‘A person who lies once is capable of lying again’ – our work expert responds

My colleague always moans about being too busy, but refuses the offer of any help
I work in a small team for a large professional services company and have a colleague who, while constantly bemoaning how busy they are, refuses the offer of any help. I put this down to a “martyr complex” but was alarmed when I found out she had told my line manager that I was not pulling my weight. I also learned she said the same thing about another colleague who, like me, offers their support whenever they can during busy periods.
I’m irritated that this person tries to suggest that myself and colleagues are not supporting them. Added to the mix is that, while I sit within the team, my role is somewhat specialised and as such I’m not in a position to offer the colleague in question my help very often – although when I do, it is refused.
Jeremy says
I wonder how you found out that this dissatisfied colleague had told your line manager that you were not pulling your weight? And that she’d made the same accusation about another colleague? On the face of it the line manager would seem to be being indiscreet; I don’t see how else these revelations could have become known.
In any small team accusations such as these, either real or imaginary, lead to suspicion, resentment and a toxic atmosphere, where just about any comment, however innocent, can be misinterpreted as an example of malicious gossip. However, I suspect an open challenge to this colleague would only exacerbate the problem. If met, as seems likely, by a straight denial you would be left feeling even more helpless.
Your best chance, it seems to me, is to raise the subject of mutual support at a general level while keep personalities well out of it. For example, you could suggest to your line manager that, with such a small team, it could be extremely helpful if there was open agreement that all team members should inform the line manager whenever they have enough time on their hands to help out a colleague. Even if no such convention is adopted, the very fact of raising the subject openly should be enough to clear the air.
Readers say
Email the colleague and say: “As discussed earlier, if you are still struggling with the workload I am happy to help.” Get your other colleagues to do the same. The person will either email to decline or not respond at all, but either way if your boss complains to the team, show them the email trail. allnighters
If they let you help it might become apparent that you could do their job in a fraction of the time. As in most things work-related, the best advice is to keep a journal – in this case detailing when you offered assistance and the circumstances of that being refused. Keiitth
Work (and domestic) martyrs exist in large numbers – they do unnecessary tasks in a pernickety way and then complain that no one else helps. I once shared a student flat with a woman who spent hours boiling tea towels and cutlery in large pans in the interests of hygiene, and then moaned that no one else did (we washed these normally). They never change, but as long as you are sure your boss understands the situation fully and therefore will take the martyr’s moans at their real value, you can afford to ignore them. Alexandria
Why feel the need to offer help? If they are (in their own judgment) overworked they should be taking it up with their manager. Next time they moan, suggest they do exactly that. time4tee
My brief time in the police a decade ago dominates my CV – should I remove it?
I am looking for a new job as my current one is a fixed-term contract that soon ends. I have had a number of interviews, but have noticed that interviewers are disproportionately interested in an episode from 10 years ago, when I spent 18 months as a police officer.
This was something I tried but found was not right for me, and I left without completing my probationary period. It stands out on my CV because all of my other work experience has been in office administration and customer service. I can understand why interviewers find it interesting, but I don’t want to be defined by a job that I did so long ago, or spend time in interviews discussing something that didn’t work out.
I am thinking of taking the police officer role off my CV altogether. The company that I worked for prior to that has closed down and cannot be contacted, so it would be easy enough to simply extend the period of time that I was there on my CV to avoid any gaps in my employment history.
I know this amounts to lying, and it is possible I am getting interviews on the basis that I have had an “interesting” job, but I don’t feel it reflects who I am now or what I have to offer.
Jeremy says
I can fully understand your predicament but would caution you against deleting the police officer period from your CV. Yes, to do so would be a lie, and one with which you would probably continue to feel uncomfortable. There is always that one in a thousand chance that somebody somewhere would unearth the truth. And, once you have been exposed for having falsified your personal history, any potential employer is likely to eliminate you from contention: a person who lies once is believed to be capable of lying again. In any case, I don’t believe it’s necessary.
Without torturing the truth, I believe you should find it easy to show how your experience with the police force was, in fact, extremely helpful in showing you where your strengths and interests really lay. Ever since then you have been grateful that that 18 months provided you with real life experience against which you can evaluate your work in office administration and customer service. It has enabled you to feel more confident in your choice of career and increase your satisfaction in the work you do.
It would seem a pity to expunge such an interesting episode from your CV when you can so easily turn it to your advantage.
Readers say
You should try to pick some experiences you had in the police and show how they have since helped you. For example, the police deal with members of the public at times of high stress and emotion. Surely this is helpful in a customer service role. SpursSupporter
General CV advice online appears to be to cut the length of your CV down to the past 10-15 years. I would merely start your CV with the job after your police work and think nothing further of it. TenementFunster
Many moons ago the one thing in my CV that consistently got me interviews was the fact that I used to hand-paint the Wallace and Gromit cufflinks that were all the rage back in the late 90s and early 00s. That single three-month summer work job got me into my (totally unrelated) science career.
The trick is turning it into a positive that works for whatever role it is you are applying. For example, did the police role require any level of integrity – dealing with confidential information/public records etc? That one time spent as an officer could speak volumes. Sorbicol
Do you need advice on a work issue? For Jeremy’s and readers’ help, send a brief email to dear.jeremy@theguardian.com. Please note that he is unable to answer questions of a legal nature or to reply personally.