I used to send almost 100 emails a day; now it’s around ten. I work at a government agency, which means I get a new agency head (and a new boss) every four years. Now I report to Jane, who has taken away about 90 percent of my job.
She’s restructured my role so that I only do one or two tasks related to a project. After we finish a project, she gives me a glowing performance evaluation and takes credit for things I used to do. I used to organize and attend high-level executive meetings, but Jane does that now. I used to oversee major public-facing projects; now I mostly do administrative work. I used to get invited to meetings, but now I have to ask for permission to go to them, and most of the time I’m not allowed to, even when Jane can’t attend. All emails that I used to receive now go to her.
When I asked about my fewer job duties, she said that I have more “leadership” and “autonomy” than I ever did before. She said I’m working on plenty of things, and promised to credit my minimal contributions on our various projects. Once she tripped up and said a weeklong training would be good for me because “it would take up a lot of [my] time.” The worst part is that she complains about being overloaded with tasks that I used to do, as well as new ones, saying she’s had to work nights and weekends. Whenever I remind her I’m here to help, she backpedals and says “it’s not THAT much.” She says she can handle it.
But here are the big advantages: Jane makes sure to give me the highest salary increases possible EVERY year; she lets me leave work whenever I need to for childcare emergencies; she approves all my expense requests, no question; and she let’s me work from home whenever I want. (This arrangement is very rare at my agency.)
Here’s my question to you. I know my old job isn’t coming back, and I have no recourse. (Jane’s boss, our agency head, will not interact with anyone on business-related matters unless that person reports directly to him.) When I started looking for a new job, my husband stopped me. Why leave a job where you make a lot of money, have tons of perks, and don’t have to work that much? Even better, my husband said this is the time to finish my personal goals — finish my book, take more martial-arts classes, etc. — while getting paid well. He also pointed out that my butt is technically covered with all my glowing performance evaluations and maximum raises. If I find a job somewhere else, I risk losing all of those perks. Plus, Jane is signing me up for all this paid professional development, which is great … but I don’t have much to apply it to. My husband also said things could change after the next election, and we should take advantage of what I’ve been given. (Right now, it does make sense for me to handle the middle-of-the-workday childcare stuff because I don’t have a lot to do, and my husband does. I’m not going to make him trade off just to make a point.) At the same time, my brain is getting stale. I spend most of my days reading the newspaper, answering the occasional email, and catching up with co-workers I haven’t seen in awhile. What do I do?
I suppose it doesn’t ultimately change what you should do, but I’m dying to know — do you know what’s driving Jane to take over all your work? Does your new boss think that by hoarding all your projects, she’ll be seen as indispensable? Does she have control issues, where she doesn’t trust anyone to do their own work? (It would be interesting to know if others she manages are experiencing something similar.) Is she using your work as a way to avoid her own, because yours is more comfortable for her?
But that’s just me speculating on the wonder that is Jane. Let’s get back to you.
Some people would say that your situation sounds like a dream job. Good pay, flexible schedule, lots of perks, low stress, time to work on personal projects — what’s not to like? But you’re right to think there’s a real downside.
The biggest danger in staying in a situation like this for too long will most likely become apparent at whatever point you decide to move on. When you’re looking for your next job, will you have accomplishments from this one that you can point to? If a year passes and you don’t have any significant accomplishments to show for that amount of time, it’s probably not going to be a big deal (and may not be noticed at all). But if you can’t point to anything you achieved at work in the last several years, that has real potential to hold you back from getting the jobs you want.
Plus, if you stay in a situation like this long enough, it can be difficult to make the transition to a more rigorous environment where the expectations on you will be higher. A slow pace, even when it’s not your fault, can be a hard habit to break.
You said you feel like your brain is getting stale, and that’s a big deal. It can be tough to pull yourself out of that mindset, too, making it harder to appear impressive when you need to (including with networking contacts and interviewers). And on top of all that, I imagine you feel you’re simply wasting time, and that doesn’t feel great.
But the upsides — the pay and the perks and so forth — are nothing to scoff at. They have real value, especially that flexibility when you’ve got kids in the mix.
Ultimately, I don’t think there’s one right answer here; it comes down to personal preference. Some people would cheerfully — delightedly, even — accept the downsides I’ve listed in exchange for the upsides. Other people wouldn’t. It really comes down to what’s most important to you and what you think will make you the happiest (both now and a few years from now, when you might be job searching and needing to talk about this job). As long as you’re realistic with yourself about what you’re giving up (and there will be trade-offs no matter what you choose), I think you’ll be fine either way.
That said, before you decide anything, why not look around to see what other options you have? It sounds like you think that in order to get a more interesting, engaging job, you’d have to give up all the perks you have now. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it isn’t. You might be able to find a job that pays well, gives you flexibility, and lets you actually do the work you want to do.
Yes, you might not find another job with every single perk you have in your current job — but you might find a pretty good portion of them somewhere else. You won’t know until you look, and it’s worth doing that to make sure you really know what your options are.
One last thing: I’m taking your word that nothing will change with Jane, but could you possibly devise and propose your own projects to Jane, ones she’ll be less interested in taking on herself? Or could you come up with your own projects and just start doing them? That can be tricky, particularly in government work, but if there is room for you to take initiative in areas she hasn’t already claimed, it might make your days less boring — and give you something to put on your résumé too.
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 email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.