Ask E. Jean - Tormented? Driven Witless? Whipsawed by confusion?

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Hi, I'm complaining because I have a co-worker, "Dotty," that started almost 8 months ago, who I feel like I'm still training.

TBH I like Dotty, and it could be so much worse, but I am not what they call a born leader. When it is on me to correct or guide someone, I do try to avoid the task because I suck at it, I'm more likely to make someone angry at me for criticizing them than bringing about any progress in their abilities to do the job. In addition, I'm young, and Dotty is about the same age as my mother. There was a 2-week training period where I felt confident in teaching her how to do everything, but beyond that and helping her though the odd new situation that comes up, I am not comfortable telling "an adult" she has to stop fooling around and do her chores every day.

Dotty and I man a two-person department involving the care of animals. My biggest fear in my whole job is that I will forget that I set a trap, and some poor animal will perish for lack of access to proper care. Fortunately, I have never let this happen in all my years. Dotty doesn't seem to take it so seriously. Once, she told me on a Saturday night that she "didn't have time" to close a trap which I had set for an animal which was a nursing mother that Friday. (We knew where the babies were so we could keep them together after we caught the mom). So, around midnight (my first opportunity), I had to drive to the middle of the woods and make sure the mother wasn't stuck in the trap with the babies out there deprived of her protection. (She wasn't, but another unfortunate critter almost had to spend 2 days in the trap with no food or water).

Another time, I had to take a week off for a family situation, and when I came back, all 6 of my best traps were missing. They were never recovered. For 2 years, I had never lost those traps, and I leave for a week and....all gone. She has no idea how this happened, of course. Our boss has ordered us 7 more, and all I can think is, I better never take a vacation again. I keep good and consistent records of where traps are located, (of critical importance when there might be an animal in one), but she is just beginning to keep records, and they are incomplete. For instance, in my records, I note what was in a trap and indicate if it was picked up, closed, or set. She will note that a trap was checked, whether she just looked at an empty trap or picked up a trap and took it away. I've already explained record keeping to her and asked her to make it so we know where traps are, etc. She'll also not bother to check a trap at all if she can't find it, and it sometimes appears she hasn't looked. But this has gotten better since I've started describing in detail where a trap I set is located. It still bothers me she'd potentially leave an animal in there for who knows how long rather than text me to ask, look harder, etc.

Another problem that has been making me look bad lately is, she pretty much refuses to do whole job requirements. We have to write reports and enter them into a database with some of the incidents we deal with pretty regularly. When she first started, the computer was set up wrong or something and she couldn't get in. She has gotten help with the computer system approximately 60 times at this point, and still insists she "can't get into the system." She has gotten in, and I showed her what to do numerous times, but she never does reports, and always has an excuse. I get it that it's difficult for her, but it's the job.

This, "oh, I tried but I can't do it" thing is her MO with anything that's a little more difficult or involved than usual. I fully understand not wanting to mess something up that she feels is out of her depth, but plenty of these things, while inconvenient, are things I'm sure she can do.

When she gets messages, she often writes my name next to them and saves them for me, when it's something she could do too. We are supposed to be a team.

When my shift is over, I always have to go looking for her. Then she enjoys chatting, often about social media drama relating to animals, for 20 minutes to an hour. She works part time, so an hour is a quarter of her shift. She has beef with everyone and a way of being argumentative over inconsequential things. I can deal with that, but it can be problematic when she refuses to deal with a person our job requires us to talk to, because she has beef with them. Our job is part of a chain of command - it's mostly men besides us - and I have a hard time explaining that to her. She'll think orders are coming from me and that they are negotiable, but they're not, and I have to look like the asshole.

It's better than being the only person doing my job, so I don't want to complain and I definitely don't want to talk to a supervisor about this. But I also don't want to find myself truthfully saying "Dotty did it/ dotty was supposed to handle that" every time something isn't going as it's supposed to. I don't want to look like a bratty child tattling on her sister. I've actually been saying, "We'll fix that" or "We'll get right on that" and kind of taking responsibility when we're under a spotlight and something wasn't done as expected because of the issues I'm talking about here.

Our job is one that everyone we work for wants to pretend doesn't exist. They want to be able to take for granted that we will show up and the work will get done. They don't care about the particulars, they don't care how we do it, as long as we're not making problems for them, getting hurt, or blowing up on social media for something bad. I have to prove every day that I can do a man's job without whining or drama. But I am not her manager and she's not inclined to respect me as such. We are supposed to be equals. She has plenty of experience but sometimes I wonder where she's hiding it. Every once in a while she has some great insights and ways of doing things, and she gets some things done. She also outshines me in keeping our equipment clean/organized, and for that I am grateful. But her standoffishness about parts of the job - whether it's laziness or lack of confidence - overshadows these qualities.

I don't care about having a perfect work relationship or a perfect co-worker because I'm not perfect either, and these things don't exist. My main concern is the welfare of animals, not losing expensive equipment that takes approximately 2 years worth of bureaucracy to get replaced, not having to go out at midnight unpaid and shut traps, and most of all, not letting work be left incomplete, which could endanger living beings and make us both look like idiots, especially me because I'm the full timer. I know sometimes you need to give people a break - Dotty has a lot of family problems and such, which I definitely don't think are bullshit, but I feel like it's been an 8-month-long break I've been giving her out of consideration for her personal life. It's a major reason I hold back with constructive criticism of any kind, and to introduce it at this point will probably make her feel attacked. But something bad is going to happen if it goes unchanged, something for which I'll probably get the blame.

Do any of you have any managerial or people skills or tricks to lend? Do you know any tactful and/or effective ways to navigate these corrections needed given our dynamic and our tasks? We get along well, but would we still if I gave truthful redirection as needed? She can be good about completing to-do lists if I take the time to write down an itemized list of things I need for her to complete, but it's uncommon for me to have 20 minutes free to do this at the end of my shift, and I already linger too long after, getting her caught up with the day. Any help would be appreciated!

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    Your job is not a "man's job" - it doesn't belong to a man; it belongs to YOU. And bringing to light the sort of problems she keeps creating is not drama. She obviously is not qualified to do this and it's not just affecting your work - it's costing your department resources and money.

    Also, you may be doing her a favour if she is obliged to seek other employment; it doesn't sound like she is happy there because it's not a good fit for her.

    And most of us aren't good at telling people when they've done something wrong. But she needs to hear it. I suspect she has been employing her current tactics - ignoring or having tantrums when told anything she doesn't want to hear - since she was a toddler. So that's not going to change any time soon. But you can tell her to do her job - not because you are giving her orders, but because THAT'S HER JOB. Try to keep that in mind when you find yourself hesitating when she's slacking off yet again. You're both grown-ups, but only one of you is currently acting like one.

    reply to Jill
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    Can I just say that I like what you're doing, and I love your commitment to your work?

    As for Dotty ... if you're committed to the animals you care for, you need to be honest with others about Dotty. Sorry. I know it's unpleasant, but she's not going to get better....

    The good news is that you don't need to tattle on her, you just need to be honest. Which means that if people are asking about something she's responsible for that didn't get done, or got done improperly? You need to say "oh, that's one of Dotty's responsibilities!" -- and then direct them to her. Don't cover for her. Let her take responsibility for her mistakes, as you take responsibility for yours.

    Still, continue to make the 'to-do' checklists for her whenever possible. This seems to help her to focus, but it also helps you to create a paper trail of responsibility. If work isn't getting done (or isn't getting done properly), you'll have a document that makes it clear who was responsible. That might really help the people above you to understand where and what the problems in your department might be....


    reply to Kal
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