Doing my job badly, never called out about it, how do I get right?
October 14, 2020 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I have an easy job that pays my bills and lets me have a lot of free time. It is also pretty clearly in the category of Bullshit Jobs. Over time, I have started doing the least possible, sometimes doing a bad job, and I pretty much get away with it. I'm not super motivated to become wonderful at my job, but don't want to be an asshole. I know it sounds straightforward but I don't know what to do.

The job is ostensibly in the helping professions but is very heavy on paperwork and I do not often feel I have helped anyone. (On the occasions when I do, most people are not perceptibly grateful.)

Now that the job is remote, I take advantage of the fact that it doesn't involve a lot of work. I nap during the day, etc. But I find it has slipped beyond that to where I'm truly not doing a good job even on some of the cases where I could. I'm doing the least, most of the time. There are cases I've done good work on, but there are a lot on which I simply have not.

I guess I'm asking what people do to address burnout when "find something better" isn't an immediate option and there are consequences, not for me, but for the people I'm supposed to be helping, if I just continue to slack. It'll never be an interesting job but I'm getting paid to do it and I do not wish my clients ill and I think in the rare cases where I could be of service, they are in the situation of having someone who's supposed to help you turn out to be ineffectual.

It has only been recent that I've felt less like "well, it's a stupid job so I guess I'll just limp along and enjoy the fact that I'm saving money for the first time" and more like "I am not handling this well and not acting like I think someone should act in this situation because albeit usually minor, my slack has consequences."

Sort of abstract but I'm just hoping for some suggestions from someone who may have found themselves in the same position.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Coming in from left field, but you mention lots of paperwork.

Are you interested in Project Management?

I ask because in order to qualify for the (professional) certificate, you'll need project management hours (on top of the classes and tests) - could you work up your cases as "projects?"

Perhaps self-improvement (and opening the possibility of non-bullshit jobs in the future) can be motivational.
posted by porpoise at 12:41 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Since going remote I have been struggling with the same things. What helps is the fact that very occasionally I will have times I need to get a deliverable to someone and I will have to work very hard, which makes me feel less useless. Setting arbitrary deadlines on my longer term projects doesn't seem to help me because I know they're fake, but you could set up something like a weekly call with your boss or even a friend to report what you've done that week. Something to externally motivate?

On the other hand I have at points during US quarantine been suicidal so I'm trying to feel less guilt about being more like, fuck it. They are still paying us. No one has actually told you you've been doing a bad job, and you're showing up and getting something done and you're also alive. So. I know it's complicated by the fact that your job is helping people, while mine is more corporate. But somewhere in between setting up some external checks and cutting yourself some slack I think you might find a happy medium? This is hard and I will be watching this thread as well.
posted by clarinet at 12:45 PM on October 14, 2020 [9 favorites]

I agree with clarinet that everyone's foggy and checked out right now and that's not unusual or a judgment on you, but separately from that, this brings to mind two thoughts:

(1) I don't know exactly what you do but I work in another helping profession in which my clients are usually at any given time submitting something to someone in a void of bureaucracy. So am I, frequently, on their behalfs. Every single interaction with a bureaucrat where it's smoother than expected is a genuine ray of sunshine. Just getting things back on time is incredible, getting things back with any kind of human touch is even better. The predominant feeling I get most of the time is that people are tremendously checked out-- why wouldn't they be?-- and so if someone is checked in and seems to be perceiving the people they work with as people, that's an incredible boon. I guess what I'm saying is, if you're looking for motivation maybe the motivation can be that connecting with people on a genuine level even in a really stupid job can be great?

(2) All that said, I previously worked in a lower-pressure, higher-paperwork, higher-bullshit role and finally had to transfer out of it because I could not manage sustained focus in it. And leaving that job was GREAT, because it turns out not doing a good job at a job you could be doing a good job at where it might affect people's lives kind of sucks emotionally, so if you end up feeling like "shit I'd rather quit" I support you fully in that if it's financially feasible. Definitely the right call for me!
posted by peppercorn at 12:48 PM on October 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Could you secretly put yourself on a part time schedule? Work 3 or 4 solid hours a day and that’s all? You may actually get more done that way, and do a better job with the stuff that matters.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:48 PM on October 14, 2020 [37 favorites]

I've been burned out and it sucks, so you have my sympathies first and foremost. You are not your work; you're a whole person.

