What Should I Do If I Have No Work To Do In My New Job?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to
handle a situation where there seems to be no work in a new job. 

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QUESTION:
I just started a new job 2 months ago, in the same field of work as I’ve done for 27 years. I couldn’t wait to work for this company, because it sounded like the perfect place to work: It’s a small company, seemed like a lot of nice people, I’d have more variety, I’d be creating the “standard” for new employees and moving up the company, as I was told, is common place.

This is also a start up company, I should mention.

Since I’ve been here, I have utilized my skills by building up their database, since they did not have any. I have also educated myself in their systems, as I was not familiar. It’s been 2 months, and I’ve done all the building of the database I could think of. I’ve also educated myself as much as I can. Big problem now is I have yet to work on a project, because they don’t have anything for now. I’ve been asking my boss and our sales guy, and they both agree the work will not be here until next year, 2019, and we may possibly get something this year, but it’s not guaranteed.

I’ve asked all sorts of people in the office if they have anything for me to do, and they always say they will try to find me something, but nothing ever comes up.

I sit in the very far back of the office and sometimes wonder if they forgot they hired me. I feel very isolated and ignored in this company. I do not know what to do, because I can imagine not having any work to do, and sitting back here all day at my desk with no interaction with others. I feel like I made a huge mistake coming to this company, but I can’t go back to prior employer. I would feel humiliated. Do you have any advice? I’m pretty desparate, lonesome and bored and am willing to try anything! Thanks in advance
Lonely and Bored

Response:
Dear Lonely and Bored,
1. It may reassure you somewhat to know that the situation you describe is sadly fairly common in start-up companies. They have funding to staff to the level they hope they will require and they need to use that funding upon start-up, not a year later. Sometimes the work doesn’t materialize as hoped and they end up down-sizing. Often the business grows and there is more work than the staff can handle. But, for the first couple of years, many employees are just biding their time.

It sounds as though you have attempted to use your time well and to benefit the company. I wonder if you let your manager know what you were doing and if your work was acknowledged. If key people aren’t aware of how you have attempted to bring value, it’s not too late to bring that up when you discuss your position, as suggested next.

2. You should talk to the person who hired you—your manager or supervisor. Be sure to emphasize that you want to continue to work there, but you feel frustrated over the lack of work—and especially the lack of interaction with anyone.

Also say that you would like to make sure you are doing the work they want you to do and that you are viewed as a good employee. If you haven’t shared the work you’ve done in your efforts to learn more about the company and to use your time well, do so.

Have a plan for how you think the problem could be alleviated. For example, maybe there is some specific project that will utilize your skills, even though it’s not what you will be doing down the line. Or, maybe there is some training, even self-training right at your desk, that would help you be prepared for work in the future. Maybe they would have ideas for what they would like you to learn to do, to enrich your job.

The fact that you are concerned enough to ask about it, may be enough to remind those above you that they need to find something for you to do while they’re waiting for work to come in. Or, you may be told of some issues that you were unaware of and that you can improve. For example, perhaps there is some skill area they thought you possessed and they intended you to be involved with that work while waiting, but they now realize you can’t do the work they had in mind.

I corrected a number of spelling errors in your letter to us. That might be because you use your phone to type and mistakes often go unnoticed in those cases. However, if you were on a computer and using spellcheck, you may make similar errors at work, which could be viewed negatively by management. If they know you are open to hearing about concerns, they may be more willing to talk to you about areas of improvement. I don’t expect that is the case, but it’s worth considering.

3. In many offices the nature of the work doesn’t require interactions with other employees. However, in those offices there are still interactions in the break room and over the copying machine, etc. People still talk to each other, even if their work is not connected. This situation is certainly one you should mention when you talk to your manager or supervisor about the status of your job and your future there.

One thing you want to avoid is taking on tasks that you will need to give up when you get your own work to do. It creates false expectations about your helpfulness and can make you end up being over-worked when your own work gets busier.

4. If you have 27 years of experience with your former company, perhaps you don’t have to decide between it and this one. There may be other companies that would be eager for someone with your experience. I think you should wait and give this one a chance. But, if things don’t work out, you may have more options than simply returning to the place where apparently you didn’t mind leaving.

2019 is not very far away, so perhaps you can give it another few months to see what happens with the work. If you are getting paid well enough to make the job worthwhile in that way and can tolerate it a bit longer, you may not only get more involved with work, but that involvement may make it more likely you will become more of an integral part of the office staff.

I wish I had a sure-fire solution for you. Even if I knew all of the circumstances I could only guess at what would make an improvement, because your situation involves so many issues. You know the details of your work, so I hope you can put your mind to looking at the elements involved and see if you can find any indicator of another problem—or a solution.

Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Rowe,
Ask the Workplace Doctors

FOLLOW-UP
Well, it’s been now 5 months I’ve been employed at this company, and have yet to work on any projects.
I was hired in February at this start-up. I have spent the first few months building their data base, learning their systems and some smaller “busy work” they could find me. I have also gotten to understand the office dynamics better.

Our only sales person quit and they are not planning on filling that position. This concerns me greatly because that position is needed for us to drum up business. After the sales person quit, the duties went to two other guys at the company, who are project managers.

Part of my job is to go to bid list websites and pass potential jobs onto these two guys for them to decide if we can do the job and to come up with a quote/proposal to this potential customer. One of these guys ignores these jobs I send him, and I feel like we are losing out with potential customers because of this. The other guy does great and tries to get these potential customers, but still hasn’t produced any work for the company.

