Dear Jeremy – your work issues solved

Problems at work? Need advice? Our agony uncle – and readers – have the answers

A colleague is forever absent, but managers don’t take any action

Since his appointment eight months ago a colleague is frequently absent from the office but management is not dealing with the problem. This colleague works less than half of his weekly hours. In the past, the issue has been overlooked due to our colleague’s problems at home, which he uses to his advantage and often lies about his whereabouts.

As the most senior member of the team (in terms of tenure) it falls to me to “tell tales” to management. It regularly promises that stern words will be exchanged, and we don’t doubt they are, yet the situation has not changed. Morale is low among the rest of the team. How can we make our concerns heard? Raising the issue on multiple occasions has achieved nothing.

Jeremy says:
There are a couple of things I wish I were clearer about. You mention problems at home that this unreliable colleague has to live with. Do you know exactly what these problems are and whether they were known to management when he was taken on eight months ago? I ask because it’s just possible that the reason management has been so unresponsive is because they knew he was a bit of a special case from the beginning and accepted the fact. (I know it’s unlikely; but it would help define your own future actions if you could rule this possibility out. You can’t be over-sensitive when serious personal/family problems are involved.)

Secondly, you say that as the most senior member of the team – but only, it seems, in terms of length of service – it falls to you to report your team’s misgivings. If this seniority is recognised by the rest of your team and management, then you don’t have to be concerned about “telling tales”; it’s actually your responsibility and you’d be negligent if you didn’t. So, on the assumption that your colleague’s attendance record is demonstrably poor and that there’s nothing in his private circumstances that could wholly excuse it, you clearly need to intensify your efforts to effect change.

The time has come for something in writing. Make sure you acknowledge that this individual lives with personal circumstances about which you remain mainly ignorant. Don’t hint at any aspect of his behaviour if it’s based only on speculation. You say he often lies about his whereabouts. Before you accuse anyone of lying, do be certain of your facts and make sure can verify them. It’s not for you and your team to make judgments or recommend action; but it is for you, and your team, to report a serious decline in team morale and the effect on performance.

Ask for a formal response, with a date attached. Do make sure that it goes to more than one person.

I’ve left one difficult question unanswered. As I understand it, this unreliable colleague is a part of the team of which you are the senior member. I assume, therefore, that you must have spoken to him directly about his timekeeping, but to no avail.

If so, you may think it necessary to tell him, in advance, of the letter you’re planning to send; and, indeed, management might well want to know that you have.

Readers say:
• We had a similar problem, except it was our immediate line manager who had been in the post for two years and did very little work. It was difficult to explain to senior management because we work in a very hierarchical organisation where the messenger is likely to get shot. So … we stopped covering mistakes and picking up the slack for errors and omissions. She is now being monitored and supported to actually do her job. As my very wise father-in-law said: “Cover your own arse and let everyone else worry about theirs.” It’s only work after all. SurferR0sa

• As you are not his manager, it does not fall on you, through time served, to “tell tales”. In fact, it’s entirely possible that his work pattern is due to a specific issue that his manager understands and you do not. It might be a disability or illness for example, that he does not wish you to know about. Concentrate on your own work, not his, and you’ll be much happier. harrytheaardvark

• Here’s a thought. He’s having problems, as you say. He’s talked it over with management, who’ve agreed that he can take the time off – perhaps he’s seeing a therapist and doesn’t want his team to know – hence not telling people the truth. Or perhaps he’s simply a lazy git!

Either way: it’s none of your business what hours he works and when. You’ve told management once (maybe more) – move on. You’re responsible for your work. Do it. It works as well as an adult, as it did when you were five. Keyboardaddictagain

Is there any way I can still make use of my nutrition degree?

I live in Scotland and have been a qualified nurse for nearly 21 years, having previously been a care assistant before my training. After three years as a qualified nurse, I went to what is now Queen Margaret University to study nutrition and graduated with 2:2 degree. Following graduation, I spent two and a half years doing other things to make ends meet and, initially, went to study secondary teaching in home economics, but realised that certain aspects were not for me and drifted back into nursing, and have been there ever since.

I have mostly worked with older people and still do, and I enjoy that part. It is simply all the other things that go with the job. I have never found a use for my degree, either and now, at 46, wonder if I ever will.

Jeremy says:
By my rough reckoning, your nutrition degree must be well over 10-years-old and a lot must have changed in the world of nutrition during that time. So you’re probably right to assume that you’re unlikely to find any direct application for it now. But you should never believe that taking that degree was a mistake; it will have given you personal confidence – and is permanent proof of your seriousness and professionalism.

I wish I knew which bits of your current job you dislike. Since you continue to enjoy working with older people, I assume it’s the routine and administration that you find demoralising.

I wonder if you’ve thought seriously of joining an agency that provides live-in carers for elderly or convalescing people in their own homes? You’ll almost certainly know a great more about it all than I do, but your qualifications for such a job are just about ideal. And from what little I’ve observed, it can be a hugely rewarding role offering a surprising degree of variety and independence.

Carers tend to work on a roster with other carers: so many weeks at a time in a particular home; and then so many weeks off or with another patient. Relationships between carer and patient can be close and fulfilling. But the thought of spending so much of your time in other people’s houses might fill you with horror. If that’s the case, examine other routes away from institutionalised life and towards a greater degree of independence.

Readers say:
•The key question when considering whether to do something with your degree may well be, is it still up-to-date? If you’ve been keeping up with practice and theory then you could probably make it relevant to a new role quite easily with some refresher training.

I’d suggest starting out with that, whether that is through (say) working up to membership of something such as the British Dietetic Association or through doing an additional qualification in a related area. That will help you make your skills relevant, as well as helping you to decide whether this is still an area that interests you. ofghent

• Your degree is very relevant. If you feel you want to move towards a nutrition-orientated post, you could look at working as a nutrition-specialist nurse. This role is centred on patient nutrition and feeding, staff education and training, and taking a lead with safe enteral feeding practices, as well as managing and often prescribing total parenteral nutrition.

However, working in elderly care I presume you do not have much up-to-date experience of caring for such patients, which prospective employers would value more than a nutrition degree. If specialist nutrition nursing is something that does interest you, I’d suggest getting gastro-nursing experience first, as a staff nurse on a gastro or surgical ward. schrodingerscat85

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