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11 Sticky Work Situations, Solved

Credit Not Due

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Situation: "My boss takes credit for my ideas."

How to deal: "Some managers believe that because they're paying you, they own every thought in your head," says Jodi Glickman, founder of the Chicago-based communications training firm Great on the Job. "But a good boss gives credit where it's due."

She suggests meeting with your superior in private and telling her, "I'm disappointed I wasn't acknowledged for my role in that project. How can we keep that from happening in the future?" The key is not to be accusatory, which will only put the other person on the defense.

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Terms of Endearment

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Situation: "A higher-up calls me 'sweetie.'"

How to deal: "Sometimes people use terms of endearment without even realizing it," says Kathi Elster, an executive career coach and author of Mean Girls at Work. "If your superior says it to everyone, you might want to just let it go." But when it feels like a deliberate put-down, remind him or her that you like to be called by your name.

Try, "This may not be your intent, but whenever you refer to me as 'sweetie,' it feels dismissive." In the case that he or she responds by laughing or continues to use the moniker, you may want to start sending out your résumé.

Retire The Attire

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Situation: "My assistant wears skirts that are way too short."

How to deal: This calls for a face-to-face conversation, says Elster. "If you send a generic email to everyone about the dress code, she may think it doesn't apply to her." Pull your assistant aside and say, "What you wear directly affects how people treat you, and I'm worried your talent is being over-looked because of your attire." Be specific about what's not office-acceptable—a skirt above the knee, for example, or a sheer top—and make it clear you're speaking up only because you respect her and want to help her succeed.


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Situation: "A colleague whose skills are lacking asked me to recommend her for a job."

How to deal: If you can't honestly say you'd want to work with her again, politely refuse, says Elster. Simply tell her you're not the best person at the company to give an endorsement and suggest someone who might be better, such as the head of your department.

If you're in charge, let the employee know that you don't provide job references for anyone. "Creating a policy will make saying 'no' less personal," says Elster. Don't want to lock yourself in this way? Consider, "I didn't work with you long enough to really assess your performance," or, "We interacted so little that I wouldn't feel right speaking on your behalf."

Sticky Fingers

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Situation: "I think a coworker is stealing from the company."

How to deal: It's one thing to occasionally pocket pens and Post-it Notes, but accepting gifts from clients when it's against corporate policy or even kickbacks is definitely cause for concern. "You have an obligation to report any unlawful conduct you're aware of," says Glickman. If you don't, you could be held accountable.

Your goal when speaking up: Stay as uninvolved as possible. "Give your boss a few examples of the questionable conduct you've witnessed, but then let her do the rest of the evidence-gathering," she says. "You don't know the whole story, and if it turns out your boss is in on the bad behavior, you could end up being the one who gets fired."

Dismissive Boss

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Situation: "My manager grumbles every time I request days off."

How to deal: "Ask yourself if there might be a reason she's reacting this way," says Glickman. Is your work often late and your time off will only delay it further? Or does your request coincide with the company's busiest period? If not, your boss may simply be manipulating you—she might want you to feel guilty, especially if you're going on vacation and she's not.


Rather than taking it personally, strategize early. Give your superior a long lead time, say, three months' advance notice. Then, as your trip gets closer, provide a plan detailing the status of your assignments and who will handle them while you're out. Before you go, make sure you've crossed everything off your to-do list.

Overtime for Overshare

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Situation: "My colleague shares every detail of her life."

How to deal: Jokingly saying "TMI" while covering your ears not doing the trick? Then "you need to set boundaries and retrain her so she realizes you're not her unpaid social worker," says Elster.


The next time your coworker complains about her marriage or overshares about a medical problem, cut the conversation short by saying, "I'm sorry, but I have a lot of work to do and can't talk right now." Being "busy" often enough should help her get the hint.

Office Gossip

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Situation: "My coworker tries to engage me in gossip."

How to deal: You learned in grade school that you shouldn't talk about people behind their backs, but it can be hard to resist—especially if you're craving a connection. "Gossiping may make you feel close to people," says Elster. "But it can hurt others and your career because higher-ups will be less likely to trust you." Steer your chats away from others by replying, "Who cares about them? What's new with you?" That way, you can foster a sense of camaraderie without ruining anyone's reputation.

Parental Privileges

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Situation: "The parents in my office seem to get special privileges."

How to deal: Tensions can run high when childless employees are constantly asked to cover for the moms and dads who can't stay late or work weekends. "Everyone should have the same rights, regardless of their personal situation," says Glickman, who recommends making it a point to leave on time at least a few days a week. "You don't need to share the reason," she says. "Eventually, your boss will start to respect the fact that you have a life too."

During the company's busy periods, when longer hours might be necessary, suggest setting up a rotation system for overtime. This will guarantee that folks with kids have enough notice to book a sitter—and single people can plan ahead as well.

That's Not My Job

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Situation: "I'm not her assistant, but my superior asks me to pick up her lunch and dry cleaning."

How to deal: "You need to nip this behavior in the bud quickly," says Glickman. "Otherwise, your boss will continue to take advantage of you."

Gently let her know that you've got a lot on your plate at the office and running her personal errands will delay priority projects. Then ask if you can find someone else, like an intern, to help out so she'll still feel like she's being taken care of.

"Ignore Friend Request"

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Situation: "My supervisor friended me on Facebook."


How to deal: "Your response should depend on the field you work in," says Glickman. Some industries, like PR, might require connecting with your manager on social media. Still, that doesn't mean she needs to see every update, so feel free to restrict what she can view in your privacy settings.


If you don't feel comfortable melding your personal and professional lives in any way, ignore the request unless your boss follows up; then tell her you reserve Facebook for family and friends and that you'd be happy to connect on LinkedIn.


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