Key Points:

If you always seem to wind up working with the client from hell on boring, thankless projects, you have to ask yourself if it's probably not your own fault.

Ruth Donde, New Zealand manager for Results Coaching Systems, says to avoid such workplace poisoned chalices you need to set boundaries.

"Tell your boss, 'Look, this is something I've been doing ad nauseum and it's not something I want to be doing anymore. We need to look at other ways of doing it because from this point on, it won't be solely me doing it'," says Donde.

If this sounds like something that would be hard for you to say to your boss, then you're probably over 30-years-old.

"Employees now, especially younger employees, are far more discerning about what they're prepared to do and not prepared to do."

If you find the poisoned chalice on your plate quite regularly, then you probably place a high priority on pleasing others, are keen for advancement and choose to avoid conflict.

Donde says you should be clear about what you want and what you want to achieve.

You should also understand your goals and objectives.

"Stick to your boundaries because the minute you let go and give up, people won't take you seriously."

Not every task is a career development opportunity but you should be clear on what you are being paid to do.

You may choose to take on a project to try and earn some brownie points with the boss or develop another relationship at work.

In this case, make the most of it.

"Any job has tasks that aren't necessarily the most enjoyable and if it is part of your role you might want to get them out of the way first. Do whatever works for you to make the task more pleasurable or fun."

But for those tasks that you positively hate, make it known.

If there is a client you simply cannot work with, say so.

A good manager will arrange duties to work according to people's strengths.

"Some people enjoy clients who are challenging, believe it or not."

But if no one puts their hand up for a job, the manager can either spread the work around or offer an incentive for someone to take it on.

Another option is simply to outsource it.

If the kitchen cleaning roster is not working, bring in a cleaner.

You're probably not paying someone $60,000 a year to do dishes anyway.

A poisoned chalice may just seem like a nuisance at times, but it can lead to a complete breakdown of the working relationship.

"Companies soon learn that if there are tasks that no one wants to do, particularly big ones, people are leaving because of it."

Dr Paul Englert, director of Opra Consulting Group, says some employees are comfortable raising the issue with management if they feel they've been handed a poisoned chalice. "Some of them will bring it up. Some of them will unfortunately just move one and leave. You could lose a good staff member."

Englert says it just depends on how the power relationships are set up in your working environment.

"You can be very contractual about it and refer back to your job description. There are work environments that are more or less conducive to being able to discuss that."

Englert says the workers who are the most contractual and have no problem bringing something they don't like to the attention of their employers are younger workers.

"The current labour market means that employees realise that the power of balance has swung a little bit toward them. As a result they are very strong about what they're obligations are and don't tend to stray too far outside their job description."

The older generation of bosses may expect to have cups of tea made for them but a Y-generation employee probably has other ideas.

They evaluate projects to see if they fit in with their career development and avoid tasks that don't.

But when a poisoned chalice is headed your way, Englert says you'll probably see it coming.

"Often an employer will know when they are doing something which is outside of scope or that they're pushing them or they're giving them something that is an unenjoyable task. There'll be nervousness before you go in to talk to the person. People aren't idiots."

He says often an unappealing task will be glossed up or oversold somehow. "It will be delivered by [someone] looking down at the floor. There is not the strong eye contact. It's not delivered in a strong tone."

Now is the time to let your manager know how you feel about this task.

Is this just a one-off or have you repeatedly been asked to do something for this client that no one else will service?

"If you're given a poisoned chalice you need to understand, 'Where does this fit in to the context of my role? Where does it fit in to the context of the business? Why have I been chosen to do it?"'

Taking on an extremely difficult project with a low likelihood of success may seem like a recipe for disaster, but it could end up being a blessing.

"Some poisoned chalices are high-risk situations. Depending on the personality type of the person, they may take on the poisoned chalice because they see it as an opportunity to shine."

But chances are this isn't the case.

Certain personality types are more likely to find themselves stuck with the thankless task in question.

People who are highly agreeable or highly conscientious are more likely to end up with the short end of the stick.

And soon, employees saddled with boring projects they don't like and working with picky authoritarian clients start to show signs of wear.

"There's a lot of time wastage. So profitability drops in terms of what that person is doing with their day," he says. "Absenteeism or sickness leave will increase. General resentment will occur. Their body language, tone and presentation will change."

Englert says employers need to be careful to share the load to make the working environment as harmonious as possible.

"There is a psychological contract between both parties in terms of roles and expectations."

Englert says there needs to be a clear understanding between the employer and employee as to what any job entails.

Employees who want career development in a specific area can push for that.

If one person does not embrace a particular task, then perhaps someone else will.

But the very existence of a poisoned chalice in your office may say something about your workplace.

If people are being handed projects and tasks that they don't care to do, it could signal that something is not right with the organisation.

If everyone is constantly having to run around putting out fires, you have to ask, 'What's wrong here?"'

"See, the poisoned chalice as something that is a problem that eventually has to have a long-term solution. Ultimately these things cannot have short-term solutions," says Englert.