistant, however, does not sound like one of them. She sounds like an ungrateful woman playing the part of “victim” with drama and manipulation.

You asked for advice on how to handle this situation going forward. First, I suggest that you give yourself credit for being generous – giving groceries, offering money for “needed” prescription pills — to someone you believed required support at a difficult time. There is no need for you to feel taken advantage of or conned. Recognize that your donations are not that significant, such that it’s worth your energy to hold a grudge. Thus, I would not look to recoup any sum you have given her. Accept it and move on.

Much more significant than your financial contributions, however, is your willingness to do work for which she is responsible. Your actions only further enable her to rely on and manipulate others. This woman is your colleague; she is not your relative, nor your close friend, and she has no right to make you or any other individual responsible for her professional success or her personal happiness.

I strongly advise you to pull back from her “sob” story and allow her to “sink or swim” on her own. That is truly the best gift you could offer her. When she asks you for help, tell her you don’t have time, given all your other responsibilities. When she wants to tell you how bad things are, you briefly help her focus on all the blessings she has. Do not let her sell you the sob story, and do not spend too much time consoling or listening to her. And finally, do not give her any money or material gifts going forward. Focus your energies on doing your job with excellence, and nurture those professional relationships where there is mutual trust and respect.

This experience is a great learning one. It teaches the importance of drawing clear boundaries at work, and checking in when you might be going beyond on what is best for you, another person and the organization over the long term.

Thanks for writing Office Politics! Best of luck.

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, MA

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a BA in psychology and humanities from Stanford University. She currently works in Organizational Development for the largest not-for-profit home health organization in the country where she focuses on succession planning, leadership development and coaching. Previously, she worked for GE Commercial Finance and HR consultant, Towers Perrin.

  1. 2 Answers to “Part II: Needy coworker leaves me feeling swindled”

  2. Feedback from No Sucker:

    I really appreciate Jennifer’s additional advice in Part II! I do have boundary issues, and will be more cognizant moving forward.

    Thank you!

    By Letter-writer: No Sucker on Oct 23, 2007

  3. I work with someone like that. I’m a really softhearted person so when a coworker came to me telling me she couldn’t afford to buy lunch or gas, etc. I offered to buy her lunch. Well this has continued every day(except the weekends and Thanksgiving) for the past 6 weeks. It’s gotten to where she is asking me for gas money now and has asked me to buy her a book she needs for a course. She also asked me to redo her resume’ and I help her do her work when she complains she is behind(90 percent of the time). I drew the line when she mentioned she could not afford to buy Christmas presents for her kids….I just told her I was sorry.
    I’m not made of money so when I told my husband about what she had been doing he got pretty upset and told me to stop.
    I’m to the point where I think I need to let the boss or HR know what she’s doing. She’s a nice person don’t get me wrong…she has a good heart but…I feel she’s taking advantage of me.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    By Angella on Dec 22, 2007

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