manager told me I’m not doing enough work

A reader writes:

My workload is zero. I was told by my manager that I have to ask for work and that everyone else at my level is asking for work and is very busy. I have been here for just 15 months and was surprised at this comment during my yearly review.

Following my manager’s advice, I sent an email out letting other managers in the company across the U.S. know that I was available for work and received no reply. My manager told me not to be paranoid, but that they cannot understand why I didn’t get a response. I wasn’t paranoid before, but now I am. I feel like I’m being punked. None of my peers at other companies, and my friends in other industries, understand this comment from my manager.

Now, my manager has to meet with our partner in charge to discuss this problem of me not being useful and asking for work, before it gets elevated to the HR department and I have to go on probation. I have to meet every day with my manager now to see why I am not working.

I feel like I’m going insane and it has put an emotional strain on me. Shouldn’t the managers be responsible for staffing projects? Am I in the wrong for comparing my management experience with the managers here? Most, if not all of the managers in the company are PMP-certified (Project Management Professionals). I was thinking of reporting this to the Project Management Institute.

You’re thinking of reporting this to the Project Management Institute, really? Don’t do that. What do you think will happen, that they’ll revoke your managers’ credentials? That’s not what will happen. What will happen is that you’ll fast-track your exit from this company.

I don’t mean to add to your paranoia, but what’s going on here is Very Bad. What you’re describing are not good signs. If you aren’t doing any work, you won’t stay on that payroll for very long. If you want to stay, you’re going to need to ask for help, take your manager’s advice seriously, and probably execute a change in your mindset about all of this.

Regarding your mindset … You don’t think your managers are doing a good job. You think they should be assigning staff to projects, rather than expecting staff to find their own work. You think you’re more qualified than they are. I have no idea if your managers are doing a good job or not, but I do know that it’s totally irrelevant if you’re more qualified than they are, because they are in charge at this company. Also, there are indeed places where some types of staffers are expected to seek out and identify work. According to your manager, this is one of them. I suggest you believe him and stop focusing on whether you would run things this way; the reality is that this is how your company works, and you will only make good decisions for yourself if you stop fighting that.

You have two choices: You can decide this system isn’t for you and leave, or you can try to figure out how to work well within it. Those are the only two choices.

If you decide to try to stay, you need to go to your manager and ask for help. Explain that you’ve been trying to take his advice and seek out work, but that no one is responding to you. And this is the key part — ask him if he has any insight into why. You’re going to need to be non-defensive and listen to what he has to say with an open mind. Maybe no one is giving you work because they’re worried you won’t do it well. Maybe they’ve found you difficult to work with in the past. Maybe you need to take a different approach in asking for it. I don’t know what the answer is (it could be something else entirely), but since you don’t know either, you need to seek your manager’s help in figuring it out.

Hopefully he’ll be helpful. If he’s not, you should still ask him for advice about how to proceed. And if he’s still not helpful, well, I’d start looking for other jobs, because you pretty much have to be doing work in order to stay employed, and it seems like the writing is starting to appear on the wall here. Don’t ignore it.

Good luck!

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. WJM*

    Is this the 1950's? Why are you still assuming this person's manager is a man?– The person asking for advice doesn't use ANY gendered terms. I would not take any advice from you very seriously.

  2. WJM*

    See the problem is that this person's manager actually IS a "she" or a "he"– It is only appropriate to pick one gender arbitrarily when speaking/writing about a hypothetical situation. I know you don't think it matters, but it really does, especially in this day and age.

  3. Anonymous*

    Ya Ask a Manager from now on plesae refer to all managers as "it". It's so important especially in this day and age! Think of the children!

  4. Ask a Manager*

    I totally disagree, WJM. Sorry! But I also don't think this is something I'll ever get worked up about. (Although I do like the idea of using "it," as Anonymous suggests.)

  5. endlessquestions*

    Sounds like WJM has too much time on his hands as well, lol. This is an advice column, not a political-correctness forum. Sheesh.

    Great post, btw. I'm slightly jealous of someone not having enough work to do, though…grass is always greener and all that.

  6. WJM*

    I apologize for distracting from the topic (sincere)– I had too much to drink at happy hour. Now, because I have too much time on my hands: Go American League!

  7. llamaface*

    Okay, something seems off here. If your workload is zero, what do you do all day? Stare at the wall?

    Also, it sounds like the boss gave advice about finding work, (emailing around the company…) and the boss still doesn't know why no work is coming that way. Something just seems very wrong here.

    I definitely agree with your advice, though – ask very directly for help.

  8. Susan*

    Have you thought about stepping marketing yourself to other managers? Have you called them on the phone? Have you done some research about what their needs might be and market yourself accordingly? If you can visit with some of the managers or even those who work for them in person, it might be worth a try.

    From my point of view, the manager is telling you to get out there an market yourself to become gainfully employed, otherwise known as initiative. I've worked in a position like that before. It feels odd when you first start out, but you get used to marketing yourself. You'll also gain information on other departments and managers in order to better serve their needs.

    Some managers feel comfortable working with certain people because they know those people will always deliver what they want. You need to give those managers a reason to take a chance on you. In some ways, you could think of it as a small job interview where you initiate all of the questioning and deliver a pitch.

  9. Anonymous*

    My advise to the OP – ask peers or individuals in your same position in other divisions how they market themselves or if they have any projects that they need help on.

  10. JR*

    This is a common practice in many defense industry organizations that are project oriented. The individual is paid for 40 hours of work each week and hopefully is covered (billable) for nearly that amount of work. In this situation it sounds like the employee is being paid for 40 hours but only billed for much less (as an example – 20 hours). The manager can use his/her time (they never have any free time)to look for work for this individual or the individual can. Which makes more sense? And btw – the project cannot remain profitable for too long if this continues. Get yourself covered – this is always wise to do incase your project goes away – your work for other projects may keep you employed.

  11. Me*

    My manager, told me I need to focus more on my job and work faster. I have only been their for a month, and she is assuming that I am not doing my job the way that I am supposed to and that I am faking my work, and I am in the wrong areas, looking for items. And I am not quick enough, I have been trying my hardest in doing my job, but she thinks that I am not on top of everything. I am not sure what to do, because I have been trying my best. It’s like she picks on me, and tries to find something in my job that I am not doing right. I think she is going to fire me. What should I do? Because I have been really trying my hardest and my best, and she just doesn’t see it in me. What does she want.

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