There's nothing like feeling you're part of a team, working toward a common goal, being able to count on each other when things get stressful. But a team only works among equals, with each person pulling their own weight. You might end up working with someone who expects you to do more than your fair share of work, is overly critical, or takes the credit that you deserve.
It's an unfortunate situation and one that can make you miserable. Fearing retaliation, negative attention for "making a fuss," or even termination can keep you from addressing the fact that you're being taken advantage of. Yet taking a stand against misuse is the only way to make it stop.
Maybe you love jumping in on someone else's project when they're overloaded. And you certainly don't mind answering a phone and taking a few messages. Dealing with customers while a coworker takes their lunch? Of course! These are reasonable requests and situations. Yet someone who seems to always pull you away from your work to help with theirs, or outright handing you work they should be doing, is taking advantage of you by abusing your willingness to lend a hand.
An easy way to assess if you're being taken advantage of is to ask yourself," Do I feel like I'll get in trouble in some way if I try to refuse?" Being afraid to say no is a problem. If fear is keeping you quiet, then the situation has become unhealthy.
Confrontations can be scary. And the kind of person who gladly hands their work off to you probably isn't easy to have a constructive conversation with. But this isn't about them. This is about you taking agency over your situation. Next time someone pushes your boundaries, use these tips and phrases to push (politely) back.
Try "My plate's full today. I won't have time to handle that for you."
Do not apologize. This person is trying to use you. That's not your fault, and nothing to be sorry about. If they keep pushing, don't be afraid to bring in mention of your boss. Simply say she told you to make your own tasks a priority today, or that you'll have to check with her before you take on anyone else's work.
You work hard, and deserve to be recognized, especially if you want to use this job to launch your career to the next level. Have a private conversation with the coworker or boss who failed to mention you, and make your point simple and brief: "I was disappointed to see I wasn't given credit for the work I did on this project. Can you tell me why I wasn't included?" Put your feelings front and center with simple statements. "I feel __ because of __." Then ask for clarification.
Working with someone looking over your shoulder, and always frowning when they do, will put a ding in anyone's confidence. Eventually, it can even affect your performance. Whether you're being crowded by a coworker or your boss, don't be afraid to ask for space. A simple "I'm happy to keep you up to date on my project, but I work better with a little breathing room" might suffice. Again, state your need and then, if possible, supply a possible solution.
Standing up for yourself is no small thing. It's a skill to cultivate at work and beyond. Being able to handle situations in a mature and professional way will make you far less likely to fall prey to any would-be advantage takers. And while it can be difficult at first, like any other skill, it gets easier with practice.
If you've fallen into the habit of saying yes to everything, take a look at why. Are you a people pleaser in general, or are you afraid to say no?
A lack of confidence will make it difficult for you to fend off someone trying to take advantage of you. Build yourself up. Give yourself credit for being the awesome employee that you are, and someone who deserves far better behavior from others.
Part of being confident is knowing where your boundaries are. At work, you already know how many tasks you can handle in a day. Make this clear to anyone trying to overload you. If they keep pushing, recognize that they aren't showing respect for your boundaries. Which means you aren't the problem here. They are.
Being confident and clear on your boundaries will help you say no without blowing a fuse. It saves you from a stress meltdown, maintains your professionalism and also sets an example for the rest of your coworkers. This might make saying no easier for them, too.
Think of meeting with your problem person as having a conversation, not a confrontation. This isn't about blaming or accusing, but rather stating your needs and asking for help to resolve the situation. Whether the other person chooses to participate as calmly as you is up to them.
You're not alone. Your company should be willing to help you resolve this difficult situation. By all means, ask to have a private conversation with your boss or, if your boss is the issue, someone above them. Again, stay confident and clear.
Let's face it, a negative or unfair work environment can be soul-crushing, inspiring neither confidence nor success. If you're unable to resolve a situation in which you're being taken advantage of, leaving may be your only choice. But don't worry. Finding a new job might seem stressful, but staying would be worse. Don't let a bad situation keep you from being happy, and advancing your career.
Being taken advantage of at work is an unhealthy situation. Whether you feel like you're too young or too new at a company to say something, or you just want to keep the peace and support the team, fear is keeping you from resolving the situation. The only way to stop being taken advantage of is to become more confident and firm about your boundaries. Be clear: no means no.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
Heather Adams has designed (and re-designed) many business cards. She also writes, makes pictures & creates little notes. As a content creator, she believes that the art of business is storytelling. From brand work to writing the copy that converts, the power of good storytelling is what builds success. Follow her work here.