Q: I recently took a job in the kitchen of a local elementary school. I have never done this type of work before, and my job description isn’t very clear. However, I have noticed that my co-worker, “Tanya,” has a greater variety of assignments and seems to get more opportunities to develop new skills.
Although I have clearly indicated that I would like to do more, my manager never has time to instruct me. When I pointed out that Tanya has a wider range of duties, my boss said she’s just a fast learner. I suggested that perhaps I could cross-train with Tanya, but she said that wouldn’t be necessary.
Whenever I ask how I’m doing, my manager says everything is fine, yet she won’t assign me additional tasks. I’m beginning to feel that she doubts my abilities. How can I get her to give me the same opportunities as Tanya?
A: Although your desire for expanded responsibilities is commendable, I think you need to slow down. Since you have never worked in a kitchen, your first priority should be mastering the fundamentals. Until your manager believes you have grasped the basic job requirements, she isn’t likely to hand out new assignments.
You are also much too focused on comparisons with your colleague. If Tanya has longer tenure or more relevant work experience, her ability to catch on quickly and handle more tasks is hardly surprising. However, this in no way reflects badly on your own skills. The two of you are simply at different points on the learning curve.
Instead of striving to catch up with Tanya, try to determine how your current efforts are viewed by your manager. Since your general inquiries were met with an uninformative response, you will need to pose more specific questions. For example, you might make a list of your daily duties, then ask her to evaluate you in each area.
When you sense that your boss is comfortable with your basic competence, politely ask if there are other ways you might contribute. But do not turn this into a competition with your co-worker, because that will only annoy your manager. If you wish to get ahead, aggravating the boss is not recommended.
Q: As a supervisor, I want my employees to feel comfortable bringing me questions, concerns and ideas. However, I also want them to understand that my open door policy is not an invitation to constantly gossip or complain. What’s the best way to accomplish this?
A: First, you must help your staff recognize the difference between constructive work discussions and unproductive gripe sessions. Here are some signs that they’re on the right track: 1) They are discussing a specific business issue; 2) They are focused on solutions, not complaints; and 3) They are planning for the future, not arguing about the past.
Should they begin whining, squabbling or sniping at each other, just cut the conversation short and remind them of the above guidelines. Hopefully, after a little coaching, they will learn to refocus without your help.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.