The Ultimate Work Catch-22: No work assigned & boss wants status reports
January 15, 2015 4:56 PM   Subscribe

How does one generate an action items/issues log on a moments notice when they have literally had no work to do for MONTHS? Email from boss is sent 13 minutes before the day is over and she wants to start meeting to discuss projects and statuses and asks that the log is compiled and ready for tomorrow. What the hell am I supposed to give a status report on???

Now lets be very clear... It's not like I have been sitting there avoiding working. I literally have almost no work to do on a regular basis. I WANT work. I've run out of work that I made up for myself! The boss has been mismanaging her personnel for as long as I have been there. The only thing that is suddenly driving her piqued interest in what work her direct reports are doing is a result in a change of executive management. The new leadership realize that the current setup is broken. And I see the big picture and support it - the new executives are doing a prison style shake up. They are opening all the closets and finding all the skeletons. Big picture, this is fantastic for the future of the organization. On a personal level however, I can't exactly list out how her mismanagement, squelching of innovation, technical incompetence, and failure to give assignments has literally left me with nothing to do. $hit rolls down hill. If I sit there and say "well, since there has been no work assigned and I've run out of ideas on how to generate work, I have caught up on the internet in its entirety and have also started counting down the days and hours until I am eligible to transfer out of your department". On any given day, I may have one email that is informational. In a given week, I may get a single email that requires any action on my part. In a given month, I can complete the recurring reporting that I am responsible for in less than 4 hours.

To some people, this may sound like an amazing work arrangement. Go to work and get paid to watch EVERYTHING on Netflix, listen to all the audiobooks you can get your hands on, balance your checkbook, pay your bills, etc. After doing it for several months straight? Not so much. It will make you insane after a few weeks. I want to have work. Not having work means that I get to sit there and watch the clock until my workday is over. And as the old adage says, a watched pot never boils...

Regardless, how can I come up with an action items and issues log on a moments notice when I am literally going to have to fabricate it and have it be reasonable enough to be believable? I don't want to put my neck on the line by being brutally honest. Why? Because you had better believe that crazy woman will flip the script, light my ass on fire, and throw me under the nearest bus.

What to do?
posted by gangsterscience to Work & Money (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Can you think about things you would LIKE to do, and make a list of those? Or things that your group is doing (if anything) even if you're not involved? If you have a sense of what the new leadership wants, you could tailor your list toward their goals. If your boss complains that this isn't what she asked for, just shrug it off and say that this is what you think the group should be working on.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:01 PM on January 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I would fudge the details. "Actually, this is a perfect time to have this conversation, boss! I'm just wrapping up automating that monthly reporting to free up my time for new and exciting tasks!" Chickenmagazine's suggestion of then proposing some new and exciting tasks you'd like to do would fit right in.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

Try to redirect the conversation to new duties you'd like to take on and get her to set up a plan to delegate that work to you.

Also, hopefully you have a written job description somewhere? From when you were hired, or past performance reviews? Or if not, maybe HR has something on file? You could structure your status report by going down the list of tasks from your job description and listing the finished projects as completed and the ongoing tasks as being done on time [daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly].
posted by Jacqueline at 5:06 PM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have all — and I mean all — the correspondence from your boss? Any directions in writing, or notes you've taken? I would be scrupulously honest: you have completed all of the work assigned to you. Did you ever request more work? What was the response? Bring that up.

If your boss is going down, and is incompetent, don't make up stories to make yourself look busy. Say to anyone who asks “I did all that was asked of me, and requested more work. [if the second part's true]” You don't want to be seen as aligned with this boss.

If all else fails, you've spent your time on “research” …
posted by scruss at 5:45 PM on January 15, 2015 [11 favorites]

For me, Step 1 would be going through all of my email for the past N months and looking for anything that counts as an "accomplishment".

If you really literally have nothing to report ... I have to be honest, I have trouble believing you could get away with really doing nothing without being a somewhat accomplished bullshitter. Now would be the time to exercise your ability to its fulled.
posted by doctor tough love at 5:59 PM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I think you need to come up with some things you'd like to do and talk about those. It sounds like you need to be offering your services more than you are getting asked for your services.

