The thought of having long spells of quiet time at work may appeal to many with a full workload, but there is a particular level of stress associated with consistently having to appear busy at work when you’re not.
A reader, whose role is project based and who struggles to fill the downtime, asks for help in protecting her job through the quiet times.
Dear Daily Slog,
‘I am eight months into a new job and I am struggling with the fact that the workload is far less than I thought it would be. A lot of the work is project based so when a project is completed there is a lull, with barely enough work to fill the day, and I am becoming increasingly stressed at pretending to be busy.
I’d imagine your first thought is to tell me to ask for more work – I have, lots of times! My manager doesn’t seem concerned by my low workload, perhaps because his is also low and he is protecting himself.
Any advice for dealing with these periods, or for managing this with my boss (to show my interest in taking on more but without badgering him) would be appreciated’.
Thank you very much for your email.
I can only reply to you very generally, as I do not have specific information on your company and your level of responsibility. In general these days, people complain about having too much work, but of course it also happens that there is not enough work to fill the days or that the workload varies hugely.
You have already asked your boss for more work without success and you assume it could be that he does not have much work on either, but is keen to not let others see that.
Let’s look at this from a different angle and leave your boss out of it for a moment. There could be many reasons he acts as he does, but we can only speculate which doesn’t really help.
Instead, let’s try to figure out what you yourself can do to improve the situation.
Rather than asking your boss for more work, present him an initiative to bring forward during your spare time
Ask yourself this – what is the actual purpose of your role and that of your department? Then consider if this purpose is completely fulfilled by you in your role and by your department as a whole.
That way you may be able to figure out if there really is more work to do, or if perhaps the work is poorly distributed. Maybe the actual purpose of your role and/or department could be fulfilled better by new ideas and initiatives that you or your team could suggest?
For example, if the purpose of your department was to improve processes, then you could be given several projects by your manager, but during the time you are bored, you could come up with your own analysis of a process that has not been on the list of projects yet, but that you could work on during your spare time and bring forward.
You are showing that not only are you willing to take on more work, but that you are actually willing and capable of thinking bigger
You could communicate this to your boss, and rather than asking him for more work, present him with not only a suggestion but also with an initiative to bring forward during the time you are not fully occupied elsewhere.
This way you are showing that not only are you willing to take on more work, but that you are actually willing and capable of thinking bigger, bringing in new initiatives, and working on them independently (with the support and agreement of your boss).
If this approach is a possibility, given the nature of your work and the organisational structure, you are also creating a win – win situation with your boss. If his workload really is low and he could do with some other important initiatives to show, then he can work with you to bring these ideas forward to the next level and show initiative himself.
The same goes if his workload is actually high. In the event that he is actually too busy to think about utilising his resources properly, he could still build on your ideas and make the team more productive by giving you some freedom to involve other team members in your initiatives (which eventually might even result in a promotion for you at some stage).
If there really is no more work to do, ask yourself if it makes sense for you to stay in your role, given the outlook
If it is the case that the workload is distributed unevenly, talk to colleagues and ask them if you could support them during the times that your own workload is low.
The other possibility is that given the nature of your work or organisation, there really is no more work to do, or it is not wanted for whatever reason. This sounds strange, but could indeed be the case, and perhaps could have political reasons, personal reasons somewhere in the management team or strategic reasons (for example that the department is winding down).
In this scenario it is more or less out of your hands and you need to ask yourself if it makes sense for you to stay in your role, given the outlook, or if it would be a good point to look for change. This would be a very personal decision and of course involves looking at all the circumstances and your priorities, but it is worth analysing this too.
I hope this helps with your question.
All the best,
Looking for career advice? Here are some more great articles from Ines:
About Ines Kretschmer
Ines Kretschmer is a Personal, Leadership and Executive Coach, based in Dublin. To book an appointment with her contact her on 087 414948 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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