My co-worker is driving me insane!

She shops, she chats, she makes mistakes -- and management turns a blind eye.


Cary Tennis
April 14, 2006 2:58PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I have a great job at a Fortune 500 company. I have worked here for over 10 years and my plan was to stay for life if possible. I work very hard and do an excellent job, and it is noted.

However, I am having some real trouble with a co-worker who I sit next to, and my management is turning a blind eye.

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This co-worker, "Olga," has many priorities but none have to do with work. The trouble started when I constantly overheard her personal phone conversations -- everything from real estate to personal finance to plastic surgery to travel plans -- and alerted the manager. The manager advised me to write Olga an e-mail asking to keep the conversations to a minimum, which I did. Of course, Olga was not pleased and now tells anyone who speaks to be quiet in order to prove a point that everyone has the occasional discussions (she is also extremely nasty). We are 13 to a room with cubicles, so it's important that folks be courteous with personal conversations. Everyone is except for Olga. She now makes a point of speaking very loudly during work-related conversations. It bugs me most because I sit next to her, and management refuses to take further action and tells me it's my problem.

It's not only that this woman takes advantage of every single benefit to the point of abuse. Our work schedules are flexible so managers are not necessarily keeping track of hours on a daily basis. Olga knows this so she comes in late almost every day and leaves early. She takes lunch breaks of over two hours when the allotted time is half an hour and most people don't even take that. She frequently goes shopping on work time and comes back loaded with shopping bags. She is well off and frequently reminds people she "doesn't need this job." She gets more vacation days than anyone else, she takes sick days just as frequently (we have unlimited sick time -- you call in when you're sick).

But mostly, she is extremely lazy when it comes to work. Her work is horrendous and full of errors but we have many proofreaders so she leaves it to them to put it together correctly, and then she rarely does the recommended corrections if they are not absolutely crucial but more in the spirit of being consistent or conscientious. She logs in more work than she does, in fact the log is filled with her name, yet it's obvious she has massaged the numbers. She openly accuses others of being sloppy, and takes credit for work she never did. When she is on vacation/sick/on leave she dumps her work for others and gladly passes it over in a big mess with no explanation and no thank you when she returns.

The other workers are constantly picking up her messes and forced to do work that she has put off for so long that it becomes urgent, and the one who takes it now has to work overtime to complete it.

I have complained to the assistant manager, the manager, and the human resources representative. The only thing they say is that they are "aware" of the situation and I should just ignore it. How can I? I overhear everything and am constantly cleaning up her giant messes. I am the one who sees her coming and going, who sees the shopping bags, who checks her work. The bosses are sickly sweet toward her and she is never, ever reprimanded in any way.

The management will not let me change my seat, saying, "We're not going to go around changing seats just for this," and now I get the feeling they are sick of me complaining.

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I am frequently awake at night mulling this over, wondering if my only way out is to quit; the only reason I haven't at this point is that I'm a single mom and can't afford to quit.

What bothers me the most is my end of it -- that I can't just ignore it, and that I'm thinking about it too much. It just seems so unfair, which is, I am aware, life. If you can't help me I'm considering psychiatric help, because it's causing me too much stress. Please help!

Trapped!

Dear Trapped,

I have several suggestions. None will actually fix the problem, but they are intended to lessen her impact on you and your life, so that you can get through this period. I think that before too long she will either quit or be fired. You just have to tough it out.

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First, limit your exposure to her as if she were a toxic gas. Since you say your hours are flexible and she tends to come in late, why not start coming in much earlier? Also since she takes long lunch hours, try eating your lunch out of the office while she is there; if you time it right, she might be gone when you return from lunch. And I do suggest that you leave the office to eat your lunch. While it may be a mark of dedication to eat your lunch at your desk, it is not healthy. Take a good long lunch break, as much time as allowed -- and as much time as you need. After all, you're doing a great job for the company. You deserve to take care of yourself, especially if you plan to be there a long time. You don't want to succumb to stress-related illness. That wouldn't be good for you or the company.

Second, stop doing her work for her. Let her fail. If you see work that is substandard, pass it on to someone else. Don't fix it yourself. This may create conflict. But you have to do it. If you keep fixing her work, she will never be fired. Let her fail.

Third, find some method of audio insulation; if you are not allowed to wear headphones, if wearing them would prevent you from working, then perhaps put a white noise generator in your cubicle, or play some low music on a radio; these may distract you from her conversations. You could also choose to make whatever phone calls you need to make whenever she is on the phone, and talk over her.

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Fourth, bond with your fellow employees over this issue. If management seems not to listen, there may not be much you can do about that for now. But you can share your frustration with your fellow workers, and adopt strategies that allow her to fail on her own.

Fifth, look into ways outside the office to manage your own stress and frustration. You mentioned psychiatric help. It couldn't hurt to talk with someone. A counselor or therapist might be very helpful. Also, on your own, find things to take your mind off work. Let her go. Get her out of your head. There are many ways to do this; you only need to look around you. Exercise, meditation, hobbies -- there are all kinds of things you can do to take your mind off her. Do them. Keep trying until you find something that works.

If you adopt these techniques, I think you will feel better and your situation will improve. It will not instantly be without conflict and annoyance. But your stress and aggravation will be lessened so that you can continue working efficiently through this difficult period. If all goes well, before too long, you will look back with pride at how well you handled it, and gratitude for how things turned out.

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