Keep Your Boss from Taking Advantage of You

It’s flattering to become the “go-to” person that your boss can rely on. However, if you find yourself handling someone else’s duties in addition to your own, or if you’re stuck on humdrum projects while your co-workers get to participate in marquee initiatives, chances are good that you’re being taken advantage of.

Fortunately, there are ways to turn such a situation around. Here’s how to set boundaries with your boss without damaging your career:

Strike the Right Tone

Before you initiate a conversation with your boss about the issue, consider the techniques that will ensure success. For example, your boss may become defensive if accused of piling on work or taking advantage of you. Instead, frame the conversation as a “mutual” problem.

“Demonstrate an understanding of what’s most important to your boss and the department by having a ‘we’ conversation, not an ‘I’ conversation,” advised executive career coach Tammy Gooler Loeb.

For example, you could explain how focusing on a narrow selection of tasks (i.e., those you were originally hired to do) will contribute more effectively to the organization’s goals. If you feel left out of key initiatives, explain how your skills make you a better bit for those.

Above all, make sure you’re not labeled a complainer or malcontent by blaming your teammates for issues; calling them slackers will likely earn you no sympathy from your boss. It’s better to keep things positive, by devoting your meeting time to solutions. Offer to train a junior developer in routine tasks, for instance, or negotiate a reprioritization of your workload.

Keep Your Boss Informed

If your boss doesn’t know what you’re working on, or what’s important to you from a professional development standpoint, he may keep giving you routine work. Make sure he’s not taking your true talents for granted.

“Most tech managers have no idea what’s on your plate,” suggested Laura Rose, a business consultant who formerly worked as a developer, QA manager and project manager. “What’s more, they generally don’t care who does the work, as long as it gets done.”

Review a list of everything you’re working on with your boss, she advised. Seeing your entire schedule of projects and tasks in black and white may help your boss realize that you’re bearing the brunt of the workload.

Then, use the opportunity to reconfirm goals and deadlines, and work together to prioritize your schedule of projects and tasks. Your enlightened boss may be willing to stagger deadlines or let you delegate certain tasks to co-workers.

Be fully transparent about the consequences of your current workload, as well as its impact on stakeholders and clients. This approach provides common ground and suggests that you and your boss are equals looking for a solution.

Finally, continually review your career plans and goals with your manager, then reference those discussions when he asks you to tackle tasks or projects that you no longer feel passionate about.

(A quick side note: Some tech pros have taken this best practice to another level: they list their projects on a whiteboard or Kanban board, so their boss and co-workers can see what they’re up to.)

Say Yes, But On Your Own Terms

Saying “I won’t” or “I can’t” are career-killers that you want to avoid. Instead, say “yes” to your boss’s requests, but set limits by asking for something in return (such as a raise, promotion or comp time), or by stating how long you’re willing to commit to the project.

For instance, if your boss asks you to perform maintenance programming on a proprietary enterprise program, ask when the maintenance lifecycle is scheduled to end. Then ask if you can handle the first two months, train your replacement, and move to a high-priority project that offers great strategic value to the company and your career, Rose suggested.

Bartering is actually an effective way to set boundaries; your boss may continue to cross the line unless you find a way to respectfully and tactfully take a stand.

You’re ultimately responsible for your own career interests. But if push comes to shove, you may need to pursue an internal transfer to another team or seek employment with a new company.

Comments

4 Responses to “Keep Your Boss from Taking Advantage of You”

November 22, 2017 at 9:31 am, Jim Frazier said:

bartering is fine but in my experience, they simply will not honor what they negotiated. I remember several projects where we were asked to ‘go the extra mile’ and work overtime and be compensated after the project was completed. After completion if we brought the agreement up we were simply labeled as ‘malcontent and not team players’ . That is when I stopped negotiating and taking care of myself and planning my departure. Truth is most jobs suck so live with it. It is different when you are a contractor and they are obligated to pay for your time.

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November 22, 2017 at 11:20 am, Larry said:

Any organization that goes back on it’s promises without good reason risks seeing employees plan their exits. That’s as it should be. However, my experience is that most employers don’t actually lie in these situation, they mislead their employees by being long on platitudes and short on specifics.

Still, the advice in this blog is sound: Saying “Yes” with conditions is better than just saying “no”. Yes it’s a game, but learn to play it.

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November 22, 2017 at 12:03 pm, Tess said:

While the article is good and offers so basic approaches, please be aware that (in my opinion) race, gender, age, and where you grew up make a huge difference in how these kinds of negotiations play out. And some interactions are just going to take longer and be more painful.

Boss (female): I know you are busy, but could you work this into your day as a priority.
Worker (female): Thanks for stopping by. I was just working on the Crosby issue and (male manager) said it was priority. It’s going to take me the rest of the day to resolve this issue.
Boss (female): Ok. I’ll see if someone else can take care of this.

Boss (female): I know you are busy, but could you work this into your day as a priority.
Worker (female): Thanks for stopping by. I was just working on the Crosby issue and (female manager) said it was priority. It’s going to take the rest of the day to resolve this issue.
Boss (female): I’m sure she said that was a priority, but you’ll need to take care of this as well.
Worker (female): Can you please speak with (female manager) and help me ensure she knows that her work may be a little late, or help me find someone to get these taken care of?
Boss (female): Just do hers first, then finish off what I need. I’ll talk with you tomorrow, after this is taken care.
Next day:
Worker (female): I had to log overtime last night to get everything done.
Boss (female): You What! Why didn’t you tell me this was going to be an issue, I can’t approve this!

Boss (male): I know you are busy, but could you work this into your day as a priority.
Worker (female): Thanks for stopping by. I was just working on the Crosby issue and (male manager) said it was priority. It’s going to take me the rest of the day to resolve this issue.
Boss (male): I’ll contact (male manager) and I’ll call you in 10 minutes to let you know what we decide.
10 mintues later: Boss (male): Finish the Crosby issue, then take care of mine tomorrow.

Boss (male): I know you are busy, but could you work this into your day as a priority.
Worker (male): Thanks for stopping by. I was just working on the Crosby issue and (male manager) said it was priority. It’s going to take me the rest of the day to resolve this issue.
Boss (male): Just take care of both these, or find someone to help you. I need to handle something else.
Worker (male): Who do you suggest I have help me? I can’t do both before end of day. It would mean working overtime tonight.
Boss (male): Fine. Just get it done. We’ll talk tomorrow.
Worker (male): I have plans for this evening.
Boss (male): That’s great. What are you going to be doing?
Worker (male): I am going to propose to my girlfiend.
Boss (male): Sounds awesome! Well, I’ll talk with you tomorrow. Let me know how it goes.
Worker (male): Who do you think can help with these?
Boss (male): Gotta go. I know everything is in good hands.
Next Day:
Boss (male): Did you get those issues handled yesterday?
Worker (male): I got the Crosby issue handled. No one was able to assist on the other issue. I’m about to start on it now.
Boss (male): I thought you were going to work overtime.
Worker (male): I had plans.
Boss (male): But I didn’t think the plans would take all night. You should have told me, and I would have had someone else handle this. I need this ASAP.

And so it goes. 🙂

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November 22, 2017 at 12:29 pm, Susan said:

You nailed this one, Tess. This has been my experience, too.

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