So I'm employed full-time, but not working much at all.
August 18, 2007 5:38 PM   Subscribe

How do I bring up the lack of actual work at my job?

For the past six weeks, I've been in a job that's supposed to be temp-to-perm. It's full-time, and I'm supposed to be there 40 hours a week. The problem is that I don't actually have any work to do for more than an hour or so most days. They don't need a full-time person - someone working half time should easily be able to handle everything and still have time to goof off and cover for co-workers' lunches. I am going out of my mind. My face is getting twitchy. The resources and privacy for serious goofing off are sadly lacking, so there's no acceptable way to fill in the free time.

I already realized that I do not want to stay in this job, and have been looking for something else (and having a hell of a time scheduling interviews). I do need at least some kind of paycheck, though. Should I approach my boss and explain to her that she doesn't need me (or anyone else) full-time? Or should I just quit? And when? Immediately, or just before I would be scheduled to go perm? Toughing it out is looking less and less like a real option. And how much will the temp agency hate me for this?

(Posting anonymously because I have a co-worker or two who might make the connection).
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Use the time to improve yourself. Learn new technical skills, take management classes, start a work-related hobby (or at least something in your field). Basically, don't goof off, but do things that aren't specifically work-related.

And then thank your lucky stars you've got so much free time. (No, really.)
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:04 PM on August 18, 2007

I had a job like this. I enjoyed being a temp. But this job - I could walk to from my home. Damn. I took it. But I was bored. I began to look at what people in the company were doing and see how it could be done better. I offered to help. I soon was promoted to another division which I reorganized and then got a big raise. This was along time ago Oh how I wish that were something I could do where I am now.

My point is - look around - nothing to do - see what needs doing and offer to do it. Failing that, is there no way you could read or do your own thing and still get paid?
posted by mkim at 6:17 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Couldn't you ask your manager whether there are any other tasks you can take on? Bit tricky without knowing the type of company and the job you're filling, but I'd have thought in most cases managers' responses aren't going to be "ok, let's get rid of this post," but "here's someone honest, skilled, works faster [presumably] than other people we've had in this role - this is someone it's worth finding more work for". Said with absolutely no knowledge of the conditions of your industry/region/country, etc.
posted by paduasoy at 6:42 PM on August 18, 2007

I had a similar job years ago. It was quite different than described to me at the interview; it consisted mainly of answering phones and taking messages for the salesmen who were on the road. I was bored to tears, but didn't have the luxury of an Internet connection, nor could I read the newspaper or anything at my desk. After a month, I finally approached my supervisor and said that I could easily be replaced with a voicemail system, and was thinking of leaving because there wasn't enough for me to do. The supervisor was shocked; apparently the person who'd had the job before me had been almost overwhelmed with the phone traffic. She gratefully started giving me extra work, and once I proved I could handle it, I got a raise and was assigned accounts payable and debit memos. Still not my cup of tea, but I stayed a year to collect a paycheck until I found something better. At least it occupied my time during those eight hours, which can seem like 16 hours when there's not enough to do....
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:48 PM on August 18, 2007

In a similar situation I printed out an extensive set of technical manuals on the departmental laser printer, and taught myself how to write assembler code. There are a surprising number of things that don't look like goofing off to someone who can't discern individual words. Ever tried writing a short story? Compose those letters to those friends you've always meant to stay in touch with. Write a poem. Read some Milton in the original ascii. Meditate (I find PC fans very helpful for that.) Learn to draw (they can't tell you off for 'doodling'... can they?)
posted by Luddite at 6:49 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

oh, yeah. i was so there. what you should do is use the time to learn every piece of software you have available to you. if you can do some freelance projects you can work on covertly, go right ahead.

also, ask around if there's something else you can help with. no explanation necessary, just say that you finished your task more quickly than anticipated, or that you have some time to kill before xx dude calls you back later that afternoon. chances are, your lack of work hasn't gone unnoticed. ask the secretaries and the friendly, cool folks...they're more likely to wink, smile, and hand you some grunt work they've been avoiding for four days, without mentioning to your supervisor that s/he is getting a very poor return on this full-time investment.

but do keep looking for work. a situation like that can't last forever.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:16 PM on August 18, 2007

mkim, we must have had the same job. I also held a temp position where I had about 1/2 an hour of actual work to do per day that I had to somehow stretch over 8 hrs. All while working in 1/2 of a cubicle with no phone and a computer that *only* ran a particularly inventory tracking program, so no goofing around on email/searching the Internet/talking on the phone. I can't remember another time in my life where I was bored to the point of virtual insanity with such frequency. Seriously, if every other person in the department had been willing to put in 5-10 minutes of extra work per day my position would have been entirely unnecessary.

In my case, the only positives were the physical location of the office (I could leave my house at 7:26 and and still make it to work by 7:30 with time to spare) and the fact it paid pretty well so I could be earning money while I searched for something better. Which is exactly what I suggest you do.
posted by The Gooch at 8:19 PM on August 18, 2007

Ask your boss for more work. Tell her the truth; there is not enough to keep you busy and at this rate you do not even want to go full time. What is the worst that could happen? She gives you more work? She fires you? You're leaving anyway. There is no downside to asking for more work and telling them the truth.

Do not find ways to waste away your day or do things that are not work related (other than a reasonable short time on the internet) until or unless you have offered to do more work for those paying you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:25 PM on August 18, 2007

Man Johnny sounds like a suit. You don't owe them more work unless you want to give it to them, it's not your fault they can't manage their labor force efficiently. Since you don't seem eager to advance in the company, fold up some classified ads into a notebook and start looking for something better, you can make job seeking calls on the job if no one is paying attention, why not? Get out of there as soon as you can, you're losing brain cells everyday!
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:40 PM on August 18, 2007

Don't ask for busy-work or permission. Just look around for what needs to get done and start doing it. The advantage to your position is that you can skew your search towards things which you find more interesting or which augment your skills.
posted by Manjusri at 10:35 PM on August 18, 2007

Another suggestion; discreet in-ear headphones and talking books or a radio. If need be you can go for the "cable up sleeve, headphone in palm of hand, and look like you're resting your head on your hand" approach.
posted by Luddite at 3:18 AM on August 19, 2007

I know you didn't ask for advice on how to surreptitiously goof off...but, you can always read e-books of PDFs. During a slow spell at one of my past jobs I read the entire 9/11 report that way.
posted by Brian James at 9:22 AM on August 19, 2007

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