my new coworker is questioning and redoing my work

A reader writes:

I find myself in a difficult position at work and I hope you can give me some advice. I was hospitalized and then had to spend 3 months in recovery. When I came back, we had a new hire (not to replace me, but another coworker who moved away) and, although we don’t have much in common, he does his job and seems to be a good fit.

However, recently I’ve noticed that he’ll go review my work and redo it, while changing minor details that not only didn’t need to be changed but sometimes hurt the outcomes overall. Furthermore, he occasionally reports to my boss that I have done my job incompletely or incorrectly when in fact I have addressed what needed to be addressed and moved on to the rest of my work.

At first I thought that I was being too sensitive, that perhaps because he knew about my hospitalization he was just making sure things were in order…but it turns out he has been doing this to all of the employees. He also doesn’t take breaks or a full lunch, which makes the rest of us seem unproductive in comparison because we do take our full breaks and lunches. Most of us are frustrated with this situation, and many of us feel like we’re being edged out. However no one is sure what to do, if anything.

As a manger does this seem like a problem to you? Am I being overly sensitive or is this coworker’s behavior as intrusive and/or disrespectful as it seems? What if anything would you advise?

There are two possibilities here:

1. He’s overstepping appropriate boundaries. If this is the case, you can ask him to stop.

2. He’s doing this with the approval of — or maybe even at the behest of — your manager. If this is the case, talk to your manager and find out why it’s happening.

The first step is to figure out which of these two it is. You can do that by asking him or by asking your manager. I’d start by asking him, because that’s the most direct approach. Say something like this to him: “Bob, I’ve noticed that you’ve been reviewing my work and sometimes making changes to it. I’m confused about why.”

If his answer is that your manager asked him to, then you stop here and go talk to her. But if his answer is anything else — whether it’s “I have extra time and wanted to help out,” “I’m a compulsive proofreader and love checking things over,” or whatever — then you say this: “I appreciate your desire to help, but I prefer to complete my work on my own. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop checking over my work, and I absolutely don’t want you changing anything in it without checking with me — but even that shouldn’t be necessary, because there shouldn’t be a reason to be checking it in the first place. If you ever feel that there is, please talk with me so we can figure out what the problem is that’s causing your concern.”

And then if it continues after that, you have a more serious version of that conversation: “Bob, we talked a few weeks ago about how you shouldn’t be reviewing my work, but it seems to be continuing. What’s going on?”

Now, if instead he tells you that your manager asked him to do this — or a more mild version of that, like that he offered to do it and she said it was fine to do — then you go and talk with her instead. When you do, say something like this: “I noticed that Bob has been reviewing my work and sometimes making changes to it, and when I asked him about it, he said that you’d asked him to do it. I was surprised by that, and wanted to talk to you about whether you have concerns about my work, or whether there’s something else that makes you want someone reviewing it.”

Then, you listen with an open mind. It’s possible that she does have concerns about your work, noticed that Bob’s work is excellent, and asked him to play this role for that reason. (If that’s the case, she should have told you herself, of course, but better to know now than not at all.) It’s also possible that she’ll tell you that she didn’t ask him to do it, but since he started doing it, she figures it’s better to have two pairs of eyes on things than one … and if that’s her answer, then you’ll need to decide how strongly you feel about not wanting this. It would be legitimate to say, “I agree that two pairs of eyes are better than one, but it seems to be only Bob reviewing others’ work, and because he has less experience, sometimes his edits are wrong.”

As for your broader question about whether you’re being overly sensitive — no, I think most people would be bothered by this part of it. Butting into your work without a clearly-communicated mandate to do it is annoying. However, in being annoyed by that, don’t let it bleed into your perception of other things — namely, the fact that he doesn’t take breaks or a full lunch. That’s his prerogative, it’s not something to hold against him, he’s probably not doing it to make the rest of you look bad (maybe to make himself look good — or maybe just because that’s how he works; lots of us do), and disliking him for that reason won’t reflect well on you. So the work intrusions, yes, but his personal break schedule, no.

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