Tactful way to get out of a new project at work that hasn't started yet
April 30, 2014 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I have been asked by my supervisor (who was asked by his supervisor) to work with our marketing group, specifically one person I, to write trade articles on a product we developed and will launch next year. I don't want to. How do I get out tactfully and quickly?

This new task, on top of my current tasks, would be added on to my current work load. I work in R&D as a Ph.D. level scientist for a medical device manufacturer, and I have extensive experience in writing for publication, trade and peer reviewed.

My resistance is due to the marketing manager in charge of this project is someone with whom I have zero interest in spending any more time with than needed. Ms. Marketing would clearly have final word on the project, the writing, deadlines, lack of deadlines, and my experience with her has proven her to be disorganized and blaming. She’s also a narcissist and constantly showers herself with accolades while doing as little as possible. So, how do I get out of this project? I don’t need a promotion and have no interest in impressing my higher ups other than to continue doing good work in my current role. I have already had a meeting with my boss about a month ago when he brought this up with me, and I agreed to do it, but now I have changed my mind. During the meeting, it was very vague, the marketing person wasn’t even there. There haven’t been any meetings since the first so I haven’t done anything to move this forward with the excuse I have been waiting for Ms. Marketing to spear head it and get it going. I wasn’t asked specifically to get started on it other than to look into literature a competitor wrote for a similar product launched a couple years ago, to investigate key opinion leaders (cold calls??) but no other specific instructions. I’m sure I will get blamed for the lack of progress already, so it’s probably best I do something now, but what? I need to come up with a good reason for not being interested other than “I don’t want to” or “I don’t like working with her”. I am busy with current work, so maybe that angle would be best? I would like to suggest that they create a new position for this task, a temp if they so desire.
I’m definitely not interested in expanding my resume, as I may retire in the next 2 – 5 years anyway. I don’t love or hate this job and actually wouldn’t be upset if they laid me off, but I don’t want to quit either. I just want to keep doing what I am doing, which is a lot.
posted by waving to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you fob it off on somebody else? "Listen, I'm not the right person for this project, Ms M really needs someone who can XYZ (and put up with her crap), and besides, I'm really busy with ABC. Maybe Josh should handle this one?"
posted by aimedwander at 7:31 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Try something like "I've thought a lot about the specs of the project since we first discussed it, and I've come to realize it's going to take more time than I can spare without impacting my crucial core deliverables, A B and C. [Insert specifics here, i.e. what kind of hours are needed and what you have on your plate already.] I won't be able to do it after all. Regret having to have to turn down an interesting project but I need to be realistic about priorities and workloads."

Alternately, and this is higher risk to you but possibly also could come up as a demerit for her: you can tell the truth. "I've worked with X before, and it's been a poor fit - her work style is demoralizing to me, and it's wound up taking up more time to make things work than it's been worth to the project in the long run. Experience tells me it's just not a workable match, sorry." Stuff like this does make its way onto her performance reviews eventually, if you care about that. But this is a higher risk proposition than just explaining the time constraint.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:52 AM on April 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

You're the one with the juice here, and I think fingersandtoes have it.

"I know I agreed to work on the project with marketing, and I've since discovered that the person I'll be working with is Ms. M. Based on this, and a previous project that I've worked on with her, I won't be able to do this. I think Lucy might be a better fit with her. I'll brief Lucy on points A, B and C, and she should be able to take it from here."

Always have an alternate plan to offer when bailing on something. Your boss probably doesn't give a rat's ass who does it, so long as marketing gets what they need to do their dealie.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:58 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Solution first. I don't know anything about your company but bosses don't need to hear you whine, don't need excuses, they need to do X. Don't just say no suggest an alternative plan that still gets the work done. Don't become a problem employee.
posted by Aranquis at 8:21 AM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

A variation on what fingersandtoes suggests, which a co-worker of mine has done successfully, is to say: I've thought a lot about the specs of the project since we first discussed it, and I've come to realize it's going to take time that will impact my crucial core deliverables, A B and C. [Insert specifics here, i.e. what kind of hours are needed and what you have on your plate already.] So, which of my current projects would you like me to put on the back burner to take on this new priority, or is there someone else like X who can take on project B for me, or, alternately, how about Z to take on marketing project instead of me?

In other words, you don't say no outright, but list off all your duties, including the marketing thing, say that something has to be offloaded in order to achieve all goals by their respective deadlines, suggest who some things might be off loaded to, but still leave your boss thinking they have the final say on what happens.
posted by gudrun at 8:28 AM on April 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh and, please don't say a word about not wanting to work with Ms. Marketing, make it all about deadlines and feasibility.
posted by gudrun at 8:30 AM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you ask your boss to reprioritize your work, he may put this project at the top of the pile. I'd go counter everyone else and advise you to privately tell your boss that she's the problem, because she is. Any work shifting doesn't address the fact that you don't want to work with her. Perhaps this type of project based work is something you'd do as a consultant during your retirement or as a transition to retirement. (A PhD with decades of experience? Consult!)

First, do a "final" deliverable. Write up a summary of your findings about the competitors literature. Make a list of opinion leaders. Take the vague action item your were given and complete it with a minimum of work. Email it to Ms. Marketing and the team.

Then write the email that your boss is going to forward to his boss. "We had a kick-off meeting and I completed my action item which is attached. I'm not sure that there's any momentum on this project since we haven't had any follow up meetings. I've handed this work off to the core project team led by Ms. Marketing. When the project restarts, I'm happy to give them an hour or two a week on a consulting basis, but I'm going to focus on X,Y and Z."

Bam! You just wrote yourself off the team.
posted by 26.2 at 8:56 AM on April 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'm guessing there are other people in your group who could do this, right? (If not, you're probably out of luck.) Is there a person who would benefit from the experience, or even see this as an opportunity? That would give you a chance to say, "I don't have time on top of my other duties, but maybe Jane could try it. I'd be happy to answer her questions and give her some guidance along the way."
posted by balacat at 7:01 PM on April 30, 2014

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