Want to shift job duties fairly soon but they're hiring for that job now
April 9, 2007 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Help me say this to my boss more professionally and strategically: "It sounds like you're about to hire someone to do the cool projects I thought were soon going to be part of my job."

I do "X" to support a small/medium nonprofit group that mainly does "Y." There's a certain amount of very interesting Y work coming up that falls into no one's job description. Since I'm working on the X now that would inform that next step, I thought I'd probably get to do some of it. My impression was that we were currently working through a "backlog" (their words) of X, after which point, I'd continue to oversee X but also begin to integrate some Y into my work. Even then, I wasn't sure if it would be as much as I wanted. For my long-term career goals, I need more Y experience.

Now, they are hiring another person to do Y full time. The job duties include several things I had really hoped my job would include as the major projects I am currently working on start wrapping up in ~6 months. I could try to get that Y job, but it'd be a pay cut and a demotion (I'm head of the X department).

So, what should I say / do? For my career goals and my sanity, I can't keep doing X day in and day out for too much longer.

Part of me says to trust things will work out and see what happens as I finish up these projects. They've seemed responsive to staff career development in the past. But part of me thinks my best options for doing Y (these projects, or this job itself) are about to be foreclosed. I like this organization, and I could see staying here for the next 3 years or so (an eternity at my age in this field), so I don’t want to find myself needing to jump ship for a Y job in 9 months.

I want what's best for the organization, and I'm open to various options for getting more Y myself. But I’m not even sure how clear it is to them I don't want to be doing X forever – I haven’t made it super-clear because the X / Y division of labor wasn’t so distinct (or not to me) until now. With the division solidifying, do I need to jump into that Y job while it's available? Do I need to lay my cards on the table? I'm a bit hesitant to make a stand like “I can't keep doing X for much longer” when currently it's my entire job. How should I approach this?

(And thanks for putting up with a fairly long question full of Xs and Ys!)
posted by ruff to Work & Money (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If it were me, I would avoid taking a stand that makes it sound like you hate X. How about something like, "While I've been doing this work on X, I've discovered that I'm really interested in some of these Y things. I know you're hiring someone just for Y right now, and while I don't think that's the right option for me right now, I'd really like to integrate some Y into my X. Can we talk about how we could make that work?"
posted by KAS at 2:55 PM on April 9, 2007

I vote for telling them what your eventual career goals are. Unless you have a reason to believe that they won't be friendly to accommodating you, of course, but it doesn't sound like that. My experience has been that non-profits make staff retention a big priority since so much of their operations reside in so few heads. It sounds like they may be unaware of your preferences.

I don't know if you should tell them how sick you're getting of X, though. Just stick to describing your goals of moving into doing more Y.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:56 PM on April 9, 2007

This assumes they haven't already hired another person.

I've heard that there's an opening to do Y. When I was hired, my understanding was that I would be mainly doing X, but increasingly doing Y due to the influence my activities have on shaping the direction we go with Y. My work with X will soon reach the stage where I can deal also with Y, due to having completed the legacy tasks I was assigned. From what I can see, it looks as though "interesting Y work" doesn't fit explicitly into our existing organisational structure, and I would very much appreciate the opportunity to test my skills/increase my skillset/broaden my knowledge by working with any upcoming "interesting Y work" projects that we may have, which is where I see my long-term career goals being. This would benefit the organisation for A reasons, and I'd be good at it because of B.
posted by djgh at 3:07 PM on April 9, 2007

they need need need to know where you are headed professionally, and that if you continue having to do X, you won't be growing professionally or enjoying the work, and may end up leaving because of it.

BUT they really need to know why you should be doing Y, and it has to make sense to them. It's not because "I want to do Y," it's because "Doing Y will use my skills, my existing knowledge with these partners/projects, and help grow the project/organization because I've already been with you for so long. I will be saving you time and money by working in Y, and making this project come out amazingly."

However, you also have to know what you're going to do if they won't incorporate your plans for Y into your job description, and you kind of have to stick with it.

(from my own job, right now)

From your description, maybe it's coming off to them that you want the job doing Y, but want to continue with the pay and title of doing X. Perhaps the plan should be to specifically make an internal application for position Y, and switching completely out of X.
posted by whatzit at 3:10 PM on April 9, 2007

Never underestimate the power of simply telling people what you want.

Why not approach your boss and say "I was looking at the job description of the incoming person and noticed it included P, D and Q. I'm really interested in being more a part of Y as these other projects mature and it worries me a little that there's going to be less chance for that with this new person being given those responsibilities."

What are you worried is going to happen if you're up front like this? That they might think you're interested in what you describe as the core mission of your organization?
posted by phearlez at 3:15 PM on April 9, 2007

They must be made aware of your career goals. Both of you, together, can then decide to what degree and in what way they can help you achieve those goals.

