The Case For Helping Out A Coworker
The Case For Helping Out A Coworker
I recently received the following email:

My team consists of myself and a peer, a coordinator, and our manager. My peer has recently returned to work after the birth of her first child. She was out for two months, and during that time, I took charge of her major projects and made sure the work got done. She is supposed to attend a conference next month where we are exhibiting, but she told my boss that she doesn’t want to because her baby is so young. My boss wants me to go in her place. I do not think I should have to go. This is her job, and I’ve already covered for her for two months. I do not have any children, so why should I be imposed upon because she has a new baby? How do I tell my boss that I don’t want to go?

When you are part of a team, you work together toward a common goal. The leader of that team—the manager—is asking the writer to bend and stretch a bit to accommodate her colleague. Would you rather work for a manager who told this new mother that she absolutely had to leave her two-month-old baby to attend this conference, or would you like to work for a manager who showed empathy for a colleague and suggested a reasonable alternative?

The number one most important quality of being an effective leader is empathy. People want to know that they matter, that they are valued, and that their managers are interested in their lives. Empathy will inspire people to achieve things that incentives such as money, time off, or stock options will not. This manager is showing empathy, and is asking that the writer show empathy as well. The writer should absolutely not whine to her manager about how “unfair” it is that she should have to go to the conference in her colleague’s place. The writer should graciously and enthusiastically take the opportunity to go and to do a good job.

It is always a good idea to help your colleagues out, as much as you reasonably can. In fact, it’s in your best interest to do so. No one wants to work with someone who won’t bend and stretch. That is not being a team player. People do want to work with people who are accommodating and who work to achieve a common goal.

It is never a good idea to object to a perfectly reasonable request from your manager on the grounds of “it’s not fair,” or “I just don’t want to.” This will brand you as a difficult employee. The writer may not have children, but she could very well have a health crisis of her own or an issue with a family member that would divert her attention from her work. If that were to happen, she would probably want empathy and support, not “Not My Problem.”