If you do A's work first, B will be mad. If you hold up on C's project to get B's done, C will have a fit. Your bosses are acting more and more like 10-year-olds competing for Mom's attention, and you are wishing more and more that you could send all of them to their rooms.
As the recession continues and companies cut back on secretarial and other support services for management, workers who work for more than one boss are the rule rather than the exception.
"Because of my company's recent cutbacks, I suddenly have three bosses instead of one, and they're all driving me crazy! I know I'm lucky to have a job at all in these times, but some days I'm ready to pull my hair -- or theirs -- out root by root.
"Each one treats me as if I'm his private secretary, each wants his work done first, each acts like a sulky little kid if I don't accommodate his (always urgent) needs right now. What's a mother to do?"
The National Institute for Occupational Safety names secretarial work as one of the most stressful jobs it's possible to hold. Recent studies show that secretaries reporting to more than one boss overwhelmingly report more fatigue than those who report to one.
If you work for two or more bosses, you'll need to remain objective, detached, firm and, most of all, clear about what you can -- and can't -- accomplish, and the time frames in which you can -- or can't -- operate.
You'll have to insist that you not be put in the position of having to decide which boss's work comes first when your bosses' workloads, goals, schedules, egos and/or temperaments collide, as well.
This is neither part of your job nor fair to you. It's up to the people for whom you work to tell you the order in which they want the work done.
So it's a good idea for you and them to come up with a priority system together before there's a crisis.
Ask your bosses to help you (and them) avoid misunderstandings by dating the work they assign to you, as well, and writing down the time of day that they hand it to you. This way, you're covered if there's a disagreement about whose work arrived on your desk first.
It's also important to remember that neither your positive nor negative feelings toward one boss or another ever should come into play when it comes to getting your work done, although multiple bosses often attempt to outcharm each other in an effort to manipulate folks like you and me into just such a trap.
But if you play favorites with a boss you particularly like -- or make life more difficult for one you don't -- you are the one who will suffer in the long run. At the very least, your favorite -- or least favorite -- boss will forever know that your behavior was both petty and unprofessional.
Finally, do keep in mind that there are some advantages to working for more than one boss. This may help when A is bellowing, B is sulking and C has interrupted you for the fourth time to ask plaintively whe-e-e-n his work will be done.
The kind of pressure you're handling is excellent training for both management and parenting, for one thing. And this experience will forever afterward make working for just one boss seem like child's play -- even if he or she is a real troll.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.