Q: As the secretary for my church, I have become increasingly irritated with one of our volunteers. "Alice" is a long-time member who has helped out in the office for many years. The problem is that whenever Alice comes in, she just starts doing random tasks without consulting me first.
Because these administrative duties are part of my job, Alice's meddling creates a lot of confusion. For example, I recently discovered that she has been making entries in the master church calendar. Since she doesn't understand the process for scheduling events, I had to waste time undoing the mess that she made.
When I have tried to assign Alice specific tasks, she states that she has been here a long time and knows what she's doing. Our pastor is very busy, so I hate to bother him with such a petty issue. However, I need to regain control of my work. How should I handle this?
A: The root cause of your problem is poorly defined roles, a common workplace malady. When responsibilities are not clearly delineated, the resulting ambiguity can create confusion, conflict and power struggles. As you have discovered, unclear boundaries also allow pushy people to insinuate themselves into others' projects.
Given that Alice is ignoring your reasonable requests, the next step is to ask your pastor for help. Resolving role disputes typically requires management intervention, since only an authority figure can definitively decide who should be doing what. Just be sure to focus on work-related issues, not Alice's annoying traits.
For example: "I wanted to talk with you about a volunteer who seems unclear about her role. Although I'm sure she intends to be helpful, Alice often starts doing unnecessary tasks without telling me. I have tried to explain that this creates a lot of confusion, but she doesn't seem to understand. Could you talk with Alice and tell her that I will provide her assignments?"
If the pastor agrees, ask to sit in on this conversation so that everyone has the same understanding. Then, when Alice comes in to volunteer, greet her with a friendly smile and an agenda for the day.
Q: Because I started my job under unusual circumstances, I am now seriously underpaid. My position has been incorrectly classified from the beginning, but I can't figure out how to fix this.
As an employee of a public university, my pay scale is established by state government. Our human resources manager says the state's policies and procedures are out of his control, so he can't help. I have considered writing the governor, but I doubt that would do any good. How can I find the right person?
A: Since the governor is undoubtedly occupied with broader concerns, try contacting your state's central personnel office. They are likely to have compensation specialists who oversee the pay plans for state agencies. A quick internet search should provide you with an initial contact.
Once you have determined where to call, prepare a concise description of your problem and ask to speak with someone who can answer your questions. Just don't expect an immediate solution. In both government and corporate settings, reclassifying a position is seldom a simple process.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.