How to deal with a boss that is so chill that my work is forgotten?
September 30, 2019 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble adapting to an extremely slow paced environment but have no desire to leave so I'm just looking for tips on how to deal!

I started working on the comms team at an interesting non profit organization at the beginning of June. Yay! i was trying to get this type of job for a long time, and my last job gave me a bad burnout, so I'm happy for the change! But I've run into a point of frustration that I'm trying to make my way through.

I love my boss. They are an extremely kind person. But I sometimes feel confused about what seems like them not wanting to act managerial. They are very chill about everything related to my work. I think this is because the majority of the office works on one gigantic annual project, which I am not assigned to play any role in at all. And because it is such a small organization, sometimes the planning of that project takes up everyone's energy including my boss's for a while, at which times it's impossible to speak with her or the director that makes decisions for our team.

This means that for weeks and even months, projects that I am supposed to work on that require approval from the director are just completely forgotten.

I meet with my direct boss once a week at least to discuss what I'm working on. For the past month, every week she says she will get approval for my project from the director but she always forgets or can't find a time to meet with the director. I have expressed that I would like to take up another project instead to fill the time but my boss keeps saying she will get the approval so I can start it. No one in the office seems to have any idea what my job entails.

I've mentioned that without that project, my tasks do not make up a full time job. The only thing I can conclude from all of this is that the position I was hired for is simply not very important for the organization. I'm having trouble even understanding why they hired me, tbh. They seemed super excited when I accepted the job offer though and made it quite clear that they had been keeping the position open until they found the right person (me).

All this being said, I passed the probation period and my boss was very happy with my work . This was before the delays started happening and so I didn't mention anything about it in my review. Another thing that may be worth mentioning is that my previous job was a very high pressure, fast paced environment whereas this is an extremely slow-paced and non high pressure day-to-day environment (though there are times when pressure mounts). So I am having trouble adjusting to that sense of lack of accomplishment.

tl'dr my question is:
- What, if anything, should I do in this scenario? My fear is that I'm not gaining skills and learning anything in my field. I might still be shellshocked from my last job, but it feels so slow and pointless. Do I need to worry about my career development at this moment or should I just enjoy the chill environment and try to keep myself busy? Is this normal for the first year at a new job and I should just shut up and deal with it? (note, I'm 31 and I have 7 years of work experience and have studied at the graduate level in this field. I'm not a newbie that just graduated from college, but it seems like the job I have is designed for someone more junoir). I've worked in such radically different environments over my career that I'm kind of out of touch with what the right way forward would be for this situation so any advice is welcome. Thanks!
posted by winterportage to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is not un-typical in my experience. This is just, something people do - get very excited about a project enough to hire someone and then get distracted & lose interest. I would just make sure to document everything you're doing & spend your time preparing as much as you can for your project. And spend your time job-hunting too, and leisurely try to get that next job, while you also give them time to get their act together.
posted by bleep at 12:55 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

What would happen if you just started working on your projects without official approval? If not those projects, are there _other_ projects you could just start executing?
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 1:01 PM on September 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

When is this big annual project done? Because it sounds to me like they knew they needed a person with [X] skills but didn't really have the time or organization to be ready for you. It's very possible they'll have time & energy to devote to putting you to work properly after the big project is over, so for now just chill & document.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:08 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

My advice would be to get more direct feedback from your boss about their take on your current status at the organization. From all that you've written, its likely that this is just an inefficient, chill place with relaxed management where you could move along slowly getting stuff done, which is not the worst deal (maybe a bit boring).

But from a more pessimistic perspective: A day could arrive that someone - probably some overeager new board member, or a budget person - says hey, what is it that winter portage does again that's so important? And they ask around and people say, oh I don't even know what they do... you need to make sure that *someone* at your job can answer this.

So find out how your boss would answer this; if their answer is too vague, then you gotta do the hard work of developing a set of tasks that are valuable to your boss and the rest of the organization.

And hey, I am glad you like your boss - but if they can't tell you why your work matters in your workplace, they aren't looking out for your interests and career. Though they may be "nice", they are being a bad boss.
posted by RajahKing at 1:25 PM on September 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Why don't you book the meeting with your boss, yourself and director instead of waiting for your boss to make a move?
posted by smoke at 1:55 PM on September 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

It may be that because of your seniority, they are happy to be able to let you do that part-time amount of stuff without having to manage you closely. And soon enough the bigger project will start. So the current state of affairs might be temporary and fine for now.

But I agree with the idea of basically starting anything that doesn't require funding or input if you can. I'm sure they'll be pleased if you can fast-track your big project once they have the bandwidth to focus on it.

Last, do worry about visibility. You don't want to be kind of forgotten as you competently do your work. Since you're outside the flow of the organization's main project, think about venues and content to give a monthly advertisement about your amazing effectiveness. If they're too busy to give you performance indicators, that doesn't mean that you can't set some and then use your two minute report at the staff meeting to announce that you overshot your goal of tripling your Twitter followers or whatever.

Similarly, wedge your way into this massive project if it's appropriate. Doesn't the comms team have anything to do related to it? Getting the word out about it? Creating flyers for it? If your boss is useless at coming up with ways to use your time, you might try to eat lunch with others at your level of seniority and see if ideas pop up.
posted by salvia at 2:07 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is there a way you can contribute to the big project or ask if there's anything you can take off your boss' plate for her (without becoming an assistant)? If this is the big project in the department becoming a part of it even if it's not directly related to your job shows flexibility and may help you there moving forward.

Did your project require some work on your part that your boss may not be 100% on? Sometimes if I'm neglecting to follow up with one of my employees it's because there is a problem with their work and I'm struggling with how best to approach it with them without crushing their spirit. Particularly if I'm already swamped with a critical project and their work has more slack. Not saying that's what's happening here, but asking your boss if there is something you could focus on improving while waiting for approval to proceed would signal you're open to constructive criticism and may give you work to do while waiting for approval.

Alternately, can you suggest approaching the Director about your project directly so you don't need to go through your boss? Some workplaces would be fine with that. Other's are more hierarchical.
posted by willnot at 4:09 PM on September 30, 2019

I was hired 4 months before a contact actually started so there was lots of time and litterally very little to do.

In this situation, I learned another staff role. I ended up transferring into that role later on.

My boss was very open to me learning more about the department and training for different things, I was able to fill in during employee absences in unexpected but useful ways.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:11 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are you the only comms person? What if you spent your free time coming up with a comprehensive marketing/communications plan for the organization? Even if you don't actually use it, it could be a useful exercise. If part of your job is to get media coverage, you can spend time getting to know the work of relevant journalists so you can pitch them well (and part of the plan could include a detailed strategy for media outreach).
posted by pinochiette at 8:14 PM on September 30, 2019

When I don't have enough work, I help my coworkers who have too much work. Can you pitch in with your extra time to do basic thing for main project? Help file, make copies, organize thing, make a bunch of similar spreadsheet. Whatever.
posted by Kalmya at 2:42 AM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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