I bet you still remember your first day of work. You probably didn’t know what to expect, but you knew one thing—you wanted to be a really good team player. And you knew that meant you’d probably be taking on extra work whenever necessary. So, from day one, you set out to be the most helpful.
We’ve all been there. And yes, there are times when there’s just so much going on, you need to chip in more than you usually do. That’s great for a lot of reasons, and in a lot of cases, I’d recommend it.
However, there are also those times when you have a sneaking suspicion someone’s taking advantage of your helpfulness and simply passing his or her work on to you.
Here are the three kinds of people who are always asking for help—and three simple responses that’ll make those people think twice about dumping their work onto your plate.
1. The “I’m So Swamped—With More Fun Things” Person
Let’s say someone on your team asks you to put together a big report she’s responsible for because she’s just swamped with a million other projects. And then that person goes out for a two-hour lunch break while you’re deep into his PowerPoint. That’s ridiculous—yet not that all uncommon if you’ve established yourself as someone who’s happy to help a co-worker out.
And yes, you might be really mad the first time someone asks you to take care of something, only to turn around and spend the entire afternoon schmoozing with people in the kitchen. That’s understandable. But before you snap, take a deep breath and turn to your (packed) calendar.
Respond to the request with a simple email that says, “I’d love to help, but I have to take care of X, Y, and Z first. If my schedule clears up this week, I’ll definitely let you know how I can pitch in.”
This short message can go a long way with a co-worker by reminding him or her that you also have a lot to get done in a limited amount of time—and that pitching in would be adding significantly more to your plate. If you assume this person’s somewhat lazy, and not a monster, this helps in getting your point across.
2. The “Can You Just Take Care of This Complicated Task for Me?” Person
Consider this scenario: A more senior colleague has a master’s degree in finance. But even though this person has decades of experience doing revenue projections and payroll management, he or she consistently sends you complicated Excel spreadsheets to “take care of.” If you’re interested in doing this kind of work, that might sound great. The only problem? These tasks are way above your pay grade—and this guy doesn’t seem to notice, or worse, care.
In this case, you might try tackling these advanced projects because you think they’ll impress your boss. And you might be right (unless you don’t do a great job). But if this colleague of yours left you all alone to do these things, you’ll spend a stupid amount of time trying to figure out how to get it done.
If this happens to you, and you are open to learning the process—don’t be afraid to respond with: “I’d love to help, but since you have a lot of expertise, would you be willing to show me the ropes?” While this task may be second nature to the person tossing it your way, it’s good to remind him that it’s not to you.
And, if you’re not at all interested in picking up that skill, you can say: “I unfortunately have no experience executing that type of task, so I don’t think I’d be the best person to help you with it.” It’s hard to argue with that line of reasoning.
3. The “Hi, Have We Met Before? Can You Do Me a Quick Favor?” Person
On any team you’ll work on, there will be people who will take a vested interest in you as a person before they start asking for help. And when they ask for your assistance, it’ll be because you’re a respected colleague with valuable insights and skills to share.
But then there are those who ask you for help because they know you can do the task at hand. I’m not suggesting that you should only help co-workers you’re friendly with at the office, but it’s not a great feeling when you only hear from certain people when they’ve got a huge deadline coming up.
It’s obviously grating to have someone constantly ask you for favors without even asking how your day is going. And because it’s so annoying, it’s also natural to want to snap at that person. But, before you write that three-paragraph email to tell him or her to shove it, think about what you want from this relationship.
Is it nothing? If so, use the email template from number one. But if you want to get to know this person because it’ll make your day-to-day job better, invite him or her to coffee. It’s possible that he has no idea how he’s coming off in emails—and it’s also possible you could become friends. The more you like each other, the less likely this person will try to pawn off his work on you. Or, the more likely you’ll be to want to jump in and help when you do have the time. It’s a hypothetical win-win.
You should be commended for having a natural instinct for helping people. However, that doesn’t mean you should be taken advantage of just because you’re so willing to go above and beyond. Use your judgment, and if you think someone is just being a little lazy about the tasks on his or her plate, feel free to take it as a compliment for a minute. After all, you’re only being asked because it’s obvious you’re sharp. But once you’ve let your ego bask in the glory, be an advocate for yourself and do what’s in your own best interest.
Photo of woman on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author