This company also plans on acquiring another similar company so we can buy thier customer base, but I dont know when this will happen. It could be good news for me, meaning I would potentially be utilizing my skills and working on projects as I was hired to do. The possibility of acquiring another company does give me hope, but in the mean time, I am still so bored, feeling under utilized, lonesome and frustrated that I took a position at this company.

Because I have been feeling isolated, lonesome and bored at this company, I haven’t made or felt a good team connection with my coworkers. It’s a very small team of people, which I normally do great in, but I still feel left out with this group. I also think there’s an affair going on between the only other woman in the office (who is the office manager) and a project manager. I have been around them in meetings and on breaks and I feel really awkward with their flirting and all the attention he gives her.

So basically, it’s been 5 months at this place and I’m really feeling like this isn’t working out but I don’t know what to do. The jobs in my field are not that plentiful where I live, and I have a fear there will be something bad at another place. Please help.

RESPONSE: 

I can understand your frustration. Since your last message, there has apparently been no positive change in your work situation or your feelings about it. In your April message you said the person hiring you told you there might not be much work until 2019—which is still six months away. If these five months have been difficult, another six months will be even more challenging. However, in both messages you said the option of quitting your job is not one you think would be good for you at this time.

1.) For some consolation and perhaps some inspiration, do an Internet search of “Pros and cons of working for a start-up company.” You’ll see articles like, “Why it sucks to work for a start-up.” Or, “Start-ups offer great opportunities”. A start-up company, by definition is a company hoping to fill a perceived market need. The potential for success can be the same as the potential for failure and a start-up can have that title for years before they settle in and become an established company or fade away. Facebook is still considered a start-up by some economists!

You had worked for your former company for 27 years—a full career for most people. Even if you were with your former company at its start-up, you wouldn’t have felt the same way as you do now. Most likely it was established when you were hired. So, the dynamics of the work group would be much different.

You may also be older than some of the other employees and have far more skills in some areas and less in others, than they do. You say you feel isolated and disconnected, so apparently you are not a gregarious person who jumps into the middle of a group—or if you are, you haven’t done it there. Or, as in some workplaces, the others there may be mostly focused on their work or personal interests and are not social in their interactions.

You also say you’re not comfortable with the flirting and personal talk between the office manager and a project manager, so communications between them are probably more free and easy than that to which you’re accustomed. Above all, you have no control over whether there is work for you to do and right now there is very little of it. It’s no wonder you’re unhappy with the job!

It sounds to me as though whoever sold you on the idea that this job would be a good fit for you should be the lead salesperson for the company!

On the other than, they did tell you it might be 2019 before work started coming in. And, you have a regular task that is important for generating work for the company. Further, it appears no one is complaining that you’re not doing enough work. From what you say, almost no one is doing very much work! (Money has to be coming in from somewhere, which is a puzzle, if they aren’t generating a large amount of revenue on their own.) One thing is for sure: If the company doesn’t make a good profit, at some point they will no longer be a start-up, they’ll be a close-down..

So, if you don’t want to or can’t quit and the only way you will be happy is if there is a lot of work for you to do, you will probably have to wait a few more months and hope for the best—and decide then if you want to go or stay.

2.) If you think continuing to work there is the best of your current options, consider talking to the person who hired you and express your concerns about whether or not you are going to have the opportunity to provide the work you are skilled at doing and for which you were hired. If you use a concerned tone, surely whoever you are speaking with will be open to hearing that you want to work and help the company succeed. I suggested that in April and it’s still the right thing to do.

You want to be careful however, since you might convince that person that there really isn’t enough work to justify your job position. As I considered your message, I called two managers in two organizations. One is in a company that develops phone and computer network software and the other is in a business center development company. They weren’t very empathetic! They both essentially said the same thing. One expressed it this way:

“I hear that complaint about not having enough to do or not feeling useful, from a lot of new employees and I tell them they may not feel optimally useful for the first year or two, but I can’t stay busy helping them self-actualize in the business. When we have work for them to do, they’ll get it; if we don’t, they’re still getting paid and a good place to work. If they worked at a store that had no customers for long periods of time, I’d tell them to find something to do or learn to be patient, because I can’t create customers and I don’t need an employee reminding me every day that we don’t have them.”

I don’t think that attitude is very effective and certainly doesn’t reflect the best management style! However, he’s a very successful manager, from the viewpoint of generating money for the company and generally creating a good work environment. He’s just unconcerned about anyone’s feelings except his own!

So, if you talk  to your supervisor or manager, keep your focus on wanting to help the company succeed. You might want to also express your wish for a better relationship with the other employees. You might be given some advice about ways to help the situation. I think if you felt more like part of the office team you would feel much better about everything else—but you will probably have to make that happen.

3.) You say that one part of your job is to give the two sales people a list of bid requests. If that isn’t what you were specifically hired to do, perhaps there are also other tasks that you could expand into temporarily. Based on the bids being requested, is it possible you could make suggestions to the sales people about what the project could look like, if you were working on it? Could you assist the sales person who seems to be making an effort, but not being very effective.

4.) Having suggested those things to make staying there a good thing for you, in the meantime, I think you should actively look for other work and take the chance that another job will be better than this one. If the pay is comparable and commute time is acceptable and all of the other details work acceptably, you would at least be assured a fresh start.

I wish I could offer a guaranteed solution to your situation—or even some unique options that you may not have thought about. You do have relatively limited options—quit or stay. But within those are quite a few variables that can influence your decision. With your tenure in your field, you have undoubtedly solved many work problems before. So, stay confident that you can find a way through this one as well.

Best wishes to you with this. As always, if you wish to keep us informed, please do so. Your experiences can be very helpful to others!

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors