Do I stay or do I go: I get paid to do almost nothing edition
May 29, 2023 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I have what some of my friends call a "dream job": I get paid a fair amount of money to show up and be available, but have very little work during the day. However, job is also a complete dead end: despite glowing performance reviews every year, I keep getting passed up, not only for opportunities for more responsibility, but for extra work that falls within my current job description. Do I stay long enough to finish the masters my job is paying 50% of, or leave as soon as I can find something more promising?

My job title is administrative coordinator (one step above administrative assistant), but in a high profile department. This job comes with very good benefits. Medical, dental, employer assisted continuing education, 5 weeks of vacation (in the U.S.!). This job has been like this for the entirety of my time here, since early 2017, and at every annual review I have gotten glowing reviews. Work is clearly very happy with my contributions.

However, I want more. Not more money, but more impact. More growth. More opportunity to make decisions or even do brain work that impacts my workplace. Or even just more work of what I already get! I like to be useful and in this job I do not feel that I am useful most of the time. And this workplace has made it very clear that things are not going to change, and I am not seen as a candidate for more responsibility. I have had several different supervisors in this job, and to each of them I have expressed a willingness to help around the office to make things better/run smoother/improve communication. Or even just learn new skills! But opportunities go to new hires instead of me. I ask for more of the work I already have, and I am told to just do the work that I am assigned.

I'm not sure if this is culture fit, or ageism, or just the way this office is; I am the youngest person in my office by 11 years, and also the only visibly queer (think woman with short hair and no makeup wearing blazers and trousers to work, not anything outlandish) person without kids. The people at the highest levels in the office are very controlling and very powerful (think CEO of our organization), which would also contribute to this culture.

The people above me are also the opposite of transparent in their operations, and I rarely know what's going on in the office, or about particular events that will effect my work until it is too late to be helpful. We only recently started having team meetings once a month after literal years of not having them because the various people whose responsibility it should have been were too busy. During a recent reorganization because multiple people left the office I was asked what kind of work I wanted to be doing, and expressed a strong interest in running/at least helping to organize the staff meetings since it seemed like other roles had too much on their plates. They restarted the staff meetings, but gave a new employee in a position that had not previously owned those meetings responsibility over the meetings instead.

I am currently working on a Masters in Information, with employer support (they'll end up paying about half of my tuition). I know the smart thing to do is stay through the end of my masters (there is no requirement that I stay at my current employer after the masters; I checked) but that is two years from now and that means two more years of not getting to put anything I learn into practice because no one will give me the opportunity to even try at my current place of work. On the other hand, this job gives me plenty of time to do my masters work AT WORK because there's so much time to fill. Do I stay? Do I go? Help me think through the pros and cons of each.
posted by bridgebury to Work & Money (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Two years is a really short amount of time in the span of full career. I'd ride it out and get your dream job after your degree is done.
posted by CleverClover at 11:18 AM on May 29 [80 favorites]

Best answer: I would stay and look for some volunteer opportunity outside of work that allows you to get some experience in your field of study, which will help on your resume, and allow you to do something with meaning/impact. Two years, when you're bored and underutilized, can feel longer than it is, but having less debt seems like a worthwhile trade-off.
posted by brookeb at 11:25 AM on May 29 [31 favorites]

Best answer: I want more. Not more money, but more impact. More growth. More opportunity to make decisions or even do brain work that impacts my workplace.
On the other hand, this job gives me plenty of time to do my masters work AT WORK because there's so much time to fill.

Does it feel any different if you replace "my workplace" in the first paragraph with "my life", "my education", or "my career prospects"? Doing a masters at work probably doesn't have any impact on the workplace, but probably does and will have an impact on your life - currently, because you don't have to give up your free time to do it, and in the future, because of the career prospects it might open up.

Are there ways of making an impact outside of work (on something other than your own life) that might sate that need?
posted by trig at 11:26 AM on May 29 [12 favorites]

Are you able to speed up completion of your degree in any way? That might be the best way to take advantage of what your current job offers and then get a better position sooner.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:26 AM on May 29 [7 favorites]

If I were in your position, I would start trying to take control of the situation at work. You have time, which means you have a huuuuge opportunity to... do whatever you want that's relevant:

- Not getting good communication from your coworkers or supervisors? Learn how to make that happen. Read up on "managing upward", "How to make friends and influence people", how to be a good listener, how to connect with people who are older. The Internet, libraries, bookstores, and the people around you are full of information, and...

- ...learning how to get that information is _also a skill_. A skill which will serve you incredibly well, and help you do a lot of good in the world.

- You can look around, learn as much as possible about how your workplace operates, and identify a simple project you can do to make a big impact. This might not be easy -- there are many, many factors that affect whether something like that can happen or be successful, not least of which is _awesome communication skills_. BUT in trying, even in failing, again you will learn SO MUCH that you will NEED later. People who are frustrated and in dead-end situations are usually there because of communication difficulties; you can read hundreds of AskMe's that make it clear it's not because of lack of intelligence or ability. Usually it's either they don't know how to ask for what they need, they don't know how to ask _what other people need_ (in the ways that get helpful information -- not trivial), or they don't know how to get information without asking, or they don't know how to interpret the information that is all around them.
posted by amtho at 11:47 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]

Best answer: They’re paying for half of your masters and your workload is so light you can work on the masters at work? Yes, it would be foolish to leave this job before you get your degree.

