Is a co-worker trying to saddle you with his or her work? Here are some strategies to try.

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Most of the time, we have good relationships with our co-workers. Working side by side in pursuit of a common goal is a powerful way to create solidarity — the sense that we are all in this together — and often leads to lasting friendships.

Other times, however, co-workers can be sources of stress, especially when they don’t pull their weight and (even more especially) when they try to get you to do parts of their jobs. We are not talking about the emergencies or last-minute deadlines or gaps in staffing that occur in every workplace. We’re talking about the chronic behavior of one employee trying to offload work onto another.

This happens particularly if you are a young or recently hired employee. If this is your situation, here’s what you can do.

Your first move should be to seriously consider the specific request. After all, it’s possible that doing this particular task is going to help you. For example, if it could result in valuable new skills or new relationships that will build your resume, and if it doesn’t interfere with your work, you may want to take it on. You will learn something new and you’ll look like a team player. Note: Do make sure that everyone knows it was you who performed this task!

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If the task has no upside for you, or is simply something you’re not interested in doing, try saying this, “I’m always happy to help out, but the boss has asked that I stick with the projects I’m working on.” If the co-worker asks again, you can try redirecting, as in, “Have you considered trying X or asking Y?” If your co-worker persists, you may need to counter with, “Maybe we should talk to my manager about rearranging my workload. Should I set up a meeting, or will you?”

P.S.: Sometimes the task your co-worker is trying to shrug off on you is nothing more than grunt work, like making the coffee. Assuming this is not in your job description, it’s important to establish from the start that you’re not available for those duties. A simple “Sorry, I’m on deadline,” or just “Can’t help! Sorry!” delivers your message succinctly and clearly. Remember, boundaries are your friend.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at