Delegation vs. Laziness

While I’m rather forgiving of customer requests, I’m less patient with coworkers who attempt to delegate their tasks to me. I have even pushed back with managers, though this is not always a great idea because delegating tasks is in their job description. The reason why I’ve pushed back against coworker handoffs is that I’ve had my own work to do, and it’s not always welcome for them to add to my plate. Do you try to delegate to peers? Most of the time you shouldn’t, and I’ll explain why.

Things to ask yourself before delegating

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you try to dump your work on someone else’s desk:

  1. Can you do this yourself?
  2. Is the task within your job description?
  3. Do you have the time to do the task?
  4. Would you rather do something else instead?

If the answers to most of the above are “Yes,” I’d ask you to reconsider handing off the task.

Exceptions to the above

If you answered “No” to items 1-2, you might have a legitimate point. If I’m given a task that is “out of scope” for my particular job, I will ask why a more-qualified person did not get assigned to do it. An example might be setting up a PowerPoint presentation. I can use a template and do a reasonable job of such things, but if the office has a graphic designer, I will ask why the task fell to me, especially if I’m busy with other things. That’s not to say I won’t do the task, I just want to understand why my workload is being increased with something that I might not have been hired to do.

Another exception to items 1-2 might be a lack of training. You could do the task, but it will take longer because you have not been trained and will have to ask more questions than you would about something already within your regular duties. Maybe your manager wants you to learn a specific, unusual task because s/he needs a backup in case the person most qualified to do it is not available.

If you answered no to #3, is the problem that you’re busy (see above) or that you’re not managing your time effectively? If you don’t have the time because you’re busy with other things and the new task is a priority, then it is acceptable to seek relief on other tasks that conflict with the new activity.

If you answered “yes” to item 4 above,  I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable. Every job has tasks we’d rather not do. If it’s within your capabilities and you have the time, you do the job.

Why doing it yourself is the better option

If you get into the habit of handing off your work to other people, that damage your reputation, and it will affect your work interactions in the future.

  • You will appear to be lazy.
  • You will be resented, especially if the task is something the other person doesn’t like to do, either.
  • Other people will be less willing to help you in the future.

Bottom line: think twice before you think you’re being clever by asking someone else to do a task you’re capable of doing. Your willingness to do the unloved task will be appreciated, as well.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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