I started a new job about four months ago. I’ve been in customer-facing tech support for the past six years, and was excited to have my first non-customer-facing role. Now, I do mostly technical writing and lots of project-based content management, and I love it. I’m an expert in the subject matter and it’s been a great environment for me to utilize and expand my skill set.
Recently, my boss has talked about wanting to implement a live chat messaging system where our users can ask questions in real time and get technical help — a sort of help desk. In theory this means that me and two other co-workers would man it, since we’re the most experienced in this field.
This is devastating to me. I’ve done my time getting chewed out by angry customers online and on the phone, carefully explaining technology they have no grasp of. I took this job specifically because I wanted to break out of customer service and focus on growing my actual skill set. I feel like because of my experience in customer service and my thorough knowledge of the product, I’m being pigeonholed.
I need some advice on how to approach my boss and explain that this is not a responsibility I’m willing to take on without putting my job in jeopardy. In my offer letter, it said something like, “the job duties may change based on company need,” but this is basically moving me into a completely different role. If I knew that doing customer service was going to be on the table, I would’ve likely stayed at my last job, where I loved my boss and had a much more collaborative team.
For a little background, this is a very small company, and my boss (the owner/CEO) and I have almost zero relationship. We only really talk to discuss how projects are going or what direction they will take, so I don’t feel very comfortable being candid with him or discussing my career path.
It’s true that most job descriptions say something like, “duties may change based on company need” or “other duties as assigned.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t push back! You can — especially when you have strong feelings about a task and especially when it’s squarely outside the work you were hired to do.
Right now, your boss probably has no idea that you don’t want to take on the help-desk function, and he definitely doesn’t know that you feel as strongly about it as you do. And if he’s a decent manager, he doesn’t want to demoralize a good employee or risk losing you by adding a hated duty that you weren’t warned about before you signed on.
Of course, it’s possible that he could want to keep you happy and yet have no choice about needing to assign the work to you. Jobs evolve, and sometimes they change in ways that the people doing them aren’t thrilled about. Sometimes managers do need to say, “I hear you that you’d rather not do X, but I need someone in this role who can take that on.”
But other times, once they understand someone has very strong feelings about not taking on a particular task, managers are able to work around that. Sometimes that means pulling in others who don’t mind as much. Sometimes it means restructuring your share of the work in a way that makes it more palatable to you. (For example, maybe you’d be happy to advise the people staffing the help desk as long as you don’t have to talk with customers directly.) Sometimes, a manager may even be open to rethinking the plan entirely (“we thought Jane would jump at the chance to do this, but since she’s not, let’s explore other approaches”).
The more valued you are, the more likely your boss is to try to accommodate you. If you’re fairly senior, in a hard-to-fill job, have a track record of excellent work, or have built up a lot of good will (such as by being flexible in the past), those things all help. In your case, you’ve only been there four months, which makes it harder to check off most of those boxes, but your newness might work for you in a different way: You were just hired into a job that didn’t include this work — and your boss probably doesn’t want you to feel like it was a bait and switch.
Of course, so far all of this is speculation. Your boss might turn out to be flexible, or he could refuse to budge. We don’t know yet.
So, the first step is to talk to him. Ask to meet, and say something like this: “I wanted to talk to you about the plans for the help desk. I took this job specifically because I wanted to get away from doing customer-facing tech support. It was the reason I began job searching, and it was a big factor in me signing on here. I love the work I’ve been doing — it’s exactly what I was looking for — and it’s really important to me not to go back to customer support. I’m hoping there might be a way to keep my job as it’s been and not add this on to it.” If your sense is that you could safely add this, you could also say, “To be fully transparent, I feel so strongly about this that if I’d known the role would end up including a help desk component, I wouldn’t have taken the job.”
And then see what he says. Based on how the conversation goes, at some point it might be useful to say, “I want to be clear that I understand that jobs evolve, and in general I’m very open to that. This just happens to be the one thing I was specifically changing jobs to get away from.”
From there, you’ll get a better idea of whether there’s some flexibility, or whether the help desk is now going to be part of your job regardless. If your boss isn’t willing to budge, you’ll need to decide if you still want the job under these conditions. (If that does happen, you might see if you can negotiate to have the assignment be temporary rather than permanent.)
Last, I know you said you’re not comfortable being really candid with your boss. But to give yourself the best chance of a good outcome here, you do have to open up a little. It’s key for your boss to understand that you don’t object to taking on new responsibilities in general, but changed jobs specifically to avoid this one. Good luck!
Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.