A colleague of mine is inviting me to meetings with them "to do joint work". The colleague is new, so the "joint work" is more a competence transfer.

I fully embrace the idea that competence transfer is necessary, having been more than enough in situations where I had been the less competent one. I'm ready to dedicate some of my work time to it. But then I want to call things their names, and prioritize accordingly. While willing to help my new colleagues, it's in the end my own decision when and on which terms to do it. (This is not regulated officially in any way in this case, e.g. it's not written in any of my job tasks.) Sometimes I can refuse it, with or without reasons. I also expect to be recognized, at least by the colleague themselves, for spending my time on tutoring them; that's how I always treated my voluntarily work tutors.

But now I'm placed in a frame where I'd be "refusing collaboration".

How can I respectfully make clear my view - that this is not a collaboration but tutoring?

  • Hey SlowJazz! It might be a good idea to include what you've said so far when rejecting the invitation, what caused you to be labelled as 'refusing collaboration'. Did you just say 'no, thanks', or did you also include the explanation you give in your post here (that you'd be tutoring?)
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 24 '21 at 8:52
  • @Tinkeringbell I have not yet declined a single invitation, have been accepting them :)
    – SlowJazz
    May 24 '21 at 10:09
  • "But now I'm placed in a frame" - what makes you say that? Are you just assuming, or have you been told (by whom?)? In whose perspective would you be placed in this frame?
    – Sarov
    May 25 '21 at 18:52

I suggest you look at this a bit differently. It sounds to me like this is a task you're willing to do and recognize the value of, but you also want recognition that you're going above and beyond your official job duties, and you want some control over when and how often you do it. For that, it doesn't matter whether it's technically tutoring or collaboration (probably it's a bit of both anyway). What really matters is making your manager aware, setting expectations, and ensuring they will back you up if you need to set boundaries on how much and when you mentor this person. Hopefully you and your manager regularly have one-on-ones, but if not, now would be a good time to schedule one.

When you talk to your manager, tell them you are getting these requests and that you're happy to help mentor a new employee, but you'd like to know how to prioritize it among your other work and how much time you're expected to spend on it. It's your manager's job to prioritize your work, so let them do it. If you have a preference for what answer you'd like (such as "I think two hours a week is a good amount, with occasional weeks off at my discretion if I get overwhelmed with other things"), then suggest it. Chances are if you have a suggestion ready to go, they will agree to it.

This approach accomplishes multiple things that seem to be important to you:

  • You get recognition from your manager for mentoring the new employee, which is more important than recognition from the new employee
  • Assuming you get permission to decline these meetings at your discretion, you will then be able to do so without worrying about blowback or being seen as not a team player
  • If the new employee starts demanding more of your time, you can blame your manager and say you've been directed to spend the extra time on other tasks
  • As a bonus, you'll have dedicated time to spend on this instead of having to explain delays on other tasks because you decided to do something nobody told you to do

If your complaint is more about your colleague setting up meetings at times that are inconvenient for you, then simply respond to the meeting request that it's not a good time for you and suggest a few alternatives. This is completely normal in a professional workplace, so nobody will be offended by it. Another option is to be proactive and set up regular meetings at a time and cadence which works for you.

Source: I'm a software developer in a large company, and I've mentored several new employees. I didn't used to talk to my manager about it, but now I always do, and things work much more smoothly for me now. My manager is generally hands-off, but setting expectations and making them aware of what I'm doing has still benefited me. I also set up regular meetings with the new employees on days and times that work well for me, which limits interruptions to my other work at inopportune times. I sometimes cancel or move those meetings, and it's never been an issue.

  • This is what I call "senior-level thinking" - teaching the junior employees - and is an important skill in the workplace. Ensuring your boss is aware of what you do is a critical interpersonal skill with your management - I've met so many that just don't think they should tell their boss what is going on, calling it "micromanagement" or saying "he/she should know" May 26 '21 at 16:29

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