Passion is great! I love that you want to be making some kind of measurable impact. But if you go into debt taking in a job that’s more work and leaves you with schoolwork in the evening, you’re only going to end up burnt out and literally unable to make the impact that’s so important to you. Take the easy road now so you have the energy to engage in meaningful work later on, when you have a degree and will hopefully be able to have more influence in your field.
posted by Amy93 at 12:08 PM on May 29 [60 favorites]

Best answer: This feels pretty strongly pro staying to me, too. If you absolutely can’t stand this for another two years and are climbing the walls, okay. But if you can find your growth and challenges outside your work life for a while, go ahead and get your degree paid for, give work the effort work is asking of you and no more, and put that extra energy somewhere else.
posted by Stacey at 12:41 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]

I have my dream job. I have had it for, essentially, 15 years. For 13 of those years, it paid a salary so low that it could not be considered a living wage. It barely kept ,E current with student loan repayment. I finally make a salary that is a living wage. This lvng wage feel luxuriant, even as I know it is nothing of the sort. I do not ever again want to settle for peanuts.I hope this explains why I say so emphatically: *take the f*****g money* while you figure out how best to optimise it.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:04 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Underutilization at work is a blessing. It means you can devote your positive, natural urge to build & grow into other important parts of your life: your studies, your friends/family, your community, your volunteer projects, your home.
posted by mochapickle at 1:19 PM on May 29 [25 favorites]

Best answer: At some point in the future you will have a job very unlike the one you have now and will be amazed you ever considered leaving this one. Seriously, you will laugh at the mere thought. Enjoy it while it lasts. And you simply can't beat having someone else pay for your education. That's the Universe doing you a solid.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 1:36 PM on May 29 [20 favorites]

Best answer: Stay! But it doesn't hurt to be on the lookout for other jobs in the meantime. Many other jobs pay for education, or you can use the 50% masters pay as leverage for your salary or benefits negotiation. But if you don't find anything better, take advantage of the ability to do your masters while at work. But honestly I'd stay forever for the 5 weeks vacation. And find other ways to be fulfilled and to make an impact on the world. Because if you only have 2-3 weeks vacation or no energy left after a work day, you will feel less fulfilled and will not have energy to do anything meaningful because of work draining all your energy.
posted by at 1:41 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Stay for now, use the benefits to the fullest degree possible, any matching retirement funds, paid time off, that sort of thing. Even pick up a side gig if you wish.
posted by kschang at 2:48 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]

Best answer: While you are staying and getting paid to earn your Master's, you might look around for industry organizations that would connect you to folks in your field that share the same specific interests within that field. You could find those groups and then ask your employer to sponsor your membership or reimburse you for the membership fees. Then participate in some of their events or whatever they do to network and share information. This way when you have your Master's and are ready to move on, you'll have learned a bit about what kinds of work you might be able to access or develop, and some that you might find don't look so great after all, and of course you'll make some connections in the meantime.
posted by happy_cat at 3:07 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]

Just as a slight counterpoint to what folks are saying- I've been in this situation (minus the education benefit) and for me, being engaged (or having to be available) full-time for something which feels pretty meaningless is actually kind of demoralizing and depressing, to me (not that it should be, it just is) and it's not a long-term sustainable situation (again, for me personally, and, it sounds like, you).

Practically speaking, staying at least until you finish your degree, and finding ways to do meaningful things outside of work seems like the best plan. That being said, not every decision is a practical one and sometimes choices that don't seem practical are the right ones. Maybe this is just really untenable for you on an existential, spritual level, and you just feel you need to leave. That's ok too. Life is short, and spending too much time doing something that's not fulfilling for you can be harmful.

I'm not saying I think you should leave right away... just saying that I also don't necessarily think it would be wrong to just because staying looks right on paper.
posted by bearette at 5:19 PM on May 29 [4 favorites]

I agree with the consensus but I want to validate that it sucks when your skills and potential are not seen! Especially if personal characteristics/stereotypes are a factor (I experienced this firsthand with weight flux.) If they’re just seeing you as a title or a type then they’re out of step with what most modern employees want from a workplace. Oh well, they’ll learn that after you’ve moved on to better things!
posted by kapers at 5:21 PM on May 29 [5 favorites]

I would definitely stay the 2 years! So many jobs eat up all your brainspace with toxic culture and ALSO don't pay for your education and ALSO make your body and mind too tired to do anything after work.

I would say, just find other ways to get even more out of the job.
Maybe make a list of 10 life goals and see if you can advance any of them during your downtime at work.