I know you say you've run out of things to create for yourself, but surely there is something outside your normal duties that no one else is doing that you could take on. That's the sort of thing you have to do in places that are as horribly managed as yours sounds. Make yourself someone who steps up and fixes problems you see, not someone who waits to get an email asking for something.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:53 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: All very good responses - thank you!

I am getting ready to sit down and start combing through all my emails and notes. The irony of the entire situation is that during my midyear review, I literally asked her if she would be open to having a standing bi-weekly or even monthly meeting with me wherein we would have a one on one to review what changes there were (if any) in priorities and to make sure that we were on the same page and on target for delivering on our departmental goals. She shrugged it off. I even set up a team action items list on one of our SharePoint sites over 3 months ago to try to allow for some sort of team transparency and for fellow team members to be have the ability to be in the loop regarding what each other is working on. I'll let you all guess how much buy-in there was to that... Maybe, just MAYBE, it's time to revive that bad boy and tell her she can navigate to it, no spreadsheet required. And hey, then the C level execs will have the ability to navigate to it as well! Nothing hiding in an inbox that can disappear! And since I am the admin of that particular site, I'd love to watch a contributor level user try to fudge things up. I see versioning being turned on that puppy as soon as I get in the office tomorrow.

I have and actively use a Livescribe pen, so I have plenty of material to review for things to come up with. Yes, my bullshiting skills are good but they are about to be put to the test. How about this... For the sake of content, I will add completed action items to my log. She never said that it could only be items in the initiation, planning, execution, or maintenance phases of the project lifecycle.

I will add the research I did for technologies which could to provide true KPI's (as opposed to the whiteboard stick figures that the boss is able to understand only) and I will note that there were no final decisions made by management on the direction in which they wanted to proceed.

I do have the job description, but the organization writes these to be quite broad and vague so that they can spread across the different business divisions easily. I do like the idea of being innovative on the items and projects that I would like to see happen. I am going to actively try to brush off the funk of being completely demotivated and disengaged. There is no reason for me to go down with her and if anything I need to look at this as an opportunity to feather my own nest for when I am eligible to GTFO of this department (T-minus 2 months and counting).

I really appreciate all the feedback thus far and welcome thoughts on the above, any further input, other ideas, etc.
posted by gangsterscience at 6:56 PM on January 15, 2015

For the sake of content, I will add completed action items to my log.

I'm surprised you weren't planning to do this from the beginning. She asked for all statuses on all action items, right? "Completed" is a status.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:18 PM on January 15, 2015 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Jacqueline - I know, right? I have been a bit myopic in my view of the request. The boundaries that were defined in the request only do one thing - open the door to everything else that was undefined. I get that now. She never really said a status. And she never defined a timeframe. I am going to build out my log from the beginning date of my employment.

MoonOrb, that hunt is alive and well!!! That is my personal top priority action item right now. I have been lining up my options and making my alliance for months now. I'm out as soon as I can transfer out. And if all else fails? They are NOT the only employer in town.

I just pulled out my notes. Turns out I have every note I ever took since the day I was hired - almost 300 pages worth (or ~600 if you count front and back). Tomorrow AM is looking like it's going to require 2-3 pots of coffee and a 5 hour energy at this rate. Game on.

Since I've had a few hours to CTFD (calm the F down), I have readjusted my perspective a bit. This here is a good opportunity for me to spin this to my benefit. It's easier to throw my hands up in the air and say "what am I gonna do?!?!?!" but that is a weak way of dealing with this and I gain nothing from that approach.
posted by gangsterscience at 7:33 PM on January 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Include the various proposals you have prepared and pitched to your boss.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:03 PM on January 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you've got this sorted out. Turn it right back around on her and say, "as you can see, I've successfully completed everything, please tell me about the upcoming projects I'm going to be assigned."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:50 AM on January 16, 2015

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