When to talk to boss about needing more?
October 22, 2019 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I have a great job for many reasons but no growth in responsibilities. I want to tell my boss that I need more but worry that puts a target on my back.

I have a great job: low stress, good pay, good work/life balance, good commute. The commute is important as my door to door is two hours (I live outside the city) and I currently work from home three days a week.

However, I have been here eight years and even though my title has gone up, my role has not. I worry that each additional year I stay just makes me look older / less attractive to other employers (I work in tech). In addition, I'm looking at the job descriptions for my current title at other companies and it is a big step up from what I'm currently doing. So, if/when I leave, I will most likely be looking at a step down in both title and pay.

I have a very solid relationship with my boss, and want to have an honest conversation with him where I explain that I want to stay but need more, such as direct reports and a mandate to lead. As it stands right now, I think he would be better off hiring someone more junior for my role and pocketing the savings. This sense also adds to my worry: ala, I will eventually be let go.

That said, can one ever have an open conversation like this with their boss? Should I wait until I have a solid offer at a new place in my pocket before trying? By being honest, do I start the clock ticking on being let go?
posted by cgs to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't ask for more. Find more and start doing it. I can't suggest much without details, but maybe you need a better in-house knowledge base, communications with user base/ clients, maybe you should get some new certifications and look at the infrastructure you have and how it might be improved.
posted by theora55 at 12:36 PM on October 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have found that having a vague "I need more responsibility" kind of conversation with a boss is usually not productive and does not lead to good things. However, what seems to me like it might work in this situation is for you to identify a project that would be of value to the organization and would polish up your skills or even require a bit of stretching on your part, come up with a plan on how to execute, what costs, time, etc. might be required--who in the organization you would need to assist on the project (i.e. who you would be leading) and then present that to your boss with assurances that it won't diminish any of the work he currently counts on you to do. Don't say anything about your current position being better handled by someone more junior--keep things really positive and make a good case for how you can increase your value to the organization and accomplish something that really needs to be done.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:37 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think if you bring this up to your boss you need to go in with an idea of at least one way to get what you want. So, an upcoming project you could take on? Also, consider that a leadership role may affect how much you're expected to be in the office, depending on your company.

Do you have regular performance reviews? That would be a natural place to broach "how do I add value now" and "how I think I can add more value by doing x." Your post is understandably all about you. You need to translate that into what it means for the company's interest. And let go of the idea that you should be replaced with someone cheaper - they're keeping you for a reason, even if it's just that hiring is expensive and inexperienced new staff are a big hassle.

It may take a while to find the right chance for a big increase in responsibility even if they want to give it, I wouldn't wait until you have a new offer to start this conversation.
posted by momus_window at 12:44 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the responses! Some additional info:

I consistentely ask for more work + find projects to take on, but we (managers) all have dotted lines to the same resources. So the only things I can actually move on, without impacting others' priorities, are projects I can do on my own.

I can make the case that my current projects have been held back by X months due to resource availability and we need to staff up, but I think he would be happier to leave things as they are. Namely, keep costs down and slow.

Time in the office: my schedule matches my boss (SVP), so I am safe there.
posted by cgs at 12:55 PM on October 22, 2019

It's easier to lead with direct reports than without them. I'd suggest finding a problem that can solved by people doing things differently (vs more people/resources) and suggest to your boss something along the lines "I noticed XYZ which I think can be improved to ABC if we do JKL. I'd like to try and drive this change; is this something you're ok with me doing?". And then... do the thing. It'll involve getting buy in from people who need to change - either selling them on your idea or at least selling them on the idea of trying. And of course wrangling the change and capturing the key KPIs that validate the improvements, etc. If you're successful here it shows you can lead people to change, which is a huge thing in the leadership space. And heck, even if you've failed you can spin that into some good solid learnings and a better approach for next time.
posted by cgg at 1:37 PM on October 22, 2019

The question to ask yourself is whether there are, in fact, new opportunities/ responsibilities that your manager can give you. I am facing the same problem right now in my own group (I'm in biotech), and have made the decision to move laterally into a different group which works with more innovative technology and has more strategic exposure. This is possible only because the company I work for is a behemoth, and such a move may not be an option for you. Still, it made me realize that no matter how much more responsibility I asked for, even if my manager knew I was capable of greater responsibility, she couldn't give me opportunities she didn't have.

In most cases like this, the only way to get what you're looking for is to move to another company entirely. Whatever solution you may be offered, if any, would likely only be temporary, as most companies do not end up changing their structure considerably and you'd probably find yourself in the same rut again. You mention you've consistently been asking for more work and responsibility, but it does not seem like your manager hears you, or that anyone is willing to develop you. Having this conversation again is unlikely to change anything, so a new offer is probably your best bet. In any case, tech is an industry that moves quickly, so spinning your wheels in this position may impact your career negatively if you don't feel you are where you need to be (I empathize with this.) I think it's time to move on.
posted by Everydayville at 1:41 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Another tactic is to leverage your easy-going employment to improve your skills and marketability for when the time comes to look for something new. Are there training opportunities that would help you level up even if you don’t get to use those new skills so much at your current office? A class or certification? Is there an outside project you could work on that is a networking and resume-building activity? What about the skills that you use regularly? Can you level up on those or lean in on your particular areas of interest to become a more confident expert in those areas? Or is there another area of the business that you want to know better? What can you do to get a deeper understanding about those things?
posted by amanda at 1:57 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

My employer is pretty much always planning succession and thinking about who else is capable of taking on new responsibilities. It is good to tell your manager you're interested in growth and additional responsibilities, and to ask them for ideas, because otherwise they may not know to think of you when those chances come up.
posted by Lady Li at 12:29 AM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like theora's suggestion up top. I did tend to just take on new things at work (I would eventually give myself a promotion my boss would sign off on). The more random tasks I would insert myself in, the more people came to me with that sort of stuff. It was a self-fulfilling cycle, really.

Though your followup makes that sound hard. I would work on your marketable skills on your own and you can casually see about finding a different job. No rush.

A good relationship with your boss makes talking to them attractive too. Only you can judge that. I think a good boss who you have a good relationship with would take your wanting to stretch and grow as a good sign and an engaged employee. Bosses SHOULD love engaged employees... but again, you know them best.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:57 PM on October 23, 2019

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