Humbly, I disagree that you should not make your dissatisfaction with X known. If you don't, they have to guess, and when your employer guesses they will always guess to their own benefit.

Once you're all working with the same information, you can decide whether not doing Y is compelling enough to make you stop doing X if you can't do Y, and they can decide if you are more valuable doing X, Y, or nothing at all.
posted by abulafa at 3:19 PM on April 9, 2007

It just might be that if you express an interest in less X (be prepared to be specific) and more Y (again, be specific ) the company can shift some of your old X to a junior person and develop that career, and hire a more junior Y person and save some money.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:45 PM on April 9, 2007

"I'm really quite happy here, and I feel like I've done a terrific job with X. Certainly, if you think otherwise, I'd love to hear about it, so that I can do something about it right away. Having said that, I really care about the success of X, and a lot of Y is vital to the future success of X. Can we sit down and talk about the possibility of me taking over some of Y? I don't know if we can make it work with my current workload, and it's certainly not a deal-breaker -- X is important to me, too -- but I'd love to discuss options when you have time."
posted by davejay at 3:55 PM on April 9, 2007

I can't imagine there is a non-profit in the world that would not be receptive to someone saying, "Hey, turns out we DON'T need to hire another person!" Frame it as a cost-saving opportunity and your supervisors will have to at least listen.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:39 PM on April 9, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the helpful responses so far! A couple of answers --

Rock Steady: I wish I could say that. The group is growing really fast right now, so we're all super-overworked, and it's more like "Hey, turns out we only need to grow by 179% instead of 200%!" (A lot harder to prove or foresee.)

thinkpiece: That was my first idea! And I kinda tried it -- my suggestion was "let's hire someone very entry-level to get some of this X off my plate, and I'll handle some of this Y" (which could've potentially been cheaper and more efficient). It was pointed out that I was super-busy with X and that they needed someone to be 100% focused on this Y and various other stuff. As you can see, one huge problem is there's so much X and Y to be done. (I think the department lines might blur a little more otherwise.)

phearlez, I agree with your attitude, and it's true that Y is the group's core activity, but still -- they need someone to being do X, and if I don't want to be doing it, that's a potential problem, so I want to be a bit strategic here.

Unfortunately, the more I talk to them, the more I think my peer, and maybe my supervisor, see a sharp distinction between X and Y. If my department is the X department, and X and Y are totally different, it sounds like I'll always have to finish all the X (impossible) before doing any Y. In the long run, if they see such a bright line between X and Y, I'm afraid any attempt to get to do Y will feel counter-intuitive to them. So, I've been trying to figure out how to portray my job and department as an X-Y combo, and why that would be better all around, but I have not gotten far with that yet... Maybe I should just ask my boss outright how much opportunity he sees for mixing X & Y, or if he thinks -- if I do want to do Y -- it'd be better for me to shift to the Y department over time.

But please keep the advice coming! :)
posted by ruff at 7:57 PM on April 9, 2007

Is there any assignment or short-term project involving the Y work that you could lead? I'm thinking this might show them you can handle the work and that maybe there's not such a sharp distinction.

If there's just entirely too much X work, I say go ahead and express your dissatisfaction. They obviously need you, so they're not going to fire you for it.

I've been pretty amazed at how accommodating employers can be if you're clear and specific about what you want.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:12 PM on April 9, 2007

If you haven't already spoken with your supervisor about your goals with the company (like at an annual review or something), now is the time to do it!

I think it's so easy to spin this positively. Just explain that you understand that they are looking for someone to do Y all the time, and that you were really hoping to take on some Y into your workload. Tell them you're afraid that with the backlog of X you have right now, you wouldn't be able to do Y full-time right away, but that it's something you've been looking forward to professionally.

You might be surprised at their receptiveness at working with you on this goal. You also need to understand that your value as an employee who is very experienced at X puts you at a higher pay rate than your lack of experience at Y - you should be ready to take a pay cut to get the Y work you want. You also might have to be demoted within your X department, if you're only going to do X part-time; they may need the head of the dept. to be full-time on X. But that shouldn't matter to you if Y is what you really want.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:51 AM on April 10, 2007

Response by poster: Just wanted to thank everyone who responded and let you know what happened. I had a few conversations with my peer and my supervisor about my long term desire to do more Y and to stay involved in the projects as they shift from X to Y, instead of handing them off (emphasizing why that made good sense). They were both very positive. They suggested I figure out which aspects of the projects I'd like to keep working on and which I'd like to hand off. Thanks for all your suggestions -- they helped make these discussions go well!
posted by ruff at 2:55 PM on April 22, 2007

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