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