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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Difficult Employees

Dear Sue: It seems as though most of the questions you receive are written from frustrated employees who work for difficult bosses. My question is a bit different. I am the boss, and am struggling with difficult employees. I am young, so I am not sure if this is about me or not.


Whenever I request something to be done, rather than take ownership, everyone seems to take his or her time completing the task. Sometimes I have to follow up several times before anything ever gets done.

I am trying to establish good working relationship with these people, but the way they are acting is getting in the way. I am not sure how to handle these people or this situation. 

- Young boss

Sue Says: I've said it before and I'll say it again: people will take advantage of you as long as you allow them to.

Although you are bothered by the way these people respond to you, it sounds as though you haven't done anything to put a stop to it. Perhaps because you are young, you are concerned about coming across too harsh or demanding, or too concerned about what others think of you.

When you want something done, do you "ask" people to do it in a way that could lead them to believe it is an option, rather than important or urgent? 

There is a difference between asking someone to assist you in doing something and requesting that it be done. Be sure you are making it clear that you need the task completed. It will help you and others if you give the task a deadline, because without one, the task is likely to be put off or perceived as not important. You will be doing the people a favor by providing a timeline, and you can still request something in a friendly manner.

Once a deadline has been established, if a task is still incomplete, then you may still need to follow up, but this time you have a specific reason for your call. You are not calling to inquire what is 'going on', but to inform the person that the deadline has passed and you are in need of the information.

Perhaps a conversation with these people, along with something in writing is necessary. Let them know that the delay in response time is creating problems. Proceed to inform them that in the future you will be providing a timeline for your requests, and that all tasks must be completed promptly and within that time frame, without exception.

Dear Sue: My question is in regards to someone (not me) who is considering asking for a promotion. He is doing this partly because he thinks he deserves it, and partly because he knows that his boss will soon be leaving. With the dual uncertainties of not being assured of the promotion now, and not knowing who his new boss might be, would you recommend that he approach his current boss and request the promotion or take his chances and wait for the new boss to be selected? 

- Uncertain

Sue Says: I see no harm in requesting a promotion - the worst thing that can happen is that he will be denied his request, which leaves him in the same situation he would be anyhow if he didn't ask.

Your friend, who obviously wants a promotion, has no way of knowing who his next boss will be or how likely the new boss will be to make any changes in the near future. He may feel he has a better chance of getting what he wants by asking his current boss who knows him well enough to make an intelligent decision. In addition, by making his desires known, even if he doesn't get the promotion now, there is a chance that his intentions will be passed on to the new boss. 

My question is, why is this of concern to you? 

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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