That said, for me anyway, I do need to take pride in my work. I've done BS work and I've done real work and while I prefer the real work, I am really only happy for myself when I get things done right. This wasn't always the case. So my questions to you are:

1. You said at a certain point you stopped trying to do a good job. Why is that? Were you looking for praise/rewards/etc. that never came? Or is this a not-so-subtle form of self-harm? I'm not asking this in a facile way. I had a job end with a transfer to a different job where most of my (amazing) colleagues lost their jobs. I never really found my feet fully in that job for a number of reasons including a very different culture. Only after I was laid off years later did I realize how much I had been holding myself back, especially the last year.

2. When you took this job, was it with the intention of just getting paid? If so, you've learned that's insufficient, which is valuable learning. It might be hard to make a change now but you could start working harder with the idea that "working harder" is a skill you intend to transfer to a better job soon.

3. You mentioned that you do help people, but you don't get thanked. Have you ever kept a "bravo folder" of people that you know you helped even if they don't? This is something I ask my staff to do.

4. On a practical level you could set some challenges for yourself like getting done before 2pm or creating spreadsheets that are formatted beautifully or using as few words in email possible, lowering the number allowed each week...silly challenges but gamification isn't just for social media.

5. I cannot recommend enough selecting a course in a field that interests you and taking it. It will turn on parts of your brain you've turned off in this job and may change things, even if it's not directly work-related. Sounds like you have time in your day you could use for this too.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:57 PM on October 14, 2020 [6 favorites]

I can't address the deeper issues, but when there is stuff I'm supposed to be doing but I'm not able to focus, the answer is checklists. I'm not sure what you're not doing that you should be doing--if there are steps you're skipping, or some tasks you're letting slide, or you're only filling out one request when you would usually fill out three--make checklists for what good work would look like.

I also agree with outside accountability (lists are helpful with that, because a friend who doesn't understand your job can hold you accountable to a list) and setting a part time schedule, so instead of spending 8 hours barely working and feeling guilty, you spend two hours actually working and 6 hours not feeling guilty.

Don't set your goals too high; you're not trying to be awesome, just to not make things harder on your clients/patrons than they have to be.
posted by gideonfrog at 1:08 PM on October 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

I've known people in the same rut as you. Eventually they got fired and had serious troubles finding a new job since nobody at their old workplace would vouch for them and they couldn't point to any projects they had completed. If you can mentally position yourself that you are setting up a springboard to escape your current rut, even if it's doing projects that have little relationship to your current job duties, that can help with motivation.
posted by benzenedream at 1:11 PM on October 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

If you are doing the job as expected, are not getting any negative feedback, and recognize it is mostly a bullshit job, then why bother...put yr energy where it can actually do good
posted by PinkMoose at 1:20 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

When I've run into this, I've found light physical activity to be helpful. I actually just did 10 air squats just now before sitting down at my desk (which, well, I sat down and went to Metafilter, so :shrug:, but you know). In particular, stretching seems to put me in mind of applying myself to whatever I'm doing. For me, that's stretching my shoulders and hips, since those get slouchy sitting at a computer. Taking a walk at lunchtime also helps. Nothing too intense - you don't need to break a sweat or anything. Just getting up and moving something. I can't explain it, but it seems to help with focus.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:29 PM on October 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

It's really hard to do a job that sucks and is boring. Schedule an outside project for yourself, such as writing a book or something, but make sure you get your work work done first. Also, you may be burned out in a way. Do something. Go somewhere. Shake the doldrums out.
posted by xammerboy at 1:32 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I had a similar situation, and I badly wanted to just... hide out doing that bullshit easy job until COVID passed, because my general anxiety level is so so much higher right now than normally. Unfortunately some other factors at my job more or less forced me to get a new one.

