Dear Metro: "My workmate asks for help all day long."

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Dear Metro,

We work in a pseudo-open plan office. A few open "rooms" (no doors) that house each with 2 - 4 people in them. Open plan offices suck generally and there's no way of moving to my own space unfortunately - but my issue is with someone who sits across from me.

I really like this woman as a person but find her really demanding of my time and capacity in a work setting. All day long she will ask me to spell check things for her, cast an eye over her design work, answer questions about different parts of the business. I was happy to at first coz she was new and I'm not a completely awful person. Now we're two years deep and I can't see a way out.

Any suggestions for gently reigning her expectations in? Or am I doomed to wear headphones all day?

Best,

Stop-Right-Now-Thank-You-Very-Much


Dear Stop,

Oh man, two years? It’s bad enough when you’re being called away from the task at hand into endless meetings, let alone having a one-woman disruption show sitting directly across from you. I wonder whether someone who is two years into their job and still wants a coworker to spell check their work needs more positive affirmation or help from managers - ie, the people who are actually paid to answer a million annoying questions all day long. Is there someone you could farm her requests out to, who perhaps feels less awkward about telling her no (given their position as her superior)? What is the feedback system like at your work? Is it worth suggesting employees need more feedback from management generally?

You’ve already indicated you’re tackling this problem by making yourself somewhat less available by wearing headphones. Given you like this woman as a person and probably don’t want to hurt her feelings, you could try communicating your busy-ness to her through chit chat in the morning. “Wow, I’ve got so much on my plate this week! Sorry if I can’t chat too much today, there’s a lot to get through” - hopefully, this non-confrontational signal you are too busy to show her how to use tracked changes on Microsoft Word is a successful tactic.

If it’s not, you could try asking her to send you what she’d like to have looked over via email and promise you will look over it when you have time. Emphasise that you do not have the time right now. If she follows up when you inevitably don’t get back to her (and it may turn out that simply not responding right away made her realise she could do the task for herself), you could take that as another chance to say that you’re sorry, but you were too busy today and perhaps she should ask a manager/ Google. If you turn down her requests politely but firmly enough times, she should get the message that your days of endless helping have come to a close. If not, you may need to confront her more directly, though still politely. Given you’ve been helping her out for the past couple of years, she probably likes and respects you and would be upset to know she had become a burden on your time, and therefore willing to change her behaviour once she knew.

With love,

Metro

Send your woes to: dearmetro@bauermedia.co.nz.

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