Q: Working with others always takes some compromising and negotiating, so as to not be run over or used by co-workers or team members. But that also means we cover for each other when any one of us is going through a tough time, to avoid a leave of absence, a loss of income or, possibly, the loss of a job. The understanding is that these periods of covering for someone are only temporary.
One of my teammates has been unable to handle whatever is going on in her life, and I have been covering for her. I thought she would work things out fairly soon. Instead, it has continued for months. When she started having problems in her personal life, I told her: "No worries. I've got your back." I know others who have done this for close co-workers, and it works out well.
I am saving her from making mistakes by doing the work that is overwhelming to her right now. I'm also saving her from losing her job. She is capable, but she's afraid to take on certain tasks for fear of failing. If she says no to the work, the boss will know something is wrong. The problem is I don't know where or how to draw the line. I am not the kind who "throws a person under the bus," but I also can't cover for her permanently.
I need to talk to her, but I don't know what that will accomplish. No one ever knows for certain when problems will be resolved. She's a wonderful friend and teammate, so I feel I am caught in a no-win situation.
A: The Beatles once famously sang, "With A Little Help From My Friends," and you are an admirable friend and co-worker to want to help your teammate through a tough period. But as you know, your help cannot continue forever. Not only do you need to discuss the situation with her, you need to set a time and place where you can talk without interruption. The difficulty you face is that a friend cannot coach another friend through problems indefinitely. All individuals have their own agendas, no matter what the relationship is between each party. You also cannot provide ultimate judgment on anything that she is facing; she alone is responsible for her decision-making.
Convince her to seek confidential and professional coaching or counseling (whichever is more appropriate) and to keep you in the loop of the proposed resolution so you will learn of a possible timetable. This is the only way to fairly resolve the situation for both of you without experiencing serious repercussions on the job. Counseling is available in various levels of education and practice areas — social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists and coaches — and can be obtained through private sources and on a sliding scale — if not for free — from religious, charitable, community or government-subsidized organizations.
She should accept that you are not able to cover for her indefinitely. It is also in her best interest to resolve the situation. No matter how tired you are of the arrangement you agreed to, reporting it to the boss would undo the good and the purpose of the help you have provided her.
Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com, and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/at-work-lindsey-novak.