- Definitely do course work at your desk!!
- Can you take any other courses? Professional certifications perhaps?
- Can you find a couple of mentors at the org, maybe for nontraditional things?
- Can you write a novel at your desk?
- Can you learn another language while sitting around?
- Can you add more exercise into your lunch hour?
- Can you watch classic movies and become more film literate?

Do stuff like that!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:06 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]

I agree with everyone who has suggested that you stay there till you finish your Masters as they're paying for half and you have lots of time to complete your coursework. People have also made great suggestions on how you can fill the additional downtime.

If possible, I say really step up your activism and/or passion projects outside of work. You can use your time/energy/money to help make your life and the world better with the other sixteen hours in the day. Once you finish your MA/MS, you can look for other jobs that better match your passions! I don't know how old you are but I can say that at almost 40, I am so glad to have the good benefits and pension that so many of my peers, both older and younger, don't have. I am in education so I believe in the mission as well as enjoy my work BUT I'll say this: I have some friends in their 50s who love the non-profit work they did but also who are now realizing how much they gave up in terms of their own long-term financial stability. There's no wrong or right choice but there's something to be said about having a job with good pay and benefits if you can't find your dream job, then using all your free time to do what you love.

I also understand what it's like being the youngest and only visibly queer person at your job. It can be exhausting for so many reasons! It sounds like you are well-liked and appreciated, even if people don't necessarily relate to you on a deeper level. Your presence really can be powerful! But again, you definitely can seek out a better fit in the future. For me, the great irony nearly two decades later is that the jobs where I felt different were also the places I felt most connected to individuals at work. At my current job, lots of people look like me and share my values but we can be like ships passing in the night. We can have it all but we can't have it all at once! Everyone has already made great points and you know them too. Sticking it out just a bit longer sounds wise! But also doing so knowing there's more good -- or at least different good -- in your near future.
posted by smorgasbord at 9:22 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]

My dirty secret has been that nearly ALL of my jobs have been like this. And for a while I fretted about whether I was wasting my life.

But - the fact that my day job was easy let me pursue theater for 10 years. Today it lets me keep up with a movie blog, and do things to manage the community garden I belong to. I took one of those goofy multiple-choice quizzes in a magazine that was about "what is your Passion Profile" - it was about what kinds of life circumstances suit you best when it comes to being able to pursue your life passions; the quiz actually surprised me by introducing me to the idea that having a low-stress day job you can sleepwalk through can actually HELP you pursue your goals outside work, because you don't have to worry about whether your goals actually make money on a certain time scale, if ever.

Sometimes monetizing your passion can be a burden and kill your love for it, and sometimes you just have so much money anxiety that hanging your money needs on your passions can make you too scared to try anything and keep you from actually doing it. So separating money from passion just WORKS for some people. And I know I'm definitely one of those people. And an easy day job with low stress and low demands, something that you could do easily, was what this quiz recommended - something you could do easily, something that afforded down time, at a company you respected and with co-workers you got along with. Save all the fretting for the ups and downs of whatever your passion might be.

That's been working fine for me thus far (at least it did when I finally got a job that paid well).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:10 AM on May 30 [8 favorites]

You don't need to change jobs to start advancing your career before your masters is done. Volunteer opportunities that use the skills you're learning for your Masters are absolutely eligible to be listed on your resume. When it comes time to shop that resume around, employers will love that you wanted a challenge your job didn't give you.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:00 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]

I was in a very similar position ten years ago - youngest in my workplace (which was paying my grad school tuition), asking for but not getting any more responsibility, considering leaving. But after watching a couple of grad school classmates switch into new jobs and suddenly struggle to balance work-work with course-work (that new-job curve where you're trying to learn everything all at once), I decided to stay with the known. My manager was so supportive of my studies, giving me the flexibility I needed. And it meant I could graduate debt-free, then move on with those new skills.

I was also able to channel some of my frustration/boredom into volunteer activities, which opened other doors and helped me feel less "stuck" at work.

Hang in there, and use this time to plan your next steps!
posted by writermcwriterson at 7:50 AM on May 30 [2 favorites]

show up and be available, but have very little work during the day
If this means you have to be physically in the office, disregard my suggestion. But if you have any option for a partially remote position, even one day a week, you could try to negotiate for that. It would give you more time on your own terms, whether that's working on your degree or some other passion project. You'd be less tied to your desk during that time, be available in whatever way they need (email, slack, phone, etc.), and be able to do some things for yourself.

Also, totally agree that you should finish out the degree at this job.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:05 AM on May 30

I would be tempted to look at this almost like a work-study job. When I was in school, the most prized work-study jobs were those where you could either do your schoolwork on the clock or that offered work-relevant experience. You don't have the latter but you do have the former!

I think the key with this kind of perspective is viewing your graduate work as your "real" work, the thing you organize your day-to-day life around, as opposed to your day job having that role. If you view finishing your degree and getting a job in your new field as your primary goal right now, it's pretty clear that your current job is essentially a tool in helping you do that. I would only leave it if you can find a job in your new field before you graduate.
posted by lunasol at 2:56 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]

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