My new role is much more interesting, much more challenging, and I get really great feedback that doesn't allow me to slack off - Really great smart people will call me out on my errors and help me get better. It's exactly what I wanted...

....and I kind of hate it. Simply because Everything Is Awful and I have very little mental energy - "spoons" - to spare for fixing work errors, I just want to coast and survive and get through All Of This. I very much wish I could have hung out in the "easy" job for another few months and only moved on after COVID, when I could bring real energy to it instead of my current situation.

So my strong advice is: This is not something to necessarily fix now. You may be burned out and ready to move on to a new challenge, but this is a really bad time to launch into something new and kick butt at it. Wait until the world is halfway "normal" again, and then find something new and worthwhile to do with your days.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:02 PM on October 14, 2020 [6 favorites]

A change of scenery may help. Since you're working from home, can "home" be somewhere that isn't your home? If you're in a position to do so, you may want to try renting something small for a week and at least when you're not working, you could go outside and see what the neighborhood/area is like. Sure, options are limited right now, but it's still a different place.

I know you said "find something better" is not an immediate option, but looking for something better can be. Even if it doesn't lead to anything, just looking at other positions can sometimes be helpful. Something may catch your attention and, maybe you're not qualified for it, but you could learn what it would take to become qualified for it. And that can give you goals which can help with getting through burnout.

Finally, this seems like a question that would be good for Allison over at Ask a Manager. She, and the regulars on her site, may have some other ideas.
posted by Meldanthral at 3:58 PM on October 14, 2020

Oh man I have been in this situation and it sucks. If I’m underutilized instead of taking more time and being careful, I lose attention and do a worse job. I am also not good at self starting and continuing personal betterment projects on my own. I caution you that I was on the same path and it did some harm to my self esteem, as I value people who serve others but I started to see myself as one who slacks and is Not Productive and Worthwhile.

I’m guessing your job has certain hours as well so you can’t call it quits after lunch and enjoy guilt-free play time.

Could you take on some other constant low-level volunteer work completely separate from your job but where people rely on you? Something to keep Oman open window to use up the spare brain cycles to keep you in working mode?

Like moderating local Facebook groups? I know Facebook is evil, but I am on a number of local groups for anti-racism, mutual aid, community freecycle, school PTO. Normal people have nowhere else to go for their online community and moderators are in short supply. Seriously the worst online behavior I have EVER seen was in the elementary school PTO group.
posted by sol at 4:28 PM on October 14, 2020

If you can get most of your work done in a few hours a day, find a personal project you want to work on but tend to procrastinate (e.g., writing a novel). Decide working on that novel is your “job” for the day. Proceed to finish paid work as a welcome distraction and procrastination from nebulous important personal project, i.e., novel writing.

Alternatively, if you succeed in (for example) novel writing, use boring paid work as a break/distraction while you let your mind roam over intractable creative problems in your novel.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:13 PM on October 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Have you ever tried to coax a cat? That's how I treat my attention, when it gets like that. Phone out of reach or in another room, maybe, and just, hmmm, what if I took just a little look at that project? What WAS the next thing? Is there something here I could be curious about, go figure out? But for me the challenge is getting "hooked" on the work.

Another technique I use is to set a goal for myself to "leave early". Rather than half-ass it from 3 to 6 maybe 3pm comes around and I'm bored and I can say, hey, if I just deal with X and Y I can leave. Otherwise I faff around on the internet or being useless on work email or whatever until it's a bit late and maaaaybe one of those things gets done, but if I say these two things and I can leave early, then I can spend the time after ~4 on a real fun thing or cooking something nice or going outside, not stuck doing dumb procrastination things.
(Usually I get caught up in X and Y and end up remembering why these things need doing, putting in a reasonable effort after all. But it's so much more satisfying than the days I just faff about.)
posted by Lady Li at 12:28 AM on October 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

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