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Resigning as the unofficial computer expert

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Question: “I don’t want to be the office computer expert for the nonprofit organization where I work. I’m tired of helping people who don’t have computer skills. This is a small office, and none of the people asking for help is in my department or in any way associated with what I do. “Most of the time the questions aren’t related to work. They want me to show them how to download pictures of their grandchild from an e-mail or how to rotate an image. They also want me to show them the advanced features of Word, such as mail merge. “I’ve paid my own money to take computer classes. I also obtained an office automation certificate while I was unemployed. I buy books on computer topics and read several magazines. These people don’t do any of these things. “Since I won’t share my computer skills, they’ve tried a slow down. If I need something, they delay or try to ignore my request. What should I do?” -- Anonymous


“I have a degree in computer science and have run into the same type of situation. People even call me at work asking questions not related to work.

“When my co-workers started slowing down on the tasks assigned to them and it was impeding my work, I asked management to address my co-workers’ progress. In the weekly meeting, management simply stated: ‘We have noticed work productivity on (such-and-such project) was slower than usual. Did anything hinder the project in any way?’ They did this in three meetings. The co-workers began to work back at their usual pace because they felt they were angering management.

“One day at the lunch counter, I also made a joke that if somebody would buy me lunch I would show them a few basic computer skills on the next lunch break. It helped me because I felt I was getting paid for my knowledge and if they were serious they bought me a sandwich or something.”

“Instead of taking offense, be glad that they look to you for help. Why not offer to help but with the condition that they make notes so that they can help themselves the next time. You also might set aside a certain time during the week to help those people.

“The fact that you’re noticing a ‘slow down’ indicates that you’ve hurt their feelings. If you really don’t want to help, be upfront with the people and let them know what you told us. As always, communication is a key to success.”

“I’m constantly interrupted to assist someone with either Windows or Microsoft Office software. Some will come to me repeatedly for the same problem. I don’t mind assisting, but if I assist one of my co-workers with a specific task, I suggest that he or she write down the steps.

“Other times, when they need something done, I ask that it be forwarded to me in e-mail. I do what needs to be done and send it back. When asked ‘How did you do that?’ I simply say, ‘It’s my secret and it’s my job security.’

“I try to say it in a joking manner. However, I was promoted to senior administrative assistant due to my vast computer knowledge in hopes that I can assist my co-workers with weaker computer skills. Showing that you have the knowledge can be a good thing in the end.”

“Most of us who have extensive computer training or knowledge have the same problem. Explain to your co-workers that it’s not that you’re unwilling to assist them, but you’re on the job and being paid by your employer to work during work hours. Hence, you just don’t have time to assist them with items not related to work.

“Politely direct their attention to a Web site with possible information, suggest they use the Help button for the program they’re working in or let them know you have written information you would be glad to share that may help them figure out how to accomplish their task.”

“I’m surprised that someone who has learned a great deal about computer programs isn’t willing to share that knowledge with others. Many people need to know only part of a program, such as mail merge, and it takes only a few moments to demonstrate this feature. I find myself doing this all the time with no regrets.

“If you’re receiving many of the same requests, suggest to your supervisor that you lead a class for co-workers. Many companies offer incentives to peer education leaders.

“I believe it is a privilege and an obligation to share knowledge with others—even occasional requests unrelated to work. You may find that you, too, can learn a lot by sharing your skills; especially rewarding are leadership, service to others and personal growth. I hope you find the rewards that come with being willing to share your knowledge in helping others.”

“Did no one ever help you, spend time with you to impart his or her knowledge and do this for no reasons other than out of the goodness of his or her heart and the sheer joy of watching someone ‘get it’?

“I can’t imagine co-workers not sharing their knowledge; after all, we’re in this together. For the older work force, computers are sometimes a mystery and learning in a structured class may be difficult. For young people with young families, finding the time and/or money to take courses in the evening or on weekends may be virtually impossible.

“If your co-workers are truly being uncooperative in responding to business requirements because you won’t help them, you have a legitimate complaint and should speak with your supervisor or HR people. But my advice is that you need to develop a new attitude: esprit de corps. You’ll find that work, and life in general, will become much richer and much nicer.”

“Most companies have policies about the use of computers for nonbusiness issues. Your employer owns the hardware and the software and can specify how it’s to be used. You shouldn’t be helping anybody with nonbusiness use, and if your problem persists, you should talk to your boss or to your personnel department.

“You shouldn’t allow co-workers to engage in a ‘slow down’ or ignore your requests; this could affect your chances for a generous raise or promotion. As a compromise, you could direct your co-workers to books or Web sites where they could learn how to download photos, etc., and tell them that your own job comes first. Or, if you want to do it all the time, have your company create a position for you as computer guru with higher pay.”

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